What is genre?

Thousands upon thousands of films have been made, not one of them exactly the same as any other. However, there are broad similarities between some films and this has allowed them to be placed into different categories or genres. So a genre could be simply defined as a certain type of film. At this level the concept of genre is basically common knowledge – we all know that different genres of films exist and we can easily name a few off the top of our head.

However, once we try and precisely define different genres by giving them permanent and clear-cut characteristics it becomes more difficult. Many films blend more than one genre, and while some films may resemble others in important ways, they may also differ in equally important ways. Genre can also be very broad. Consider the terms ‘action film’ or ‘thriller’. How much ‘action’ does a film need to have to be included in that genre? What exactly is ‘action’ anyway? Is a ‘thriller’ always very different from a ‘horror’, or a ‘murder mystery’ type film? For the problem of broadness sub-genres have been created – these are more specific types of films within a larger genre (e.g. the ‘slasher’ film is a sub-genre of horror). We may be able to identify certain films that have one clear-cut genre; we could call these stereotypical examples. But many films would likely fall somewhere in between. Despite all this, genres are very commonly used to categorise certain types of films and are useful in this regard.

Here are some quotes from Bordwell & Thompson’s 2004 book Film Art: An Introduction (7th ed.)

“Audiences expect the genre film to offer something familiar, but they also demand fresh variations on it. The filmmaker may devise something mildly or radically different, but it will still be based on tradition. The interplay of convention and innovation, familiarity and novelty, is central to the genre film.”

(Bordwell & Thompson 2004, p.111)

“Typically genres do not remain constantly successful. Rather, they rise and fall in popularity…a cycle is a batch of genre films that enjoy intense popularity and influence over a distinct period. Cycles can occur when a successful film produces a burst of imitations…it seems likely that a genre never dies. It may pass out of fashion for a while, only to return in updated garb.”

(Bordwell & Thompson 2004, p.116)

“One of the most common ways in which genres change and develop subgenres is by the mixing of conventions and iconography. Genre mixing has been common throughout the history of popular filmmaking…such mixtures are often consciously recognised by filmmaker and audiences alike.”

(Bordwell & Thompson 2004, p.116)

Typical identifiable film genres

Whilst the total number of genres and sub-genres is very large, there are a few archetypal ones that are listed below:

–       Action/Adventure

–       Comedy

–       Crime and Gangster

–       Drama

–       Horror

–       Musical

–       Science Fiction

–       War

–       Western

The genre of Blade Runner

Blade Runner is an adaptation of a book called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, written by the late American science fiction author Phillip K. Dick and first published in 1968.

So Blade Runner is a science fiction film, but it is not wholly confined to that one genre. In fact, it mixes several genres together. In fact it may be more appropriate to say that the film has certain prominent influences, rather than being part of definite genres. This is because of the problem of defining genres themselves, as was outlined above. Nevertheless, we can state the genres/influences on Blade Runner as follows:

–       Science fiction

–       Film Noir / Private Detective

–       Neo-Noir

–       Horror

–       Cyberpunk

The next posts will look at some of the characteristics of the film that enable it to be placed into this multi-genre (or ‘hybrid’) format.


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