Cinema, together with television, has proved to be perhaps the most extensive, popular, and powerful medium in the representation of crime. From a criminological point of view, the crime films are all those movies whose central theme is crime and its consequences. The crime films should be defined on the basis of their relationship with society. On one hand, crime films say something important about the social context that they represent and from which they have been fashioned. On the other hand, they themselves have an effect on the social context, since their representation of crime, law, justice, and punishment itself becomes culture, acquires meaning, and provides an interpretation of reality.
The approach of criminology to crime films has a series of important theoretical and methodological consequences. It leads to a fundamental enrichment of academic knowledge, for example, regarding the themes to be tackled, the disciplines and research methods to be used, and even the forms of teaching. Indeed, the analysis of crime films can help to better investigate many aspects of the perception and understanding of crime, law, and justice in society.
The criminological study of crime requires a multifaceted approach, looking at the changing representation of crime and criminals in relation to the wider political, economic, and cultural transformations, and to the commercial and technological development of the cinematographic industry. The historical and thematic reconstruction of the productive and stylistic cycles of crime films comprehends the gangster, noir, detective, courtroom, and prison film genres. Moreover, this perspective deals with the main reasons for the success of crime films, the elements that influence their production, and finally the thorny topic of the effects of crime films.