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Film Genres

This guide highlights library resources for some of the more popular film genres.

A quick definition for action films

An extremely successful and influential mode of popular cinema that foregrounds spectacular movement of bodies, vehicles and weapons, and state-of-the-art special effects. These highly dynamic elements (with the actor’s physical performance a central attraction) are usually held together by a fast-paced, pared down, goal-orientated, narrative structure. Like the horror film or the thriller, the action film is defined in part by the type of experience it offers its audiences, namely, a visceral, exciting one of movement through (usually urban) space as the characters pursue a clearly specified objective, usually within a time-critical scenario. For its formal properties, narrative structure, and in the pleasures it offers it viewers, Speed (Jan de Bont, US, 1994) is considered by many to be an action film par excellence.

The action film is strongly associated with the adventure film, with swashbucklers, pirate films, historical epic films, and safari films all popular from the 1910s. The Douglas Fairbanks vehicle The Gaucho (F. Richard Jones, US, 1927) was described in contemporary reviews as an ‘action-adventure’ film and films such as The Adventures of Robin Hood (Michael Curtiz and William Keighley, US, 1938), starring Errol Flynn, contain all the elements normally associated with the contemporary genre. The Bond films of the 1960s and 1970s are also considered significant precursors. Often considered synonymous with US cinema, the action film is in fact central to almost all national cinemas. John Woo’s hyper-kinetic Hong Kong action films, for example, are variants of a longstanding martial arts film tradition that has shaped the cinemas of East Asia throughout the 20th century.  ...

Kuhn, A., & Westwell, G. (2020). Action film. In A Dictionary of Film Studies. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 24 Apr. 2023

Finding library resources for action & adventure films

To find what we have in the Library's collection, you can do a subject search for "action and adventure films" in the online catalog. That search will show you what film titles are classified as action films as well as books and other items about them.

As you look at the list under action and adventure films, the subject headings which include "history and criticism" talk about the genre itself. The headings which also include a country name are specifically talking about action films in that country.

Introductory reading(s)

Selected book title(s)

Finding scholarly articles and journal title(s)

Articles and other writings about movies can be found in many publications. Our collection does not include a journal or magazine which looks exclusively at action and adventure films. Other film journals within our collection will cover action films. You can use Film & Television Literature Index to find relevant articles.

Selected movie title(s)

Find more action films in the library's collections.