What makes an American movie feel American

(Warning: contains graphic pro-American sentiment. May not be suitable for open-minded viewers.)

As an American, I watch a lot of American films. I guess it’s by default, but when I watch a foreign film, it feels foreign.

“Oh, yeah, that’s totally French,” we say knowingly. There’s a certain flavor: shot choices, pacing, even character development. Movies made in the US all seem to have the same genetic makeup: they have different outsides, but at the cellular level they’re 99.99% the same.

What makes them “feel American”? With a very short (300 word limit and I’m lazy), non-American, Marxian analysis, let’s roll through a couple of economic and sociopolitical themes that make American film American.

The Underdog Always Wins


You’ve seen Heat, right?
How about Pulp Fiction, no?
Ocean’s 11?
The Italian Job?
What do all these movies have in common? Robbery. The good guy, who works hard but gets wronged by The Man, finally takes justice into his own hands.
We love underdogs. America was founded (we love to proclaim) on the principle that Great Britain was taxing us unfairly. So we were all, that’s not cool, we’re going solo. And we fought a huge war with the biggest martial power in the world, because we’re badasses.
Rob-from-the-rich, underdog justice is a central theme to the American psyche. Why? Films are the stories we love to tell ourselves. Successful blockbusters tap into a subconscious craving, and they make us feel good. We all feel wronged from time to time, and it’s nice to vicariously Set Things Right.

Guns Are Awesome

Then there’s Winchester ’73. How many other countries would make a movie named after a gun (except for maybe Russia and the AK-47)? We Americans, like it or not, love our guns. They bestow immediate power and awesomeness. There are a few other countries with similar fascinations with weapons (Japan and the sword, England and the bow) but for America we have the gun. After all, what was Dirty Harry famous for?

Amazing hair?


Non-Capitalists Are Bad

It’s almost too easy, but we still love making Communist Russia the bad guy in every possible (non-World War II) movie. Sure, Russia threatened other countries too, but so what. Even now you see American movies about communism taking over the world (hint: world=America).
Every school child from the ’50s to late ’80s grew up being taught that Russia was bad, and that’s reflected as the generic bad guy of that time. It’s a shame that ended in the late ’80s, although now we do have generic terrorists. Bonus.

terrorist cats are the cutest

Technology Is Scary

Another value, that I think is funny, is America’s fear of technology.
What? But Americans love technology! “Look at how many ways I can text and watch movies in my car while it safely parallel parks itself,” you say.
Nope. One word for you my friend: Skynet. For some reason, technology in movies is terrifying. Genuine American movies frequently seem to involve AIs taking over the world or some genetically modified something or other killing people. The strong-jawed hero has to win the day with some trusty old technology (non-networked computers, benign Earth germs, hand-cranked phonograph, etc.)
2001, I Am Legend, Terminator, Planet of the Apes (the new one), Event Horizon, Avatar, The Matrix, the list goes on. Americans just love to hate on technology.

I see you

Well I’d love to do more examples, but I’m about 300 words over my limit. So there you go–there are a couple (and by no means all) reasons why when you watch an American movie, it feels “American.”

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