Primary Genres

Primary movie and script genres

13 Primary Movie Genres

Every movie and tv show ever made falls under at least one of these main genres.

There are 13 primary genres that film and TV scripts can fall into. They are: action, adventure, comedy, drama, fantasy, horror, musicals, mystery, romance, science fiction, sports, thriller, and western.

War films, zombie films, and crime films are examples of themes that can span various genres. Those so-called ‘subgenres’ we’ll get into a little bit later. But for now, let’s go over some details about the ‘Primary 13’ genres.



Discover the ‘Primary 13’ Collection

Let’s take a closer look at what they represent.

Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin explains some the qualifiers for each ‘Primary Genre.’ Here’s what he wrote for MasterClass.


Movies in the action genre are fast-paced and include a lot of action like fight scenes, chase scenes, and slow-motion shots. They can feature superheroes, martial arts, or exciting stunts. These high-octane films are more about the execution of the plot rather than the plot itself. Action movies are thrilling to watch and leave audience members on the edge of their seats. Cop movies, disaster films, and some spy films fall under the action category.



The adventure genre is so similar to the action genre that the billing for adventure films is sometimes action/adventure movies. Films in the adventure genre usually contain the same basic genre elements as an action movie, with the setting as the critical difference. Adventure movies are typically set in an exotic, far away, or unfamiliar locale. This category can include swashbuckler films and survival films. The Pirates of the Caribbean (2003) film series falls in the adventure genre.



Comedy films are funny and entertaining. The films in this genre center around a comedic premise. And that usually involves putting someone in a challenging, amusing, or humorous situation they’re not prepared to handle. Good comedy movies are less about making constant jokes and more about presenting a universally relatable, real-life story with complex characters who learn an important lesson. Mockumentary, dark (or black comedy), rom-com, parody, and slapstick are all examples of comedy subgenres.



The drama genre features stories with high stakes and many conflicts. They’re plot-driven and demand that every character and scene move the story forward. Dramas follow a clearly defined narrative plot structure, portraying real-life scenarios or extreme situations with emotionally-driven characters. Films that fall into drama sub-genres include historical drama or costume drama, romantic drama, teen drama, medical drama, docudrama, film noir, and neo-noir. Citizen Kane (1941), The Godfather (1972), and The Social Network (2010) are examples of dramatic films.



Films in the fantasy genre feature magical and supernatural elements that do not exist in the real world. Although some films juxtapose a real-world setting with fantastical elements, many create entirely imaginary universes with their own laws, logic, and populations of imaginary races and creatures. Like science fiction films, fantasy films are speculative but unrelated to reality or scientific fact. High fantasy, fairy tales, and magical realism are all fantasy subgenres. The Harry Potter film series, based on the novels by J.K. Rowling, follows a young boy at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and is a prime example of a fantasy film.



Horror films feature elements that leave people with an overwhelming sense of fear and dread. Horror movies often include serial killers or monsters as persistent, evil antagonists to play on viewers’ fears or nightmares. Audiences who love the horror genre seek out these movies specifically for the adrenaline rush produced by ghosts, gore, monsters, and jump scares. Films that fall into the horror sub-genres include macabre, ghost stories, gothic horror movies, science fiction horror movies, supernatural movies, dark fantasy movies, psychological horror movies, and slasher movies. The Exorcist (1973) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) fall under the horror genre.



Musical films weave songs or musical numbers into the narrative to progress the story or further develop the characters. Musicals are often tied to romance films but are not limited to that genre. Musical movies involve big stage-like productions, integrating necessary premises or character elements into the sequences. The Wizard of Oz (1939) and West Side Story (1961) are classic examples of the musical movie genre.



Mystery films are all about the puzzle and often feature a detective or amateur sleuth trying to solve it. Mystery films are full of suspense, and the protagonist searches for clues or evidence throughout the movie, piecing together events and interviewing suspects to solve the central question. Hardboiled noirs and police procedurals are two subcategories that often fall under the mystery genre. Murder on the Orient Express (1974), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), and Knives Out (2019) are examples.



Romance films are love stories. They center around two protagonists exploring some of the elements of love like relationships, sacrifice, marriage, obsession, or destruction. Romance movies sometimes feature hardships like illness, infidelity, tragedy, or other obstacles for the love interests to overcome. Romantic comedies, gothic romance, and romantic action are some popular romance subgenres.



The sci-fi genre builds worlds and alternate realities filled with imagined elements that don’t exist in the real world. Science fiction spans a wide range of themes that often explore time travel, space travel, are set in the future, and deal with the consequences of technological and scientific advances. Sci-fi movies typically involve meticulous world-building with strong attention to detail for the audience to believe the story and universe. Examples of science fiction films include Star Wars (1977), The Matrix (1999), and Inception (2010).



Movies in the sports genre will center around a team, individual player, or fan, with the sport itself to motivate the plot and keep the story advancing. These movies aren’t entirely focused on the sport itself, however, mainly using it as a backdrop to provide context into the emotional arcs of the main characters. Sports movies can be dramatic or comical and are often allegorical. Some popular sports movies include The Bad News Bears (1976), A League of Their Own (1992), and Bend It Like Beckham (2003).



Thrillers expertly blend mystery, tension, and anticipation into one exciting story. Successful thrillers are well-paced, often introducing red herrings, divulging plot twists, and revealing information at the exact right moments to keep the audience intrigued. Thrillers often include a “ticking clock” aspect, where the stakes are against a finite amount of time. Crime films, political thrillers, and techno-thrillers are all featured in the thriller genre. The Shining (1980) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991) are examples of psychological thrillers.



Westerns tell the tale of a cowboy or gunslinger pursuing an outlaw in the Wild West. The main character often seeks revenge and will face the criminal in a duel or shootout at the end. Westerns are vivid productions set in the American West—such as the desert, mountains, or plains—that can inspire and inform the characters and the action. Spaghetti westerns, space westerns, and sci-fi westerns are all subgenres within the Western category. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) and Django Unchained (2012) are examples of Westerns.



Discover Subgenres

There are dozens of subgenres to explore.

Learn more about ‘SUBGENRES‘ and the script’s inferred ‘MOOD & TONE.’


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