What are Film Genres? (see examples below)
Film genres are various forms or identifiable types, categories, classifications or groups of films that are recurring and have similar, familiar or instantly-recognizable patterns, syntax, filmic techniques or conventions – that include one or more of the following: settings (and props), content and subject matter, themes, mood, period, plot, central narrative events, motifs, styles, structures, situations, recurring icons (e.g., six-guns and ten-gallon hats in Westerns), stock characters (or characterizations), and stars. Many films straddle several film genres.
The Major Categories (Mega Genres) or Classifications of Film:
Before discussing specific film genres, it should be noted that there are various general or major types, classifications, or categories of films (defined in this site’s glossary of film terms), including:
Contrasting Types of Films Non-fiction (or documentary), or biopics Fiction Feature films Shorts (or short subjects), anthology films (films with two or more discrete stories), or serials Silents Talkies ‘A’ (or first-run) pictures ‘B’ pictures (and lower) Regular 3-D Black and white Color Widescreen ‘Pan and Scan’ formats Animated films Live-action films Domestic films Foreign-language films (sub-titled or dubbed) Original version Prequels, sequels, re-releases and remakes Mainstream (big-budget Hollywood) studio films, sometimes blockbusters Independent (aka indie) (or amateur), avant-garde or experimental-underground films (usually low-budget), or art-house films Rated films – regarding the degree of violence, profanity, or sexual situations within the film: G, PG, PG-13, R, NC-17, or X Unrated films
The Main Film Genres: (see examples below)
These are some of the most common and identifiable film genre categories:
By the end of the silent era, many of the main genres were established: the melodrama, the western, the horror film, comedies, and action-adventure films (from swashbucklers to war movies). Musicals were inaugurated with the era of the Talkies, and the genre of science-fiction films wasn’t generally popularized until the 1950s. One problem with genre films is that they can become stale, cliche-ridden, and over-imitated. A traditional genre that has been reinterpreted, challenged, or subjected to scrutiny may be termed revisionist. There are obvious Genre Biases in the Selection of Best Picture Oscar Winners by AMPAS (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences).
These are identifiable sub-classes within the larger film genre, with their own distinctive subject matter, style, formulas, and iconography. Some are them are major sub-genres, such as:
|Biographical Films (“Biopics”)|
|‘Chick’ Flicks (or Gal Films)|
|Melodramas or Women’s “Weepers”|
aviation films, buddy films, caper films, chase films, espionage films, “fallen” woman films, jungle films, legal films, martial arts films, medical films, military films, parody films, police films, political films, prison films, religious films, slasher films, swashbucklers, and more.
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Select an icon or film genre category below, read about the development and history of the genre, and view chronological lists of selected, representative greatest films for each one (with links to detailed descriptions of individual films). Also view various non-genre film categories. If you’re interested in the chronological history of film by decade – visit the section on Film History or the multi-part section on Milestones in Film History.
Main Film Genres
Iconic symbols represent the different genres of films
Main Film Genres
|Action Films||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, and so-called ‘blaxploitation’ films. A major sub-genre is the disaster film. See also Greatest Disaster and Crowd Film Scenes and Greatest Classic Chase Scenes in Films.|
|Adventure Films||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, 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.|
|Comedy Films||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, and also Premiere Magazine’s 50 Greatest Comedies of All Time.|
|Crime & Gangster Films||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. Criminal and gangster films are often categorized as film noir or detective-mystery films – because of underlying similarities between these cinematic forms. This category includes a description of various ‘serial killer’ films.|
|Drama Films||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 the melodramas, epics (historical dramas), or romantic genres. Dramatic biographical films (or “biopics”) are a major sub-genre, as are ‘adult’ films (with mature subject content).|
|Epics/Historical Films||Epics include costume dramas, historical dramas, war 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 an historical or imagined event, mythic, legendary, or heroic figure, and add an extravagant setting and lavish costumes, accompanied by 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 occuring during antiquity) qualify as a sub-genre.|
|Horror Films||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 usually synonymous with the horror genre. There are many sub-genres of horror: slasher, teen terror, serial killers, satanic, Dracula, Frankenstein, etc. See this site’s Scariest Film Moments and Scenes collection – illustrated.|
|Musicals (Dance) Films||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 the musical comedy or the concert film. See this site’s Greatest Musical Song/Dance Movie Moments and Scenes collection – illustrated.|
|Science Fiction Films||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 fantasy 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.|
|War (Anti-War) Films||War films acknowledge the horror and heartbreak of war, letting the actual combat fighting (against nations or humankind) on 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 action, adventure, drama, romance, comedy (black), suspense, and even epics and , and they often take a denunciatory approach toward warfare. They may include POW tales, stories of military operations, and training.|
|Westerns||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.). Over time, westerns have been re-defined, re-invented and expanded, dismissed, re-discovered, and spoofed.|
In 1999, the Guinness Book of Film selected their Top 100 Films, categorized into a Top 5 for twenty different genres. In the lists of recommended genre films, those that have been selected as the 100 Greatest Films are marked with a .
They are broad enough to accommodate practically any film ever made, although film categories can never be precise. By isolating the various elements in a film and categorizing them in genres, it is possible to easily evaluate a film within its genre and allow for meaningful comparisons and some judgments on greatness. Films were not really subjected to genre analysis by film historians until the 1970s. All films have at least one major genre, although there are a number of films that are considered crossbreeds or hybrids with three or four overlapping genre (or sub-genre) types that identify them.
The auteur system can be contrasted to the genre system, in which films are rated on the basis of the expression of one person, usually the director, because his/her indelible style, authoring vision or ‘signature’ dictates the personality, look, and feel of the film. Certain directors (and actors) are known for certain types of films, for example, Woody Allen and comedy, the Arthur Freed unit with musicals, Alfred Hitchcock for suspense and thrillers, John Ford and John Wayne with westerns, or Errol Flynn for classic swashbuckler adventure films.