A lot of people love to read. I mean to read storybooks and novels – yet not everyone. But movies – very few people do not like movies. Millions upon millions of people have been moved, figuratively and literally, into packed cinemas to watch ‘moving pictures’ (that’s where the word “movies” was shortened from) ever since films were invented and commercially available in the early 20th century. Since then the popularity and availability of movies have grown exponentially, and globally.
With the recent coronavirus lockdowns across the world, movies (and their TV-type series counterparts) have only grown even more accessed and watched at home, either free or bought, by billions of people stuck in their various forms of lockdowns. Yet the movies – at the physical cinema, that is – have suffered tremendously and it’ll be some time before it is truly safe to be in a packed movie theatre like before.
Movies’ Perennial Popularity
Still, why is it that people, from kings to kids, just love to watch films? We’re talking about the ones of stories, not documentaries. For sure, it’s all about entertainment, which all humans need or want. And film is a powerful form of entertainment, as it combines the senses of sight and sound, and the mind too (if written and produced well) and maybe even more sensual characteristics.
Most people, and behavioural experts too, would eventually tend to say that movies are a form of escapism, or escape into a fantasy world – whether subconsciously or not. Films let us temporarily step into an alternate existence, where things are very compactly intense. They can make us gape with wonder, gasp with desire, or glow with anger. Films can greatly inspire or some even leave us changed forever. Sometimes we don’t even realise it, but our lives are affected or influenced by a film or different films that we have watched throughout our years.
A Humungous Industry
Worldwide, the movie-making industry and things related – such as even popcorn or snacks and drinks that almost always accompany watching a film, or advertising, merchandising and other tie-ins, including online – involve trillions of dollars spent and made. Not surprisingly, the film industry is at times and in some countries one of the largest industries with millions of direct or indirect workers. All relying on movies continuously being made and on as many people going to watch them at cinemas or buying them in various forms, with physical recorded media such as CDs being almost displaced by virtual or streaming options.
The USA, with Hollywood as the world’s oldest continuous film-making centre, still leads the world in making money from moving pictures, at well over USD50 billion as of 2019. But in terms of cinema tickets, the box-office winner is not Hollywood but Bollywood, where India sees 2.2 billion annual ticket sales, 800 million more than the US, and China in between the two. While India of course has almost thrice the US population, it’s also because more Americans alternatively buy and watch movies online than Indians. Or else, could it also be argued that more people in India seek the escapism of movies compared to Americans, maybe?
The movie and entertainment industry has spawned fabulous wealth and celebrities, from powerful producers to salacious celebrities all over the film and television world. Songs get tied in too, as many films use and spawn movie songs. While quite a few singers become film stars (the late, great Whitney Houston was one), somewhat fewer actors have become recording artistes (somehow the late Patrick Swayze comes to mind, with his haunting song ‘She’s Like the Wind’). Otherwise, many actors have also become producers and directors, such as actor Mel Gibson with his films including the Maya epic ‘Apocalypto’. They are called cross-over talents.
And What About Film Genre – What’s Your Favourite Movie Type?
It is worth noting that it was only in the 1960s that movies were more formally subjected to serious genre analysis by film historians and critics.
There are many different types of movies, called genres, and different ways of defining or deciding them. Undoubtedly, almost everyone has a certain type of movie genre that they usually prefer to watch, if there’s a choice. It’s the type that they look forward to, that would make them happy or satisfied in some way. For me, my specific love is science fiction stories – be it in movies or books.
In fact, there are just as many genres of books as there are films, with of course many films beginning from books (such as the Harry Potter series) and sometimes the other way round; movies later novelised in book form as well (the ‘Star Wars’ tri-trilogy being a popular example).
So, can we pinpoint how many genres of films there are? If we go down to the most basic genres, then broadly speaking, there are three main headings that all story-telling or feature films can fall under: I list these three somewhat unusually as 1. Suspense, 2. Romance and 3. Comedy. Okay, maybe I can coin a word for these – the ubergenre.
The first ubergenre is ‘Suspense’. I call it such because it uses a lot of the element of ‘suspensefulness’ including by surprising and scaring us somewhat and getting us apprehensive or even making our adrenaline run wild. Suspense is probably the biggest and broadest category of films, and so many sub-types fall under this category including all the action or adventure films, horror flicks, ghost stories, and most science fiction too – and each of those in fact could be said to be a type on its own under this big umbrella. But they all broadly fall under films that strongly rely on an active element of suspense, surprise and even scariness of some form in most parts of the movieline.
Action films are perennial favourites for many people precisely because they fulfil a sense of active entertainment, or of adventure and even physicality. Action movies keep the audience awake and excited with their almost nonstop activity sequences. They have a lot of fast-paced actions, chases, explosions, fighting or violence, plus the attendant special effects. They open up a world or life that faces danger, sometimes glamorously so as in the never-ending ‘James Bond’ franchise. They come up with twists and turns leading to unexpected outcomes needing even more action; another good and popular example is the ‘Mission: Impossible’ franchise. Advanced digital imagery and technology now allows film-makers to display more fantastic scenes and mind-boggling sequences of jump-off-your-seat action. Horror and ghost films do almost the same as action ones except that they have the distinct frightening elements of goriness, death, and the macabre or supernatural.
My favourite suspense-action film so far is ‘The Man from UNCLE’ (2015), starring Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer; for me a great combination of excitement, exoticism and emotion.
Yet didn’t I say my favourite type is science fiction? So, my favourite science fiction film(s) will always be the ‘Blade Runner’ franchise, beginning with Ridley Scott’s 1982 cult favourite of an android-infiltrated Los Angeles ‘in 2019’ (how different the dystopian fantasy was to plain reality!). A ‘cult favourite’ means that although it may not be very broadly popular or a big box-office hit, it does have a loyal fan base that holds it close to their hearts. To a good extent, this extended to its 2017 sequel ‘Blade Runner 2049’ directed by Denis Villeneuve. Yes, I loved everything about both; their human-boggling themes, intense characters, fantastic settings and even haunting soundtracks. Ah, and the suspense of their stories!
The second ubergenre, ‘Romance’, is self-explanatory. These are romantic or sentimental films, heavier on love and relationships with a good dose of drama. They play more on emotions and thoughtfulness with dialogue being very important, Of course they may have some action as well, just as many action movies also inject a ‘love interest’ element too. Romance films are popular, arguably a bit more with the ladies than menfolk, although maybe some men love it but are shy to admit so. Note that some romance movies have a general romantic feel without having passionate lovers. Frankly I won’t quote any film of this nature at this point, as it may be hotly debated, but you’ll find them everywhere.
Romantic movies will inadvertently have seemingly insurmountable hurdles or heart-wrenching difficulties that must or will be overcome, usually through yes; love. Well, also ambition, passion, persistence and many such related qualities. Many romance drama films win awards such as Oscars for the afore-mentioned traits. Okay, I lied above; I’m naming a few as these include ‘The English Patient’, ‘Titanic’, ‘A Beautiful Mind’ and ‘Shakespeare in Love’. Sure, ‘Titanic’ of course has a lot of action as well, but Rose and Jack’s romance is the gist of which the sinking ship is just the stage (at least for romantic people), which brings up the classic ‘tear-jerker’ element. Note also that as per the given list above, many romance dramas also use history and even real-life stories as their context. In a way, romance films are the least ‘escapist’ of the three main genres, as they usually touch on real emotions and relatable relationships.
Arguably, ‘Comedy’ movies offer the more ‘pure entertainment’ among the ubergenres. Comedies play a lot on a simpler web of feelings, usually or eventually with positive and feel-good endings after a load of ironic situations or unexpected actions that are humorous. As such, comedy films are meant to really entertain in the basic sense and make you laugh. The humour and even slapstick they serve are an antidote to (some) people’s dull or even sad lives and allow, again, escapism from the real world.
To make the comedy movie’s story more interesting and meaningful, it may contain fairly serious obstacles that must be overcome, with comical solutions thrown in that elicit guffaws and shrieks of disbelief at awkward or outright embarrassing but crazily funny situations. The British actor Rowan Atkinson’s films such as ‘Johnny English’ do this a lot. American comedy films are sometimes non-stop action films in their own right, but with almost every action a part of the comic fun, making them a comedy ubergenre. Classic examples include ‘Ruthless People’ (1986) and the ‘Home Alone’ films. Some actors are even famous for being ‘comic actors’ such as Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey and Steve Martin. These actors are good at making faces, or just the opposite in maintaining perfectly serious dead-pan faces in the midst of hilarious scenes. There are also the young comedy types for more youthful or college-age viewers such as ‘White Chicks’ (2004) or 20 years before that, ‘Revenge of the Nerds’ (1984). But in most cases, there is no age limit for liking or watching most comedy films (except for their nudity or sexuality level), or in some instances their comedy can even overcome language barriers as they may rely more on the ‘common language’ of funny comical happenings.
Mixed Genre or Hybrid Films
Having said all the above, many films do mix two or even all three genres and can even be difficult to ‘pigeon-hole’ into any one category. Then you have ‘science fiction-action-comedy’ films such as the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ set, which some would even say has a good romance too between Peter Quill aka Star-Lord and the exotically beautiful Gamora. However, some genres are tougher to combine than others, such as a truly mixed full-fright horror AND feel-right comedy film, not just a horror film with some comic relief. I can’t think of a good one while writing this – so a great salute if there is a successful one.
Then there are the sub-categories of films that are specific to a particular subject or setting, for example ‘historical/period horror’, ‘western/cowboy romance’ or ‘political comedy/parody’ or even ‘sports comedy’ such as ‘Waterboy’ (1998) starring Adam Sandler. If you break it down like these, the list of film types/sub-types can get pretty long.
To conclude, the three basic film ubergenres given are broad enough to encompass practically any type of movie ever made, although in some cases it is tough to be exactly in one as there is overlap and hybridisation within films. Nonetheless, by sorting out a film’s various elements and categorising them in ubergenres, genres and sub-genres according to their apparent level of focus and feel, it is possible to evaluate a film within a certain generic frame to enable meaningful comparisons and even judgments on their excellence.
Or else, don’t analyse too much – just sit back, watch and enjoy.