I’ve held on to this list for a while now simply because I admittedly expected “Wonder Woman” to be less than stellar. Thankfully I was completely wrong! “Wonder Woman” hit the big screen in a big way earlier this year, and while it’s not the first female superhero film to gain Hollywood praise it is by far one of, if not THE highest profile success story for a female leading hero. While it would be false to call “Wonder Woman” the first great female superhero movie, many, including myself, feared that the film would become just another failure to bring female super powered characters to the big screen. While there have been many successes, there have been even more failures and with Wonder Woman joining the rest of the Justice League on the big screen this weekend I couldn’t help but reminisce on all the failed attempts to truly capture the spirit of a female protagonist in a superhero movie. So in honor of “Wonder Woman” bringing female superheroes back to legitimacy in cinema here are a few reminders of why it’s a big deal, the Top 10 Wasted Female Superheroes in Film.
For this list I looked at some of the most wasted female superheroes in cinematic movies to date. These can be comic book heroines or original characters, but they have to be superpowered or considered a costumed superhero in some way. These are ladies who were either side characters or the leading heroes or villains of a particular movie. Characters designed originally to be either useless or fit a certain stereotype that makes them unlikable didn’t qualify for this list, especially if the films actually made them better.
To keep things fair I limited myself to one female character per FILM but I did allow for multiple female characters per franchise as long as the critique comes from different movies in that franchise. Also, as the above paragraph suggests, no simple damsels in distress are featured here (unless of course they were a superhero who couldn’t hack it). These are ladies who can hold their own, but failed to shine either through bad acting, bad directing, bad writing, or whatever else held them back during their time on the big screen in their specific movies.
Can you think of any other wasted female heroes that I didn’t pick for this list? Let me know in the comments below and enjoy the countdown!
10. Kimberly and Aisha, “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie”
Say what you want about the 2017 “Power Rangers” film, at the very least the movie added some character traits to its two female leads, Kimberly and Trini. In the 1995 theatrical film the team of rangers on the show at the time were featured with Kimberly and Trini’s successor Aisha as the pink and yellow rangers respectively. In the television show the female characters had a bit of character development and had their time to shine as centric figures in their owned themed episodes. In the movie however, these two became merely team members who seemed to lean on the men to do all the hard work. Its not that actresses Amy Jo Johnson and Karan Ashley did a horrible job at bringing their small-screen counterparts to life, they were simply handed a poor script and plot that prevented their characters from being anything more than team members who had a hard time holding their own. Kimberly became more of a damsel in distress that allowed White Ranger Tommy to shine while Aisha was just kind of there. When they morphed the two managed to hold their own, but were still outshined by the four male rangers on the team. If you’ve seen the show you know there is much more to these character than meets the eye, but in this theatrical adaptation it would be hard to justify that these ladies could truly live up to their status as iconic early-era Power Rangers.
9. Psylocke, “X-Men: Apocalypse”
One of the more popular female X-Men characters in the comics, Psylocke was underused and watered down for her portrayal in the third film in the series’ prequel trilogy. Portrayed by Olivia Munn, who to her credit gives the character some attitude, we find yet another worthy female character who fails to live up to expectations because of writing. Psylocke, who is a skilled swordswoman able to create a psionic blade from her hand, could have been a true badass character, but in the film she is relegated to a bodyguard role when she is acquired by super mutant Apocalypse as one of his four horsemen. Psylocke gets minimal speaking times, with enough lines to count with both hands easily, and while she holds her own in battle she fails to stand out as the de-facto leader among the four horsemen on the battlefield. While it seems Munn had fun with her character, and the costume was tastefully close to the comic book look, “X-Men: Apocalypse” only really showed us glimpses of potential for what Psylocke can really do and did hint at her being involved in future films. If that’s the case then hopefully then we’ll get the character we deserved to see in the first place.
8. Black Widow, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”
Black Widow kicks ass, we all know it, however her stint in the second stand-alone Captain America film was….strange. In this film we see a much more serious, and straight haired, Black Widow who had shown to have a slightly more bubbly, sarcastic, and attitude-driven personality in the previous MCU films. What makes this performance a waste of potential is that Widow becomes nothing more than a sidekick and plot supporter in this adventure as she has knowledge of the Winter Soldier’s history. She gets her moments to kick butt, and Scarlett Johnasson is dashing as always, but as a character and a person this performance proved to be terribly inconsistent with who we already knew the Black Widow to be, made worse by Scarlett falling back to her previous interpretation of the character for subsequent MCU movies. One of the few negatives of this superhero adventure, Johansson’s performance may have shined on its own, but it’s the failure to be consistent with the performance compared past films and the character failing to really take advantage of the opportunity in the spotlight (being replaced as the lead sidekick by Falcon halfway through the film) that makes this a bit of wasted potential for an otherwise promising character.
7. Jean Grey / Dark Phoenix, “X-Men: The Last Stand”
Alright so this is a bit of a cheat because the Dark Phoenix is a villain, but the shell she possesses is a hero so it counts. It seem the “X-Men” films just can’t get the third entry right…unless you count “Logan” I guess. The original trilogy focused on one of Marvel Comics’ most popular story arcs in the third “X-Men” film, the Dark Phoenix Saga, with Jean Grey taking center stage as the main villain trapped in a heroes body when an uncontrollable psychic essence takes over her mind. This film alone was horribly criticized by the fanbase and much of that hate comes from its poor handling of the Dark Phoenix who may be a formidable villain in this film, but the dry presentation of the plot and the villain essentially taking a back seat to Wolverine’s love story with Jean and Magneto’s formation of a larger mutant resistance. Famke Janssen does okay bringing The Dark Phoenix and the heroic Jean to life and we do get some very amusing shows of power from the villain and believable emotional moments from Jean, but there was so much potential behind this character and so many layers to the story left out of the film that fans just couldn’t get onboard. Hopefully the new take on the Dark Phoenix story scheduled to be released next year will finally do the character the justice she deserves.
6. Storm, “X-Men: Days of Future Past”
The third, and honestly final, “X-Men” character on this list is one that was simply ignored in the second entry in the “X-Men” prequel series. “Days of Future Past” saw the “X-Men” of the first saga and the second saga come together in one big screen adventure as Wolverine is sent back in time, being ageless and all, to take control of his past self to stop the invention of the Sentinels, a group of robots that hunt down and kill all mutants and mutant supporters in the future. It sounds cool until you realize that most of plot revolves around the newer cast and many of the older cast members are just…there. One specific case is Storm, once again played by Halle Berry, who has barely any lines, if any, in the entire film and is simply there for the sake of being there for a bit of fanfare. Now honestly there is a reason behind her limited inclusion. At the time Berry had become pregnant and her growing belly prevented her from being a part of numerous planned scenes for the master of weather, leading to an unfortunately minor and superfluous role that could have been so much more. While obviously it’s difficult to criticize Berry because she got pregnant during the filming, Storm is an iconic and important part of the “X-Men” film and comic series and seeing the character be simply just another body in the crowd was disappointing. It almost makes you wish they didn’t include her at all. At least there’s an excuse for this situation though, which, as we now get into the top five, none of these upcoming entries can really claim….except maybe this next one to some extent…
5. Sue Storm / The Invisible Woman, “Fant4stic”
Kate Mara’s lifeless take on the iconic Invisible Woman in the 2015 disaster “Fantastic 4”, or “Fant4stic” as it was stylized, was just one of the many things wrong with this train wreck of a film. While Jessica Alba’s version of the character in the 2005 film and its sequel weren’t anything to write home about, this interpretation presented a dry, boring, and honestly unlikable version of Marvel’s first lady. Mara said she wanted her character to be as “real as possible” and while she certainly succeeded, real turned out to be boring and uninteresting in a team of heroes that really failed to shine all around. It may not be all Mara’s fault however. This film was notoriously plagued with reshoots and studio interference, which led to an inconsistent look for Sue Storm as Mara had cut her hair for a role and was forced to wear a wig for those reshoots. Overall Sue Storm is massively wasted in this film not just because of the reshoots, but also because of the film’s horrendous and dark take on a team of heroes that, for some reason, seem to be very hard to capture with any real quality on the big screen.
4. Elektra, “Daredevil”
To be fair, Elektra is a pretty complex character and any adaptation of this supernatural sai wielding anti-hero would have a lot to live up to. Unfortunately Jennifer Garner failed not once, but twice to bring the character to life, once in the divisive “Daredevil” film and a second time in the characters own standalone movie which, in my humble opinion, was actually a superior movie to “Daredevil”. Aside from the two films themselves being overall “meh” at best. Both movies attempted to provide some backstory for the heroine, but in the end Garner’s performance came off as dry, uncommitted, and just plain unenjoyable. The reason “Daredevil” gets the nod here though is because Garner DID admittedly portray Elektra much better in the second film, adding some much needed attitude and vibrato, but it wasn’t enough to really lift the character into the realm of greatness within the superhero genre. Personally I actually prefer the standalone film, but no matter which version you watch Elektra fails to be much of a standout or memorable female lead in hindsight, a fact made even truer by the much more gritty and perfected portrayal in the “Daredevil” Netflix series connected to the MCU.
3. Batgirl, “Batman & Robin”
Lets face it, “Batman & Robin” is a terrible film in and of itself but its handling of the female Bat-family member Batgirl is certainly one if its biggest sins. Alicia Silverstone tried to parlay her career into action stardom in this epic failure of a film by taking on the role of Barbara Wilson, the niece of Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred, who eventually takes on the moniker of Batgirl and joins Batman and Robin in battle against Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy. Campy, boring, and honestly downright childish, Silverstone’s portrayal of Batgirl has been the bane of every Batman fan for years (no pun intended there!). For many fans it was a waste of potential and a shoehorned entry in the franchise that failed to capture anything great about the characters involved. What could have been an amazing opportunity to shed some light on the female badass of the Batman universe instead proved to be a forced characterization meant to sell toys and merchandise. It didn’t work and hopefully we’ll get a much better interpretation in the new “Batgirl” movie being planned as part of the DC Extended Universe.
2. Supergirl, “Supergirl”
A cash grab in pretty much every sense of the term many agree that 1984’s “Supergirl” should have never happened. Today the character is a part of the highly successful “Arrowverse” on television, but there was a time when anything Superman related was thrown in the face of potential consumers in an attempt to cash in on the popularity of the first great superhero movie series. Helen Slater took on the part of Kara Zor-El, aka Supergirl who is Superman’s cousin, and really Slater didn’t do half bad. She was charming, she looked the part, and in many ways she captured what the character was all about…but the sin here is not on the actress but on everything else as this film overall that failed to do any justice to Supergirl, burying a decent performance inside a muddled, cheap, and downright boring adventure that received a critical beating and failed to garner much audience attention as a result. It, along with “Superman IV” in 1987, is largely to blame for sidetracking the blockbuster franchise for years and many wondered if Supergirl would ever recover from the trainwreck that was her feature film debut. Luckily she did and now we have a righteous television version of the heroine and a possible entry in the DC Extended Universe that are helping to give Supergirl the attention she truly deserves.
1. Catwoman, “Catwoman”
It’s Halle Berry’s second appearance on this list and she can’t blame pregnancy on this one. This 2004 film that took the sometimes-villain, sometimes-heroine and put her front and center is infamous as one of the worse superhero films of all time and one that not only destroyed the character, but sidelined Berry’s career as well. Berry actually showed up in person to accept a Golden Razzy award for her portrayal of Patience Phillips, aka Catwoman, in an origin story noone wanted nor needed. Let me count the ways this film did Catwoman wrong. First, Selena Kyle is the character most known for being the Catwoman but here the filmmakers decided to create a new alter ego for the heroine named Patience Phillips for seemingly no reason at all. Second, that infamous basketball scene which upped the camp factor and still stands as one of the most hated scenes in all superhero films. Third that completely unrecognizable cat suit that upped the sex-factor but seemed to be completely out of place considering the character’s identity as a catburgler. Add in a lazy story, horrid CGI, and a phoned in performance by Berry and you have not only the worst portrayal of a female hero to date, but one of the worst performances in a superhero film EVER. It’s a performance and film that truly should have never happened and with superior performances by Michelle Pfeiffer and Anne Hathaway doing the character justice before AND after Berry’s take on the heroine, we can safely forget this atrocity ever poisoned the big screen in the first place.