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Five Film Tropes We Should Put to Rest

Over the last hundred years, even the critically acclaimed movies fall back on certain clichés that we can all recognize in this age of the internet

David Clarke - Tue, 20 Sep 2022 19:31:23 +0100 615 Views
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Movies are an integral part of our lives and one part of a culture that seems to transcend age, gender, nationality, and politics. The very best movies stay with us forever and become instantly recognizable cultural artifacts, part of our everyday conversation.


Movies such as Martin Scorcese’s Casino from 1995, the original Star Wars movies, and older classics such as Casablanca, Citizen Kane, and Gone With The Wind are woven into the fabric of our society.


At the same time, over the last hundred years, audiences have become more sophisticated, and the internet has accelerated the conversations that we have about movies. Lazy screenwriting, acting, or directing will be picked up quickly. In theory, this should lead to sharper, more polished movies, but in practice, movies – even critically acclaimed movies – still fall back on certain cliches that we can all recognize. Here are five movie tropes that are way past their expiry date.


One second left


The ticking bomb is a handy shortcut if you want to create instant tension. The first time you see a movie that features the hero attempting to disarm a bomb with the seconds ticking down, you may buy into that tension. However, by the time you’ve seen it 10 or 20 times, it becomes a chore. The ticking bomb trope leads to other lazy cliches, such as the hero telling everyone to save themselves while they attempt to defuse it, or the peculiar time distortion in which the length of a second seems to be flexible.


Once you’ve seen this a few times, you know that the hero is almost certainly going to stop the count, usually with a second or so to go and there’s very little drama left. Ticking bombs can still be a source of drama – and the trope was cleverly reinvented in Speed (1994), but please, filmmakers, be original.


One day from retirement


Even if you’re not a Star Trek fan, you’re probably aware of the Red shirt trope that came from the original TV show. If you were beaming down to a new planet but you weren’t one of the main cast, then your days were numbered. Well, movies have an equivalent trope: the one day from retirement guy.  
 

One day from retirement guy is usually, but not exclusively, a cop, and for the sloppy filmmaker, represents a handy way to generate a little pathos without really trying. However, it has been so overused that if a movie tells us that a character is on the verge of retirement, the audience knows exactly what is coming. Criminals have their own version of this trope too: the guy taking on one last job.


Napkin cough


How can a filmmaker convey that their character is gravely ill in a quick and easy manner? Well, the standard method is to have someone cough into a napkin, show a drop or two of blood, and then have them hide the napkin when someone else walks in. Like the ticking bomb trope, this one may once have been effective, but overuse has diminished its impact to the point where audiences are no longer shocked. It still imparts the crucial information that a character is ill, but with all the emotion removed.


Medicine cabinet horror


As with most of these tropes, the first director or screenwriter who thought of using the medicine cabinet door as a quick way to generate shock was onto something. However, this trick has been so overused that every time a character walks into the bathroom and opens a medicine cabinet, you know that they are going to see something in the reflection when they close the door, and whatever they see will cause their eyes to widen and their morning dental hygiene routine to be compromised. 


Cutting your own hair


Some filmmakers seem to have trouble letting go of the idea that women wear indestructible makeup 24/7, but while that trope is slowly fading out of use, there are plenty of others for directors and screenwriters to turn to. One of the most tedious is cutting your own hair while upset routine. Has your character been through a major ordeal? Well, why not have her cut her own hair in the shower?  


This is one of those tropes that is harder to fathom, though presumably, the answer lies deep within the psyche of various male filmmakers. Why is she cutting her hair? Why not her toenails? Presumably, long hair is evidence of a happy, well-adjusted life, while short hair automatically means a traumatic backstory. And how is she able to give herself a perfect coiffure with one pair of scissors and no mirror? We don’t know the answers, but we do know this is one trope we could do without.

 

 

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