Film Genres

 Film Genres

 Genre Types
(represented by icons)

 Genre Descriptions

 
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Action films usually include high energy, big-budget physical stunts and chases, possibly with rescues, battles, fights, escapes, destructive crises (floods, explosions, natural disasters, fires, etc.), non-stop motion, spectacular rhythm and pacing, and adventurous, often two-dimensional ‘good-guy’ heroes (or recently, heroines) battling ‘bad guys’ – all designed for pure audience escapism. Includes the James Bond ‘fantasy’ spy/espionage series, martial arts films, video-game films, so-called ‘blaxploitation’ films, and some superhero films. A major sub-genre is a disaster film

2 Adventure films are usually exciting stories, with new experiences or exotic locales, very similar to or often paired with the action film genre. They can include traditional swashbucklers or pirate films, serialized films, and historical spectacles (similar to the epics film genre), searches or expeditions for lost continents, “jungle” and “desert” epics, treasure hunts, disaster films, or searches for the unknown.
3 Comedies are light-hearted plots consistently and deliberately designed to amuse and provoke laughter (with one-liners, jokes, etc.) by exaggerating the situation, the language, action, relationships, and characters. This section describes various forms of comedy through cinematic history, including slapstick, screwball, spoofs and parodies, romantic comedies, black comedy (dark satirical comedy), and more. See this site’s Funniest Film Moments and Scenes collection – illustrated, also Premiere Magazine’s 50 Greatest Comedies of All Time, and WGA’s 101 Funniest Screenplays of All Time.
4 Crime (gangster) films are developed around the sinister actions of criminals or mobsters, particularly bankrobbers, underworld figures, or ruthless hoodlums who operate outside the law, stealing and murdering their way through life. The criminals or gangsters are often counteracted by a detective-protagonist with a who-dun-it plot. Hard-boiled detective films reached their peak during the 40s and 50s (classic film noir), although has continued to the present day. Therefore, crime and gangster films are often categorized as film noir or detective-mystery films, and sometimes as courtroom/crime legal thrillers – because of underlying similarities between these cinematic forms. This category also includes various ‘serial killer’ films.
d Dramas are serious, plot-driven presentations, portraying realistic characters, settings, life situations, and stories involving intense character development and interaction. Usually, they are not focused on special-effects, comedy, or action, Dramatic films are probably the largest film genre, with many subsets. See also melodramas, epics (historical dramas)courtroom dramas, or romantic genres. Dramatic biographical films (or “biopics”) are a major sub-genre, as are ‘adult’ films (with mature subject content).
6 Epics include costume dramas, historical dramaswar films, medieval romps, or ‘period pictures’ that often cover a large expanse of time set against a vast, panoramic backdrop. Epics often share elements of the elaborate adventure films genre. Epics take a historical or imagined event, mythic, legendary, or heroic figure, and add an extravagant setting or period, lavish costumes, and accompany everything with grandeur and spectacle, dramatic scope, high production values, and a sweeping musical score. Epics are often a more spectacular, lavish version of a biopic film. Some ‘sword and sandal’ films (Biblical epics or films occurring during antiquity) qualify as a sub-genre.
7 Horror films are designed to frighten and to invoke our hidden worst fears, often in a terrifying, shocking finale, while captivating and entertaining us at the same time in a cathartic experience. Horror films feature a wide range of styles, from the earliest silent Nosferatu classic to today’s CGI monsters and deranged humans. They are often combined with science fiction when the menace or monster is related to a corruption of technology, or when Earth is threatened by aliens. The fantasy and supernatural film genres are not always synonymous with the horror genre. There are many sub-genres of horror: slasher, splatter, psychological, survival, teen terror, ‘found footage,’ serial killers, paranormal/occult, zombies, Satanic, monsters, Dracula, Frankenstein, etc. See this site’s Scariest Film Moments and Scenes collection – illustrated.
8 Musical/dance films are cinematic forms that emphasize full-scale scores or song and dance routines in a significant way (usually with a musical or dance performance integrated as part of the film narrative), or they are films that are centered on combinations of music, dance, song or choreography. Major subgenres include musical comedy or the concert film. See this site’s Greatest Musical Song/Dance Movie Moments and Scenes collection – illustrated.
9 Sci-fi films are often quasi-scientific, visionary and imaginative – complete with heroes, aliens, distant planets, impossible quests, improbable settings, fantastic places, great dark and shadowy villains, futuristic technology, unknown and unknowable forces, and extraordinary monsters (‘things or creatures from space’), either created by mad scientists or by nuclear havoc. They are sometimes an offshoot of the more mystical fantasy films (or superhero films), or they share some similarities with action/adventure films. Science fiction often expresses the potential of technology to destroy humankind and easily overlaps with horror films, particularly when technology or alien life forms become malevolent, as in the “Atomic Age” of sci-fi films in the 1950s. Science-Fiction sub-categories abound: apocalyptic or dystopic, space-opera, futuristic noirs, speculative, etc.
10 War (and anti-war) films acknowledge the horror and heartbreak of war, letting the actual combat fighting (against nations or humankind) on the land, sea, or in the air provide the primary plot or background for the action of the film. War films are often paired with other genres, such as actionadventuredramaromancecomedy (black), suspense, and even historical epics and westerns, and they often take a denunciatory approach toward warfare. They may include POW tales, stories of military operations, and training. See this site’s Greatest War Movies (in multiple parts).
11 Westerns are the major defining genre of the American film industry – a eulogy to the early days of the expansive American frontier. They are one of the oldest, most enduring genres with very recognizable plots, elements, and characters (six-guns, horses, dusty towns and trails, cowboys, Indians, etc.). They have evolved over time, however, and have often been re-defined, re-invented and expanded, dismissed, re-discovered, and spoofed. Variations have included Italian ‘spaghetti’ westerns, epic westerns, comic westerns, westerns with outlaws or marshals as the main characters, revenge westerns, and revisionist westerns.
Sub-Genre Types
(represented by icons)
Sub-Genre Descriptions
 
12 ‘Biopics’ is a term derived from the combination of the words “biography” and “pictures.” They are a sub-genre of the larger drama and epic film genres, and although they reached a hey-day of popularity in the 1930s, they are still prominent to this day. These films depict the life of an important historical personage (or group) from the past or present era. Biopics cross many genre types since these films might showcase a western outlaw, a criminal, a musical composer, a religious figure, a war-time hero, an entertainer, an artist, an inventor or doctor, a politician or President, or an adventurer.
13 Often considered an all-encompassing sub-genre, ‘chick’ flicks or gal films (slightly derisive terms) mostly include formulated romantic comedies (with mismatched lovers or female relationships), melodramatic tearjerkers and gal-pal films, movies about family crises and emotional catharsis, some traditional ‘weepies’ and fantasy-action adventures, sometimes with foul-mouthed and empowered females, and female bonding situations involving families, mothers, daughters, children, women, and women’s issues. These films are often told from the female P-O-V, and star a female protagonist or heroine. This type of film became very prominent in the mid-80s and into the 90s. See also O Magazine’s 50 Greatest Chick Flicks. Their counterpart films for males have termed ‘guy’ films (see below). See also this site’s compilation of Greatest Tearjerker Films, Moments and Scenes.
14 One of the best subject areas for dramatic films (or sometimes crime films) is suspenseful, law-related courtroom trials, which pit lawyers against each other, and set up a tense one-on-one conflict between a prosecutor and a defendant. Sometimes, the protagonists are a “little” guy (an individual) against a “big” guy (or corporation), or the more abstract “good” vs. “evil,” or they often involve wider issues, such as race, sex, capital punishment (life and death), and morality. And of course, courtroom dramas usually contain some of the most fascinating thematic elements in film — murder, betrayal, deception, perjury, and sex. They often feature unexpected twists and surprise testimony, unusual motives, moral dilemmas, crusading lawyers and wrongly-accused victims. AFI defined courtroom drama as “a genre of film in which a system of justice plays a critical role in the film’s narrative.” See this site’s special feature highlighting the Greatest Courtroom Dramas.
15 Detective-mystery films are usually considered a sub-type or sub-genre of crime/gangster films (or film noir), or suspense or thriller films that focus on the unsolved crime (usually the murder or disappearance of one or more of the characters, or a theft), and on the central character – the hard-boiled detective-hero, as he/she meets various adventures and challenges in the cold and methodical pursuit of the criminal or the solution to the crime.
16 Disaster films, a sub-genre of action films, hit their peak in the decade of the 1970s. Big-budget disaster films provided all-star casts and interlocking, Grand Hotel-type stories, with suspenseful action and impending crises (man-made or natural) in locales such as aboard imperiled airliners, trains, dirigibles, sinking or wrecked ocean-liners, or in towering burning skyscrapers, crowded stadiums or earthquake zones. Often noted for their visual and special effects, but not their acting performances. See Greatest Disaster Film Scenes also.
17 Fantasy films, usually considered a sub-genre, are most likely to overlap with the film genres of science fiction and horror, although they are distinct. Fantasies take the audience to dark netherworld places (or another dimension) with mythical creatures, where events are unlikely to occur in real life – they transcend the bounds of human possibility and physical laws. They sometimes take the form of fairy tales that often have elements of magic, myth, wonder, folklore and the extraordinary. Fantasy films can assume epic proportions (multi-episodic), usually when based on ancient Greek writings or more contemporary works. Heroic fantasies follow a hero-character who overcomes various obstacles on a quest. Sword-and sorcery fantasies are another sub-type. One of the major categories of fantasy-action films are the super-hero movies, based quite often on an original comic-strip or comic book character. They may appeal to both children and adults, depending upon the particular film.
18 Film noir (meaning ‘black film’) is a distinct branch of the crime/gangster sagas from the 1930s. Strictly speaking, film noir is not a genre, but rather the mood, style or tone of various American films that evolved in the 1940s, and lasted in a classic period until about 1960. However, film noir has not been exclusively confined to this era and has re-occurred in cyclical form in other years in various neo-noirs. Noirs are usually black and white films with primary moods of melancholy, alienation, bleakness, disillusionment, disenchantment, pessimism, ambiguity, moral corruption, evil, guilt, and paranoia. And they often feature a cynical, loner hero (anti-hero) and femme fatale, in a seedy big city. See this site’s special tribute to Greatest Femmes Fatales in Classic Film Noir.
19 Composed of macho films that are often packed with sophomoric humor, action, cartoon violence, competition, mean-spirited putdowns, and gratuitous nudity and sex. Gal films or ‘chick’ flicks are their counterparts for females. This category of film is highly subject to opinion, although there are many classic, testosterone-laden ‘guy’ films that most viewers would agree upon, as shown in this site’s Greatest ‘Guy’ Movies of All-Time (illustrated). See also the “100 Greatest Guy Movies Ever Made” by Maxim Magazine compiled in 1998 or Men’s Journal’s 50 Best Guy Movies of All Time list compiled in 2003.
20 Melodramas are a sub-type of drama films, characterized by a plot to appeal to the emotions of the audience. Often, film studies criticism used the term ‘melodrama’ pejoratively to connote an unrealistic, pathos-filled tales of romance or domestic situations with stereotypical characters that would directly appeal to feminine audiences (“weeping” or “woman’s films”). See the post-modern version of the “woman’s film” – gal films or ‘chick’ flicks. See also this site’s extensive compilation (illustrated) of Greatest Tearjerker Films, Moments and Scenes.
22 Road films have been a staple of American films from the very start, and have ranged in genres from westernscomediesgangster/crime filmsdramas, and actionadventure films. One thing they all have in common: an episodic journey on the open road (or undiscovered trail), to search for escape or to engage in a quest for some kind of goal — either a distinct destination, or the attainment of love, freedom, mobility, redemption, the finding or rediscovering of oneself, or coming-of-age (psychologically or spiritually).
23 A sub-genre for the most part, this category shares some features with romantic dramas, romantic comedies (“rom-com”), and sexual/erotic films, and have often been derogatorily called chick flicks (see above). These are love stories or affairs of the heart that center on passion, emotion, and the romantic, affectionate involvement of the main characters (usually a leading man and lady), and the journey that their love takes through courtship or marriage. Romance films make the love story the main plot focus. See Greatest and Most Memorable Film Kisses Scenes.
24 Films that have a sports setting (football or baseball stadium, arena, or the Olympics, etc.), event (the ‘big game,’ ‘fight,’ ‘race,’ or ‘competition’), and/or athlete (boxer, racer, surfer, etc.) that are central and predominant in the story. Sports films may be fictional or non-fictional; and they are a hybrid sub-genre category, although they are often dramas or comedy films, and occasionally documentaries or biopics.
25 This category is an off-shoot of fantasy-action films, based quite often on an original comic-strip or comic book character. Fictional super-heroes with extraordinary powers, derived from 1930s-1960s comic books and other more recent sources, have been the subjects of numerous fantasy and sci-fi films (both live-action and animated, and serialized and feature-length) with action-oriented heroes and heroines. Superheroes are repeatedly chosen to be the subjects of big-budget blockbuster films, with glossy production values, expensive CGI special effects, and sets, make-up and costuming. Usually, a simplistic plotline involves the superhero’s struggle against an arch-nemesis or super-villain (usually interested in world domination, the acquisition of riches, or the wreaking of vengeance).
26 Supernatural films, a sub-genre category, may be combined with other genres, including comedysci-fifantasy or horror. They have themes including gods or goddesses, ghosts, apparitions, spirits, miracles, and other similar ideas or depictions of extraordinary phenomena. Interestingly, however, until recently, supernatural films were usually presented in a comical, whimsical, or a romantic fashion, and were not designed to frighten the audience. There are also many hybrids that have combinations of fear, fantasy, horror, romance, and comedy.
27 Thrillers are often hybrids with other genres – there are action-thrillers, crime-caper thrillers, western-thrillers, film-noir thrillers, even romantic comedy-thrillers. Another closely-related genre is the horror film genre. Thriller and suspense films are virtually synonymous and interchangeable categorizations. They are types of films known to promote intense excitement, suspense, a high level of anticipation, ultra-heightened expectation, uncertainty, anxiety, and nerve-wracking tension. The acclaimed Master of Suspense is Alfred Hitchcock. Spy films may be considered a type of thriller/suspense film.
28 Zombie Films had their origins in the earliest films within the horror genre that was about the ‘raising of the dead,’ such as the Frankenstein films, and the early German expressionistic film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920, Germ.). The zombie film craze started with the Haitian concept of voudou, where a corpse was reanimated and magically controlled by a witch-like bokor (a type of priest, sorcerer, magician, or practitioner). The first feature-length walking-dead film was director Victor Halperin’s cheaply-made White Zombie (1932). It was the decade of the 1960s that ushered in a revolutionary new horror subgenre of zombie pics, from the “Master of the Zombie Film” himself, George A. Romero. The influence of Romero on future zombie films has been phenomenal, and many zombie films in their wake have been imaginative derivatives or mutated examples.

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