Film Genres

             The term “genre” is a French word meaning “type” or ‘kind”. It has occupied an important place in the study of the cinema for over thirty years and is normally exemplified by the western, the gangster film, the musical, the horror film, melodrama, comedy and the like. The definition and discussion of genre and genres in the cinema has tended to focus on mainstream, commercial films in general and Hollywood films in particular. Sometimes, indeed, genre and genres have been exclusively identified with these kinds of films. ( 2000)

             Stated simply, (1986) writes that “genre movies are those commercial feature films which, through repetition and variation, tell familiar stories with familiar characters in familiar situations”. “They have been exceptionally significant”, he adds, “in establishing the popular sense of cinema as a cultural and economic institution, particularly in the United States, where Hollywood studios early on adopted an industrial model based on mass production”. (2000)

            Action-adventure, comedy, detective films, gangster films, suspense thrillers, epics and spectacles, horror and science fiction, musicals, social problem films, war films and westerns are major classifications of movie genres. ( 2000)

            The term action-adventure is nowadays mainly used to describe what was perceived in the 1980s and 1990s to be a new and dominant trend in Hollywood’s output. It has been used, though, to pinpoint a number of obvious characteristics common to these genres and films: a propensity for spectacular physical action, a narrative structure involving fights, chases and explosions, and in addition to the deployment of state-of-the-art special effects, an emphasis in performance on athletic feats and stunts. Comedy, on one hand, is intended to provoke laughter. Encompassing a range of forms, sites and genres (from jokes to intricately plotted narratives, from slapstick to farce, from satire to parody, from shorts and cartoons to features), comedy can also entail an array of defining conventions (from the generation of laughter to the presence of happy endings to the representation of everyday life) and is able in addition to combine with or to parody virtually every other genre or form. ( 2000)

            Similarly, discussion of the detective film has been dominated by discussion and debate about film noir and hence by discussion and debate about the hardboiled detective and the hard-boiled tradition in general. The gangster film occupies a privileged place in genre theory. One of the reasons for this was that the gangster film and the western had been discussed with considerable intelligence, sympathy and insight by one of the few commentators writing seriously on film and popular culture in America prior to the 1960s. Moreover,  (1968) notes that suspense thrillers focus either on victims of crime or on pursued and isolated criminals. One of their distinguishing features is a lack of attention to official detectives or the police. Accordingly, it is a crime work which presents a generally murderous antagonism in which the protagonist becomes either an innocent victim or a nonprofessional criminal within a structure that is significantly unmediated by a traditional figure of detection. (2000)


            On one hand, epic is essentially a 1950s and 1960s term. It was used to identify and to sell two overlapping contemporary trends: films with historical, especially ancient-world settings and large-scale films of all kinds which used new technologies, high production values and special modes of distribution and exhibition to differentiate themselves both from routine productions and from alternative forms of contemporary entertainment, especially television. As such, there were at least two aspects of epics, two sets of distinguishing characteristics: those associated with ancient and historical films, and those associated with large-scale films. ( 2000)

            Moreover, the horror film has consistently been one of the most popular and, at the same time, the most disreputable of Hollywood genres. The popularity itself has a peculiar characteristic that sets the horror film apart from other genres: it is restricted to aficionados and complemented by total rejection, people tending to go to horror films either obsessively or not at all. They are dismissed with contempt by the majority of reviewer-critics or simply ignored. ( 2000)

            As a term, science fiction was first used in the nineteenth century but only became fully established in the late 1920s in. It thus largely post-dated the vogue for invention stories, for tales of science, for tales of the future and for the voyages imaginaries and which characterized the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth. ( 2000)

            Furthermore, the Hollywood musical is a product of the advent of sound of the industry’s commitment to an ethos and to forms of entertainment represented, among other things by the theatrical musical. The musical has always been a mongrel genre. In varying measures and combinations, music, song and dances have been its only essential ingredients. In consequence its history, both on stage and on screen has been marked by numerous traditions, forms and styles. (2000)

            The term social problem film is essentially a critical invention. Labeled sociological, message or thought films by the industry, the films themselves have been grouped and described in ways which are recognizable and consistent but also somewhat problematic. ( 2000)

            And lastly, war films are films about the waging of war in the twentieth century; scenes of combat are a requisite ingredient and these scenes are dramatically central. Western films, on the other hand, are somewhat a credit to Westerns for having has occupied a pre-eminent place in writing of all kinds on genre in the cinema.  (1954) and (1971) wrote influential essays on the western in the 1940s and 1950s. The western still features centrally in introductory accounts and in introductory courses on genre in the cinema, fed in part by occasional attempts to revive it in Hollywood. ( 2000)






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