MOVIE GENRES: CONVENTIONS, FORMULAS, AND AUDIENCE EXPECTATIONS
Understand why film genres attract audiences.
Describe the historical origins of film genres, and explain how they can change over time.
Define what conventions, formulas, and expectations are seen in genre films.
Identify the six major genres—comedy, the western, melodrama, the musical, the horror film, the crime film—
and their subgenres.
Summarize how audiences understand certain film types as a way of making meaning through genre.
Chapter 10 focuses on genre, which may be defined as a category or classification of a group of movies in
which the individual films share similar subject matter and similar ways of organizing the subject through narrative
and stylistic patterns. The film industry uses formulas and conventions as part of its economic strategy to attract
repeat audiences, but genres also appeal to the human need for archetypes, rituals, and communication. The chapter
begins with a short history of film genre that covers its connections with the genres used to classify works of
literature, theater, music, painting, and other art forms; its prominence in the studio system; the development of new
genres in the postwar period; and the rise of New Hollywood, sequels, and global genres since the 1970s. It then
groups the various conventions, formulas and myths, and audience expectations, on which film genres rely into six
paradigms: comedies, westerns, melodramas, musicals, and horror and crime films. Finally, the chapter considers
some of the cultural values and traditions that have influenced and evolved around these paradigms and how generic
displacement and generic reflexivity work to distinguish revisionist genres from their classical predecessors.
This chapter demonstrates to students that identifying films by genre helps to place them in their historical
context by connecting them to other films, plays, books, and works of art that have come before. It establishes the
idea that a film is a dialogue between filmmaker and audience, and genre is an unspoken agreement on the language.
TEACHING THE OPENING VIGNETTE
You might begin the lesson on film genre by screening the sequence in Shaun of the Dead (2004) in which
Shaun and his friend first realize that they are surrounded by zombies. You could talk about how the movie borrows
conventions from classics such as Night of the Living Dead (1968) and 28 Days Later (2002). For example, other films,
such as American Zombie (2007), use the zombie as social commentary, while the boy-meets-zombie
romances Make-Out with Violence (2008) and Life After Beth (2014) heighten the anxieties of adolescence that are typical
of teen movies. Or consider the decision to make the Shaun of the Dead zombies slow-moving as an example of the ways
in which the movie relies upon our knowing recognition of genre convention. Finally, ask students
whether they can articulate precisely why the concept of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is so funny or describe the
effect on viewers’ bodies of combining horror and comedy—do they scream or laugh? How does their
knowledge of film genres and conventions allow them to feel in on the jokes?
Our understanding of movies is a function of genre expectations. A film genre
is a set of conventions and
formulas repeated and developed through film history. Narrative, documentary, and experimental films each have
particular genres associated with their respective organizations. Emphasize to students that films rely on repetitions
and rituals; they train their viewers to become experts in genre conventions. Genre often governs our decision to see
a movie, and we return to those films because of our knowledge of, and expectations about, characters, narrative,
and visual style.
It might be useful to ask the class to name examples of movies in their favorite genres, as well as those they avoid,
when teaching this chapter. Under what circumstances do they seek out different genres? How do they use movie genres
to express certain cultural values or enact certain rituals? Ask them how a “date movie,” for example, differs from one
they’d see as part of a group outing. Are there certain genres they consistently turn to when they need to be cheered up,
like comfort food?
Teaching Technical Vocabulary and Key Concepts
When teaching technical vocabulary for this section, encourage students to construct their own narratives by
asking them to write essays and journal entries that apply terminology learned in class to the films watched. The
mastery of the vocabulary presented in this chapter is especially important, as film genre affects our viewing