We've ranked 25 female superheroes according to how they transitioned to live action

By Drew Mackie
March 24, 2016 11:00 AM
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Credit: Disney; 20th Century Fox

This Friday, a little movie titled Wonder Woman hits theaters. Perhaps you may have seen an advertisement or two about it. The film marks the first-ever feature film solely about the superhero, and stars Gal Gadot, who embodied the role in last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Ever since Gadot was cast in the role, comic book (and TV) were eager to find out how Wonder Woman would be realized on the big screen. Shockingly, the character had never had her own film – and that’s a shame, we say, because she’s probably the most famous female superhero ever. Wonder Woman is tough. She’s smart. And most important of all, she’s doing it on her own. She’s not a “girl” version of a “man” superhero, like Batgirl or Supergirl, and she didn’t debut as a member of a team, like the X-Men’s Storm or the Avenger’s Black Widow. And only six months after debuting in DC’s All Star Comics in Dec. 1941, she got her own solo title. There’s been a loyal audience ever since.

So yeah, we’re stoked to see Diana Prince, at long last, in all her live-action glory on the silver screen. As we wait for her big day, we’ve decided to take a closer look at her fellow female superheroes and size ’em up. It’s tough adapting the wacky nature of superhero comics to live action, but let’s see how all these ladies compare, shall we?

25. Invisible Woman

Poor Sue Storm. It’s not her fault that she’s at the bottom of our super-lady power rankings, nor is it the fault of either Kate Mara (who played her in the 2015 Fantastic Four reboot) or Jessica Alba (who played her in the first two movies). It’s Hollywood’s fault for never getting the Fantastic Four right onscreen. In the comics, the Invisible Woman is a powerhouse. She’s just never gotten her chance to shine onscreen the way she’s meant to.

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24. Batgirl

Batman & Robin is not a favorite among comics fans, and one of the characters it got the most wrong is Batgirl. In the comics, she’s Barbara Gordon, daughter of Commissioner Gordon – smart, capable, and a valued member of the Bat-family. In the movie, she was Cher Horowitz (a.k.a. Alicia Silverstone) in latex. You know you’ve erred when you have fans wishing they were watching Yvonne Craig in the ’60s Batman series.

23. Agent 13

On Revenge, Emily VanCamp showed a fierce side. But we only got a little bit of it during her few scenes in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

22. Rogue

Anna Paquin played the beguiling but untouchable X-Men member in every installment of the series so far – but it’s perhaps telling that she was all but excised from the theatrical version of X-Men: Days of Future Past, only to be restored in what is termed “the Rogue Cut.” She has been a major player of the series right from the start, and she’s been crucial to the plot but a lot of what she does is more self-focused than it is outwardly heroic. Sorry, Marie. You deserved better.

21. Hawkgirl

Sure, the character’s turn-around from barista to superhero happened rather quickly, but it’s nifty enough seeing Hawkgirl realized onscreen for the first time. As the winged avenger, Ciara Renée showed a lot of promise, but we were bummed not to see her on the second season of Legends of Tomorrow.

20. Trish Walker

You may be saying, “Wait, Jessica Jones’s blonde friend?” Yep. That’s Trish – known in the comics as Patsy Walker, a.k.a. Hellcat, a full-fledged superhero. The Jessica Jones take on the character was considerably different, but we say she got just enough derring-do in the Netflix series to warrant inclusion in the list. Part of it was Rachael Taylor’s strong performance.

19. Vixen

Considering she’s only made one live-action appearance on Arrow, Vixen’s placement on this list might seem high. However, there’s something about her backstory – fashion designer-turned-possessor of a magic amulet that gives her cool animal powers – that makes us want more of her. Megalyn Echikunwoke actually debuted the character in an animated series on CW Seed, and we’re hoping the backstory Vixen was given pays off in subsequent live-action appearances.

18. Speedy

It took until the end of the fourth season of Arrow for the main hero’s kid sister to become a superhero in her own right. When it finally happened, Willa Holland’s character melded with her comics counterpart and is the second character to take on the name “Speedy” and play sidekick to the Green Arrow. Holland plays the transformed gal well, and it’s cool watching Arrow as a TV showcase for women who kick serious butt.

17. Daisy Johnson

In the beginning, Chloe Bennet’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. character was a Marvel cinematic universe newcomer that reminded more than a few people of a tech-savvy take on Eliza Dushku’s role from Buffy. Over the course of the show, however, the character was revealed to actually be a twist on Quake, an existing Marvel comics character with seismic superpowers. It also vastly improved the character. Superpowers, after all, are a lot cooler to watch than hacking.

16. Kitty Pryde

Maybe it’s the fact that the X-Men movies tend to be a little overstuffed that characters whose names don’t rhyme with Schmulverine tend to get less to do, but Kitty is an awesome character in the comics. Ellen Page played her as a badass, too, when she got a moment onscreen and proved that she can do a lot more than just walk through walls.

15. Negasonic Teenage Warhead

She’s literally as powerful as a warhead, and that’s cool, but that’s not the only reason this writer left a screening of Deadpool thinking, “Whoa, who played that girl?” It’s also actress Brianna Hildebrand’s ability to look cool as anyone else onscreen just by raising an eyebrow.

14. Jean Grey

Famke Janssen played Jean in all four X-Men movies – and in The Wolverine to boot – but it’s too bad that the movie in which her character was the most interesting – X-Men: The Last Stand, in which she went all-powerful as the Phoenix rather than just being the psychic center of a love triangle between Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Cyclops (James Marsden) – happens to be the worst of the lot.

13. Bobbi “Mockingbird” Morse

Adrianne Palicki may have missed her chance to portray Wonder Woman on TV, but the Marvel universe found a place for her – on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., playing a twist on the comics superheroine Mockingbird. Palicki is great in the role, and she’s physically imposing enough to almost make you wish her Wonder Woman got a second chance.

12. Scarlet Witch

She’s the second female Avenger, and she brings a fashion aesthetic to the job that Black Widow lacks. She’s crazy powerful, but in ways that we didn’t quite see enough of through Elizabeth Olsen in Age of Ultron.

11. Gamora

She’s tough, she’s clever and she can hold her own amongst the crew of the Milano. She can space-swashbuckle with the best of them, and most importantly of all, she drives the plot of Guardians of the Galaxy forward in a way other characters don’t. Zoe Saldana with green skin is enough to make you forget that her previous claim to sci-fi fame was with blue skin in Avatar.

Entertainment Weekly’s “Ultimate Guide to Wonder Woman” is out now.

10. Black Canary

Two seasons ago, if you predicted that Katie Cassidy’s Arrow character would become one of the better female superheroes on TV, fans might have laughed. But the show’s writers managed a 180-degree turn with the character, and learning how to throw a punch transformed her into a respectable vigilante do-gooder. Caity Lotz, the first actress to play Black Canary on the series, is keeping up the tradition as White Canary on Legends of Tomorrow, and it’s all enough to make you forget that Lori Loughlin played the role once upon a time.

9. Supergirl

The series got off to a less than steady start, but we think it found its super-footing. And Melissa Benoist has been a joy to watch from the start. She’s plucky, she’s earnest and it is still a trip to watch her slug it out with Laura Benanti in midair and think, “Whoa, this is a show that’s prime time on a major network.” We miss the camp factor of Faye Dunaway in the 1984 Helen Slater movie, but this fully sci-fi-friendly Supergirl shows promise.

8. Elektra

As played by Elodie Yung on Netflix’s Daredevil, Elektra is the newest superhero on this list, and we’re happy to see that the TV version got right what the movie version played by Jennifer Garner didn’t, all the way down to the more realistic costume. (Give Garner credit, though: She played the first Marvel superheroine to star in her own movie.) Elektra’s not perfect, but this version of the character fits perfectly into the gritty world of Hell’s Kitchen. And in the end, she’s a true hero.

7. Melinda May

May has long been one of the better parts of S.H.I.E.L.D., and that’s largely a result of the fact that it appears to be the role Ming-Na Wen was born to play. She can be a one-woman army – her nickname, after all, is “The Calvary” – but she’s also a fully formed character, and we’re happy to see her kicking butt, dealing with her many personal dramas or dropping the occasional quip.

6. Storm

As one of the most important mutant heroes, it follows that Halle Berry’s Storm has appeared in all the X-Men movies so far. And when they get her right – you know, as this fearsome weather goddess, and after they fixed her hair in the first film – she’s awesome. The major quibble with Storm is that by virtue of being outside the Wolverine-Jean Grey-Cyclops love triangle, she’s been relegated to a supporting character.

5. Jessica Jones

She’s not like any other character on the list. She’s mopey. She’s tortured. She drinks like a fish and that sex scene with Luke Cage (Mike Colter) was something we never thought we’d see in an official, Marvel-sanctioned adaptation. But Jones works so well as a character thanks largely to the performance of Krysten Ritter, who was previously better known for her comic work (Breaking Bad notwithstanding) and who brought a needed levity to the hardboiled atmosphere of the show.

4. Catwoman

Yep, that’s a GIF of Michelle Pfeiffer from Batman Returns. Twenty-four years later, she’s still the best Selina Kyle we’ve ever seen on screen – and that’s saying a lot, because we’ve gotten many versions of the character. As Catwoman, Pfeiffer managed to be sexy, sly and just morally gray enough to merit an inclusion on a list of superheroes, even if she’s the most self-motivated character on this list. But yeah – Eartha Kitt? Lee Meriwether? Julie Newmar? Anne Hathaway? All great. Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, however, is the one to beat.

3. Peggy Carter

She doesn’t wear a mask and she doesn’t have a cool name, but Peggy Carter has proven to be every bit the world-saving superhero. After spinning off from Captain America, she’s successfully fought off the bad guys on two seasons of her own show, all while Haley Attwell gets to showcase a collection of practical but nonetheless enviable retro outfits. A bonus: Some Marvel superheroes can’t help but constantly glower, Peggy does it all with a smile.

2. Mystique

Played tag-team style by Jennifer Lawrence and Rebecca Romijn over the course of the X-Men movies, Mystique ended up emerging as one of the main characters. And that’s remarkable, considering that the comics version largely skews villainous. Especially with Lawrence in the role, however, Mystique became a more complex character. She’s good at heart, but Lawrence also makes Mystique’s anger and pain seem real, even beneath all that blue scaly skin. It’s a great example of how live action adaptations can make even longtime fans see a familiar character in a whole new way.

1. Black Widow

You probably could have called it: Scarlett Johannson’s butt-kicking Avenger takes top honors, if by virtue of the fact that she’s just gotten more to do over the course of five movies. The character has faced a lot of criticism, from occasional “damsel-in-distress” status to the very awkwardly handled reveal in Avengers: Age of Ultron about her inability to have children. But in the end, despite those criticisms, she’s the best female superhero we’ve gotten yet – tough (but not invulnerable), brave (but not fearless), and complicated in ways that give rise to a lot of great conversations about how female characters get treated in the genre.

All that said, we’re ready for Wonder Woman. Bring it, Gal Gadot!