Film clichés  

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 A simple example of a cliché in an art form is that of a western film where two men face each other on a dusty and empty road; one dons a black hat, the other white. Independent of any external meaning, there is no way to tell what the situation might mean, but due to the long development of the "western" genre, it is clear to the informed audience that they are watching a gunfight showdown between a good guy and a bad guy.
A simple example of a cliché in an art form is that of a western film where two men face each other on a dusty and empty road; one dons a black hat, the other white. Independent of any external meaning, there is no way to tell what the situation might mean, but due to the long development of the "western" genre, it is clear to the informed audience that they are watching a gunfight showdown between a good guy and a bad guy.

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cartoon physics, cliché

Film and television clichės are frequently used (and often hackneyed) narrative tropes, devices, plots, settings and characters that can be found on television and in film. This article comprises a general list of such clichés, and most mentioned within this article can be and usually are applicable to both live-action and/or animated film and television. Although practically every show or film made will most likely use some clichéd elements occasionally, genres such as sitcoms, children’s animated series, sci-fi drama, video games and blockbuster Hollywood action movies frequently provide a particularly rich source of clichés.


Use of clichés

These clichés tend to be used in order to introduce particular characters, setting and genres in a quick, cheap and easy fashion - for example, it may be easier to establish a character as a scientist or doctor by putting him/her in a white lab coat, or to establish the action as taking place in Paris with a quick shot of the Eiffel Tower. Also, whilst perhaps not factually accurate or realistic, many clichés are used in order to further the plot, create tension (the genre-transcending ticking clock countdown, for example) and make the experience more enjoyable; for example, while hardly realistic, and certainly clichéd, it is more entertaining to imagine that radioactive toxic waste could turn a person into a superhero rather than killing them, and easier to use the American Crowd rather than script the responses of a more realistic crowd of people. Clichés can also help to move a story along, by hopping over unimportant details and focusing on more essential elements of the plot; for example, a car or house key left close by and easy to find, or picking locks in a matter of seconds, when such events are incidental to the plot. Conversely, entry to a building may be particularly difficult, and take many minutes of screen time, in a movie dealing with robberies. Other examples are the ease at which protagonists find parking slots, or don’t need to go to the bathroom, unless such things are important to the story.

Many clichés thus continue to be used because they sustain the story and make it enjoyable - providing the audience is willing and able to suspend their disbelief. However, as more films and television shows have been and continue to be produced, overuse of these clichés leads to audience boredom, and therefore film and television producers now try to avoid obvious clichés where possible and attempt to give their characters, plots and stories more depth and complexity. Where clichés are still used, they are frequently used in an ironic manner, and either parodied or subverted, as frequently occurs in shows such as The Simpsons, Seinfeld and Monty Python.



  • Male Character: "I'm going in". Female Character: "I'm coming with you". Male Character: "No, it's too dangerous"
  • Computers have a much more advanced user interfaces than in real life. Graphical user interfaces tend to have very flashy color schemes and animations, and little text (the text on the screen will be in big, bold fonts). Often, every keystroke or button click will have a loud sound effect which, while mostly trivial to implement in real life, would most likely annoy when used on a real computer. Performance is almost instantaneous.
    • A command line interface almost always accepts and understands commands in plain English.
    • When receiving E-mail, a letter will fly across the screen and open. (Mission: Impossible)
    • When hacking into a computer, the “hacker” only uses a keyboard and the screen displays DOS, running at a very low baud (letters visibly appear on the screen in sequence). If there is a password, there will be a large “ACCESS DENIED” on the screen and “ACCESS GRANTED” will appear when the hero cracks it (which usually takes only seconds). The password is usually something personal or easily guessable. Occasionally, systems will be trivial to bypass, either by typing a word/phrase such as BYPASS or OVERRIDE (Demolition Man), using a "hacking program" or connecting some sort of "hacking device" (often a cellphone containing a hacking program).
    • If there is a virus being uploaded to a computer, the screen of the target computer will glitch, or show visual evidence such as a skull and crossbones (Hackers, Independence Day).
    • If people are surveying a building, a wire-frame model with all features (such as security systems) of the building is mapped out. (Ocean’s Twelve)
    • Security guards can zoom in a grainy surveillance tape with impossibly high clarity to make out a person’s face, license plate, or other information. (The Chase)
    • However, no matter how advanced a computer is, it will shut down displaying a shrinking white dot/line in the middle of a screen, similar to an old vacuum-tube based television.
  • Cops don’t have to use the least amount of force possible. An officer just has to say “Halt it’s the Police” and if the suspect runs he can be shot at, and if the cop is close he can knock the suspect unconscious, instead of simply pinning him or using handcuffs.
  • Characters who are ghosts can often walk through walls, but conversely do not fall through floors.
  • A character shown speaking on a telephone hangs up angrily without saying good-bye.
  • Characters rarely ever wear the same thing twice unless it is crucial to the plot that they do so (Notable exception: Clark Kent in Smallville, who nearly always dresses in red and blue, and Ethel Mertz in I Love Lucy, whose character constantly complains of her limited wardrobe, blaming her husband's cheapness to comic effect. In animated cartoons, the characters almost always wear the same clothing, which is explained in some cartoons by the character's clothing containers containing nothing but several copies of the character's trademark attire).
  • Characters in a school are very rarely or never suspended, even if they have committed something generally viewed as tyrannic behavior. (Harry Potter, Mean Girls, Kim Possible, Recess, That’s So Raven.)
  • A school-going character who has received As his/her whole academic life gets a B or lower and freaks out (Episode 60 of The Simpsons, Episode 51 of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Hey Arnold!, Saved by the Bell).
  • The ongoing, on-again-off-again relationship. Most often the two characters involved will finally get together on a permanent basis towards the end of a series. (Friends, Gilmore Girls, Scrubs, etc.)
  • An episode that radically changes the major situation will be revealed at the end as having been nothing more than a dream or hallucination. (See Reset button technique)
  • In modern films set in a historical era, the women are often portrayed as just as capable as men in combat (Danielle de Barbarac in Ever After, Maid Marian in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, and Elena in The Mask of Zorro and The Legend of Zorro).
  • In stories involving racing competitions, the villain is more focused on attacking the hero than winning the race (obviously leading to his doom, or, at least, losing the race in the last few seconds.)
  • A main character will have a near-death experience and gain a new aspect on life. This often leads them to have major personality change, usually a more positive one (Gregory House in House, M.D., Joe Banks in Joe Versus the Volcano, Georgia Byrd in Last Holiday)
  • If a woman has long hair, she almost always wears it down, even in situations (food preparation, combat, etc.) where it would be safer or more convenient to have it tied back. Her hair will blow around in the wind and rain, but it will never snarl or tangle. The worst she will get is a fairly attractive case of bed head. Exception: If the female character has glasses, she always wears her hair tied back or up. She will then become strikingly beautiful when she removes her glasses and either gets her hair cut or lets it down. (Laney Boggs in She’s All That, Gracie Hart in Miss Congeniality)
  • A character (usually a father) discovers a pregnancy test and assumes it to be a teenage girl's, when in reality it is their wife’s or friend’s. It usually turns out that the wife or friend is not pregnant after all, (e.g., Grounded For Life,Neighbours).
  • Heroes in historical settings generally have modern values (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, The Patriot, Shrek).
  • In plots involving high-tech information stored on a computer disk, it never occurs to those affected to make backup copies.
  • A large and physically intimidating character is often nicknamed “Tiny.”
  • A character can only invite a limited number of people to an event. Invariably, more people want to go, often creating a dilemma.
  • Staying in one place. The episode's plot will revolve around going somewhere, but the event will either be cancelled or the episode will end with the characters leaving for said place.
  • At the end of the episode, either everyone will end up going to an event or none of them will go. (The Brady Bunch, Full House, Episode 37 of Malcolm in the Middle, The Cosby Show finale.)
  • A character who lost their prior job in a humiliating and/or high-profile way will then go to a new job interview full of hope, only to be shot down by the interviewer, who is only interested in teasing them about their past misfortune (Fun with Dick and Jane, Jersey Girl).
  • If a character lends his/her cell phone to another, no one calls to speak to the owner of the phone.
  • Cell phones do not have ringtones, except for comedic purposes.
    • These ringtones are always monophonic, even though the cell phone is modern enough to support polyphonic ringtones or better.
  • In order to fill time, people will not call someone else’s cell phone, but will “go to find them” which will take enough time for a situation to get worse, or for the group’s geek/genius to find a solution.
  • When discovering an unknown person, artifact, vehicle or villain’s lair, plans or real face, the hero or team-member never take a picture, and instead try to describe what they saw, which delays the solution.
  • People tend to read IMs and text messages out loud to themselves as they send or receive them.
  • Similarly, people will read letters they are writing out loud to themselves as they write them.
  • When computers are processing information, thet usually make beeping or clicking noises that are uncharacteristic of real computers.
  • A character, usually male, will suspect that his wife/girlfriend is having an affair and later find out she is not.
  • A child or teenager who does something naughty almost always gets caught.
  • An adult caucasian male character playing a game with someone who is not an adult caucasian male will generally lose.
  • Amounts of money are never said out loud, only read off a piece of paper (usually with a shocked/amused, etc. reaction to tell the audience the approximate amount).
  • A main character who is portrayed as a loser or as someone who has difficulty finding a date is played by an actor/actress who would be considered attractive by most people’s standards (e.g., Rachel Leigh Cook in She’s All That).
  • When a character gives a passionate speech, the American flag and/or fireworks will be shown in the background.
  • In a sports movie, (particularly boxing) the protagonist will lose, but the audience will chant his name and he’ll be a hero anyway. (The first and last Rocky movies, Annapolis also Cars)
  • When the antagonist finally catches his enemy, the hero will say defiantly, "You'll never get away with this!"
  • Despite a series being set in a certain region, i.e. (New York, New Jersey, Hawaii) the majority of the characters will not speak the local dialect and will instead speak General American.
  • Despite a series being set in locations with significant minority/non-white populations, the regular cast will have zero or at most one or two token non-white characters, but will have plenty of attractive white characters. (Laguna Beach, Acapulco H.E.A.T., North Shore (TV series))
  • Split personalities will occur far more commonly than in real life. When it is explained at all, it is often attributed to a single minorly traumatic event (Two-Face on Batman: The Animated Series). Often a character will "develop" a split personality with no previous signs of major mental disorders (Latka on Taxi, Steve Urkel on Family Matters).
  • Tourette's syndrome is invariably portrayed as producing only profanity, when this is in fact a relatively uncommon symptom. No other symptoms (muscle twitches, etc.) ever accompany the cursing.
  • At the moment of plot resolution, one character in a crowd will begin to clap slowly, and more people will join in, turning into enthusiastic applause. (Cool Runnings, Rudy, Revenge of the Nerds)
  • Night-time outdoor scenes set in a town nearly always have streets that are wet and shiny, probably as a result of rain, however the wet streets and the rain rarely have any connection with the plot, and are never mentioned (this is usually done to increase lighting and exposure while filming at night).
  • Gay male characters completely based on stereotypes (i.e. confirms or overrules her fashion sense, has effeminate voice, is sought for potential criticism of her boyfriends) often serve as accessories to female characters. However, if the show or movie is a drama, these gay characters will be "straight acting" as if they are trying to avoid acting like a stereotype.
  • Many storylines feature gay male characters struggling with their sexuality, yet lesbian characters are seemingly more accepting of their sexual orientation.
  • Vikings always wear helmets with horns (real Vikings never did).
  • Scenes in a living room will almost always include a baby grand piano, yet the piano has no connection with the plot and is never played.
  • Cartoon characters being able to defy gravity until they realize that they are doing so.
  • Characters enjoying cuisine, but when they learn the ingredients of the dish they are eating, it is no longer appealing, and they may become disgusted, nauseated, or have an allergic reaction to one of the ingredients.
  • Despite the knowledge and education/training required, tradesmen such as mechanics, plumbers, or TV/film crew are often portrayed as slovenly people with low intelligence.
  • People wear shoes when they are at home, although in real life, most people do not.
  • Any white person of Hispanic/Latino or Middle Eastern descent will be recognized by their ethnicity, despite not having any visibly ethnic features.
  • Legal documents can be rendered null and void simply by tearing them into pieces, and no party will make an effort to enforce the conditions of a document once it has been destroyed, although in real life, a party can still file a lawsuit for not fulfilling the terms of a contract if they have any other proof that an agreement was made
  • Teenage characters are often played by actors well into their twenties. This is in order to display teenage characters engaging in sexual acts without having to get an actor's parental consent, as well as possible issues with child pornography laws.

Medical dramas

Reality TV shows

See reality television.

  • Stereotypical contestants such as the gay one, the bigot, or the flirt
  • Competitive contestants are often unaware of the camera crew, especially in private conversations.
  • Television screens or computers are superimposed with footage due to copyright reasons.
  • The aftermath of some programs are not always true. For example, only one winner The Bachelor out of all winners maintained a steady relationship, as of 2009.
  • Celebrity contestants who are most often past their prime or have only just become famous
  • A "good cop/bad cop" pair on the judges panel of a talent-based reality show (for example, Simon Cowell is the "bad cop" while the other two judges are "good cops".)
  • A Celebrity version or an All-Star show introduced after several regular seasons (Celebrity Big Brother UK)
  • Almost every popular attraction in various locations are closed sets for the contestants.
  • In programs such as The Hills and Laguna Beach often feature elaborate clothing, fast-paced camera shots and original music composition.
  • The shock eviction of a supposedly popular contestant by public vote or otherwise (ie, Dmitry of So You Think You Can Dance or Rupert Boneham of Survivor: Pearl Islands)
  • In nearly every talent-based show, there is at least a judge who is British and hypercritical while giving strong and honest opinions (ie, Simon Cowell, or Ian Dickson).

Soap operas

  • Two main characters (male and female) meet in the first episode, become the main loving couple of the series, eventually break up during lots of drama and go into new relationships, get together again during lots of drama, break up again with lots of drama, and finally, with lots of drama, get together again in the last episode of the series. (Beverly Hills, 90210, Sex and the City, Friends, Sunset Beach)
  • Characters who experience tragedy and constantly changing relationships with no long-term effects (Neighbours)
  • The long-lost sibling (often a twin), who often turns out to be a villain or a fraud (Neighbours)
  • Affairs which result in a pregnancy of questionable paternity. (Neighbours, most Soaps)
  • The town villain, whose sole desire is to gain control of all the other citizens. (Neighbours)
  • Weddings, holiday parties, and other special occasions which end with the revelation of a scandal (Most Soaps)
  • Characters have a tendency to say, out loud, their dark secret, which is often heard by the person it would affect most.
  • Most characters are oblivious to others' problems and greatly focus on their own, even if two or more characters are written as being family or best friends.
  • A main character often goes unseen for a varied period of time without explanation (Neighbours)
  • Characters will often jump into a serious relationship with a vague, new stranger
  • Characters have a tendency to speak to themselves out loud instead of thinking to themselves
  • A character who has been absent for a few months or years will return and complicate current problems or bring back previous ones (Neighbours)
  • Someone will often spend years pursuing a potential love interest who appears to not reciprocate. But in reality, they do have romantic feelings for the pursuer.
  • By the time the town villain has antagonized nearly all of the cast, he will be murdered. (All My Children, One Life To Live)
  • The chief of police who does everything by the book, despite his own personal hatred for a suspect. (Neighbours)
  • Serial killer story lines are used for the purpose of budget cuts.
  • Clip show/funeral episodes for long-time characters after the deaths of their portrayers.
  • A long-lost character will suddenly return, often with the explanation of "amnesia" or being "stranded on a desert island", and immediately take up their old role in the storyline. (Neighbours)
  • A villainous character, if they prove to be popular enough, may be redeemed and become a good guy (Luke Spencer, and to a certain extent Todd Manning).
  • A man and a woman are trapped together, and must keep warm by taking off their clothes and using their body heat.
  • The end of an episode may be the end of a day in real time, and the final segment will be a musical montage.
  • Whenever a gun is fired, only a close-up of the gun will be shown.
  • There are little to no "average-looking" people, including teenagers. (Neighbours)
  • Any person can obtain any job regardless of education and/or experience.
  • If a person accuses another person of a crime, or other horrible act, the accuser will never mention what (s)he is accusing the other of and the accused will not know what (s)he is being accused of. Instead the accuser will say things such as "You know what you did." (Neighbours)
  • An actor in a recasted role could possibly have a contrasting height, build, or hair color from the previous actor, but no one will acknowledge it.
  • Characters who work as professionals, but have a working class standard of living.
  • The rich and powerful patriarch/matriarch, who has a domineering attitude towards his/her entire family. This person usually commits despicable acts and is often treated as the town pariah. However, despite his/her bad reputation, everyone knows that this person's priority is protecting his/her family.
  • Gay characters are always "straight-acting."
  • Characters seem to have a large amount of disposable income, yet are hardly ever seen working.
  • Due to constant sexual activity, and resulting childbirth throughout a soap opera's history, the entire cast may possibly be connected under a single family tree, yet that connection is never acknowledge.


  • Cinematography usually consists of stationary wide or medium shots of the set (which very rarely change), medium close-ups, and flat lighting. The camera is always pointed in the same direction, since "the fourth wall" is or was originally taken up by audience space.
  • Canned audience laughter, which always accompanies the jokes and punchlines on live-action sitcoms (actors will often pause and wait for the audience to finish laughing before resuming their dialogue).
  • If the sitcom is a vehicle for a particular actor or actress, then the actor/actress will often share the same first name of his/her character, (Lucille Ball as Lucy Ricardo in I Love Lucy, Ray Romano as Ray Barone in Everybody Loves Raymond, Tim Allen as Tim Taylor in Home Improvement, Brent Butt as Brent LeRoy in Corner Gas, Roseanne Barr/Arnold as Roseanne Conner in Roseanne, Tony Danza as Tony Micelli in Who's the Boss?, Raven Symone as Raven Baxter in That's so Raven, Reba McEntire as Reba Hart in Reba, and Charlie Sheen as Charlie Harper in Two and a Half Men). Some stars of sitcoms play characters with their same first and last name; examples include Jerry Seinfeld, who plays Jerry Seinfeld in Seinfeld, Drew Carey of The Drew Carey Show, and George Lopez, who plays George Lopez in The George Lopez Show. Tyler Perry's House of Payne featured the character C.J. Payne, who shares the same last name as his portrayer, Allen Payne.
  • A lengthy deadpan banter between a number of regular characters, either related to the situation or out-of-context. (Happens in most sitcoms, most notably Friends, Seinfeld, and How I Met Your Mother)
  • Nuclear families headed by parents whose relationship dates back to college or even high school (The Simpsons, Married… with Children, etc.).
  • The stay-at-home mother whose presence in the house is underappreciated but proves to be crucial to the survival of the family (The Simpsons, etc.).
  • A situation where a main character has to choose between a popular clique/fraternity or his own friends (Happy Days, Family Matters).
  • A situation where some of the protagonists, usually teenagers, get scammed by a pool shark. Just when the situation looks grim, an older protagonist suddenly appears and turns the tables on the pool shark by being a better pool player. (Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Family Matters, Happy Days), (A similar version appeared in a Sanford and Son episode, where Lamont is taken by a group of card sharps, only to have Fred turn the tables. A twist on this occurs in a Drake and Josh episode, where Drake has Josh help him hustle on some pool games, until Josh, disgusted with Drake’s lack of ethics, has some of his tough-guy friends threaten to rough Drake up.)
  • The middle-class working father, often absent-minded or negligent at home. (The Simpsons,Dinosaurs)
  • A character would attempt to start an unusual fad with humorous results on being insulted or disgusted by other characters. At the end, the character would ditch the fad but we see a group of characters following the fad. (The Puffy Shirt in Seinfeld, Spicy Pants in Mission Hill)
  • The clueless, ignorant or otherwise inept male who is constantly upbraided or outwitted by a woman or child whose intelligence actually is greater than that of the male but is constantly denigrated by him (The Honeymooners, The Mary Tyler Moore Show,Home Improvement, Married... with Children, King of Queens and many others).
  • Short men are often portrayed as lewd, rude and crude individuals who are drawn as near-completely unsympathetic. They are often womanizers, but never get any action beyond the occasional date, and invoke the power hungry Napoléon stereotype. Notable examples include Louie DePalma in Taxi, Dennis Finch in Just Shoot Me, George Costanza in Seinfeld and "Bob" in Becker.
  • The "cute kid," usually the youngest in the family, who rarely figures prominently in the plot but provides comic relief. This usually lasts until the child is old enough to center episodes around or the kid disappears entirely (Dee in What's Happening!, Judy from Family Matters, Michelle in Full House).
  • Once the youngest child outgrows being "cute," a situation will be contrived to introduce a new young cast member ('Cousin Oliver', Seven in Married... with Children, Three-Jay in Family Matters, Olivia in The Cosby Show).
  • The fun aunt or uncle, often single or divorced, who seems like fun but is often irresponsible (Family Matters)
  • A house in which the interior layout should be impossible given the architecture of the house as seen from the outside (The Brady Bunch, The Cosby Show).
  • A couch situated in the center of the room, allowing other characters to walk behind them (in real life, most couches in a standard living room would be back against the wall)(Family Guy).
  • Impossibly large and roomy urban apartments (Friends, The Mary Tyler Moore Show).
  • No one ever sits with their back to the camera at the dinner table, even though it cramps everyone. If someone walks in, they will pull up a chair and force diners to move aside rather than sit on the empty side. (The Last Supper)
  • The hip, feisty grandmother (Family Matters, Who's the Boss?, The George Lopez Show, ALF).
  • Any story focusing on underage drinking will involve someone going way overboard and having a bad accident, often while driving home.
    • Related to this, teenage characters who engage in socially unapproved ways (drinking, drugs, sex) are always found out, always confronted by their parents, and almost always change their behavior to fit with the social norm (see very special episode, which is itself an onscreen cliché).
    • There will be at least one very special episode in which the show tackles drugs, sex, cheating, etc.
  • An antagonistic relationship between the father and his mother-in-law (The Flintstones).
  • Off-stage characters who are referred to in dialogue as having exaggerated physical features (Maris Crane in Frasier, Peggy's Mother in Married... With Children, Al's Mother in Home Improvement, Stan in Will & Grace).
  • Roommates who are complete opposites, such as a slob and a neat person (The Odd Couple), or a nerd and a womanizer Two and a Half Men).
  • If a character is close to giving birth, said birth will probably occur in an inconvenient place (such as an elevator (Saved By the Bell) or the back seat of a car(Frasier)) and the delivery will have to be performed/assisted by the regular character who would be the most uncomfortable with such a scenario. Such births also happen in dramas, typically with similar comedic effect (like Worf delivering Keiko’s child in Star Trek: The Next Generation).
  • Supporting characters never need to knock; they simply walk into the main family’s house (The Honeymooners, The Bob Newhart Show, Seinfeld, the movie Monster-in-Law). The door is never locked. They rarely close the door behind them (although the door may miraculously close itself once out of camera view).
  • Similarly, characters are always conveniently present where they need to be to function as part of the plot (especially if they are delivering a joke), whether their presence is plausible or not (The Simpsons, Scrubs, Futurama, etc.).
  • A young unrelated supporting character will often look to the heads of the main family for support rather than his or her own parents (Skippy on Family Ties).
  • Elementary school plays with Broadway production values, including elaborate costuming.
  • When something shocking happens a character will say "I can't believe it". Then another character, usually a less educated one, will say "I know" and proceed to say something that isn't related towards the shock. (e.g. "I can't believe it!" "I know! Two-for-one pancakes at Denny's?") This is pariodied in the film Airplane! in which three characters, aware of a disaster involving a plane, read the newspaper. "Airline negligent!" "Passengers certain to die!" "There's a sale at Penney's!"
  • A one-shot character treated as a good friend (or even potential boyfriend/girlfriend) of a main character, only to disappear after the episode and never be heard from again (this is especially prevalent in very special episodes, where a new disposable character is needed to drive the plot).
  • A spontaneous musical number by the protagonists. Often ad-libbed with no time for practice, the musical number is played perfectly, with appropriate lyrics and coordinated dance moves pulled from thin air.
  • A plot in which a main character (generally male) is pressured into finding a date for a school dance. He asks a geeky friend in desperation, only to consider ditching her when a more attractive prospect comes along. Ultimately, the main character chooses to do the right thing and take the geeky friend, only to have her appear at his door (rather than him picking her up) on the night of the dance magically transformed into a gorgeous young woman (The Nanny).
  • The most popular girl in school is often paradoxically the least liked, or is only liked by her circle of friends. If an unpopular girl manages to embarrass her, the other students will cheer her on.
  • An episode where the main characters reminisce about the past as a veiled excuse to have a clip show (The Simpsons, Scrubs, Friends, etc.).
  • A celebrity a main character has an obsession with making a guest appearance on the show (Mel Tormé on Night Court, The Beach Boys on Full House, Joe Walsh on The Drew Carey Show).
  • Families will often go to either Walt Disney World or Disneyland on vacation (Exception: In National Lampoon's Vacation, the main characters go to a parody of Walt Disney World, since the real theme park is open year round).
  • Families, or groups of friends will go to either Las Vegas or Atlantic City, and one character will develop a gambling addiction. (Friends, The Nanny), or visit an Indian casino and become addicted to gambling there (Family Guy). The Native Americans who run the Indian casino are unscrupulous businessmen who try to oppress the white man the same way that they were historically oppressed (South Park).
  • Families, or groups of friends who go to Los Angeles will most definitely land a part in a movie or see someone famous. (I Love Lucy).
  • Sitcoms targeted at African-American audiences will have one (1) nerdy white male supporting character.
  • Sitcoms featuring a main cast that are all female with the exception of one male (Designing Women).
  • Character A will be covertly or mistakenly informed about Character B's private details, leading to a conversation where Character B discusses mundane details and Character A thinks the discussion to pertain to personal matters. This invites the audience, through the confused character, to comb the discussion for humorous innuendo (used extensively in Friends and every episode of Three's Company).
  • Less common is the reverse of the above, when situations involving matters of gravitas and/or embarrassment are mixed with conversations of trivial matters, again inviting humorous misinterpretation.
  • Halloween specials where each character has movie style costumes, make-up, and exceedingly expensive decorations.
  • When a character is saying something that one person in particular is not meant to hear, the audience will see the character in question approach in the background. As the speaker is crossing the threshold of offensiveness, they will notice either (a) a horrified look on their audience's face; or (b) that fate decrees they are making a big mistake. They will then ask, "(S)he's behind me, isn't (s)he?"
  • When a scene begins in medias res with a character giving an impassioned speech, we will not see the recipient of the speech. This is because they are never there and the character is just practicing, this being the humorous reveal.
  • Related to the above, if the scene begins with it being clear that the character is practicing the speech, getting the words just right, the payoff will be the character botching the speech when delivering it for real.
  • If a man and a woman have a ferocious argument, they will escalate the dispute to the point where they are shouting and unable to communicate; then they will part in a mutually inexpressible fury, only to rush together a beat later and kiss passionately.
  • During the holidays, a nice getaway is planned. However, circumstances (often meteorological) conspire to force the entire cast, including the ones who detest each other, to spend the holiday in a confined space together. Harmony eventually ensues.
  • In the 1990s it was fashionable for a brief period to have an episode where a non-character had died in the show's central location and the characters had to deal with the morbid quandary of what to do with the body. ([[Fawlty Towers and Roseanne being the most notable examples).
  • A knock on the head will produce amnesia (usually total retrograde amnesia) with no other signs of serious head trauma. Another bump on the head will actually restore the person's memories (often not including memories of what they did while amnesiac). (The Flintstones.)
  • At least one episode will be devoted to the ancillary teenage daughter getting her first period.
  • A conversation about an innocent topic will be partially overheard, with the resulting talk sounding like a double entendre, leading the eavesdropper to jump to the wrong, often ludicrous, conclusion (Three’s Company, Friends, The Flintstones.)
  • The end of each episode will feature one character articulating an explicit moral lesson based on the preceding events. This is usually the lead character, although occasionally an authority figure (such as a parent or teacher) will deliver it, with the lead character the recipient ("You know, I learned something today..."). This is parodied in most episodes of South Park.
  • One of the main characters will have an "It's a Wonderful Life" episode, where, inevitably, most or all of the remaining characters' lives turn out for the worse in the absence of that character. When the character returns to "normal", he/she will make comments referencing the "other life," totally confusing the remaining characters.(A twist on this would be the Married With Children, Beavis and Butthead, and the Fairly Odd Parents "Wonderful Life" episodes, where everyone is successful and happy, with most characters problems solved, without the main character).
  • Two main characters get locked together in a small confined room (basement, elevator, freezer). The characters who usually do not like each other will discover by the end of their confinement that they are not so different after all.(All in the Family, Three's Company, Benson,M*A*S*H (TV series), Night Court, Babylon 5)
  • One main character will become addicted to the Home Shopping Network.
  • Every house in a late 80s/early to mid 90s sitcom will have two staircases; one staircase is in the living room, the other is in the kitchen.
  • At least once during a shows run, a Christmas episode will follow the plotline of A Christmas Carol (The Six Million Dollar Man).
  • A woman will give her boyfriend an ultimatum: "You have to choose, it's either your friends (car, job, etc.) or me!" ...And the next scene shows her crying or in shock because he didn't choose her.
  • Gay characters will be easily recognizable by the audience, but the other characters will fail to notice their homosexuality, providing a comical effect.
  • A character will tell another character a secret. The other character will react by violently attacking them. It is then revealed that the incident is in the first character's mind and he/she has not even spoken.
  • A divorced parent will have control of one or more children. He/she will date and try to make the other divorced parent jealous. Most plots revolve around the zany antics of divorced parents lying to their ex spouses about the attributes(money, health, attractiveness) of their new paramours. Their is no sex or even evidence that these new couples are even together for a second without kids. The kids show no ill effects from the divorce and in fact are much more fun and adjusted that their peers from "old style" homes. Needless to say, the results are always hilarous.
Animated sitcoms
  • Most of the humor will be derived from gags, such as pop culture references, and parodies of memorable movie scenes.
  • A very large set of recurring characters, each with their own unique quirks. These recurring characters may provide even more humor than the main characters.
Family sitcoms
  • The central character is usually a teenager.
  • Unless the show is written to end with the character's graduation from high school, the main characters are usually freshmen, or in middle school.
  • Teens are often embarrassed by their parents.
  • During the 1990's, many teen sitcoms featured a group of six or more teenagers, each with their unique quirks, a favorite teacher, and the principal.
  • The central character has two best friends, one male and one female, and these are seemingly the only people that he/she hangs out with.
  • Teenagers have an almost unrealistically clean image. They seemingly have no interest in sex, never use profanity, never use off color humor, and never get into adult situations.
  • Despite being marketed towards younger children, teenage characters/actors sometimes tend to be sexually attractive in the eyes of people the same age as the actor.
  • The central character is always a foil for the entire universe around him/her.

Action films

Plot devices
  • Especially disaster films: Some catastrophic force which would presumably kill males and females equally (or more females than males because of less ability to run, swim, etc.), kills many male characters but few or no female characters. Or: Death of female characters is quick, that of male characters prolonged.
  • In many spy and action movies, saving the United States of America from destruction is tantamount to saving the world from destruction (Independence Day). A notable exception to this cliché is the parody film Johnny English, in which America is never mentioned at all. (Though its forerunner, the Thirteen Colonies, are referred to when the film’s antagonist mentions the British Empire).
  • A villain will have an opportunity to kill the protagonist, but will choose to talk or stall instead, giving the protagonist a chance to escape or even learn of their evil plans (Star Wars, The Island, any and all James Bond films, many others). Called “monologuing” in the film The Incredibles.
  • Alternatively, the villain will trap the hero and try to kill them slowly using an overly complicated deathtrap device such as a slow-moving laser beam or sharks; the hero will escape and get revenge on the villain (Many James Bond films, parodied in the Austin Powers films).
  • Major power sources (especially nuclear reactors) and other critical systems can be made to explode catastrophically simply by using a prominent control marked "Danger" or similar, or through a knock-on effect from a relatively minor incident (James Bond films again providing a template).
  • A knock on the head will always render a person unconscious, and they will awake safely a short time later with no concussion or serious head injury. If more than one person is unconscious, the hero always awakens first. However, the characters frequently awaken to find that they have been captured and imprisoned while they were knocked out. In fact, it’s frequently the villain who knocks the hero unconscious in the first place. Alternately, the hero can always knock someone out with one punch, karate chop, or blunt object to the head.
  • When the protagonists are in a room where a bomb is about to explode, they rush to the bomb and manage to disable it by cutting one of several wires (The Abyss, many others).
  • Protagonists manage to escape from a building or vehicle mere seconds before it explodes or is otherwise destroyed. They are usually thrown or “chased” by the fireball but sustain no injury (Lethal Weapon 2, The Matrix Reloaded).
  • Time bombs always beep or have blinking red lights on them, even the ones intended to be stealthy. They almost always have visible countdown displays (Casino Royale, Die Hard with a Vengeance, Face/Off), or a light blinks faster as it counts down to detonation . However, without this device, the audience would not be able to know when the bomb would explode.
  • When a timer goes off before an explosion or something similar, the protagonists stop it when the timer is at 00:01 (meaning one second). A notable exception is Goldfinger in which James Bond disarms the bomb with the timer at 00:07. In Galaxy Quest, this is parodied by having a bomb automatically stop at 00:01. In Fight Club, the bombs at the end of the movie vibrate instead of beeping, which is stated specifically
  • If the hero has only ten seconds to escape a bomb, he can actually take several times that long without the countdown actually reaching zero (Robocop 3). This is parodied egregiously in Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger Part IV, in which a five-second countdown on an explosive device is stretched out over ten minutes of screentime.
  • Police officers (usually detectives) are expected to be able to chase a suspect on rooftops or through traffic-infested roads. This is specifically mentioned in the film Showtime by Robert De Niro's character that he does not do so; later in the film, he does indeed engage in a car chase around the city, which gets him dismissed from the case.
  • Something shocking happens to the protagonist-- but then he wakes up and it is shown to be a dream.
Hero vs. villain
  • One hero (or two) can infiltrate an enemy base, take on the entire private army, and still have a realistic chance of survival (Commando, The Rundown, Tango and Cash, Three the Hard Way, most Jean-Claude van Damme movies).
  • The protagonist always is stronger or more skilled than almost all of the enemies/henchmen/hired muscle (see Stormtrooper effect) except for the main villain, who is almost always equal in strength or slightly less strong than the protagonist himself in order to provide an exciting and close battle sequence for the two usually without any other enemies to interfere, (partly in the last Matrix movie, but were still surrounded by Agent Smith clones.) (More recently, the main villain is frequently superior in strength to the protagonist, forcing the protagonist to find the villain’s weak point and/or think of a clever plan to defeat the villain [frequently by using his/her power against him/her.] See Boss (video games) for a better-developed version of this new cliché.)
  • When in a gunfight, the protagonist never needs to reload and can fire for much longer than the gun’s magazine would last. On the other hand, the thugs that are shooting at him reload only to give the hero the chance to shoot them or otherwise disable them. (Die Hard).
  • The hero escapes a large number of goons firing automatic weapons at him by running perpendicularly to them; the goons never think to fire in front of him (Casino Royale).
Other characters
  • If an action movie in which the main character has a lover, in the next movie this lover will be gone, often with no explanation, to make room for a new love interest (Batman Returns). In other sequels, the love interest from the first movie is killed by the villains, providing an impetus for the events of the second film to unfold. This does not apply only to action movies, although it occurs more often within this genre (Batman Returns, The Bourne Supremacy, The Librarian: Return to King Solomon's Mines, Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London, virtually all of the James Bond and Pink Panther films). Parodied in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.
  • Typically, if the protagonist is teamed (usually reluctantly) with a buddy, the buddy is maimed or killed by the villain, allowing the hero to continue pursuing the villain alone (Dirty Harry, Black Rain, The Untouchables, In the Line of Fire).
  • If a henchman says “I think…” or some variation thereof, the main villain will inevitably reply “I don’t pay you to think!” (Snatch) or some variation thereof "When I want your opinion I'll give it to you." (Twister).
  • Often, if a hero's buddy, or a general good guy in the film is dying, his last words will be "Tell my wife i love her"
  • If the film features a team of experts, there usually will be an African/Caribbean man, who is well built and always uses large/heavy weapons. i.e. Heavy machine guns.
  • Cars falling from cliff always explode, often in mid-air.

Crime dramas

  • The suspect who is intelligent enough not to divulge any of their criminal acts for the first half of the show, immediately confesses all the details to a crime when presented with any evidence against them, usually acting proud of their criminal actions even though they know they will be arrested. Occasionally, a character who has calmly sat through interrogation or court may become enraged and physically attack a witness/accomplice in the police station, surrounded by cops.
  • At the beginning of the episode before the title credits, the main characters would make a sarcastic or snarky comment about the victim or crime. Often a particular character always, or almost always, delivers the line; for instance, Horatio Caine in CSI: Miami, Lennie Briscoe in Law & Order, or Alexandra Eames in Law & Order: Criminal Intent.
  • When approached by the police for information, characters often go on working as if there’s nothing unusual about being questioned by homicide detectives. (mostly on Law and Order and its spinoffs.)
  • While in real life the most obvious suspect is usually the actual criminal, in crime dramas the most obvious suspect is almost never the real criminal (exception: Columbo).
  • An arrogant rookie cop is assigned to a gruff veteran cop with a heart of gold, “learns the ropes” the hard way. The veteran cop usually has a dark past involving dead spouses/family members, and clashes frequently with other cops and the chief of police on matters involving following protocol versus following instinct (Se7en).
  • “So I [insert minor crime done by suspect not relating to the central plot]. So what?”
  • There is often a longtime enemy of the main character(s) who always gets away with their crimes even after being caught.
    • Furthermore, this villain is likely to be sociopathic due to a tough childhood, possibly involving abuse from their parent.
  • Police officers will typically die one day before retirement, inspiring their partner to avenge their death (see retirony).
  • A lead character will frequently battle with his superior and be described as a “loose cannon.” He might be cut from the case, only to become involved again and ultimately solve it by himself, leading to him being re-hired by the chief and being hailed as a hero.
  • The seemingly bumbling or eccentric detective who actually sees far more than his or her colleagues (Inspector Clouseau, Columbo, Adrian Monk, Robert Goren from Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Brenda Johnson from The Closer, and, though not a crime drama, Dr. Gregory House in House, M.D.)
  • There will be a number of individuals who interacted with the deceased under suspicious circumstances right before their death; they will turn out to be red herrings, and the concerned loved one will usually turn out to be the killer.
  • In crime-scene investigation styled shows, the guilty individual is usually someone who the investigators have already talked with and "cleared". This also often follows a circle of new evidence, where Bob-implicates-Jill-implicates-Jack-implicates-Howard-implicates-Susan-implicates-Jill.
  • Most suspects hesitate and then respond with "You think I did [the crime]?" when accused by investigators of a crime.
  • Usually at least one innocent suspect is revealed to be unusual in a way unrelated to the case, often a sexual matter such as an affair.
  • In crime-scene investigation style shows, the investigators generally perform by themselves numerous tasks that in reality are assigned to many separate individuals (the investigators go to the scene, collect evidence, interview suspects, and chase down and capture the eventual culprit).
  • While police are discussing a case at their office, an aggrieved and hostile member of the public will simply turn up and break into their conversation, often with a threat. In reality, such a person could not get past the security door without authorization, and would be escorted through the premises rather than being allowed to wander freely.
  • Police who drive to a building hoping to make an arrest will often turn up with their police sirens blaring even if there is nobody around. In real life this would alert the would-be arrestee and help them make a getaway.

Science fiction and fantasy

General sci-fi cliches


  • Characters who are unwilling to communicate creating a major problem from something that could have been fixed just by telling someone. (Lost, Smallville)
  • A plot in which characters switch bodies (Farscape - Out of Their Minds (S2E09), Stargate SG-1, Smallville, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Freaky Friday, The Hot Chick, Star Trek: The Original Series - "Turnabout Intruder", etc.)
  • Evil soldiers will always miss their targets, while the hero never misses (the Stormtrooper effect).
  • When a villain fires a gun at a bulletproof hero, he will then throw the empty gun, and the hero will duck; this applies mainly to Superman in various media, but it has happened elsewhereTemplate:Fact
  • A child who behaves in an unusual fashion (mute, autistic, etc.) will have extreme psychic ability or other gifts which get the heroes out of a jam. A variant of this turns up in straight drama as the mute, retarded, autistic, or comically foreign individual who has unusual abilities or insights benefiting the main characters (Firefly, Nell).
  • The main cast will have at least one token minority; in addition, there will be at least one extremely attractive and provocatively dressed woman/female alien (Star Trek, Stargate SG-1).
  • Television heroes are partnered with a less-skilled sidekick/buddy that enables the hero to verbalize his/her thoughts or explain plot points. This sidekick/buddy usually provides comic relief (In Stargate SG-1 this is reversed with the hero being less skilled and making fun of the sidekick’s intelligence).
  • In stories involving cryonics, characters in the future tend to be dour, pessimistic, cynical, or any resulting combination thereof, and it usually takes a recently awakened cryonics patient from the past to help them open their minds and lighten up (Futurama, Blue Gender; film example: Demolition Man; exception: Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery;)
  • When a particularly dangerous mission is about to happen in which the likelihood of someone being killed is an outcome, main characters are accompanied by an unimportant background character or extra. (See Star Trek and Redshirt)
  • Films or television series set in the future will have humanity at war with a hostile alien race. Usually, the story is introduced with the current situation and questions whether or not humanity will survive.
  • No matter how high up the series regular’s rank, he or she will always be chosen to perform routine missions that should be done by someone of lesser rank (Star Trek).
  • Medical officers are often included in strategy meetings or diplomatic missions (Star Trek, Babylon 5).
  • Characters in the future will continue to use present-day slang and pop culture references (Dark Angel, Andromeda).
  • Characters in futuristic settings use firearms considered modern or even outdated in reality.


  • Extremely human-like aliens (In Star Trek this is partially explained by a progenitor race, in Stargate SG-1 this is explained by both a progenitor race and the fact that humans were “seeded” across the galaxy by the Goa’uld; other times, this is explained by a supposed natural tendency of intelligent beings to walk upright, etc.)
  • Humanoid aliens’ only physical difference from humans is their face or forehead or skin color (red, blue, green, etc.) (Star Trek) (In Babylon 5, most aliens are bald.)
  • A warrior race in which arguments can only be decided by a one-on-one fight (the Klingons in Star Trek, the Sycorax in Doctor Who).
  • Enemy forces are all ugly monsters/aliens, have disturbing habits such as eating live rodents, or dress in ominous armor or uniforms (V, Star Trek, Stargate SG-1, although this is made fun of by Jack O’Neill).
  • Evil aliens have huge heads, often with brain convolutions visible in their skull or actual external brain tissue (This Island Earth, Mars Attacks!, The Time Machine).
  • Alien homeworlds contain only monolithic cultures, with no internal cultural variation. Entire populations of planets speak the same language, share a single government, system of trade, and religion.
  • Planets have either global governments or two governments locked in a cold war. Alien planets are also mostly monolingual and/or monocultural (Star Trek, Stargate SG-1). Nearly all beings speak perfect English.
  • Alien main characters speaking English do not use contractions (Worf, Teal'c, Sarek), even if others of their race do.
  • Alien civilians always wear a uniform fashion; there is little variety among them.
  • If there are multiple races, there will always be a few aliens aboard Earth ships. Other galaxy-spanning races, however, only seem to have members of their own race aboard their ships.
  • One of the main characters is part of an exotic race that is most likely shunned by everyone else and cannot fit in, thus resulting in conflicts.
  • Primitive planets will have societies nearly identical to Earth’s history, particularly that of Western cultures.
  • If the theological beliefs of an alien race are laid out in any depth, every member of that race will resolutely adhere to these beliefs. In addition, they will strive to follow all of the dictates and customs of their beliefs, and become very depressed and/or moody when unable to do so.
  • Aliens will often have physical or mental abilities superior to humans (Vulcans, Klingons, Jaffa).
  • Beneficial mutations will occur far more often than in real life. Often these will result in psychic abilities or other superhuman powers.
  • Huge alien beings that could not possibly sustain bodies greater than a few tons against the force of gravity, and which would require enormous daily amounts of food to survive (Godzilla, Star Trek, The Hulk, much anime).


  • Spaceships can travel faster than the speed of light (Star Trek, Star Wars, Stargate SG-1, Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica, etc.). This is always explained by some kind of "warp drive" propulsion system or "stargate" teleportation device.
  • Spaceships destroyed by enemy fire will always explode spectacularly; however, that explosion never moves the spaceship in the opposite direction, and despite the lack of atmosphere, the explosion is audible (although, admittedly, an on-screen space battle in dead silence would be quite boring). Laser beams are always visible.
  • Also despite advanced technology, spaceships almost never have seatbelts or any other basic safety equipment. Most consoles have hard edges that never cause discomfort or problems until a dramatic moment. Whenever the protagonists’ ship is struck, at least one bridge console or control panel explodes in sparks, and the crew is thrown around (Star Trek, Stargate SG-1).
  • The enemy ship/superweapon, no matter how large or powerful, will always have a simple fatal flaw (Star Trek, Stargate SG-1, most famously the Death Star from Star Wars).
  • The bridge or the main control stations of spaceships are almost always exposed (e.g. with windows facing the front or on top) and never actually built deep inside of the ship despite the technologically advanced sensors that should make the open bridge unnecessary. (An exception is the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica.)
  • When communicating with each other, space ships are always lined up on a perpendicular axis.
  • Alien technology either consists of crystals or requires some as essential components (The Protoss Campaign in StarCraft: Brood War, Stargate SG-1, the Fortress of Solitude in the Superman films).
  • Technobabble is employed to resolve a plot point. Technobabble is also frequently employed to refer to speeds and other measurements, so that real-life technology won't surpass it.
  • If extensive technobabble is used, often a character will explain it to a sidekick/officer/mundane/etc. using a simple (if shaky) analogy to something more easily understood (The Core, in which a character uses the technique to explain to a group of scientists the impending doom facing Earth using an aerosol can, a cigarette lighter, and an orange).
  • Technology is often used, mostly with disasterous results, that seems to create matter or energy from nothing (e.g., a creature that grows larger and larger thoughout an episode, or a crystal-like substance that expands continuously and threatens to destroy the entire host/ship/planet), in violation of physical laws of conservation of mass and energy (Star Trek, Superman Returns, The Hulk, much anime).
  • Characters are shrunk, and their new weight adjusts somehow to their small size (Fantastic Voyage). In fact, all aspects of their physiology (speech, vision, neural operations, etc.) continue to operate as they would at normal-size scale.
  • Cloaking devices are employed to render spaceships or other objects undetectable (Star Trek). A variation of this is some kind of chemical or radiation that causes living tissue to become invisible (The Invisible Man).


  • A plot which involves characters from other times or worlds visiting present-day Earth (virtually every Star Trek series).
  • Whenever the protagonist time travels into the past, he will invariably meet a prominent historical figure, inadvertently alter the past, or become part of a major historical event (“Past Tense” in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, “Time’s Arrow” in Star Trek: The Next Generation, "1969" in Stargate SG-1).
  • A time travel episode will almost always end with a reset, restoring the status quo. Characters who travel into the past, upon arriving home will immediately come across evidence of themselves in the past (a photograph, etc.). A slight exception occured in a Stargate SG-1 episode, where two time-altering events occured that were supposed to cancel each other out. At the end of the episode, the main characters go fishing at a lake that was not supposed to have any fish (according to a videotape from the past). After a school of fish passed by them, the main character said, "Close enough."
  • Anyone who time travels into the future finds a terrible dystopian society, perhaps based on one bad decision that person made just before they left (Back to the Future II, The Flash episode "Fast Forward")
  • When traveling to the near future, major cities have their skylines rendered almost unrecognizable by development, often in an all-too-short span of time.
  • In a near-future story even the low income families will have the newest devices, despite the fact that low income families usually have to wait until the prices come down to their reach.
  • Wheneven a future event(war, pestilence, rise of madman) is being explained, there are always 3 reference points- one way back(i.e Code of Hammurabi, Genghis Khan), one in recent past (US Constitution, Hitler), and one in relatively near future(Fundamental Orders of the Martian Colonies, Colonel Green)

Other worlds

  • A plot in which one or more main characters visit a parallel dimension that is darker than their own (Star Trek’s “Mirror, Mirror” (and sequels), Doctor Who’s “Inferno” and “Rise of the Cybermen,” Stargate SG-1, Superboy, Superman: The Animated Series)
  • During alien invasions, the Earth’s sky often turns red (War of the Worlds).
  • Post-apocalyptic settings and plots are often treated as thinly-veiled westerns. (Exception: Threads). See also: Space Western for the equivalent on colony worlds.
  • The galaxy is full of planets that are perfectly suited for human habitation. In addition, gravity will always be identical to that of Earth (in Stargate SG-1, this is explained by the Goa’uld terraforming many worlds for their use, or that Stargates were placed primarily on habitable worlds; it has also been suggested that, after a virulent plague wiped out the Ancients, the survivors used the Dakara device to "repopulate" the galaxy).
  • Oftentimes, planets will have only one type of environment (Ice planets, forest planets, lava planets, etc., especially Star Wars).


  • The protagonists are almost always a group of average (though better looking than average) teenagers.
  • Near the end of the film, the heroes believe that they have finally disposed of the antagonist, only to have it rise again for one final battle. If the movie belongs to an ongoing series, there will be a hint at the very end of the latest installment that it has somehow survived.
  • When encountered or being chased by a villain, the main characters find refuge in a spooky, abandoned house. (Seen also in Michael Jackson's Thriller video)
  • There is often a patronizing sheriff or other authority figure who refuses to believe the protagonists, especially if they are teenagers. This authority figure remains unusually steadfast in their disbelief right up until their inevitable death at the hands of whatever they didn’t believe in.
  • An extreme close-up on a scream before a grisly death.
  • The protagonist will manage to fight off or kill the seemingly unstoppable villain with seemingly harmless household objects (never with firearms); e.g. in Chupacabra: Dark Seas, the heroine holds off the monster with martial arts when it proved invincible to even heavy firearms.
  • The monster is only shown in short, blurry shots, and is never actually seen clearly; this supposedly heightens the mysterious nature of the monster, but could also be used due to the monster looking unrealistic because of a low budget.
  • Exploration of dark, ramshackle houses will generally take place at night, during a blackout or storm.
  • Teenagers in spooky places have sex or appear nude (especially in 1980s and 1990s horror films), and often die not long after. Usually in these films, the hero or heroine never appears nude (this applies for slasher films).
  • The protagonists split up when staying together would give them a better chance at survival.
  • Characters will hear a noise and wander, clearly terrified, through a nearly pitch-black house, but will not bother to turn on any lights or retrieve a flashlight. This almost inevitably ends in the characters getting scared by something harmless or someone playing a prank. Nobody stays where they are or tries to escape rather than investigate the noise.
  • Most of the protagonists in zombie films are excellent marksmen, even if they've never had training or experience using a gun
  • Most killers rarely use firearms, preferring knives or other cutting weapons. Despite the close range needed to use such weapons, a typical killer never runs; he or she only walks at a calm, measured pace. However, even if a victim (usually female) is running, the victim will still get caught and killed, and may trip due to fear or twist their ankle to slow them down.
  • If there is a statue of the Virgin Mary onscreen, it usually begins to cry blood Template:Fact.
  • Any characters trying to start the engine of the car during their escape will not survive.
  • In stairways, there are usually conveniently placed items to throw down the stairs at the approaching villain, sometimes in the most ridiculous of places (e.g in the satirical Scream 2, one of the would-be victims gets to the third floor of a stair way and finds a conveniently placed bicycle right next to the stairs and chucks it at the villain).
  • The characters that investigate dark hallways or abandoned areas nearly always die, or in zombie films are very lightly armed or are only carrying mêlée weapons.
  • The monsters always uses alternative routes to get from room to room (e.g., air vents, elevator shafts, etc.).
  • Very often the character(s) gets hit by blood or mucus dripping from the ceiling, and slowly looks up at the monster, which subsequently eats/kills them.
  • Characters of a visible ethnic minority almost never survive to the end. This is known as DBTA (Dead By the Third Act), and extends to the token ethnic friends of the protaganist.
  • The film ending with the hero and heroine or surviving female character kissing and leaving the scene of the monster’s/villain’s supposed destruction.
  • Characters never just leave a spooky and obviously dangerous place unless they are being chased by the person/monster that is causing the trouble.
  • A child will have an "imaginary friend" with an innocent sounding name that is really a demon or serial killer (The Exorcist, Hide and Seek, The Shining)
  • Characters with video cameras will die gruesomely, and their deaths will be recorded on the camera.
  • If the characters are taking a car trip and are caught in a storm they will go to a place that looks ominous but won’t just pull over and wait for the storm to pass. Also, if one of the people decides to leave the ominous building they used as shelter, the other people will object saying “the storm will kill you,” even though the chances of being killed by rain while walking to a car are slim to none.
  • In most horror films, the first character to die by the villain is the rude, snobbish or boorish one.
  • A villain who is a child or suffers from mental retardation is usually being influenced by someone else.
  • The villain in slasher films who carry large very heavy weapons, usually Chainsaws and gasoline powered weapons, will usually run or jog at a rather fast rate despite the heaviness of the weapon.
  • Also, chainsaws wielded by villains will never fail and can cut through everything from walls to steel plates, whereas in reality, chainsaws are extremely vulnerable to everything harder than wood and require excellent maintenance to work as well as shown.
  • The setting almost always takes place in rural areas, away from cities.
  • In most or all zombie movies, the zombies can be killed by shooting the head or destroying the brain. Automatic firearms are usually ineffective as their blurry fire will generally miss the head or brain.
  • In zombie movies, the actual reason why the dead are rising from the grave is almost never explained (exceptions: Night of the Living Dead, Return of the Living Dead).
  • Unless a sequel is made, the main hero usually survives. (Final Destination)
  • Carnivorous animals, especially carnivorous dinosaurs, seem to want to eat humans almost exclusively (Jurassic Park).
  • Death or injury of a male character is funny, especially if he looks geeky (Jurassic Park).
  • If a woman hears a noise coming from downstairs, she will proceed to investigate it with a very dull light, normally in her underwear or very thin sleeping garments.
  • In slasher films, the killer is usually human, with no known supernatural or superhuman abilities. However, until they seem to be invulnerabile to all attacks until they are finally killed, usually in a spectacular fashion.

Martial arts

martial arts
  • A plot in which the hero (or heroes) faces a villain he cannot defeat. He then finds an ancient master or guardian that gives him a new power (better martial arts techniques, upgraded equipment, etc, usually shown with a training montage) with which he trounces the villain in the final scene.( The Karate Kid )
  • Alternately, the hero starts the film with unstoppable martial arts abilities, and defeats most opponents with little difficulty, finally struggling only with the similarly skilled villain.
  • The main villain is always an experienced martial arts master or otherwise excels at hand-to-hand fighting.
  • A group of minor thugs will surround the hero but only attack one at a time. This rule is only violated when the plot dictates that the hero be captured, at which point they finally gang up on him. In a Saturday Night Live episode with John Goodman, a skit was used which specifically parodied this.
  • Guns never interfere with a good mêlée. Often they are drawn only to be kicked away, forcing the combatants to go hand-to-hand. Sometimes retrieving the kicked-away lone gun is the object of the fight, as it continually gets knocked around the room during the martial arts battle (notable exception: Raiders of the Lost Ark).
  • A hero can easily defeat a whole room full of enemies, but will then have abnormal difficulty with a one-on-one battle (which they will then eventually win after the villain’s “You fool, I… and you… and I…” monologue.
  • The hero starts as reluctant to fight, until the villain kills or assaults someone close to the him (typically his brother, master, or wife/fianceé).
  • The hero usually has an excuse to rip off his shirt and flex his muscles in a defiant pose before fighting the bad guys. (This rule does not apply to female martial artists, of course.)


  • A pizza boy arrives at the door, only to be greeted by a busty, scantily clad woman who apologizes for the fact she doesn’t have any money. The woman (or the pizza boy) suggests an alternative way in which she could pay him. An episode of Robot Chicken featuring Conan O’Brien as the pizza boy parodied this.
  • A nurse and a patient discuss ways in which the nurse could help the patient feel better.
  • A housewife is shown watching the poolboy, or the teenaged neighbor.
  • A cheerleader and football player underneath the bleachers or in the locker room.
  • A teacher and a student (most often, the student is portrayed wearing stockings, a plaid skirt, pigtails, a tied-off blouse and a tie).
  • While someone is having sex in an office or woods, a third person is seen watching from afar in intrigue.
  • In hardcore pornography, the female performer is expected to receive sperm (or cum) on her face or mouth (this can be varied, typically to breasts).
  • A mysterious figure watches as a woman masturbates, only to later inadvertently attract the attention of said masturbator and be invited to join in the festivities.
  • While a couple is having sex, a second female (often the man's wife) walks in and, after a moment of shock, joins them.
  • Extremely poor or overexaggerated acting, or brief, inane dialogue.
  • Most of the sets are crude, and set in either mansions, hotel rooms or in sound stages. Sometimes, studio lights can be seen above the walls.
  • Sound quality is horrible. Traffic, echoes, and other white noise is common.
  • The woman is enjoying the sex more than would be expected (i.e. theatrical screaming, moaning, and fake orgasms.)
  • An attractive model appearing on the cover of the movie or DVD case and does not appear in the film at all.
  • Purported "Teen" models look like they haven't been a teen for ten years or so.
  • In some films (not "reality based or amateur" ones) the women, and even some men, appear to be under lots or heavy make-up.
  • Lots of women have gone under extensive plastic and cosmetic surgery. Men have had penile enlargement or enhancement procedures.
  • Men are able to produce seemingly endless amounts of semen. This is either done with pills, camera tricks, either naturally.
  • Large-budget productions have more cut shots and elaborate camera angles. Sometimes, none of the girls or men appear to be sweating.
  • Two girls sharing a bed end up finding a sex toy.
  • Some low budget films feature footage overlapping. In some cases, sound doesn't synch up with the performers.
  • Unarousing, usually poor music is a staple of the pornographic industry. Featuring saxophones, synthesizers, and more modernly, rap beats.
  • Unimportant cutaways to interview sessions with the performers before or after their scenes. Most common questions revolve around their involvement in the industry. (i.e. "How long have you been doing this?" "Do you remember your first scene?" "What was your first time like?" "Do you enjoy sucking cock?" etc.)
  • Most commonly during fellatio, a woman will pause to look directly into the camera (implying she is looking directly at the viewer) and ask arousing questions and talk dirty.
  • Women will always be wearing shoes, even though to take off the clothing they are implied to have taken off would mean removing the shoes and putting them back on. (This is beacuse soundstages are dirty places you wouldn't want to walk around barefoot)

Professional wrestling

  • If a match is slow and the audience does not respond, the announcers say quote that they are watching a "classic, old-school wrestling match."
  • A new character, with a costume and gimmick that would be deemed laughable or silly, is shown to be dominant, and a serious threat.
  • When the audience begins chanting an obscenity at the villan, the commentator will say, "What are they saying?"
  • Any town in the American south, the audience are referred to as "hicks" by a heel during a promo.
  • Any feud involving more than three people might at some point have a match between two of the feuding characters, with the third one as the special referee.
  • Feuds over valets. One of the characters will be abusive.
  • At the start of a battle royal, everyone will immediately gang up on the largest competitor.
  • During a battle royal, everyone will become incapacitated except for the two largest men in the match, who are usually both monster heels, who will then fight each other
  • Faces are seemingly better fighters than heels. If a face wrestler and heel wrestler turn heel and face respectively, the newly turned face will then be the superior fighter.
  • Members of tag teams rarely, if ever, compete for singles titles
  • If a large wrestler or "hoss", is very athletic and moves quickly for his size, he will play a face character
  • A wrestler will go through the announcers table. However, they are not made out of wood and seemingly are designed to collapse.
  • Wrestlers involved in backstage will act as if the cameras and crews aren't even there.
  • When a heel wrestler is losing a match or has taken a great amount of punishment, he will get on his knees and place his hands above his face, or call a time-out.
  • When a heel wrestler doesn't get a pinfall, he will complain to the referee.
  • During a crucial part of a match, a referee will get "knocked unconscious". (i.e. Referee bump)
  • Face wrestlers use "clean" and acrobactic moves, while heel wrestlers use "dirty moves" like eye gouges and low blows.
  • Wrestlers who portray characters that are "mentally unstable", are allowed to compete despite the fact that in reality, this would create unsafe working conditions.
  • Face wrestlers never physically assault anyone, unless they have been "pushed over the edge."
  • Wrestlers physically assault each other outside of competition, even though this would technically be a crime.
  • Wrestlers cheat behind the referee's back, but don't acknowledge the audience as witnesses.
  • Female wrestlers (eg, WWE Divas) always wear, fight and speak in a suggestive manner in order to receive a positive response from the male-dominant audience.
  • The referee seemingly cannot hear the sound of someone being hit with a chair or other foreign object. Also, the referee seemingly doesn't have the common sense to know that a heel wrestler's valet, manager, or partner is distracting them for that very reason.
  • The heel women's Champion, whom the other female heels follow around, similar to a clique
  • Two major rivals, will end up teaming up and becoming Tag Team Champions; it is implied that tag teaming together is similar to the "two opposites stuck together" plot."
  • Heel wrestlers commit hateful crimes such as attempted murder, kidnapping, and rape, but upon turning face, people seemingly forget about the former heel's transgressions and they are instantly redeemed.

(See Kayfabe)

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Film clichés" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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