An Introduction to Film Studies Terminology 2: Macro (Genre)


This post follows on from An Introduction to Film Studies Terminology 1: Macro (Narrative)
Genre   Definition: Types of film Academically – fiction, documentary, experimental. However, it is used more commonly to distinguish between types of fiction film. Hybrid genre films are the combination of genres in one film.

A hybrid genre film – crime + horror


Examples of film genres: Action, adventure, comedy, romance, melodrama, horror, war, sports, western, science-fiction, etc.
Generic Conventions  Definition: The set of expectations and conventions that develop over time within genres. Genre film directors will often employ most, whilst rejecting others. This gives pleasure to the audience.
Generic conventions of the rom-com?

The ‘meet cute’ from Friends with Benefits

  • Boy meets girl – ‘meet cute’
  • City setting
  • Big romantic gestures
  • The best friend
  • The complication – the separation of the romantic couple
  • Happy ending
Generic conventions of horror?

Joss Whedon plays with the generic conventions of the horror film in Cabin in the Woods.

  • Remote location
  • A threat that is ‘other’ e.g. supernatural or unnatural
  • Transgressive behaviour is punished
  • High body count
  • Set at night
Archetypes   Definition: Types of characters we expect in certain genres e.g. in horror ‘The Final Girl’ in westerns, it’s the outsider, in action films we find the self-reliant hero who will not give up.

Jamie Lee Curtis as the final girl in Halloween

Bruce Willis provides an iconic archetype of the self-reliant hero in the Die Hard films.

Cycles  Definition: Within genres we find smaller sub-genres, academically these are known as ‘cycles’. For example, within the crime film, we have the heist cycle, the gangster cycle, the murder investigation cycle and the outlaw couple cycle.

Kit and Holly, the outlaw couple in Badlands.

Mickey and Mallory, the outlaw couple in Natural Born Killers.

Examples for horror: The haunted house cycle, the slasher cycle, the monster cycle, the rural inbred cycle, the serial killer cycle, the zombie cycle, the found footage cycle,  the exorcism cycle, etc.

The Last Exorcism can be identified as being part of two horror cycles; the found footage cycle and exorcism cycle.

Iconography Definition: Theorist Ed Buscombe suggested that we can identify genres through sets of associated images and sounds (iconography). Each genre has a distinct set of common settings, costumes, props, sounds, etc. Even actors could become part of the iconography of genre if they appeared in many movies associated with a genre – e.g. Robert Englund and Horror .

Robert Englund as the iconic Freddie Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise.

Iconography  – Western

Western iconography includes:

  • American setting
  • 1800’s period
  • Cowboy hats, boots, spurs, etc.
  • Horses
  • Stage coaches
  • Small timber build towns
  • Native Americans
  • Gold
  • Six shooters


  Iconography – War

War iconography includes:

  • Military uniforms
  • Weapons
  • Remote locations
  • Tanks
  • Aircraft
  • Dog tags
  • Camps
  • Communication devices



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