Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the movie urban legends featured so far.
MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Black Widow very nearly had a movie before Iron Man and Thor.
Marvel has had a string of significant successes since they began producing their own films in 2008 with Iron Man. They had a succession of hit films starring Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and Hulk that led to one of the biggest movies of all-time, The Avengers. They even turned a group of minor comic book characters who didn’t even exist as a team until 2008, the Guardians of the Galaxy, into the biggest film of 2014.
However, for all of their successes so far, they have yet to come out with a film starring a female superhero and it appears as though Sony will actually have the first Marvel-related film starring a female hero. Reader Dennis L. wrote in to ask if it was true, though, that there was almost a Black Widow film released before Marvel began making their own films. Read on for the answer!
As I’ve detailed in an old Comic Book Legends Revealed, Black Widow’s rights at one point belonged to Angela Bowie (wife of David Bowie), who tried to get a TV series made featuring Black Widow and Daredevil during the 1970s. The series never got made (but we did end up with some amazing test photographs featuring Angela Bowie as Black Widow). By the end of the 1990s, Marvel had sold off the film rights to many of their characters and Black Widow was no exception. There was brief discussion of a Black Widow film being made during the 1990s but it wasn’t until 2004 that the film had a real chance of being released.
That was the year that screenwriter David Hayter, coming off of writing the first two X-Men films, put together a script for Lionsgate, who announced that they would not only produce Hayter’s script, but that he would make his directorial debut on the film. Hayter was such a big fan of the Black Widow character that he even named his daughter (who was born while he was working on the film) Natasha.
Hayter’s script would have held pretty close to Black Widow’s comic book origins. She would have been adopted by Ivan Petrovsky after her mother dies in an apartment fire. Ivan worked at a secret Russian training facility known as the Red Room. It was a mountain fortress in Kazakhstan that involved a a number of training programs, including one where young girls would be trained as super soldiers. Ivan’s boss, Sergei Riskolje, discovers that Ivan now has custody of little Natasha and insists that she be enrolled in the program. Natasha becomes a prized pupil of the program and even undergoes a risky medical procedure that “recreates the reflex-response of certain insect joints,” essentially giving Natasha superpowers (it is sort of amusing that she’s named after a spider yet has insect powers – since spiders are not insects). She hates her adopted father, Ivan, for letting the procedure happen and she rebels and forms a relationship with Alexei, another one of the trainees (obviously not part of the young girl program). When the Soviet Union collapses, the program was set to be shut down but Sergei decided to go rogue instead. He has Alexei kill off the other trainees (including Natshas’s best friend, Natalia) and they also seemingly kill off Ivan.
Natasha steals the experimental “Widow suit” and escapes to the United States. Once there, she becomes a professional gardener. She is partnered with a man named Freddy and she shares an apartment with a roommate named Stevie Hunter (named an the X-Men supporting character). Her past comes back to haunt her, though, as Alexei shows up to hunt her down (Stevie is killed). It turns out that Freddy is an undercover CIA operative. He puts her into contact with another CIA operative, Anton, who informs her that there is a ten million bounty on her head. In the time that Natasha has been living in the United States, Sergei has become a warlord back in Russia and has started the training program over, training little girls to become super soldiers (he needs to capture Natasha so he can learn how to replicate the procedure that gave her her powers).
Ultimately, Natasha returns to the Red Room to take care of all her loose ends. Along the way, people are killed (Freddy), people are revealed to not have actually died (Freddy, Ivan) and people betray Natasha (Freddy, Anton). She gets her revenge in the end, as she uses her super-powers and her advanced Widow suit to take out all the bad guys and the film ends after she nukes the Red Room (after first escaping with the young trainees, of course).
The film ends with Natasha agreeing to work for the CIA, so the film was set up for sequels (with the young trainees as her supporting cast, I suppose).
So why didn’t it get made? Hayter explained in 2011:
Unfortunately, as I was coming up on the final draft, a number of female vigilante movies came out. We had Tomb Raider and Kill Bill, which were the ones that worked, but then we had BloodRayne and Ultraviolet and Aeon Flux. Aeon Flux didn’t open well, and three days after it opened, the studio said, “We don’t think it’s time to do this movie.” I accepted their logic in terms of the saturation of the marketplace, but it was pretty painful.
Hayter and Marvel tried to shop the film to other studios but no one else would finance the project (imagine if this had been after Marvel began making their own movies!) so it was dropped. Marvel got the rights to Black Widow back the next year and she eventually showed up in Iron Man 2 and is now a part of the Avengers, played by Scarlett Johansson. To this day, Hayter remains interested in doing a Black Widow movie if Marvel ever decides to go that route (obviously he’d have to write a new script, although he has noted that he would keep as much of the old script as possible).
But to answer the original question by Dennis, yes, there was almost a Black Widow movie before Thor OR Iron Man!
The legend is…
Thanks to David Hayter for the information and thanks to our own Kevin Melrose, who wrote about the proposed movie a few years back.
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.