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Film Genres

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

A definition for crime films

An extremely wide-ranging group of films that have crime as a central element. The chase film, which often had the committing of a crime as motivation for its defining action, is an important precursor and early crime films (see Early Cinema) include Biograph and Mutoscope’s five-part series, A Career in Crime (US, 1900), which shows a young man turning to crime and ends with him being sentenced to death by electric chair. The Great Train Robbery (Edwin S. Porter, US, 1903), The Life of Charles Peace (William Hagger, UK, 1905), and Salaviinanpolttajat/The Bootleggers (Louis Sparre and Teuvo Puro, Finland, 1907) all based their plots on real-life crimes. In France, the Fantômas serial (Louis Feuillade, 1913–14) showed the exploits of a dashing master criminal; and numerous adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s and Arthur Conan Doyle’s crime stories were made in Europe and the US in the silent cinema era. There was a significant cycle of gangster films (or ‘crook melodramas’ as they were called) in the mid 1910s and in the late 1920s to early-mid 1930s, and this sub-genre of the crime film is popular and lasting and has attracted a great deal of film studies scholarship. The 1920s and 1930s were also the golden age of detective literary fiction, with the hardboiled novels of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler in the US, and the detective stories of Agatha Christie in Britain enjoying commercial and critical success, and with the work of these authors regularly adapted into films from the 1940s. These detective films focused on detection and investigation and were extremely popular with audiences, who relished the opportunity to solve a mystery, or puzzle, and to try to figure out ‘whodunnit’ before the ubiquitous scene of revelation at the film’s resolution. In the postwar period a darker version of the US crime film attracted the label film noir, with the act of detection often thwarted.

Kuhn, A., & Westwell, G. (2020). Crime film. In A Dictionary of Film Studies. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 9 Jun. 2022

Finding library resources for crime films

To find what we have in the Library's collection, you can do a subject search for "crime films" in the online catalog. That search will show you what film titles are classified as crime films as well as books and other items about them. The search includes the "history and criticism" about the genre itself. The search also includes crime films produced in other countries.

Introductory reading(s)

Selected book titles

Finding articles & using SUMMON

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 crime films. Other film journals within our collection will cover this genre. You can use Film & Television Literature Index to find relevant articles or use the search box at the top of the page.

Selected movie titles

To find more crime or caper films, search the library's online catalog.

Keeping up with Film Studies journal literature

Want an easy way to keep up with the journal literature for all facets of Film Studies? And you use a mobile device? You can install the BrowZine app and create a custom Bookshelf of your favorite journal titles. Then you will get the Table of Contents (ToCs) of your favorite journals automatically delivered to you when they become available. Once you have the ToC's, you can download and read the articles you want from the journals for which we have subscriptions.

You can get the app from the App Store or Google Play.

Don't own or use a mobile device? You can still use BrowZine! It's now available in a web version. You can get to it here. The web version works the same way as the app version. Find the journals you like, create a custom Bookshelf, get ToCs and read the articles you want.