Have you ever wondered why a Horror film is defined as horror, or why isn’t this film labelled as romance when it clearly is?
It’s all boiled down to genre – the categories that define different types of films.
But what is a genre film? How do you know what film belongs to which genre? Let’s explore this in the article.
Table of Contents
What is a Genre Film?
A genre film is a movie that fits into a specific category or genre defined by its plot, themes, tone and style.
Common tropes help define a genre, like haunted houses in horror or aliens in sci-fi. Visual cues like costumes, sets and imagery further signal a genre for viewers.
Popular genres tend to cycle in and out of mainstream popularity over decades. Genre conventions let filmmakers subvert expectations through twists on familiar formulas.
Genres aren’t rigid, there are diverse subgenres that fall within a broad genre category. For example, sci-fi horrors and supernatural horrors are part of the horror genre, but the two have distinctive ways of storytelling and visuals.
How to Define a Genre Film?
To define a genre in a film, there are a few key things to consider:
- Narrative conventions – Genre films follow common narrative structures, character types, and plot devices expected within that genre.
- Visual style/mise-en-scene – Elements like cinematography, production design, and costumes help set the genre’s expected visual tone.
- Thematic elements – Genre films explore recurring themes specific to that category, like fear in horror or justice in the Western world.
- Setting/location – Certain genres imply characteristic settings, like outer space in sci-fi or the wild wild West with a dusty landscape and a saloon.
- Tone/mood – The overall mood of the film also defines the genre, such as comedy films will have a light, fun tone while horror films cultivate dread and suspense.
- Expectations – Genre films play with, comment on, or subvert the expectations of tropes familiar to viewers of that category.
- Story elements – Common parts of the story (MacGuffins, climaxes, and such) specific to each genre help films fit.
9 Popular Movie Genres
#1. Action genre
Action movies often feature well-choreographed stunts, fights, chases and explosions, with the plot revolving around thrilling rescues, heists or battles against the clock.
It might combine with sci-fi, thriller or superhero conventions like costumes and fantasy scenarios.
Some prime examples are the John Wick franchise, the Fast and Furious franchise, and the Transformers franchise.
💡 See also: 14 Best Action Movies That Everyone Love.
#2. Comedy genre
The comedy genre is greatly versatile and can feature a wide range of humour styles, from slapstick, witty dialogue, satire, absurd/surrealist humour, and parody, to romantic comedy.
The characters feature exaggerated and eccentric people in strange scenarios. They incorporate humour using visual gags, physical comedy, one-liners, amusing impersonations or accents.
Most comedies use a light tone to elevate positive emotions with typical happy or sentimental endings.
Comedians like Jim Carrey, Steve Martin, Adam Sandler and Rowan Atkinson are often starred in the comedy films.
💡 See also: Top 16 Must-Watch Comedy Movies.
#3. Drama genre
The drama genre often deals with heavy themes like love, purpose, morality, injustice, community, grief and what it means to live. They emphasise human relationships, emotions, interior character arcs and moral/ethical dilemmas.
The tone can be serious, sometimes melancholy as characters struggle with hardship/life lessons.
In this genre, emotional depth and subtlety of acting/reactions are highly valued over visual spectacle.
Examples include The Irish Man, Parasite, and Life of Pi.
💡 Explore our top movie recommendations for every mood here.
#4. Horror genre
Horror films are disturbing themes that play with humans’ fears. They feature gruesome or creepy imagery and death scenes aim to unsettle viewers before shocks and jumps.
Characters are often vulnerable and separated from others in creepy spots like haunted houses.
The tone is often dark and grim, foreshadowing a string of unfortunate events that terrorise the protagonists.
Some prominent examples are The Exorcist, Evil Dead, and The Thing.
💡 Are you a horror fanatic? Put your knowledge to the test with our Horror Movie Quiz!
#5. Thriller genre
The central theme of thrillers is suspense – it keeps the viewers on the edge of their seats with mounting tension and alarming music.
The plots usually feature crime, mystery or espionage with unpredictable antagonists and high-stakes climaxes.
They pit the hero/heroine against an enigmatic hunter who seems to know their every move.
Examples include The Silence of the Lambs, Memento, and Knives Out.
💡 See the best 5 Thriller movies here.
#6. Sci-fi genre
From distant galaxies to dystopian futures, sci-fi expands our imagination with technologies that exceed human capability at the moment.
Many films’ backgrounds are set among planets, space stations and spacecraft with alien worlds.
Time travel films, parallel universes, dystopias and societal changes are central to Sci-fi plots.
Examples include Prometheus, Dune and Inception.
#7. Romance genre
The romance genre’s plots follow the development of romantic love/attraction between lead characters.
The styles range from lighthearted fluff to dramatic tearjerkers with devastating endings.
The highlighting point of the romance genre is attractive star pairings sell the chemistry and appeal of will-they-or-won’t-they plots.
Examples include La La Land, The Notebook, and Pride & Prejudice.
#8. Western genre
The Western genre attributes iconic locales like dusty frontier towns, vast deserts and wide-open plains set in the late 19th-century American Old West.
It discusses common tropes like cowboys, gunslingers, saloons, horseback riding, shootouts, and rugged Western landscapes.
The mythic quality, rich visual and unique theme make Western genre stick around till this modern time.
Examples include The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The Magnificent Seven and Django Unchained.
#9. Documentary genre
The documentary genre portrays real people, places, events, issues with no fictional elements.
It aims to present factual information to educate audiences on topics, often with an investigative/explanatory goal.
The subject of a documentary is vast, ranging from science, history, biographies, current events, politics, nature, arts, health & many more.
While remains factual, this genre also maintains its narrative flow and suspense when possible.
💡 Don’t know which genre to watch tonight? Let our Random Movie Generator help you out!
At first glance, genres might seem pretty formulated but there’s actually so much more to them.
Beyond simple formulas, the best genre films subvert our expectations. They challenge us to see life’s messy realities in fresh ways. Just when we think we have a story figured out, it turns the tables with surprises.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between film genre and genre film?
Film genre is a broad descriptive term for a class or category of movies (e.g. “the Western genre”). Genre film specifies that a certain movie falls within the conventions of a predefined genre (e.g. “the Western genre film The Searchers”).
What type of genres are movies?
Here are some of the main genres commonly seen in movies: action, adventure, sci-fi, comedy, drama, horror, crime, Western, romance, documentary and animation.
What defines a genre film?
A genre film is a movie that can be categorised into a particular cinematic genre based on its narrative, stylistic and thematic elements.