Wonder Woman isn’t the only female hero on film this year

I haven’t seen Wonder Woman and I probably won’t. I’m guessing it’s pretty much the same as the other Marvel/DC comic book hero films.

As everyone keeps pointing out though, what is different about Wonder Woman is that the lead superhero is woman! Or an Amazon, if that’s the same as being a woman.

In the original comic book, WW was sculpted from clay by her mother Queen Hippolyta and given life by Aphrodite, along with superhuman powers as gifts by the Greek gods. And somehow Zeus is her father.

I know. It’s confusing.

Anyway, at least she’s played by a woman. And everyone says that makes her a role model for little girls and a feminist icon.

Who am I to disagree?

I find it interesting that people are gushing about the breakthrough of having a female superhero in the very year that a number of exceptional female-led dramas have been released.


Both William Oldroyd’s haunting Lady Macbeth and Sophia Coppola’s Cannes-winning The Beguiled are about 19th Century women forced to take control of their lives when men threaten to destroy them. Both films make much of the fact that the odds are stacked in favor of men and in order to survive (or indeed, thrive), women must resort to extraordinary measures.

In each case, the women’s sexuality draws them toward peril, and in both films they are forced to commit terrible crimes to escape that danger.

Let’s face it. It’s a man’s world.

Historically, men have had social, political, legal and physical power on their side. Notwithstanding the advances of the 20th Century, when a woman finds herself battling for her rights in a patriarchal world, her options are limited.

The Bible isn’t squeamish about this. In Scripture, women are portrayed as having to resort to subterfuge, deceit, their sexuality or even violence when men threaten to disadvantage them.


In Genesis 38, the desperate and childless widow Tamar is forced to impersonate a prostitute and have sex with her father-in-law in order to trick him into conceiving the child (or children, as it turns out) she needs for her future security.

In Judges 4, the wily and resourceful Jael broke every rule of hospitality by tricking the enemy general Sisera into seeking refuge in her tent (even making him a warm milk drink at bedtime) before driving a tent nail through his skull as he slept.

And the Book of Ruth tells the story of Naomi coaching the Moabitess Ruth in how to fool Boaz into thinking he had slept with her to guilt him into fulfilling his obligations to care for them both.

This isn’t to say the Bible teaches that women are deceitful. But it is incredibly frank about what women often need to do when all other options aren’t available to them.

But young women aren’t rushing out to see Lady Macbeth or The Beguiled, instead preferring a fantasy film about an Amazon goddess who can use super powers to battle evil. Why?

And these aren’t the only films released this year that focus on fascinating women. Rachel Weisz is superb in author Daphne du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel and Cynthia Nixon brings poet Emily Dickinson to life in A Quiet Passion.

Then there’s 20th Century Women, a touching (and at times hilarious) film about a trio of interesting women who are trying to raise a good man.

Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening) is a single mother with a 15-year-old son, Jamie, with whom she believes she is losing touch. She’s worried. And desperate. Jamie’s deadbeat father only calls on birthdays and at Christmas.

In the end, she asks two women living in the rambling boarding house she’s restoring to help her raise him. He needs to know how to be a man, she tells them.

One of the women, Julie, asks, “Don’t you need a man to raise a man?”

To which Dorothea, unsure, replies, “No, I don’t think so.”

Julie (Elle Fanning) is only 17 so the best she has to offer is to teach Jamie how to “walk tough” and hold a cigarette. But the other female boarder, Abbie (Greta Gerwig), decides young Jamie needs to read second-wave feminist literature and listen to punk music (the film is set in 1979). And before you know it, Jamie is wise beyond his years about the evils of patriarchy, ageism and sexism, home birthing and the female orgasm.

And how to dance to Black Flag.

In the end, Jamie turns out alright. And Dorothea turns out to be quite the hero.

After all, it’s heroic to raise a good man in such a world as ours.


Sure, Wonder Woman has superhuman strength, amazing speed, the Lasso of Truth, and indestructible bracelets.

But Dorothea has mother-love. And tenacity, uncertainty, devotion and a fragile kind of hope.

All the films I’ve mentioned portray strong women faced by challenging circumstances, with limited options available to them. They depict women as articulate, resourceful, resolute, and effective. Not all of them make choices we’d agree with, but they all act in ways we can understand, given their situations.

Aren’t these the kinds of heroes we should be encouraging young female moviegoers to watch?

Because when we see more realistic female heroes on celluloid we get better at spotting them in real life.



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24 thoughts on “Wonder Woman isn’t the only female hero on film this year

  1. Hi Mike, can’t we enjoy and have both? Maybe it’s okay for women (young and old) to sometimes just go out to have fun in a cinema, rather than having to seek out and be educated by the kind of, no doubt excellent and worthy, movies that you cite here. And maybe it’s extra fun when the person kicking butt on the screen is someone you can relate to in that gender kind of way….

    1. My point exactly. Why do people have to choose? Can’t they see both? But at the moment, according to the box office, they’re only seeing Wonder Woman.

      1. Surely that’s a whole other question about what types of movies are popular and why, not one that should be reserved for a conversation about gender? Feels a bit like moral policing – something women get ALLLLLL the time. Are women particularly expected to choose their entertainment on its worthiness and contribution to the good of humanity, while men can guilt free choose WW or the other top four grossing movies this week (Baywatch, Pirates of the Carribean #4, or is it 5, Guardians of the Galaxy #2 and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword) without any comment on the inspirational or real life value of those stories? I have yet to see any commentary on the disappointing choices men make at the cinema!

        1. How is it “moral policing” to say I saw a bunch of brilliant films with impressive female leads and to encourage people to watch them and not limit their film-going experience to a superhero movie? Sheesh.

          1. So the issue is that women are choosing this heroine over others? I’d love to see the stats you’re quoting. I know lots of women who are so excited about this film that they’re pulling out all the stops to go and see it because no one’s ever made a movie like this before! Is it that women are going to Wonderwoman at the expense of other films? Or can it be partially explained by increased cinema turnout?

            I can’t even contemplate getting to see a bunch of movies in the space of a few months. If the problem is that women aren’t going to both, maybe we should be asking why the female segment of the market has to ‘choose’ one film to see, while the male segment of the market can see multiple films? Given the rarity of this kind of film and the seriously overwhelming critical response it has had, is it all that strange that women are accepting the opportunity cost (of sacrificing our ability to watch other good films) in order to see this one? Especially given that this one will be so much improved on the big screen, while drama will play ok on the TV for date night when it gets released in a couple months?

          2. The “stats” I’m quoting? Simple. How about box office receipts. Look, female actors and filmmakers are always saying there aren’t enough decent scripts and roles for women. This year there is a little boom in excellent female-led dramas and I’m encouraging people to go see them, lest blockbusters like Wonder Woman will swamp them at the box office and studios will stop releasing them. And then all we’ll have is a film about an Amazon with a lasso every few years.

          3. Ok. So I’ve gone looking for some stats. These are the most detailed I’ve found (http://www.boxofficemojo.com/intl/australia/?currency=local&yr=2017&p=.htm). Let me know if you’re referencing others. What they show is that there was a 25% increase in the weekend box office takings on Wonder Woman’s first week over the previous week. While Wonder Woman is doing well, it only took $AU6.8mill on its opening weekend. That’s less than Guardians of the Galaxy 2 a few weeks earlier, which took $AU15.7 million or The Fate of the Furious which took in $AU12.7 million a few weeks before that. Beauty and the Beast was released a few weeks earlier and took $AU13.1 on it’s opening weekend and is, so far, the biggest grossing film of the year (http://www.boxofficemojo.com/intl/australia/yearly/).

            I truly believe there is an interesting story to tell about heroines in film, and where we look for them. I think telling women to ignore Wonder Woman is misguided.

            In making the argument that attendance at Wonder Woman is going to prevent Hollywood from making nuanced dramas about complex female characters, I think we’d need to see figures on the expected takings against actual takings for the three movies you reference and I can’t find that data anywhere. My Friend Rachel was only released on June 8 and there’s no box office data available yet.

            Your argument also seems to suggest that it’s a zero-sum game; we can only have a certain number of movies about women, and that if we watch the action blockbuster, we won’t get the complex dramas. I think that’s contestable. If Wonder Woman had tanked, I think it would have put female-directed and female-led movies back far more than its success will do. Just because there are lots of male superheroes doesn’t mean there’s a dearth of complex male character dramas. It doesn’t have to be either or.

            I’d love it if lots of women got to go and see all these movies. They sound great.

          4. I. did. not. tell. anyone. to. ignore. Wonder. Woman.

      2. Mike Frost, it’s a pity to see an intelligent conversation start with ‘I haven’t seen it and I’m not going to’. Never a good idea to open a debate or discussion with so little knowledge about the subject you are going to run down. Go take a look at it. Then talk. It’s a better perspective I think.

        1. I think you also failed to understand that this article is about the other wonderful female-led dramas currently showing.

  2. I think I saw those responses coming Michael, and would say that I agree with the sentiment. I have not seen the movie, but probably will for the same reason I saw Iron Man or, whoever that was. 🙂

  3. I am a woman and I like superheromovies. So I went and saw the best DC-comics movie, I’ve ever seen. I love that the actress is female, but I would probably have seen the movie anyway, if it had been a male lead.
    I see you’ve pointed out the qualities of the women in the other films. It might surprise you, but WW inhabits the same qualities but in a different genre. And she does not act out of necessity or have to lower her standards to get the job done. She stays true to herself and to goodness in a corrupted world.
    I feel just as inspired by this movie (by the story and the amazing acting) as I do other good movies. It is a huge deal with a big female superhero-movie in a male-dominated genre. This is inspirering on and of screen

    I recommend this film, for anyone who enjoys the genre.

  4. As soon as many man writes anything critical about feminism I can guarantee you will be inundated with negative responses – apparently there is an unwritten rule that men aren’t allowed to be critical of feminism…not a rule I agree with, and I consider myself as feminist as a bloke is allowed to call himself.

  5. WW inhabits the same qualities but in a different genre. And she does not act out of necessity or have to lower her standards to get the job done. She stays true to herself and to goodness in a corrupted world.

    Yeah – because she has SUPER POWERS – not many women in the real world have those – not many men either (probably less than the number of women).

    The pint is that the woman who is most unlike any real woman is being touted as a feminist icon rather than the women who are like every other real woman on earth.

    1. Thank you!!

      1. The acclaimed science fiction writer Ursula Le Guin wrote a beautiful reflection on the value of sci-fi and fantasy precisely because it enables us to examine the human condition in ways that realistic fiction does not (it’s the introduction to A Fisherman of the Inland Sea). She writes:

        “I don’t accept the judgment that in using images and metaphors of other worlds, space travel, the future, imagined technologies, societies or beings, science fiction escapes from having human relevance to our lives. Those images and metaphors used by a serious writer are images and metaphors of our lives, legitimately novelistic, symbolic ways of saying what cannot otherwise be said about us, our being and choices, here and now. What science fiction does is enlarge the here and now”

        The best Superhero movies do this, too, I think.

  6. No one can ever attain superhero status; we’re only human. The reality is that positive role models are our greatest asset. I grew up with a strong and loving mother and three older sister deputy mums. (Also the oldest sibling a brother, and three younger sisters.) I have the privilege of being married to a wife who is strong in every respect to share in ministry with me for many years.
    The comic books character always grated with me because it promoted ancient Greek deities as a source of power.
    The saddest man, in my opinion, is one who has never appreciated women and perhaps is even afraid of them. My wife of 46 years is my number one wonder woman.

    1. “My wife of 46 years is my number one wonder woman.” Nice. Buy her some indestructible bracelets and a lasso of truth for your anniversary. 😉

  7. Wonder Woman is amazing and you should watch it.

    Yes, it’s a superhero movie. But that’s just the genre, the important storytelling beats are what happens within the genre, how the story subverts or inhabits or extends that genre.

    WW is not just a gender-swapped clone of any other superhero. This is a character who is strongly and positively female in a way that emphasises herself without needing to contrast with the male characters. It’s a great movie with a great cast and great production.

    If you’re not into action-heavy blockbusters, that’s fine. But that’s the most popular genre of movies at the moment, whatever the genders of the characters or content of the stories.

  8. I was very impressed with Wonder Woman and its politics – not just because of its female lead. It does a lot of things right. Its not flawless but it is both very accessible popcorn munching fun and it provokes substantial questions. That’s not easy to pull off.
    One small thing that seems to get overlooked is that it includes the most respectfully treated Native American character in any mainstream movie of late. It’s a small role but gives a lot to the story.
    I hope you don’t mind me linking to my review here.

  9. Michael Frost. Go. See. Wonder. Woman. and. then… you may have just a little more authority to write a post with her name in the title!

    1. I think you failed to understand that this article is about the other wonderful female-led dramas currently showing.

  10. Mike you once again show your tunnel vision when it comes to comic book movies. Unfortunately you are not alone in this attitude among the alpha males of Christendom. Maybe it is because stories of pure imagination frighten those with out one. Maybe it is because what was once relegated to quiet enjoyment of the nerdy and maligned few has become, at least for the moment. main stream and that is seen as a threat to those think they own the cultural centre. You may say “but I’m just pointing out these other worthy stories” but what you mean is “I reject the right if your story to have centre stage”.

    1. Lemme get this straight: I’m an alpha male of Christendom with tunnel vision, but without an imagination, who maligns the few because I think I own the cultural centre, all because I don’t enjoy Marvel/DC movies?? Right? You do know how ridiculous that sounds, don’t you?

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