As far as cinephile archetypes go, none are quite as notorious as the “film bro”. Once upon a time, they were characterised as the obnoxious student who worships at the feet of Quentin Tarantino, Nicolas Winding Refn and Stanley Kubrick. They completely miss the point of American Psycho, and claim they understood the plot of Inception on the first watch. Their movie appetite is limited to the IMDb 250, a canon of films directed by mostly white cis men, deemed to be worthy by mostly white, cis male gatekeepers.
But as a recent TikTok trend demonstrates, the definition of the film bro has now expanded. The videos involve users filming themselves with their mouths agape, alongside ironic captions maligning a picky moviegoing partner. “Film bros when you tell them you want to watch a Marvel movie and not a two-hour black and white movie about the Serbian government shown through the eyes of a pigeon,” one reads. “Pretentious film bros when someone says they would rather watch a comedy than a 15-hour black and white Polish film that critiques capitalism,” says another. Further TikToks mock the film bro’s horror at someone who won’t watch a “Croatian film about a man’s divorce process with his wife.”
The message is clear: film bros should simply lighten up a bit. But there’s also been a curious shift in the perceived tastes of the film bro online – beyond Christopher Nolan and the like, these now seem to include anything perceived as “foreign”. The geographical descriptors in these captions imply that anything non-American is automatically pretentious and elitist (which in itself is pricked with xenophobia.)
Is it silly to put this much thought into a meme? Perhaps. But when film bro movies are seen as misogynist red flags, it’s concerning that the number of films branded as such stretch far beyond Pulp Fiction and Joker. To close oneself off from all cinema in favour of what feels comfortable sets an alarming precedent. There’s a disturbing lack of curiosity when it comes to cinema, evident in the near-complete erasure of the mid-budget movie, and calls for the Academy Awards not to reflect the best films of the year, but simply what’s popular at the time. Now that the cinematic scope of the average viewer is as narrow as the original film bro’s, the goalposts have moved.
In 1993, Martin Scorsese wrote a letter to the New York Times in response to an article criticising Federico Fellini’s films for being too “opaque” to decipher a story. “It’s not the opinion I find distressing, but the underlying attitude toward artistic expression that is different, difficult or demanding,” he said. “I feel it’s a dangerous attitude, limiting, intolerant. If this is the attitude toward Fellini, one of the old masters, and the most accessible at that, imagine what chance new foreign films and filmmakers have in this country?” It’s telling that Scorsese’s words from almost 30 years ago continue to resonate today.
As nostalgia dominates pop culture, many have reclaimed pieces of media that were once seen as nerdy or frivolous as legitimate works of art, from comic book superheroes to rom-coms. Of course, this is necessary, especially in the case of women-led and women-directed films previously omitted from the canon. And certainly, two things can co-exist: we can quote Legally Blonde endlessly, and also luxuriate in a Wong Kar-wai romance, but this iteration of the film bro meme doesn’t feel like it’s coming from such a nuanced perspective. The kind of culture war in which Marvel stans are pitted against Scorsese is underpinned by a fervent overprotectiveness, and a silencing of anything outside the scope of tentpole cinematic universes. There’s a growing dismissal of anything that challenges the viewer, reflective of a line of thinking that sees film only as entertainment, not art.
Within the discourse that’s erupted since the trend went viral on Twitter, detractors argue that they’re calling out the anti-Marvel film bro who belittles people for their taste. The thing is, nothing is being threatened by someone’s preference for The Bicycle Thieves over Doctor Strange. One earnest cinephile trying to show their friends Yi Yi is not going to hurt anyone – it’s not even a chink in the armour for the most hegemonic franchise in film history.
At a time when English literature degrees are being scrapped from universities, appreciating art and knowledge should be encouraged, not ridiculed. On TikTok, the foreign-cinema-loving film bro may have an air of superiority, but honestly, it’s not wrong to be cultured. Having an appetite for storytelling beyond what’s being force fed to you is not some fatal character flaw – it makes for an infinitely more interesting, impassioned person. We should welcome some variety in our cultural diet. Scorsese is still criticised to this day for comparing Marvel movies to theme parks, but ultimately, there’s truth to what he’s describing. I enjoy the mindless distraction of a rollercoaster every now and then, too, but if you never leave the ride, you’ll only feel nauseous.