18 Jun Chicks Ass-Kickin’ Against the Pricks
“Retainer + Doll Pee + Meat Hook = Explosion? WHAT!?” – Omnizoa, Movie Forum…
Action films featuring a female lead/female leads haven’t exactly flooded the cineplexes over the years, but they’re hardly a rarity either… Mah gerrrl Geena D (woo hoo) flew the flag with Thelma and Louise (1991) and The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), lighting the screen up with exploding trucks and sparky meat hooks (leeeets not mention Cutthroat Island (1995). Or Secret Weapons (1984)).
Actually, let’s indeed mention Secret Weapons, as not-so-teeny Geenie’s co-Russian sex spy Linda Hamilton is another cinematic femme force to be reckoned with both on and offscreen. This little pocket rocket has survived everything from “seemingly indestructible humanoid cyborgs” (The Terminator (1984), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)) to sharing sink space with James Cameron (in a marriage she described as “terrible on every level”). And there is this sense of heroic strength and optimism to her which is intoxicating – you believe she is ABSOLUTELY equipped to protect the human race, and she actually believed that “fourth time’s a charm” when she popped on the tulle and glided towards Jimmy C at the pulpit. A tenacious b with killer guns of multiple varieties.
Whether Sarah Connor’s escapades qualify her as a lead action heroine is debatable, but what’s not debatable is the fact that this character is iconic, and important. And rendered Linda Hamilton a bonafide ‘action star’.
Who for whatever reason never played another action hero again (do we count Mayor Rachel Wando in Dante’s Peak (1997)? I’m open to persuasion, but let’s not clutch those straws too tightly). Perhaps the permanent hearing damage she suffered firing off a few rounds in an elevator during the Terminator 2: Judgment Day shoot meant she couldn’t hear people screaming “Come bank Linda!!! Come back and kick ass!!!!” WOW I have never enjoyed getting sidetracked more than I am right now…
So, films with strong female action leads (the Alien franchise, the Kill Bill franchise, the Underworld franchise, the Resident Evil franchise) have shown they can go painted toenail-to-toenail that presumably isn’t painted – matching their male-led counterparts in films that admittedly aren’t all cinematic masterpieces, but are in the cases mentioned, box office chawc-lit. Or ‘chocolat’ (much more fancy and feminine). But has this been the case for action heroines of the ‘super’ persuasion?
Films like Supergirl (1984), Tank Girl (1995), Catwoman (2004) and Elektra (2005), have come along to have (whip) crack at the superhero movie game, and largely, the box office has turned the cat o’ nine tails back on them.
Purely going by the numbers, Supergirl technically fared second worst of all (failing to recover even close to half of its $35million budget*. As you can see from the fancy ‘lil table below – Supergirl‘s numbers are an epic tale of fail.
Girl Superheroes = ‘Risky Business’
If you care to have another look at my glorious little table of wonder ladies and their cinematic vehicles, you will see that it took over a decade after Supergirl for a major studio to invest in a penis-deficient superhero. And the lucky girl next in line was of the tank variety. Upon rewatch, Supergirl is a flawed, yet not-entirely-awful affair (Faaaaye, you know where you belong in that assessment). And to be fair, you could also say the folks at WB were only typically chucking in an extra $20(m), on the Man of Steel. So you could argue that Supergirl got made on (just over) half of Superman I & II’s budget. Buuuuuut let’s be real. Superman III got in the can for almost the same money as Supergirl, and despite an odd Reeve/Pryor pairing and perplexingly camp tone, it doubled the studio’s money and then some.
Sadly, not the only tank-related action delivered by this movie.
Scan Tank Girl‘s stats at your own risk, ladies, ’cause it gets buh-rrruuuuuutal. Percentage-wise, Tank Girl, well….it absolutely tanked. It had a $25million budget, and grossed just over $4million. No matter how you slice it, Tank Girl, the “Poster Girl for the Apocalypse”, was a steampunk-alyptic financial disaster, failing to recoup even 20% of it’s production budget. Yes, despite having a quarter of Catwoman‘s budget, still lost MORE money than her feline fellow justice-seeker/box office ‘stinkah’.
Post-release interviews with the director and the creators of the Tank Girl comic book (Alan Martin & Jamie “Gorillaz” Hewlett) are essentially a finger-pointing squabble fest littered with creative control battles, shitty studio-ordered rewrites, and…well…you get the idea. I actually have a soft spot for this film – great “Grrrl Power!” soundtrack, Ice-T as a ‘roo, Naomi Watts in aviator goggles…what’s not to love? And as I was thirteen in 1995 (the year I made my first ‘film’), it really came along at the right time for me. And word is, Gorillaz actually exists because of Tank Girl (the comic, not the movie, but still). So I perhaps ‘over-forgive’ its GLARING shortcomings. But the numbers don’t lie. And the numbers weren’t good.
Tank Girl, along with the film adaptation of Dark Horse Comics ‘stablemate’ Barb Wire (1996) seemed to confirm the formula: female superheroes = box office kryptonite. It took nearly ten years before a female was allowed back on the silver screen in a lead superhero role (a Halle Berry fetish fantasy aka Catwoman) and over twenty years since Supergirl before a female superhero vehicle (2005’s Elektra) actually turned a profit (a whopping $13.6million).
The “other JG” Elektra-fying the box office in her lil crop top. Sort of. She did not lose money. Close enough.
And another twelve years before a successor to Marvel’s Elektra turned up to ‘go for better’. And her name was Wonder Woman. And after spending OVER TWENTY YEARS in development, it seems the world was finally ready for her. I hope they were also ready for some God-killin’, ass-kickin’ excitement (and even some ‘fish out of water’ comedic moments) because that’s what they got! FUN ladies and gents. FUN. ‘Pussy power’ed FUN. You can read my review of Wonder Woman here.
Oh. And on Letterboxd. Dig it.