Masculinity in Films and Filmmaking Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

196)." This is what we see during the 1980s to throughout the 1990s cinema with films like Fatal Attraction (Lyne, motion picture film), Predator (McTiernan, John (dir), 1987, motion picture film), the Terminator film and sequels (Cameron, James (dir), 1984, 1991, and 2003, motion picture film), the Mad Max (Miller, George (dir),1979, 1981, and 1985, motion picture) series, and the Lethal Weapon (Donner, Richard (dir), 1987, 1989, 1992, and 1998, motion picture film) series. There is a shift away from the female leading character in film, to the masculine characters, or what Susan Jeffords calls the "hard body" films, or the leading man who woos the women viewers, kills them with kindness, and the focus of the film is all about male masculinity and the male body (Ayers, Drew, 2008, 41).

The hard body films, and ultimately the focus of the feminine perspective is what Carl Plantinga calls hypermasculinity, and it is satirized using a fictional band called Spinal Tap in a fictionalized documentary (Grant, Barry Keith, and Sloniowski, Jeanette, 1998, p. 318). The satire to which Plantanga is referring to surrounds the male genitalia, which becomes the focus of the satirical joke in the film, but, as Jeffords said, it would take a sophisticated viewer to make the connection between the way in which masculinity was being portrayed in film and This is Spinal Tap's depiction of a cucumber in one of the rock star's pants. The selection of the rock video to make this satirical was no coincidence, and Plantanga quotes Lisa Lewis as arguing that,.".. that rock videos draw on ideologies of adolescence and masculinity, creating a "male preferred address" which supports a social system of male privilege (35) (Plantanga, p. 319)."

The insights offered by Jeffords and Plantanga only serve to summarize what is evidenced by these films. They, like This is Spinal Tap, become the documentary of the evolution of masculinity in film. Only rarely, as is the case of actress Sigourney Weaver's character in Alien, Aliens, and Alien 3 (Scott, Ridley (dir), 1979, 1986, and 2007, motion picture film) do we see a lead female portraying herself as emotionally strong, capable, and possessing and demonstrating an IQ greater than her bra size. That Weaver's character is surrounded by men, and hard bodied men, does not go unnoticed; but Weaver's character, Ripley, is 1) unmoved by the masculinity, 2) the equal of the male characters portrayed in that she can handle weapons, and even a large mechanical loader (Aliens), and, 3) she is the problem solver even when the task of solving the problems initially rests with her male counterpart.

Even with the outstanding traits displayed by Weaver's character, and the storyline that is tightly wrapped around Ripley, it is the male presence that makes these films a great success beyond the initial box office. It is no coincidence that actor Michael Biehn, from John Cameron's Terminator films is Ripley's mental and physical counterpart. All of the women in supporting roles in these films are, like Ripley, strong, capable, and free from the fantastical relationship that is so often portrayed when there are women inserted into masculine storylines: there is no physical affair. That is, until the third installment, when Ripley's space craft crashes onto an all male prison planet. Unfortunately, it is there that the writers finally give in to what was perhaps pressure to deal with Ripley's physicality, and the character has a sexual relationship with an inmate; and then he dies as one of the earliest victims of the alien predator that has become by the third film Ripley's nemesis in a big way.

These are just three films in the many films produced since the 1980s, and into the present where the female character has a very different role, a leading role, and she is either equal to, or superior to her male counterparts, of which there is a large number of male counterparts with whom she must compete and contend with. What we find is that in many ways the character Ripley is no just an equal or superior to the men in the films, but that she is a mirror image of the masculinity portrayed in films since the 1970s. Ripley is in many ways the female Clint Eastwood of alien encounters. This is why she had to work along side Biehn, who had the approval of the viewers of being strong, yet emotionally secure enough to have loved the Terminator's heroine, Sarah Conners. Sarah Conners, in sequels, takes on the persona of Biehn's character who is killed in the first Terminator film as developing strong, capable, instinctual abilities, which viewers understand she manifests because of her relationship with Biehn's character.

For more than three decades now, it is the masculinity factor that has dominated films, and they have been successful because women are the target audience. These films are reflection of the female perspective, the ideal man, and, once again, demonstrate the evolution of the female perspective since the beginning of cinema.

Works Cited

Ayers, Drew. "Bodies, Bullets, and Bad Guys: Elements of the Hardbody Film." Film Criticism 32.3 (2008): 41+. Questia. 12 Mar. 2009

Cameron, John (dir), the Terminator (and series) 1984, 1991, and 2003, motion picture film, Hemdale Film, USA.

Donner, Richard (dir), Lethal Weapon (and series), Lethal Weapon (and series) 1979, 1981, and 1985, motion picture, Silver Pictures, USA.

Eastwood, Clint (dir), Play Misty for Me, 1971, motion picture film, Universal Pictures, USA.

Grant, Barry Keith, and Sloniowski, Jeanette, Documenting the Documentary: Close

Readings of Documentary Film and Video (Wayne State University Press, Michigan, 1998).

Jeffords, Susan, 'The Big Switch: Hollywood Masculinity in the Nineties' in Film Theory

Goes to the Movies, ed. Jim Collins, Hilary Radner and Ava Preacher Collins (New York: Routledge, 1993).

Lyne, Adrian (dir), Fatal Attraction, 1987, motion picture film, Paramount Pictures,


McTiernan, John (dir), Predator, 1987,…

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