Film genre

[1]Western films are those "set in the American West that embod[y] the spirit, the struggle and the demise of the new frontier."[2] Pictured: Clint Eastwood in the Italian Western film A Fistful of Dollars (1964).

A film genre is a motion-picture category based (for example) on similarities either in the narrative elements or in the emotional response to the film (namely: serious, comic, etc.).[citation needed] Most theories of film genre borrow from literary-genre criticism. Each film genre is associated[by whom?] with "conventions, iconography, settings, narratives, characters and actors". [3]Standard genre characters vary according to the film genre; for film noir, for example, standard characters include the femme fatale[4] and the "hardboiled" detective; a Western film may portray the schoolmarm and the gunfighter. Some actors acquire a reputation linked to a single genre, such as John Wayne (the Western) or Fred Astaire (the musical).[5] A film's genre will influence the use of filmmaking styles and techniques, such as the use of flashbacks and low-key lighting in film noir, tight framing in horror films, fonts that look like rough-hewn logs for the titles of Western films, or the "scrawled" title-font and credits of Se7en (1995), a film about a serial killer.[6] As well, genres have associated film-scoring conventions, such as lush string orchestras for romantic melodramas or electronic music for science-fiction films.[6]

The basic genres[7] include fiction and documentary, from which subgenres have emerged, such as docufiction and docudrama. Other examples of subgenres include the courtroom- and trial-focused drama known as the legal drama, which is a subtype of drama. Types of fiction which may seem unrelated can also combine to form hybrid subgenres, such as the melding of horror and comedy in the Evil Dead films. Other popular combinations include the romantic comedy, some vampire films, and the action comedy film. Alan Williams distinguishes three main genre categories: narrative, avant-garde and documentary.[8] Genre movies are "commercial feature films which, through repetition and variation, tell familiar stories with familiar characters and familiar situations".[9]Genre affects how films are broadcast on television, advertised, and organized in video-rental stores.[9]

One can also classify films by the setting, theme, topic, mood, format, target audience or budget. The setting is the environment where the story and action take place (e.g., a war film, a Western film, or a space-opera film). The theme or topic refers to the issues or concepts that the film revolves around (e.g., science-fiction film, sports film, or crime film). The mood is the emotional tone of the film (e.g., comedy film, horror film, or tearjerker film). Format refers to the way the film was shot (e.g., 35 mm, 16 mm or 8 mm) or the manner of presentation (e.g.: anamorphic widescreen). Additional ways of categorizing film genres may involve the target audience (for example: children's film, teen film or women's film) or by type of production (e.g., B movie, big-budget blockbuster or low-budget film, such as amateur film). Genre does not just refer to the type of film or its category; spectator expectations about a film, and institutional discourses that create generic structures also play a key role.[10]Genres are not fixed; they change and evolve over time, and some genres may largely disappear (for example, the melodrama).[10]


The term "genre" was used to organize films according to type since the earliest days of cinema.[10] By the 1950s, André Bazin was discussing the concept of "genre" by using the Western film as an example; during this era, there was a debate over auteur theory versus genre.[10] In the late 1960s, the concept of genre became a significant part of film theory.[10]

Film genres draw on genres from other forms; Western novels existed before the Western film, and musical theatre existed before film musicals were made.[11] The perceived genre of a film can change over time; for example, The Great Train Robbery (1903) is seen in the 2010s as a key early Western film, but when it was released, it was seen as related to the "then-popular genres of the chase film, the railroad film and the crime film".[12] A key reason that the early Hollywood industrial system from the 1920s to the 1950s favoured genre films is that in "Hollywood's industrial mode of production, genre movies are dependable products" to market to audiences, they are easy to produce and it is easy for audiences to understand a genre film.[13] In the 1920s to 1950s, genre films had clear conventions and iconography, such as the heavy coats worn by gangsters in films like Little Caesar (1931).[14] The conventions in genre films enable filmmakers to create them in an industrial, assembly line fashion, an approach which can be seen in the James Bond spy films, which all use a formula of "lots of action, fancy gadgets, beautiful woman and colourful villains", even though the actors, directors and screenwriters changed.[14]

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