How Wonder Woman finally made it to the big screen

Wonder Woman's fought her way through (development) hell and back.
Image: Clay Enos / Warner Bros.

Next week, Wonder Woman hits theaters with her-ever first live-action solo adventure. And it only took her 76 years to get there.

Although she’s only a few years younger than her Justice League teammates Superman and Batman, Wonder Woman has had far worse luck making the leap to movies. But it’s not for lack of trying.

To the contrary, Wonder Woman is the payoff to decades of on-again, off-again efforts to bring the Amazonian princess to the big screen. With the film just days away from release, let’s take a look back at the long and winding journey it took to get here.

Wonder Woman’s early days

Wonder Woman first appears in the comics in 1941.

Image: DC Comics

Wonder Woman made her comic debut in 1941, just two years after Batman and three years after Superman. Even though she was immediately popular, it took her a while to cross over into other media.

1967: Wonder Woman tries to transition to TV. The first attempted Wonder Woman TV series, Who’s Afraid of Diana Prince? only ever got as far as a five-minute pilot presentation. Ellie Wood Walker played Diana Prince as a frumpy young woman who, when no one is looking, transforms into the beautiful Wonder Woman (played by Linda Harrison) and admires her reflection in the mirror.

1972: Wonder Woman makes her TV debut. Since Who’s Afraid of Diana Prince? never aired, Wonder Woman’s actual first TV appearance was as a guest in an episode of the animated series The Brady Kids. Jane Webb provided her voice.

1974: Wonder Woman tries again to transition to TV. A few years after Who’s Afraid of Diana Prince? ABC considered a Wonder Woman TV series which imagined the heroine as more of a super-spy (in line with the Wonder Woman comics of the late ’60s and early ’70s). A pilot was made and aired as a TV movie, but the concept never went to series.

1975-1979: Wonder Woman finally gets her own TV show. After the 1974 Wonder Woman failed to take flight, Warner Bros. and ABC tried again with a different, more traditional interpretation of the character. This is the Wonder Woman TV show you’re probably familiar with, with Lynda Carter in the star-spangled onesie.

Wonder Woman in movie development hell

Joss Whedon never got to make his Wonder Woman movie, but did get to direct two Avengers films.

Image: Masatoshi Okauchi / REX

During and after her show’s run, Wonder Woman continued to pop up in animated projects like Super Friends. She still regularly appears in animated shows (like the web series DC Super Hero Girls) and direct-to-video movies (like Justice League Dark). However, the big screen remained elusive for a long time.

1996: Ivan Reitman joins Wonder Woman. Yes, that Ivan Reitman, as in the director of Ghostbusters. He was the producer and possible director behind one of the first attempts to get a Wonder Woman movie made, but the project went nowhere.

2005-2007: Joss Whedon attempts Wonder Woman. After Reitman’s efforts stalled out, Warner Bros. and Silver Pictures decided to try again, this time with Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon. But after two years of work with little to show for it, Whedon dropped out of the project. He chalks up the split to, essentially, creative differences, and revealed that Cobie Smulders had been his top pick to star.

2007-2008: George Miller plans Justice League Mortal. Meanwhile, Wonder Woman found another potential route to the big screen in Justice League Mortal, to be directed by George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road). Megan Gale was cast as the Amazonian princess, alongside D.J. Cotrona as Superman and Armie Hammer as Batman. But Miller’s project ended up getting shelved for a number of reasons, chief among them the 2007-2008 WGA strike.

2000s: Despite all that, everyone wants a piece of Wonder Woman. The above is just the half of it lots of others kept trying to get Wonder Woman made. Paul Feig pitched a version. So did Patty Jenkins. (She actually got the gig eventually, but we’ll get to that.) Nicolas Winding Refn told anyone who’d listen that he wanted to make a movie starring Christina Hendricks. None of them managed to make much headway.

Wonder Woman in TV development hell

Adrianne Palicki probably would’ve made a great Wonder Woman, honestly.

Image: rex

As one Wonder Woman movie after another fell apart, it looked for a while like our best hope of seeing the character onscreen again would be television. Superhero shows were (and still are) booming, after all, and Wonder Woman is about as beloved a character as they come. But her bad luck followed her to TV.

2010-2011: NBC eyes David E. Kelley’s Wonder Woman. After some hemming and hawing, NBC ordered a Wonder Woman pilot from Ally McBeal creator David E. Kelley. Adrianne Palicki was cast in the lead, which proved to be one of the few good decisions made by the show. Fans ripped apart her hideous costume and the changes to her origin story, and test audiences weren’t impressed with the results either. NBC, probably wisely, decided not to move forward with a series.

2012-2013: The CW eyes a Wonder Woman origin story. The CW, which was not yet the superhero powerhouse it would become, announced development on a Smallville-esque show called Amazon, about Wonder Woman’s origins. But after going back and forth and tinkering with the script, the network decided to shelve the project entirely.

Wonder Woman joins the DCEU

Gal Gadot is the first live-action Wonder Woman to make it to the big screen.

Image: zack snyder / warner bros.

With her TV hopes dashed, Wonder Woman set her sights on the big screen again. Working in her favor this time is the fact that Warner Bros. was eager to launch an entire universe of DC movies, beginning with 2013’s Man of Steel.

December 4, 2013: Gal Gadot is cast as Wonder Woman. However, it wasn’t for a solo movie or at least, not yet, No, this was for a supporting part in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice alongside Henry Cavill as Superman and Ben Affleck as Batman. To win the role, Gadot had to beat out the likes of Olga Kurylenko and lodie Yung (the latter of whom would go on to join Netflix’s Daredevil).

February 7, 2014: Wonder Woman makes her theatrical feature debut. But before Gadot got to pick up her shield, Wonder Woman made her big-screen debut in an entirely unrelated movie. The Lego Movie had Cobie Smulders (whom, you may recall, was Whedon’s top pick at one time) voice the heroine for a brief cameo.

October 15, 2014: Warner Bros. officially announces Wonder Woman. While Wonder Woman movies had been announced before, only to fall apart, this one already had a star attached (Gadot) and was positioned as part of an enormous franchise. Things were finally looking up for the warrior princess.

November 24, 2014: Michelle MacLaren signs on to direct Wonder Woman. Warner Bros. specifically sought a female helmer for its first female-led DCEU movie, and landed on Michelle MacLaren an experienced and highly acclaimed TV director who’d be making her feature debut.

Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot on the set of Wonder Woman.

Image: warner bros.

April 15, 2015: Patty Jenkins signs on to direct Wonder Woman. … And then MacLaren’s vision for the project fell apart over creative differences. Days later, Patty Jenkins (Monster) was announced as her replacement. Ironically, Jenkins had previously dropped out of Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World over creative differences. But Wonder Woman was the fulfillment of a longtime dream for Jenkins the news comes over a decade after she initially met with the studio about the character.

November 21, 2015: Wonder Woman announces the start of production. Anyone still nervous that this version of Wonder Woman could fall apart, like so many others before it, was able to breathe a little easier once shooting got underway.

March 20, 2016: Batman v Superman arrives in theaters. While the overall reviews for Zack Snyder’s superhero showdown were mixed, fans and critics were nearly unanimous in praising Gadot’s portrayal of Wonder Woman.

August 12, 2016: Rumors spread that Wonder Woman is in trouble. A former Warner Bros. employee penned a scathing open letter claiming that Wonder Woman was a mess, as was Warner Bros. as a whole. Although Jenkins quickly denounced the report, it was all too easy to believe in the wake of the complete and utter mess that was Suicide Squad, the third entry in the DCEU.

May 18, 2017: The first reactions to Wonder Woman come in. Fans fretted over the film’s seemingly haphazard marketing campaign and its good-but-not-great box office predictions. But a lot of those anxieties melted away once the first wave of glowing reactions rolled in on social media. It’s taken Diana long enough to get here. But her new movie looks worth the wait.

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