Why Female Superheroes Are Flying on TV Instead of in Movies

“Television is just able to take more risks than film,” Nicole Perlman, screenwriter for “Captain Marvel,” tells TheWrap

As comic book superheroes become more popular and mainstream than ever, efforts to make the genre more inclusive and diverse have begun to yield results — just not yet on the big screen in lead roles.

ABC’s “Agent Carter” is heading into its second season, just in time to welcome newcomers “Supergirl” (CBS) and “Jessica Jones” (Netflix) as the newest solo female superhero series. The CW, in addition to its “Flash” and “Arrow” series, also airs “iZombie,” featuring Rose McIver as a character based on a Vertigo comic book.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros’ “Wonder Woman” won’t hit the big screen until summer 2017 and Marvel’s “Captain Marvel” won’t follow until at least two years after that. The “Captain Marvel” date seems especially far off, as it’s a year later than its original 2018 scheduled release. And fans are not the only ones champing at the bit.

“I want to see a female superhero movie come out yesterday — I’m very impatient for us to have female superheroes in our movies now,” Nicole Perlman, who is co-writing “Captain Marvel,” told TheWrap. However, Perlman has a pragmatic approach to how Marvel schedules its films, calling it a “house of cards” balancing act.

Most recently, that came with a deal for Sony’s Spider-Man to cross over into the Marvel movie universe that had been exclusively overseen by Disney. The addition of new Spider-Man movies pushed back a bunch of planned Marvel projects.

“Now we have this massively popular character that we are going to be incorporating into this world,” Perlman said. “I don’t think it’s a shuffling off of a non-important character situation, it’s a matter of how do we balance this world we’re creating as we’re adding new elements.”

On the other hand, TV as a medium seems more conducive to allowing filmmakers to try things that would be harder to get greenlit — and scheduled — for the big screen.

“Honestly, television is just able to take more risks than film,” Perlman said, citing the relatively smaller financial risk in making a pilot compared to a blockbuster film. “The average television viewer is hungrier for content that is riskier and more controversial. It’s unfortunate that having a female lead on an action property is considered risky. It’s a slow change and the public is starting to think it’s not a big deal anymore, which is great, and that will eventually filter into film.”

Film is not without its female-led action properties, of course — though very few are based on comic-book characters. Jennifer Lawrence‘s Katniss Everdeen has been leading “The Hunger Games” rebellion since 2012, while this year also saw the rise of “Mad Max: Fury Road’s’” Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron.

“Every few years it’s like a giant shock that a female lead can carry a giant action film,” said Andrew Kreisberg, an executive producer on “Supergirl,” who also cited Sigourney Weaver in “Alien” and Linda Hamilton in “Terminator” as modern-day female action heroes. “An issue a lot of times with female-led action movies is [the writers] can break the action but not the female. A lot of times [with] successful female action heroes… the characters become these androgynous killing machines.”

Melissa Rosenberg, the showrunner on “Jessica Jones,” also wrote all the “Twilight” movies, and she is well aware of the impact that the Kristen Stewart-led franchise has had on the current state of female-driven properties.

“It had a very big role to play in terms of success,” she said. “For decades, films have been geared towards 13-year-old boys, that’s who can open a movie. Those guys will always show up. What happened with ‘Twilight’ is women and girls proved they can open a movie. They showed up and they showed up in droves.”

Still, Rosenberg cautioned, what looks like a sea change could amount to more of the same.

“I was on a panel with Geena Davis several years ago, and she was saying that when ‘Thelma and Louise’ came out, there was a lot of this same type of conversation about it being the Year of the Woman, and it wasn’t,” she recalled. “We still have the exact same number of roles for women on screen, and behind the scenes. The needle has not moved in 20 years or more. It’s really depressing.”

However, with the success of the recent crop of female-led action movies, some filmmakers have described a noticeable shift in attitudes.

“I have felt it,” Perlman said. “But possibly it’s because I like projects that have strong female leads.” Perlman recently turned in a new draft of “Wool,” an adaptation of Hugh Howsey’s novels about a female sheriff and scientist.

“I’ve never had an experience with a producer or studio executive where they said, ‘No, she’s too strong,’” Perlman said. “I’ve honestly had an enormous number of experiences in the past couple of years with producers and executives saying they’re really looking for female-led films…. I think the tide is changing, and I think ‘Hunger Games’ helped with that, and it will slowly get better.”

“Jessica Jones” premieres Friday, Nov. 20 on Netflix. “Supergirl” airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on CBS. “iZombie” airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on The CW and “Agent Carter” returns for Season 2 in midseason on ABC.