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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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
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.
- Slashers - Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween
- Creature Features - Jaws, Them!, Piranha
- Hauntings - The Haunting, Poltergeist, The Others
- Possessions & Exorcisms - The Exorcist, The Last Exorcism
- Killer Kids - Children of the Corn, Village of the Damned, The Omen
- Killer Dolls - Child’s Play, Puppet Master, Annabelle
- Aliens - Alien, Xtro, Species
- New French Extremity - Martyrs, Inside, High Tension
- Hillbilly Horror - The Hills Have Eyes, I Spit on Your Grave
- Torture Porn - Saw, Hostel, Human Centipede
- Body Horror - Videodrome, The Thing, Society
- Zombies - Night of the Living Dead, Train to Busan, Shaun of the Dead
- Satanism - Rosemary’s Baby, The Day of the Beast, The Witch
- Giallo - Deep Red, Pieces, Blood and Black Lace
- Home Invasion - The Strangers, Don’t Breathe, You’re Next
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.
Next, let’s look at a few comedy subgenres.
- Slapstick - Mr. Bean, Playtime, Three Stooges
- Spoof - Airplane!, The Naked Gun, Blazing Saddles
- Parody - Black Dynamite, OSS 117, Austin Powers
- Satire - Dr. Strangelove, Sorry to Bother You, Jojo Rabbit
- Screwball - Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday, It Happened One Night
- Mockumentary - This is Spinal Tap, Best in Show, Borat
- Raunch - American Pie, The 40 Year Old Virgin, Superbad
- Rom-Coms - When Harry Met Sally, There’s Something About Mary
And finally, let’s close things out by looking at some subgenre examples from the drama genre.
- Slice of Life - Boyhood, Smoke, The Wrestler
- Chamber Drama - Glengarry Glen Ross, Buried, Locke
- Legal Drama - 12 Angry Men, A Few Good Men, The Judge
- Biopic - Selma, JFK, Malcolm X
- Political - Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Frost/Nixon
- Historical - Barry Lyndon, Lawrence of Arabia, Braveheart
- Coming of Age - Almost Famous, Eighth Grade, Edge of Seventeen
- Sports - Rudy, Remember the Patriots, Field of Dreams
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.