What is a thriller?
A thriller is a book or film which is designed to keep the reader or viewer on edge with suspenseful and sensational action. Thrillers have also been produced in the radio, theatre, and television media. This genre is incredibly large, and thrillers often overlap with pieces of work produced in other genres; mysteries, for example, are often thrillers. Many people find thrillers very enjoyable, and they appreciate the fast pacing and complex plots associated with this genre.
Several characteristics help to define a thriller. Thrillers typically involve sudden plot twists and lots of red herrings, for example, keeping people unsure about what is going to happen. This suspense can get almost unbearable, especially in a long piece or a television series. Thrillers also have a lot of action, which is often chaotic, and they typically feature resourceful heroes and exotic settings.
The plots of thrillers can vary widely. Some are supernatural, for example, centred around mystical antagonists. Others are scientific or medical in nature, forcing their protagonists to contend with biological agents or mysterious scientific happenings. Some are simply straight mysteries with clever, horrific, or intriguing antagonists, while others be focused on the inner workings of the legal system, environmental threats, technology, or natural disasters. One long-established thriller genre is the spy thriller, featuring an often heroic and dashing spy who must confront whichever enemy happens to be popular at the moment.
- taken from: http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-a-thriller.htm
Typical conventions within a thriller:
A crime at the core of the narrative (often murder, but not necessarily).
A complex narrative structure, with false paths, clues and resolutions.
A narrative pattern of establishing enigmas which the viewer expects to be resolved.
A protagonist who is systematically dis-empowered and drawn into a complex web of intrigue by the antagonist.
Extraordinary events happening in ordinary situations.
Themes of identity.
Themes of mirroring.
Themes of voyeurism.
Protagonist with a ‘flaw’ which is exploited by the antagonist.
Titles often reflect an aspect of the pro/antagonist’s psychological state.
There is often a scene near the end of the film in which the protagonist is exposed to risk.
Mise en scene which echoes/ mirrors the protagonist’s plight.
-Taken from: http://thrillerproject.blogspot.com/
Sub Genres of Thrillers:
Action thriller - In which the work often features a race against the clock, contains lots of violence, and an obvious antagonist. These films usually contain large amounts of guns, explosions, and large elaborate set pieces for the action to take place. Notable examples are James Bond films.
Conspiracy thriller - In which the hero/heroine confronts a large, powerful group of enemies whose true extent only he/she recognizes.
Crime thriller - This particular genre is a hybrid type of both crime films and thrillers that offers a suspenseful account of a successful or failed crime or crimes. These films often focus on the criminal(s) rather than a policeman. Crime thrillers usually emphasize action over psychological aspects. Central topics of these films include murders, robberies, chases, shootouts, and double-crosses are central ingredients. Example, The Godfather.
Disaster thriller - In which the main conflict is due to some sort of natural or artificial disaster, such as floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes, etc., or nuclear disasters as an artificial disaster.
Drama thriller - In which the story consists of the elements of a thriller and drama film. These films are usually slower paced and involves a great deal of character development along with plot twists. Examples include The Illusionist, The Interpreter and The Prestige.
Eco-thriller - In which the protagonist must avert or rectify an environmental or biological calamity - often in addition to dealing with the usual types of enemies or obstacles present in other thriller genres. This environmental component often forms a central message or theme of the story. Examples include Nicholas Evans's The Loop, C. George Muller's Echoes in the Blue, and Wilbur Smith's Elephant Song, all of which highlight real-life environmental issues. Futuristic Eco-thrillers are of the Science Fiction genre.
Erotic thriller - In which it consists of erotica and thriller. It has become popular since the 1980s and the rise of VCR market penetration. The genre includes films such as Fatal Attraction.
Horror thriller - In which conflict between the main characters are mental, emotional, and physical. Two recent examples of this include the Saw series of films and the Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later. What sets the horror thriller apart is the main element of fear throughout the story. The main character is not only up against a superior force, but they are or will soon become the victims themselves and directly feel the fear that comes by attracting the monster's attention.
Legal thriller - In which the lawyer-heroes/heroines confront enemies outside, as well as inside, the courtroom and are in danger of losing not only their cases but their lives. The Innocent Man by John Grisham is a well known example of the type.
Medical thriller - In which the hero/heroine are doctors or medical personnels working to solve an expanding medical problem. Robin Cook, Tess Gerristen, Michael Crichton, and Gary Braver are well-known authors of this subgenre. Nonfiction medical thrillers are also a subcategory, comprising works like The Hot Zone by Richard Preston. Films such as Awake are other examples of medical thrillers.
Political thriller - In which the hero/heroine must ensure the stability of the government that employs him. The success of Seven Days in May (1962) by Fletcher Knebel, The Day of the Jackal (1971) by Frederick Forsyth, and The Manchurian Candidate (1959) by Richard Condon established this sub-genre. A more recent example is the 1980 film "Agency".
Psychological thriller - In which (until the often violent resolution) the conflict between the main characters is mental and emotional, rather than physical. The Alfred Hitchcock films Suspicion, Shadow of a Doubt, and Strangers on a Train and David Lynch's bizarre and influential Blue Velvet are notable examples of the type, as is The Sixth Sense by M. Night Shyamalan and The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith (who also wrote Strangers).
Spy thriller (also a subgenre of spy fiction) - In which the hero is generally a government agent who must take violent action against agents of a rival government or (in recent years) terrorists. Examples include From Russia with Love by Ian Fleming, The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum, and television series such as Mission: Impossible and 24 (the latter demonstrating a break from the norm by Robert Ludlum, as it is as much a psychological thriller as a spy thriller.)
Supernatural thriller - In which the conflict is between main characters, usually one of which has supernatural powers. Carrie by Stephen King and Unbreakable by M. Night Shyamalan and Torchwood are notable examples of this genre. This type of thriller combines tension of the regular thriller with such basic horror oriented ingredients as ghosts, the occult, and psychic phenomenon; the supernatural thriller combines these with a frightening but often restrained film. They also generally eschew the more graphic elements of the horror film in favor of sustaining a mood of menace and unpredictability; supernatural thrillers often find the protagonists either battling a malevolent paranormal force or trapped in a situation seemingly influenced or controlled by an other-worldly entity beyond their comprehension.
Techno-thriller - A work that usually focuses upon military action, in which technology (usually military technology) is described in detail and made essential to the reader's/viewer's understanding of the plot. Tom Clancy defined and popularized the genre with his The Hunt for Red October, and is considered to be the "Father of the Technothriller."
-Taken from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thriller_(genre)#Sub-genres