MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Black Widow very nearly had a movie before Iron Man and Thor.
Marvel has had significant success since it began producing its own films in 2008 with Iron Man, kicking off a string of releases that led to one of the biggest blockbusters of all time, The Avengers. The studio even transformed a group of minor comic book characters, the Guardians of the Galaxy, into the biggest film of 2014.
However, for all of Marvel’s successes, it has yet to release a film starring a female superhero, and it appears as if Sony could beat them to the punch with the Spider-Man franchise. Reader Dennis L. wrote in to ask whether it was true, however, that there was nearly a Black Widow feature released before Marvel began making its 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 in the 1970s tried to make a TV series featuring Black Widow and Daredevil. While it was never produced, 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 its characters, including Black Widow. There was brief discussion of a Black Widow film being made during the 1990s but it wasn't until 2004 that it had a real chance of seeing release.
That was the year screenwriter David Hayter, fresh from writing the first two X-Men films, penned a Black Widow script for Lionsgate that was to mark his directorial debut. He was such a big fan of the 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, with young orphan Natasha being adopted by Ivan Petrovich, who works in a secret Soviet training facility known as the Red Room. Enrolled by Ivan’s boss Sergei Riskolje in a program to train girls as super-soldiers, Natasha becomes a prized pupil, and even undergoes a risky medical procedure that “recreates the reflex-response of certain insect joints," essentially giving her superpowers. She rebels against her adopted father for allowing the procedure happen, and forms a relationship with Alexei, a trainee in another program. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Sergei goes rogue rather than shut down the program, and has Alexei the other trainees, including Natshas's best friend Natalia, and (seemingly) Ivan.
Natasha steals the experimental "Widow suit" and escapes to the United States. Once there, she becomes a gardener, partnering with a man named Freddy and sharing an apartment with a roommate named Stevie Hunter. Her past comes back to haunt her, however, as Alexei shows up to hunt her down (Stevie is killed). Freddy, it turns out, is an undercover CIA operative who puts Natasha into contact with another agent named Anton, who informs her there’s a $10 million bounty on her head. In the time that Natasha has been living in the United States, Sergei has become a warlord in Russia and has restarted the training program, 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 superpowers and her advanced Widow suit to take out all the bad guys, and nuke the Red Room (after first escaping with the young trainees, of course).
It 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 its own movies!), so it was dropped. Marvel regained the right to Black Widow the following year, with Scarlett Johansson debuting as the character in Iron Man 2 before going on to appear in The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. 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’s said 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.
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