The use of science-fiction films as media framing devices

Graham Jones
MSc in Science Communication and Public Engagement
The University of Edinburgh, 2019


Facts must be framed properly in order to be understood; if they are not communicated in a way that makes sense within the receiver’s system of frames, they are likely to be ignored. This study shows that science-fiction (SF) films provide an effective system of frames for communicating and understanding science news stories. SF films can be used as literal or figurative analogies to make certain aspects of a story more salient, and to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation and/or treatment recommendation.

This study identifies the ‘top ten’ films most commonly used as framing devices for articles in the journal Nature News between 1998 and 2017. They are: Jurassic Park (which was used in 21 articles); Star Trek (17); Star Wars (14); Frankenstein (10); The Terminator (7); Superman (6); 2001: A Space Odyssey, Iron Man, and The Matrix (5 each); Fantastic Voyage and Minority Report (4 each). This study also identifies seven varied and distinct frames that these films can be used to support, and proposes three key criteria that make an SF film an effective media framing device: a memorable visual identity, memorable characters, and a deep concept.

The findings of this study may be useful for scientists and science communicators in terms of showing how SF films can be used to simplify complex issues and effectively communicate the meaning and relevance of science news stories.

Figure 1, from Stoddart (2012)