Chapter 2
Film Genres

A genre is a category with a specific style or content. Each genre is unique in filmmaking. The most common genres are comedy, horror, romance, and action. These will all be explained in the sections below.

You can combine genres to create new genres. A comedy can be combined with a romance to make a romantic comedy such as The Half of It (2020). Seven Psychopaths (2012) is a comedy-crime hybrid.  Planet of the Apes (2001), which crosses multiple genre categories, is a science-fiction/action/adventure film.

Note: your story’s time period is not defined by a specific genre. In fact, it can be used to fit into any genre. A period piece is a story that is set in the past. A story set in the future is called science fiction or fantasy.

Period pieces films can transport viewers to another time, whether they are in the American suburbs of the 1950s or in the English countryside at the beginning of the 19th century. “Little Women”, “Selma”, and “A Room With a View”, were all recognized as some of the best period pieces movies ever made.

The following 15 main film genres are the most common and easily identifiable in the film industry. This chapter explains each of these major categories in detail.


2.1 Action Films

The action genre is one of the oldest film genres. It has strong ties to the classic struggle and strife narratives you can find in all kinds of literature and art. Action films have been loved by cinema audiences from the beginning, with some of their earliest examples dating as far back as historical war epics and basic portrayals of train robberies. It is also one of the best examples of a cinematic hero’s story and the classic hero-vs-villain narratives that you will find in all cinemas and genres.

The main sub-genres are:

War and Military Action. Spy and Espionage Action. Martial Arts Action. Western Shoot ‘Em up Action. Action Hybrid Genres.

Here you can find out more about the history of action, the many sub-genres, and examples. Also, there are some helpful tips to create modern action films.


It can be very dangerous to shoot action scenes. If your film contains gunfire or explosions, make sure you have a trained stunt coordinator. You can even make your explosions and loud penetrating gunshots more secure by using post-production. It can be done easily with visual effects software or layover graphics, such as those at You can then add sound effects to make them more dramatic.


2.2 Adventure Films

Adventure Films offer exciting stories with new experiences and exotic locations. In that they provide an action-packed, energetic experience for the viewer, adventure films are similar to the action film genre. Adventure films are not as violent and combative as action films. Instead, they allow the viewer to live through the adventures, conquests, and creations of empires, struggles, and other situations that face the main characters or historical figures.

The purpose of adventure films was to appeal to men. They have been a source of major male heroes over the years. These altruistic heroes were often brave and patriotic. Some of the most successful blockbuster adventure films have added resourceful action heroes (as well as heroines) to modern movies.

We can include classic serialized films under the adventure film category, as well as “jungle” or “desert” epics and treasure hunts and quests, disaster films, heroic journeys, and searches for the unknown.

Many elements of adventure films are shared with other genres. There are many sci-fi and fantasy films that share these characteristics. Films based on literary novels, such as The Lord of the Rings (2001–2003), The Wizard of Oz (1939), and Doctor Zhivago (1965), could be included in adventure films.


2.3 Comedy Films

Comedy has been a favorite genre for film fans, both young and old. It is a light-hearted, sophisticated, and creative genre that has delighted audiences for many decades. Comedy genre pioneers Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin are some of the most prominent names in filmmaking history. They made a successful career out of creating new ways to make people laugh. Comedy has been one of the most versatile genres because its roots are embedded in the fabric of cinema and all the other genres within it. It is the art of bringing joy to people’s faces and warming their hearts.

The main sub-genres are:

  • Slapstick Comedy
  • Screwball Comedy
  • Parody Comedy
  • Black Comedy

The Encyclopedia Britannica provides a deeper dive into the comedy genre.


2.4 Crime Films

Crime films focus on the sinister acts of criminals and gangsters, especially bank robbers, underworld figures or ruthless hoodlums who operate in defiance of the law, stealing and murdering their way to success. A new kind of crime thriller emerged in the 1940s. It was darker and more cynical.

Crime films are often classified as post-war detective/mystery films, due to the similarities in these cinematic types. The main sub-genres are:

Gangster film

Detective film

Crime comedy


Police (procedural) film. 

This genre of crime stories often highlights the life of a criminal figure or the victim(s) of a crime. They may glorify the rise or fall of a criminal, gang, bank robber, murderer, or lawbreaker in their power struggle. Films about crime often feature headline-grabbing scenes, real-life gangsters or crime reports.

Films about gangsters and crime are often set in large cities. They show the inner world of criminals: dark bars or streets, fast cars, piles of cash, sleazy bars, or contraband. Many crime films are set in exotic locations that add a sense of adventure and wealth.

Film gangsters tend to be materialistic, immoral, street-smart, and self-destructive. The rivalry between criminals involved in gangster warfare is a common plot feature. Crime plots often include questions like how the criminal will get apprehended by law enforcement authorities or police. While they show their hard and savage face, they also express ambition for success and recognition. However, underneath they can be sensitive and gentle.


2.5 Drama Films

Drama is one of the oldest forms of cinema and is still very popular today. Good drama is more than just telling a story. It makes us feel empathy for the characters and feel their emotions. We feel happy when something good happens and we feel like crying when something sad happens. We may even feel angry when something bad happens to a character we love.  These emotions will make the story more interesting and make us get involved. Drama films can be more than just entertaining. They can reflect on important issues and teach us valuable lessons about life.

There are many types of drama, but the most popular one is the mystery genre. This genre keeps us interested and anxious as we watch the events unfold. In many mystery dramas, private detectives are hired by clients who are in trouble. It is often about the detectives’ confidence and diligence as they attempt to uncover the crime or situation by gathering clues and circumstances, asking witnesses, and tracking down the criminal.

Courtroom drama and prison drama are two other popular sub-genres that relate to crime. They tell stories about prison guards and inmates who always try to escape. 

Films about spying and espionage are also popular. While most of these movies are pure entertainment, dramas that deal with serious issues such as violence, racism, and bullying can be both entertaining and educational.


2.6 Fantasy Films

Contrary to science fiction films which are based on scientific truth, these films take the viewers to fairy-tale locations and places that are unlikely to happen in real life. They transcend physical laws and human possibility in mythological or legendary times. Fantasy films often take place in the imagination, dreams, and hallucinations of characters or within the projected visions of storytellers. Fantasy films often contain elements of magic, mythology, escapism, wonder, and out-of-the-ordinary. Depending on the film, they may be appealing to both children and adults.

Fantasy films often feature a hero who has a mystical experience and must seek out help from superhuman, powerful forces outside. Stories that are based on ancient Greek mythological figures and Arabian Nights-type stories are common. Typical elements include flying carpets, magic swords, spells, dragons, ancient religious relics, or objects, as well as magic swords and magical spells. Invented lands can be bizarre and imaginative. They could include unreal worlds, fairy-tale settings, or other whimsical locations. The world-renowned novelists, Jules Verne, and Herbert Wells created fantasylands and/or travels that became the basis of many fantasy films.

The main characters of fantasies are usually princes and princesses. Fantasy films may also feature supernatural or quasi-religious characters, such as fairies, lesser gods, and angels. They might also include legendary gnomes, dwarfs, and elves.

Many fantasy films incorporate strange phenomena, physical aberrations, as well as incredible characters. These characters can sometimes be monstrous or represent evil or divine spirits or fantastic magicians and sorcerers. These characters are often derived from myth and legend. They inspire awe in us and trigger deep primal emotions.

Fantasy films tend to overlap with horror and science fiction film genres. A fantasy film may be classified as a predominantly science fiction film if it focuses on advanced technology in a fantasy world. A fantasy film is more in the horror category if the supernatural or fantasy forces are intended to scare the audience.


2.7 Historical / Period Films

Historical/Period Films are often based on historical events or myths, legends, or heroes. They add lavish costumes and extravagant settings, along with grand spectacles and a powerful musical score. Epics, costume dramas, and historical dramas, as well as war film epics, medieval adventures, or “period pictures”, are stories that span a long time against a panoramic background. They follow the adventures of the heroes set against the backdrop of major historical events.

Because they require extensive and extravagant settings, on-location filming and authentic period costumes, high-stakes action, and large casts, this genre can be costly and difficult to produce. Biographical films can be less extravagant than epic films.

Historical/Period Films often rewrite historical events, with inauthenticity, fictitious recreations, difficult-to-follow characters and details, and excessive vulgarity. Sometimes accuracy is sacrificed and the political/historical forces are given a backseat to the personalization of the story and its ideological slant.

These films are sometimes called costume dramas because they focus on the trappings that go with period settings: costumes, scenery, decor, and spectacle. They often transport viewers into other eras and worlds, such as the Middle Ages, Biblical times, or Victorian times.


2.8 Horror Films

Horror films are a genre that creates fear, panic, alarm, and dread in the audience. They are often disturbing and use nightmares and worst fears to scare the audience. Horror films often focus on an evil person or force, featuring mythical creatures like ghosts, vampires, or zombies. These films have a long history of incorporating violence and gore into their plots. While they have their own style, they often blend into Thriller, Fantasy, and Sci-Fi genres.

The main sub-genres are:


Zombie films are a sub-genre in Horror cinema that depicts mindless human beings who have been raised from the dead. These films usually feature a Zombie invasion and revolve around Zombies eating human flesh. A Zombie movie’s plot centers around the struggle between the living and the dead. Zombie films fall not only into Horror but also Sci-Fi, Thriller, and Comedy.


Monster films are a sub-genre in Horror that focuses on the struggle between humans and monsters. The film often features a monster that was created through an ‘experiment gone wrong’ and a hero or heroine who saves the world from the monster. These films often fall into the Horror genre, but also have a long history in Sci-Fi and Fantasy films.


Teen-Horror refers to a sub-genre that focuses on a teenager or group of teenagers. These films usually have a large cast with a clear hero and heroine. Teen-Horror films often tackle traditional teenage issues like dating and prom and make them thrilling and suspenseful.


Slasher films are a sub-genre within Horror films that centers on a psychopath killer. The killer stalks and kills his victims in a brutal and memorable way. Slasher films are different from other horror films because they focus on a particular killer. Slasher films will spend more time displaying murder and mayhem than traditional Horror films.


Comedy-Horror is a combination of comedy and traditional horror movie themes. They can be categorized as Black Comedies due to their subject matter. Films of this sub-genre are intended to scare audiences, but also offer humorous effects that allow them to laugh at their fears.


A sub-genre of a horror film called Supernatural Horror is one that depicts ghosts, demons, or other supernatural events. Many Supernatural-Horror movies incorporate elements of religion into their plots. The afterlife, demonic possession, and the devil are all common themes in Supernatural Horror films. These films, unlike Religious Thrillers, aren’t restricted to religious elements. They can also contain more intense and shocking violence.


2.9 Musical Films

Musical films are cinematic forms that highlight a full-scale song or dance routine. They can be included in the film’s narrative or used as culminations in the films. These films focus on a combination of music, song, dance, or choreography.

Cast members in traditional musicals are those who sing. Musicals feature various musicians or dance stars. The lyrics support the storyline but often include an alternative vision of reality, such as a search for love and success. This film genre is considered to be the most escapist among all major movie genres.


2.10 Mystery

Mystery films are a genre that focuses on solving a problem or investigating a crime. These films center around the detective and/or private investigator’s efforts to solve the mystery surrounding an issue through clues, investigation, and deduction.

It is often about the detective’s abilities, prowess and confidence as he attempts to uncover the crime. He seeks evidence, questions witnesses, and pieces together clues.

As a plot element, suspense is what motivates the viewers to keep watching, as they anticipate the story even. The film director can achieve this by using the soundtrack, camera angles, and heavy shadows. There are also surprising plot twists.

This genre includes classic suspense thrillers and private detective films. Spy films are a related subgenre.


2.11 Romance Films

Romance films are love stories or affairs of the heart. They focus on passion, emotion, and romantic, affectionate involvement by the main characters (usually a man and woman) and their love journey through marriage or courtship. These films make love stories or the search for love the central plot. In romantic stories, lovers face difficulties and the dangers of financial hardship, racial and social class status, occupations, and family that could break up their union or prevent them from finding love. Romantic films often feature tensions, infidelity temptations, and differences in compatibility.

Romantic films often focus on the core themes of love at first glance, obsessive and sentimental love. They can be a great escape and a source of fantasies for viewers. This is especially true if the couple overcomes their problems and declares their love. The final kiss and reunion make it seem like they are living a happy and fulfilled life.

Romantic films often don’t have happy endings or fairy-tale stories. However, love is a shield from the harshness of life. Although melodramas-tearjerkers and romantic comedies may have some romance in their plots, they usually subordinate the love element to their main objective – to provide humor or serious drama.


2.12 Science Fiction Films

Sci-fi, or science fiction, is a genre of films that depict speculative and fictional science-based phenomena. It includes extraterrestrial lifeforms, cyborgs or robots as well as interstellar travel. Science fiction movies have been often used to address social or political problems and to examine philosophical issues such as human nature.

There are many reasons to produce science fiction films. The obvious reason is money. Science fiction has the highest box office grossing genre. Look at the global grosses these days. 11 of the top twenty are science fiction. 3 are fantasy. While this may not suit your artistic sensibilities but it will get producers excited. A great, high-concept science fiction story will appeal directly to the most basic instinct: profit.


2.13 Sports

Sports films are a film genre where any particular activity plays a central role in the film’s plot or acts in its main theme. These are the films in which sporting events, athletes, or followers are prominently featured. They are dependent on sports for their plot motivation and resolution. However, sport is rarely the main concern in these films. Sport plays a primarily symbolic role. Sports fans may not be the intended audience for these films, but they are a strong following and have high esteem for them.


2.14 Thriller Films

The genre of thriller films (a.k.a. suspense films) is one that creates suspense and excitement in its audience. This genre makes the most of the suspense inherent in many films’ plots. The filmmaker creates tension by delaying the inevitable. This is done through menacing situations or where escape seems impossible.

It is common for filmmakers to hide important information from the viewer and use fight and chase scenes. In thriller films, life is often threatened, for example, when the leading characters don’t realize they are in danger. The characters are often in conflict with one another or with an external force.  They usually face a problem such as an escape, assignment, or mystery.

Thriller movies are often merged with other genres. These include action thrillers and adventure thrillers as well as fantasy and science fiction thrillers. Horror films and thriller films share a close relationship. Both create tension. The plots of thriller films are less about the criminal or detective, and more about creating suspense. The themes that are common include terrorism, political conspiracy, and pursuit, as well as romantic triangles leading up to murder.

The anticipation of the event is more important than the payoff, but film directors often make poor choices in this genre. These are three great tips to add suspense to your next thriller if you are preparing to direct it.

Concentrate on one major idea at a time

This applies equally to writing a thriller and editing it. As a way to keep their audience interested, many directors try to force too many ideas into their thrillers. Although their intentions may be good, it doesn’t work in practice. Your audience will quickly feel disoriented and disinterested if you flood your film with possible outcomes, ideas, and suspects. It is better to keep your film focused on one idea at a time, or two at most, and then switch gears only when necessary. This will ensure that you are always ahead of your audience.

Don’t overload your film with the Action

When they finally hit the screens, many poorly executed thrillers feel more like action movies than thrillers. The reason is often due to poor pacing. Director without much experience in this genre often worries that their stories don’t move quickly enough and end up filling their scripts full of unnecessary action sequences designed to “thrill”, but actually take away from the story’s pensiveness. Thrillers are about anticipation. If you remove the audience’s ability to relax and enjoy their story, you have an action movie, not a thriller.

Don’t overdo it with the music in the edit

The other side of the coin is films that are too slow and lack genuine suspense. These films will often use suspenseful music to make up for the lack of depth and speed. If this happens, you will need to re-shoot.


2.15 Western films

The American film industry’s most defining genre is Western films. It is a nostalgic tribute to the early days when the American frontier was wild and uncontrolled. They are among the oldest, most flexible, and longest-lasting genres, as well as one of America’s most distinctive genres due to their mythic roots.

Over the years, westerns have experienced a steady rise and fall in popularity. The 1930s through the 1960s were their most popular era. Most recently, the 90s saw a revival of the genre. They are making a comeback on TV and in theatres.

This genre is an indigenous American art form that focuses on the North American frontier West. Westerns often take place on the American frontier in the second half of the 19th century after the Civil War. They are set in a western setting with picturesque, rugged terrain and sweeping frontier landscapes. Westerns can be set back to America’s colonial period or forward to the middle of the 20th century. Many westerns have the Civil War (1836), the Battle of the Alamo (1836), and the Mexican Revolution (1910) as their backdrop.

Western films often depict the conquest of nature in the name of civilization. You might see them on the main streets of small towns, saloons, and isolated forts emerging at the edge of civilization. These settings may also include Native American villages or sites. The iconic western elements include the stetsons, spurs, saddles, lassos, Colt .45s, bandannas, buckskin, etc. 

The western film genre has often depicted America’s past and glorified the past-fading values of America’s mythical bygone age. Westerns have seen many changes over the years. They were re-invented, expanded, and dismissed. In the late 60s, 70s, and 80s, ‘revisionistic Westerns’ that challenged the themes and elements of traditional westerns emerged (i.e Little Big Man (1970) and McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971).


Drama Film Genres