Movies are all based on genres. Even the most weird, off-the-wall, and strange films can be categorized into genres. My favorite films and usually the most interesting ideas these days, are those special films that bend genres to the breaking point. By bending genres, I really mean, hybrid-genre films. So like action-comedy would count, but that would be too easy. We’re looking for hyper-creativity here. People like to complain that there aren’t any good movie ideas anymore. That we’re trapped in this purgatory of sequels are remakes. Well these films can give you some hope that isn’t the case.
It takes a great mind and a certain eye to make a film that works like these following films do. Bending genres isn’t an easy thing to do. I can write a romance film, and it should probably contain all the hallmarks that you look for in a romance movie. But if you add horror to that, then you have a whole different set of rules that you have to follow so that the audience knows they’re watching a horror movie. The worst kind of film is one where you don’t actually know what you’re watching. Am I supposed to root for the hero even if they’re massacring nameless ghouls?
These following ten films are my personal favorites that bend their genres into a hybrid. It’s not necessarily the consensus list, or your list. I tried to differentiate the genres as much as possible, but there are some rehashed ones here. Let’s start with the honorable mentions.
Honorable Mentions For Genre Bending Movies
Every MCU Film
Now not every Marvel Cinematic Universe film bends genres as much as some others. Films like: Spider-Man: Homecoming (John Hughes comedy and Superheroes), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (political thriller and Superheroes), Ant-Man (Heist film and Superheroes), and Guardians of the Galaxy (Space opera and superheroes) all do their best to take from various genres and add them to the superhero equation. It’s what makes the MCU work so well. People see those familiar tropes and ideas and their favorite Marvel characters, it just works. Part of the reason why these films work so well is that you could take the Marvel stuff out, make it generic material, and the films would stand alone.
Other movies in the superhero genre do this just as well as the MCU, like Logan, Deadpool, and Kick-Ass. Some might say that superhero films have no substance and are cookie-cutter, I disagree.
Blade Runner is an honorable mention because this film is not underrated at all. It’s properly rated as one of the greatest science-fiction films ever. It’s influenced a generation or more of filmmakers to make beautiful art that also kicks ass. Ridley Scott’s magnum opus blends sci-fi and the film noir genres so perfectly that it re-created the blueprint for both genres.
John Carpenter’s 1982 horror-sci-fi classic, The Thing is my favorite movie ever. It’s endlessly rewatchable. The film blends more than just horror and science-fiction though. It’s a mystery, it’s a whodunit, and it all blends together to create the perfect film. The Thing goes far enough down the line of sci-fi and horror that it starts blending sub-genres of each genre. So if you want to take a deep dive into this masterpiece, go for it.
#10: Bone Tomahawk (2015)
Kurt Russell might be the “King Of Genre-Bending”. He’s already been mentioned twice, and he’s coming up for a third time later on. Bone Tomahawk is a film that combines a side of the western that isn’t normally referenced, the horror of the American West. People did horrible and horrifying things to each other back then. In a desperate attempt to rescue kidnapped settlers, a group from the town of Bright Hope go on a mission. They have to rescue people captured by cannibal savages. These savages are more dangerous and cunning than anyone in the group could have thought.
Combining the horror genre of slashers and the western is a godsend for this modern film. Starring: Kurt Russell, Matthew Fox, Lili Simmons, David Arquette, Patrick Wilson, and Richard Jenkins, it’s one that you have to see to believe. It’s not just a simple slash and gun film though, it’s an interesting character look and a commentary on the American Wild West as a whole.
#9: Drive (2011)
This one might be a bit cheating, but Drive combines the art-house film with B movie action. Drive was a casualty of mismanaged marketing by the studio. I remember seeing materials for this film and thinking I was in for an hour and a half of Ryan Gosling driving around kicking ass. The film does have sections like that, but it also has much more. It stars: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Oscar Issac, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, and Christina Hendricks.
Drive is a film that makes you think while also giving you spoonfuls of what you would expect. It’s a very human film. And I know that sounds pretentious as all hell, but it’s true. You see the humanity of the Driver and also his lack of humanity. He isn’t even given a credited name. It was a star-making performance for Ryan Gosling that continues to this day.
#8: After Hours (1985)
One of the lesser known (if that’s even possible) films in Martin Scorsese’s filmography. After Hours is a black comedy, noir, mythological, romance film. You might agree with all of those but mythological. Well it’s the story of the labyrinth and the mouse. It stars: Griffin Dunne, Rosanna Arquette, Verna Bloom, Tommy Chong, Linda Fiorentino, and Teri Garr. In addition to those stars, it has many other great performances like Catherine O’Hara as Gail, and Cheech Marin as Neil. Martin Scorsese even makes an appearance as a searchlight operator.
After Hours is a film that doesn’t fit into the different genres too easily, screwball comedy, film noir, and mythology. The whole film is surrounded by this aura and narrative that Paul, our hero is being emasculated and castrated emotionally. I don’t blame you if you’ve missed this one out of Scorsese’s filmography, but you owe it to yourself to give it a watch.
#7: Dredd (2012)
Not the Sylvester Stallone crap-fest turned “so-bad-it’s-funny” Judge Dredd. This is the gritty, awesome, Karl Urban-led, Dredd. In the not so near future, the entire Eastern seaboard, from Boston to Washington D.C. is now Mega-City One. This is a violent, horrible place that’s led by crime syndicates and terror. The only order are Judges that combine the powers of judge, jury, and executioner. Judge Dredd is the ultimate of these purveyors of justice. He and his new partner, Cassandra Anderson are tasked with taking down “Ma-Ma”, a dangerous drug queen-pin that controls the flow of the drug, “slow-mo” into the city.
While this might be the least of the genre-benders on the list, Dredd is a fantastic sci-fi, thriller, extreme action film. It stars: Karl Urban as Dredd, Olivia Thirlby as Anderson, Lena Headey as Ma-Ma, and contains an early career performance by Domhnall Gleeson. This one is a cult-classic already that deserves a sequel. Karl Urban’s performance despite being under a visor the entire film is top notch.
#6: The Night Of The Hunter (1955)
No, that’s not a still from a straight horror movie. The Night of the Hunter is a film that’s lauded among film buffs and film students as a classic. It’s considered to be one of the greatest and most influential films of all time. The general public might not know too much about this movie though. It combines the stark realism of movies of the time and the German Expressionist movement of the silent era in the 1910’s and 20’s. It combines horror, action, thriller, and period genres masterfully. It’s director, Charles Laughton, didn’t direct another film after this. The movie stars: Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Billy Chapin, Peter Graves, and Sally Jane Bruce.
The film tells the story of a misogynistic, murderous, con-man named Harry Powell. It’s the story of money and how one man will go to horrific lengths to torture a family for it. The good of the film is represented by two children and an old woman, the evil, by Powell. Night of the Hunter broke down barriers and boundaries for lighting effects and it’s one of the finest examples of genre bending films out there.
#5: Streets of Fire (1984)
Combining the MTV generation of rock music and action, Streets Of Fire is a film that some might say buckles under the premise of a rock opera action film. I say that the film holds up fine and is one of the best examples of blending genre in film. You have the story of a kidnapped singer Ellen, and her ex-boyfriend Tom Cody trying to save her from the villainous Raven Shaddock. Along the way, various characters help Tom along. The film was directed by Walter Hill. He envisioned the film as a comic book originally, and wanted to make that sort of stylized action.
The film takes place in Richmond, not Virginia, but a fictional place that resembles the style and look of the 1950’s while being sort of set in the present day. Dangerous biker gangs rule the streets and rock and roll is all the rage. Streets Of Fire is a hugely influential film, no matter what you think of it, because it took the step of the MTV generation being on film finally. It also influenced the films Se7en and Robocop. It stars: Michael Pare, Diane Lane, Willem Dafoe, Rick Moranis, Amy Madigan, and E.G. Daily.
#4: Repo Man (1984)
Alex Cox’s seminal masterpiece, Repo-Man can be looked at like a similar film to Streets Of Fire. Instead of being a love-letter to rock culture, it’s a love-letter to punk music slapped with a bit of alien sci-fi. The whole film revolves around a mystical 1964 Chevy Malibu. Emilio Estevez plays Otto, and Harry Dean Stanton plays Bud, the repo-man that shows Otto the ropes of the trade. The film denounces consumerism and it shows across the breadth of the film.
It takes some twists and turns, but it’s got aliens, government conspiracies, and the rules of being a repo-man. Repo Man is also a sort of love letter to the uglier and darker sides of Los Angeles. It very much is an LA movie. Give it a shot, and you won’t be disappointed.
#3: Manhunter (1986)
Michael Mann’s stylish 1986 serial killer thriller/horror/action film takes a study at the mind of not just one serial killer, but two. It’s the first on-screen appearance by the famous Hannibal Lecktor (how it’s credited in this film). Adapted from the novel Red Dragon, Mann is tasked with combining two genres here that might not be too fitting with one another. Will Graham is a retired FBI agent, who caught the famous Lecktor (played masterfully with a boyish charm by Brian Cox). Tom Noonan plays The Tooth Fairy, a new killer that Graham is tasked with capturing. It combines all these genres into one film that takes you deeper into the mind of a serial killer than you ever wanted to.
It also stars: Dennis Farina, Kim Greist, Joan Allen, and Stephen Lang. The film is often overshadowed by Silence Of The Lambs, but I’ll argue that the next 30 years of film and television owe their serial killer thriller aspects to this film. It shifted the image of the FBI agent from one of basically an ass-kicker cowboy to the visceral, sympathetic, thinking-man that became the trope for characters going forward.
#2: Big Trouble In Little China (1986)
John Carpenter’s films usually are pretty properly rated. Halloween is the classic that it deserves to be, lots of people find The Thing to be a masterpiece. While Big Trouble In Little China gets left off in the dust. While it can be seen as racially charged, the movie is a celebration of asian culture and films. Starring: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong, Victor Wong, and Kate Burton, it’s a mix of martial arts movies and the American action film. Except our western action star, is an idiot and makes horrible choices at every step of the way.
He’s macho, he’s over-the-top, and he gets schooled the entire movie by the level headed, and on a mission Wang Chi. What starts off as a kidnapping goes even deeper into a 3000 year old warlord looking for immortality. It was a box-office bomb at the time, but it’s gained a massive popularity after the fact. It deserves every bit of accolade that it gets. Big Trouble In Little China is a fantastic film that blends two classic genres seamlessly.
#1: Near Dark (1987)
Here it is, Kathryn Bigelow’s second film, the combination of vampires and western movie aesthetic. It doesn’t stop there, it combines the elements of family and comedy at certain points as well. Caleb Colton meets a drifter named Mae. Things get hot and heavy, and Mae ends up biting Caleb on the neck, drawing him into the family of vampires that Mae comes from. Their leader is the horrific and charismatic Jesse Hooker (played by Lance Henriksen). It stars: Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein, and Tim Thomerson.
The film is a landmark for both genres as the western was all but dead at this point in time. Vampires were a trendy film genre in the 80’s, but none of the films look or feel like Near Dark does. It’s a gory and glorious film that celebrates the best of both genres fluidly, and masterfully. I had to originally watch this one on Youtube, because the Blu-ray is out of print and expensive, but you can now rent it on Apple TV or Vudu. It’s well worth a watch, even if you’re not a super-fan of either genre.
Conclusion To Genre-Bending Films
That’s it! My top 10 genre-bending films. What did you think of it? Let us know in the comments or on Facebook. There are plenty more films that show off the power of combining two different genres, but these are some of the ones that people might not have seen. They all happen to be great films also. You can also check out my Top 10 Films To Cure The Blues.
What are some films that I might have missed? Let me know.
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