The movie market is saturated with superhero movies and has been since reboots like X-Men, Superman, and Spider-Man in the early to mid-2000s. After that, the multi-verse (both Marvel and DC) has blown the action movie genre wide open. They build on stories made popular by mid-century comic books, so many people know their names and even most of their stories. But there is something else these popular movies and franchises have in common: the focus largely on male protagonists with strong female characters playing supporting roles (Cat Woman, Jean Grey, etc.). Except one.
Wonder Woman (2017) was released over a month ago and is still captivating audiences. It has an awesome 92% Rotten Tomatoes score (as of 7/4/17) and people all around the world are raving about the success of the first blockbuster superhero movie focused on and directed by a woman. But I think the success of the movie is based on a simple fact: it is a true “breath of fresh air” in a market saturated by what feels like the same characters and stories over and over again.
Superhero movies usually draw big audiences because viewers can expect them to be action packed. As a result, studios consider them safe bets and build monolithic franchises out of them. Prime example: the Avengers franchise and all the standalone franchises associated with it (Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, and so on). Or, if you prefer, take X-Men, a franchise built over more than a decade with prequels and origin stories galore – also predominately focused on the male characters.
So if Wonder Woman is simply another origin story, like many before, why is it so popular? If you look at Doctor Strange (2016) for comparison, it is also an origin story, has A-list actors/actresses, and it takes a different spin on the superhero norm (including magic and inter-dimensional beings). It made $677.7 million in its run at the box office (just over 3 months). Wonder Woman, on the other hand, has made $670.7 million in just over a month since its release.
So the defining factor that sets Wonder Woman apart from much of the multi-verse franchises is Diana Prince as the main character (played by the beautiful Gal Godot). But if the success of Wonder Woman can be attributed to the story’s focus on a powerful woman, why would it be so popular with such a wide array of audiences rather than just women? Yes, Wonder Woman as a powerful part of the Justice League has been a feminist icon since her creation in the 1940s, but it would seem she is much more than that: she is relatable and engaging and different. She mixes history (World War I) and ancient Greek mythology (the Amazons and Greek deities) with a sense of humor and recognizable power and strength. Plus, Chris Pine.
It is worth noting that that while other female superheroes have not had the same blockbuster success on the big screen, several popular TV shows feature strong female superheros (including Super Girl and Jessica Jones). However, Wonder Woman’s resurgence and success in the midst of the anti-support (anti-LGBTQ, anti-feminist, anti-Muslim, etc.) rhetoric in a post-election America suggests she still has power to make a difference and punch “intolerance” square in the face. Or at least start discussions about it.
Not to mention, Wonder Woman is just a kickass film.