American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations


Male Bodies On-Screen: Spectacle, Affect, and the Most Popular Action Adventure Films in the 1980s

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies

First Advisor

Theodore Rippey (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Thomas Mascaro (Other)

Third Advisor

Andrew Hershberger (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Jeffrey Brown (Committee Member)


While popular movies are often overlooked in film studies, the action-adventure genre in the 1980s has drawn considerable academic attention. The consensus among the literature is that a conservative backlash (spurred on by Ronald Reagan's two terms in office) against a resurgent equality movement gave rise to hypermasculine movies like First Blood and Predator and hypermasculine stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. While this still holds true, a closer look at the movies and the era reveals a much more nuanced picture. A thorough examination of the culture, the movies, and the male bodies on-screen in the 1980s—through the lens of affect theory, cinematography, and spectacle, among others—uncovers a number of significant cultural phenomena that have the potential to shape future academic work.

This study not only elucidates and reconstructs the conception of filmic spectacle to include the male body on-screen, it also identifies two types of male bodies on-screen in the 1980s—the muscle-bound, aesthetically spectacular body and the lithe, kinesthetically spectacular body. Additionally, this study argues that filmic spectacle (as experienced by viewers) is actually made up of two discrete dimensions, a physical dimension composed of massive scale and explosions and a physiological one composed of affect and emotion. Unpacking spectacle in this way ultimately produces a number of new tools for film scholars while reimagining, in a significant way, American culture in the 1980s, the action-adventure movies of the decade, and the greater cultural currents in the Reagan era.