Movie Genres: Definition, Range, Variety–How to Study Genres?

Andre Bazin:

The Genius of the System:

The genius of American cinema is its repository of ready-made genres.

The tradition of genres is a base of operations for creative freedom.

Thus, genre is enriching, not constricting, both tradition and creativity.


A film genre is ideologically pure only in its simplest, most archetypal, most aesthetically deprived and intellectually contemptible form.

Example: The Andy Hardy film series at MGM, starring Mickey Rooney

Genre pictures  are commercial features that through repetition and variation tell familiar stories, with familiar characters, in familiar situations.

As such, they encourage  expectation and experiences similar to those of similar films that audiences have already seen.

Genre films have been exceptionally significant in establishing the popular sense of cinema as a cultural and economic situation, particularly in the U.S.

Hollywood history can be seen as a process of exploitation and variation of commercially successful formulas.

Genres can be conceived as a system of conventions, structured around cultural values (Warshow)

In many wats, genres are similar idea to what structuralists like Roland Barthes have called the “deep structure” of myth.

But a movie genre is not just a mere collection of dead images, waiting for a director to use or animate it, but a tradition with a life of its own.

Movie genres predate  directors.

Evolution of Film Genres (Life Cycle)

Four-stage life cycle of genres:

Primitive phase

A naïve though powerful emotionally novelty of form. The phase in which the basic conventions are established

Classical phase

Classic  ideals as balance, richness, poise

The phase in which genre’s values are assured and then widely shard by viewers

Revisionist phase

When the genre becomes more symbolic, more ambiguous, more stylistically complex, less certain in its values, bearing intellectual rather than emotional appeal; greater irony

Parody of genre (spoof)

Outright mockery of conventions, reducing ideas to clichés, presenting them in comic manner

Source: Giannetti, p. 367

Genres and National Cinemas

National cinemas have produced particular genres:

The Western in the US

The Japanese Samurai film

The Italian Spaghetti Westerns

the French Crime-gangster Films

Genres and Movie Stars

There are genre films that derive their power and success from a particular star associated with the genre, rather than a  distinctive directorial contribution.


To enjoy Casablanca more, it’s not necessary to have seen other films by directors Michael Curtiz, but the enjoyment is enriched by having seen  star Humphrey Bogart in similar (or different) films, in similar (or different) eras of his career.

Genres and Critics:

There is not today any genre lowly enough to be dismissed  out of hand by the critical establishment (even snobbish one).

All the genres have their sociological and stylistic rationale; reason for existence

Hierarchy of Genres:

There is a stratified range from high to low in any literary field, and in any genre.


Melodramas made by Douglas Sirk Vs. more routine, less lavished melodrama.

The prestige and critical pedigree of Sirk’s melodramas of the 1950s.

Hybrids of Genres (Fusion of Conventions):

The Godfather movies: combination of crime-gangster and family dramas.

Apocalypse Now: fusion of War film and pschedylic

One from the Heart: musical and relationship melodrama



Under what cinematic and social conditions genres undergo change, moderate or radical change, after a period of relative stability.

During stability eras, genre films provide the viewers with familiar satisfactions.


The essential dynamics  (stability and change) of the crime-gangster genre.

Revisionist Genres:


Status Movie Genres: Biases Against

Some critics look down at movie genres as debased and degraded forms, based on the assumption that artistic excellence is based on the uniqueness of films as works of art.

We cannot presume that viewers learn more or enjoy more serious art films that they do from more typical genre films (which are disreputable).

Non-Genre Films

Non-genre films are defined by their highly individualized characteristics, physically and psychologically believable  actions, the events of the plot may include seemingly inconsequential details and random events but they are within the realm of possibility.

How to Study Genres?

Early studies/essays of genres suffer from impressionism and prescriptiveness