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Pity poor Diana of Themyscira. She might be the warrior princess who paved the way for such heroes as Xena, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Katniss from The Hunger Games, but when it comes to making it on her own in movies or television, she can’t seem to catch a break. With Michelle MacLaren dropping out of the in-development 2017 movie, is it time to ask whether Wonder Woman is cursed?
Despite being created within years of her DC Entertainment brethren Superman and Batman, Wonder Woman’s footprint outside comic books is surprisingly minimal (It could be argued that the same is true inside comics; unlike those two heroes, she’s been traditionally limited to one solo series per month until last year’s launch of Sensation Comics).
Whereas Superman reached the big screen in 1951 (following a movie serial run that started in 1948), with Batman following in 1966 (again, following a couple of movie serials that ran in 1943 and 1949, respectively), Wonder Woman has not only yet to receive her own solo movie, but yet to appear on the big screen at all; her debut will finally come when Gal Gadot plays the character in next year’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
It’s not as if there haven’t been earlier attempts to make a Wonder Woman movie. Plans were announced as early as 1996, with Ivan Reitman linked to a potential project that ended up not going anywhere. Sandra Bullock was linked to a Wonder Woman movie in 1999, with Joel Silver on board as producer, although a number of other actresses — including Angelina Jolie, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Xena herself, Lucy Lawless — were also named as potential Diana Princes at various times during the project’s development.
In 2005, Avengers: Age of Ultron‘s Joss Whedon was announced by Warner Bros. as working on a Wonder Woman movie, with Silver — still attached as producer — saying that there was “no one better than Joss” to bring the character to the big screen. But apparently, even he wasn’t enough; two years later, he confirmed that he was no longer working on the project, writing “I had a take on the film that, well, nobody liked.” Perhaps MacLaren can sympathize.
(Whedon also said that Cobie Smulders was his choice to play the character; she’d later to go on to join the Marvel Universe as SHIELD agent Maria Hill in Whedon’s Avengers in 2012.)
Even before MacLaren became involved with the project in November last year, there were still rumblings about others wanting to bring the character to the multiplex: Nicolas Winding Refn wanted Christina Hendricks to play the character, while Paul Feig wanted to make a comedy based around the character. Nothing found any purchase with the studio, however.
If there’s any comfort to be taken from the fact that Wonder Woman is seemingly an impossible character to adapt for film — DC president Diane Nelson called that “one of the biggest challenges at the company” in 2013, saying that Wonder Woman was “one of the top three priorities for DC and for Warner Bros.” — it’s that she’s proven equally problematic on television.
On the small screen, at least, there has a Wonder Woman solo project that actually made it to air. In fact, the 1970s vehicle for Lynda Carter is what shaped many people’s conceptions of the character, but it was far from an easy road to get it made. The show as fans know it was, in fact, the third attempt to bring the character to television, following a 1974 pilot that starred Cathy Lee Crosby as a blond Amazon who could talk to animals and preferred a Captain America-esque costume to her traditional look, and a 1967 take that … well, has to be seen to be believed:
Even after the success of the Lynda Carter show, Wonder Woman has struggled on television. A planned 1990s animated series (and related toyline), Wonder Woman and the Star Riders, was killed at the last moment, despite promotional material having already been released, and two separate live-action TV series based around the character have ended up going nowhere: David E. Kelley‘s Wonder Woman, starring Adrianne Palicki (another actress who’s since joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in ABC’s Agents of SHIELD series), and Amazon, a CW series that would have focused on the character’s origins, a la Smallville.
Big screen or small, Wonder Woman can’t seem to catch a break — and, to hear others talk about it, the problem is with the character herself. “She doesn’t have the single, clear, compelling story that everyone knows and recognizes,” Diane Nelson told The Hollywood Reporter in 2013. “There are lots of facets to Wonder Woman, and I think the key is, how do you get the right facet for that right medium?”
Similarly, CW president Mark Pedowitz told THR in January 2014, “We’re going to be very careful with Wonder Woman. You only get one shot before you get bit.”
Perhaps the problem isn’t a curse as much as a simple lack of definition. Does Wonder Woman need a core text before she’ll finally get her chance to shine onscreen? If so, it’s in DC Entertainment’s best interests to formalize a mythology and Wonder Woman canon in comic book form as quickly as possible — something to point non-comic fans toward and which performs a similar function as Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns does for Batman, or All-Star Superman does for the Man of Steel. And if Warners really wants to hit that 2017 date for the solo Wonder Woman movie, DC needs to move quickly.
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