13 Great Films That Defy Genre/Hybrid Categorization

films defy categorization

Genre is a useful, if sometimes problematic tool for cinema; a film may contain many influences, styles and concepts meaning that it cannot be simply called, for example, a “horror” film. What if this “horror” film contains a lot of humour and makes the audience laugh as well as shriek? Well then it is a “horror-comedy” or “black comedy” – simple.

But what if a film was to defy even this sort of categorization –  if so much is on display that the film is rendered difficult to place and confronts a particular film’s, or hybrid film’s expectations. These thirteen films on this list apparently do not work to a specific genre. They were seemingly created outside the confinements of what people should expect when it comes to genre. In some cases does genre even matter?


13. Blow Up (1966)


Blow Up was Michaelangelo Antonioni’s first English-speaking film and also a prime example in the 1960s British Art Cinema movement. Blow-Up remains almost plot-less right up until its last quarter where photographer (David Hemmings) realises that he may have captured a murder on his camera, thus challenging where it would be appropriate to place the ‘initiating incident’ in a narrative and where that leaves the film in terms of genre.

Up until then however, the film largely consists of the character dossing about London, driving from place to place, doing odd photography jobs and have a giant propeller delivered to his place with only subtle hints at the film’s intended direction.

Blow-Up is a very interesting little film, if (deliberately) proving to be inaccessible due to its loose narrative, short burst of intense mystery and a ridiculously ambiguous ending. Brian De Palma’s loose reimagining of this film – Blow Out (1981) starring John Travolta is also worth a watch!

What it is usually pigeonholed into – “Mystery drama” or “Art-house thriller”


12. Berberian Sound Studio (2012)


Although this film is very much a love-letter to Italian ‘giallo’ horror/thriller films of 70s and 80s and also to filmmaking itself, Berberian Sound Studio is still rather unstable in terms of genre.

Its warped, sardonic humour is mixed with an increasingly uncomfortable psychological downgrade of the central protagonist – resulting in the film quite literally turning itself inside-out and leaving the audiences in an emotional state that bridges panic with exhilaration and joy.

Berberian Sound Studio is quite simply one of the strangest films to be released so far this decade. Expect many scenes of various fruit and vegetables being brutally massacred by foley artists to get the perfect sounds of human dismemberment.

What it is usually pigeonholed into – “Horror thriller” or “Surrealist drama”


11. Something Wild (1986)


The tone of Something Wild is absolutely all over the place, but stick with it and you will be in for an unpredictably wacky ride. An oddball temptress named Lulu coerces a ‘sensible’ yuppie into joining her on a journey that will eventually lead to him being at her high-school reunion.

Comparing the film’s carefree opening half an hour to the sinister and rather shocking finale, it is almost like there are two separate films playing simultaneously –with the darker one taking over and making a hard left turn halfway through the proceedings. This is largely helped by it featuringRay Liottain one of his first performances; he absolutely steals the show as he portrays Lulu’s vicious ex-husband, (Scorsese must have surely seen this before Goodfellas).

Always confounding expectations, frequently hilarious, unsettling and quite moving – Something Wild is exactly what it says on the tin.

What it is usually pigeonholed into – “Crime Comedy” or “Romantic thriller”


10. Abres los ojos (1997)


The original film to the bombastic 2001 remake, Vanilla Sky – another film which would certainly be at home on this list, but let’s keep it simple(r). Abre los ojosmerges what may or may not be reality with what may or may not be dreams with what may or may not be visions of the afterlife to create a story that is a lot more perplexing than this particular sentence.

The seemingly ordinary love story set-up is then thrown deep within the concepts of immortality and cryonics which takes it into the realm of fantasy and science-fiction causing stylistic conflictions and creates a rattling cinematic experience.

the said themes of reality, fantasy and dreams is always a hard line to walk in films but when accomplished to the degree of this film, it’s hard to not be impressed – let alone trying to work out in which genre you would place the film.

What it is usually pigeonholed into – “Science fiction fantasy” or “Romantic thriller”


9. The Tin Drum (1979)

tin drum

Quite possibly one of the most radical films to come out of the New German Cinema movement – if not, definitely the strangest. Adapted from Günter Grass’s novel, The Tin Drum tells the story of a young boy (Oskar) growing up in The Free City Of Danzig in the time leading up to, and during World War II.

Sounds straightforward, only Oskar has decides to stop growing up to endure the corruption of the adult world, whether it be war, or the incestuous relations in his family. So he does, literally. Also, Oskar has the special ability to shatter glass with his intense screeching – carrying obvious and heavy denotations of Kristallnacht.

The Tin Drum is a film which brings disparate themes and places them parallel to one another. The result is something utterlywarped.

What it is usually pigeonholed into – “War fantasy” or “Black comedy”


8. Naked Lunch (1991)


Anything that is the collective product of David Cronenberg and Williams S. Burrough’s minds is bound to confuse, disturb and alienate some. Even more so, any adaptation of the book Naked Lunch would be something totally unique, as is this one.

A fantastically grotesque journey into the unknown (well, Interzone. So yes, definitely unknown) featuring talking beetle typewriters, centipedes, drug addictions and doppelgängers. Naked Lunch really is one of the weirdest yet entertaining films ever made – more surreal and more abstract than Videodrome, yet it is just as repellent and more-than-slightly insane.

Can you honestly think of any other film where the protagonist has a conversation with a “Mugwump” in a bar? A delightfully woozy film.

What it is usually pigeonholed into – “Fantasy/Science Fiction” or “Surrealist drama”