1 American Cinema: Cyclical History of Hollywood

Hollywood: A Cyclical Socio-Political History of the Dream Factory

Book Proposal

Registered at the Library of Congress

Emanuel Levy, Ph.D.

Professor of Film and Sociology



My book, Hollywood: Cyclical History proposes a different way of looking at the American cinema by focusing on film cycles, an unexplored concept in film studies.

The book’s time frame is about a century, from the beginning of the sound era, in 1927, to the present.

Three major ideas define my book, and distinguish it from other “histories” of mainstream Hollywood cinema.

Cycle Vs. Genre, Cycle Vs. Series (Franchise)

There have been numerous books about the prevalent genres in American cinema, past and present. My book’s central concept is that of a film cycle, a group of films that are linked together by major themes and ideas, which cut across and intersect with a variety of genres.

To start with an example, The Thin Man movies were part of a popular series of seven films, made between 1934 and 1941. They featured the same major stars, William Powell and Myrna Loy, but they were written and helmed by different directors.  However, in my conception, The Thin Man pictures constitute a series, not a cycle.

Cycle and Socio-Historical Context 

Almost every decade in American history had witnessed the rise, decline and fall of particular film cycles.  Cycles are often launched with the critical and commercial success of a particular movie, which then goes on to spawn a cluster of movies that deal with similar issues, or revolve around similar types of characters.  Film cycles are often conditioned by extra-cinematic factors, such as the socio-political contexts of American society at large.

 Cycles Vs. Directors and Stars

The 1930s were a particular fertile decade for movie musicals, such as the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers dance musicals, made at RKO in the 1930s.  Those movies as great as they are constitute a series, linked by the same stars, but they do not form a cycle either thematically or stylistically.

In contrast, musical movies of the early Depression era, such as 42nd Street and the Gold Diggers movies, constitute a cycle, largely made by the same studio (Warner Bros.), with the same choreographer (Busby Berkeley), and featuring a similar cast, often headed by William Powell and Ruby Keller.

Movie cycles often revolve around the same director, who works with the same cast of actors, jointly generating features linked by similar themes and motifs.  Take, for example, the high school movies made by the late John Hughes in the 1980s.

Colleagues and students have often asked me about the thematic scope and historical duration of film cycles.  The answers to these issues are tricky and intriguing.  As noted, a particular successful film, say Ridley Scott’s Alien of 1979, often launches a whole series of films (the Alien movies, which continue to be made at present).  However, in order to constitute a describable cycle, the films must go beyond the particular director (Scott), star (Sigourney Weaver), and the studio in which it originated (Fox). And indeed, Alien turned out to be a seminal picture in launching not only the Alien film series, but a whole new type of film, a hybrid of sci-fi, horror, and action, blending the conventions of different genres.

Hollywood: A Cyclical History takes as its organizational principle the decade approach.

Below please find a detailed Table of Contents, divided into nine chapters, each devoted to one decade, from 1927 to the present.

Table of Contents  

Part One: 1930s (1927-1939)

Chapter 1: Crime-Gangster Cycle, 1930-1934

Key Films:

Little Caesar, The Public Enemy, Scarface


Chapter 2: Depression Era Musicals, 1933-1936

Key Films:

42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933 (and its sequels)


Part Two: 1940 (1941-1949)

Chapter 3: First Cycle of Film Noir 

Key Films:

The Maltese Falcon (1941), High Sierra (1941), both starring Humphrey Bogart

Double Indemnity (1944)


 Chapter 4:  Second Cycle of Film Noir

Key Films:

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

Out of the Past (1947)


Part Three: 1950s

Chapter 5: Sci-Fi Film Cycle

Key Films:

The Thing

A cycle of movies, dealing with the notion of mutation size, manifest in disastrous dislocations in size, dwelling on giant scorpions, claw monsters, spiders, ants.

Chapter 6: Historical Epics—Old Testament, 1949

This cycle is often described as “Sand and Sandals” movies, shot in Widescreen, CinemaScope, and made by most movies in order to compete with the fast rise of TV as a rivaling medium.

Key Films:

The Robe (Fox)

Quo Vadis (MGM)

Samson and Delilah (Paramount)

Salome (Columbia)

Ben-Hur (1959) end of cycle


Chapter 7: Juvenile Delinquency Cycle

Key Films:

The Wild One (1953)

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)


Part Four: 1960s

Chapter 8: First Gay and Lesbian Cycle, 1961-1962


Chapter 9: Beach Party Cycle, 1964


Part Five: 1970s

Chapter 10: Second Gay Cycle, 1967-1971

Key Films:

Midnight Cowboy (1969)


Chapter 11: Disaster Films

Key Films:

Airport (1970)

Poseidon Adventure (1972)


Towering Inferno

Airplane (spoof)

The Swarm (1978)

The Meteor (1979)


Dante’s Peak


The Perfect Storm

Deep Impact

Into the Storm

Chapter 12: Conspiracy Cycle (Paranoia Films), 1971-1976

Key Films:

The cycle ends with All the President’s Men (1976)



Part Six: 1980s (1979-1989)


Chapter 13: Sci-Fi Cycle, 1977-1988

Key Films

Star Wars

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Chapter 14: Sci-Fi Horror Cycle

Key films:

Alien (1979)


Chapter 15: Yuppie Film Cycle: Male-Dominated Films

Key Films:

After Hours (1985)

Something Wild (1986)


Privileged high-living youngsters became entrepreneurial heroes of l980s conservative apologists.

In popular culture, they were being upgraded as unable to cope without the possessions or outside of their haunts.

The yuppie-vamp-from hell formula reaches its nadir with The Temp (1993)

Chapter 16: Yuppie thrillers–Female Dominated

Key Films:

Jagged Edge (1985)

Consenting Adults


Fatal Attraction

The Hand that Rocks the Cradle

Pacific Heights 1988

Single White Female 1993

The Temp 1993

Unlawful Entry



Yuppie Movies:

Key Films

After Hours

Desperately Seeking Susan


Into the Night

Lost in America

The Money Pit

Risky Business

Something Wild

Trading Places

Wall Street

Part Seven: 1990s 

Chapter 17: Darkly Comic Crime (Tarantino Effect)

Reservoir Dogs

Pulp Fiction

The Usual Suspect


Part Eight: 2000-2009

 Chapter 18: 

Part Nine: 2010-2019

Chapter 19: Comic Hero Adventures

Big Budget, ensemble-driven, special Effects Spectacles

 Key Films:

The Avengers (and sequels)