Film Sub-Genres

Genre Sub-Sections
Film Genres Overview | Main Film Genres | Film Sub-Genres | Other Major Film Categories | Film Sub-Genres Types (and Hybrids)
Best Pictures - Genre Biases | Summary of Top Films by Genre | Top 100 Films by Genre | AFI's Top 10 Film Genres

Film Sub-Genres: Listed below are some of the most common and identifiable film sub-genre categories, with descriptions of each type or category.

Sub-Genres are more specific sub-classes of the larger category of main film genres, with their own distinctive subject matter, style, formulas, and iconography. Some of them are prominent sub-genres, such as: biopics, 'chick' flicks, courtroom dramas, detective/mystery films, disaster films, fantasy films, film noir, 'guy' films, melodramas (or 'weepers'), road films, romances, superhero films, sports films, supernatural films, thrillers/suspense, and zombie-horror films. See also film sub-genres types (and hybrids) - films that combine many different film elements (i.e., action-comedies, zombie-disaster-thriller, martial arts/kung-fu or video-game action, musical drama, etc.).

If you're interested in the chronological history of film by decade - visit the section on Film History or the multi-part section on Milestones in Film History.

Film Sub-Genres
Sub-Genre Types
(represented by icons)
Sub-Genre Descriptions
Select an icon or sub-genre category below, read about the development and history of the sub-genre, and view chronological lists of selected, representative greatest films for each one (with links to detailed descriptions of individual films).
Biopics Films
'Biopics' is a term derived from the combination of the words "biography" and "pictures." They are a sub-genre of the larger drama and epic film genres, and although they reached a hey-day of popularity in the 1930s, they are still prominent to this day. These films depict the life of an important historical personage (or group) from the past or present era. Biopics cross many genre types, since these films might showcase a western outlaw, a criminal, a musical composer, a religious figure, a war-time hero, an entertainer, an artist, an inventor or doctor, a politician or President, or an adventurer.
Chick Flicks
Often considered an all-encompassing sub-genre, 'chick' flicks or gal films (slightly derisive terms) mostly include formulated romantic comedies (with mis-matched lovers or female relationships), melodramatic tearjerkers and gal-pal films, movies about family crises and emotional carthasis, some traditional 'weepies' and fantasy-action adventures, sometimes with foul-mouthed and empowered females, and female bonding situations involving families, mothers, daughters, children, women, and women's issues. These films are often told from the female P-O-V, and star a female protagonist or heroine. This type of film became very prominent in the mid-80s and into the 90s. See also O Magazine's 50 Greatest Chick Flicks. Their counterpart films for males are termed 'guy' films (see below). See also this site's compilation of Greatest Tearjerker Films, Moments and Scenes.
Courtroom Dramas

One of the best subject areas for dramatic films (or sometimes crime films) are suspenseful, law-related courtroom trials, which pit lawyers against each other, and set up a tense one-on-one conflict between a prosecutor and a defendant. Sometimes, the protagonists are a "little" guy (an individual) against a "big" guy (or corporation), or the more abstract "good" vs. "evil," or they often involve wider issues, such as race, sex, capital punishment (life and death), and morality. And of course, courtroom dramas usually contain some of the most fascinating thematic elements in film -- murder, betrayal, deception, perjury and sex. They often feature unexpected twists and surprise testimony, unusual motives, moral dilemmas, crusading lawyers and wrongly-accused victims. AFI defined the courtroom drama as "a genre of film in which a system of justice plays a critical role in the film's narrative." See this site's special feature highlighting the Greatest Courtroom Dramas.

Detective - Mystery Films
Detective-mystery films are usually considered a sub-type or sub-genre of crime/gangster films (or film noir), or suspense or thriller films that focus on the unsolved crime (usually the murder or disappearance of one or more of the characters, or a theft), and on the central character - the hard-boiled detective-hero, as he/she meets various adventures and challenges in the cold and methodical pursuit of the criminal or the solution to the crime.
Disaster Films
Disaster films, a sub-genre of action films, hit their peak in the decade of the 1970s. Big-budget disaster films provided all-star casts and interlocking, Grand Hotel-type stories, with suspenseful action and impending crises (man-made or natural) in locales such as aboard imperiled airliners, trains, dirigibles, sinking or wrecked ocean-liners, or in towering burning skyscrapers, crowded stadiums or earthquake zones. Often noted for their visual and special effects, but not their acting performances. See Greatest Disaster Film Scenes also.
Fantasy Films
Fantasy films, usually considered a sub-genre, are most likely to overlap with the film genres of science fiction and horror, although they are distinct. Fantasies take the audience to dark netherworld places (or another dimension) with mythical creatures, where events are unlikely to occur in real life - they transcend the bounds of human possibility and physical laws. They sometimes take the form of fairy tales that often have elements of magic, myth, wonder, folklore and the extraordinary. Fantasy films can assume epic proportions (multi-episodic), usually when based on ancient Greek writings or more contemporary works. Heroic fantasies follow a hero-character who overcomes various obstacles on a quest. Sword-and sorcery fantasies are another sub-type. One of the major categories of fantasy-action films are the super-hero movies, based quite often on an original comic-strip or comic book character. They may appeal to both children and adults, depending upon the particular film.
Film Noir Films

Film noir (meaning 'black film') is a distinct branch of the crime/gangster sagas from the 1930s. Strictly speaking, film noir is not a genre, but rather the mood, style or tone of various American films that evolved in the 1940s, and lasted in a classic period until about 1960. However, film noir has not been exclusively confined to this era, and has re-occurred in cyclical form in other years in various neo-noirs. Noirs are usually black and white films with primary moods of melancholy, alienation, bleakness, disillusionment, disenchantment, pessimism, ambiguity, moral corruption, evil, guilt and paranoia. And they often feature a cynical, loner hero (anti-hero) and femme fatale, in a seedy big city.

See Filmsite's special tribute to Greatest Femmes Fatales in Classic Film Noir, and 100 Greatest Film Noirs (Classic and Neo-Noir).

Guy Films
Composed of macho films that are often packed with sophomoric humor, action, cartoon violence, competition, mean-spirited putdowns and gratuitous nudity and sex. Gal films or 'chick' flicks are their counterpart for females. This category of film is highly subject to opinion, although there are many classic, testosterone-laden 'guy' films that most viewers would agree upon, as shown in this site's Greatest 'Guy' Movies of All-Time (illustrated). See also the "100 Greatest Guy Movies Ever Made" by Maxim Magazine compiled in 1998 or Men's Journal's 50 Best Guy Movies of All Time list compiled in 2003.
Melodramas - Weepers
Melodramas are a sub-type of drama films, characterized by a plot to appeal to the emotions of the audience. Often, film studies criticism used the term 'melodrama' pejoratively to connote an unrealistic, pathos-filled tales of romance or domestic situations with stereotypical characters that would directly appeal to feminine audiences ("weepies" or "woman's films"). See the post-modern version of the "woman's film" - gal films or 'chick' flicks. See also this site's extensive compilation (illustrated) of Greatest Tearjerker Films, Moments and Scenes.
Road Films
Road films have been a staple of American films from the very start, and have ranged in genres from westerns, comedies, gangster/crime films, dramas, and action-adventure films. One thing they all have in common: an episodic journey on the open road (or undiscovered trail), to search for escape or to engage in a quest for some kind of goal -- either a distinct destination, or the attainment of love, freedom, mobility, redemption, the finding or rediscovering of onself, or coming-of-age (psychologically or spiritually).
Romance Films
A sub-genre for the most part, this category shares some features with romantic dramas, romantic comedies ("rom-coms"), and sexual/erotic films, and have often been derogatorily called chick flicks (see above). These are love stories, or affairs of the heart that center on passion, emotion, and the romantic, affectionate involvement of the main characters (usually a leading man and lady), and the journey that their love takes through courtship or marriage. Romance films make the love story the main plot focus. See Greatest and Most Memorable Film Kisses Scenes.
Sports Films
Films that have a sports setting (football or baseball stadium, arena, or the Olympics, etc.), event (the 'big game,' 'fight,' 'race,' or 'competition'), and/or athlete (boxer, racer, surfer, etc.) that are central and predominant in the story. Sports films may be fictional or non-fictional; and they are a hybrid sub-genre category, although they are often dramas or comedy films, and occasionally documentaries or biopics.
Super-Heroes on Film
This category is an off-shoot of fantasy-action films, based quite often on an original comic-strip or comic book character. Fictional super-heroes with extraordinary powers, derived from 1930s-1960s comic books and other more recent sources, have been the subjects of numerous fantasy and sci-fi films (both live-action and animated, and serialized and feature-length) with action-oriented heroes and heroines. Superheroes are repeatedly chosen to be the subjects of big-budget blockbuster films, with glossy production values, expensive CGI special effects and sets, make-up and costuming. Usually, a simplistic plot line involves the superhero's struggle against an arch-nemesis or super-villain (usually interested in world domination, the acquisition of riches, or the wreaking of vengeance).
Supernatural Films
Supernatural films, a sub-genre category, may be combined with other genres, including comedy, sci-fi, fantasy or horror. They have themes including gods or goddesses, ghosts, apparitions, spirits, miracles, and other similar ideas or depictions of extraordinary phenomena. Interestingly however, until recently, supernatural films were usually presented in a comical, whimsical, or a romantic fashion, and were not designed to frighten the audience. There are also many hybrids that have combinations of fear, fantasy, horror, romance, and comedy.
Thriller - Suspense Films
Thrillers are often hybrids with other genres - there are action-thrillers, crime-caper thrillers, western-thrillers, film-noir thrillers, even romantic comedy-thrillers. Another closely-related genre is the horror film genre. Thriller and suspense films are virtually synonymous and interchangeable categorizations. They are types of films known to promote intense excitement, suspense, a high level of anticipation, ultra-heightened expectation, uncertainty, anxiety, and nerve-wracking tension. The acclaimed Master of Suspense is Alfred Hitchcock. Spy films may be considered a type of thriller/suspense film.
Zombie Films
Zombie Films had their origins in the earliest films within the horror genre that were about the 'raising of the dead,' such as the Frankenstein films, and the early German expressionistic film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920, Germ.). The zombie film craze started with the Haitian concept of voudou, where a corpse was reanimated and magically controlled by a witch-like bokor (a type of priest, sorcerer, magician, or practitioner). The first feature-length walking-dead film was director Victor Halperin's cheaply-made White Zombie (1932). It was the decade of the 1960s that ushered in a revolutionary new horror subgenre of zombie pics, from the "Master of the Zombie Film" himself, George A. Romero. The influence of Romero on future zombie films has been phenomenal, and many zombie films in their wake have been imaginative derivatives or mutated examples.

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