Hollywood bigwigs may claim equal opportunity, but when it comes to saving the day super-hero style, it's still a man's world.
This year’s super-hero summer fare, including films like “World War Z,” “The Lone Ranger,” and “Wolverine,” showed us once again that heroic male leads remain the film industry’s top priority.
A decade ago, things were different.
Jennifer Garner starred in “Elektra,” Jessica Alba ruled the “Fantastic Four,” Sarah Michelle Gellar was the vampire slaying “Buffy,” and Angelina Jolie dominated in “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” and “Salt,” which was initially intended for a male lead, Tom Cruise.
And while female counterparts such as Amy Adams’ Lois Lane in the new “Man of Steel,” and Gwyneth Paltrow in the recent “Iron Man 3” have enabled women to take on physical duties and be more than mere damsels in distress, Tinseltown appears to still be a long way from putting females at the forefront again any time soon.
“Part of the lack of lead female action stars is the prevailing mentality of ‘safe bets’ by the big studios making such films and part of it is the fact that so many aging franchises the studio favors didn’t come equipped with empowered female characters,” entertainment and pop culture expert, Scott Huver, told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column. “Safe and familiar rules the blockbuster mentality at the moment, and very few are trying to trail-blaze for action heroines.”
Scarlett Johnassen's Black Widow in 'The Avengers' movies is one of the few female super heroes who remains.
“[Writer] Joss Whedon’s take on the Black Widow in ‘The Avengers’ set up some hidden depths and intriguing back story, but she also remains one of the few Avengers who is yet to be given her own solo film,” Huver pointed out. “All of this is slow coming after Sigourney Weaver’s ‘Ripley’ and Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Conner laid the groundwork for female leads in action films beloved by both men and women.”
Whedon has reportedly assured fans that Widow will be a “huge part” in the next Avengers installment. And the long-standing argument that females don’t have the same draw as their male counterparts is perhaps one that is waning, especially given the poor box office performance of a number of men-led summer blockbusters this year.
Conversely, several of the lady-led action films have kicked box office butt. Jolie’s “Salt” grossed just under $400 million at the international box office off a $110 million production budget while “The Tomb Raider” series accumulated $431 million against its $213 million budget. The Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu franchise reboot of “Charlie’s Angels” amassed $523 million worldwide off its $110 million budget. More recently, the Jennifer Lawrence-led “The Hunger Games” took in $691 million against $78 million in production expenses.
A study released by the Motion Picture Association of America in 2011 found that gender composition of moviegoers was pretty much equal – 51 percent female, 49 percent male. But as long as the entertainment industry is predominantly overseen by men, experts say female leads may be a longtime coming.
A recent study by Dr. Martha M. Lauzen, Executive Director at the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film and School of Theatre, concluded that just 18 percent of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films of last year were women. And only three women – Tina Gordon Chism for “Tyler Perry Presents Peebles,” Kimberly Peirce for “Carrie” and Jennifer Lee on “Frozen” – are directing blockbuster movies in 2013.
“Hollywood needs to reflect the many real life heroines we can find globally nowadays. We need female action stars that are believable, powerful in charisma and their physicality. Someone you really want at your side when things go bad,” said screenwriter and author Ariane Sommer.
There are some glimmers on the horizon, however, including an all- female version of Sylvester Stallone’s “The Expendables” in the pipeline. The film has is slated for a 2015 release, according to IMDb. But whether or not that is a plus for females on the screen has yet to be determined.
“The female ‘Expendables’ notion I expect will probably be more of the same, hot girls shooting big guns,” Huver added. “That will have an appeal, but I don’t expect a quantum leap forward in terms of fully recognized heroines.”
Hollie McKay has been a FoxNews.com staff reporter since 2007. She has reported extensively from the Middle East on the rise and fall of terrorist groups such as ISIS in Iraq. Follow her on twitter at @holliesmckay