It’s not all good news for Princess Diana of Themyscira.
Recently, it’s been reported to much acclaim that not only will the budget for Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman starring Gal Gadot be $100m, but that it is the first film directed by a woman to do so.
First of all: Yay, this is amazing news.
But as it turns out, Wonder Woman is not, in fact, the first to reach this mark. That record instead belongs to Kathryn Bigelow’s 2002 submarine thriller K-19: The Widowmaker, with a reported budget of $100m. But regardless, this is great news, right? Maybe not.
It’s been tough for women behind the camera in Hollywood and all signs point to it just becoming tougher. Fox recently announced their slate of films for the next two years without a single woman attached as director. While both Canada and the UK are taking action towards gender equality in film industry hiring practices, Hollywood has gotten worse prompting a federal investigation and threat of lawsuits.
So it makes sense that announcement of Wonder Woman’s (almost) record-setting $100m budget is a big deal, and it is – until you look at it next to its contemporaries.
This summer alone, we’ve gotten Captain America: Civil War ($250m), Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice ($250m) and X-Men: Apocalypse ($178m). Ike Barinholtz revealed Suicide Squad’s budget to be somewhere north of $250m, and this was before the film underwent reshoots. Even Man of Steel in 2013 had a budget of $225m.
Despite its strategic positioning in the DC cinematic universe, and positive fan reaction, Wonder Woman is working with not just one of the lowest budgets of Warner Bros’ films, but of any current superhero film.
But it gets worse. Much worse. Let’s travel back in time.
Back in 2005, the Batman franchise itself was not in good shape, having been thrown into whatever carnival pit-of-hell Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin has created. But in a bid to rekindle the franchise, Warner Bros hired the guy who made a weird independent film (Memento) to direct Batman Begins with a budget of $150m.
In 2008, Marvel launched a studio division to try and capitalize on their properties instead of continuing to license their characters for peanuts. It’s hard to imagine now, considering the juggernaut that Marvel has become, but back in the days of the first Iron Man, the studio and the film were considered to be doomed projects. They even had a difficult time finding a director willing to take the job of adapting what was a C-list catalog character into a summer action film for an uncertain studio. Despite all this, Iron Man was produced for $140m.
It’s hard to say if the budget for Wonder Woman represents Warner Bros’ lack of confidence in the franchise, or is representative of the film industry’s attitude towards women as whole. One thing that’s certain is even though Wonder Woman gets to play with the big boys, she’s not allowed to have as many toys. We might as well just call it the superhero wage gap.
$100m is still a lot of money, and a lot can be accomplished with it, but when you’re playing at the level of Captain America and Superman, it becomes significantly more difficult and the first questions are usually what can be cut out of the script.
Deadpool had to deal with these cuts when the long-developed project got produced for $58m. There the issue had to do entirely with the rating as making an R-rated movie cuts off a hugely valuable demographic for comic book movies. So director Tim Miller had to get creative by reducing locations, making action scenes smaller, and combining multiple characters into one. The film ended up paying off for Fox with huge box office returns, but it was a success that caught most by surprise, and you can bet that the inevitable sequel will have a lot larger budget at their disposal.
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The big difference is that Deadpool, despite being part of Fox’s X-Men cinematic universe, was not expected to be more than a one-off. Wonder Woman, on the other hand, is the 4th installment of the DC cinematic universe’s continuing storyline, and part of the basis for the Justice League. It’s one piece of an always intended much larger puzzle. Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman are often referred to as the DC Trinity and attempting to marginalize one-third of that based on gender is worse than insulting – it’s predictable.
The result is almost certainly going to create a series of films where one singular entry is varied in scale and scope in compared to the rest. The casual filmgoer who doesn’t pay attention to budgets and box office will likely only notice that it doesn’t seem as big as the rest of the movies – and therefore not as good.
However, there is a lot of awesome in this Wonder Woman news, and while it does mean positive strides for the grossly underrepresented women who work in this industry, we still have a long way to go. The Amazon Warrior may have struck a serious and noticeable blow for justice, and victories should be celebrated, but tomorrow the fight continues.