Updated: Dec 10, 2020
Since the release of Iron Man in 2008, Marvel superhero movies have grossed $22.56 billion in total worldwide box office revenue, making the Marvel Cinematic Universe the highest grossing film franchise in the world.
It all started with Bob Iger, the newest CEO of Disney. When Iger took office in 2005, he sought to revitalize Disney by implementing a strategy that focused on acquisition. Under Bob Iger’s directive, Disney acquired major studios such as Pixar, 20th Century Fox, Lucas Film, and finally, Marvel.
Due to Bob Iger’s acquisition-centered strategy, Disney acquired Marvel for $4 billion in 2009. Shortly thereafter, they started pumping out at least two films a year, featuring new and old superheros. Marvel became not only a franchise, but a universe. Hence, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was born. The MCU is known to be a highly controlled, bureaucratic money making machine. Marvel movies follow a strict formula created around generating box office success - their goal is to attract as many moviegoers as possible. As a result, the MCU has generally abided by the perception that movies with white, male lead characters will sell.
It is no secret that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has fallen extremely short in the area of gender representation. Excluding the upcoming Black Widow movie, there is only one Marvel movie that features a female lead. That is one out of 23 films - not a very high ratio. There are female characters present in Marvel movies, yet almost all of them reside in the background as supporting characters, and are very commonly the love interests of the male main characters. Characters such as Gamora, an impressive superhero in her own right, is introduced to audiences as the love interest of the main character, Peter Quill, in Guardians of the Galaxy. In addition, Natasha Romanova, a badass superspy, was also introduced to audiences as a supporting character in Iron Man 2. Throughout her many appearances in different Marvel movies, Natasha Romanova is the love interest of not one, but several male superheroes. In fact, she seems to be the subject of a different male character’s gaze in every film she is in. The presence of female characters in Marvel movies follow this pattern.
A lot has changed in the film industry since the beginning of the MCU in 2008. Representation has become a forefront issue within film and television. And yet, the MCU has not evolved accordingly. Having female superheroes present is not enough. It matters how female superheroes are portrayed. It does no justice to constantly portray female superheroes as sexualized background characters, foregoing the opportunity to introduce these women as leads in their own feature films and tell their stories independent of the men they support.
When asked about the absence of female leads within the MCU, the President of Marvel Studios, Kevin Fiege said, “I’m anxious for a time where it’s not a novelty that there is a female-led superhero movie, but it is a norm.” And yet, one is caused to wonder, If he was really concerned with changing the “norm”, wouldn’t he change it himself? Given that he is the President of the most valuable movie franchise in the world, it is obvious that he has the power to set a new standard, to make it normal for female superheroes to be the leads of their own movies.
The MCU’s lack of innovation traces back to the most powerful force in the world: money. Marvel Studios has established a formula that works, and until they see a future in which money can be made from female superhero movies, women will continue to be underrepresented in these films.