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Stories are arranged by their shared elements into categories called genres. Aristotle gave us the first two genres by organizing stories according to their emotional charge. Positive or upbeat stories were categorized as "fortunate." Negative or downbeat ones were "tragic."
As storytelling evolved over the centuries, more and more genres and subgenres emerged. Today, no one can agree on how many genres exist or how to divide them.
Below is a description of some of the most common film genres and subgenres. All of these will be familiar to you and, as you will see, genres often overlap.
Comedy: This category includes romantic (There's Something About Mary) and screwball comedies (Rat Race), satires (Thank You for Smoking), and black comedies (Catch-22). Comedies are meant to amuse. Since it's hard to laugh at someone in danger, one of the most important rules of comedy is that no one gets hurt. No matter how many pratfalls a character takes, his reaction is always funnier than the injury is painful. The only exception is black comedy, where the scale tips toward laughs of discomfort.
Drama: Drama is an umbrella category for a serious portrayal of realistic characters, settings, and situations—in other words, everything that isn't a comedy. The important distinction here is the emotional charge. Comedies make us smile, laugh, and guffaw; dramas make us reflect, worry, and cry. The category drama has many subsets and includes movies like Kramer vs. Kramer, The English Patient, and Rain Man.
Action/Adventure: Action films are fast-paced, mile-a-minute rides. Explosions, chases, and battles figure prominently. Adventure films usually revolve around some kind of quest, and are often set in exotic locales. Action and adventure are so intertwined that they are often treated as one. Some sub-genres are: disaster/survival films (The Day After Tomorrow), treasure hunts (Romancing the Stone), swashbucklers (Pirates of the Caribbean), and spy films (Casino Royale).
Crime: Here, the main storyline revolves around a crime committed. Among this category's many sub-genres are: police dramas (Se7en), gangster films (The Untouchables), film noir (The Maltese Falcon), courtroom dramas (12 Angry Men), and thrillers (The Manchurian Candidate).
Horror: Designed to scare the living daylights out of us, horror films shock and thrill at the same time. In his book Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting, Robert McKee divides horror into three subgenres: the uncanny, in which the source of horror is subject to rational explanation (Psycho), the supernatural, in which the source of horror is irrational or from the spirit world (Poltergeist), or the super-uncanny, where the audience is kept guessing between the two other possibilities.

Learn more:
The genres above are only one way of classifying story types. For a thought-provoking take on the issue, check out Blake Snyder's book Save the Cat.



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