6 Insulting Movie Adaptations of Strong Female Characters
Movies have always had problems representing women as actual complex human beings. Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick has noted that a disturbing number of female characters in modern stories fail to pass The Sexy Lamp Test. It's a test that asks, "Can a woman in this story be replaced with a sexy lamp, or is she more than just an attractive prop there for the men to fight over?" But not all weak female characters started off as empty-headed accessories to a male lead's biceps. These fictional ladies were all decidedly less lamp-like in their original form:
Kitty Pryde in X-Men: Days of Future Past
Remember in X-Men: Days of Future Past when Kitty Pryde traveled back to the '70s to prevent the mutant apocalypse? You don't? Well, that might be because in the movie version, Kitty Pryde stayed at home while Wolverine did all the heavy lifting. For all of the non-nerds (thanks for stopping by the site in between football games and corvette tuneups, Dirk!), the film was based on a 1981 comic where Kitty was sent back in time by a girl named Rachel Summers to stop a senator's assassination, thus preventing a future where all mutants are hunted down by murderous robots.
In the comic, two brave heroines navigate the chronoverse. In the movie, Hugh Jackman gets a sensual temple massage.
In the movie, Kitty ends up being the one who sends Wolverine back, meaning they took one woman's daring mission to save all mutantkind and replaced it with "girl acts as Wolverine delivery system." Afterwards, he and a bunch of other dudes take care of all the heroics.
Sorry Kitty, they're called X-"MEN" for a reason. Now phase on back to the kitchen, sweetheart.
Producer Simon Kinburg claimed the reason for Kitty's demotion was because of the way time travel powers work in the movie -- a character's mind travels back in time to possess its younger self, and Kitty wouldn't have been born in the '70s. Right, because you can completely restructure the characters in the story on a whim, but this made-up time travel mechanic is totally immutable. Obviously the real reason for the lead character change-up is that Fox knew a ripped-to-shreds Hugh Jackman would sell more tickets than an intangible Ellen Page. It was both the wrong decision for the story, and one that instantly made them $500 million. The term "Wolverine Publicity" is codified on TV tropes for a reason.
Hey, at least Kitty made the coveted "blurry bottom right corner" spot on the poster.
Tearing up a story to turn Kitty into Wolverine was more than just cosmetic. Wolverine had virtually no character arc in the film: he didn't grow or change or need to prove himself -- all things that made Kitty Pryde in the original Days of Future Past so interesting. For all the good it did the story, they might as well have replaced Kitty's trippy time-travel-facilitating role with a bong and some sitar music.
Cersei in Game of Thrones
If you don't watch Game of Thrones, we're sure you've already heard from your friends how strange and wrong that is of you. You may have also been confused as to why, last August, everyone seemed to be tweeting about incestuous rape. It's not every day a main character on a popular show is boned by her brother, against her will, on the corpse of their child.
Well, not every day on most shows. For Game of Thrones, that's just a Tuesday.
Now, we realize we're fudging the premise a little bit here. In the show, Cersei is not an overall weak character and this one moment doesn't ruin everything she's ever done. But this was definitely a weak moment, added in at the last minute by the screenwriters for no good reason. In the book, the scene was consensual. Still impossibly disturbing, but it acted as a perfect demonstration of Cersei's demented mental state and the twisted relationship with her brother. Take away her consent, and the most powerful woman in the books is transformed, at least momentarily, into just another victim.
"I prefer to make victims."
And what about her character thus far made the writers think she'd just deal with that kind of violation? She had her husband killed and kick-started a massive war for basically the same behavior. If Book Cersei was taken against her will at her son's funeral, the next scene would be the Kingslayer getting dragged behind a horse by his dick -- which, knowing the tone of the show, is not entirely out of the question in future seasons.
Katara in Avatar: The Last Airbender
Avatar: The Last Airbender was an excellent show. So in 2010, when M. Night Shyamalan adapted the first season into a movie, he added his signature twist by making everything in the film suck. Of all the characters ruined by the film, Katara the waterbender got it the worst. One of her defining moments in the cartoon was when she led a group of earthbenders on a prison break. In the movie, they change the scene slightly, in that she doesn't do that at all, and instead watches the boys do everything. Presumably while squealing and clapping for them like a good cheerleader.
"I am Katara, the girl who has freed you! I shouldn't have to ask this, but please, when history remembers this, don't make me a boy for no reason!"
In the cartoon, the earthbenders were being held on a prison ship. Since their powers were all about manipulating Earth, this rendered them effectively helpless. Katara brought coal onto the prison ship to give the imprisoned earthbenders something to use their powers on. Fairly clever, right? Well, to fully illustrate how stupid and arbitrary the film changes were, in the movie the earthbenders weren't held on a ship at all. They were just on regular land, otherwise known as the substance they have magical power over. The male lead, Aang, just pointed this out to them, and suddenly they could fight back. And what an epic battle it was.
Victory through riverdance.
And what does Katara get to do, during the scene she was originally central in? She runs forward and shoves an enemy soldier like they're on a playground and she likes him but doesn't know how to express it. Then she panics and forgets where she is until somebody rescues her from the man's terrifying counter shove.
"Don't make me bend my tears at you!"
Coraline in Coraline
Neil Gaiman's 2002 children's novel Coraline was a cheerful tale about a little girl getting trapped in an alternate dimension where an evil version of her mother wanted to rip her eyes out and sew the buttons on her face instead.
To be fair, it was a Neil Gaiman book. The man doesn't deliver baskets full of puppies for a living.
Since stories about evil parents yanking out their children's eyes are loved by kids of all ages, they decided to turn Coraline into an animated movie back in 2009. In the book, Coraline proves herself to be extraordinarily independent and resourceful, defeating the Other Mother single-handedly. But the film added an entirely new character: a boy called Wybie.
A deus ex manchina if you will.
By the end of the film, it becomes clear that Wybie's purpose isn't just to be a sounding board -- he's also there to save Coraline's bacon. In one of the climactic scenes of the book, the Other Mother's disembodied hand comes to snatch Caroline away. It's a struggle, but she defeats it. In the movie, she mostly screams and cries until Wybie finally remembers he's got a girl-shaped anchor weighing him down, and comes to rescue the poor helpless dame from those wacky circumstances she keeps getting herself into.
Violet Baudelaire in A Series of Unfortunate Events
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events followed the macabre adventures of three orphan siblings tormented by the evil Count Olaf. There was Violet, a female MacGyver with a bow; Klaus, a kid who looks enough like Harry Potter to trick confused parents at the book store; and Sunny, a baby with horrible shark teeth. In 2004, a movie based off the first three books was made. The plot revolved around an inheritance scheme cooked up by Count Olaf who captured Sunny and threatened to kill her unless Violet married him. So to be clear: an elderly man was forcing a 14-year-old girl to marry him by threatening to murder her infant sister. You wacky kids, what kind of shenanigans will you get into next?
The tagline "WE'RE VERY CONCERNED" is also what the distributor said when they realized that was the plot.
In the book, Violet builds a grappling hook out of spare parts and scales the tower where her sister is held captive. She is caught and forced to sign the marriage contract, but cleverly exploits a technicality in it to avoid any pedophilia and infanticide. The day is saved by the bold and clever actions of a female character. In the film version, Klaus has to step in and do everything. He invents some kind of nonsense, climbs the tower, and happens upon a light refracting device, which he uses to burn the marriage contract.
"Take that, traditional marriage!"
Violet, once the hero, just immediately resigns herself to a life as a child bride. What else is she supposed to do? She's just a girl. To understand the full ridiculousness of this change, you need to remember that Violet was supposed to be the inventor of the family. Her brother was a 12-year-old bookworm whose main personality trait was literacy. If confronted with an imposing ziggurat on a rescue mission, he's the character that knows what that word means, not the one that heroically climbs it.
"Actually, I'm still the one that knows what it means. Why would we allow a woman to read?"
So the female character who once could have been described as "adventurous and inventive" can now be described as "wearing a dress" -- which meant the male character was now in possession of every single personality trait. Even the author of the book, Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket is shockingly not his real name) snarked about it in the film's DVD commentary: "And now Klaus is apparently running off to go and save Sunny. In the books of course it is Violet, but I know that Hollywood prefers its female actresses to do very little."
Word up, Snicket.
Any Woman Near Sherlock Holmes
Remember the episode of Sherlock where Sherlock sets aside his wit and solves the case by gunning a man down? Wasn't that kind of out of character? Well, that's because it was originally a woman who did it. In Arthur Conan Doyle's short story "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton," Sherlock and Watson were unable to defeat the titular blackmailer. In fact, they got whomped so badly, all they could do was hide behind some curtains and pray for a Deus ex Machina.
Luckily, the machine god was listening. The two were saved by a mysterious woman, one of Milverton's victims, who showed up and shot the man. This woman didn't even have a name, yet she was one of the most interesting characters Holmes ever encountered. So when the BBC Sherlock show did an episode ("His Last Vow") based on this story, it's strange that the mysterious female avenger was written out of existence. Instead, Sherlock just murders the villain himself.
Pictured above right: The most notable female character in Sherlock Holmes.
The writers, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, found it simply unbelievable that a random woman could be the one to take down this villain where the hero couldn't. In fact, in an interview, they said they were convinced that she never existed and Watson concocted her in his write-up to cover up Sherlock's vigilante slaying. So wait, they left out the woman because they thought they were being tricked by the original story's narrator? That's ... wait, what?
Sherlock totally killed that guy. And what's this!? Topless aliens are piloting Sir Elton John!?
Another female character from the original Sherlock Holmes stories, Irene Adler, didn't do too hot in the Sherlock show either. In the original story, A Scandal in Bohemia, Holmes was hired to retrieve a picture Irene was using to blackmail a king. But Adler outsmarts Holmes and gets away with the picture. The story ends on the quote:
"And that was how a great scandal threatened to affect the kingdom of Bohemia, and how the best plans of Mr. Sherlock Holmes were beaten by a woman's wit."
Not much ambiguity in that write-up. But in the Sherlock episode based on the story, "A Scandal in Belgravia," she gets captured by terrorists instead.
"Let's have the woman character lose instead ... oh, and let's also put her in a burka and kill her!"
This time around, Sherlock ultimately outsmarts Irene. He swoops in to rescue her from execution, then gets the information she was trying to keep from him -- the direct opposite outcome of the original story. It gets worse: the thing that ultimately brings Irene down is she couldn't help falling in love with Sherlock.
"You could have chosen any random number and walked out of here today with everything you've worked for, but you just couldn't resist it, could you?" Sherlock says smugly to the defeated woman. "I've always assumed that love is a dangerous disadvantage. Thank you for the final proof."
"I hope you learned a valuable lesson about getting feelings in your vagina."
Irene went from a smart, independent woman who ultimately defeats the hero, to a damsel-in-distress pawn just waiting for the hero to save her from her own stupid mistakes. She's basically the British dominatrix version of Princess Peach.
Caitlin Donovan can be found ranting about cartoons and comics like a child on her Tumblr Lady Love and Justice.
For more ways Hollywood destroyed characters, check out 5 Childhood-Ruining Appearances from Famous Characters and 6 Appearances by Iconic Characters That Ruin Your Childhood.
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