Date of Award

Spring 5-10-2020

Document Type


Degree Name

M.A. English



First Advisor

Kevin Mahoney

Second Advisor

Anthony Bleach

Third Advisor

Robert Kilker


As superhero blockbusters continue to dominate the theatrical landscape, critical detractors of the genre have grown in number and authority. The most influential among them, Martin Scorsese, has been quoted as referring to Marvel films as “theme parks” rather than “cinema” (his own term for auteur film). Despite this, these films often possess considerably challenging views in regards to social justice, and continue to interface with the pervading theme of alienation in increasingly abstract and progressive ways.

This thesis considers four films (1978’s Superman, 2000’s X-Men, 2013’s Captain America: Winter Soldier, and 2018’s Black Panther) from a Marxist perspective, viewing the films as especially disruptive to the established superhero blockbuster formula (presented as a variation of Hegel’s dialectic to structurally parallel Marxist criticism), and the ways in which the genre interfaces with alienation. This analysis is further justified by Fredric Jameson’s critique of Postmodernism (Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism), in which he perceives a collision of high and low art, and guided primarily by his Political Unconscious (with additional reference to Baudry’s “Ideological Effects of the Basic Cinematographic Apparatus,” Lacan’s “The Mirror Stage,” Levi-Strauss’ “The Structural Study of Myth”, and Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth). Each film is considered in regards to its historical context, portrayal of alienation, and challenge to established filmmaking methodologies.

Finally, this thesis argues that, though these films are far flung from traditional definitions of auteur cinema, they are not devoid of its central facet of risk—if not in terms of finance, then the risk of being misinterpreted and written off as juvenile media. Contrary to some interpretations of the genre, it remains revolutionary in its ability to blatantly challenge real social problems with abstract solutions, and possesses the potential for considerable social change.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.



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