Marxist film theory is one of the oldest forms of film theory.
Sergei Eisenstein and many other Soviet filmmakers in the 1920s expressed ideas of Marxism through film. In fact, the Hegelian dialectic was considered best displayed in film editing through the Kuleshov Experiment and the development of montage.
While this structuralist approach to Marxism and filmmaking was used, the more vociferous complaint that the Russian filmmakers had was with the narrative structure of Hollywood filmmaking.
Eisenstein's solution was to shun narrative structure by eliminating the individual protagonist and tell stories where the action is moved by the group and the story is told through a clash of one image against the next (whether in composition, motion, or idea) so that the audience is never lulled into believing that they are watching something that has not been worked over.
Eisenstein himself, however, was accused by the Soviet authorities under Joseph Stalin of "formalist error," of highlighting form as a thing of beauty instead of portraying the worker nobly.
French Marxist film makers, such as Jean-Luc Godard, would employ radical editing and choice of subject matter, as well as subversive parody, to heighten class consciousness and promote Marxist ideas.
Situationist film maker Guy Debord, author of The Society of the Spectacle, began his film In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni [Wandering around in the night we are consumed by fire] with a radical critique of the spectator who goes to the cinema to forget about his dispossessed daily life.
Situationist film makers produced a number of important films, where the only contribution by the situationist film cooperative was the sound-track. In Can dialectics break bricks? (1973) a Chinese Kung Fu film was transformed by redubbing into an epistle on state capitalism and Proletarian revolution. The intellectual technique of using capitalism's own structures against itself is known as détournement.
Marxist film theory has developed from these precise and historical beginnings and is now sometimes viewed in a wider way to refer to any power relationships or structures within a moving image text.
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