Action (Disaster): Stories whose central struggle plays out mainly through a clash of physical forces.
48 Hours Face/Off Die Hard Air Force One Jurassic Park Lethal Weapon
Return of the Jedi (also Science Fiction)Speed (also a Thriller) Titanic (also a Love story) The Terminator True Lies Twister
Adventure: Stories whose central struggle plays out mainly through encounters with new "worlds."
Apollo 13 The Deep Get Shorty (extraordinary blend of Gangster, Love, and Crime with a twist) Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (also an Action picture)
Little Big Man (Also Epic/Myth)Lawrence of Arabia Quest For Fire Rain Man Robinson Crusoe Water World
Comedy: Stories whose central struggle causes hilarious results.
Ace Ventura, Pet Detective (also Adventure - the name gives it away) Analyze This Annie Hall Bowfinger French Kiss Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (also Fantasy)
My Best Friend's Wedding Nine to Five Shakespeare in Love The Spy Who Shagged Me When Harry Met Sally Working Girl (also Love Story)
Coming-of-Age Drama: Stories whose central struggle is about the hero finding his or her place in the world.
American Beauty American Graffiti The Breakfast Club The Graduate The Last Picture Show The Lion King My Brilliant Career The Paper Chase Pretty In Pink
Rebel Without a Cause Risky Business Saturday Night Fever Shakespeare in Love (also Romantic Comedy)Splendor in the Grass Top Gun (also Action)The Water Boy (also Comedy)
Crime:Stories whose central struggle is about catching a criminal.
48 Hours Basic Instinct Fargo French Connection Ghost (also Love and Thriller) L.A.Confidential
Patriot Games Pulp Fiction (Also Black Comedy, Bends the Genre a lot))The Sting The Untouchables
Detective Story/Courtroom Drama: Stories whose central struggle is to find out what really happened and thus to expose the truth.
Caine Mutiny Chinatown Death and the Maiden A Few Good Men The General's Daughter Inherit the Wind
The Maltese Falcon Philadelphia Rear Window A Time to Kill The Verdict Vertigo
Epic/Myth: Stories whose central struggle plays out in the midst of a clash of great forces or in the sweep of great historical change.
Apocalypse Now The Birth of a Nation Bridge on the River Kwai Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Ghandi The Godfather
Gone With the Wind The Grapes of Wrath Lawrence of Arabia (also Adventure) Star Wars The Ten Commandments
Fantasy:Stories which are animated, or whose central struggle plays out in two worlds - the "real" world and an imaginary world.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court Alice in Wonderland Antz Big Ghostbusters Heaven Can Wait
Mary Poppins The Mask Peter Pan Snow White Toy Story The Wizard of Oz Who Killed Roger Rabbit?
Gangster: Stories whose central struggle is between a criminal and society. A cautionary tale, rooted in a main character who commits crimes (This genre is often blended with Film Noir).
Badlands Bonnie and Clyde Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Dead End Dead Man Walking The Godfather (also Epic/Myth)
Goodfellas La Femme Nikita M. Out of Sight (also Love Story)Sling Blade The Usual Suspects
Horror: Stories whose central struggle focuses on escaping from and eventually defeating a Monster (either human or non-human).
Alien The Blair Witch Project Friday the Thirteenth Halloween I Know What You Did Last Summer It's Alive
King Kong Nightmare on Elm Street Psycho Scream Tremors
Love (Romance): Stories whose central struggle is between two people who each want to win or keep the love of the other.
Annie Hall As Good As It Gets Casablanca (also Epic/Myth)Ghost The Graduate It Happened One Night
Mickey Blue Eyes Notting Hill Pretty Woman Roman Holiday The Way We Were Wuthering Heights
Science Fiction: Stories whose central struggle is generated from the technology and tools of a scientifically imaginable world.
2001 A Space Odyssey Back to the Future Blade Runner (also Crime)ET: The Extra Terrestrial The Fifth Element Gattaca
The Sixth Sense Stargate Star Wars (and all the sequels or prequels) The Terminator Twelve Monkeys
Social Drama: Stories whose central struggle is between a Champion and a problem or injustice in society. Usually the Champion has a personal stake in the outcome of the struggle.
A Civil Action Dead Man Walking Dr Strangelove Grapes of Wrath Kramer Vs Kramer
Network Philadelphia (also Courtroom Drama)Schindler's List To Kill a Mockingbird
Thriller: Stories whose central struggle pits an innocent hero against a lethal enemy who is out to kill him or her.
The Net No Way Out North by Northwest (also Love Story)Sleeping With the Enemy
Night of the Hunter Three Days of the Condor Wait Until Dark Witness (also Love Story)
Other Types of Movies: There obviously are many other groupings that might be constructed. Discussing genres of movies might just be a way of describing the history of moviemaking - a method of grouping motion pictures for whatever convenient need arises for whatever individual or group. Without trying to define them, I'm listing here a number of other possible types.
The Art Film: Not a preferred Hollywood Type. HOWEVER -- the acceleration of cheaper video-to-film technology makes this an interesting potential genre to look at for the future.
The Black Comedy: A comedy that uses death and morbid doings as the root of its humor. Surfaces regularly. Most recent incarnations, Very Bad Things and Pulp Fiction.
The Buddy Movie: Not a distinctive genre. Really describes a vehicle for two stars of relatively equal importance, although one of them is usually the main character. Redford and Newman are the most well known pairing from the recent past.
When these types of films work, they can be a cash cow for the studios; for example, the "road" films of Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, the musicals of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the wacky doings of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Abbot and Costello, etc. In today's market there is probably a pent-up appetite for female pairings, witness the phenomenal success of Thelma and Louise (despite the sour "downer" ending -- somebody took the ending of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid too seriously. They should have checked out The Sting).
The Film Noir: From the standpoint of the way I prefer to define a "genre" -- that is, defining the genre according to the nature of the central struggle -- this type of film is more of a stylistic categorization. Even so, the typical black and light patterns, the dark shadows, the penchant for cynicism and irony, the use of the dark side of human behavior, these elements still have a potent appeal for a large segment of the moviegoing audience.
The Ghost Story: Obvious from its title, needs no definition. This type of story, popular in the past, has been somewhat supplanted by the horror genre. Interesting to us writers for its resurgence with a twist in the Demi Moore thriller Ghost. Testament to the writer's imagination.
The Heist (or Caper): Sort of a "cross-categorization." An intricately planned theft by a group of people. Examples: Ocean's Eleven, The Thomas Crown Affair, The Great Train Robbery, and more recently, one of the genres in The Usual Suspects.
The Picaresque: An episodic string of adventures by a hero who moves from place to place. Stellar example, Tom Jones, and more recently,Forrest Gump.
Other obvious types:
The Historical Drama The Musical The Western
So, enough analysis of genre. Try to settle on a mix of two genres for your story. To start with, that is. Keep the possibility open that you might be able to spice up your story with little bits of a third genre, but -- proceed with caution. As an old Hollywood pro once growled at me, "More than two genres is a mess."
Select an icon or film genre category below, read about the development and history of the genre, and view chronological lists of selected, representative greatest films for each one (with links to detailed descriptions of individual films).
Action films usually include high energy, big-budget physical stunts and chases, possibly with rescues, battles, fights, escapes, destructive crises (floods, explosions, natural disasters, fires, etc.), non-stop motion, spectacular rhythm and pacing, and adventurous, often two-dimensional 'good-guy' heroes (or recently, heroines) battling 'bad guys' - all designed for pure audience escapism. Includes the James Bond 'fantasy' spy/espionage series, martial arts films, and so-called 'blaxploitation' films. A major sub-genre is the disaster film. See also Greatest Disaster and Crowd Film Scenes and Greatest Classic Chase Scenes in Films.
Adventure films are usually exciting stories, with new experiences or exotic locales, very similar to or often paired with the actionfilm genre. They can include traditional swashbucklers, serialized films, and historical spectacles (similar to the epics film genre), searches or expeditions for lost continents, "jungle" and "desert" epics, treasure hunts, disaster films, or searches for the unknown.
Comedies are light-hearted plots consistently and deliberately designed to amuse and provoke laughter (with one-liners, jokes, etc.) by exaggerating the situation, the language, action, relationships and characters. This section describes various forms of comedy through cinematic history, including slapstick, screwball, spoofs and parodies, romantic comedies, black comedy (dark satirical comedy), and more. See this site's Funniest Film Moments and Scenes collection - illustrated, and also Premiere Magazine's50 Greatest Comedies of All Time.
Crime (gangster) films are developed around the sinister actions of criminals or mobsters, particularly bankrobbers, underworld figures, or ruthless hoodlums who operate outside the law, stealing and murdering their way through life. Criminal and gangster films are often categorized as film noir or detective-mystery films - because of underlying similarities between these cinematic forms. This category includes a description of various 'serial killer' films.
Dramas are serious, plot-driven presentations, portraying realistic characters, settings, life situations, and stories involving intense character development and interaction. Usually, they are not focused on special-effects, comedy, or action, Dramatic films are probably the largest film genre, with many subsets. See also melodramas,epics (historical dramas), or romantic genres. Dramatic biographical films (or "biopics") are a major sub-genre, as are 'adult' films (with mature subject content).
Epics include costume dramas, historical dramas, war films, medieval romps, or 'period pictures' that often cover a large expanse of time set against a vast, panoramic backdrop. Epics often share elements of the elaborate adventure films genre. Epics take an historical or imagined event, mythic, legendary, or heroic figure, and add an extravagant setting and lavish costumes, accompanied by grandeur and spectacle, dramatic scope, high production values, and a sweeping musical score. Epics are often a more spectacular, lavish version of a biopic film. Some 'sword and sandal' films (Biblical epics or films occuring during antiquity) qualify as a sub-genre.
Horror films are designed to frighten and to invoke our hidden worst fears, often in a terrifying, shocking finale, while captivating and entertaining us at the same time in a cathartic experience. Horror films feature a wide range of styles, from the earliest silent Nosferatu classic, to today's CGI monsters and deranged humans. They are often combined with science fiction when the menace or monster is related to a corruption of technology, or when Earth is threatened by aliens. The fantasy and supernatural film genres are not usually synonymous with the horror genre. There are many sub-genres of horror: slasher, teen terror, serial killers, satanic, Dracula, Frankenstein, etc. See this site's Scariest Film Moments and Scenes collection - illustrated.
Musical/dance films are cinematic forms that emphasize full-scale scores or song and dance routines in a significant way (usually with a musical or dance performance integrated as part of the film narrative), or they are films that are centered on combinations of music, dance, song or choreography. Major subgenres include the musical comedy or the concert film. See this site'sGreatest Musical Song/Dance Movie Moments and Scenescollection - illustrated.
Sci-fi films are often quasi-scientific, visionary and imaginative - complete with heroes, aliens, distant planets, impossible quests, improbable settings, fantastic places, great dark and shadowy villains, futuristic technology, unknown and unknowable forces, and extraordinary monsters ('things or creatures from space'), either created by mad scientists or by nuclear havoc. They are sometimes an offshoot of fantasy films, or they share some similarities with action/adventure films. Science fiction often expresses the potential of technology to destroy humankind and easily overlaps with horror films, particularly when technology or alien life forms become malevolent, as in the "Atomic Age" of sci-fi films in the 1950s.
War (and anti-war) films acknowledge the horror and heartbreak of war, letting the actual combat fighting (against nations or humankind) on land, sea, or in the air provide the primary plot or background for the action of the film. War films are often paired with other genres, such as action, adventure, drama, romance, comedy (black), suspense, and even epics and westerns, and they often take a denunciatory approach toward warfare. They may include POW tales, stories of military operations, and training. See this site's Greatest War Movies (in multiple parts).
Westerns are the major defining genre of the American film industry - a eulogy to the early days of the expansive American frontier. They are one of the oldest, most enduring genres with very recognizable plots, elements, and characters (six-guns, horses, dusty towns and trails, cowboys, Indians, etc.). Over time, westerns have been re-defined, re-invented and expanded, dismissed, re-discovered, and spoofed.