Welcome to a guide to the basic film genres, where you will learn about how to use genres with a bit of practicality and creativity in your own projects. Let’s dive in.
As filmmakers and film fans, we already know about film genres. But have you ever thought about deconstructing and understanding them?
Exploring Basic Movie Genres
The main genres we’ll be exploring are:
but not necessarily in the same order. Plus, we will give of the best or most popular films in each genre and will break some of the genres into subgenres.
So, let’s get down to business and dive into the big and most notable genres! But first, let’s mix them up a bit and see if you can guess which genre we’re talking about.
We have a classic genre that’s been popular since the very beginning of cinema, full of heroes and villains. It’s not action, not thriller, not sci-fi, not apocalypse, not martial arts, not sports, not horror, not fantasy. Got it? Yes, it’s drama!
Tearful drama movies:
- Ben-Hur (1959)
- Schindler’s List (1993)
- A Star is Born (2018)
Now, let’s take a look at the action genre. Action films have been a favorite since the earliest days of cinema, and it’s one of the best examples of the evolution of our cinematic hero’s journey. From war and military action to martial arts action, this genre has it all. It’s the perfect way to get your adrenaline pumping before you hit the gym.
High-energy action movies:
- Die Hard (1988)
- The Bourne Identity (2002)
- Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)
Moving on to the comedy genre, this fun-loving, sophisticated, and innovative genre has delighted viewers since the very beginning of cinema. It’s been a favorite genre of film audiences young and old, and its roots have made their way into the very fabric of cinema and its many other genres. So, if you’re feeling down, you can grab a bag of popcorn and dive into some slapstick comedy, screwball comedy, or black comedy.
- Mean Girls (2004)
- The Hangover (2009)
- Bridesmaids (2011)
If you’re a fan of creepy, occult fun, then you probably into the horror genre. It’s a bedrock of classic cinema, dating back to some of the earliest—and eeriest—days of filmmaking. From zombie horror to folk horror, there’s something for everyone who loves a good scare. Just don’t watch them alone in the dark.
Suspenseful horror movies:
- The Exorcist (1973)
- Get Out (2017)
- A Quiet Place (2018)
For those who love to explore the future and its technological marvels, the sci-fi genre is perfect. It does a great job of showing its audiences what they aren’t noticing about their lives right now, with sub-genres like science fantasy, cyberpunk, and space opera. So, if you’re a sci-fi nerd, get ready to blast off into the final frontier.
Mind-boggling sci-fi movies:
- Star Wars (1977)
- Blade Runner (1982)
- The Matrix (1999)
If you’re a fan of the wild west and tales of grit, honor, and bravery, then the western genre is for you. It’s a rich film tradition that has its roots in the American fascination with its Western frontier, with sub-genres like spaghetti westerns, comedy westerns, and neo-westerns. So, grab your cowboy hat and your boots and get ready to ride into the sunset.
Bold western movies:
- The Magnificent Seven (1960)
- The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
- Django Unchained (2012)
If you’re feeling romantic, then the romance genre is a perfect choice. Since the advent of the movie theater experience, cinema has long been a favored pastime for couples looking to escape into a world of love and courtship. From historical romance to paranormal romance, this genre is sure to make your heart flutter.
Best romance movies:
- Casablanca (1942)
- Titanic (1997)
- The Notebook (2004)
The thriller genre is a stylized niche genre that has gone so mainstream that it might be time to change the genre’s name to the High-Octane Sizzling Bonanza. It’s been one of the best cinematic vehicles for exploring the sometimes upsetting and under-represented truths about our governments and society at large. So, whether you’re into conspiracy thrillers, crime thrillers, or supernatural thrillers, you’re in for a thrilling ride.
Chilling thriller movies:
- Psycho (1960)
- The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
- Gone Girl (2014)
For those who love magic and superhuman feats, the fantasy genre is the perfect choice. It’s a genre that allows us to escape into worlds of magic, mythical creatures, and heroic quests. From high fantasy to dark fantasy, this genre has something for every fan of the fantastical. So, if you’re in the mood to explore new worlds and go on an epic adventure, grab your sword and prepare to enter the realm of fantasy.
Epic fantasy movies:
- The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001)
- The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)
Breaking Movie Genres into Subgenres
Did you know you could break down movie genres into subgenres? Let’s focus on a couple of notable examples below.
Action Film Subgenres
The action genre is as old as time, or at least as old as the first caveman to pick up a stick and start swinging.
Some of the main sub-genres include:
- War and military action
- Spy and espionage action
- Martial arts action
- Western shoot ‘em up action
- Action hybrid genres
Comedy Film Subgenres
Who doesn’t love a good laugh? Whether it’s a silly slapstick routine or a cleverly crafted pun, the comedy genre has been a staple of cinema since the beginning.
Some of the main sub-genres include:
- Slapstick comedy
- Screwball comedy
- Parody comedy
- Black comedy
Musical Film Subgenres
The musical genre has brought us some of the most beloved and memorable films in history. While musicals may have fallen out of favor in recent years, there’s no denying their impact on cinema. From classic Hollywood musicals like Singin’ in the Rain and The Sound of Music to more recent hits like La La Land and The Greatest Showman, the musical genre has something for everyone.
Some of the main sub-genres of musicals include:
- Jukebox musicals
- Rock musicals
- Disney musicals
- Animated musicals
- Biographical musicals
War Film Subgenres
War films have been a staple of cinema since the very beginning. From World War II epics to modern-day conflicts, war films offer a unique look at the bravery, sacrifice, and horrors of armed conflict.
While war films often deal with serious and heavy subject matter, they can also be entertaining and emotionally impactful. Some of the greatest films of all time, like Apocalypse Now and Saving Private Ryan, are war films.
Some of the main sub-genres of war films include:
- Anti-war films
- Prisoner of war films
- Propaganda films
- Spy films
Crime Film Subgenres
The crime genre is all about the seedy underbelly of society. From gangsters to detectives to heist crews, crime films offer a thrilling look at the criminal underworld and those who try to take it down.
While crime films often deal with violence and moral ambiguity, they can also be stylish and cool. Some of the most iconic characters in cinema history, like like Vito Corleone from The Godfather, are crime bosses.
Some of the main sub-genres of crime films include:
- Gangster films
- Heist films
- Detective films
- Film noir
How to Use Movie Genres Creatively
As a filmmaker, understanding how film genres work doesn’t mean you have to stick to a formula. In fact, the best filmmakers are often those who take established genre conventions and turn them on their head, and create something entirely new and unexpected.
It’s always good to take the time to explore and experiment with different genres. You never know what kind of unique and exciting stories you might uncover. And who knows, maybe you’ll be the one to create the next genre-bending classic.
It’s also important to be aware of the limitations of the genre you choose. While there is nothing wrong with sticking to a tried-and-true formula, you don’t want your film to feel like a cookie-cutter copy of other films in the genre. Instead, look for ways to subvert audience expectations and add your own unique voice to the mix.
One way to do this is to mix and match different genres. Some of the most beloved films of all time are the ones that blend many genres together in unexpected ways. Whether it’s a sci-fi western or a horror parody, there are endless possibilities when it comes to combining genres. For example, the horror-comedy genre has become increasingly popular in recent years, with films like Shaun of the Dead, which is a parody of classic zombie movies. And who could forget the recent trend of superhero films that incorporate elements of various genres, from heist movies to coming-of-age stories?
Another way to add your own unique spin to a genre is to draw on your own personal experiences and perspectives. What are the themes and ideas that are important to you? How can you incorporate these into your film in a way that feels authentic? When you bring your own unique voice to the genre, you can create something that feels fresh and exciting.
At the end of the day, the key to using film genres in an unexpected way is to approach them with a sense of curiosity, creativity, and a willingness to take risks.
The key to using genres creatively is to have fun with them and take risks. By experimenting with different genres and finding innovative ways to combine them, filmmakers can create exciting and original stories that resonate with audiences.