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

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews/Anthologies
  • Journals
  • Pioneering Criticism
  • Feminist Authorship/Women’s Forms of Address
  • Semiotic, Structural, and Psychoanalytic Approaches: Key Texts from the 1970s and 1980s
  • Queer/Lesbian/Trans Perspectives
  • Whiteness, Blackness, and Representation
  • Transnational and Global Approaches
  • Documentary and Experimental Modes
  • The Body, Affect, and Sensation
  • Spectatorship
  • Reception and Fandom
  • Stars
  • Film History and Historiography

Cinema and Media Studies Feminist Film Theory
Kristin Hole
  • LAST REVIEWED: 03 May 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 April 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0258


Feminist theory has been foundational to the establishment and development of film studies as a discipline. Although it often gets reduced to key theoretical—primarily psychoanalytic—analyses of spectatorship from the 1970s and 1980s, it has always been and continues to be a dynamic area with many objects of focus and diverse methodological practices. The work cited here offers a sampling of this breadth, historically and topically. Researchers will find how the subfields of authorship, genre, star studies, film history, spectatorship, and reception studies have been enriched and evolved through feminist approaches. Research that highlights facets of identity such as sexuality and race is given special attention throughout, and this emphasis is also addressed in separate sections. Global and/or transnational approaches are highlighted, as are feminist approaches to thinking about the body and cinema. The diversity of scholarship included in this article testifies that feminism moves beyond thinking purely about gender or sexual difference toward the ways in which power and difference shape the cinematic terrain.

General Overviews/Anthologies

The titles included in this section offer single-authored overviews of historically important dimensions of the field of feminist film theory or anthologized key works. Kuhn 1994 and Fischer 1989 are both significant earlier single-author monographs addressing the topic of dominant cinema and feminist counter-cinemas. A textbook, Hollinger 2012 is a useful overview for anyone seeking a lucid summary of major topics in the field, while McCabe 2004 offers a succinct introduction to feminist film theory. Kaplan 2000 anthologizes canonical (mostly psychoanalytic or semiotics-based) writing on the gaze, the women’s picture, and other major issues in early feminist criticism. Thornham 1999 also anthologizes major texts, with added focus on cultural studies methods and perspectives. Mulvey and Backman Rogers 2015 offers a newer canon of work that dialogues with feminist filmmaking and theory of the past and present. Finally, Hole, et al. 2017 is a large collection of previously unpublished writing that covers a wide range of national cinemas, theoretical approaches, and current topics in the field of feminist film theory and studies.

  • Fischer, Lucy. Shot/Countershot: Film Tradition and Women’s Cinema. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989.

    DOI: 10.1515/9781400859955

    This monograph applies feminist criticism to a number of films, from work by Welles and Chabrol to Arzner and Trotta. Deals with a range of feminist themes from the role of the actress to female friendship and lesbians in film.

  • Hole, Kristin Lené, Dijana Jelača, E. Ann Kaplan, and Patrice Petro, eds. The Routledge Companion to Cinema and Gender. New York: Routledge, 2017.

    This anthology comprises 43 original essays on many facets of the field from stardom and genre to spectatorship theory and historical research. Includes essays on African, Indian, and Chinese cinemas, among others.

  • Hollinger, Karen. Feminist Film Studies. London: Routledge, 2012.

    This textbook offers a clear overview of some key debates in feminist film studies, including psychoanalysis and spectatorship, adaptation, and race. Includes detailed case studies on films such as Vertigo, Stella Dallas, and Daughters of the Dust.

  • Kaplan, E. Ann, ed. Feminism & Film. London: Oxford University Press, 2000.

    An anthology of canonical works within feminist film theory that includes influential early essays and key debates on topics such as the gaze and the woman’s picture.

  • Kuhn, Annette. Women’s Pictures: Feminism and Cinema. London: Verso, 1994.

    An important early book that critically explores the relationship between dominant cinema and feminist practice. Originally published in 1982.

  • McCabe, Janet. Feminist Film Studies: Writing the Woman into Cinema. New York: Wallflower, 2004.

    This text offers a succinct overview of the history of feminist film theory and includes cultural studies perspectives, postcolonial approaches, and queer approaches.

  • Mulvey, Laura, and Anna Backman Rogers, eds. Feminisms: Diversity, Difference and Multiplicity in Contemporary Film Cultures. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2015.

    A collection of writings and interviews that dialogues with earlier feminist film theory and practice, bringing in writing on television, the body, sound and Porn, among other topics.

  • Thornham, Sue. Feminist Film Theory: A Reader. New York: New York University Press, 1999.

    An anthology of important works in feminist film studies, including approaches to genre, race, and sexuality, from psychoanalytic and cultural studies perspectives.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.