Movies are classified according to genre which is French term meaning “type.” In cinema around the globe, films have been classified into variety of genres, some being more dominant than others. Some of the most well-known genres are comedy, horror, thriller, drama, musical and westerns. And some of these movies will also have a sub-genre like a slapstick comedy or a gothic horror movie. Richard Maltby has given us eight major genres into which most cinematic creations can be classified: “The Western, the comedy, the musical, and the war movie are four uncontested categories. Different critics will then argue the of at least one of the thriller, the crime or gangster movie, and list the horror movie and science fiction as either one or two additional genres.” (p. 116). To this we can also add romance and action adventure as two more important genres. Since movies are no , most movies will combine two or more main genres such as romantic comedy. This sub-genre has become so popular that it has actually come to occupy a place as a separate genre in itself. For example “An Affair to Remember” would be called a romantic movie while “You’ve Got Mail” would be described as romantic comedy.
Comedy is one of the most dominant staple of cinema production. There is no large cinema industry in the world which hasn’t produced its fair share of comedies. Comedies have ruled the cinema along with romance and action-adventure movies. “Most discussions on comedy begin by acknowledging a basic distinction between what might be called its comic units-gags, jokes, funny moments and the like- and the narrative and non-narrative context in which they occur. This distinction is important both because it links to issues of film history, and because it raises questions about definition and hence about the criteria governing comedy as a genre.” (Neale p. 66) Comedy has a broad definition. It can be either completely verbal or completely physical or a combination of both. Jerry Lewis’ comedies for example fell in the latter category while more refined works like “Some like it hot” fall into the former one.
There are comedies where narrative is more important and jokes as a comic relief. These comedies have a story line which may be non-comical. In others however narrative is only an excuse as jokes and gags are more important. Horton (1991) explains:
“comedies are interlocking sequences of jokes and gags that place narrative in the foreground in which case comedy leans in varying degrees towards some dimension of the non-comic (realism, romance, fantasy), or use that narrative as only a loose excuse for holding together moments of comic business (as in a Marx Brothers’ films).” (p. 7)
In comedies, a great deal of attention is paid to jokes and gags. They occupy a pivotal place because they are placed at the exact moment when laughter is to be generated. The audience can either develop an instant connection with the character and the film or they can simply lose interest. Thus gags and jokes have to be placed strategically.
Though not entirely new, action adventures have still been relatively new genre that dominated Hollywood in 1980s with movies like Aliens series and Rambo films. With 1990s came ever more action adventure in the form of Die Hard, Terminator and Total Recall. This genre was simply unheard of before 1970s because even though some action was always present in movies, no film was totally based on an adventure and hence a new genre came to light with such films. There are some common features of action adventure movies as Neale points out:
“a number of common characteristics common to these genres and films: a propensity for spectacular physical action, a narrative structure involving fights, chases and explosions, and in addition to the deployment of state of the , an emphasis in performance on athletic feats and stunts. The hyperbolic nature of this emphasis has often been accompanied by an emphasis on the hyperbolic bodies and physical skills of the stars involved: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis and others.” (p. 52)
Some of the famous action adventures include the latest ventures like Transformers. It is a classic example of new age action adventure movies which has a great deal of science fiction involved. Some action adventures also include a healthy dose of comedy like Jackie Chan movies such as Rush Hour.
Romance is possibly the one genre that is not likely to disappear. Even though over time, it has taken on a different role, it has always been the central strength of cinema. Romance had always been there and there have been some unforgettable romantic movies over the decades. Movies like “An Affair to remember,” and Casablanca were the types of romantic movies we saw in old days. Things have changed and romance has become more cynical, less melodramatic but equally charming. There are still times when some traditional type of romantic movies comes forth like “Notebook” but modern audiences have lost the taste for sappy dramas. More people will happily watch “You’ve got mail” or “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” than some old melodrama simply because tastes have changed and people can digest romantic with comedy but not romance alone.
Animated movies are now more popular than ever before because of the advancement in technology. These movies became popular with Disney’s various cinematic adaptations of fairy tales. But over the years, they have become more sophisticated and full length movies are being made using animation. Some known names include Lion King, Ice Age 1, 2 and 3 and also The Incredibles. These movies have no actual humans as characters but these ventures are so realistically developed that no one can call them cartoon or simple animations. They look and act real with voiceovers by famous actors and hence have become a very popular genre in Hollywood.
Biopic films are neither as popular as animated nor are they as frequently made but they are still an important part of what constitutes good cinema. Biopic films are actually “biographical films” which depict the life of a person, his era and his journey through various important events.
A biographical film is “one which depicts the life of a historical person past or present.” (Custen p.5) Custen believes that biopics are “minimally composed of the life, or the portion of a life, of a real person whose real name is used,” (p.7) One good example of biopic would be the recent hit movie Nixon/Frost that was based on the trial of President Richard Nixon and covered an important journey during which Frost exposed the Watergate scandal.
Custen maintains that most biopics represent people from 19th and 20th century with very few of any person before this time. He discovers that most of such films made before the war were concerned with monarchs, royal members, politicians or other important governing figures. But after the war, they focus more on the lives and times of famous cultural icons. One such example would be the film Selena based on the life of a Hispanic singer who was shot down by her own manager. The role was played by Jennifer Lopez.
I fail to see any visible differences between movies produced before the war and after since while cultural icons form an important subject, politicians and other figures of authority tend to rule the biopics category. Take the , very famous involving a politician, take Schindler’s List, very popular and chronicling the life and times of a general during Nazi days.
Over the decades, Hollywood and other major film industries around the world have explored many new genres and sub-genres in movies. Still they have all essentially branched out from some essential ones like romance, drama, mystery, thriller, comedy and adventure. Most movies today fail to fit neatly into one category and hence can be called hybrids. Action-thriller, mystery-thriller, action-adventure, romantic comedy etc. are the hybrids commonly seen today.
Neale, Stephen: Genre and Hollywood. Rutledge, 2000
Horton, Andrew. Comedy/Cinema/Theory. University of California Press. 1991
Maltby, Richard. Hollywood Cinema- An Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell 1995
Custen, George. Bio/Pics: How Hollywood constructed Public History. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. 1992