Genre theory, an aspect of Genre Studies, focuses on understanding how the structural elements that carry the meaning of a filmed text, and the common structures among groups of filmed texts, begin to carry meaning on their own. Once the structural elements of a generic category of film are recognizable to audiences, they can become predictable and even expected. At that point, those structural elements become symbolic and, therefore, meaningful. For example, the monologue a villain gives rather than killing the hero in an action or fantasy film carries meaning in itself -- regardless of what is said, the particular film in which it appears, or from which villain it comes. Audiences expect the villain to explain the evil plot or taunt the hero when the hero is trapped under the villain's power. It is one of the semiotic elements of the genre. Elements like that become so comforting and expected that, if they don't appear in a generic film, the audience gets confused, disappointed, or even hostile. Imagine the audience's reaction if the villain simply killed the hero at the first opportunity without a word. This reaction is called "generic frustration."
Since this is a structuralist theory, the analysis should focus on the structural elements of the film, how those elements are used to create meaning, and whether or not those elements match the audience's generic expectations. Before embarking on the analysis, the writer should make sure he or she is very familiar with the film's particular genre and its semiotic elements. The questions to answer are:
- Into which genre(s) does this film fit and why?
- Which generic elements carry meaning in this film and how?
- Which generic elements, if any, were left out, altered, or overused (in other words, did not match audience expectations)?
- If there were elements that didn't match expectations, did they cause generic frustration or were they well enough placed that they were acceptable or enjoyable anyway?
- How could those new elements (or unexpected new ways of using the elements) find themselves incorporated as new semiotic elements in the generic structure?