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The 'War on Terror' and American Film

9/11 Frames Per Second

Terence McSweeney

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An exploration of the impact of 9/11 and the ‘War on Terror’ on American cinema

Popular cinema is often derided with the epithet ‘it’s only a movie’, but is there any more potent cultural artefact than popular film? Where could one turn for a more effective cultural barometer than to Hollywood cinema?

American film in the first decade of the new millennium became a cultural battleground on which a war of representation was waged, but did these films endorse the ‘War on Terror’ or criticise it? More than just reproducing these fears and fantasies, The ‘War on Terror’ and American Film: 9/11 Frames Per Second argues that American cinema has played a significant role in shaping them, restructuring how audiences have viewed the ‘War on Terror’ in particularly influential ways.

This compelling, theoretically informed and up-to-date exploration of contemporary American cinema charts the evolution of the impact of 9/11 on Hollywood film from Black Hawk Down (2001), through Batman Begins (2005), United 93 (2006) to Olympus Has Fallen (2013). Through a vibrant analysis of a range of genres and films – which in turn reveal a strikingly diverse array of social, historical and political perspectives – The ‘War on Terror’ and American Film:9/11 Frames Per Second explores the impact of 9/11 and the war on terror on American cinema in the first decade of the new millennium and beyond.

Key Features

  • Charts the evolution of the impact of 9/11 on Hollywood film: draws on a range of contemporary films including Black Hawk Down (2001), through Batman Begins (2005), United 93 (2006) to Olympus Has Fallen (2013)
  • Comprehensive and broad in scope: provides a rich social, historical and political context
  • Interrogates the emerging debates of the era: focuses on some of the most prominent genres/sub-genres and cycles of the decade and explains why they have emerged and how they differ from pre 9/11 films


List of Illustrations
1. The Lives of Others: Vulnerability in Post 9/11 American Cinema
2. Boots on the Ground: the New Millennial Combat Film as Cultural Artefact
3. "Masters of our own Security": Redemption Through Violence in the Post 9/11 Action Genre
4. Turning to the Dark Side: Questioning American Mythology in the Superhero Genre
5. Remaking 9/11: Imagining the Unimaginable in the Alien Invasion Film
6. Decade of the Dead: Zombie Films as Allegory of National Trauma
7. The Rise and Fall of Empires: The 'War on Terror' as Allegorical Moment in Historical Film
Works cited

About the Author

Terence McSweeney is Senior Lecturer in the School of Media Arts and Technology, Southampton Solent University.


'This is an important and comprehensive study of Hollywood cinema and its representation of the impact of 9/11. In particular McSweeney’s investigation of genre enables the reader to explore ideological connections between the explicit (United 93) and implicit text (Batman Begins) and question the notion of the "war on terror".'

- Karen Randell, University of Bedfordshire

'McSweeney convincingly shows how the action genre has incorporated the discourse of the war on terror into its narratives, by including post-9/11 debates on masculinity, the legitimacy of revenge as well as the role of the US in international affairs…the arguments and conclusions are convincing and at times surprising, resulting in a fresh take on several films and their relation to 9/11…an engaging and critically lucid monograph'

- Thomas Ærvold Bjerre , American Studies in Scandanavia
'Both [of Terence McSweeney's] publications provide fascinating and timely discussions of contemporary cultural texts in an accessible and engaging way. They are guaranteed to spark the interest of varied audiences, from students of American studies to researchers theorizing post-9/11 representations, ideologies and discourses in popular culture, politics and the media. The authors’ fast-paced style and passion for academically overlooked, yet hugely popular films, will certainly appeal to the non-specialist public intrigued by the subtexts of box office hits.'
- Maria-Irina Popescu, University of Essex, European Journal of American Culture

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