Do We Need a Female Superhero Before We Can Have a Female Villain?

Doctor DoomMarvel

With so many superhero movies and reboots to keep track of, it’s no surprise that Fox’s planned Fantastic Four reboot has gotten somewhat lost in the shuffle. The project has been in the works for some time, although it was rumored to have originally been concived as a starring vehicle for Michael B. Jordan. The Fruitvale Station actor has been all but confirmed as the new Johnny Storm, but although the studio has been looking at many different actors to fill out the rest of the lineup, nobody else has remained a constant. Most recently, Jordan’s That Awkward Moment co-star Miles Teller was rumored to be in the running for Reed Richards, with British actor Christian Cooke testing for the role of Ben Grimm, and Emmy Rossum and Kate Mara becoming the latest actress to test for Sue Storm. However, the most interesting news that the studio has revealed in these casting reports is that Dr. Doom will definitely be the film’s villain, but although they are hoping to cast a big name in the role, the team is interested in looking at both male and female actors for the part — meaning that Fantastic Four could possibly have a female super villain.

Of course, since these are still only early reports, we can’t know for sure how likely a female Dr. Doom is, but the news is still exciting nonetheless. Good female roles have been notoriously hard to find in superhero films, and all of the latest reboots and sequels have left many comic book fans desperate to see a female hero on the big screen. A female villain is not quite as significant, but it would still be a major step forward for superhero films.

There are many popular female villains in comic books and video games, but these villains tend to be smaller side villains who either assist the big bad with their plans, or are dispatched with early on in the film. Both Poison Ivy and Catwoman have been featured on the big screen, but neither of them were given the same amount of screentime or story attention as the main villains of those films were (unless you count Halle Berry’s Catwoman movie, which you shouldn’t). And although Harley Quinn has a massive fan following, she’s more of a sidekick for the Joker than anything else. Dr. Doom, on the other hand, is a major villain, one whose backstory and motivations have been given a great deal of attention and screentime, and he’s always been the Fantastic Four’s primary adversary. Casting a woman in this kind of role would mean that she would get significantly more attention, as well as guaranteeing her a spot in multiple Fantastic Four films. 

Since this films would be a reboot and origin story, the story would have to dedicate a significant part of the plot to establishing Dr. Doom’s backstory and explaining her motivations, which would help to create a character that is three-dimensional and sympathetic. It’s possible, then, that Dr. Doom could become a popular character amongst fans who can empathize with her or who find the character to be complicated and interesting, like the Marvel fans who have rallied behind Loki as their favorite character. While that doesn’t necessarily mean that Dr. Doom would then get her own film, it might help encourage studios and filmmakers who are worried that a female superhero wouldn’t be well received. After all, if a female villain could earn a huge following, who’s to say that a female hero couldn’t earn a bigger one? 

Of course, changing Dr. Doom to a woman would cause a great deal of backlash before there would be any opportunity for her to build a following. Many comic book fans are resistant towards seeing their favorite characters changed for the big screen, and since even small tweaks (like upping Batman’s age for Ben Affleck to play him, or the possibility of Lex Luthor not being bald) tend to result in a great del of outrage, the reaction towards turning Dr. Doom into a female character would likely be even bigger. Fantastic Four has already had to endure controversy over the decision to cast Jordan as Johnny Storm, since in the comics, the character is white, which might make the team behind the film even more hesitant to take a chance on an unusual casting choice. Not to mention, by and large, the reaction to female characters from male comic book fans tends to be more negative than positive — even fan favorite Black Widow is often attacked whenever a new Avengers film is released. 

However, even if fans could get past the shock of a female Dr. Doom, making a woman a super villain seems like the easy way to give females more prominent roles in franchises. Generally, there is a type of actor who plays villains, and a type who play heroes, and there is very little overlap between those two groups. In much the same way, portraying women as villains could keep both studios and audiences as viewing women as heroes. The protagonist of a film is the character through which the audience views the story, and since superhero films are generally targeted at a male audience, studios prefer to keep the protagonist a man, buying into the impression that the audience can better identify with a male, and therefore will come see the film and its sequels. They believe that men will have a harder time identifying with female protagonists, which means that studios are reluctant to mount a female superhero film, since they are worried that a male audience will have more trouble connecting with the character and the film, and therefore enjoy it less. However, studios might feel it’s easier for men to identify women as villains than as heroes — particularly since a great deal of pop culture stereotypes women into “nagging wife” or “femme fatale” characters — and so it’s an easy way for them to make progress with female characters without jeopardizing their target demographic. 

All of which means that just because female character may start playing a bigger role in Fantastic Four or other superhero franchises, it doesn’t mean that a female superhero film will hit theaters any sooner. It’s easy to make women the villain, because it’s easier for audiences to accept that, and therefore easier for studios to guarantee a return. But a female-fronted superhero film is a risk, and since studios can’t guarantee that it will be a success, it’s not a risk they’re willing to take. And if audiences get comfortable seeing women as villains, it makes it even more difficult to put a female hero film in motion, because it makes it even harder for audiences to picture a female superhero film. 

We would love a female Dr. Doom, or any female super villain, but in the end, it’s not likely to help get that female superhero film made. In fact it could end up doing more harm than good. But that doesn’t mean that fans should stop pressuring filmmakers and studios to make them, because we shouldn’t be forced to just accept the way things currently are. And then, once we finally get that Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel or even a Black Widow or Scarlet Witch solo film, we can add in female villains, from Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy to a female Dr. Doom, and have films that feature both good and bad women, and female characters that are just as complex, interesting, and worth rooting for or against as the current crop of male superheroes and villains are.