One of the first things a filmmaker needs to decide when making a film is its genre. This will define how the film is made, who its audience is and how it is marketed. It may also determine the likelihood of the film making money. In this blog, we look at the importance of genre in filmmaking.
If you tell someone you are making a film, their first question will be, “what type of film is it?” What they are asking is what the genre is: horror, drama, Western, musical, romantic comedy, etc.
Sometimes a film will fall squarely into one category. In others, it will be a mixture of two or more. Jaws, for example, is described by IMDB as an adventure/thriller/drama.
A film’s genre is determined by any number of factors.
A Western (such as Unforgiven) is characterised (to some extent at least) by its location in place and time. So too is a Gothic horror (for example, Dracula) or a sci-fi action adventure (such as Star Wars).
The plot and structure of a film can also establish its genre. A romantic comedy will revolve around the light-hearted desire to win someone’s heart, and a detective thriller on the discovery and bringing to justice of criminals.
Sometimes, it is the themes that set the genre. A horror film is a horror film because it explores issues of the supernatural or forces out of our control.
For a filmmaker, genre matters because it matches films to audiences. Some people will never willingly watch a documentary or a musical. Others will seek out sci-fi films like the future of the planet depends on it. By producing a film in a certain genre, filmmakers can appeal to a specific audience.
Having done this, the filmmaker’s side of the bargain is to meet the audience’s expectations. We know that James Bond is going to foil the baddy’s intention to take over the world (and get the girl) as he’s done it in every one of the 26 (action, adventure) films to date. It’s not just what happens that is important either. How it happens matters, too. No James Bond film would be complete without its set-piece action sequences and that moment before the climax when all appears lost.
Similarly, a romantic comedy will develop the characters and progress the narrative in a time-honoured way. Woe betides any romantic comedy that doesn’t end with the pursuer and the pursued in perfect harmony, looking ahead to a long and happy life together.
Tapping into a defined genre increases a film’s chances of being financially successful.
Website The Numbers has compiled a list of the US market share for each genre from 1995 to 2017. Adventure films released in movie theatres rank at the top for market share at 22.5%, followed by comedy at 21.49% and action at 18.25%.
A closer look at the numbers reveals something even more interesting. Adventure films topped the list despite only 703 movies of that genre being released, compared to 2,297 comedies. Similarly, drama had a 16.55% share of the market but this was spread across 4,417 movies. On a per movie basis, the adventure films were by far the most successful.
What these statistics fail to take into account is profitability.
According to media data analysts SNL Kagan, animated films are the most profitable movie genre averaging an ROI of 36% over the past decade. This compares to 26% for sci-fi and fantasy, with comedies and dramas barely breaking even.
Horror movies can also yield a fantastic ROI, largely due to the fact that they can be inexpensive to make. A great example of this is Don’t Breathe (2016), which had production costs of $9.9m but grossed $157m worldwide! You can read more about why filmmakers love horror films in this blog post.
This doesn’t mean sensible filmmakers should be thinking about animation ahead of other genres. As Bloomberg reported last year: “when animated films flop, they flop hard. DreamWorks took an $87 million write-down on Rise of the Guardians… A few months later, it had to take a $57 million write-down on Mr. Peabody and Sherman, a film that cost $145 million to make and far more to market.”
Film director, Quentin Tarantino is quoted as saying: “I am a genre lover – everything from spaghetti western to samurai movie.”
For filmmakers, the genre they love is likely to be the one that makes the most money.