What is a Theme in Film? Movie Themes Explained with Examples

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Definition: A movie theme is the central idea or concept explored throughout a film. It is the broader concept the film explores, often reflecting on human experiences, emotions, societal issues, or philosophical questions.

In other words, movie themes are central ideas or concepts explored and depicted in films. They serve as a movie’s underlying message or purpose and give it depth and meaning.

Themes in film are many, and they vary greatly. Here are some different kinds of movie themes, along with examples:

Love and Romance

Love and romance movie theme

This theme revolves around exploring romantic relationships and the various aspects of love.

Examples include “Casablanca” (1942), “The Notebook” (2004), and “La La Land” (2016).

See a list of the best comedies of all time.

Coming of Age

coming of age movie theme

This theme focuses on the growth and development of characters, particularly young protagonists, as they navigate adolescence and transition into adulthood.

Examples include “The Breakfast Club” (1985), “Boyhood” (2014), and “Lady Bird” (2017).

Hero’s Journey

hero s journey movie theme

This theme involves the protagonist embarking on a transformative journey, facing challenges and ultimately evolving into a hero.

Examples include “Star Wars” (1977), “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy (2001-2003), and “Black Panther” (2018).

See also Campbell’s Monomyth: a guide to the hero’s journey.

Social Issues

social issues movie theme

These themes explore and shed light on societal problems such as racism, poverty, or inequality.

Examples include “12 Years a Slave” (2013), “Do the Right Thing” (1989), and “Spotlight” (2015).

Redemption

redemption movie theme

This theme focuses on characters seeking forgiveness or trying to make amends for their past actions.

Examples include “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994), “Gran Torino” (2008), and “The Lion King” (1994).

Identity and Self-Discovery

identity and self-discovery movie theme

This theme revolves around characters’ quests to discover their true selves, often through personal exploration and introspection.

Examples include “Lost in Translation” (2003), “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004), and “Moonlight” (2016).

Survival

survival movie theme

This theme centers around the characters’ survival struggles in extreme or challenging circumstances.

Examples include “Cast Away” (2000), “127 Hours” (2010), and “The Revenant” (2015).

Betrayal

betrayal movie theme

This theme explores the consequences and emotional turmoil caused by betrayal or deceit.

Examples include “The Departed” (2006), “Double Indemnity” (1944), and “Atonement” (2007).

War and Conflict

war and conflict movie theme

This theme delves into the impact of war and conflict on individuals and society.

Examples include “Saving Private Ryan” (1998), “Apocalypse Now” (1979), and “Dunkirk” (2017).

You might like the best war movies of all time.

Fantasy and Imagination

fantasy and imagination movie theme

This theme involves the exploration of magical, otherworldly, or fantastical elements.

Examples include “Harry Potter” series (2001-2011), “The Chronicles of Narnia” series (2005-2010), and “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006).

See the best inspirational quotes from the Harry Potter movies.

The Difference between Theme and Plot in Film

For some reason, people often get these two mixed up all the time. But a movie plot and theme are not the same thing.

  • Plot: the sequence of events in a film, including the main conflicts, actions, and resolutions.
  • Theme: the underlying messages or ideas the film conveys, such as love, friendship, or redemption.

In summary, plot is what happens in a film, while theme is what the film is about.

Conclusion

Movie themes are crucial in shaping a film’s overall narrative and impact.

Whether exploring love, loss, redemption, or social issues, movie themes add depth and resonance to the cinematic experience.

Up Next: What is Point-of-View in Movies?

Author

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  • Jan Sørup

    Jan Sørup is a indie filmmaker, videographer and photographer from Denmark. He owns filmdaft.com and the Danish company Apertura, which produces video content for big companies in Denmark and Scandinavia. Jan has a background in music, has drawn webcomics, and is a former lecturer at the University of Copenhagen.

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