Detective film

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The crime film , also known as crime thriller for short , is a superordinate film genre with a large number of sub-genres, the common feature of which is the central role of a crime . Characteristic are perpetrators ( gangster film ), police ( police film ) or justice ( court film ) as identification figures or the act itself as the focus of action. In addition to the focus on the character constellation, crime films can be categorized according to the way they are staged, for example pessimistic ( film noir ), parodistic ( crime comedy ) or rousing ( thriller ). A recurring element of the crime film is the concept of the Whodunit (German: "Who was it?").


Police film

The focus of the police film is on the work of the police and the pursuit of the perpetrators. Single or multiple investigators appear as protagonists. A large number of police films were made in the United States from the mid-1940s . These films provided the authenticity of the cases shown and the police work and can be assigned to the genre of film noir . Most of the time, they began with an introductory text that gave the following plot as a reproduction of an actual investigation.

In some films, the police and gangster themes mix more strongly than in pure police films. Corruption and mistakes in the police and judicial system play a major role here. Transitions to prison films, for example, and in individual cases also to political films, are fluid.

A sub-form of the police film is the detective film , in which the investigating persons are usually detectives and not police officers. A subspecies of the police film is the Poliziottesco from Italy , which in the period between 1968 and 1982 mainly deals with the Italian police and the mafia .

Film examples:

Gangster movie

Bonnie Parker was the model for the film Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

A characteristic of the gangster film is the description of illegal activities, whereby the social and / or psychological career of the criminals, often in connection with entire criminal organizations, is the focus. The gangster film had its heyday in the 1930 's in the United States and has since emerged in different directions.

The genre of the gangster film is a broad field in which the so-called classic circle, which includes the films The Little Caesar , The Public Enemy and Scarface , is understood as a core element. A number of thematic, iconographic and ideological standards were set in it, which could be understood as "genre features" in themselves. In order to be able to fully grasp the more than 75-year history of the gangster film, these standards can only be seen as a reference point from which numerous variations have emerged.

The heist movie and the serial killer film are often viewed as sub-genres of gangster films .

Film examples:

Court film

The court film deals with the legal dispute with a previously committed crime. It is not uncommon for the crime itself to be part of the plot. The judicial procedure becomes the framework for the course of action, which can, for example, end with a judgment from a judge. The crime itself and the investigation of the crime is also part of the plot, especially in the television series of the subgenre.

In recent times there have been an increasing number of films in which the accompanying science, above all pathology and psychology, is the focus. In the 2000s, moved with series such as CSI , increasingly, issues such as forensics and forensics / forensic examination at the center.

Film examples:

Prison movie

The prison film was originally a pure sub-genre of the classic gangster film . Since the 1970s, prison film has increasingly incorporated aspects of other genres, such as action films , adventure films and sports films . As a place of action, the prison is usually an expression of a change in the story of the protagonists: either a place of purification or a continuation of the criminal career under the changed conditions of a prison. The compulsory conditions of imprisonment are decisive for the action-defining prison situation: isolation, lack of self-determination and dehumanization.

Film examples:


When Thriller (of English. To thrill "carried away, captivate") stands in place of the puzzle to get the wanted offender to the potential danger of the central characters.

In contrast to the classic detective story, the investigator in the thriller is often the target of the perpetrator. If he portrays an inviolable person in the detective novel, he has to fear for his life in the thriller and not infrequently assert himself physically against his opponents. Additional tension is created. The thriller is accordingly shaped far more by the action and horror elements of the film genre than the classic detective novel. A happy ending is no longer guaranteed.

The genre of the thriller is in turn divided into numerous subgenres (including judicial thrillers, political thrillers, psychological thrillers and erotic thrillers).

Film examples:

Spy movie

The espionage film is an almost independent sub-genre that is also assigned to the crime film and deals with the work of spies and secret agents .

Film examples:

Film noir

With film noir ( French for "black movie"), the movie genre or - indicates a style of the film obtained by a pessimistic view of the world, gloomy image design and alienated, bitter characters is determined - depending on the viewpoint. Film noir had its classic era in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s. Rooted in the time of the end of the Second World War and influenced by German Expressionism and the tradition of American crime literature, the film noir represents a contrast to conventional Hollywood cinema.

Film examples:

Detective comedy

The mixture of humorous and dramatic elements has been widespread in the theater since the beginning (see tragicomedy ). In the humorous loosening up of crime films, the crime story is in the foreground, but is accompanied by individual funny actions or dialogues or is entirely dominated by parody.

Film examples:

Serial killer film

The serial killer film , also known as serial killer film or serial killer film , contains elements of the (psycho) thriller, the police film or the horror film . It addresses the acts of serial killers and can tell from the perpetrator's perspective as well as from the victim's point of view or the investigators' point of view.

Film examples:

Business crime

Crime films and television series in which “a capital or economic crime is the focus, the action is set in an economic milieu - for example in a corporation - or the economic system itself tends to be criminal in terms of its effects and structures are considered to be economic crime or thrillers . "

Important representatives of the genre are the German television series Schwarz Rot Gold and the feature films Wall Street , Insider , Silkwood and Michael Clayton .


  • Knut Hickethier (ed.), Katja Schumann et al .: Film genres: crime film . Universal Library No. 18408. Reclam, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 3-15-018408-8
  • Georg Seeßlen : Detectives. Murder in the cinema . Popular movie basics. Schüren, Marburg 1998, ISBN 3-89472-425-0
  • Meinolf Zurhorst : Lexicon of the crime film. With more than 400 films from 1900 until today . Heyne, Munich 1993, ISBN 3-453-05210-2
  • Hans-G. Kellner, JM Thie, Meinolf Zurhorst , Georg Seeßlen : The gangster film. Directors, stars, writers, specialists, topics and movies from A-Z . Encyclopedia of Popular Films, Volume 8. Roloff and Seeßlen, Munich 1977, ISBN 3-88144-118-2 and ISBN 3-88144-128-X
  • Alain Charlot: The 100 best crime films (OT: Les 100 chefs-d'oeuvre du suspense ). Heyne Film and Television Library No. 155. Heyne, Munich 1991, ISBN 3-453-04930-6
  • John Gabree: The classic gangster movie (OT: Gangsters ). Heyne-Filmbibliothek Volume 22. Heyne, Munich 1981, ISBN 3-453-86022-5
  • Marianne Engels-Weber [Red.] Et al .: Odds catcher crime thriller. The most popular genre on German television . Catholic Institute for Media Information, Cologne 1999, ISBN 3-934311-05-9
  • Hans Gerhold: cinema of looks. The French crime film - a social story . Fischer Cinema. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 1989, ISBN 3-596-24484-6

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Philipp Brunner: crime film . In: Lexikon der Filmbegriffe, edited by Hans. J. Wulff and Theo Bender.
  2. cf. Mason, S. XIVf.
  3. a b Business crime in the lexicon of film terms , website of the Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel , last updated on November 12, 2012, accessed on March 14, 2020