Genre Theory

Sorry, I didn’t do a plan. I started writing one but it turned into my essay!

Genre is the classification of films and other media texts through their shared characteristics. During the rise of the film industry, genres were created to help production companies quickly produce films, with known archetypes that gave audience pleasures. This meant that there was little time spent on considering plot lines and themes that would attract audiences, as they had already developed a set of codes and conventions they knew would be a success. For example, Western films were very popular in the mid 20th century, and the concept of a Sherriff preventing the town from a threat gave the audience pleasures. From then on, the majority of Western films were based around this concept, with slight variation to prevent the film becoming boring. This concept was suggested by Neale, suggesting that “genres are instances of repetition and difference” and that “difference is absolutely essential to the economy of genre”, enforcing that for a genre to survive, certain aspects must differ between films to prevent it’s downfall.

Genre films share similar iconography, they tend to develop similar moods and emotional settings, they share ‘stock characters’, and tend to be shot in similar cinematic styles; however this concept is enhanced more in different genres, such as Film Noir, than others. The film I created for my A2 coursework, Green Fingers, was planned to be a part of the thriller genre. The thriller genre includes a very wide range of films, thus making its codes and conventions more difficult to define as within the thriller genre there are many sub genres, such as the psychological thriller, action thriller, crime thriller and many more. The most common convention for films in this genre is that it creates suspense and a tense emotional setting for the audience. It also features the iconography of violence, tense music and quick cuts. Through featuring these conventions in my short film, I was able to create a film that I knew would be received well by the audience. This concept was considered by Daniel Chandler, who stated that “Conventional definitions of genres tend to be based on the notion that the constitute particular conventions of content  and form  which are shared by the texts which are regarded as belonging to them”. The conventions of my short film share the conventions of other thriller films such as the suspense built in The Silence of the Lambs, or the lack of continuity in Shutter Island; thus being able to group these films into one genre. He also stated that pleasures can be gained by the audience through sharing the experience of genre with others ‘within an interpretive community’, suggesting that the familiarity with genre conventions only enhances the pleasures gained from certain films.

Genre is essential for the marketing and production of a film, as the common conventions of each film ensures that any company can produce a film that features a tried and tested formula and will be able to attract an audience. For example; when researching into Thriller film posters for my A2 coursework, I compared them to posters of rom-coms, horror films and comedy posters to determine the characteristics that set the thriller genre apart from the rest. From my research, I determined that thriller posters featured a dark filter over a photograph of the protagonist, and also a bold font for the title of the film. By adhering to these set standards, I was able to attract an audience who had already determined that they enjoy thriller films, through having watched them and gained pleasures from it’s conventions. As stated by Knight, “satisfaction is guaranteed with genre”, and therefore by following the iconographies set in the genres marketing strategies, I have guaranteed that if a consumer was attracted to view a thriller film from previous posters, they will be attracted to mine.

Altman’s theory enforces the concept that genre was created as a way of institutions attracting audience members. This is known as a pragmatic approach. By combining the conventions of multiple genres, the film institutions are more likely to be able to attract a wider audience; for example, superhero films feature a variety of conventions found in several different genres. Take Spider-Man, this is an action film, featuring his love interest, with sci-fi like monsters combined with the comedy of the protagonist. By combining these conventions, this film will appeal to viewers of action, romance, sci-fi and comedy fans, thus increasing the companies profit. Bordwell enforced this concept by stating that “any theme may appear in any genre”, and thus complicating the rigidity of genre classification. Just because a film shows the majority of codes and conventions of one genre does not mean that it will not appeal to the interests of fans of other genres. Green Fingers follows this idea, as the beginning of my film starts off as if it were a drama film due to the slow paced montage and the calming music and therefore may appeal to fans of the drama genre. However this is then subverted through the mystery of the buried finger, building the suspense found in thriller films.


One thought on “Genre Theory

  1. Chloe

    The following is the exam board’s description of a level 4 answer, from the June 2014 mark scheme (

    Level 4 (21-25 marks).

    Candidates demonstrate a clear understanding of genre and relevant media theory and can relate concepts articulately to the production outcome, describing specific elements in relation to theoretical ideas about genre. Candidates offer a range of specific, relevant, interesting and clear examples of how their product can be understood in relation to relevant theories of genre. The use of conceptual language is excellent.

    Complex issues have been expressed clearly and fluently using a style of writing appropriate to the complex subject matter. Sentences and paragraphs, consistently relevant, have been well structured, using appropriate technical terminology. There may be few, if any, errors of spelling, punctuation and grammar

    I would mark your current answer as being Level 4, possibly 21/25.

    – Nailed it, Walker. Get those additional 4 marks by explaining a bit more about the theorists.
    – The quotations you use are excellent. Memorise them!


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