Last week, we noticed something interesting when watching the third and most recent trailer for “Suicide Squad.” Even though it’s is being marketed a team movie, doesn’t it feel like Harley Quinn is getting a lot of screen time all to herself? Like, more than any other female character in a superhero movie that we've seen lately? That's unusual, right?
Of course, we here at Revelist weren’t simply content to notice this and move on with our lives. We wanted to know exactly how much trailer time Harley has gotten, especially compared to all the other popular female superheroes of the last five years. So we hunted down every single teaser and trailer for all the recent movies we could think of that prominently feature a female hero, and then then added up the total time each character appears on screen and compared it to the total combined runtime of all those trailers.
And yeah, we were right: Harley Quinn gets a much, much larger percentage of screen time compared to all her female competitors. But the data is also interesting for another reason, because it also hints at just how male-dominated the genre still is.
Some notes on which characters we chose and why, in the interest of curbing any nerd pedantry before it begins (no judgment! We’re all nerds here and we’re sure we’ve overlooked some stuff, so let’s all be chill): we chose the 2010 film “Iron Man 2,” as a starting point, because while it didn’t necessarily revitalize the superhero genre on its own (that honor belongs to “The Dark Knight” in 2008), it introduced us to the shared cinematic universe that every single movie studio is now trying to shamelessly copy from Marvel.
To keep things simple, in situations where there was more than one female hero — like in the case of “X-Men,” which has many minor female characters — we only focused on the woman who was most prominently featured in each film. We also chose not to include characters who were specifically coded as love interests, despite how capable they may end up being over the course of the movie (This includes Hope Van Dyne, because even though she’s going to appear in future movies as the Wasp, her role in the 2015 film “Ant-Man” sets her up as more of a supporting love-interest.)
And finally, we're definitely using the term "superhero" loosely here, more to define the genre from a marketing perspective than to define the actual morality of the characters. The majority of these women, in fact, actually started out their super-careers as villains (even Black Widow, believe it or not), but have evolved and become a lot more complex in the decades since. Regardless of whether or not Catwoman is stealing jewels or helping out Batman, you still think "superheroes" when you look at her, right?
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at the results. If you’re a fan of badass ladies in your superhero movies, then this should be a surprise! The female characters barely appear at all. Boo.
Admittedly, many of these films feature a large ensemble cast, or are centered around a male protagonist with female heroes rounding out the supporting crew. With that context in mind it does makes sense that they’re getting very little screentime in comparison to the overall amount of footage. For example, Wonder Woman only appears in 20 seconds worth of “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice” trailers, but that’s actually pretty proportional to how much time she’s given in the movie.
Regardless of how much the lack of female presence makes sense for each individual narrative, though, it all still adds up to a very unfortunate trend. Sure, it makes sense that Negasonic Teenage Warhead’s only a featured role in “Deadpool,” and it’s awesome that she was even a part of the film in the first place! It was a great film, and her scenes were a definite highlight. The trouble is, there hasn’t been any comparable movie where the gender dynamic is reverse and the female character is leading the show — not since the the 2005 flop “Elektra,” and upon first glance it doesn’t seem like there’ll be another one until “Wonder Woman” in 2017.
At the end of the day the playing field still isn’t equal, and that is a problem, because it means we’re missing out on all kinds of interesting stories that could be getting told in favor of the same male-centric, female-supporting formula over and over again.
But this is where the data for “Suicide Squad” gets interesting, because it’s clear they’re doing something very different. Like “The Avengers” or “Guardians of the Galaxy,” this is an ensemble film with a lot of characters to juggle. But despite that, Harley doesn’t seem like she’s playing second fiddle to the male lead, nor is she overshadowed by a bunch of bigger dudes with superpowers: instead, she’s arguably the star.
In terms of raw numbers, in fact, there's only one superheroine who appears in more footage than Harley: Black Widow, who's featured in the trailers for "Iron Man 2," "Avengers," "Captain America: Winter Soldier," "Avengers: Age Of Ultron" and "Captain America: Civil War." But even then, Harley's got her completely beat on overall percentage of screentime.
In the 12 trailers for those five films, Black Widow only appears in 129 seconds worth of footage. Harley, in comparison, appears in 112 seconds across only three different trailers. In just eight minutes worth of footage, Harley Quinn already has a larger presence than Black Widow does across the length of a standard sitcom episode.
If you know anything about comic book heroes, this makes a lot of sense. After all, since her first appearance in “Batman: The Animated Series” in 1992, she’s gone from a cutesy sidekick of The Joker to a popular and iconic character in her own right. Heck, at this point there are practically entire departments of Hot Topic devoted solely to merchandise of her black and red color palette. In a film full of two-bit baddies that nobody knows or cares about (seriously, Captain Boomerang?), Harley’s the only member of the Suicide Squad who has real brand recognition — and unlike her abusive male companion, she's never been in a live-action movie before. Why wouldn't she be the star?
We won't know for sure if our theory is correct until "Suicide Squad" premieres on August 6. But until then, one thing is definitely for sure: even if the movie bombs, these trailers reflect a very fascinating shift in the way this film is being marketed compared to previous superhero movies. Perhaps the days of movie executives mistakenly assuming female superheroes don't sell are already starting to come to an end.