What is a subgenre? If you are familiar with what a genre is, then you are already halfway there. But there might be more to subgenres than meets the eye. In this post, we will be providing a definition for “subgenre,” looking at examples, and exploring how multiple genres and subgenres can nest within each other.

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What is a Subgenre

First, let’s define subgenre

Understanding subgenres will be much easier if you already have a grasp of what genres are. Our ultimate guide to movie genres can fill in the blanks if you need a refresher.


What is a subgenre?

A subgenre is a smaller and more specific genre within a broader genre. Each genre can contain several subgenres, and there can even be additional more niche types within other subgenres. Every primary genre can be thought of as a family with its various subgenres populating its family tree. It is important to note that a subgenre is NOT as simple as a hybrid or mashup of multiple genres. However, a they may be created to reflect a common genre combination such as horror-comedy or action-thriller.

If we go back far enough in the lineage of storytelling, we eventually arrive at ancient Greek theater, which reached its height around 700 BC. Within ancient Greek theater, there were only two recognized genres: comedy and tragedy. All of the stories told on these ancient stages fell into one of these two categories, but could be further classified into subgenres. These days, we have more primary genres to choose from such as drama, comedy, horror, thriller, musical, or action. From these parent genres, we can then classify individual stories into more specific categories.

Subgenre Characteristics:

  • Smaller, more specific genres within other genres
  • NOT genre hybrids or mashups
  • Subgenres can exist within other subgenres

Subgenres of Movies

Subgenres within subgenres

As mentioned in the definition section, several subtypes can exist within one parent genre. And multiple subgenres can even exist within other subgenres. But, what does that look like in practice? 

Within the action genre, we can find several subgenres. One popular action subgenre is the martial-arts film, but our classification doesn’t have to end there. Within the martial-arts genre, we can further divide films into kung fu and wuxia films, amongst others. 

Check out our rundown of the best action films ever made for some high-octane examples.

What is Wuxia?  •  Subgenres of film

There are dozens and dozens of movie genres and subgenres. There are almost too many to count, but this handy infographic gives you a good idea of what’s on the table.

What is a Subgenre Genre and Subgenre infographic guide

Genre and Subgenre infographic guide

Genres begin as broad classifications based on the content of a story and the style of it’s presentation. As we dig deeper with subgenres, we are refining that classification to become more and more niche.

Subgenres of Film

Subgenres examples

Now that we have a firm grasp of what exactly a subgenre is, let’s dig into some examples from all across the cinematic spectrum. Let’s start by looking at a few under the horror umbrella, which is perhaps the genre with more subtypes than any other.

And this is just scratching the surface of horror subgenres. Check out our rundown of the best horror films ever made and the most underrated horror films for even more variety.

Check out our lists of the best zombie movies and the best zombie comedies for more killer examples.

Even under the already niche subtype of exploitation films, there are literally hundreds of hyper-specific examples ranging from Blaxploitation to Ozsploitation and everything in between.

Exploring grindhouse and exploitation films

Next, let’s look at a few comedy subgenres.

For even more laughter-inducing films, check out our lists of the best comedies of all time and the best dark comedy films and TV shows.

Screwball comedies defined

And finally, let’s close things out by looking at some subgenre examples from the drama genre.

For more examples from this subgenre, check out our rundown of the best coming of age films of all time.

As you might guess, there is some overlap between genres and subgenres, and some films might simultaneously fit the criteria of multiple niche subgenres. There are plenty of films that mix and match subgenres or that shift tone and genre throughout, like Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite.

Genres are useful for classification and for setting expectations but should not be seen as a limitation. Busting genre barriers and defying conventions can be a great way to set a film apart from its peers.


Ultimate Guide to Movie Genres

To explore even more genres and subgenres, take a look at our ultimate guide to movie genres. We’ll break down what constitutes a genre, how genres are combined, and explore more than 90 different genres and subgenres across the entire storytelling spectrum, coming up next.

Up Next: Ultimate Guide to Genres →
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