Film & TV

9 Popular Screenplay Genres: A Guide to Different Movie Genres

Written by MasterClass

Jun 11, 2019 • 3 min read

Screenwriting is the art of writing a script for a feature film or television show, and there are many different genres of screenplays to write. Each genre is unique in the types of stories they tell and in the way they are written. Learning the intricacies of each genre will help you become a more balanced screenwriter.

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9 Popular Screenplay Genres

  1. Thriller. Thriller screenplays are dark, twisted, and engrossing. They expertly blend mystery, tension, and anticipation into one exciting story. Successful thrillers are well-paced, introducing red herrings, divulging plot twists, and revealing information at the exact right moments to keep the audience intrigued.
  2. Western. Western screenplays tell the tale of a cowboy or gunslinger pursuing an outlaw in the Wild West. The main character is often seeking revenge and will face off with 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. They aren’t as popular as they were in the mid-1900s, but their influence lives on in modern movies.
  3. Horror. Horror screenplays are shocking, suspenseful, and scary. Their main purpose is to leave people with an overwhelming sense of fear and dread. Audiences who love horror films enjoy being scared and seek them out specifically for the adrenaline rush produced by ghosts, gore, monsters, and jump scares. Sub-genres include ghost stories, gothic horror movies, science fiction horror movies, supernatural movies, dark fantasy movies, psychological horror movies, and slasher movies.
  4. Comedy. Comedy screenplays are funny and entertaining. They center around a comedic premise—usually putting someone in a challenging, amusing, or humorous situation they’re not prepared to handle. Writing a comedy isn’t about trying to be funny; it’s about presenting a universally relatable, real-life story and writing complex characters who learn an important lesson.
  5. Action/Adventure. Action/adventure screenplays are fast-paced and include a lot of action like fight scenes, chase scenes, and slow-motion shots. As such, they contain more scene descriptions than screenplays in other genres. An important part of writing an action screenplay is learning to keep these descriptions clear and concise so anyone reading it can immediately visualize the action.
  6. Romantic Comedy. Rom-com screenplays tell love stories between two people. They’re one of the most formulaic types of movies to write, which makes them a great genre for first-time screenwriters to try. Despite their clearly-defined structure, there are still countless ways to break convention, turn the formula on its head, and surprise rom-com fans with something new.
  7. Drama. Drama screenplays explore stories with high stakes and a lot of conflicts. They’re plot-driven and demand that every character and scene move the story forward. Dramas are not formulaic like screenplays in other genres, but they do follow a clearly defined narrative plot structure with exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and a conclusion. Sub-genres include historical drama, romantic drama, crime drama, medical drama, science fiction drama, and film noir.
  8. Sci-fi. Science fiction screenplays build worlds and alternate realities that are filled 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 screenplays typically involve a lot of meticulous world-building with a strong attention to detail in order for the audience to believe the story.
  9. Fantasy . Fantasy screenplays 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 film, fantasy films are speculative, but are not tied to reality or scientific fact.

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