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The Long-Overdue Rise of the Action-Franchise Queen

The Long-Overdue Rise of the Action-Franchise Queen: Warner Bros. Pictures; Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Warner Bros. Pictures; Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Rebecca Hall was hired to play much more than a brainy scientist and one of Tony Stark’s jilted one-night stands in Iron Man 3—in fact, she was supposed to play Stark’s secret nemesis. Yet Hall’s juiciest scenes never got filmed, reportedly because Marvel executives insisted that a female action figure wouldn’t sell as well as a man’s. So Hall’s role got sliced drastically, and her chances for a return bout with Stark dropped to zero.

Those days may be over. A couple of well-known female stars are poised to come on strong in centerpiece roles in huge-budget action franchises. First up will be Felicity Jones as rebel turned rebel hero Jyn Erso in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which has Jones leading a motley crew of heroes in a secret effort to swipe the plans for the Death Star. Lucasfilms has yet to confirm or deny whether Jones’ character is related to Rey, played by Daisy Ridley in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, or whether Jyn Erso will return in other Star War films. Either way, Rogue One could launch the Theory of Everything Oscar nominee and Inferno costar into a whole new galaxy.

Meanwhile, in the stand-up tradition of Sigourney Weaver (the Alien franchise), Kate Beckinsale (Underworld) and Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil), Scarlett Johansson has not only amply demonstrated her kick-assery but also flexed her box-office muscle as Black Widow in five Avengers movies—and let’s not forget the surgically enhanced fighting machine in Luc Besson’s worldwide smash Lucy. Marvel has been teasing us for years with rumors of building a movie around Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff, but Johansson isn’t one for waiting around. Nex March, she’ll take on another iconic role—in the sci-fi crime thriller based on Masamune Shirow’s wildly popular Japanese cyberpunk manga Ghost in the Shell. Of course, because the main character is Asian and Johansson is not, the casting has poked at a hornet’s nest of controversy over whether the movie is just another case of Hollywood whitewashing. Scarlett Johansson is a well-liked wonder, especially in action roles, but it remains to be seen whether the brouhaha might rocket Ghost in the Shell to massive success or prove to be an albatross around its neck.

Slam Suicide Squad all you want, but $744 million at the box-office and across-the-board raves for Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn made a sequel inevitable. No wonder WB and Robbie are developing a Quinn-led follow-up that could lead to a couple of more. Bring it.

June of next year brings the feature-film reveal of Gal Gadot in the $150 million epic Wonder Woman, playing the Amazonian superheroine who pretty much stole every second of her “teaser” moments in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Sure, the internet nearly melted when an anonymous former Warner Bros. employee termed Wonder Woman “a mess,” but whether or not the employee was right or just, well, disgruntled, can you imagine a world in which we won’t be seeing Gadot in the role many, many more times? Us neither.

And let’s not count out Oscar winner Alicia Vikander, who will step into the role of the young, untested Lara Croft in a Tomb Raider epic inspired by the video game’s 2013 reboot. That one, to be directed by Roar Uthaug (The Wave), may hit in late 2017 or leap into 2018. 

When the smoke clears, though, Brie Larson just may turn out to be the big winner in Hollywood’s new-found confidence in heavily betting on two fisted female-led superhero flicks. The Oscar winning star of Room is set to play control freak fighter pilot, smack-talker and alien Carol Danvers, a.k.a. Captain Marvel, in a female-directed movie all her own. And because that character traditionally works closely with both the Guardians of the Galaxy and the Avengers, that means Larson will also be front and center next time the Avengers assemble in Infinity War. Just imagine all the crossover and standalone titles in which Larson can strut her stuff.

One thing’s clear: The female action-franchise hero, although enjoying new heights of visibility, is no mere trend. It’s the continuation of a path carved out by courageous ass-kickers on both sides of the camera, and an idea whose time, now more than ever, has come.

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