Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Movie Cliches

Our household subscription to Netflix brings a regular round of digital video entertainment to suit our eclectic tastes. What, I wonder, can be said about a couple who enjoy Jane Austen movies, samurai movies, film noir, Buster Keaton, and the entire Hercule Poirot series?

Yet in movie after movie, the same cliches turn up with tiresome regularity. Maybe it's just the storyteller formula showing up. But I'm sure you all recognize these movie cliches, and can list more that I've missed:

  1. Spaceships are always fully-armed, make a rumbling noise in space as they travel, and their weaponry causes audible explosions.
  2. A thousand bad guys, armed to the teeth, firing rapid-fire automatic weapons at the good guy, can't hit him even though he's running across a mile of open ground, dressed in street clothes or formal attire. However, the good guy can hit any bad guy he chooses, even while running in formal attire across open ground with a thousand bad guys firing at him.
  3. When the villain runs out of bullets in his revolver, he will click the trigger three times, then throw the revolver.
  4. When running away from a speeding car, rolling giant boulder, or similar oncoming danger, people always run directly in front of it instead of darting to the side to get away.
  5. Even in nylons, a dress, and high-heels, the heroine can outrun the bad guys, and can usually out-gun them.
  6. At the point of death, the dying person always has breath enough to gasp a coherent conversation, then collapses peacefully. If about to name his or her attacker, the dying person collapses mid-sentence. The hero/heroine then gently closes the person's eyes.
  7. A highly-competent detective can't solve the biggest crime of his career until his boss fires him for obsessing over it -- then he goes all-out to hunt down the villain.
  8. Only bad-guys play cruel tricks on people, shoot innocent people, or use booby-traps -- and good guys only do those things to bad guys.
  9. In a mystery, the non-main-character who claims to know who the murderer is, but has a few more facts to check before announcing the name, will die in the next scene.
  10. Native Americans, Australian Aborigines, and similar indigenous groups in modern movies are always wise, possess mystic powers, and can commune with nature. In modern movies, they are as invariably the good guys as in old films the are invariably either the bad guys or the comic relief.
  11. In family films, men are clownish, women are much smarter than men, and children are much smarter than either parent, as well as being smart-mouthed and highly technologically competent.
  12. Plain girls always wear their hair in a bun and wear glasses. As soon as they take off their glasses and let their hair down, they're gorgeous.
  13. In a scary movie, whenever there is a door that should not be opened, a room that should not be entered, or a cave, cellar, or tomb emitting odd noises that would cause rational persons to turn away, a minor character will always enter, and will be killed.
  14. Cars involved in accidents explode violently -- except in comic action movies, where car chase scenes involve smashing dozens of cars, but without a single fatality.
  15. A main character, when pursued by villains, will all too often go up some tall structure, where he is forced to fight the bad guys at dizzying heights. Was he expecting to out-climb them? Or to find an escape route at the top?
  16. If there is some huge, whirring, grinding machine in an action film, someone will end up falling into it -- and if the villain deliberately feeds an innocent victim into the machine early in the movie, he will surely die the same way by the end.
  17. When main characters defuse a bomb, it will always have a digital timer that will always stop at the last possible second.
  18. Computers are always operated by typing on a keyboard, which always makes a clacking sound. Hollywood does not seem to have heard of the mouse.
  19. Characters who announce they are looking forward to retirement, their 50th anniversary, or similar long-awaited celebration will either die or have the celebration disrupted.
  20. No meal that the main characters sit down to is never finished.
  21. When the villain captures the hero, rather than simply shoot him in the head and get it over with, the villain admits his guilt, tells the whole story, then sets in motion an elaborate device to kill the hero, and walks away, allowing the hero time to escape and time for any of the hero's allies to arrive.
  22. People in all cultures speak English. If the movie is a period piece, they speak English with one or more British accents. All except henchmen, who speak in some vague accent that could be Russian, Arabic, or a blend of both.
  23. Ventilation shafts are always large enough to accommodate adult humans, are clean, and always go where the hero needs to go.
  24. A blow to the head with a heavy object knocks a main character out, yet they always recover with no skull fracture and no brain damage. Not even a concussion. If the person knocked over the head is an unnamed guard, they will always fall unconscious for any length of time convenient for the hero.
  25. If a lead man and lead woman fight and bicker in the first half hour of the movie, they will fall in love or fall in bed (not necessarily in that order) before the end.
  26. All evil villains have henchmen who obey their every command without question. Most of the henchmen don't have names or speaking parts.
  27. In action movies, the hero and villain will meet face-to-face for hand-to-hand combat.
  28. A female character, when being chased, will keep looking over her shoulder to see how close the bad guys are, even though it obviously slows her down.
  29. No matter how far the good guy falls, no matter how hard of a blow he takes, no matter how hard he is kicked, he'll still won't die soon after from massive internal bleeding. If the fight is late in the movie, he will rise up, and find the strength to pummel his opponents into the dust.
  30. When the villain cuts the phone line, cutting off the hero or heroine who is calling for help, the telephone will more often than not emit a dial tone. And of course the character doesn't carry a cell phone.
  31. Regardless of what damage the hero does to public places and no matter how many traffic laws and laws about discharge of firearms he breaks, he will never be arrested for these. If he is arrested, it will be on trumped-up charges arranged by the villain.


Anonymous said...


I needed some ideas for my latest screen script.

Anonymous said...

Get 'em all in there and you're bound to create a hit, I'm sure.

Anonymous said...

You forgot that during a car charse some cart belonging to a chinese man selling vegetables/fruit on the sidewalk needs to be hit.

Anonymous said...

Oh, yeah. And if not a vegetable cart, then a sidewalk cafe.

Darynda said...

This was hilarious!

Have you seen Galaxy Quest? It addresses many of these silver-screen "phenomena" quite satirically, if satirically is a word.


Anonymous said...

Galaxy Quest is one of my favs -- a pity that Alan Rickman, He of the Dark Chocolate Voice, had to wear that awful rubber headpiece throughout the movie.

Anonymous said...

During a struggle over a gun, the gun always goes off.

Anonymous said...

thanks for pointing out the fact that in every historical movie they always mange to speak British English! i noticed that but you pointed it out, its true and tiresome.