In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Masculinity in Film

  • Introduction
  • Anthologies
  • Journals
  • Formative Work
  • Male Bodies
  • Male Sexuality
  • Masculinity and Youth Culture
  • Male Film Cultures and Fandom
  • Countercultural Masculinity
  • Masculinity and National Cinemas
  • Masculinity Theory
  • Psychoanalytic Approaches

Cinema and Media Studies Masculinity in Film
Mark Gallagher
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 October 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0048


In film studies as in other disciplines and in cultures at large, masculinity remains a contested category, tied not only to dominant social values but also to marginal groups and practices, somehow understood as monolithic and stable but always multiple and fluctuating. Formative work on masculinity in film and cultural studies has sought both to establish the patterns involved in cinematic representation of men (usually adult men, and often with classical Hollywood cinema as the area of study) and also to disentangle cultural categories of masculinity and femininity from biological categories of male and female. (We can leave aside here the semantic problem that, in film studies as in English-language usage generally, the term “gender” has come to mean male or female, with “sex” designating only sexual activity.) As an outgrowth of 1970s feminist film studies, studies of film masculinity were initially (and often remain) concerned with the politics of representation, linking screen images and narratives to conditions in historical reality while often simultaneously theorizing men and masculinity in terms of psychoanalytic models derived from Sigmund Freud (b. 1856–d. 1939), Jacques Lacan (b. 1901–d. 1981), Louis Althusser (b. 1918–d. 1990), and others. Relatedly, Marxism, poststructuralism, and other models of ideological critique have been used to understand film masculinity’s position in political and social structures of power. Much scholarship on film masculinity approaches the subject from multiple vantage points. Considerations of the body routinely involve discussions of sexuality or race, for example, and approaches to masculinity in genre films often involve claims about cultural contexts. Section commentaries here thus include considerable if not exhaustive cross-referencing. The plurality of categories considered in individual works reflects the emerging nature of masculinity studies in film. Some consensus has arisen about what terms and categories deserve attention, and the area of scholarship has not yet fragmented into discrete subspecializations focused narrowly on single categories. Indeed, masculinity is tied into so many other categories—gender at large; the practices and politics of representation; myriad cultural and historical contexts; questions of sexuality, psychology, anthropology, and sociology; and more—that efforts to limit the scope of masculinity studies would invariably close off essential contexts. Studies of film masculinity began in part as a way to extend feminist film studies’ fruitful investigations of spectatorship and representation. Work in the subject has subsequently illuminated virtually all areas of cinema and media scholarship.


The mid-1990s in particular saw the publication of multiple collections on film masculinity, showing diverse approaches to the subject area, if not often a focused organizing principle beyond masculinity. Most collections are offered as scholarly resources rather than as textbook surveys, though the focus of Sharrett 1999 on violence and postmodernity makes it a possible course text (notably, masculinity is among its key concerns but not its central one). Penley and Willis 1993 is perhaps the most theoretically minded of early anthologies and the most grounded in feminist film-studies traditions. Cohan and Hark 1993, focused on Hollywood cinema, has enjoyed a long afterlife in subsequent scholarship. Kirkham and Thumim 1993 and Kirkham and Thumim 1995 are equally rich collections with global perspectives and novel remits—the first presents men’s scholarship, the second women’s—though both have been long out of print and so are less often used by younger scholars. Lehman 2001 leans toward Hollywood cases, though it looks outside the United States in two chapters and addresses experimental video as well. Gabbard and Luhr 2008 ranges widely through selective cases, emphasizing gender in classical Hollywood but with attention to Europe and to contemporary cinema as well. Powrie, et al. 2004 brings forward many European cases, and Shary 2013 returns the focus to US film but with a specifically contemporary focus.

  • Cohan, Steven, and Ina Rae Hark, eds. Screening the Male: Exploring Masculinities in Hollywood Cinema. New York: Routledge, 1993.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203142219

    One of the first collections on film masculinity, with some of its contributors taking on individual films and stars in classical and contemporary Hollywood and others focusing on notable genres (action, horror, and epics) and cycles (including rape-revenge and buddy movies). Most contributors have continued to produce notable scholarship on gender and genre.

  • Gabbard, Krin, and William Luhr, eds. Screening Genders. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2008.

    Compact collection bringing together selections from many major scholars of gender and film, focused around particular cases of gender representation and organized around stardom, sexuality, and genre. Notable, too, for E. Ann Kaplan’s critical survey of film studies’ evolving theorizations of gender and for Lucy Fischer’s application of this range of theories to a single film, Magnolia (1999).

  • Kirkham, Pat, and Janet Thumim, eds. You Tarzan: Masculinity, Movies and Men. New York: St. Martin’s, 1993.

    Corralled by women editors, male scholars take on masculinity with resonant works on sexuality, genre, and ethnicity. Chapters apply psychoanalytic models but move emphasis to politics of representation. The main focus is Hollywood, but the mostly British contributors accordingly give space to British (and, in one chapter, Indian) cinema as well.

  • Kirkham, Pat, and Janet Thumim, eds. Me Jane: Masculinity, Movies and Women. New York: St. Martin’s, 1995.

    Companion volume to Kirkham and Thumim 1993 turns to female scholars’ perspectives, as Christine Gledhill theorizes here in her chapter on “Women Reading Men.” Contemporary Hollywood looms large, though British, Italian, Spanish, and French cinema receive detailed coverage, too, unusual for the time and partly reflective of many contributors’ European origins.

  • Lehman, Peter, ed. Masculinity: Bodies, Movies, Culture. New York: Routledge, 2001.

    Essays on individual films and stars, as well as on films in chronological and generic clusters, dealing with questions of homosociality and homosexuality, race and ethnicity, and more, mostly in US film, though also with Canadian, British, and North African cases. The body, the penis, and psychoanalysis’ beloved phallus also make appearances.

  • Penley, Constance, and Sharon Willis, eds. Male Trouble. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.

    Theory-driven essay collection showing major, formative work in feminist film studies, film psychoanalysis, and ideological critique. Some focus on classical Hollywood but also attention to early cinema and precinematic attractions, Chinese cinema, contemporary US film, and television comedy and drama.

  • Powrie, Phil, Ann Davies, and Bruce Babington, eds. The Trouble with Men: Masculinities in European and Hollywood Cinema. London: Wallflower, 2004.

    Wide-ranging collection with case studies of major Hollywood and European stars from the 1920s to the early 2000s, as well as attention to camp and queer screen masculinities, to racial and ethnic minorities, and to representations of fatherhood, with social class a recurring area of investigation for many contributors.

  • Sharrett, Christopher, ed. Mythologies of Violence in Postmodern Media. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1999.

    With the representation of violence informed by and a co-determinant of gender categories, masculinity figures strongly in most essays in the collection. Four chapters look explicitly at figurations of masculinity in 1980s and 1990s popular US cinema, highlighting a range of postmodernist constructions of male heroism, villainy, madness, and suffering.

  • Shary, Timothy, ed. Millennial Masculinity: Men in Contemporary American Cinema. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2013.

    In the spirit of formative 1990s work on film masculinity and taking advantage of recent trends in scholarly method such as theorizations of performance and new approaches to genres and cycles, this collection looks particularly at constructions of masculinity in turn-of-the-millennium formations of male identity, friendship, sexuality, race relations, and parenthood.

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