Dae-Su holds a hammer above his head in an iconic scene from the 2003 Korean film Oldboy.

The Allure of Crime Subgenres

Exploring crime subgenres is like shopping for paint. Right when you think it’s all black and white, you find a whole new world of Inkwell and Iron Ore, Snowbound and Eggshell. There’s an endless universe of infinite subgenre possibilities, often with subgenres changing as the story moves from one character arc to another.

Trying to cover all crime subgenres and their various permutations would be ineffective. Instead, we’re going to look at three of the most popular subgenres and examine what it is that makes them so appealing.

Top Crime Subgenres and Stories That Exemplify Them

  1. Heist
  2. Dating back to the 1930’s, heist films have been prominent. So much so, that the heist aspect has even been carried over into other genres such as westerns, sci-fi, and historical fiction. Heist films typically focus on the “planning, execution, and aftermath of a theft,” though classics such as The Killing and Reservoir Dogs prove it doesn’t necessarily have to unfold in that order. While the heist may work out in films like Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven or Logan Lucky, the heist comic 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank and the movie Dead Presidents proves that a heist can be just as entertaining when everything goes wrong.

  3. Revenge
  4. Someone is wronged. Family members are killed. It doesn’t matter what the inciting incident is, as long as it sends the protagonist on a mission for vengeance. In movies like John Wick, it’s a straightforward attack — the dog is killed, John knows who did it, then we watch him fight his way closer to his target. In this case, the entertainment is in the action, not necessarily the plot. On the other hand, Oldboy delivers a twisting plot to find who imprisoned Dae-Su and why. On his quest for answers, we discover that the revenge story being told isn’t actually his.

  5. Vigilante
  6. Vigilante stories often start like a tale of revenge, but instead of a focused mission against an individual or an organization, they spiral out into a war on crime itself. Whether classic comics like Batman and The Punisher, or cult classic movies like Ms. 45 and the original Death Wish series, this subgenre has often been at the mercy of sociopolitical trends. Though the more traditional vigilante stories have recently fallen out of favor as those committing street level crimes become seen more as victims in their own rights, new comics such as Kill or be Killed are filling the void by taking aim at Russian mob bosses and the politically connected 1% that have plummeted in popularity over the last decade.

What’s your favorite crime subgenre?

Comment below to let us know your favorite crime subgenre, as well as a few movies, comics, or novels that best represent it.

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