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Crime drama

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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,[1] but also include comedy, and, in turn, is divided into many sub-genres, such as mystery, suspense or noir.

Screenwriter and scholar Eric R. Williams identified crime film as one of eleven super-genres in his screenwriters’ taxonomy, claiming that all feature-length narrative films can be classified by these super-genres.  The other ten super-genres are action, fantasy, horror, romance, science fiction, slice of life, sports, thriller, war and western.[2] Williams identifies drama in a broader category called "film type", mystery and suspense as "macro-genres", and film noir as a "screenwriter's pathway" explaining that these categories are additive rather than exclusionary.[3] Chinatown would be an example of a film that is a drama (film type) crime film (super-genre) that is also a noir (pathway) mystery (macro-genre).

Source of plots[edit]

Crime films are often based on real events or are adaptations of plays or novels, or a remake or adoption of a previous film. Some plots are original and entirely fictional. For example, the 1957 film version of Witness for the Prosecution is an adaptation of a 1953 stage play of that name, which is in turn based on Agatha Christie's short story, originally published in 1933. The film version was remade in 1982, and there have been other adaptations. However, each of these media has its own advantages and limitations, which in the case of cinema is the time constraint.

Plays and films[edit]

Humphrey Bogart in The Petrified Forest (1936)

Witness for the Prosecution is a classic example of a "courtroom drama". In a courtroom drama, a charge is brought against one of the main characters, who claims to be innocent. Another major part is played by the lawyer (in England a barrister) representing the defendant in court and battling with the public prosecutor. He or she may enlist the services of a private investigator to find out what really happened and who the real perpetrator is. However, in most cases it is not clear at all whether the accused is guilty of the crime or not—this is how suspense is created.

Often, the private investigator storms into the courtroom at the last minute in order to bring a new and crucial piece of information to the attention of the court. This type of literature lends itself to the literary genre of drama focused more on dialogue (the opening and closing statements, the witnesses' testimonies, etc.) and little or no necessity for a shift in scenery. The auditorium of the theatre becomes an extension of the courtroom. When a courtroom drama is filmed, the traditional device employed by screenwriters and directors is the frequent use of flashbacks, in which the crime and everything that led up to it is narrated and reconstructed from different angles.

A classic courtroom drama is U.S. playwright Reginald Rose's Twelve Angry Men (1954), which is set in the jury deliberation room of a New York Court of Law. Eleven members of the jury, aiming at a unanimous verdict of "guilty", try to get it over with as quickly as possible. And they would really succeed in achieving their common aim if it were not for the eighth juror (played by Henry Fonda in the 1957 movie adaptation), who, on second thoughts, considers it his duty to convince his colleagues that the defendant may be innocent after all, and who, by doing so, triggers much discussion, confusion, and anger.


Crime action[edit]

Crime action films are those that favor violence. According to Jule Selbo, the crime and action genres are intertwined: "the films could not exist in their popular form without the other on equal footing—therefore they are working in tandem". Examples include the Fast & Furious film series.[4][5]

Crime comedy[edit]

Crime comedy films are a hybrid of the crime film and the comedy that play with the conventions of the crime film and may introduce aspects of dark humor. Generally, they feature dim-witted criminals or crime sprees that are bumblingly executed or are presented in a lighthearted matter. The genre had a resurgence in popularity in the independent film scene of the 1990s, which combined the cliches of the crime thriller with comic appropriations.[6]

Crime drama[edit]

Crime dramas are films that focus on the moral dilemmas of criminals. They differ from crime thrillers as the films generally focus on a more grim and realistic portrayal of the criminal world over violence and gunplay sequences. Occasionally these films begin with the flashier elements of the crime thriller such as in The Godfather, Goodfellas, and Once Upon a Time in America to develop into more contemplative narratives.[7]

Crime thriller[edit]

Crime thrillers focus on the exciting elements of both successful and unsuccessful crimes. Unlike police procedural, they focus on a criminal or a group of criminals rather than law enforcement. These films tend to focus on the violent scenes, double-crossings, robberies and murders as their central elements like highly rated Joseph, Nayattu.[8]

Dacoit film[edit]

A genre of Indian cinema (including Hindi Film Industry) revolving around dacoity. The genre was pioneered by Mehboob Khan's Aurat (1940) and Mother India (1957). Other examples include Gunga Jumna (1961), Sholay (1975) and Bandit Queen (1994).[citation needed]

Gangster film[edit]

See also Yakuza film

Gangster films are films that glorify the criminal activities of gangsters, often elevating them to heroes in their stories. The gangster film is among the oldest genres of films, with examples dating as early as Underworld, Little Caesar and Scarface.[9] After World War II, these films became increasingly violent and menacing with films like Underworld USA.[9] These films also were made outside the United States in Hong Kong, Japan and France.[9]

Heist film[edit]

This film deals with a group of criminals attempting to perform a theft or robbery, as well as the possible consequences that follow. Heist films that are lighter in tone are called "Caper films". Examples include The Killing, Oceans 11, Dog Day Afternoon, Reservoir Dogs, and The Town.

Mumbai underworld[edit]

An Indian cinema crime film genre, often produced in Hindi Film Industry. The genre frequently draws inspiration from real Mumbai underworld gangsters, such as Haji Mastan, Dawood Ibrahim and D-Company. The genre was pioneered by Salim–Javed's Zanjeer (1973) and Deewaar (1975), starring Amitabh Bachchan. Other examples include the Don franchise (1978–2012), Nayakan (1986), Salaam Bombay! (1988), Parinda (1989), Satya (1998), Company (2002), Black Friday (2004), Slumdog Millionaire (2008) and Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai (2010).[citation needed]

Police procedural[edit]

Police procedurals have remained a mainstay with He Walked By Night, In the Heat of the Night, Madigan, and The French Connection.

Prison film[edit]

The Prison film is a type of crime film that focuses on the difficult living conditions with prisons as well as occasionally focusing on inmates adjusting to life outside of prison.[10] The films tend to only show graphic films where crime run rampant in prison.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. "Metasearch Search Engine". Retrieved 2019-01-18.
  2. Williams, Eric R. (2017). The screenwriters taxonomy : a roadmap to collaborative storytelling. New York, NY: Routledge Studies in Media Theory and Practice. ISBN 978-1-315-10864-3. OCLC 993983488. Search this book on
  3. Williams, Eric R. "How to View and Appreciate Great Movies". English. Retrieved 2020-06-07.
  4. Selbo, Jule (2014). Film Genre for the Screenwriter. Taylor & Francis. pp. 56–57, 229–232. Search this book on
  5. Scheibe, Cynthia Leone (1983). Character Portrayals and Values in Network TV Commercials. Cornell University. p. 107. Search this book on
  6. "Subgenre - Crime comedy". AllMovie. Retrieved November 4, 2020.
  7. "Subgenre - Crime drama". AllMovie. Retrieved November 4, 2020.
  8. "Subgenre - Crime thriller". AllMovie. Retrieved November 4, 2020.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 "Subgenre - Gangster Film". AllMovie. Retrieved November 4, 2020.
  10. 10.0 10.1 "Subgenre - Prison Film". AllMovie. Retrieved November 4, 2020.

Further reading[edit]