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Film genres


Film genres

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In film theory, genre refers to the primary method of film categorization. A "genre" generally refers to films that share similarities in the narrative elements from which they are constructed.


Categorizing film genres

Three main types are often used to categorize film genres; setting, mood, and format. The film's location is defined as the setting. The emotional charge carried throughout the film is known as its mood . The film may also have been shot using particular equipment or be presented in a specific manner, or format.


  • Crime - places its character within realm of criminal activity
  • Film noir - portrays its principal characters in a nihilistic and existentialist realm or manner
  • Historical - taking place in the past
  • Science fiction - placement of characters in an alternative reality, typically in the future or in space
  • Sports - sporting events and locations pertaining to a given sport
  • War - battlefields and locations pertaining to a time of war
  • Westerns - colonial period to modern era of the western United States


  • Action - generally involves a moral interplay between "good" and "bad" played out through violence or physical force
  • Adventure - involving danger, risk, and/or chance, often with a high degree of fantasy.
  • Comedy - intended to provoke laughter
  • Drama - mainly focuses on character development
  • Fantasy - speculative fiction outside reality (i.e. myth, legend)
  • Horror - intended to provoke fear in audience
  • Mystery - the progression from the unknown to the known by discovering and solving a series of clues
  • Romance - dwelling on the elements of romantic love
  • Thrillers - intended to provoke excitement and/or nervous tension into audience


  • Animation - illusion of motion by consecutive display of static images which have been created by hand or on a computer
  • Biographical - a biopic is a film that dramatizes the life of an actual person, with varying degrees of basis in fact
  • Documentary - a factual following of an event or person to gain an understanding of a particular point or issue
  • Experimental (avant-garde) - created to test audience reaction or to expand the boundaries of film production/story exposition then generally at play
  • Musical - a film interspersed with singing by all or some of the characters
  • Narrative - fictional film driven by the partial or total telling of the story through a "voice-over"
  • Short - may strive to contain many of the elements of a "full-length" feature, in a shorter time-frame


  • Children's film - films for young children - as opposed to a family film, no special effort is made to make the film attractive for other audiences
  • Family - intended to be attractive for people of all ages and suitable for viewing by a young audience
  • Adult film - intended to be viewed only by an adult audience, content may include violence, disturbing themes, obscene language, or explicit sexual behaviour. "Adult film" may also be used as a synonym for pornographic film.

Criticisms of film genres

What genres are not

There are other methods of dividing films into groups besides genre. For example auteur critics group films according to their directors. Some groupings may be casually described as genres but this definition is questionable. For example, independent films are sometimes discussed as if they are a genre, but in fact independent production does not determine a film's storyline, and they can belong to any genre.

Some have argued that genre needs to be distinguished from film style. A film's style concerns the choices made about cinematography, editing, and sound, and a particular style can be applied to any genre. Whereas film genres identify the manifest content of film, film styles identify the manner by which any given film's genre(s) is/are rendered for the screen. Style may be determined by plot structure, scenic design, lighting, cinematography, acting, and other intentional artistic components of the finished film product. Others argue that this distinction is too simplistic, since some genres are primarily recognizable by their styles. Many historians debate whether film noir truly is a genre rather than a style of film-making often emulated in the period's heyday.

Are film genres definable?

A genre is always a vague term with no fixed boundaries. Many works also cross into multiple genres. In this respect film theorist Robert Stam has noted:

A number of perennial doubts plague genre theory. Are genres really 'out there' in the world, or are they merely the constructions of analysts? Is there a finite taxonomy of genres or are they in principle infinite? Are genres timeless Platonic essences or ephemeral, time-bound entities? Are genres culture-bound or trans-cultural?... Should genre analysis be descriptive or prescriptive?


While some genres are based on story content (the war film), other are borrowed from literature (comedy, melodrama) or from other media (the musical). Some are performer-based (the Astaire-Rogers films) or budget-based (blockbusters), while others are based on artistic status (the art film), racial identity (Black cinema), location (the Western) or sexual orientation (Queer cinema). (Robert Stam 2000, 14).

Many genres have built in audiences and corresponding publications that support them, such as magazines and websites. Films that are difficult to categorize into a genre are often less successful. As such, film genres are also useful in areas of marketing, criticism and consumption.

John Truby, Hollywood story consultant states that " have to know how to transcend the forms [genres] so you can give the audience a sense of originality and surprise."[1] Some screenwriters use genre as a means of determining what kind of plot or content to put into a screenplay. They may study films of specific genres to find examples. This is a way that some screenwriters are able to copy elements of successful movies and pass them off in a new screenplay. It is likely that such screenplays fall short in originality. As Truby says, "Writers know enough to write a genre script but they haven’t twisted the story beats of that genre in such a way that it gives an original face to it."[2]

It makes sense for writers to defy the elements found in past works and come up with something different or opposite to what's been done before. Originality and surprise are the elements that make for good movie stories. For example, spaghetti westerns are known to have turned the western film genre upside down by making the good guy be bad as well as good. Prior to them, westerns had what are now considered genre clichés, like good guys wearing white hats, bad guys wearing black hats, and the good guy always beating the bad guy in a shootout. The cliché western disappeared after the spaghetti westerns broke the "rules" of the genre.

See also

External links

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Movies, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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