Date of Completion

Spring 5-1-2022

Thesis Advisor(s)

Jeffrey Dudas, Matthew M. Singer

Honors Major

Political Science


American Politics | Film and Media Studies | History | Law | Political History | Political Science | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies | Social History | Social Justice | United States History


The United States is one of the last western nations still practicing capital punishment. A history of and commitment to vigilantism and its ideals offers an explanation of America’s retention of capital punishment. Employing scholarship on law and popular culture and vigilantism, this thesis finds that pro-death penalty frames are prevalent in vigilante films while anti-death penalty frames are prevalent in films that focus specifically upon capital punishment. Since the 1960’s however, there has been a gradual shift towards anti-death penalty frames and away from pro-death penalty frames as well as changes in the themes presented in the two genres of films, suggesting growing ambivalence for the death penalty. Finally, in films of the twentieth century particularly, vigilante films rely upon politics of countersubversion while death penalty films flesh out and repudiate such politics.