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Oh no! It's the Movie Cliche List!

  • Nov 13, 2010
  • by
I'm not talking about editing tricks - such as not showing every step when a character goes up a staircase. I'm talking basic, down in the dirt, filthy cliches that arrest credibility and make us all groan. Filthy damned cliches. This is obviously going to be a list that grows... and that's pretty depressing.
National stereotypes
As the world gets smaller and Americans actually use their passports, hopefully this one will go away but it's really, really stupid. Basically:
  • French: garlic-wearing, wine-swigging lovers/cooks who wear striped shirts, enjoy mime and talk with very, very French accents (Independence Day was my favorite here).
  • English: intelligent, suave, classy, educated (hey, I'm English - this is good!) but also usually evil, timid and potentially homosexual (oh).
  • German: the men are burly, the women are surly - but they're all basically Nazis (85% of all Spielberg films).
  • Italian: the men can't get enough romance, the women are hot and crazy. Everyone just came from a JoS A Bank commercial.
  • Australian: rough around the edges with a tendency to fight wild animals and like danger. And really, why Americans can't tell the accent difference with the English I still don't understand.
  • Canadian: backward.
  • Mexican: either hard-working maids with a heart of gold (Maid in Manhattan) or members of a drug gang.
  • Japanese: either clueless camera-wielding tourist-types or heads of a drug gang, or Keiretsu-style corporate evildoers. 
It literally goes on and on and Holly wood should know better.

More specifically, toilets. Characters in movies don't use toilets. Ever. But with two exceptions: something incredibly bad is going to happen that involves bodily fluids and comedy, or they plan to escape from an aircraft.

This one's so bad that I'm amazed it's survived as long as it has. As any bomb-maker will tell you, you first need an alarm clock with a digital display and then two wires with different colors. Screw the C4 -without something showing in seconds when it plans to go bang and two wires, it won't work. I would actually be very interested to see a bomb in real life (disarmed, hopefully), since I'm pretty sure it looks like the radiator of my car.

This one's a staple in action and horror, and involves the character suddenly deciding to fall over something. Rather than just slightly stumbling, it's more of a flat-out 'on your ass' fall. And then, instead of just getting up, they writhe around on the floor or simply stare at whatever's chasing them. From Lord of the Rings to practically every horror film I can think about, heroes lose their balance at precisely the wrong moment.

Phones have become a really lazy ways to move a plot forward (TV's 24 was founded on this), but operationally have some real cliche moment:
  • Conversations are never started with "Hello" or terminated with "Goodbye". In fact the average call time is about 10 seconds and movie characters would never blow through their minute plan.
  • Cell phones never work when you really need them. 
  • Dialing is really fast and everyone answers immediately. Except in horror films, where nobody has voicemail.
  • Voicemail, by the way, exists only where the characters have a 1980s-style box that plays the message to the audience as its received.
  • Tracing phone calls is like zooming in from Google Earth, and always takes a prescribed amount of time, area code first (Sneakers). FYI, traces are instantaneous (look at the incoming phone number for God's sake).

Obligatory Internet research scene
This cliche annoys me more than most because it's always a plot device that's boring to watch and impossible to believe.
  • In The Ghost Writer - an otherwise excellent film - Ewan McGregor discovers that Tom Wilkinson works for the CIA by Googling his name. Because, you know, the CIA is just not that careful.
  • In The Ring and many recent horror films, the hero discovers vital plot points through a little Internet diggery (which seems to usually happen in libraries, too). BONUS POINTS: Check out the URL in The Ring and you can see the browser is pointed to a local HTML file on the computer and not the Interwebs.
It's just so amazingly slack that I ding any film that has an Internet Research Scene (IRS).

Judicial system
Screenwriters have never been to court for anything apparently, but the film world of the legal system is not based in any sort of reality. Judges in movies would be struck off in real life - grouchy and strange, they allow lawyers to ramble into the realm of batshit crazy, without any regard for the inevitable mistrials later. Actually, nothing I've ever seen on TV or film resembles the real legal system at all and is all one big cliche.

So many movies revolve around the police that it's an entire subset of complete bullshit in itself:
  • Police officers are always tenacious 24/7 workers who have drinking and marital problems but always get their guy (Heat).
  • Excessive force with a bad guy never results in any investigation, and shooting at bad guys down a busy street is just fine.
  • The Captain is a major pain in the ass, and will always take your gun and badge in the middle of Act 2.
  • Forensics always draw chalk lines around murder victims (in real life, they just photograph the body).

The future

Hollywood hates the future, and its pessimism stems from its liberal fears about Republicans taking control meaning that:

  • In the future, everything happens in a dirty old warehouse - especially finales (Robocop).
  • Everything is cold, sterile and detached (Minority Report) - or just pretty strange and dirty (Blade Runner).
  • The ultra-cool technology that we wanted 5 years ago happened - but it wasn't a force for good (I Robot, Terminator 2).
  • Companies have too much power - and they abuse it. There is no Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

What did you think of this list?

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December 07, 2010
Funny list. You should do a part 2.
December 18, 2010
December 05, 2010
Wow, when I watched a movie, I don't think much at all. But, of course, you are right. We all have biases of our own, bad and good. That's why life is so colorful! :D Love reading this list, highly thought-provoking & entertaining! Great one, James!
December 03, 2010
Wow, I had so much fun reading this. Every category gave me a chuckle or laugh. Insightful and well-done! (btw, the "Internet Research" scene has officially replaced the "Library Microfiche" scene, ha!)
December 03, 2010
Thanks! Yes, it's right up there with "ridiculously expositionary dialog", like "So I'm glad we've driven back to the restaurant where we first met 5 years ago."
December 01, 2010
Awesome list. I enjoyed it!!! :-)
December 03, 2010
December 01, 2010
Great list. Let me add that all children in movies are adorable. Aren't there "just plain kids" out in Hollywood trying to be in movies?
December 03, 2010
Thanks - that's a good one to add!
November 29, 2010
Hahaha, too good! And by the looks of the comments below, I smell a list #2 coming on! ;P
November 29, 2010
Ha ha - there's *always* a number 2 in the works :-D
November 30, 2010
I'm gonna try not to read too much into this :P
November 29, 2010
LOL!! territifc list! where's the teens in teen movies always know how to dance? ....reminds me to finish one of my own :)
November 29, 2010
Thanks - I think an entire movie cliche book might be in order!
November 29, 2010
I'll contribute :)
December 03, 2010
I couldn't dance as a teen... ;)
November 29, 2010
LMFAO! Under cliches, you forgot to mention that all Asians know martial arts, people from Eastern Europe and the Middle East are taxi drivers, and let's not forgot how black people are the first to die in horror and action films.
November 29, 2010
So true, so true... so many cliches, so little time!
November 29, 2010
Don't forget the promiscuous teenagers who always die in horror films too I can't tell you how many people I knew in school who were killed by horrendous monsters. ; )
November 29, 2010
That's a good one.

Also, how about CPR in the movies: pound on the person's chest, look exasperated, then scream at them about how they never give up on anything and wait for them to come back to life. Tada!
November 29, 2010
That's a good one too. What about the pet that the owner's can't keep and have to yell at it to make it go away?
November 29, 2010
Lol - you know, pets need an entire subclass of movie cliches.
November 29, 2010
That could be the theme of your next list. : )
November 29, 2010
This list ROCKS! I couldn't agree more. I might add blondes to the list- we've gotten a bad run of it as the brainless bimbos in movies for quite a while.
November 29, 2010
Yes! Good call.
November 30, 2010
I agree...maybe a movie cliche book is in the works ;p
November 19, 2010
Hah, I have a friend who thinks I speak with an Australian accent even though I grew up in Los Angeles. It's interesting actually. And if only all English men were gay, like Wentworth Miller, ^_^ . Great list!
November 19, 2010
You should add 'dingo', 'tinnies', 'goodnya' to your vocabulary to really confuse them!
November 29, 2010
That's funny- people think I'm either Southern or from New York and I'm from the Bay Area lol
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