In film and television show, drama is a category of narrative fiction (or docudrama) intended to be more serious than humour in tone.
Drama of this kind is usually qualified with additional terms that specify its particular super-genre, macro-genre, or micro-genre, 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 Film industry or television that involve Fiction are forms of Drama if their storytelling is achieved by means of who represent ( mimesis) characters. In this broader sense, drama is a mode distinct from , Short story, and narrative poetry or .
[Elam (1980, 98).] 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. [Banham (1998, 894–900).]
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.
Williams, Eric R., (2020
, Routledge Studies in Media Theory and Practice.
. ISBN 9781315108643
Instead, the taxonomy contends that film dramas are a “Type” of film; listing at least ten different sub-types of film and television drama.
- Dramas dealing with intensely serious issues.
(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.
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.
(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.
(Film examples: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 2011, The Man Without a Past 2002, Silver Linings Playbook 2012, 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.
(Film examples: Fantastic Mr. Fox 2009 and Maleficent 2014)
- Light-hearted stories that are, nevertheless, serious in nature.
(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.
(Film examples: Idiocracy 2006 and Thank You for Smoking 2005)
- Straight Drama applies to those that do not attempt a specific approach to drama but, rather, consider drama as a lack of comedic techniques.
(Film examples: Ghost World 2001 and Wuthering Heights 2011 )
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.
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.
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.
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.
Examples of action dramas include Die Hard
(1988) and the Mad Max
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.
Examples of crime dramas include: The Big Short
(2015), The Godfather
(1972), and The Usual Suspects
In a drama thriller, the protagonist is often an unwitting reluctant hero
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.
According to screenwriter and scholar Eric R. Williams:
Films such as Black Swan (2010), Se7en (1995), Shutter Island (2010), and Zodiac (2007) are thriller dramas.
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."
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
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.
Metaphorically, these become battles of Good vs. Evil or Purity vs. Sin. The Conjuring
, 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.
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
(2016), and The Wrestler
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.
(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.
Examples include: Blade Runner
(1982), Children of Men
(2006), Clockwork Orange
(1971), Planet of the Apes
(1968), and Ready Player One
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.
Examples of this genre/type include: Hoosiers
(1986), The Hustler
(2011), and Remember the Titans
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.
Examples include: 1944
(2015), Apocalypse Now
(1979), Hacksaw Ridge
(2016), The Hurt Locker
(2008), Life is Beautiful
(1997), and Wildeye
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.
Examples of western dramas include: Django Unchained
(2012), Hell or High Water
(2016), Mad Max
(1979), No Country for Old Men
(2007), and Unforgiven
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,
while “Romantic Comedy” and “Family Drama” are macro-genres.
- 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.
- 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".
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". 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.
Crime drama / police procedural / legal drama
- character development based on themes involving criminals, law enforcement and the legal system.
- films that focus on dramatic events in history.
- Focuses on doctors, nurses, hospital staff, and ambulance saving victims and the interactions of their daily lives
- focuses on teenage characters, especially where a secondary school setting plays a role
Banham, Martin, ed. 1998. The Cambridge Guide to Theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. .
Cook, Pam, and Mieke Bernink, eds. 1999. The Cinema Book. 2nd ed. London: British Film Institute. .
Elam, Keir. 1980. The Semiotics of Theatre and Drama. New Accents ser. London and New York: Methuen. .
Hayward, Susan. 1996. Key Concepts in Cinema Studies. Key Concepts ser. London: Routledge. .
Neale, Steve. 2000. Genre and Hollywood. London: Routledge. .
Sheehan, Helena. 1987. Irish Television Drama: A Society and Its Stories
Williams, Eric R. (2017) The Screenwriters Taxonomy: A Roadmap to Creative Storytelling. New York, NY: Routledge Press, Studies in Media Theory and Practice. .