Drama (film and television)

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In film and television, drama is a category of narrative fiction (or semi-fiction) intended to be more serious than humorous in tone. [1] Drama of this kind is usually qualified with additional terms that specify its particular super-genre, macro-genre, or micro-genre, [2] such as soap opera (operatic drama), police crime drama, political drama, legal drama, historical drama, domestic drama, teen drama, and comedy-drama (dramedy). These terms tend to indicate a particular setting or subject-matter, or else they qualify the otherwise serious tone of a drama with elements that encourage a broader range of moods.


All forms of cinema or television that involve fictional stories are forms of drama in the broader sense if their storytelling is achieved by means of actors who represent ( mimesis ) characters. In this broader sense, drama is a mode distinct from novels, short stories, and narrative poetry or songs. [3] In the modern era before the birth of cinema or television, "drama" within theatre was a type of play that was neither a comedy nor a tragedy. It is this narrower sense that the film and television industries, along with film studies, adopted. "Radio drama" has been used in both senses—originally transmitted in a live performance, it has also been used to describe the more high-brow and serious end of the dramatic output of radio. [4]

Types of drama in film and television

The Screenwriters Taxonomy contends that film genres are fundamentally based upon a film’s atmosphere, character and story, and therefore the labels “drama” and “comedy” are too broad to be considered a genre. [2]   Instead, the taxonomy contends that film dramas are a “Type” of film; listing at least ten different sub-types of film and television drama. [5]

Dark Drama

Dramas dealing with intensely serious issues. [6] (Film examples: Oldboy [2003] and Requiem for a Dream [2000])


Dramatized adaptation of real-life events. While not always completely accurate, the general facts are more-or-less true. [7] The difference between a docudrama and a documentary is that in a documentary it uses real people to describe history or current events; in a docudrama it uses professionally trained actors to play the roles in the current event, that is "dramatized" a bit. (Film examples: Black Mass [2015] and Zodiac [2007])


Different from docudramas, docu-fictional films combine documentary and fiction, where actual footage or real events are intermingled with recreated scenes. [8] (Film examples: Interior. Leather Bar [2013] and Your Name Here [2015])


A serious story that contains some characters or scenes inherently humorous to the audience. [9]   (Film examples: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel [2011], The Man Without a Past [2002], Silver Linings Playbook [2012], Three Colours: White [1994] and The Truman Show [1998])


Coined by film professor Ken Dancyger, these stories exaggerate characters and situations to the point of becoming fable, legend or fairy tale. [10]   (Film examples: Fantastic Mr. Fox [2009] and Maleficent [2014])

Light Drama

Light-hearted stories that are, nevertheless, serious in nature. [11]   (Film examples: The Help [2011] and The Terminal [2004])


Satire can involve humor, but the end result is typically sharp social commentary that is anything but funny. Satire often uses irony or exaggeration to expose faults in society or individuals that influence social ideology. [12]   (Film examples: Idiocracy [2006] and Thank You for Smoking [2005])

Straight Drama

Straight Drama applies to those that do not attempt a specific approach to drama but, rather, consider drama as a lack of comedic techniques. [12]   (Film examples: Ghost World [2001] and Wuthering Heights [2011] )

Type/genre combinations

According to the Screenwriters Taxonomy, all film descriptions should contain their type (comedy or drama) combined with one (or more) of the eleven super-genres. [2] This combination does not create a separate genre, but rather, provides a better understanding of the film.

According to the taxonomy, combining the type with the genre does not create a separate genre. [2]   For instance, the “Horror Drama” is simply a dramatic horror film (as opposed to a comedic horror film).  “Horror Drama” is not a genre separate from the horror genre or the drama type. [13]  

Action drama 

Action dramas tend to be visceral, not intellectual, with dynamic fight scenes, extensive chase scenes, and heart-racing stunts. The hero is nearly always sharp-witted, quick on their feet, and able to improvise mentally and physically. The hero begins the film with an internal problem, quickly followed by an external problem. By story’s end, the hero resolves both problems. [2] Examples of action dramas include Die Hard (1988) and the Mad Max series.

Crime drama

Crime dramas explore themes of truth, justice, and freedom, and contain the fundamental dichotomy of "criminal vs. lawman". Crime films make the audience jump through a series of mental "hoops"; it is not uncommon for the crime drama to use verbal gymnastics to keep the audience and the protagonist on their toes. [2]  Examples of crime dramas include: The Big Short (2015), The Godfather (1972), and The Usual Suspects (1995).

Drama thriller

In a drama thriller, the protagonist is often an unwitting hero reluctantly drawn into the story and must do battle with an epic villain to save the lives of innocent victims; the hero inevitably finds himself deeply involved in a situation involving insane criminals with a very dark past, who will threaten, double-cross, and kill anyone who stands in their way. [14]

According to screenwriter and scholar Eric R. Williams:

Even the typical good guys in other genres (the police, detectives, and guards) can't be trusted in a thriller. Granted, there are "good guys" in a thriller, but the audience and hero never really know who they are until the end. Thrillers explore the ideas of Hope and Fear, constantly tearing the hero (and more importantly: the audience) between these two extremes. It is not uncommon to have the audience hope that the hero will defeat the villain yet remain fearful that they will not. Often, there is a central mystery that the protagonist must solve, one that is obfuscated from the audience and the hero, so that it is difficult to know what is needed to successfully unravel the impending sense of doom that hangs over the hero. [2]

Films such as Black Swan (2010), Se7en (1995), Shutter Island (2010), and Zodiac (2007) are thriller dramas.

Fantasy drama 

According to Eric R. Williams, the hallmark of fantasy drama films is "a sense of wonderment, typically played out in a visually intense world inhabited by mythic creatures, magic and/or superhuman characters. Props and costumes within these films often belie a sense of mythology and folklore – whether ancient, futuristic, or other-worldly. The costumes, as well as the exotic world, reflect the personal, inner struggles that the hero faces in the story." [2] Examples of fantasy dramas include: Life of Pi (2012), Lord of the Rings (2001-2003), Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), and Where the Wild Things Are (2009).

Horror drama 

Horror dramas often take place during modern day with the central characters isolated from the rest of society. These characters are often teenagers or people in their early twenties (the genre’s central audience) and are eventually killed off during the course of the film. Thematically, horror films often serve as a morality tale, with the killer serving up violent penance for the victims’ past sins. [5]  Metaphorically, these become battles of Good vs. Evil or Purity vs. Sin. The Conjuring, Psycho, Halloween, and Friday the 13th are examples of horror drama films.

Life drama (day-in-the-life)

Day-in-the-life films takes small events in a person’s life and raises their level of importance. The “small things in life” feel as important to the protagonist (and the audience) as the climactic battle in an action film, or the final shootout in a western. [5]  Often, the protagonists deal with multiple, overlapping issues in the course of the film – just as we do in life. Films of this type/genre combination include: 12 Years a Slave (2013), Dallas Buyers Club (2013), Moonlight (2016), and The Wrestler (2008).

Romantic drama

Romantic dramas are films with central themes that reinforce our beliefs about love (e.g.: themes such as “love at first sight”, “love conquers all”, or “there is someone out there for everyone”); the story typically revolves around characters falling into (and out of, and back into) love. [15]  Annie Hall (1977), Carol (2015), Her (2013), La La Land (2016) and The Notebook (2004) are examples of romance dramas.

Science fiction drama

The science fiction drama film is often the story of a protagonist (and her allies) facing something “unknown” that has with the potential to change the future of humanity; this unknown may be  represented by a villain with incomprehensible powers, a creature we don’t understand, or a scientific scenario that threatens to change the world; the science fiction story forces the audience to consider the nature of human beings, the confines of time or space, and/or the concepts of human existence in general. [16]   Examples include: Blade Runner (1982), Children of Men (2006), Clockwork Orange (1971), Planet of the Apes (1968), and Ready Player One (2018).

Sports drama

Obviously, in the sports super-genre, characters will be playing sports. Thematically, the story is often one of “Our Team” versus “Their Team”; their team will always try to win, and our team will show the world that they deserve recognition or redemption; the story does not always have to involve a team.  The story could also be about an individual athlete or the story could focus on an individual playing on a team. [17] Examples of this genre/type include:  Hoosiers (1986), The Hustler (1961), Moneyball (2011), and Remember the Titans (2000).

War drama

War films typically tells the story of a small group of isolated individuals who – one by one – get killed (literally or metaphorically) by an outside force until there is a final fight to the death; the idea of the protagonists facing death is a central expectation in a war film. In a war film even though the enemy may out-number, or out-power, the hero, we assume that the enemy can be defeated if only the hero can figure out how. [5]   Examples include: 1944 (2015), Apocalypse Now (1979), Hacksaw Ridge (2016), The Hurt Locker (2008), Life is Beautiful (1997), and Wildeye (2015).

Western drama 

Films in the western super-genre often take place in the American Southwest or Mexico, with a large number of scenes occurring outdoors so we can soak in scenic landscapes. Visceral expectations for the audience include fistfights, gunplay, and chase scenes. There is also the expectation of spectacular panoramic images of the countryside including sunsets, wide open landscape and endless deserts and sky. [2]  Examples of western dramas include: Django Unchained (2012), Hell or High Water (2016), Mad Max (1979), No Country for Old Men (2007), and Unforgiven (1992).

Misidentified categories

Some film categories that use the word “comedy” or “drama” are not recognized by the Screenwriters Taxonomy as either a film genre or a film type.  For instance, “Melodrama” and “Screwball Comedy” are considered Pathways, [18]  while “Romantic Comedy” and “Family Drama” are macro-genres. [19]  

Family drama

a macro-genre in the Screenwriters Taxonomy. These films tell a where many of the central characters are related.  The story revolves around how the family as a whole reacts to a central challenge. There are four micro-genres for the Family Drama:  Family Bond, Family Feud, Family Loss, and Family Rift. [2]


a sub-type of drama films that uses plots that appeal to the heightened emotions of the audience. Melodramatic plots often deal with "crises of human emotion, failed romance or friendship, strained familial situations, tragedy, illness, neuroses, or emotional and physical hardship". [20] Film critics sometimes use the term "pejoratively to connote an unrealistic, pathos-filled, camp tale of romance or domestic situations with stereotypical characters (often including a central female character) that would directly appeal to feminine audiences". [21] Also called "women's movies", "weepies", tearjerkers, or "chick flicks". If they are targeted to a male audience, then they are called "guy cry" films. Often considered "soap-opera" drama.
character development based on themes involving criminals, law enforcement and the legal system.

Historical drama

films that focus on dramatic events in history.

Medical drama

Focuses on doctors, nurses, hospital staff, and ambulance saving victims and the interactions of their daily lives

Teen drama

focuses on teenage characters, especially where a secondary school setting plays a role

See also

Related Research Articles

A comedy film is a category of film in which the main emphasis is on humor. These films are designed to make the audience laugh through amusement and most often work by exaggerating characteristics for humorous effect. Films in this style traditionally have a happy ending. One of the oldest genres in film—and derived from the classical comedy in theatre—some of the earliest silent movies were comedies, as slapstick comedy often relies on visual depictions, without requiring sound. When sound films became more prevalent during the 1920s, comedy films took another swing, as laughter could result from burlesque situations but also dialogue.

Fantasy film Film genre

Fantasy films are films that belong to the fantasy genre with fantastic themes, usually magic, supernatural events, mythology, folklore, or exotic fantasy worlds. The genre is considered a form of speculative fiction alongside science fiction films and horror films, although the genres do overlap. Fantasy films often have an element of magic, myth, wonder, escapism, and the extraordinary.

Film genre Classification of films based on similarities in narrative elements

A film genre is a motion-picture category based on similarities either in the narrative elements, aesthetic approach, or the emotional response to the film. Drawing heavily from the theories of literary-genre criticism, film genres are usually delineated by "conventions, iconography, settings, narratives, characters and actors". Standard genre characters vary according to the film genre; for film noir, for example, standard characters include the femme fatale and the "hardboiled" detective; a Western film may portray the schoolmarm and the gunfighter. Some actors acquire a reputation linked to a single genre, such as John Wayne or Fred Astaire. A film's genre will influence the use of filmmaking styles and techniques, such as the use of flashbacks and low-key lighting in film noir, tight framing in horror films, fonts that look like rough-hewn logs for the titles of Western films, or the "scrawled" title-font and credits of Se7en (1995), a film about a serial killer. As well, genres have associated film-scoring conventions, such as lush string orchestras for romantic melodramas or electronic music for science-fiction films.

Romantic comedy Film genre

Romantic comedy is a subgenre of comedy and slice-of-life fiction, focusing on lighthearted, humorous plot lines centered on romantic ideas, such as how true love is able to surmount most obstacles. One dictionary definition is "a funny movie, play, or television program about a love story that ends happily". Another definition suggests that its "primary distinguishing feature is a love plot in which two sympathetic and well-matched lovers are united or reconciled".

Action film Film genre

Action film is a film genre in which the protagonist or protagonists are thrust into a series of events that typically include violence, extended fighting, physical feats, rescues and frantic chases. Action films tend to feature a mostly resourceful hero struggling against incredible odds, which include life-threatening situations, a dangerous villain, or a pursuit which usually concludes in victory for the hero. Advancements in CGI have made it cheaper and easier to create action sequences and other visual effects that required the efforts of professional stunt crews in the past. However, reactions to action films containing significant amounts of CGI have been mixed, as films that use computer animations to create unrealistic, highly unbelievable events are often met with criticism. While action has long been a recurring component in films, the "action film" genre began to develop in the 1970s along with the increase of stunts and special effects. Common action scenes in films are generally, but not limited to, explosions, car chases, fistfights and shootouts.

Science fiction film Film genre

Science fiction is a film genre that uses speculative, fictional science-based depictions of phenomena that are not fully accepted by mainstream science, such as extraterrestrial lifeforms, alien worlds, extrasensory perception and time travel, along with futuristic elements such as spacecraft, robots, cyborgs, interstellar travel or other technologies. Science fiction films have often been used to focus on political or social issues, and to explore philosophical issues like the human condition.

Psychological horror is a subgenre of horror and psychological fiction with a particular focus on mental, emotional, and psychological states to frighten, disturb, or unsettle its audience. The subgenre frequently overlaps with the related subgenre of psychological thriller, and it often uses mystery elements and characters with unstable, unreliable, or disturbed psychological states to enhance the suspense, drama, action, and paranoia of the setting and plot and to provide an overall unpleasant, unsettling, or distressing atmosphere.

Crime film cinematic genre inspired by and analogous to the crime fiction literary genre

Crime films, in the broadest sense, is a film genre inspired by and analogous to the crime fiction literary genre. Films of this genre generally involve various aspects of crime and its detection. Stylistically, the genre may overlap and combine with many other genres, such as drama or gangster film, but also include comedy, and, in turn, is divided into many sub-genres, such as mystery, suspense or noir.

Teen film is a film genre targeted at teenagers and young adults by the plot being based on their special interests, such as coming of age, attempting to fit in, bullying, peer pressure, first love, teen rebellion, conflict with parents, and teen angst or alienation. Often these normally serious subject matters are presented in a glossy, stereotyped or trivialized way. Many teenage characters are portrayed by young adult actors between the ages of 18 and 30. Some teen films appeal to young males, while others appeal to young females.

A sports film is a film genre that uses sport as the theme of the film. It is a production in which a sport, sporting event, athlete, or follower of sport are prominently featured, and which depend on sport to a significant degree for their plot motivation or resolution. Despite this, sport is ultimately rarely the central concern of such films and sport performs primarily an allegorical role. Furthermore, sports fans are not necessarily the target demographic in such movies, but sports fans tend to have a large following or respect for such movies.

Romance film Film genre

Romance films or romance movies are romantic love stories recorded in visual media for broadcast in theaters and on TV that focus on passion, emotion, and the affectionate romantic involvement of the main characters and the journey that their love takes them through dating, courtship or marriage. Romance films make the romantic love story or the search for strong and pure love and romance the main plot focus. Occasionally, romance lovers face obstacles such as finances, physical illness, various forms of discrimination, psychological restraints or family that threaten to break their union of love. As in all quite strong, deep, and close romantic relationships, tensions of day-to-day life, temptations, and differences in compatibility enter into the plots of romantic films.

Mystery film Sub-genre of crime film

A mystery film is a genre of film that revolves around the solution of a problem or a crime. It focuses on the efforts of the detective, private investigator or amateur sleuth to solve the mysterious circumstances of an issue by means of clues, investigation, and clever deduction.

Exploitation film Informal film genre

An exploitation film is a film that attempts to succeed financially by exploiting current trends, niche genres, or lurid content. Exploitation films are generally low-quality "B movies". They sometimes attract critical attention and cult followings. Some of these films, such as Night of the Living Dead (1968), set trends and become historically important.

Slice of life describes the depiction of mundane experiences in art and entertainment. In theater, slice-of-life refers to naturalism, while in literary parlance it is a narrative technique in which a seemingly arbitrary sequence of events in a character's life is presented, often lacking plot development, conflict and exposition, as well as often having an open ending.

Play (theatre)

A play is a work of drama, usually consisting mostly of dialogue between characters and intended for theatrical performance rather than just reading. The writer of a play is a playwright.

Thriller film Film genre

Thriller film, also known as suspense film or suspense thriller, is a broad film genre that evokes excitement and suspense in the audience. The suspense element found in most films' plots is particularly exploited by the filmmaker in this genre. Tension is created by delaying what the audience sees as inevitable, and is built through situations that are menacing or where escape seems impossible.

A Romantic thriller or a romance thriller is a narrative that involves romance and thriller. Etymology of the word thrill comes from English root meaning “to pierce”. A thrill is a sharp sensation.

The Triangle of Knowledge

The Triangle of Knowledge is a writing technique to create and amplify tension in a screenplay, teleplay or stage play identified by Eric R. Williams. The Triangle represents ‘three minds’ that contain knowledge within a scene: the Protagonist, the audience, and any other Character in the scene. According to Williams, tension is created or enhanced when one of the three corners of the triangle is deprived knowledge in the scene.


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