Communication and Culture | Topics in Media History (Topic: Action Films from 1980 to the Present)
C420 | 14502 | Palmer, L.

MTuWThF, 11:45 AM-1:00 PM. C2 203
Required film screenings: Tu, 7:15 PM-10:15 PM, WY 015

Fulfills College S&H Requirement

Instructor: Lorrie Palmer
Office: C2 281
Phone: 856-3153

Can the action film genre help us understand how our ideas about
heroism have changed and shifted over time? How do the action movies
released in the last three decades construct the larger-than-life
characters and spectacular tales that have gradually become part of
our media landscape? Previous scholarship has established a
foundation for reading the genre through, for instance, a lens on
political history (notably in the 1980s, with its hard-body heroes
and fetish for muscular military enterprise), or through sex &
gender, or through its relationship to other genres, such as the
movie musical, film noir, or the Western, all of which have helped
to signal social and cultural changes in America.

Although our critical concern will be to question how different
ideological and historical dynamics pervade these categories of
analysis, we also know how important it is to examine the simple
pleasure of watching things blow up. We will look at both male and
female action stars and how different settings—such as big cities,
battlefields, wild frontiers, outer space, and bright comic book
skylines—allow different styles of heroism. We’ll talk about
muscles, cyborgs, fast cars, and big guns around the aesthetics and
the mode of production specific to this genre. And we will ask
ourselves what these things actually mean to us and what roles race,
gender, stardom, bodies, and even technology may play in how we
identify with our big screen heroes. After taking this class, you
will be able to look at the dominant global cinematic product—the
contemporary action film—as less a simple spectacle and more as a
living archive of history, culture, ideologies, and as the electric
zeitgeist of our own current moment.

All readings will be accessed through Oncourse. In our weekly
screenings, we will traverse the action film of the 80s, such as Die
Hard and Aliens, to the 90s, in films like Bad Boys, Desperado, and
The Long Kiss Goodnight, to 21st century releases like Crank and

Assessment will be based on attendance (class and screenings) and
active participation in discussions. Students will be assigned one
film analysis paper, in-class activities, a midterm, and will write
and present short reading and screening responses throughout the

There are no pre-requisites and students - from any major -
interested in a deeper look at action movies are encouraged to
enroll. Feel free to contact me ( with any
questions about this course.