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Film Genre Over Time


Chris Blattman links to this very interesting image, charting film genres over time.

As you can see, this charts some expected but interesting phenomena–the decline of westerns, the rise of pornography, the consistent production of comedy.

There are a couple of problems here though. First, a short is not a genre and it makes no sense to have that as a separate category. Yes, 50% or more of early silents were shorts. But they were short comedies, short westerns, etc. Why are these not included in the other categories? Many of today’s shorts might fall under an “experimental” category, which could make sense. But for silent film, it really undercuts itself.

I’m also curious as to the lack of science fiction in the early years. I know it was hardly the popular genre of today. But a lot of the iconic silent films can be classified as science fiction. Maybe they were just statistically insignificant but culturally influential. I don’t really know.

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  • Richard

    Is this American movies or movies world wide? And is it all movies made or just movies commercially distributed in theaters? Or does it include movies only shown on television? I couldn’t find that info by following the links

    • firefall

      This must be commercially-distributed, or the figures for porn are enormously understated (no porn pre-1968? really? in what world?)

  • thusbloggedanderson

    Is The Avengers SF, adventure, or action?

    • Richard

      Whats the difference between action and adventure?

      • thusbloggedanderson

        My guess is, guns.

      • The Goonies is an adventure movie.

        Die Hard Two is an action movie. Nobody goes anywhere.

        • thusbloggedanderson

          Also, guns.

          • Cody

            But a noted lack of Lawyers & Money in these movies.

            • thusbloggedanderson

              I am waiting for a Tarantino film about a law practice.

          • There was a guy with a gun in The Goonies.

            But yeah, it’s guns and travel. More guns in the action movies, more travel in the adventure movies.

            • Lee

              I think that travel isn’t important. Adventure movies are about the quest and achieving a goal of somesort. The Indiana Jones movies are important because the quest in each movie is more important than the violence. Action movies are mainly about the violence.

              • thusbloggedanderson

                James Bond movies would be action, presumably, despite the travel.

                • LeeEsq

                  It depends on the individual James Bond movie. In some the quest is more important. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is an example of one. There is some thrilling violence but much more of the movie has to do with Bond’s attempt to find Blofeld and get him. Hell, its one of the few Bond movies where the attempt to court the Bond girl is more important than the action.

                  In other James Bond movies, especially the Roger Moore or Pierce Bronson ones, the action is more important. Golden Eye is an action movie rather than an adventure movie.

              • Quest.

                Definitely a better word than travel for what I was trying to express.

                You go on a quest. You can have an action movie about a guy and some burglars in his house.

                • Warren Terra

                  But what about Batman Begins, guy goes on a quest, so it’s Adventure, but really isn’t it an Action film, with the explosions and the punch-ups? Unless you decide it’s Sci-Fi because of the horror-gas and the glider-suit. Or Horror, because of the horror-gas. Or Crime, because Batman Fights Crime.

                  A lot of these divisions are problematic, but I do think Action and Adventure are especially intermingled.

                • thusbloggedanderson

                  One school of thought might be that Nolan’s Batman movies are deeper & better b/c of their genre-crossing.

                  I’m leaning towards their just being more confused for that reason.

        • Warren Terra

          This doesn’t seem to work. In The Goonies a bunch of kids explore a cave system in or near their hometown. In Die Hard Two people get shot and things blow up in various locations at and near an airport. There is no more traveling in one than in the other, and both are about the risky situations and the adrenaline rush, though as thusbloggedanderson notes in one a lot of people get shot.

          How would you classify Indiana Jones? Action and Adventure really are awfully close – and so is Crime.

          • They explore an underground world no one knew was there. How is that not traveling?

            I’d call the Indy movies adventure. The fighting isn’t nearly as prominent as in Die Hard or in any war movie.

            • thusbloggedanderson

              Note that the rise of action in the chart is inversely proportional to the decline of westerns. (Consider The Wild Bunch as perhaps on the cusp.)

              So, action movies are the contemporary version of the guy with a gun who’s going to put things right. But nowadays, things are so wrong, it takes more and bigger guns to do it.

    • Leeds man

      Genre isn’t exclusive. Alien was a horror film, Aliens was an action film. They both also fall under SF just because spaceships and aliens.

      • thusbloggedanderson

        Alien is a SF film only b/c Hollywood is so freaked out by SF that it has to be cordoned off. It’s just Halloween in space.

        N.b. remarks downthread about porn; same thing, for similar reason.

        • Will

          Animation too. If “animation” is a film genre, so are “3D” and “black and white”…

  • BenjaminJB

    Also, is Gene Autry’s 1935 The Phantom Empire a western, science fiction, or a musical?

    • Richard

      I dont see a musical category. So is Singing in the Rain a comedy, West Side Story drama, and Sweeney Todd horror (or maybe crime?

    • Just Dropping By

      The answer is yes. And I loved The Phantom Empire when I saw it as a kid. (There was a show on PBS called “Saturday at the Matinee” or something like that in the 1980s that ran old serials, shorts, cartoons, etc..)

      • spud

        I remember very briefly they tried to revive it as part of an omnibus program called “Cliffhangers”.

  • Halloween Jack

    I wonder how they’re defining a “film” in order to come up with porn numbers that low.

    • thusbloggedanderson

      “Released in a theater” perhaps.

      • “Watched all the way through.”

        • Brautigan


        • Halloween Jack

          See, if that’s the criterium, then that black line should be much, much thinner.

  • I’m also curious as to the lack of science fiction in the early years.

    Ditto horror.

    • spud

      Actually the big problem with anything in the early years is the lack of records of the era, lack of genre definition and lack of acknowledgement of early foreign contributions to the genre.

      Upwards to 90% of the films created prior to 1929 are lost due to cheap nitrate film stock, lack of commercial viability in the sound era and dodgy legal rights.

      There are some acknowledged classics of those genres during that period.

      Phil Hardy’s Overlook Film Encyclopedia books are a great resource for figuring out where to look.

      • The Dark Avenger

        Yes, when the Argentine Film Institute turned over their copy of Metropolis to the Germans, they received back some Argentine films of the 20s that they were missing.

        Also, the Germans were more inclined towards silent SF films, FP1 Antwort Nicht, Frau im Mond, Alraune

        It would be logical that, given the neglect of silent films in general, the SF stuff would’ve probably suffered as well.

        I once had the privilege of talking to the author of Donovan’s Brain, he lived in retirement in the foothills of the Sierra east of Visalia in his much later years.

        • spud

          Their copy being the most pristine and complete ever.

          Thank God for Turner Classic Movies! They have been really good about showing a lot of the classic genre films of the silent era.

          Thanks to them I recently got to see a bunch of Lon Chaney/Tod Browning films. All current actors are pansies compared to the stuff Chaney did for his roles.

  • Warren Terra

    This appears to be by number of films released; as such, it’s probably wildly misleading. I suspect that a similar chart by revenue-per-genre would be better (short films in particular would probably disappear almost completely, and I we might see an explosion of animated films in the last dozen years since Pixar and Dreamworks got serious). Even charting by revenue per genre has problems: genres are distributed differently, with some big in theaters, others big in DVD sales and rentals, and possibly others getting disproportionate revenue from internet, television, and pay-per-view. And then there’s the merchandising …

    • I suspect it would be extremely difficult to get anything close to an accurate reading of the money made on specific films in the silent period.

      Could be wrong about that though.

  • James E. Powell

    No Mafia/Gangster genre?

    • Warren Terra

      I’d guess they’re classified within “Crime”. I’m not sure a classy, witty, violence-free heist lark belongs with Goodfellas, but that’s still where I’d suspect both are put.

      • James E. Powell

        I suppose, but I would argue that since Little Caesar, and probably earlier, the gangster film is about more than crime.

        It’s usually an American Dream gone wrong kind of thing.

  • Lee

    I think its a mistake to classify pornography as a genre. Its really a style of media that will use anything available to depict people having sex. There is comedic porn, science fiction porn, romantic porn, or porn without any pretense of plot.

    • Cody

      It looks like “short” is the most popular type then, if we assume it distributed across all genres!

      • thusbloggedanderson

        “Short porn” is the winner.

  • partisan

    This hasn’t anything to do with film, but is LGM going to comment on this: http://histsociety.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/gene-genovese-1930-2012.html?

  • Murc

    Does SEK know you’re stealing his posts, Erik? :)

  • Just Dropping By

    I’m also curious as to the lack of science fiction in the early years. I know it was hardly the popular genre of today. But a lot of the iconic silent films can be classified as science fiction. Maybe they were just statistically insignificant but culturally influential.

    I think you’re correct that the cultural influence of early science fiction films was disproportionate to their actual numbers. I’ve read several different histories of science fiction and it seems pretty clear that, pre-WW II at least, science fiction films were not especially common.

    • thusbloggedanderson

      Yah, Hiroshima had a huge effect on the movie industry.

  • njorl

    What accounts for the crime wave in the 1970s? It looks like the percentage suddenly triples, then subsides.

    • I’d say probably the nationwide freak out over black people asserting their rights, white flight, and the fear of cities and crime that created films like Dirty Harry, Death Wish, and so many others.

      • chris

        So you’re saying Dirty Harry is just who Bernie Goetz wished he was?

        P.S. And yeah, the obvious problem with this classification system is that the categories aren’t disjoint. Where do you file _Who Framed Roger Rabbit_, a partially animated comedy with a crime subplot and arguably sci-fi elements? I’d say “at least you can eliminate porn”, except, Jessica…

        • LeeEsq

          Fan service and/or sex does not make porn. Porn has to involve at least people really having sex or animated sex scenes, I’m looking at you Japan, for the purpose of encouraging at least masturbation.

          • njorl


  • jank_w

    Erik, you ought to quit talking down to people with principles. Me a construction worker lecturing you on that, shit I drink Budweiser in a can.

    Back on topic, the explosion of porn, the constancy of comedy, shorts getting accidentally wrongly added to the chart… the zombie and horror genre exploding for low budget return, a steady flat line for crime flicks-

  • mike in dc

    At this point I think comic-book/superhero movies probably deserve their own category. There are certainly enough of them now, they make ginormous sums of money(some of them anyway), and I think they’re pretty distinguishable from other genres.

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