You’ve probably heard the term, but its meaning is vague and slightly confusing. So what is a genre film?
You’d probably be able to explain to an alien trying to dabble in film-making what genres are. Romance films are about romance; comedy films are funny; fantasy films involve… fantasy.
In the early days of Hollywood, studios recognised that films were generally crafted in certain ways. And those styles appealed to certain audiences. In a sense, genres were a way of segmenting the market.
And they were also about consistency. If you had however much movie tickets cost back then (I bet it was way less than the crap we pay now), you’d want to know what you were watching. Sure, you couldn’t guarantee the latest Western would be great. But you’d be pretty certain it would involve cowboys and cool doors that swung back and forth every time you entered the room.
Yet as the world of cinema progressed (bear in mind, cinema really started in the early 1900s; sound didn’t come along until the late 1920s), so too did their genres.
Not only did we get the addition of genres like sci-fi and fantasy, but we also got the melding of many genres. Action started getting imbued with slap-stick comedy; Dramas started incorporating elements of crime.
Now, this isn’t to be confused with things like Rom-coms. These are new genre films in themselves (we’re getting to it, I promise). Instead, think about a modern film like Inception. Inception holds a place somewhere between action, adventure, and sci-fi. It is no one clear genre; it is a mix of many. Today, most films are.
Genre films are pure representations of their genre.
While many movies nowadays are like Inception, combinations of various genre elements, there are also certain films that remain truly loyal to its type.
This is trickier than you’d think. It takes an awareness to remain so close to a particular genre, in a time where influences are everywhere. But still, as there was in the earlier days of cinema, there’s certainly a market for it.
And that doesn’t mean an action genre film can’t have any comedy in it. It can. It just has to stay very aligned with the general principles of an action flick. Each genre has a stylistic, thematic rubric of sorts.
One area of film where you’d find lots of genre movies is in B-film. For example, lots of your cheap gore horror films are exactly that: gory horror.
But even in mainstream cinema, as I said, there is still a market for genre films. Studios continue to market films as particular genres for a clear reason. People who enjoy watching funny movies want to know when something is a comedy. People who enjoy watching action movies enjoy watching stuff getting blown up and people punching each other in their necks and stuff.
It’s one of the reasons why more indie films (a genre in and of itself) struggle in the mainstream market. They’re not as clearly defined as, say, your latest Expendables movie. You know what your getting with a genre-marketed blockbuster.