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English vocabulary for movies

In this lesson, we will look at the different types of movie in English. There are hundreds of different genres (types) of movie (as you’ve probably seen on Netflix!), but in this lesson we will look at the main genres and some of the more advanced vocabulary used with each genre.

Here’s a description of the genres:

Genre Description
Animated (also called Anime when done in a Japanese style) Where the characters are drawn and voiced over by actors.
Biopic A biographical movie about a real person (living or dead). They are supposed to be factual, but sometimes they take some artistic licence (take a look at this page if you don’t know what this means!).
Comedy A film that is primarily supposed to be funny.
Crime A movie about a person or people breaking the law.
Disaster A movie about a major event like a hurricane, volcano or other natural event.
Documentary A factual program. A documentary becomes a documentary movie if it is longer than normal.
Family A family movie is something suitable for all ages.
Historical drama A historical drama is a movie set in past times. It does not necessarily mean it is factual – it could be fiction.
Martial arts A movie based on fighting in a traditional style of combat, like karate or kung fu.
Romantic comedy (also called a RomCom) A movie focuses on romantic ideas in a lighthearted (not serious) way
Science fiction Movies about science and the future (although often not factual)
Sports A movie that has a central focus around a sport.
Horror (can also be called a slasher if it’s particularly gory) A movie that aims to use fear for entertainment purposes. This can be through violence, the supernatural or other means.
Thriller A thriller is a movie that makes you feel excitement, suspense and tension.
Western A film set in 19th century America, involving cowboys and gun fights.
Historical drama A historical drama is a movie set in past times. It does not necessarily mean it is factual – it could be fiction.

Here are some examples descriptions with some vocabulary specific to each type:


I recently saw a biopic about Winston Churchill. It was a very interesting exposé (a hidden truth that is often surprising) of the man.


In this genre, my favourite style is dark comedy (getting comedy from something serious or tragic, like war or death). I really don’t like slapstick (where people do silly things like trip over) comedy but my friend thinks they are hysterical (extremely funny). I don’t mind parodies (exaggerating another movie or person to make them foolish – also called a ‘satire‘ if it has a political or social focus) though. I saw a really funny mockumentary (a movie presented as a serious documentary, but actually it is being satirical) about a fictional band – I thought that was hilarious (very funny)!


I quite like crime movies if the criminal is caught by a clever detective (a policeman who’s job it is to investigate crime). They often begin with a homicide (when someone is killed), and the detective has to interview people who know the victim (the person who the crime was against) in order to find the perpetrator (the person who committed the crime). I also like crime movies where the police investigate a heist (a robbery).


I like the special effects (using models or computers to create an image that doesn’t exist) in disaster movies, especially when they deal with apocalyptic events (events that would end the world).


There are lots of different types of documentary that I like. My favourite types are definitely nature documentaries and hard-hitting (direct and honest without being soft, especially when talking about facts most people don’t want to know or hear about) social documentaries. I don’t really like crime documentaries though, where they do reconstructions (where they act out what happened or what they think happened) of crimes.

Science fiction

I love science fiction movies, especially when they involve extra-terrestrials (life from another planet) coming to Earth in UFOs (Unidentified Flying Objects – spaceships!). I think there is a lot of creativity in this type of movie, with aliens (same meaning as extra-terrestrials in this context) that are shape shifters (they can take the shape of something or someone else). I also like dystopian ( an imagined state or society where there is a lot of suffering or injustice) sci-fi movies.


I’m not a great fan of gory (where there is a lot of blood) horror films – they terrify (to make someone very scared) me! I won’t watch most slasher films (films that are gory), or films with zombies (dead people that still move) any more because they give me nightmares. I don’t know how people can watch grotesque (very ugly or distorted) movies like that.

I don’t mind psychological horror (relies on mental and emotional responses and less on what you actually see) and supernatural horror (things that we can’t prove are real, like ghosts or demons) movies. They can be just as hair rising (extremely alarming or frightening) and spine tingling (pleasurably frightening) without having to show lots of blood. For me, suddenly hearing a blood-curdling scream (a sudden, alarming and high pitched scream) is much more effective than actually seeing someone getting killed.


I like all kinds of thrillers, regardless of whether they are slow-burn (builds tension over a long period) or fast paced (lots of quick action and changes). I like suspenseful (not sure whats going to happen but the excitements is building) films, especially when there is a taut (never relaxes – consistent tension or scares that don’t stop throughout the whole film) story.


I think the most famous actor in Western movies was Clint Eastwood. He always seems to play a cowboy (someone who rides horses and works on a ranch), riding across the plains (flat lands with a wide expanse) on his horse. Then he’d get to a small town with a saloon (an old style bar or pub where people could buy alcohol). Then there would be a gunfight where one person would shout ‘Draw!’ (to remove your gun from it’s holster, which was like an extra ‘pocket’ hung around the waist like a belt) and they’d try and shoot each other.

Here are some of the different roles people have in the film industry. You should already know words like actor, but here are some of the other jobs:

Roles in the film industry:

  • Protagonist – the leading character in the film (note that is not the same as ‘hero’ – the protagonist might be a negative character).
  • Director – the person who works with the actors, directs the camera people and is responsible for the overall look and feel of the film.
  • Producer – they are like project managers, looking after the budget for the film and coordinating all parts of the film.
  • Screenwriter – the person who either writes the script and dialogue or edits the script (for example, when turning a book into a movie).
  • Gaffer – the person responsible for the lighting.
  • Boom operator – the person who holds the microphone as close as possible to the actors but not so it shows on the final movie.
  • Stunt double – the person who does the dangerous scenes (such as jumping off a building). The difference between a stunt person and a student double is that the double is chosen because they look similar to the main actor in height and size.
  • Casting director – the person who chooses which actor should play which part in the movie.
  • Agent – the person who tries to get the actor into a role in the movie.
  • Editor – the person who organises the film into the right sequence, cutting out parts of the film that are not required. Note that this is a different role to a magazine or newspaper editor who chooses which articles are included or rejected.
  • Crew – all the people responsible for making a movie behind the camera.


Vocabulary used in the film industry (see below the list for examples)

  • The soundtrack – the music used in the film.
  • A trailer – the short clips of other movies shown before the main movie, normally 2 or 3 minutes long giving an idea of what the movie is about.
  • To shoot / shooting – in the film industry, this filming. “This film was shot in Spain.”
  • On location – this means the movie was filmed in a real-world place (not in a studio).
  • A blockbuster – a widely publicised, popular movie which is often expensive to make but is expected to be commercially successful (make a lot of money).
  • An indie movie – short for ‘independent’, this kind of film is often made on a small budget and doesn’t involve the large commercial companies.
  • A premiere – the first time a movie is shown in the cinema (often attended by some of the actors in the movie)
  • The credits – the list of names at the end of a movie that show who did what.
  • A sequel – the follow up movie that comes after the original
  • A prequel – a movie made after the first movie but showing what happened before the first movie.
  • Dubbing – when the speaking in the movie is changed to another language.
  • Voice over – when someone is narrating something but they are not seen on screen.
  • The cast – the people that were in the film.
  • A cameo appearance – a short appearance by a famous person (this could be another actor or some other celebrity)
  • Outtake – a part of the movie that gets cut from the final film and is not used
  • A cult following – when there are a lot fans who repeatedly watch the movie and quote phrases from it
  • A synopsis – a short summary of a movie
  • Artistic licence – when something is not 100% factual or accurate but is changed for dramatic effect.

Here are some examples of the words used above:

I saw a movie last night that I think you’d love. It had a great soundtrack, with music from Taylor Swift and Kanye West, and it was shot on location in New Zealand, so the scenery was amazing. It had quite a low budget and hasn’t been advertised very much, so it’s not the kind of blockbuster movie you normally like, but you should at least read the synopsis online – it’s a really interesting story! The movie was actually made about 3 years ago, but I didn’t know nothing about until last week. Apparently there was a premiere of the movie in New Zealand when it was released, and 5 or 6 members of the cast were there. There were so many good actors in it too, people I really like to watch on screen – actually, the credits looked like a list of my favourite people in the movie industry, with so many great names! It has the same scriptwriter and director that worked together on the Lord of the Rings movies back in 2004.

Although it wasn’t well-known when it was first released, it has gained something of a cult following now. It’s has been dubbed into 4 or 5 different languages, and they are now making a sequel showing what happened after they got married. I’ve seen the trailer for it, and there is a voice over from the main actor talking about what has happened since the end of the first movie . I don’t know if that would be very interesting though – I’d much prefer to find out what the character was like before they met, so I’d be more keen on a prequel if they’re going to make another movie.


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English vocabulary for movies

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English vocabulary for movies