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5 Niche film genres that are enriching modern cinema

5 Niche film genres that are enriching modern cinema

These obscure and niche film genres are twisting classic cinema tropes in new ways, and make essential watching for any cinephile

The film industry is built on a foundation of genres that set the tone, narrative beats and expectations from audiences. Fantasies, murder mysteries and dramas are just some of the major touchstones of moviemaking, but there is an increasing array of niche genres out there that are beginning to become ever more important.

These cinematic categories tell unique and compelling stories from perspectives that aren’t always seen. They might play on tropes taken from other genres, but twist them in brand new ways. Many of these niche areas might actually be featured in films you already know and love, and really deserve to garner more attention.

Mockbuster

Hansel and Gretel Witch HuntersCourtesy of Paramount Pictures. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters turns the fairy tale on its head with a horror twist

The B-movie industry has often used parody to craft something entertaining, unexpected and often downright hilarious. The mockbuster takes this idea and turns it up a notch, deriving its content from big screen spectacles, but downsizing them to “inspired-by” adjacent productions.

These mockbusters will include familiar characters, structures or concepts, but twist them in new ways. They are far lower budget than the mainstream hits they take their influence from, but they are nonetheless fun and an interesting space to experiment within.

"These mockbusters will include familiar characters, structures or concepts, but twist them in new ways"

The mockbuster genre really got its start on the direct-to-video circuit, but with the collapse of that sector, streaming services have now taken to producing their own mockbusters—sometimes boasting cover artwork that copies the cinematic outings they are trying to emulate, these movies are still a fascinating artform unto themselves.

The horror-infused Hansel & Gretel (2013), and family-focused Mirror Mirror (2012) are two notable examples of the genre pushed to its limits. Meanwhile recent releases like Renfield (2023) might trace their origin to the roots of the mockbuster.

Other hits such as Disney’s Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers (2022) actually include the creation of the genre as a genuine plot point. It’s a brilliant source of comedy and inventiveness, as the genre portrays familiar beats from alternative angles.

Lovecraftian

Still from Lovecraft Country, HBOCourtesy of HBO/ELi Joshua Ade. Lovecraft Country weaves Lovecraftian elements into a modern fantasy

HP Lovecraft’s stories have created a genre unto themselves. With a combination of fantasy, horror and mystery, no project has been as pure in the Lovecraftian genre as Lovecraft Country (2020).

However, the key to the Lovecraftian way of moviemaking is to not actually use any characters created by the author, but instead to innovate with the tropes and atmospheric inclusions of the genre.

Some of the most notable terror-infused productions of the past few decades have taken their influences from the monsters, riddles and magic of those original texts.

"Ridley Scott's reimagining of the Alien universe with Prometheus is a gorgeous display of Lovecraftian elements placed in a sci-fi setting"

The Evil Dead (1981) for example, came to the mind of Sam Raimi after exploring the complexities of the Lovecraftian method of storytelling.

The entire premise of Hellboywhich debuted as a comic from Mike Mignola before Guillermo Del Toro’s gorgeous series was released—took advantage of the shadowy myths cultivated by HP. 

And Ridley Scott's reimagining of the Alien universe with Prometheus (2012) is a gorgeous display of Lovecraftian elements placed in a sci-fi setting.

It’s a niche movie genre that has made its influence felt on plenty of huge blockbusters and small-scale indie hits, and is hellbent on continuing to explore what we fear most as audiences: the unknown.

Cyberpunk

Still from Bladerunner 2049Courtesy of Warner Bros. Bladerunner 2049 reimagines its forebear's cyberpunk elements for modern sci-fi

Cyberpunk is so much more than just a genre. It’s an atmosphere and a visual style. It’s a combination of steampunk and science-fiction, usually set in a far-off dystopian world that is still grounded in grungy elements of reality.

It’s neon signs and vibrant characters and costumes, set to a backdrop of gritty cities, criminal underworlds and bizarre technologies.

The cyberpunk genre extends past world-building too, emerging as a political commentary on everything from capitalism to human advancement.

Although many might associate the word “cyberpunk” with the recent video game release Cyberpunk 2077 (2020), there is one franchise in particular which epitomises everything the genre is about.

Blade Runner (1982) and its follow-up, Blade Runner 2049 (2017), is an imaginative and harrowing display of cyberpunk taken to its extremes, in terms of scale and storytelling.

The Matrix (1999) was the next step in the genre’s development, utilising state-of-the-art technology to build a universe that was as engaging as it was ground-breaking in the cinematic space. Cyberpunk as a genre is as much about innovation as it is analysing our own evolution.

Parkour

Prince of Persia Sands of Time stillCourtesy of Disney+. Inspired by the sport, parkour now describes films like Prince of Persia: Sands of Time that incorporate free running

Occasionally a genre isn’t about the tone of the story being told or the types of characters that might be featured. It can sometimes, instead, be about the sort of action portrayed on screen.

For parkour, that stunt coordination and fight choreography involves the fast-paced travel of free-running experts. Parkour is a sport that has transcended its original purpose and is now a method that brings masterfully produced conflicts to the screen.

It’s a genre that has come to change the video game industry as a whole, which in turn has affected adaptations such as the much-discussed Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010).

"It’s a genre that has come to change the video game industry as a whole, which in turn has affected adaptations"

Big budget Hollywood hits such as Six Underground (2019) and British blockbusters like Casino Royale (2006) have taken elements of the genre and introduced characters or fight scenes that incorporate parkour and free-running.

The genre is ultimately about the imagination of the combatants and how they utilise their environment to their advantage, making for some truly exciting moments of setting-based tension that will always thrill audiences and speak to the bravery and skill of the characters.

Mumblecore

Still from Marriage Story Courtesy of Netflix/Wilson Webb. Mumblecore incorporates naturalistic dialogue in films like Marriage Story

The mumblecore genre is all about the dialogue. It prides itself on naturalistic methods of communication that feel authentic and give the characters involved a distinct sense of voice.

Often low-budget and independent, mumblecore outings see conversations that are messy and humour-filled, with characters talking over one-another and saying the wrong things. They reflect life in a way that rehearsed speeches and interactions of Hollywood epics simply cannot.

Mumblecore can be found in an array of subgenres, from festive family get-togethers like Happy Christmas (2014) to definitely not-family friendly get-togethers, such as Magic Mike (2012).

The Office (2001-2002) perfected the genre by combining it with a serialised mockumentary format, and its influence has really taken off from there.

While it has mostly been a genre utilised for the comedic opportunities that can come from the mundane regularities of dialogue, Marriage Story (2019) took the category in a very different direction to bring out the gut-wrenching emotions of a crumbling relationship.

Mumblecore portrays how we truly talk, with all its flaws, laughable qualities and raw feelings on show.

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