When Warner Bros. announced in early December that Gal Gadot will become just the third actress to play Wonder Woman, a character created by William Moulton Marston in 1941, many wondered how the DC Comics heroine had been so criminally underrepresented outside of comic books. Along with Superman and Batman, Wonder Woman forms what in comics is known as DC’s Trinity, and is arguably the third most important — and powerful — character in their stable, yet Batman and Superman have starred in film and television projects since their inception.
The 1940s saw movies serials for both heroes, and in the ’50s Superman became a television staple. The ’60s were Batman’s turn to rule the small screen, but by the ’70s it was finally Wonder Woman’s time to shine with a much beloved, campy TV show that propelled the character into America’s pop culture consciousness. Since the series ended in 1979, DC and Warner Bros. have been trying to get a Wonder Woman television project off the ground with little success. “The Avengers” writer director Joss Whedon even tried his hand at spearheading a Wonder Woman film in the mid-2000s before ultimately walking away from the project. Veteran TV showrunner David E. Kelley had just a bit more success, writing and producing a “Wonder Woman” pilot starring, Adrianne Palicki, but NBC ultimately passed on the project.
Taking a cue from DC’s beloved “Elseworlds” tales that offer a glimpse into alternate realities, CBR News asks the question of “What if…?” What if Wonder Woman had starred in films in all the decades since her creation? Who would have played the Amazon Princess in each instance? We run down the most likely candidates and imagine a world where Wonder Woman’s success extends far beyond the comic book page.
1940s – Rita Hayworth
One of only six women to have danced on screen with both Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, Rita Hayworth, born Margarita Carmen Cansino, could have also been one of the few women who had the distinction to play Princess Diana. Imagine the lovely Ms. Hayworth in a ’40s-styles Wonder Woman suit, with a ruffled skirt and old time bathing suit — the Nazis would have to pick their jaws up off the floor before Rita broke them. Hayworth would have been note perfect for a Republic Wonder Woman serial, a serial that would have propelled Wonder Woman to early heights of popularity just as Batman and Superman’s serials did for them. Hayworth’s wide eyed innocence would have matched the way William Moulton Marston portrayed Wonder Woman during the Golden Age. Just look at Hayworth in the note perfect noir “Gilda,” a film that made many censors clench up when it premiered in 1946 and try to deny she doesn’t have all the qualities necessary to play Wonder Woman. With an elegant beauty, an unearthly soft exoticism and an edge when she needed one, Hayworth could have been the first lady of super heroes — saving Steve Trevor and chasing after Etta Candy in cinemas all across America. Picture Hayworth visiting the soldiers overseas in her Wonder Woman get up for USO tours; it would have been the perfect woman in the perfect role at the perfect time. Take that Ratzi!
1950s – Bettie Page
Around the 1950s, comics began to enter the camp era in earnest. Superman was a television staple, and the stories portrayed on the boob tube were fairly light hearted, particularly in later episodes. Whether Wonder Woman was on the big or small screen, the first 1950s beauty that comes to mind to fill out Wonder Woman’s boots was the notorious Bettie Page. Page was built like an amazon, and her naughty, good girl shtick would have matched the tone of Wonder Woman’s 1950s adventures. The January 1955 Playmate of the Month would have given audiences a stunning Diana that would also be believable while kicking some butt. No man in America would lie if Ms. Page tied him up with her Lasso of Truth. Bettie Page looks like she was forged from the divine inspiration of the gods, and just imagine an island of women that all looked just like her. The Rockwellian purity of the ’50s would have been much different with a burlesque age Wonder Woman fighting commies and anti-American thugs. What could be better?
1960s – Diana Rigg
Best known for her role as British spy Emma Peel in television’s “The Avengers” (no, not those Avengers, the other Avengers), Diana Rigg was one of the greatest action stars of the ’60s. In the mid-’60s, DC tried to modernize Wonder Woman by putting her in a mod pants suit and making her into a super spy. This Bondian Wonder Woman did not last long, but man, was it stylish, as Wonder Woman fought her way though many adventures as a depowered master spy. The issues were greatly influenced by Diana Rigg’s portrayal of Emma Peel so it is only right that Ms. Rigg would get the opportunity to play her in our hypothetical “Wonder Woman” series that would play alongside Adam West’s “Batman.” Rigg would not be limited to Diana’s mod period as the show could have shown the heroine from any decade, allowing every fanboy in 1960s America to experience the feminine perfection of Diana Rigg in a classic Wonder Woman suit. Rigg still rocks our world with her portrayal of Lady Olenna Tyrell on “Game of Thrones,” and her time as Diana would have added to Rigg’s already perfect legacy. Just think, Wonder Woman played by an Avenger in the sexiest crossover ever.
1970s – Lynda Carter
While we search for the perfect Wonder Woman for each era in which the character has existed, it’s impossible not to mention that the 1970s already had the perfect Wonder Woman for any era. Like Christopher Reeve as Superman, Carter was so perfect as Wonder Woman, any actress that finds herself in the role — Gal Gadot included — will be compared with Carter’s grace and beauty. Carter created the mold of TV action heroine that Xena and Buffy followed. She had the perfect body for Diana: athletic, fit and flawless, never overly skinny and yet completely feminine. When Carter’s Wonder Woman punched a bad guy, he stayed punched, and her portrayal as Diana seemed to satisfy the nuances of every era of the character. The disco era Wonder Woman inspired girls to spin around to become something ideal, a strong, independent woman who existed to fight for the rights of others while rocking nylon tights. As far as the ’70s, or any other era for that matter, are concerned, Lynda Carter is, was, and always will be Wonder Woman.
1980s – Kelly LeBrock
As the science experiment we all fell in love with, Kelly LeBrock more than proved her worth as the perfect 1980s Wonder Woman. She certainly was statuesque enough, with a body that made her look like she should have been on the front of a Viking ship, Le Brock would have kicked ass and broken hearts as the Wonder Woman of the big hair and shoulder pads era. In “Weird Science,” LeBrock was like a gorgeous force of nature, sexy and unmoving. As Wonder Woman, she would have been able to stand side by side with either Christopher Reeve or Michael Keaton. On a island populated by ’80s Amazons, the hair spray alone would have hidden Paradise Island from the rest of the world. Throw in an Oingo Boingo theme song and we have ourselves a movie.
1990s – Catherine Zeta-Jones
No actress in modern history looks more like a real life version of Wonder Woman than Catherine Zeta-Jones. Fans began casting the Welsh actress as Diana the moment they saw her work in “The Phantom” and “The Mask of Zorro.” Her brunette tresses, milky skin, and ethereal beauty made her Diana’s spitting image. Zeta-Jones had and still possesses an almost otherworldly softness at times, but the lady also has an edge and knows her way around an action scene. She would have been at the forefront of the super-hero film movement and could have provided fans a strong, solo super-hero movie, something, criminally, they still have not received. While many might want to see Lucy Lawless in the role, Catherine Zeta-Jones wins out as the best choice to play Wonder Woman because, in a perfect “Wonder Woman” film, Lawless would have played the Cheetah and went claw to lasso with Jones. Yet another image to make you wonder why a “Wonder Woman has not materialized.
2000s – Charisma Carpenter
Throughout the early days of the new century, Joss Whedon was hard at work on a script for a potential “Wonder Woman” movie with producer Joel Silver. Warner Bros. opted not to move forward with Whedon’s vision, a decision which probably stung all the more after the massive success of 2012’s “The Avengers.” Assuming the studio did move forward with the project, it’s only right that a Whedon alumnus would take the role of Diana. Turn of the century Charisma Carpenter would own the part with her traffic-stopping looks and unending sensuality. Carpenter would be a Diana for the ages; her time on “Angel” and “Buffy” demonstrated her ability to pull off humor, pathos and action, and oh, that smile… Carpenter possesses a classic beauty combined with an innate toughness that just screams Wonder Woman. For our money, the perfect pilot for the Invisible Jet at the dawn of the 2000s would be Cordelia Chase herself, one of Whedon’s most talented players, Charisma Carpenter.