In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section American Cinema, 1976 to Present

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Reference Works
  • Hollywood Narration and Aesthetics
  • Independent Cinema
  • Film Industry Studies
  • Postmodernism
  • Documentary
  • Avant-Garde and Experimental Cinema
  • Multiple Auteur Studies
  • Film Ratings and Censorship
  • Digital Technology and Media Convergence

Cinema and Media Studies American Cinema, 1976 to Present
Derek Nystrom
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 April 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0171


American cinema has undergone a series of profound transitions since 1976. In many histories of American film, 1976 marks the end of one New Hollywood—the so-called “Hollywood Renaissance” of art cinema-inspired, personal filmmaking driven by young auteurs—and the start of another New Hollywood, this one more oriented toward blockbuster films that, many critics argue, eschew classical principles of narration in order to foreground special effects sequences and to provide opportunities for merchandizing and other product tie-ins. Whether or not one agrees with this characterization of what these critics call “postclassical” film style, it is indisputable that Hollywood’s corporate and industrial structures in this period treat the domestic theatrical release of a narrative feature film as just one moment in the cultural and economic life of a given “property.” Significant developments in exhibition technologies—cable television, home video, and the Internet—created multiple windows of release for a particular film, not to mention the increasingly important foreign markets. Meanwhile, the return of vertical integration by the incorporation of US film studios into multinational corporate parent companies enabled the monetizing of different film-related properties across multiple markets and media streams, thus dispersing our understanding of what constitutes the film “text.” These changes in industrial practice took place during larger shifts in the United States’ position on the world stage, as the Cold War’s end scrambled one set of geopolitical coordinates while the 9/11 attacks and the ensuing wars generated another. American cinema registered these shifts in a number of ways, both in its depiction of political and military conflicts—many of which rerouted contemporary issues through earlier moments in US history (especially the Vietnam War)—and through its reimagination of gender identity, particularly the various forms of masculinity that critics have aligned with the Reagan, Clinton, and Bush eras. Other changes in race, gender, and sexual identity in American life often found their most provocative expression in the rise of a new “independent” American film movement. Critics have explored whether this movement has generated genuinely alternative forms of film narration and aesthetics, as well as whether their “independence” from major studios is better understood as a partial or qualified one. This article outlines the various critical resources that address these developments, as well as related questions, such as the relationship of American cinema to postmodernism and the shifts in film genre that attended the aforementioned developments.

General Overviews

The following works provide the most comprehensive overviews of the industrial contexts, aesthetic forms, and theoretical and historical issues that pertain to American filmmaking during the period. Cook 2000 and Prince 2000 cover the 1970s and 1980s, respectively, for the “History of the American Cinema” series; they are both invaluable resources for historical information about and analysis of American cinema during those decades. King 2002 offers a distillation of the various critical questions that attend the “two New Hollywoods” (that of the 1967–1976 Hollywood Renaissance and of the post-1976 blockbuster-centered filmmaking); Langford 2010 presents his account of recent American cinema in light of the larger historical context of post–WWII Hollywood filmmaking. Lucia, et al. 2012 is one volume in a four-part series covering the entire history of American film; the commissioned essays seek to address major issues in film history while also bringing to light topics and modes of filmmaking often left out of similar historical overviews. Tasker 1996 is a précis of different critical approaches to contemporary Hollywood.

  • Cook, David A. Lost Illusions: American Cinema in the Shadow of Watergate and Vietnam, 1970–1979. History of the American Cinema 9. New York: Scribner, 2000.

    Thorough history of the decade’s cinema, with chapters on the rise of the blockbuster; developments in generic form; trends in industrial structure and the financing of production; technological changes and concomitant aesthetic shifts; as well as contributions from other authors on exhibition, documentary, and avant-garde filmmaking.

  • King, Geoff. New Hollywood Cinema: An Introduction. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

    Clear exposition of key issues involved in defining contemporary Hollywood film. Analyzes recent developments in Hollywood filmmaking along three axes of inquiry: narrative and film style, economic and industrial structures, and sociohistorical contexts. Excellent for undergraduate courses.

  • Langford, Barry. Post-Classical Hollywood: Film Industry, Style and Ideology Since 1945. Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press, 2010.

    Situates its overview of post-1980 Hollywood within a longer history of the evolution of American film since World War II. Gives close attention to the history of cinematic exhibition and offers a nuanced account of debates over postclassical style.

  • Lucia, Cynthia, Roy Grundmann, and Art Simon, eds. The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film. Vol. 4, 1976 to the Present. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.

    Collection of essays surveying technological and industrial changes in Hollywood film production and exhibition, developments in American film genres, independent filmmaking, and avant-garde and documentary production. Essay topics are organized by decade.

  • Prince, Stephen. A New Pot of Gold: Hollywood Under the Electronic Rainbow, 1980–1989. History of the American Cinema 10. New York: Scribner, 2000.

    Comprehensive overview of decade in which movies became “one ‘software’ stream among others” (p. 3). Extensive discussions of return of vertical integration in studio ownership, increasing centrality of “ancillary” markets, and political battles that took place over various Hollywood films. Includes chapters on key directors, stars, genres, and production cycles of the decade.

  • Tasker, Yvonne. “Approaches to the New Hollywood.” In Cultural Studies and Communications. Edited by James Curran, David Morley, and Valerie Walkerdine, 213–228. London: Arnold, 1996.

    Knowledgeable summary of different critical inquiries into contemporary Hollywood, touching on debates over postclassical style, genre revision and transformation, the place of film studios in modern multimedia conglomerates, and the relation of Hollywood films to postmodernism and postmodernity.

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