Film Genres
Origins & Types


Genre Sub-Sections
Film Genres Overview | Main Film Genres | Film Sub-Genres | Film Sub-Genres Types (and Hybrids) | Other Major Film Categories
Best Pictures - Genre Biases | Summary of Top Films by Genre | Top 100 Films by Genre | AFI's Top 10 Film Genres
Highest-Grossing Films By Genre Type

Film Genres: Film genres are various forms or identifiable types, categories, classifications or groups of films. (Genre comes from the French word meaning "kind," "category," or "type").

Genres refers to recurring, repeating and similar, familiar or instantly-recognizable patterns, styles, themes, syntax, templates, paradigms, motifs, rules or generic conventions that include some of the following:

  • a characteristic SETTING or period (modern day, historical or fictional, urban/rural, etc.) with various stereotypes, props, or icons
    • Horror: dark and isolated foreboding places and unexplained things (forests or woods, graveyards, spooky castles, abandoned buildings or structures, locked doors to remote rooms, blood and gore, killing instruments)
    • Sci-Fi: outer space or the future with laser blasters and spaceships
    • Sports: sports arenas or other venues, teams, athletes, competition and sports equipment
    • War: battlefields, bomber planes and tanks
    • Westerns: the frontier, cattle-drives, stagecoaches, saloons, six-shooters and ten-gallon hats
  • the recurring use of stock CHARACTERS (or characterizations)
    • Comedy: the nerd, the jock, or token minority, buddies
    • Crime: the detective or private eye, gangsters, criminals, inmates, fugitives
    • Horror: zombies, ghosts or serial killers
    • Sci-Fi: aliens or monsters/killers, superheroes
    • Sports: the underdog
    • Westerns: outlaws and cowboys, the Marshal or Sheriff, stereotypical 'heroic saviors' or 'good guys'
  • the use of representative content and SUBJECT MATTER (the storyline, themes, narrative or plot) resonant with other films in the genre category
    • Action: the chase sequence or extended fight scene, gun violence, race against time
    • Comedy: witty dialogue, gross-out humor and slapstick, rites of passage, fish-out-of-water, mistaken identity, cross-dressing
    • Crime: who-dun-its, capers, robberies, rival gangs
    • Horror: the 'final girl' survivor, urban legends, ghost stories, the paranormal and occult, survival-horror, "found-footage" tales
    • Melodramas: the self-sacrificial maternal figure
    • Musicals: singing and dancing, 'putting on a show'
    • Romance: stages of 'falling in love' and the subsequent break-up and reconciliation, forbidden love, true love, fairy tales
    • Sci-Fi: interstellar travel, 'space operas', doomsday and apocalyptic scenarios

  • the use of filming techniques and formats, e.g., including camera angles (use of low and high angles) and shooting style (hand-held or stationary, POV, or 'found footage'), lighting (high-key, or low/dark lighting), the style of editing (length of edits, use of jump cuts), color schemes, make-up and costuming (use of blood, masks, special effects), etc.
  • the use of music and audio to enhance or emphasize various characteristics, to advance the plot, or to create a mood (danger, adventure, laughter, fear, sensual, excitement), e.g., upbeat for Romance or Comedy, eerie for Horror, depressing for Drama, other-worldly for Sci-Fi, etc.

Genres provide a convenient way for scriptwriters and film-makers to produce, cast and structure their narratives within a manageable, well-defined framework (to speak a common 'language'). Genres also offer the studios an easily 'marketable' product, and give audiences satisfying, expected and predictable choices.

Genres History: 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.

Many films currently do not fit into one genre classification. Many films are considered hybrids - they straddle several film genres. There are many examples of present-day filmmakers reflecting familiar elements of traditional or classical genres, while putting a unique twist on them.

There are many genres or film types that were once popular staples but have mostly fallen out of fashion nowadays, such as big-budget musicals (stolen from Broadway), large-scale romantic epics, classic film noirs, nature documentaries, spoof or parody comedies, 'spaghetti westerns,' YA (young adult) book adaptations, Devil/Satanic or vampire horror films, classic 'creature feature' or 'monster' movies, political-election campaign films, 'found footage,' mockumentaries, inner-city 'hood' films, adult-rated animations, Cold War thrillers, various sports films, women-in-prison (WIP) and other exploitational sub-types such as 'torture porn' and 'slasher' films, and classic who-dun-its. The two mainstream genre areas of war epics and westerns have also struggled in recent years.

Stages of Genres: There are basically five different stages of genres as they have progressed and developed through cinematic history:

  1. Primitive or Early: the earliest and purest genre form with iconography, themes, and patterns starting to develop
  2. Classical or Traditional: this stage marked the growth, popularity and solidification of the genre and clear establishment of its characteristics and prototypes, setting a 'benchmark'
  3. Revisionist: a reinterpretation, recasting, or questioning of the original genre, with greater complexity of themes while retaining many of its characteristics and iconographic elements
  4. Parodic: the spoofing or mocking of the genre by over-exaggeration of the characters and the genre's traditional themes
  5. Extended or Mixed as Hybrids: the blending, modification or creative extension or melding of various genre elements as the genre categories evolved, i.e., a sci-fi western, a comedic war film, etc.

Main Film Genres
(click here)
Film Sub-Genres
(click here)
Other Categories
(click here)
Action Films
Biographical Films (or "Biopics")
Animated Films
Adventure Films
'Chick' Flicks
British (UK Films)
Comedy Films
Courtroom Dramas
Childrens - Kids - Family-Oriented Films
Crime & Gangster Films
Detective & Mystery Films
Classic Films
Drama Films
Disaster Films
Cult Films
Epics/Historical Films
Fantasy Films
Documentary Films
Horror Films
Film Noir
Serial Films
Musicals (Dance) Films
Guy Films
Sexual - Erotic Films
Science Fiction Films
Melodramas, Women's or "Weeper" Films
Silent Films
War (Anti-War) Films
Road Films  
Romance Films

Sports Films
Superhero Films
Supernatural Films
Thriller-Suspense Films
Zombie Films

Film Sub-Genres Types
(and Hybrids)

(click here)
There are dozens of other sub-genres types (and hybrids), such as martial-arts action films,
espionage thrillers, black comedies, and more.

The Major Categories or Classifications of Film: Mega-Genres

There are other major types (or mega-genres), classifications, or general categories of films (defined in this site's glossary of film terms), including:

Contrasting Types of Films
Basis in Reality: Non-Fictional (or Documentary), or Biopics; also Reality Films (or Movies) - derived from Reality TV Fictional Film (also called Narrative Film); there are also Docu-Fiction or Docu-Dramas (part fiction, part documentary) or Semi-documentaries
Length: Feature-length films Shorts (or short subjects), anthology films (films with two or more discrete stories), or Serials
Audio: Silents Talkies
Quality and Funding: 'A' (or first-run) pictures; mainstream (big-budget Hollywood) studio films, sometimes blockbusters; professionally-made films 'B' pictures (and lower), also called B-movies, or even Z-movies; independent (aka indie), avant-garde or experimental-underground films (usually low-budget), or art-house films; amateur films or guerrilla-filmmaking
Visual Presentation: Regular 2-D 3-D or Stereoscopic
Color: Black and white or monochrome Color
Viewing Format: Widescreen

'Pan and Scan' formats

Type: Animated films (hand-drawn, CGI, etc.) Live-action (or un-animated) films
Language: Domestic films Foreign-language films (sub-titled or dubbed)
Originality: Original version Prequels, sequels, re-releases and remakes
Rating: 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
Purpose: Message Pictures (usually serious) or Propagandistic Films Purely for Entertainment

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