Been There, Done That: Top 10 Common Movie Cliches

thThere is no arguing the fact that featuring repetitive movie cliches in films undoubtedly come with the territory. After all, there is bound to be something in a feature length film that has been seen time and time again. In all fairness, some movie cliches simply have to exist in order to compliment the storyline or are necessary when highlighting a certain scene. For instance, in a western one might expect to see a gunfight showdown in the middle of the main dusty street or witness a poker game inside a saloon. True…these examples are western movie cliches but they are also anticipated because of the very nature of the genre for the film’s theme. Still, one has a right to grow weary of cliches in certain movies no matter how essential or overused they are within the plot. In a way it is kind of interesting to realize that movie cliches for the most part are just accepted as business as usual.

So what do you consider a common movie cliche? It is not too difficult to pinpoint a movie cliche because almost anything that you have seen in films during your course of movie-going has the potential to be identified as such. Let’s take a look at some of the selections in Been There, Done That: Top 10 Common Movie Cliches. 

1,) The obligatory car chase scene 

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Now if applying the pedal to the medal is not one of the commonly used movie cliches to highlight a film’s high-octane hedonism (especially for action-packed dramas and comedies) then nothing else is at this point! One could take an immediate poll and recall what some of their favorite and famous car chases in cinema are with absolute relish. To cite some of the obvious examples of colorfully energized car chases and road rage would be found in drag-racing ditties such as The French Connection, The Getaway, The Smokey and the Bandits flicks of yesteryear and for relatively modern-day younger movie-goers gas-guzzling goodies such as Gone in 60 Seconds and the immensely popular The Fast and the Furious film franchise. Additionally, the car chase scenes–particularly in city settings–always seem to conducted on main streets that barely have any traffic during the busy course of the day. Let’s face it, folks…there will always be a need for speed in films that covet car-driven chaos.

2.) The blustery police chief/administrator

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We know this movie cliche all too well, right? Here is the deal: we get a kick out of our hotshot and irreverent main cop going rogue by breaking policing protocol or causing major property damage in the streets–say like Beverly Hills Cop’s Axel Foley or tag team partners such as Dave and Ken from the movie version of Starsky & Hutch. Maybe we get a seasoned but klutzy cop that ruins an investigation through goofy ineptitude say like The Pink Panther’s Inspector Jacques Clouseau or The Naked Gun’s Detective Frank Drebin? Anyway, after the predictable damage has been done by the said unruly cop they return to the precinct where awaits their blustery superior waiting to lay the ultimate smack-down on them through shouting at the top of their lungs while our renegade law enforcing lunkheads take in the verbal scolding. This movie cliche of the flustered police chief is so prevalent that it was even skillfully parodied in Arnold Schwartzenegger’s 1993 actioner The Last Action Hero when Schwartzenegger’s daredevil cop Jack Slater gets chewed out something fierce for his wrecking ball tactics in the streets.

3.) Space aliens that seem to know the English language better than the humans they are confronting

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This movie cliche really takes the cake as it makes one scratch their heads in disbelief.,,the English-speaking space aliens or any other kind of alien species for that matter. So here’s the million dollar question: why does it not seem so odd that the majority of the visiting foreign life forces (or even when the movie protagonist travels to their planet) have an automatic understanding of the English tongue? Where and how did they get to learn communicating their coherent grasp of the language in our presence? Do their have reruns of American or English television programs or movie releases on their planet? And why do they not seem to know any other Earth-bound languages beyond English? Just once could an American character in a sci-fi/horror flick run into an alien that excels in speaking Swahili? German? Spanish? Mandarin? At least we can benefit in the flexibility from our space aliens being bi-lingual to add to the already absurd cliched notion that they can probably win a spelling bee and put us humans to shame.

4.) Convenient news broadcasts that are on target at the right moment

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The movie cliche of watching newscasts along with the film’s protagonists never fails to have one shaking their head in this orchestrated on-screen stunt. Naturally the movie characters, as with us in real life, turn to the news reports to see what is happening in the world around us to be informed, entertained and updated. However, the convoluted way in which these news broadcasts are presented on the big screen seem phony even for a fictional story on film. Did you ever notice a movie character–let’s say one that has committed a heinous crime like Speed’s villainous Howard Payne–turns on the television set to catch their specific newsworthy buzz without missing a beat? They never partially miss the beginning or end of their broadcast bit on the news as they catch everything they need to know that pertains to them.  Just once can a movie character turn on the TV set and catch the weather or sports or lifestyle section without realistically (and luckily) landing their aired segment on the news? And why do movie characters seem to shut off the television set after they see their news report about them? Is it a crime to allow the television to remain on even though you just want to see your news story only?

5.) The inevitability of a bar fight/brawl

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Oh yeah…the act of fisticuffs within a barroom setting. Now there is a movie cliche that can apply anywhere at any time. Police actioners, westerns, wayward comedies, straight dramas…the genre knows no bounds when featuring boisterous brawls in darkened dives or even in upscale drinking establishments. Naturally, the bar fight can take on many identities. They can be triggered comically, seriously, accidentally, symbolically and unpredictably. So what would a bar fight (other than swinging fists) entail? Take your pick: beer mugs smashed over heads, flying bodies into nearby tables, bar stools being tossed furiously, heads being slammed into jukeboxes, limp bodies being smashed on pool tables…you know…all the good stuff that goes with a healthy, hell-raising combative confrontation in the world of Miller Lite and Budweiser.

6.) No time for food shopping…the iconic “empty refrigerator”

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This movie cliche is kinda humorous because on one hand it is plausible (i.e. young movie male twenty-something protagonists that are strapped for cash, concentrate on drinking and do a lot of take-out food, etc.) to have little or no food in the refrigerator depending on one’s hectic lifestyle or willingness to cut back on groceries for whatever reason. On another hand the lack of food in a protagonist’s refrigerator seems rather bewildering and impractical. Maybe not having a decent amount of food in the house is acceptable for the on-screen personalities that aren’t household chefs or simply rely on dining out exclusively? Still, the cliche about an empty refrigerator is meant for scattered laughs one imagines. Specifically, this is the case for movie police officers, spies, models, performers or any profession where we are to believe that these characters are always “on the run” and not like other regular folks that need to eat in the household to exist and not wither away. C’mon…even trigger-happy cop Dirty Harry Callahan needs to visit the local Stop & Shop supermarket at least once for some random bread, lunch meat and milk, right?

7.) Please die already…the refusal to meet one’s fate and finalize a death scene

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This is one of the most worn-out movie cliches imaginable yet most feel that it is warranted within the realm of psychological thrillers, procedural dramas, horror flicks or suspense yarns–the refusal for a perceived movie character’s demise only for them to unexpectedly take one more desperate breath to do harm before finally expiring. Yeah, this movie cliche is indeed exhausting and gimmicky but for the most part it is an effective tool for filmmakers to eke out an extra ounce of tension from the over-the-top scene for the audience to soak up with giddiness. The perfect example of this notion is Fatal Attraction’s Alex Forrest (Glen Close) whose apparent bathtub drowning by one-time married lover Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) was not the final straw to putting away this psychotic sexy siren. However, Dan’s fed up wife Beth’s (Anne Archer) bullet took the knife-wielding twitch out of a raging Alex’s bombastic bounce.

8.) The affordability of lavish apartments/homes by movie characters with modest salaries

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Sure, one should suspend their belief and not get too carried away with what they see on the big screen as implausible, impossible and inconsistent. But there are just some things in the make-believe land of cinema that just begs for an occasional eye-roll here and there. The movie cliche of featuring big screen characters with posh homes and properties that they could not possibly be able to afford based on their income/profession really stretches the exasperation to a limit. How many times have we seen movie protagonists roam around in expansive and well-groomed places they call home yet wonder “Geez…we did not realize that they were paying massage therapists, city workers, civil servants or teachers this kind of money?” Now in all fairness even the top-notch professionals portrayed in features (politicians, lawyers, physicians, architects, engineers, etc.) seem to reside in glorious shelter that are outside of their fancy financial means…and they do get paid a pretty penny for what they do in life. Ah, the wonders of motion picture pretense and privilege.

9.) The feel-good sporting event moments  

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One will argue that the recipe for ALL sporting-related films is that the inherent “feel-good” spirit of these competition narratives are necessary and needed as the cliche of inspirational and euphoria-driven vibes is what drives these pieces of athletic-induced entertainment to effectively sell its tension and human heart. And any individual that argues this point would indeed be correct in their assessment. But it still does not take away from the fact that the feel-good foundation in sports movies are a cliche regardless of how instrumental it is to the film’s plot especially in the scenes of the film. Will the batter strike out or bring in the winning run to advance in the baseball playoffs? Will the quarterback’s hail Mary pass to the wide receiver looking for redemption as he makes a touchdown be realized? Can the third string point guard make the final free throw for the basketball city championship? Will that last minute goal in a sudden death tied hockey game materialize with seven seconds left on the clock?

10.) All you have to do is GET OUT of that spooky mansion…PERIOD!

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Last but certainly not least…a movie cliche for the ages…the long-term perils with haunted houses and the manner in which the hapless victims buy into their treacherous fate with the redundancy of stupidity and clueless curiosity involved. Even comedians use the haunted house victimization premise as a steady bit for their comedy material. The laughable formula is always the same…the residents (or visitors) of the mysterious spooky domicile simply refuses to leave and tries to figure out “what’s going on” as they or their loved ones meets a methodical tragic ending. Now who in the world sticks around in a bloody hatch-job home and questions the macabre madness? The answer: silly-minded fools that do not mind their roles as blind sheep being send to the slaughter. And why for reasons unknown do these wandering nightmarish no-nothings not attempt to turn on any light in the dark to better their chances of seeing the creepy cretin looking to make them ready-made mincemeat?  Wouldn’t you automatically turn into a marathon sprinter and hit the high road the moment you saw blood stains on the wall as an echoed haunting voice instructs you to GET OUT?

–Frank Ochieng

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