The girl power movement has grown exponentially over the past 25 years. We've had "Xena" and "Buffy" on TV, and Ripley in the Alien movies and Uma in the Kill Bill movies. And now there are new Red Sonja and Wonder Woman movies coming soon, and rumblings of a Supergirl reboot. But I think we can agree the majority of tough-chick and female superhero movies have kind of sucked. What could be the problem? Surely we all like to see tough girls who kick ass, don't we? Or do we?
The following is a loose breakdown of the "girl power" genre, to see if maybe we can't pinpoint what has gone wrong.
Movie: Supergirl (1984)
The Star: Helen Slater as Supergirl
The Pros: A very cute, hugely appealing Supergirl, even if she was second-billed behind the villain, Faye Dunaway.
The Problem: An expensive flop and a total misfire from bad luck director Jeannot Szwarc (Jaws 2, Santa Claus), the movie feels big and stupid, but also feels like leftovers in the middle of the original Christopher Reeve cycle of Superman films.
Movie: Sheena (1984)
The Star: Tanya Roberts as Sheena, Queen of the Jungle
The Pros: Based on a comic strip by the great Will Eisner.
The Problem: A dreary "chosen one" plotline and a schizophrenic PG movie with hints and teases of nudity.
Movie: Red Sonja (1985)
The Star: Brigitte Nielsen as Red Sonja
The Pros: Based on a character created by Robert E. Howard ("Conan the Barbarian")
The Problem: After two Arnold Schwarzenegger Conan movies in the early 1980s, this one felt like leftovers (again), including casting Schwarzenegger in a small role and slathering his picture all over the ads. Nielsen was too much like one of those repulsive bodybuilders with little sex appeal, and the movie itself (despite an Ennio Morricone score) was a mess.
Movie: Barb Wire (1996)
The Star: Pamela Anderson as Barb Wire
The Pros: Anderson at her most guilty-pleasure sexy.
The Problem: I actually liked this one in a fun, "B" movie kind of way, but many complained at how it cribbed Casablanca for its plotline. And, let's face it, how many serious critics are going to give a good review to a Pamela Anderson movie?
Movie: Batman & Robin (1997)
The Star: Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl
The Pros: Um... some pretty colors?
The Problem: Where to start? Batgirl was pretty much wallpaper in this all-time disaster, written by the future Oscar-winner Akiva Goldsman.
Movie: Charlie's Angels (2000)
The Star: Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu
The Pros: Matrix-style, Hong Kong-inspired action choreography
The Problem: Very little. It was a hit and received mostly good reviews, but for some reason, it remains on the outs with fanboys. Perhaps the tongue-in-cheek tone doesn't suit them?
The Sequel: Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (2003) was pretty much universally despised, though I found it just as much fun as the original.
Movie: X-Men (2000)
The Stars: Halle Berry as Storm, Famke Janssen as Jean Grey, Anna Paquin as Rogue, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos as Mystique
The Pros: A pretty good action movie from Bryan Singer, a genuine comic book fanThe Problem: Nobody remembers the girls; it's all about Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.
The Sequels: X2: X-Men United (2002) was even better, but Brett Ratner took over for the awful third entry, X-Men: The Last Stand (2006).
Movie: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
The Star: Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft
The Pros: Jolie looks terrific in Lara Croft's outfit (with a great British accent).
The Problem: It's a big, annoying, choppy movie.
The Sequel: Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003) switched to a new director, but was just as bad.
Movie: Josie and the Pussycats (2001)
The Stars: Rachael Leigh Cook, Tara Reid and Rosario Dawson
The Pros: An all-girl rock band from the pages of "Archie" comics, plus a fast, loud, punk-pop soundtrack, and a post-modern plotline.
The Problem: Who knows? I loved this movie.
Movie: The Powerpuff Girls (2002)
The Stars: Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup
The Pros: Feature animated film based on the clever and funny cartoon series.
The Problem: Maybe the long form didn't suit these girls, who, admittedly, don't have a lot of character depth. But I still liked it.
Movie: Azumi (2003)
The Star: Aya Ueto as Azumi, a trained, swordfighting assassin
The Pros: A really fast, fun, violent Japanese import based on a manga by Yu Koyama
The Problem: Released three years later in the U.S. and with very little fanfare.
The Sequel: Azumi 2 (2005), which went straight to video in the U.S.
Movie: Catwoman (2004)
The Star: Halle Berry as Catwoman
The Pros: A very different look from the previous Batman movies, and a definite, slick, silly "B" movie vibe.
The Problem: The movie irritated almost everyone and became one of the most reviled movies of the decade (though, for my money, Van Helsing -- released around the same time -- was much, much worse). Perhaps Batman fans were upset by the departures from their beloved universe. Perhaps people just weren't in the mood for it. Perhaps the director's name, "Pitof," was enough to irk people before the credits were even finished.
Movie: D.E.B.S. (2004)
The Stars: Sara Foster, Devon Aoki, Jill Ritchie and Meagan Good
The Pros: Perhaps the first black, lesbian director to release a film in multiplexes, Angela Robinson based this on her terrific 2003 short film of the same name.
The Problem: It's still fun, but expanding the 11-minute short to feature length resulted in a lot of filler.
Movie: Fantastic Four (2005)
The Star: Jessica Alba as Sue Storm, the Invisible Girl
The Pros: Alba looks great in her super-suit
The Problem: The movie is really, really stupid.
The Sequel: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007), which was arguably even worse.
Movie: Elektra (2005)
The Star: Jennifer Garner as assassin Elektra
The Pros: A great character in the comic books, created by Frank Miller
The Problem: Too many plot holes and stupid supervillains; Garner was too all-American for the part.
The Sequel: No sequel, but Elektra also appeared in the equally bad Daredevil (2003)
Movie: Aeon Flux (2005)
The Star: Charlize Theron as Aeon Flux
The Pros: Once again, another great, sexy costume
The Problem: A droningly serious tone, flat dialogue and performances, terrible villains and choppy action sequences.
Movie: My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006)
The Star: Uma Thurman as G-Girl
The Pros: Scene-stealer Anna Faris
The Problem: Definitely not a girl-power movie, it's really kind of a woman-hating/woman-fearing story.
Movie: Ultraviolet (2006)
The Star: Milla Jovovich
The Pros: Slick, ridiculous B-movie fun
The Problem: The movie was withheld from the press, which resulted in some unnecessary bad buzz. Most viewers couldn't roll with the ridiculous.
Movie: DOA: Dead or Alive (2006)
The Stars: Jaime Pressly, Devon Aoki, Holly Valance, Sarah Carter and Natassia Malthe
The Pros: A real "B" movie, with just the right tone and pace.
The Problem: Hard to take seriously.
Movie: Watchmen (2009)
The Star: Malin Akerman as Silk Spectre
The Pros: She kicks ass!
The Problem: She's part of a powerful ensemble cast; she's probably better remembered for her airborne love scene than for her superhero chops.
Conclusions? Goofy, tongue-in-cheek tones don't work so well, but neither do serious tones. Big, stupid movies don't work, but neither do small, slick, "B" movies. It doesn't seem to matter if it's a male or female director. Ensemble movies don't work, but neither do solo ones. Prognosis? Keep trying. Maybe something will work soon.