Movie cliches are unavoidable; the director only has two-odd hours to take you from start to finish, so whether a high school's social structure is built on a thin foundation of classic nerd and jock stereotypes or a wedding is abruptly interrupted by the aw-shucks nice guy who's finally ready to spill his guts, there's bound to be some shortcuts along the way.
But sometimes Hollywood takes it a bit further, hitting us with cliches that are so oddly specific (and frequently divorced from reality) that they make you wonder if they've been written by a random plot-generating robot with limited resources and a tenuous grasp on the human experience. So sit back, relax, and set your deja vu detectors to "on" as we break down ten insanely specific things that are commonplace in the movieverse.
1. Character Dislikes Past/Future Version of Themselves
Whether it was during a hangover from an ill-advised night of partying or after screwing things up with a lady/gentleman friend, at some point we've all hated past versions of ourselves. But only in the movies are characters given a chance to set themselves straight in person. In "Looper," Joseph Gordon Levitt's time-traversing junkie hitman takes self-loathing a step further, spending much of the movie trying to kill an older version of himself played by Bruce Willis for reasons that would take me several hundred more sentences to explain.
2. Story's Protagonist is a Movie Writer Who Undercuts Trite Movie Cliches by Pointing Them Out
Pointing out cliches in your own writing as it happens on screen in real time? So cliche! But hey, just because a movie's plot device has been overdone doesn't mean it's poorly written. Between Shane Black, Martin McDonagh and Charlie Kaufman, this category includes a murderers' row of great Hollywood scribes. If you haven't seen Black's criminally underrated "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," which swept every awards ceremony's "Best Use of a Sassy Val Kilmer" category in 2005, definitely give it a watch.
3. Protagonist Offers Concerts Tickets to a Love Interest as an Indication of Their/the Movie's Hipness, Despite the Band Having Hit Its Hipness Peak About a Decade Ago
In "Funny People," Seth Rogen tries to woo Aubrey Plaza with tickets to see Wilco. In "Get Him to the Greek," Jonah Hill attempts to lure Elizabeth Moss out of the house with tickets to see The Mars Volta. In "The Break-Up," Jennifer Aniston does her best to save her relationship with Vince Vaughn by inviting him to an Old 97's concert. Listen, I like these bands as much as anyone born in suburban Upstate New York during the eighties, but let's not act like using them as shorthand for hipness wouldn't have worked better circa 2002.
4. A Bomb is Disarmed With Two Seconds Left
At some point, a bomb being abruptly stopped with just a second left became too trite and unbelievable. So the entertainment masterminds in Hollywood gathered and decreed, "Henceforth, all bombs shall be defused with two seconds left instead of one!" That's why they make the big bucks, folks.
5. In a Dystopic Future, Entertainment is Centered Around One Evil, Elaborate Game
There are plenty of odd tropes when it comes to the film industry's interpretation of the future. More often than not, long, badass flowing robes are all the rage, and due to incredible technological breakthroughs our cars and skateboards hover a few inches off the ground. But maybe the most strangely specific recurring idea is that one grand, uber-brutal form of entertainment will serve as a cultural centerpiece. This could be viewed as poignant criticism of our society's increasingly insatiable appetite for violent, depraved entertainment. But it also might just be because watching movie stars with perplexing futuristic haircuts duke it out to the death in onesies is a silly good time.
6. Once Defeated, a Villain Pleads for Mercy from the Hero, Which is Granted. Later, the Villain Once Again Tries to Kill the Hero But Somehow Gets Himself Killed in the Process
Being a hero is tough stuff. Even after a series of murders, betrayals and fist-lashings at the hands of your enemy, you can't even enjoy the sweet taste of revenge without it being spoiled by the bitter aroma of guilt. So, being the beacon of morality you are (or, perhaps, have become after being transformed into a man-boar by a disguised beggar woman), you give your now-pitiful adversary the benefit of the doubt, telling them to run and never come back, thus showing them the compassion they never would have shown you. Dumb move! Turns out evil can't be reasoned with. Luckily, it also turns out that evil is kinda stupid, so the bad guy, trying once again to prove to you that the world is a cruel, unjust place, ends up getting killed anyway at his own hand. So, justice? We guess?
7. Gun Standoff Under a Table in a Bar/Restaurant as Conversation Continues Normally
We've never been in a situation where a gun was pointed betwixt our legs while sitting in a dining or drinking establishment — a streak we hope to keep alive far into the future. But we imagine if such a scenario presented itself, we wouldn't have the presence of mind to debate the difference between an egg and an omelet with a waitress, take our last minutes to muse on the deliciousness of fine scotch or make quippy, threatening remarks to a future version of ourselves.
8. Villain's Disfigured Face Serves as a Constant Reminder of Past Trauma and Failures
Lots of things can lead to a once-upstanding citizen's deterioration into an embodiment of moral bankruptcy. But in movies, it frequently has a lot to do with them being brutally disfigured. And, unfortunately, most of the time that brutal disfigurement occurs alongside a heartbreaking life event, making their exterior scars symbolize their inner demons (often referred to as a "metaphor," for all you English majors out there). The cliche comes at a two-for-the-price-of-one value in "The Dark Knight" where both Heath Ledger's artificially smiley Joker and Aaron Eckhart's crispy Two-Face have been through some serious noggin trauma.
9. Animal is Allowed to Participate in a Human Sporting Event Because There's No Rule Explicitly Against It
I'm pretty sure the reason there's no rule against animals participating in sanctioned sporting events is the same reason staplers can't run for Senate — it more or less goes without saying. However, if there's some sort of "Teen Wolf" situation, where a human is somehow able to morph into an animal and those animalistic qualities make him a basketball star, well, that seems totally kosher to me.
10. Johnny Depp is an Anemic-Looking, Well-Intentioned Weirdo
Unlike most of the cliches on this list, this cliche is less an amorphous storytelling device that has materialized over decades and more a case of a director being endlessly infatuated by the same look, actor and fish-out-of-water concepts.
*Writer's note specifically to Tim Burton and no one else: When your films have devolved towards self-parody territory, maybe it's time to mix it up a bit. Direct a movie about a great fishing expedition or the Founding Fathers or something. Nothing personal. I loved "The Nightmare Before Christmas" and I cry like a small child who's just been told Christmas has been canceled every time I watch "Big Fish." Again, just between me and you.