These Movie Clichés Must Die

I was flipping through the channels and came across a movie I wanted to see a year ago, but not enough to pay for a theater ticket. Now that it was on extended cable, I said “what the hell,” and watched the whole thing. It was terrible. But more than that, it was trite and lazy, boiling over with clichés. When it ended, I puttered around the house complaining to myself, as if the filmmakers had set out to offend me personally. Clichés in movies certainly aren’t offensive in the the common sense of the term, but they do communicate a lack of respect for the audience’s time and money, which can fall into the same realm.

It got me thinking: what other clichés and tropes are littered throughout cinema that we’d be better off without? While there are many - possibly hundreds - I came up with these fifteen. This is by no means a comprehensive list; these are simply the ones that raise my hackles to an unreasonable degree.

  1. “I’m too old for this shit.” Are you? Are you really, Murtaugh? Are you going to spend the whole movie complaining about your age only to learn in the end that you’re not, in fact, too old for this shit? That age is really all about mindset and you actually don’t hate the job you’ve spent the last 115 minutes whining about?
  2. The hero refusing the call. What, I ask you, is the point in watching our supposed hero spend 90 minutes trying to convince himself that he doesn’t want to get involved? what would Star Wars be if Obi-Wan had to spend half the film trying to convince Luke to go with him to Alderaan? How interesting would Raiders of the Lost Ark have been if Indiana Jones needed Marcus Brody to spend hours convincing him to go to Cairo?
  3. The CGI long take shot where a character runs, bobs, and weaves as destruction rains down around him. It’s never convincingly done and I think it’s because we, the audience, understand instinctually that film cameras don’t move like that. We need cuts, edits, different angles to pull off the trick.
  4. “We're not in Kansas anymore.” Good because Kansas sucks. And if you just stayed at home there wouldn’t be a movie. We know you’re in a new situation. That’s why we’re watching. And if your character HAS to acknowledge it on-screen, surely there are more interesting ways to communicate it. For my money, Harry Potter and Prisoner of Azkaban does a great job of this.
  5. A machine not working until the hero hits it and then it starts working again. Fonzie did it and got the jukebox to play some hot tunes. Marty McFly did it and he was able to go Back to the Future. I tried it and sprained my wrist. 
  6. When a character bleeds out of his mouth after getting shot or stabbed. That’s not how human bodies work. Unless the injury actually occurs inside the mouth, which might be more realistic, but would make for a lousy on-screen injury.
  7. When a character dies with his eyes wide open. Look, I’m no expert but this doesn’t seem like something that ever really happens. L.A. Confidential is the only movie I’ve seen do this effectively.
  8. A character dangles precariously from a ledge and right as he loses his grip, another character grabs him. I’ve seen this a million times and each time two thoughts pass through my head: 1) Falling at the momentum he probably would have slipped through the rescuer’s fingers, and 2) but not before dislocating the rescuer’s shoulder. Surely there are less hokey ways to generate tension.
  9. The 10-second computer hack. Jurassic Park is one of the worst offenders. This is not how computers OR hacking work. 
  10. “It has begun.” Thank God you told me because I wasn’t sure if it had begun or not.
  11. “War is coming.” True fact: 99% of the dialogue in the X-Men and Lord of the Rings movies was some variation of this line. 
  12. When characters show up to have a conversation in person instead of over the phone. Or by text or email. I’ve been married for eight years and I’ve STILL never seen my wife in person (don’t ask how we had a kid. It was a convoluted process). People, in this country at least, don’t show up to talk unless they live together and even then sometimes not. Especially if the conversation is going to be an unpleasant one. And when they do actually speak in person, they usually call or text ahead. I’ve never once in my entire life opened the front door to see someone I wasn’t expecting standing there.
  13. The chosen one. Star Wars did this well. The Matrix did it okay. No one else has pulled it off so cut it out with this nonsense. A prophecy about “the one” isn’t the only way to create compelling drama with stakes. And when paired with No. 2 above, this creates an infuriating level of unoriginality.
  14. Here we go again.” 
  15. “The prodigal son returns.” I think this might be the worst offender on the list. It shows up in every T.V. show and every movie and it’s so overused that I’m pretty sure screenwriters don’t actually know what it means. 

Which ones do you hate? What have I left out? Feel free to argue for or against any of these, or add your own. If we assemble an intimidating enough list, I’ll compile these and send them to Hollywood. They’re certain to listen to us, right?

Greg Kanaan

The [Legal] Artist, Boston, MA, USA