Combining subgenres can be tricky. As with genres, you can mix one or two if you do it right from the beginning, but you can’t switch back and forth at will, and you can’t have it all. Here are just some of the subgenres for major genres:
- Comedy: romantic comedy, comedy of manners, farce, spoof, satire, dramedy, coming-of-age
- Drama: melodrama, soap opera, character study, slice of life, biopic, docudrama, ensemble, romance, coming-of-age
- Thriller: noir, procedural, contained, detective, police, spy, revenge, manhunt
- Horror: grindhouse, slasher, sexualized monster, gruesome monster, transformation, psychological, black comedy, zombie
- Action: superhero, historical adventure, superspy, supercop, martial arts
- Science Fiction: dystopian, space opera, space exploration, robot, one step beyond, alien invasion, time travel
- Fantasy: fairy tale, magical realism, sword and sorcery, medieval, crossover into fantasy world
- Western: spaghetti, elegiac, modern day, cattle drive, lawless town, frontier, revenge
- War: biopic, black comedy, men on a mission, heist, docudrama, front lines, coming-of-age
One problem is, as with combined genres, you run into mixed metaphors. It would be ridiculous if, in the middle of Terminator 6, a wizard showed up or a vampire or a singing cowboy, but it would be almost as bad if an alien invasion occurred. That’s a different subgenre, and, most important, a different metaphor, so what would it all mean?
Indeed, there have been several attempts to do World War II-zombie movies or western-zombie movies with no commercial success. As a writer, these are very tempting: “I can’t believe nobody has done this before! It writes itself! And everybody who hears about it says it sounds so cool!” But nobody is ever going to say, “Those two subgenres have different built-in metaphors, so that would be meaningless.” Instead they’ll just watch it and say, “Eh, this isn’t as cool as I thought it was going to be, though I don’t know why.” Or, more likely, they won’t watch it, because the advance word has been so lukewarm.
Each subgenre imposes some subtler restrictions as well. Let’s look at high school movies that are representative of each comedy subgenre:
- Romantic comedy: Sixteen Candles
- Comedy of manners: Clueless
- Farce: American Pie
- Spoof: Not Another Teen Movie
- Satire: Election
- Coming-of-age: Gregory’s Girl
- Dramedy: Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Another reason to stick to one subgenre is point of view. The audience sympathizes with Alicia Silverstone in Clueless, but they also look down on her as a tone-deaf exemplar of a certain type. The comedy of manners is a rather unique subgenre in that it allows the audience to have that sort of limited identification yet still root for the hero. On the other hand, they fully identify with Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles, who is on their level. Once you’ve chosen one of those two perspectives, it would be too jarring to jump back and forth between them.
The 40 Year Old Virgin
YES, it combines a very atypical coming-of-age story (in that the man coming of age is 40) with the rising genre of “bro-comedy”
YES, the creature feature, the haunted house movie and the “ten little Indians” thriller.
YES. The period coming-of-age story.
YES. On the Western side, it’s a classic “frontier marshall” / railroad scheme. On the comedy side, it’s a combination of spoof and satire, which is very hard to pull off (Brooks wouldn’t master it again after “Young Frankenstein”) but it works beautifully.
YES. the voyeur, crooked small-town movie.
The Bourne Identity
YES. The CIA dirty tricks conspiracy movie.
YES. The wedding comedy.
YES. the World War 2 resistance movie
YES. Detective, period piece.
YES. Undercover fed.
Do the Right Thing
YES. “Urban”, the day-in-the-life-of-a-city genre.
YES. Big-lie family gathering
YES. Boxing, addiction, romance, family drama
YES. The princess-marriage plot and the magical curse tale.
YES. Manhunt and whodunit
YES. The “Get out of that house, you idiot!” sub-genre
NO. It keeps jumping sub-genres: romantic comedy, black comedy, religious parable, etc. It’s extremely ambitious, and pulls it off.
How to Train Your Dragon
YES. Boot camp / coming-of-age
In a Lonely Place
YES. the Hollywood movie.
YES. Super-hero and terrorism-thriller, mixed well.
YES. No sub-genres.
YES. A minor sub-genre of noir that the Coens revived from, the fictional film that mimics the absurdities of true-crime stories at their strangest.
YES. No subgenres.
YES. Civil rights.
YES. haunted house, “Gaslight”-type story, and ax murderer.
YES. Also somewhat awkwardly: the bachelor party movie / the food-porn movie (wine-porn in this version)
The Silence of the Lambs
YES. Serial killer, FBI
YES. Space opera, sword and sorcery.
YES. It’s an odd mix of elements, noir, haunted house (the wheezing organ), etc., but it works.