June 12, 2019

TV & Film Genres List: A Comprehensive Study and Guide

TV and Film Genres
Film and TV genres affect who watches your work, how it's classified, and even how it's reviewed. So how do you decide what you're writing? And which genres to mash-up? The secret is in the tropes.  

We've all logged onto Netflix or Amazon, even wandered the Blockbusters of old, peering up and down aisles or scrolling through endless topics, trying to decide on the genre of film or television we want to watch. The genre we wind up picking depends on our mood, the day we've had, and sometimes it depends on what we're working on day to day. 

The genre we decide to write has to be the one we live in for several months. It also has to be the one we continue to study over and over so we can create a fresh an interesting entry into the canon. 

But how do you know what genre you're writing? And how can you become an expert in film and television genres so you can subvert and mash them up at will? Also, what is a film genre? And what determines that genre on television as well? 

We've taken the liberty of providing you with a list that highlights the tropes and expectations of each movie genre definition (and TV too!) as well as lists several seminal films and television shows within each as examples of the best they have to offer. 

Let's get started. 

What do I mean when I say "genre film" or "genre tv?"

A lot of people toss around the phrase these days without clearly defining it. A genre film is one that is easily categorized film accepted film and TV genres based on similarities in narrative elements or the emotional response to the piece of work. That means these works are judged by who's in them, how they are shot, and aspects of their screenplays. 

We're writing you a film genre list to keep track of everything and help you when it comes to pitching. Having knowledge of the basic film and tv genres will help you in the long run. Knowing the type of films out there will help you get producers on your side. You can communicate with them and they can see the trailer and marketing materials within their heads. 

The Complete TV & Film Genre List 

This is our attempt at assembling a comprehensive movie genres list and tv genres list. These types of movies and categories are not strict. There are plenty of chances to mash them together, but much like our character archetype post, we wanted to give you the basics so you could subvert and refine as you work. 

Action

Action movies require stunts, set pieces, explosions, guns, and karate. They are usually about a clear hero and a clear villain. Action movie stakes are huge, like saving the world or the universe. They're often bombastic and move quickly. Their pacing and structure are built around scenes like car chases and their climaxes often have the biggest set pieces.      

Tropes and Expectations:

A clear division between good and evil. Lots of fighting and set pieces.   

Examples: 

James Bond, The Fast and The Furious franchise, Arrow, and Marvel movies. 

John Wick 3: ParabellumCredit: IMDB

Adventure

Adventure movies are usually built around a quest. They take place in faraway lands or jungles. Many adventures may be period pieces, although more contemporary adventure stories are coming back to the forefront. They can be swashbucklers or treasure hunts. 

Tropes and Expectations: 

Characters like explorers, native people, and even pirates dominate these plots. They usually involve ancient cultures, hidden maps, gold, and traps. Characters usually have to rely on both their wits and their strengths. 

Examples:

Indiana Jones franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Adventure Time, The Goonies, and Tomb Raider. 

Raiders of the Lost ArkCredit: IMDB

Comedy

Everyone loves a laugh. Comedy films usually are written with a few laughs a scene. The stakes are usually much smaller or interpersonal. Comedy films can vary in their darkness and the way they deal with life and death. They tend to be shorter films, spoofs and can have broader casts.  

Tropes and Expectations:

Light-hearted fun, often blended with romance stories, and ensemble casts.  

Examples: 

Caddyshack, Bridesmaids, Friday, and How I Met Your Mother.

There's Something About Mary Credit: IMDB

Crime / Gangster 

There's something magical about imagining getting away with it. Henry Hill thought so, and so does lots of criminals across the film and TV world. Mobsters, bank robbers, serial killers, detectives, sheriffs, and the FBI usually populate the pages of this genre. They can have a whodunit plot or we can be following the antagonist's perspective

Tropes and Expectations: 

 We often see a courtroom scene, gunplay, violence, and ruthless tactics. There are times the law can be seen as good and bad, depending on who you root for and when the movie was released. Movies released with the Hays Code usually show bad guys getting punished for their actions. 

Examples: 

Goodfellas, American Gangster, Hell or High Water, The Sopranos, and Widows. 

White HeatCredit: IMDB

Drama 

These are serious stories that hinge on events that regularly happen in everyday life. They usually focus on character and how these people arc over time. Drama is regularly mashed up with other genres because most movies and tv rely on character-driven stories to keep the audience involved. 

Tropes and Expectations:

Dramas frequently follow characters you'd see as your friends, neighbors, and family dealing with the struggles of everyday life. They usually take place in a home, office setting, or with a group of characters forced to interact day to day.  

Examples: 

Ordinary People,  Parenthood, Manchester By The Sea, and Mad Men.

Mad MenCredit: IMDB

Experimental

This is a non-narrative expansion of what you can do within the medium. Experimental film and television don't conform to what we normally see in any of these genres. They are purely artistic achievements meant to elicit emotion and thought from the viewer. 

Tropes and Expectations 

There's nothing you can really expect from experimental, except maybe people calling it "artsty."

Examples: 

Tree of Life, La Jetee, Dogville, and Love, Death, and Robots. 

Un Chien Andalou Credit: IMDB

Fantasy

Mythic Realms, talking creatures, swords, magic, and knights. These movie and television series take place outside of earth or at a time when magical things roamed the earth or Middle Earth. They are usually combined with an adventure or drama, but often involve the traditional hero's journey

Tropes and Expectations: 

These kinds of movies and tv shows usually have mysticism, some sort of royalty, humanoid creates like Elves, Orcs, and Hobbits, and loys of magic. You can expect sorcery and some great set pieces. 

Examples: 

Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Dark Crystal, and The Wizard of Oz. 

Game of ThronesCredit: IMDB

Historical Epic 

As we've mentioned in our movie ideas post, history is a great place to mine for ideas. Historical epics or period pictures emphasize costumes, sword & sandal, and usually cover a particular figure or series of events. They can be based on an epic poem or a novel as well. 

Tropes and Expectations: 

Many of these are based on a true story. They prioritize the scope and scale of a story and have sweeping musical scores. 

Examples: 

Braveheart, Lincoln, Cleopatra, Turn, Ben Hur, and Vikings 

Ben HurCredit: IMDB

Horror

Ghouls, ghosts, slashers, creatures, and body disfiguring. Horror film and television focus on adrenaline rides for the audience that dial in the gore, scares and creative monsters. Horror is always re-inventing old classics, like adding fast zombies, and CGI creatures. It also is seen as the most bankable genre with a huge built-in audience.   

Tropes and Expectations 

The final girl, the "not dead yet" scare, and the dystopian endings. Horror is famous for having story beats that we come to expect like jump scares. Lean into them and find ways to subvert. You have subsets like haunted houses, slashers, zombies, evil creatures, and other subgenres. 

Examples: 

Nightmare on Elm Street, American Horror Story, Get Out, and The Descent 

CandymanCredit: IMDB

Musical

People sing in every scene. That's pretty much it. But Musicals usually attach themselves to another genre on this list. They can be dramas, comedies, horror, or anything. But if they're singing, it's a musical. 

Tropes and Expectations 

Huge dance numbers, excellent choreography, and bellowing vocals. You can even throw in concert films here. 

Examples: 

My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, La La Land, Glee, West Side Story, and Les Miserables. 

My Crazy Ex GirlfriendCredit: IMDB

Romance

Love is a universal language. Romance movies are about people coming together, falling apart, and all the hurdles in between. They can be paired with comedy and ram, but a straightforward romance focuses on two characters or an ensemble falling in love. 

Tropes and Expectations 

The meet-cute stands out the most, followed closely by the breakup scene. There are always friends counseling the protagonists in question and even tempters and temptresses trying to woo them away. 

Examples: 

When Harry Met Sally, Indecent Proposal, An Affair to Remember, and Poldark. 

Meet Joe BlackCredit: IMDB

Science Fiction 

Science fiction needs to shine a light on the world the way it could be or the way we think it might happen. It takes us on adventures into the near and distant future. The problems in science fiction can be extraordinary and take us for a ride with new gadgets and vehicles. 

Tropes and Expectations:

Aliens, spaceships, time travel, and technology. This genre needs to tell us if we are worth saving or maybe the machines need to take over. Science fiction addresses our society and its problems. It seeks to tell us about the way we can handle it if we only listen in the present. 

Examples: 

2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Trek, Alien, and Lost in Space. 

InterstellarCredit: IMDB

Thriller

What would you do when you were over your head? This is usually linked with horror, action, and drama, but thrillers are about exciting situations that have constant danger. They're about stressed characters, corrupt investigators, and criminals living on the edge. 

Tropes and Expectations: 

If you go to a thriller you want excitement, peril, and edge of your seat situations. Thrillers need to be...thrilling. So make sure the suspense, mystery, and anxiety rule your pages. 

Examples: 

Silence of the Lambs, The Fugitive, The Americans, and Vertigo.  

Silence of the LambsCredit: IMDB

War 

Mankind's capacity for violence is well-known. But the modern world is the way it is because of the sacrifices men and women have made throughout the centuries. War movies are about POWs, men in foxholes, tanks, and planes. They're about people finding commonalities, differences, and sacrificing their lives.  

Tropes and Expectations: 

As I mentioned above, sacrifice is key. Battle and war are about what you're willing to give up for freedom. In cinema and television, this genre can be about the best and worst of us. And shines a light on this and the era to let us know important facts and legends. 

Examples: 

Band of Brothers, Saving Private Ryan, Dunkirk, and The Pacific. 

Band of BrothersCredit: IMDB

Western

West, Jim West, desperado. Just kidding. You know what a western is. You just do. They have cowboys, draws at noon, and are about the taming of America. Westerns were a staple of early Hollywood but have evolved over time. They'll always be a stable genre that talks about society and the way we fit together. 

Tropes and Expectations: 

Westerns are built on the idea that some parts of the country need to be pacified. We get used to lone gunmen, mixed teams, and sweeping cinematography. 

Examples:

Unforgiven, 3:10 to Yuma, Deadwood, and Justified.  

DeadwoodCredit: IMDB

Summing up the genres of film and TV  

Now that you're a master of movie types and the list of film genres and television categories, you can successfully take this knowledge out into the world or work it into your next outline or beat sheet. You have all the movie genre definitions, now use them in your next screenplay or pilot

What's next? Learn Film Theory

Basic knowledge of Film Theory could be your ticket to making a compelling argument, a classic film, or winning at Jeopardy. So read on!      

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