The Wonder Woman Movie Problem

Why is a Wonder Woman movie such a difficult project to get completed?

Gal Gadot: Image provided by imdb/Warner Bros.

For years, Warner Bros. and DC Comics have tried to launch Wonder Woman into a movie. Or even a new TV series. Big names have been attached (Joss Whedon, David E. Kelley). And yet time after time, year after year, no viable project emerges.

Warner announced a Wonder Woman movie for 2017, following the character’s appearance in 2016’s Superman v Batman: Dawn of Justice. They’ve hired Gal Gadot for the role. She certainly looks the part and the movie costume for the character is on point. Wonder Woman was presented as a key component in DC’s attempt to create its own shared movie universe.

Many fans were quite excited that Warner hired acclaimed television director Michelle MacLaren (a two time Emmy winner for Breaking Bad) to direct Wonder Woman. They were equally distressed when MacLaren left the project. The time-honored “creative differences” explanation was trotted out. That sparked a round of doomsaying for the project.

Warner cut that agita short with the announcement that it had hired another visionary female director to replace MacLaren. Patty Jenkins, who has several prestige TV projects to her credit and directed Halle Berry to an Oscar for Monster’s Ball, emerged as MacLaren’s replacement. Jenkins had her own “creative differences” split from a superhero movie a few years back, when she departed the Thor sequel.

Directors leave movies all the time. Studios and producers might want things that don’t match a director’s vision for a project. If those differences can’t be reconciled, there’s no point in moving forward. Losing a director can occasionally be fatal to a production, but not usually. Sometimes significant delays result, but not always.

When the project is a Wonder Woman movie, though, fans can be forgiven for assuming the worst.

The problem that previous attempts to bring Wonder Woman to a screen (any screen) faced is that the creators don’t trust the source material. For some reason, there’s this attitude that “mythological warrior princess comes to the modern world” is a difficult sell for audiences.

Thus, writers and directors try to “re-imagine” the character. Maybe she runs a company! Maybe she’s not an Amazon at all! Let’s lose all that Greek stuff! Bracelets and golden lasso? Pshaw!

Image provided by DC Comics

The simple truth is that Wonder Woman’s bullet description is no more difficult to relate to than “orphaned alien immigrant with god-like powers crash lands on Earth, grows up in Kansas” or “orphaned billionaire with PTSD and a leather fetish takes it out on criminals.” And yet Superman and Batman, the other two-thirds of DC’s acknowledged central Trinity, each has upwards of a half-dozen movies under his cape.

The reasons for failing to launch a successful Wonder Woman movie are depressingly easy to identify. Movie executives think young men won’t pay to see a female-led action movie. In spite of the many examples to the contrary. Or that there isn’t a large enough female audience to support it if the men don’t show up in numbers (again, numerous big hits to the contrary).

There’s also the notion that the failure of a Wonder Woman movie could mean the downfall of all female-led action movies to come. That a particularly noxious myth that’s been depressingly hard to shake. That all action movies with a female lead should be yoked to any one movie’s success or failure is a baffling prejudice. Action movies starring men aren’t held to that standard. But that thinking persists and inertia prevails.

This truly isn’t as hard as people seem to want it to be. Wonder Woman is one of the most recognized comic book characters in the world. She’s endured for nearly 80 years. Generations know the character and her basic hook. Filmmakers don’t have to reinvent this particular wheel. Sure, Wonder Woman coming to “Man’s World” in the 2010s will look different than her making that journey in the 1940s would have. That just provides the opportunity for creative updates to the basic premise. That’s not a cause to throw out the basic premise.

That Warner was able to quickly secure another talented female director for Wonder Woman is a sign that the studio finally has a firm idea of what it wants to do with the character. And how she fits into their new cinematic world. It’s unfortunate to see MacLaren move on, but that’s the business.

Trust the material. Wonder Woman will not let you down.

Originally published at on April 17, 2015.

Author (Grievous Angels) and pop culture gadabout #amwriting

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store