While I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up, especially my own, it seems as though Wonder Woman is finally pushing her way into the collective consciousness of the Hollywood executives necessary for greenlighting a movie or television show about the first superheroine of comics. As reported by The Hollywood Reporter, while at an entertainment law conference, Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara talked about many of the studio’s properties, including J.K. Rowling’s deal to bring Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them to the big screen, the risky payoff of Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, and the split from Legendary Films, but what has a lot of people talking are his comments about a certain Amazon princess. In his own words, Tsujihara said, “We need to get Wonder Woman on the big screen or TV.”
On this, I couldn’t agree more. With the rumored DC Cinematic Universe lineup leaning heavily on male heroes, and the television landscape not looking all that much better, Wonder Woman has been continually cited by Hollywood and DC Comics executives as being “tricky” to translate to modern audiences. Despite the modern audience of fans calling bullshit on this excuse while seeing Wonder Woman passed over in favor of other heroes getting a TV show or a movie deal, it’s at least nice to know that the top executive is aware of the necessity to bring her to the viewing audience. Of course, this could just as easily be a reactionary comment in light of fan reactions to the casting call for Superman/Batman that sounds suspiciously like there could be a Wonder Woman cameo, or the most recent Wonder Woman fan film from Rainfall that has pretty much everyone on the internet shouting, “See!? It’s not that hard!” Or Tsujihara could be sincere in his desires to put Wonder Woman on the big or small screen. Either way, he understands the importance of the character enough to mention her in a sentence that doesn’t include excuses as to why she hasn’t shown up so far.
But since I just can’t let sleeping dogs lie, here’s a little compilation of all the ways Wonder Woman has worked in the past and present. Whether it’s live action television, cartoons, fan films, or documentaries, Wonder Woman is a character who has inspired no less than three generations of female readers and fans in general. She can absolutely be translated to a modern audience and be either a serious or fun character worth exploring.
So, should this reach you, Mr. Tsujihara, please pay attention.
Of course, the only example we have of a live action television show is Wonder Woman starring Lynda Carter. Airing from 1975 to 1979, the show is remembered now as an example of campy 70s television, but with a fondness in the same realm as the 1966 Batman show. Wonder Woman inspired a whole generation of young girls and women, giving them a program with a female superhero who fought for justice, used cunning and intelligence before she used violence (in accordance with television standards at the time), and preceded Charlie’s Angels and The Bionic Woman. And who doesn’t love a good 70s theme song?
While there has only been one successful Wonder Woman television show, there were still several pilots made in an attempt to bring her to the small screen. Batman producer William Dozier was actually commissioned to create a Wonder Woman pilot due to his success with the Dynamic Duo. Unfortunately, the script went through a couple rewrites, producing only a five-minute short, Who’s Afraid of Diana Prince? (1967), starring Ellie Wood Walker. It never aired on television, but you can watch it on YouTube! Second was the 1974 TV movie starring Cathy Lee Crosby that served as a backdoor pilot to the show that was eventually offered to Lynda Carter. Focusing on the mod era of Wonder Woman’s comic book timeline, Crosby didn’t wear the iconic costume or have any discernible superpowers. And she was blonde! Scandal! The third, and most recent, attempt that was at least filmed was David E. Kelley’s Wonder Woman (2011) for NBC. Starring Adrianne Palicki (Friday Night Lights, Supernatural), the pilot fell under a lot of scrutiny from fans concerning the script and costume design. Also, the pilot is – how do I say this? – not good. In the wake of Arrow‘s success, The CW continues to tease a possible Wonder Woman show, Amazon, but it remains on the back burner as the network pursues other DC Comics properties like The Flash.
Other than the television show, the inclusion of Wonder Woman in a cartoon ensemble seems to be where a lot of us saw the first female superhero brought to life…so to speak.
First, there was The Super Friends (1973-1986) that featured Wonder Woman (voiced by Shannon Farnon) as part of the main cast along with Superman, Batman, Robin, Aquaman, and the Scooby-Doo stand-ins that were popular at the time. My generation, however, got to know Wonder Woman (voiced by Susan Eisenberg) in the much beloved Justice League and Justice League: Unlimited (2001-2004). Part of the DC Animated Universe stemming from Bruce Timm’s Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League played up Diana’s fish-out-of-water story in the first season with her exploring the world of man as an outsider and observer after essentially running away from Themyscira to help the rest of the League save the world from an alien threat. As the series progressed, Diana’s character was thoroughly explored as we saw her in the roles of the dutiful princess and daughter, dispenser of justice, loving friend, and angry warrior.
Interestingly enough, Justice League also offered excellent explorations of nuanced relationships as seen through Diana and her interactions with Batman and Hawkgirl. The implied Wonder Woman/Batman relationship, though it never came to fruition officially within the show, was well handled and established subtly, starting with the end of “Brave and the Bold”. From there, the show continued to put the two in situations that either hinted at their feelings for one another or flat-out forced them to express it. That kiss in “Starcrossed” pretty much covers it, right? On the other hand, Diana’s friendship with Hawkgirl was a great example of how characters with contrasting philosophies could work together and develop great respect for one another even in the face of adversity. The episode “Fury” showed the glimmering friendship between the two with Diana still spouting her Themysciran “men are non-essential” mantra in contrast to Hawkgirl’s “Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it” mentality. It wasn’t until Hawkgirl’s betrayal, exile, and redemption after the show switched to Justice League: Unlimited that we got to see the friendship between the two rekindled. Stubborn as they are, Diana and Shayera still respect each other, and it’s a testament to the creator’s understanding of the characters that they took the time to rebuild the friendship over several episodes instead of just solving everything in one go.
After the cancellation of Justice League: Unlimited, Wonder Woman got her own DC Animated Original Movie in 2009 with Keri Russell voicing Diana with Nathan Fillion as Steve Trevor, Rosario Dawson as Artemis, Alfred Molina as Ares, and Virginia Madsen as Hippolyta. The movie was a serviceable retelling of Wonder Woman’s origin that utilized a lot of the major themes associated with the character and could very well serve as a template for a live-action movie. Wonder Woman remains a featured character in most DC animated movies and television shows including, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010), Justice League: Doom (2012), Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010), Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013), and Young Justice (2010, 2011-2013). Most recently, the DC Nation Block on Cartoon Network featured updated and heavily stylized Wonder Woman shorts from animator Robert Valley. Carrying a 70s surfer vibe, the three-part series was an instant hit and one of the more popular shorts aired during the animation block.
Okay, here’s where Hollywood really has to pay attention. One of the biggest criticisms of the “Wonder Woman is tricky” excuse is the fact that there are several fan films on the internet where creative teams seem to have cracked the code on how to make a compelling and interesting Wonder Woman story without making the character campy or outdated. As I said before, Rainfall put out a two-minute trailer and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the style is very reminiscent of Zack Snyder’s 300. Just sayin’.
Prior to Rainfall’s trailer, there was the fan film from director Jesse V. Johnson, starring Nina Bergman, that harkened back to Wonder Woman’s 1940s origin:
And only three months ago, First Impressions – featuring Doug Jones! – showed how hard a first date can be for a superhero:
So, ya see, it really isn’t as hard as people in Hollywood are making it. Granted, these are only 2-5 minute long videos, but that doesn’t mean Hollywood can’t take a long, hard look at what’s going on in these fan films and see what their creators see. Wonder Woman can be as modern or as classic as you want her to be. The only thing standing in her way is the story. Give her a good story, make her an amazing character, and the rest is just gravy. You won’t please everyone, that’s just a fact of the movie-making machine, but there’s plenty to work with. Hell, put all of these people in a room and see what they can come up with! They’ve done most of the hard work already!