Movies are often formulaic and follow a certain structure. Generally, this can still make a film enjoyable provided that a fresh spin is taken, the characters have depth and it is a well crafted tale. There are many clichés that are relied on heavily in film, however, and these are overused and often leave the audience feeling cheated. Unless a parody, when clichés are used it is a sign of lazy writing and the film instantly loses credibility. Certain genres are notorious for relying on clichés, leaving cinema goers around the world rolling their eyes and shaking their heads.
10. Murder Misdirection
Seen heavily in Western’s and action films, the murder misdirection is a simple cliché that filmmakers can use to toy with the emotions of the audience without having to put too much thought into it. The cliché sees two characters (usually the hero and villain) in close proximity with guns pointed at each other, meaning that either could die at any given moment. The camera will then frame the shot so that the guns cannot be seen, and a shot will be heard. It will not be clear who has been shot from their reactions, and then suddenly a third character will be shown holding a smoking gun before revealing that the bad guy has been shot. The audience used to gasp when the shot was heard, as for as a moment it is unclear what has happened, but this has now become predictable and overused.
9. Villains and Henchmen are Terrible Shots
The action genre is one of the most formulaic and predictable genres in cinema, yet the shootouts, car chases and explosions still manage to entertain audiences. One standout cliché is that the film’s villain, and their henchmen, will all be terrible shots. If you had a plot to take over the world and had an army, this army would be highly trained in combat and be highly accurate with a gun. Villains and the henchmen in films will always be terrible shots whenever a shootout occurs, shooting up everything on set except the hero and their team. The hero will then be able to take their time, using only one shot to take down each henchman. The hero, of course, needs to prevail in these situations, but it could be much more exciting if they were up against characters that look like they’ve held a gun before.
8. Presumed Dead
The horror genre is packed with clichés, and part of this makes it an enjoyable ride for the viewer. One cliché which has been used a few too many times is when the villain is presumed dead, but then comes back to life for one last scare. This was used heavily and effectively in the slasher films from the ’80s, but has been borrowed too many times and is now considered a cheap scare tactic. It happens when the hero seemingly kills the villain (often in a not-too-convincing manner), and everyone begins to relax as the bad guy lays motionless on the floor. There may even be some light humor at this point, which is quickly replaced with the villain suddenly sitting upright or even jumping to their feet. They are either then immediately killed (for good, this time), or it sparks another battle between the two.
7. Taking Turns to Fight the Hero
You will see this cliché primarily used in martial arts and action films. It is used so that the audience can be impressed with the combat skills of the hero (as well as the person he is fighting), and also so that it is a fair fight. You will see the hero suddenly surrounded by a large group of henchmen (sometimes a comical amount), and instead of them all attacking the hero at once, like they would in real life, they will step up one by one. After the hero impressively takes down the first, another (or occasionally two) will jump into the fight and this can continue for lengthy periods of time. It’s a film and the hero needs to progress, but it’s strange to see characters at the edge of the shot patiently waiting for their turn whilst their friends get beaten up.
6. The Underdog Wins With the Last Play of the Game
Sports films are hugely predictable, and even though they manage to remain entertaining and dramatic, you would think that they could come up with a new story or way to conclude. No matter what sport they are playing, the team that the audience has been following will always be the underdog and go against the odds to make it to the final of a tournament. They will then have to beat the best team around (usually a team that embarrassed them at the beginning) whose roster is filled with horrible characters. Typically they will start off poorly, making it look like they are going to lose, before an inspirational speech is made at half-time or intermission, which will see them make an epic comeback and win with the last play of the game. Everyone loves an underdog story, but new life needs to be breathed into the genre.
5. Suspended Escape Scenes
This cliché is as old as cinema. It is used mainly in horror films, but can also be seen in some action films. When the protagonist is trying to escape from the villain who is (slowly) chasing them down, something will always suspend their escape so that the bad guy almost catches them. The reason for the suspended escape varies, but it is commonly the car not starting, the character having their foot trapped under something or the character inexplicably falling down as they run away (this is always the female character for some reason). This is an easy way for filmmakers to build tension, and then the hero will usually get the car to start/free themselves/get up just in time to make a narrow escape (for now). It is predictable and overused, but because it is effective it will continue to be used in these genres.
4. Glasses and Baggy Clothes = Unattractive Character
In Hollywood, even the “ugly” characters are beautiful. This cliché is heavily used in romantic comedies as well as horror, and in many notable films (particularly from the ’90s). This cliché is reserved primarily for female characters that are considered to be unattractive and nerdy. To establish these traits they will have a beautiful actress play the role, but put her in baggy clothes and glasses. She will also usually have some kind of strange hobby which everyone makes fun of. The main male character, usually a jock, will then slowly come to realize that she is, in fact, beautiful, even though it is painstakingly obvious to the audience. The positive message that looks are not everything would be a lot more believable in films if the less attractive characters were not played by stunning actresses put in glasses and dungarees.
3. Villain Delays Murder With a Monologue
This cliché is particularly infuriating because it is hugely unrealistic and overused. In many genres, there will often be a scene where the villain has captured the hero and it looks like game over for the protagonist. Instead of completing the task of killing the hero immediately, the villain must first delay the murder by going on an epic monologue in which they often explain their master plan. This delay gives the hero enough time to either escape, or for backup to arrive to take down the villain. It also works the other way, as often the hero will give the villain a window to escape through some kind of dialogue or delay of the murder. It is established in storytelling that monologues will often result in death, so perhaps villains should cut these out and instead take the opportunity as soon as it is given to them.
2. Guy Gets Girl – Loses Girl – Gets Girl Again
Whilst almost every film ever follows the positive-negative-new positive model (know as Todorov’s Equilibrium Theory), nowhere is this used more heavily than the romantic and rom-com genres. Unlike most of the other entries, this is not a trope that is used in certain scenes but it is instead a narrative that is used time and time again. This sees the main male character either begin a new relationship or be in a happy relationship at the beginning of the film; this male character will then do something stupid and lose the girl. The male character will then undertake a large character arc where they realize the error of their ways, become a better person (and essentially become a man), and then fight to win back the girl. The girl will be hesitant at first, but eventually he will get her back again (usually in a scene with heavy rain).
1. False Scare
Perhaps the easiest way for a horror filmmaker to evoke a reaction from the audience, the false scare cliché appears in almost every single horror film ever made. It will occur during moments where the tension mounts and becomes almost palpable, usually as the hero tracks down the bad guy (or vice-versa) in some kind of scary environment. Suddenly something completely harmless will then cause a scare (for some reason it is usually a cat), and this will release the tension. Then, once the main character (and the audience) is off guard, it is usually followed by a real scare such as the serial killer jumping out. This is a form of the classic jump scare trope that is used so heavily in horror, where moments of tension and silence are quickly replaced by something happening unexpectedly, usually accompanied by very loud noises.