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The Most Popular Movie Genres by Decade

May 26, 2023

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Ideal for true cinema surround-sound systems

When you were born might determine what movies you like


Did you know our collective tastes in movies have changed over the decades? Like skinny jeans and bell bottoms, movie genres have gone in and out of style. What makes a genre popular? There are many reasons, from the technology available at the time to current events. Thanks to G.S. Perno of cinelinx for examining all the data! Based on this data, what will the hot genres of the future be?


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The world of cinema is ever-evolving, with new genres popping up every decade. Each decade has its unique style, and the popular movie genres of the time often reflect the society in which they were created.


In the 1920s, the introduction of "talkies" revolutionized the film industry. With synchronized sound, movies could now feature dialogue and music, which led to a boom in musicals, dramas, and comedies. This era saw the rise of Hollywood as the center of the film industry, with studios producing films at an unprecedented rate. Talkies also paved the way for the first "gangster" films, depicting notorious criminals' rise and fall.

In the 1930s, stereo sound was developed, offering a more immersive audio experience (but nowhere near where we are today)! Although this innovation was used in a few films, it was not widely adopted until later. However, this decade saw the introduction of new genres such as horror, adventure, and westerns. The Great Depression, which began in 1929 and lasted throughout the 1930s, also influenced the film industry, as people sought entertainment and escapism from their struggles. As a result, musicals and comedies remained popular during this time, as well as "screwball" comedies that offered a more irreverent and whimsical tone.

The 1940s: The Dawn of Drama

The 1940s brought significant innovation to the film industry in the form of magnetic tape. It allowed filmmakers to edit sound more precisely and efficiently, opening up new possibilities for manipulating sound. This development led to new film genres, such as film noir. Film noir is a cinematic term used primarily to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas, particularly those that emphasize cynical attitudes and sexual motivations. A recent example of a neo-noir film is "Blade Runner 2049" (2017), directed by Denis Villeneuve. The film is a sequel to the 1982 classic "Blade Runner." It features similar elements of a dystopian, futuristic society, morally ambiguous characters, and complex themes of identity and humanity.

Dramatic films were the most popular genre during the 1940s and 1950s, with a slight resurgence in the 1970s and early 1990s. During the 1940s and 1950s, war dramas and romances dominated the industry, reflecting the societal context of WWII and post-war times. Today, dramas rarely compete with blockbuster movies in theaters. As a result, they have fallen off the box office charts. However, the genre remains popular on streaming platforms and other media channels.

The 1950s: The Rise of the Westerns and Musicals

In the 1950s, the film industry was revolutionized by introducing multitrack recording, which allowed for recording multiple audio tracks simultaneously, leading to a more complex and layered audio experience. This innovation was primarily used in musicals and other films. Musicals were a budget-heavy but highly profitable part of Hollywood's midcentury business. They were family-friendly, lavish, and easy to advertise. After the 1970s, and especially after the advent of the blockbuster, the musical disappeared from the box office charts. We still get an occasional musical that makes a splash, but it is a mere fraction of what this once-great genre was capable of.

The 1950s also saw the Western genre take over the box office, with films like "High Noon," "Shane," and "The Searchers" becoming box office hits. Westerns provided comfort and stability when society was still recovering from World War II. The cowboy hero, with his rugged individualism, was seen as a reflection of American values. The Western genre allowed society to make sense of the changing world around them. The Western connects Hollywood to its roots, so there is a certain nostalgia attached to them, which is why they continue to find connections with audiences even amid more current and popular genres.

Comedies were also popular in the 1950s, with many family-oriented films cashing in on the post-war boom. Disaster movies and creature sci-fi flicks also emerged in the 50s.

The 1960s: The Emergence of the Multiple New Genres Thanks to Dolby

The 1960s marked great change and social upheaval in American society, significantly impacting the film industry. The emergence of the baby boomer generation and the rise of youth culture led to a demand for films that spoke to the experiences and values of young people. This demand led to the creation of new film genres, such as the beach party movie and the youth rebellion film.

Technological advances, such as the development of Dolby Sound, also allowed for more complex and immersive audio experiences, further expanding filmmaking possibilities. Genres like romcoms and action movies got their start in the 1960s. Exciting car chases as part of action movies became a genre staple. In the 1970s, stars like Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson emerged as the first action movie stars. This type of filmmaking remained popular in the 1980s, with the emergence of new stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. However, the basic action film genre declined in the 1990s due to the rise of other action-heavy genres like science fiction, fantasy adventures, and superhero films.

The 1970s: The Era of the Disaster Film and Sci-Fi Revolution

The 1970s saw the introduction of surround sound, which became the standard for theater audio. This innovation was used in films like “Star Wars” and “Jaws,” creating a more immersive audio experience for audiences.

The decade also saw the rise of two popular genres: disaster films and sci-fi. Disaster films like "The Towering Inferno," "Earthquake," and "Airport" became box office hits, offering a way for people to confront their fears and anxieties during a time of political and economic instability, with the Watergate scandal and the oil crisis dominating the headlines. However, the popularity of the genre declined with the advent of the blockbuster, although it had a resurgence in the 1990s, albeit in the form of sci-fi disaster movies such as "Independence Day" and "Armageddon."

The sci-fi genre also underwent a revolution in the 1970s, with films like "A Clockwork Orange" and "Star Wars" changing our perception of what science fiction could be. These movies showed that sci-fi was no longer relegated to B-movie status but could be the most exciting and popular genre. This shift in perception set the stage for the rise of sci-fi blockbusters in the following decades.

The 1980s: The Golden Age of the Action Genre

In the 1980s, digital sound was introduced, allowing even higher-quality audio to be recorded and played back. This innovation was used in films like “E.T.” and “Top Gun” and became the standard for film audio.

The 1980s saw the rise of the action genre, with films like "Die Hard," "Lethal Weapon," and "Predator" becoming box office hits. This was a time of economic prosperity and political conservatism, with the Reagan administration promoting a sense of American exceptionalism. The action genre provided a way for people to experience power and control in a rapidly changing world.

The 1990s: THX and the Rise of Independent Films, Epic Adventures, and Animated Films

The 1990s marked the development of THX, a certification program that ensured high-quality audio and video in theaters. This innovation was used in the decade's biggest films, such as “Jurassic Park” and “Terminator 2,” and became the standard for theater certification.

The 1990s saw the rise of independent films, which challenged traditional Hollywood conventions and allowed people to explore new ideas. Independent films like “Pulp Fiction,” “Clerks,” and “The Blair Witch Project” became box office hits. Their success paved the way for future independent filmmakers.

The epic adventure genre experienced a resurgence in the late 90s and early 2000s with franchises like “Lord of the Rings,” “Harry Potter,” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.” These films introduced fantasy themes to audiences in big-budget adventures that proved just as popular as their Golden-era predecessors.

Animated films made a comeback in the 90s, with hits like “The Lion King,” “Aladdin,” and “Toy Story” dominating the box office. The advent of computer animation opened doors for studios like Pixar, which led to a significant increase in competition in the 2000s. Animated films appealed not only to children but also to adults and remained popular throughout the following decade.

The 2000s: The Era of the Superhero Genre

In the 2000s, surround sound became more common in home theaters, allowing for a more immersive audio experience at home. This innovation was used in films like The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Matrix trilogy.

The 2000s saw the rise of the superhero genre, with films like "Spider-Man," "The Dark Knight," and "Iron Man" becoming box office hits. This was a time of global terrorism and political polarization, with the September 11th attacks and the Iraq War dominating the headlines. The superhero genre allowed people to explore themes of justice, power, and morality in a world that was becoming increasingly complex.

The current fascination with superhero movies was born out of the technological advancements seen in both the action and science fiction genres, allowing a new type of film to be made. While older examples like Superman or Tim Burton's Batman exist, they don't fit the mold of the latest breed of superhero movies.

Superhero movies have become big business, and Hollywood has invested heavily. These films provide entertainment and reflect our society's interests and concerns, exploring themes such as power, justice, and morality. The superhero genre will likely continue its dominance at the box office for the foreseeable future, with new films and franchises being developed and released regularly.

The 2010s: Growing Immersive Homes and The Cinematic Universe

In the 2010s, immersive sound technologies like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X were introduced, allowing for an even more immersive audio experience in theaters and at home. This innovation was used in films like “Gravity” and “Mad Max: Fury Road,” and it has become the new standard for audio in theaters and at home. Now sound can come from the front, back, and above!

The 2010s were marked by the continuation and expansion of the superhero genre, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe dominating the box office with films like "The Avengers," "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," and "Black Panther." These films introduced new heroes and expanded on existing storylines. They also experimented with different genres, such as the heist movie in "Ant-Man" and the space opera in "Guardians of the Galaxy."

Another significant development in the 2010s was the rise of the "cinematic universe" model, with interconnected films and TV shows telling a larger story. The Marvel Cinematic Universe was the most successful example. Other franchises like the DC Extended Universe and Star Wars attempted this model.

The horror genre also saw a resurgence in the 2010s, with films like "Get Out," "Hereditary," and "A Quiet Place" becoming critical and commercial successes. These films used horror as a vehicle to explore themes of social commentary, family dynamics, and the human psyche.

In addition, the 2010s saw a greater emphasis on representation and diversity in film, with films like "Moonlight," "Crazy Rich Asians," and "Black Panther" showcasing underrepresented voices and stories on the big screen.

Where Does This Leave Us for the Future?

Each decade's most popular movie genres reflect the society in which they were created. As we move forward into the future, new genres will likely emerge that reflect the changing world around us. One potential area of growth is the sci-fi genre, which has already seen significant success with films like "Interstellar," "Inception," and "Arrival." As technology advances and our understanding of the universe expands, the sci-fi genre allows us to explore new possibilities and ideas about the future.

The dystopian genre has been growing in popularity over the past few decades, reflecting the anxieties and concerns of our time. TV series like "The Handmaid's Tale" and "Severance" depict a bleak and oppressive future where people are stripped of their fundamental rights and freedoms, and the ruling class holds all the power. Such narratives reflect our anxieties about authoritarianism, climate change, and income inequality. The dystopian genre allows us to explore these complex issues in a compelling and thought-provoking way, and it seems likely that this trend will continue as society grapples with these pressing concerns.

While new genres may emerge, older genres may never truly go away. The Western genre, for example, has been around for over a century and continues to resonate with audiences today. Similarly, the romantic comedy may have fallen out of favor in recent years, but it could make a comeback in the future. Ultimately, the future of movie genres is shaped by the ever-changing landscape of society, technology, and culture. As we continue to explore new ideas and push the boundaries of what is possible, we can expect a diverse range of movie genres to emerge and evolve in the years to come.

Are you ready to embark on a cinematic journey through the decades? Discover the most popular movie genres that defined each era, and immerse yourself in a world of captivating storytelling. Don't let your birth year limit your cinematic experiences—set up your immersive surround sound system today and get ready to indulge in these timeless classics. From the gripping dramas of the past to the exhilarating adventures of the present, every movie genre has something unique to offer. Experience the full depth and richness of these films with the Platin Monaco 5.1.2, a state-of-the-art sound system that will transport you directly into the heart of every scene. It's time to bring the magic of the silver screen into your home and create unforgettable movie moments. Get ready to be captivated, thrilled, and inspired—your cinematic journey awaits!

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