Sign. Storage. Transmission

American Blockbuster: Movies, Technology, and Wonder

by Charles R. Acland (2020)

- Blockbusters (Motion pictures) -- United States -- History and criticism.
- Motion picture industry -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
- Mass media and culture -- United States.

Ben-Hur (1959), Jaws (1975), Avatar (2009), Wonder Woman (2017): the blockbuster movie has held a dominant position in American popular culture for decades. In American Blockbuster Charles R. Acland charts the origins, impact, and dynamics of this most visible, entertaining, and disparaged cultural form. Acland narrates how blockbusters emerged from Hollywood's turn to a hit-driven focus during the industry's business crisis in the 1950s. Movies became bigger, louder, and more spectacular. They also became prototypes for ideas and commodities associated with the future of technology and culture, accelerating the prominence of technological innovation in modern American life. Acland shows that blockbusters continue to be more than just movies; they are industrial strategies and complex cultural machines designed to normalize the ideologies of our technological age.

1. Blockbuster Ballyhoo (3-34)
2. Industrial Regimes of Entertainment (35-84)
3. Delivering Blockbusters (87-123)
4. The Business of Big (124-159)
5. Hollywood's Return (160-190)
6. Cosmopolitan Artlessness (191-230)
7. The End of James Cameron's Quiet Years (233-265)
8. The Technological Heart of Movie Culture (266-296)
Epilogue. Exhausted Entertainment (297-304)
Notes (305-336)
Filmography (337-346)
Bibliography (347-372)
Index (373-388).

[ToC + Introduction (pdf):]

Charles R. Acland is Distinguished University Research Professor of Communication Studies at Concordia University, Montreal. He is the author of Swift Viewing: The Popular Life of Subliminal Influence and Screen Traffic: Movies, Multiplexes, and Global Culture, and coeditor of Useful Cinema, all also published by Duke University Press.



“Charles R. Acland has written an astute, masterful genealogy of the film critic's kryptonite: the blockbuster. Bringing clarity to the massive films that hide from scholars in plain view, Acland shows just how complex and unstable ostensibly self-evident genre and trade terms can be. Beyond a film history, this wide-ranging book offers a prototype for multi-modal historiographic method and incisive film analysis in an era of big data and digital humanities. Far more than an origin story, Acland's reverse engineering lays bare the struggles behind the management of Hollywood's blockbuster category, the fabrication of overdone artlessness. A must-read in film and media studies.”
— John Thornton Caldwell, author of Production Culture: Industrial Reflexivity and Critical Practice in Film and Television

“No other book traces the emergence of the stabilization of Hollywood's blockbuster strategy as deftly as American Blockbuster. Charles R. Acland's powerful synthesis of historical analysis and cultural theory, along with his assessment of Hollywood's blockbuster economy—and of the studios’ prevailing blockbuster aesthetic—will have a significant impact.”
— Thomas Schatz, author of The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era

“This is a stunningly insightful and comprehensive study of the blockbuster that contributes new historical, cultural, and critical perspectives on a definitive phenomenon in American cinema. Through impeccable research and lucid writing, Charles R. Acland ultimately shows us how movie blockbusters have functioned to drive and to legitimate the ‘technological exhibitionism’ that lies at the heart not only of the film industry but also of society more broadly, offering a rich assessment of why these films are among the most consequential popular art forms in modern times.”
— Barbara Klinger, Indiana University


Acland, Charles R. [1963-]
American Blockbuster: Movies, Technology, and Wonder.
Durham / London: Duke University Press, 2020, xii, 388 p.
(Sign, Storage, Transmission.).
ISBN 9781478008576 (hb., $109,95)
ISBN 9781478009504 (pb., $29,95)
ISBN 9781478012160 (eb.)
[Bibl. refs.]