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July 5, 2022

What Is Genre? Definition & Examples

Deciding what genre to write your script in can be a challenge. It helps to first consider what exactly genre is. Then, we can apply this knowledge to help us write a film or series that studios are likelier to greenlight during the script coverage phase.

Overview:

  • Definition of genre
  • How to identify movie genres
  • The 13 movie genres
  • Westerns
  • Police procedurals
  • Crime thrillers
  • Romance
  • Fantasy
  • Young adult
  • Sci-fi
  • Historical
  • Biopic
  • Action and adventure
  • Mystery
  • Comedy
  • Horror
  • How to decide what genre to write your script on

Definition of genre in film

Genre is how we categorize films, TV series, and books. It is supposed to help the viewer more than anything else. It is more important than ever when viewers have so much choice on streaming platforms.

It gives the viewer a broad category from which to choose from instead of overloading them with all the choices.

Image with different genres represented.
There are thirteen main different types of genres in film.

When you pitch a film to a studio, agent, or executive, your script must fit into a specific genre and conform to most of the conventions of that genre. Studios veer away from films and shows that don’t do this because they fear alienating the audience.

During a film, a particular key list of events has to happen for it to fit that genre. Audiences are expecting most of the elements of the genre to take place. Some of these can be flipped on their head to subvert expectations, but generally, you have to be aware of the conventions to break them.

Later in this blog, we will discuss different movie genres and their conventions.

How to identify movie genres

The easiest way to identify what genre your movie or TV show belongs to is to begin by studying the latest cinema releases and your Netflix and Amazon libraries. They will be labeled and organized by genre.

If there are films and TV shows you have watched, try to unpick why they fall into one genre and not the other. Some examples will be more obvious such as a show involving a police officer as the protagonist will almost certainly be in the crime genre and maybe the police procedural genre too.  

A film set in the Wild West with a cowboy as the central character is likely to be a Western.

13 movie genres

Here are some examples of movie genres and the conventions that often accompany them.

Westerns

A western film is set in the Wild West in the mid-19th Century. Invariably it centers around the politics of the small town in the middle of the desert: cowboys and sheriffs abound.

Key set pieces include the shootout in the salon between two cowboys, perhaps fighting over a woman.

Western films are at the core of war films before the advent of modern warfare and can enable you to focus on a small town with a small group of characters.

Examples of western films are The Power of the Dog, True Grit, Django Unchained, and El Dorado.

Benedict Cumberbatch stands in an open field in a still for The Power of the Dog.
The Power of the Dog is an example of a film that would fit into the western genre.

Police procedurals

Police procedures are generally set around a police station, giving them structure like a boarding school does in a coming-of-age film. The characters relate to each other based on hierarchy and receive promotions throughout the series.

Police officers must adhere to strict regulations and are generally supposed to do things by the book. This leads to clashes with the maverick cops who seek to enact justice on their own terms. Classic examples are DCI Luther in the series named after him, considered a liability by his superiors from the very start.

The most successful example of the police procedural in recent years is the BBC’s Line of Duty, in which regulations and duty are at heart. Other examples are CSI, NCIS, and Chicago PD.

Crime thrillers

Crime thrillers are films that center around crime but do not have to be based around the structure of a police station. They could still include a police officer as a central character, but they will be more action-based and centered on the outside world.

Somebody other than a police officer could also play the role of the hero or detective. Examples could include an ordinary member of the public witness to a crime or a journalist trying to uncover the truth.

Examples include The Lincoln Lawyer, Gone Girl, No Country for Old Men, and Silence of the Lambs. However, Silence of the Lambs could also be classified as horror.

Romance

Romance genres must feature at their heart a love story. Many other genres include a love interest but what differentiates it from a film or series in the romance genre is that this is not the overarching central plot.

We might consider the BBC’s Normal People a romance drama because its sole focus is on the developing relationship between Marianne and Connell, even though it touches on other issues such as domestic abuse and life at university.

Marianne from the BBC's Normal People stares into the distance.
The BBC's Normal People is a romance following the journey of Marianne and Connell into adulthood.

Other examples include Casablanca; Blue is the Warmest Color, and Fifty Shades of Grey. The romance genre is easily paired with different genres; for instance, if it’s set in the future or the past, it can be a Sci-Fi romance or historical romance.

Fantasy

Fantasy films and series are defined by taking place in a different world to ours. For example, they might introduce elements of magic or magical realism. Harry Potter is the most successful and well-known fantasy series in recent years.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones film from 2013 is another example of the fantasy genre, set in a world of mythical creatures and demons.  

The world must be different from our own and involve elements and laws alien to us and not just set in the future.

Young adult

Young adult movies are often classified in this genre but are often paired with a different genre, too.

Young adult movies and series typically have a young adult as their protagonist and center around the struggles of growing into an adult. A boarding school setting is valuable for removing your protagonists from parental authority, making them orphans, or removing them to a different world.

We see this in The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe, in which the children enter Narnia from the wardrobe. The killing of the Bauldiere parents in A Series of Unfortunate Events strengthens the bond between the three siblings, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny. It enables them to come face to face with their evil antagonist Count Olaf.  

Sci-Fi

Sci-Fi films take place in the future and utilize new technology. Sometimes sci-films can take place in an alternative version of the past in which humanity has advanced beyond the ordinary timeline.

World building is essential in Sci-Fi. A recurring theme in sci-fi films is that new technology has not necessarily solved problems but created new ones for humanity or exacerbated current issues.

The Expanse is an excellent example in which colonialism is playing out again, with the inhabitants of Mars and the asteroid belt seen as second-class citizens with less access to

water and oxygen.

Historical

Historical films often romanticize the past and usually center around a heroic figure. There is often - though not always - a romantic element to the plot.

The most complex challenge of writing a historical fiction film or series is balancing historical accuracy with crafting an exciting plot, with the latter often taking precedence.

A recent example is The Last Duel, set in 14th Century France during the reign of King Charles VI. Check out this post if you are interested in learning more about adapting history for the screen.

Biopic

A biopic follows the life story of one individual, usually from birth to death. It is a classic hero’s journey film. The challenge for any budding scriptwriter is how to condense all the elements of one person’s life into a digestible narrative without getting bogged down.

Some great recent examples include Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, about South African President Nelson Madella’s lifelong struggle for freedom and equality.

The Imitation Game could be considered a biopic. The film centers around the life of computer scientist Alan Turing who was instrumental in ​​cracking the German Enigma code during WWII. Turing was gay and, unfortunately, committed suicide after he was persecuted by the British government.  

Action and adventure

Action and adventure films have action sequences at their heart. Often, there is little complexity in these films. Usually, there is a very straightforward hero vs. villain narrative with many set action pieces often involving a shootout and the destruction of iconic landmarks.

One of the most recent examples includes Top Gun: Maverick, starring Tom Cruise.

Tom Cruise in the cockpit of an airplane in Top Gun: Maverick.
Top Gun: Maverick is an action-adventure film featuring several intense action sequences.

Mystery

The mystery genre relates closely to crime thrillers, but the crime and the role of the detective may not be clear from the outset. A great example is the recent Netflix adaptation of Rebecca.

Although a crime is at the center of the plot, it is wrapped up from the start as a mystery that the unnamed narrator encounters due to her relationship with Maxim De Winter.  

Comedy

From Superbad to Bridget Jones’ Diary, the comedy genre is often closely associated with other genres. The main characters are often fun-loving clowns who must get serious about overcoming life’s problems.

Superbad is also a coming of age and young adult movie, while Bridget Jones’ Diary is a romantic comedy that draws its humor from Bridget’s hapless love life.

Horror

The horror genre primarily involves scaring the audience. Key components include elements of the supernatural such as ghosts and spirits. Events are often left unexplained with logic, and your audience should be left feeling unsettled.

Some great films in the horror genre from recent years include films by John Carpenter, such as The Ward, and adaptations of Stephen King novels like Doctor Sleep.  

Deciding on the genre for your film or series

What comes first: the genre or the idea? This is different for every writer.

Some writers have the idea appear fully formed in mind, while others know they would like to write a script in a particular genre and then have to work backward on an idea.

If you’re a writer for whom ideas come naturally and are pretty well formulated, you may need to work on adapting them to fit into a specific genre.

Genre is decided by various factors, including characters, setting, and the inclusion of certain plot points at a specific part of the play.

How to decide what genre to write your script on

Genre is a profoundly personal choice, but you shouldn’t let it restrict your writing. It’s better to come up with your ideas and write a plan first, such as creating a basic outline before determining the genre of your story.

Then you can begin to adapt your ideas to fit a specific genre: look for films and series that are similar to yours and see how they are categorized.

Happy writing from the Arc Studio team!

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What Is Genre? Definition & Examples
Harry Verity

Harry is a professional writer. His first novel The Talk Show was published in the U.S and the U.K by Bloodhound Books in 2021 and he is currently working on adapting it for screen. He's also written for Media Magazine - a UK magazine for students of A-level Film, Media and Television Studies. In addition, he was a senior ghostwriter at Story Terrace from 2015- 2021, the private memoir firm.

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David Wain

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