Real Men, zeros, and heroines: gendered power dynamics in superhero films

Despite the influx of superhero films in recent years, the genre seems to replicate the hegemonic gender relations of capitalist American society. Is there a difference between how these films from 1990-2019 use their protagonists to portray gendered power dynamics? This study analyzes thirty-six of the highest-grossing American superhero films from 1990-1999, 2000-2009, and 2010-2019 in a qualitative content analysis. Connell and Messerschmidt’s conception of hegemonic masculinity (2005) is used as a framework. Themes of demographics, violence, and relationship to the state are coded. Findings suggest that villains and heroines are often enemies of the state, and heroes are often allies. Heroines encounter male threats in varying degrees of sexual violence.