• IR theory;
  • popular culture;
  • critical IR theory

This article introduces an approach to IR that uses popular films to teach students how to critically analyze IR theory. By pairing IR traditions (like Realism) and the slogans that go with them (like “international anarchy is the permissive cause of war”) with popular films (like Lord of the Flies), this approach poses questions not about the truth or falsity of IR theories but about how IR theories appear to be true. This technique works because it draws upon visual analytical skills that students already possess and transfers them to analyses of IR theory and international politics. Overall, it challenges the positioning of IR theory as beyond culture and politics rather than as part and parcel of it, transforms what we think of as doing critical IR theory, and repositions students from passive recipients of IR truths into critically active and engaged analysts of IR theory's commonsense views of the world.