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Robwrite's List of Movie Cliches

Updated on January 8, 2013

Cliches: They're all over the big screen (And the small screen, too, but that's another hub). We've seen them and we can point them out. It's lazy writing, certainly. Maybe it's a type of film shorthand--Much like telling someone a story and saying "You get what I mean".

Yes, we get what you mean, Mr. Filmmaker.  So here are 52 Movie Clichés we've all seen before, to celebrate that fact that some things never change:

The Extra-large Air Vent:

If the hero is locked in a room by the bad guys, there is a usually a huge air vent in the wall, big enough to crawl through. And better still, the front grill is not screwed into the wall. It can easily be removed with no tools.

Binoculars Views:

When we see point-of-view shot through binoculars in films, we will invariably see that double-O shape, although if you’ve ever looked through real binoculars, you won’t see that.

The Lethal Cough:

Coughing in a film indicates a terminal disease. (Unless the character has just come out of a burning building.) No one coughs in a film because they have a cold. (Sneezing means "I have a cold" in film. Coughing is more ominous.)

No Smoke Where There’s Fire:

The inside of a burning building will always have lots of flames but no black smoke. There might be a little white smoke, but not enough to obstruct anyone’s vision, so the hero can easily see who he needs to rescue. There’s also no need for those breathing apparatus that real fireman carry.

Look at the cool Bomb Timer:

Hidden bombs set to explode will always have a visual display, counting down the seconds until detonation. I guess it’s for the convenience of any curious passer-by who might stumble upon it accidentally. Also, bombs are apparently built with multi-colored wires, so the hero can be told to “Cut the red wire, not the green wire” when he is defusing the explosive.

Cabs and Trains-No Waiting:

The hero will never have any trouble catching a cab when he needs it. He steps out of the building and a cab is passing, just waiting for his hail. Similarly, if a good guy is chased onto a train station by killers, he/she will just barely make it onto a departing train, and the bad guy will arrive moments too late, glaring furiously as the train departs with his intended victim aboard.

Pedestrian Safety First in Car Chases:

No innocent pedestrian is ever run over during a wild movie car chase. Shopping carts are sure to be mowed down, as are fruit stands, but no people ever get hit. Even other drivers who are caught up in the action are able to skillfully spin into an emergency stop without hitting anything.

Don’t forget the French bread:

Whenever we see a character coming back from the supermarket with a bag of groceries, there is invariably a loaf of French bread sticking out of the top of the bag.

The Straight-Ahead Escape method:

People being chased by a car which is intent on running them down will always run straight down the middle of the street. No ducking in doorways or hiding behind telephone poles. Just sprint down the center of the road. And don’t worry—the car won’t catch up with you.

Car Boom:

Cars will always explode after falling off a cliff. Sometimes even before they hit the ground.

First Time is not the Charm in Cars:

Cars never start on the first try in an escape. If the bad guy or the monster is coming for you, you’ll have to try three or four times to start the engine before it’ll finally cooperate.

One Size Fits All:

If the hero needs to steal clothes from someone to disguise himself, the clothes he takes will always fit him perfectly. (If only clothing stores were so convenient.)

The First Day on the Job Never Goes Well

If a character says it’s his/her first day on the job, you know trouble is coming. Disaster is afoot! Similarly, the person who has one day till retirement is probably not going to make it

Thunder/lighting Synchronicity:

Thunder and lightning always strike at exactly the same moment in films. They must rehearse before the storm.

Get the Umbrella Ready:

When it rains it pours. It never drizzles, sprinkles or mists in films. Every rain is a heavy rain. And it’s always sudden—one minute it’s clear and then the skies open.

Wait Your Turn to Kill Me:

In Martial arts fights where the hero is vastly outnumbered, the bad guys will obligingly only attack one-at-a-time, giving the hero the chance to beat them all in turn. Who says there’s no honor among thieves?

Money is no Object:

The main characters in films (unless it’s a sad tragedy like about poor people, like Precious) always live in opulent surroundings, no matter what their job. The guy who works in a shoe store will have an apartment or house far beyond his means.

Fooled Ya:

Horror films are full of fake scares. For instance, the heroine, alone in the house, will investigate a creepy noise. After a long, suspenseful build-up, we’ll learn it was just the cat. Another example: If the camera is closing in menacing behind the heroine, while spooky music plays, and we see a hand reach out toward her—don’t worry; it’s just the best friend or the boyfriend.

Look, there’s the Eiffel Tower Again:

If a movie takes place in Paris, practically every window will have a view of the Eiffel Tower. Even windows on opposite sides of the room.

Written in Neon:

If a hero is meant to be living in a cheap, seedy hotel, you can be sure there will be a large, flashing neon sign outside the window, flashing the name of the place.

No Concussions Allowed:

Characters in movies are constantly being knocked unconscious by someone coming up behind them and giving them a good ‘Konk’ on the head. Yet there is never any lasting damage. You’d think a blow powerful enough to knock someone out would lead to a concussion or a cracked skull, but it never does. Talk about thick skulls!

Wounds? Ha!

Bullets wounds won’t hurt the hero much. A hero will frequently take a bullet (Always in the arm or shoulder) but continue his heroic ways for the rest of the movie, unencumbered by trivial details like gunshot wounds. In Eraser, our hero gets a spike through his hand early on, but it doesn’t inconvenience him at all. He never mentions it again. In fact, when we see his hand later in the film, there isn’t even a mark on it.

No One’s As Smart as a Fifth Grader:

Super-smart kids are everywhere in films. Kids are always much smarter than the adults. They can hack into computer networks, build rockets and know all the rules for killing monsters. Kids are always the first ones to realize there is a monster or alien around. Young children can drives cars without even taking a lesson. There’s nothing a film kid can’t do, except deal with the school bully.

Wake up the Dead:

If a character dies in a film, and conventional methods to revive her/him don’t work, you can always revive your dead friend by yelling at them. Say something like, “Live, damn it, live! You’ve never given up on anything before! Breath, damn it!” It always seems to work. For couples, declarations of love can be substituted for the above passage.

They All do It:

If you see an Asian character in a film, you can be sure the he or she is a Martial arts expert. It doesn’t matter if they’re a bookkeeper or a shop keeper. If someone messes with them, the feet will be flying. Even the kids (Think Shortround in" the Temple of Doom") will start kicking butt if the need arises. Do they teach it in kindergarten over there?

Sit ups:

If a character is awaking from a nightmare, he/she will suddenly pop up and sit upright on the bed, sweating and breathing heavily.

555 for Everybody:

Every phone number in every film and TV show always starts with 555. Sometimes they’ll try to throw us off by using corresponding letters instead of the numbers, but we know better.

Captain Idiot, at Your Service:

Police captains in action films exist for one purpose—to make life difficult for the hero and to threaten to suspend him. No matter if the hero is making perfect sense and has a brilliant track record or that the captain doesn’t have a clue what to do next. He doesn’t want to listen to the hero. The captain is just there to yell at him and tell him that he’s off the case (Which the hero never obeys.)

Plot Specific Radio:

If a radio is turned on in a film (sometimes a TV will substitute) it will usually be tuned to a news report that is connected to the plot of the film. I wish my radio always gave me such convenient information.

Run upstairs-Ignore the Exit:

Characters being chased in films will always run upstairs instead of down. Why? So they can be trapped in the building, or on the roof. Escaping is no fun!

A Face in the Crowd:

In a sports film, the victorious sports hero will look out into a massive crown of thousands and instantly spot the face of his girlfriend/wife/son/daughter among that vast mass of faces.

You Dropped Something:

When a sniper is about to covertly shoot one of the good guys, you can be sure that the good guy (or girl) will drop something at just the right moment and bend over to pick it up, just as the sniper fires, causing him to miss.

Hide and Seek:

If a character is hiding from a villain(s) who are hunting for her/him, the villain will always pause when he passes the hiding place. Whether the good guy/girl is up a tree or in a closet or under a desk, it doesn’t matter. As the villain passes, he will pause, as if he senses his quarry, but then he’ll go on his way without checking.

You Always Die Twice:

Villains and monsters don’t die the first time they are killed. Sometimes it takes two or three apparent deaths (Maybe even four) before the baddie is finally vanquished.

The Talking Villain Syndrome:

Roger Ebert coined this phrase. We all know this one. The villain has the hero completely at his mercy, but instead of killing him, he goes into a long explanation of his plans, his motivations and how superior he is to the hero. All this gives the hero time to come up with a way to escape.

Get back to the Target Range!

Bad guys can’t aim! None of them! Not when they’re aiming at the hero, anyway. A room full of bad guys with Uzis can all fire at the hero while he runs for cover, but not one of them will hit him. The hero, however, will never miss when he shoots.

Ammo Forever:

No one ever runs out of ammo in a movie shoot-out. Occasionally you’ll see someone stick a new cartridge into their gun, but they never seen to run out of spare ammunition. No matter how long a gunfight last, the bullets will keep coming until the hero has killed all the bad guys.

Only Shoot Below the Chin, Please:

Very often, the hero is saved by his Bullet-Proof Vest, or by some other handy object he has stuffed under his shirt. (Like Bruce Wayne hiding the metal tray under his shirt in Batman) The bad guy will always be polite enough not to shoot the good guy in the head. Everyone else, yes, but not the good guy.

Can You Hear me now?

Cell phones will never work in movies when you need them to. If the character’s car breaks down in the middle of a town full of zombie and they want to call for help, you can be certain there will be no signal.

Dressed for Evil:

Evil businesswomen in movies will always wear miniskirts and 5-inch heels to work. That seems to be the dress code for women who run evil corporations.

The Odd Couple Syndrome:

New partners in cop movies will always hate each other at first. They will be total opposites who drive each other crazy, but by the end of the film, they’ll be best buddies.

I Quit /I’m back:

When the film starts with a hero who has quit the police force or CIA or whatever organization he works for, someone will surely be coming along to ask him to come back. Our hero will say a definitive no! Never! But by the middle of the film, he’ll be back in the saddle again.

The Chopper Bunch:

The FBI always arrives by helicopter. Where ever they’re going, they travel by copter. If they’re going to a building, they’ll land on the roof. These guys travel in style.

It’s a Dog’s strife:

Dogs in films are very good at knowing who’s evil. If a dog barks at a guy, he’s a villain. Or a monster. If a werewolf or vampire is among us in human form, the dog will know and bark incessantly until those dumb humans finally get a clue.

Human in the headlights:

What do you do when a truck or some other large object is hurtling at you at fatal speed? You stop and stare at on oncoming object, like a deer in the headlight. Sometimes the person in question may scream, but she/he won’t move until the hero tackles her/him out of the object’s path.

Lemming Horses:

Horses in Western films seem to like to run off high cliffs. How often have we watched the scene where the stagecoach driver is dead or unconscious and has dropped the reigns, so the stage coach keeps going, heading straight for a cliff? The horses don’t seem to notice or care that they’re about to fall hundreds of feet down to a rocky death. So the hero has to leap from the coach onto the horses to get them to stop. Otherwise they’d just keep running for that cliff edge till they fell. (In reality, a horse knows not to run off the edge of a cliff.)

What’d He Mean by That?

Dying people will always give a very cryptic warning as their last words. When the hero and heroine find a dying man, he’ll mutter something obscure and confusing. If his brother Fred stabbed him with a silver letter opener, he won’t say “My brother Fred stabbed me!”, instead he’ll say something like “Beware the silver letter o…Argggh!” So the hero will spend the movie looking for a silver letter ‘O’, instead of just arresting Fred.

Can I Land on Your Car for a Minute?

People falling from tall buildings will always land on top of a car, usually a parked car with no one in it. If there is someone in the car, it’s usually a total jerk who spent the film being obnoxious and so deserves to have his car redecorated with splattered human remains.

I’ll Stay Right Here…Not!

Any kid in a film who is told by his parents to stay right where he is during a crisis, will always run off and get into trouble the minute he/she is left alone. Saying “Stay here and don’t move!” to a film kid translates to “Run towards the trouble and get yourself into danger, just to complicate things more, so we’ll have to go and rescue you later.”

If I Get Out of This Alive I’m Going to…Arrgh!!:

Any minor supporting characters who talks about what he’s going to do later on if he lives, is a goner! In War films, the soldier who says “If I get thought this war, I’m gonna propose to my girl and we’re going to move to Paris and start our own florist business” may as well make out his will, because he’s dead before the third act.

High Tech, Low Security:

Anyone can hack into the government’s most closely guarded secrets. All you need is a few seconds and a laptop, and you can to hack into the government’s most secure computers and pull out all their top secrets. Even kids can do it. It looks so easy.

Second Honeymoon:

The divorced hero still loves his ex-wife but she’s with another guy now (usually a pompous jerk) and doesn’t want any part of him. At least, not until the villain kidnaps the ex-wife and the hero saves her. Then she falls in love with him all over again and dumps her boring, boorish finance.

Hold That Gun:

If a character is shot by an unseen, off-screen person, the camera will hover on the dead man for a few seconds and then cut to the unseen shooter. Whoever it is, he or she will still be holding the gun out in front of themselves, with both hands. They'll hold this dramatic pose for a good 5-10 seconds, just to let the message sink in, before they lower their arms.


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    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi CraneWing;

      That's very true. You see that one a lot. A good example of that is at the end of "Daredevil". One minute he's on the floor, bleeding, too weak to stand, seeing his life flash before his eyes, because he's been stabbed. Then he suddenly gets up and has a long fight with one villian, and then goes off to have another fight with a second villain somewhere else.

      Thanks for adding to the list,


    • CraneWing profile image


      6 years ago

      There's another cliché you see, particularly in a lot of action movies with an especially tough or heroic character. At the climax of the movie, the hero and villain are fighting, often in a dangerous place, such as a burning building, around factory machinery, atop steel girders or catwalks, etc. The villain initially has the upper hand and beats the crap out of the hero, who seems totally lost and ends up slumped against a wall or on the ground. But then he gets up with one final burst of strength and perseverance and proceeds to thoroughly beat down the villain and often kill or mortally maim him. Often the leading lady (or man, if it's a heroine) runs up to comfort and congratulate him.

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi; Glad you liked it. Thanks for stopping by.


    • rob_allen profile image


      6 years ago from MNL, PH

      This is so great Robwrite! I never noticed the "Ons size fits all" thing. I guess I just dont give a damn of what the movie characters are wearing. Good catch! This is nice. I would try to list some tv series (in the Philippines) and turn it into a hub like this. Thank you for sharing. Voted Up! :)

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi Jon; A good parody could probably be made using only cliches. It would be interesting to see.

      Thanks for reading,


    • Jon Kohan profile image

      Jon Kohan 

      6 years ago from Pittsburgh Pa

      i have always had the idea of writing a movie with all the movie clichés in them. i think that it would make for a pretty funny film. being a writer i hate a lot of these clichés that you see everywhere but the said thing is, if you don't use a few nobody will take you seriously.

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi Flora; It's true. It always does. (There are a few exceptions, of course, but only a few.)


    • FloraBreenRobison profile image


      7 years ago

      I don't know why, but I've never paid attention to the thunder and lightning happening at the same time. I will check for that the next time there is a film storm.

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi Brittany; I agree that even a convenient plot device becomes a detriment when it's too played out.

      And you're right that it would probably be just as tense, if not more so, to have no idea when the bomb is going to go off. (They always deactivat it with one second left on the clock.)

      Thanks for checking out my hub.


    • BrittanyDeMauro profile image


      7 years ago from Hiding in SC but originally from NJ

      Great list of cliches. Some times creative choices in films are just not thought out well. I get that it's "safe" to use things that work, but some are just too played out to be believable.

      I must say though. I was going to say the whole bomb thing is for dramatic build up because don't you want to see how much time you have to diffuse the bomb. But in rethinking that while typing, it's far more dramatic and suspenseful if you don't know how much time you have to expertly diffuse a bomb.

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi Greensleeves; Glad you enjoyed it. Feel free to reference it whenever you like. You're right that good directors sometimes surprise us with cliche-breaking material, but even the best sre sometimes guilty of giving in to the easy cliché material. For instance, Spielberg is probaly the worst offender when it comes to the super-smart/super-capable kids.

      Thanks for two more cliches to add to the list.

      Good to hear from you,


    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi Sunshine; Thanks for telling me about the facebook wall. I didn't know. Yah for social media.

      I appreciate the comments,


    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 

      7 years ago from Essex, UK

      Just thought of two other cliches for you Rob.

      1) Nobody goes to the toilet for the usual reasons. They only go if they need to climb through the very small window above the pan and escape, while their antagonist waits on the other side of the door.

      2) And why are police cars always going in the wrong direction when they get the call to speed off in an emergency? Cue nice screeching of wheels and a handbrake turn on to the other side of the road.

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 

      7 years ago from Essex, UK

      This is brilliant Rob - one of my favourite Hubpages ever, with so many truisms I don't know which to pick as a favourite. I'll not only vote accordingly, I'll also bookmark it for reference for my own reviews if that's OK.

      Some of the best film directors skillfully avoid these cliches and so surprise us with something novel (like Indiana Jones shooting the Arab who's armed with an inferior and effectively useless weapon in 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' (heroes aren't supposed to do that) and also the non-explosive slow death of the truck, which avoids one of your cliches, in 'Duel' - both Spielberg films.

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 

      7 years ago from Orlando, FL

      What a fantastic hub! You truly pay attention to detail, kudos to you!!! The coughs in Contagion were impressive but you knew it was coming. Congrats on this hub making it to the Hubpages Facebook Wall!!

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 

      7 years ago from Ohio, USA

      Check out The Peacemaker near the beginning when the cute nuclear scientist gets briefed by her people. It's so cliché it's funny.

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      I never noticed that one. I'll have to be alert for it next time I see a film with a sequence like that.



    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 

      7 years ago from Ohio, USA

      I saw another one today... during plot exposition when the hero is being briefed by underlings, they always appear in perfect sequence, one after another. They enter the scene, deliver their line, and exit the scene.

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      You're right, Nicomp. Another villain cliché. Never stick around to watch your arch-enemy die. Just walk walk away and assume he didn't escape.

      Austin Powers had fun with some of these cliches.


    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 

      7 years ago from Ohio, USA

      Austin Powers movies nailed the Talking Villain Syndrome, which is also symptomatic of the "Don't Stick Around to Watch The Good Guy Die In The Horrible Way That Has Been Contrived For Him" Disease.

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi Simone. They're basically cinematic short cuts. Familiar images that have stood the test of time. Most of them I don't mind but a few of them get on my nerves.

      Thanks for commenting, Simone.


    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      Hahaa, you are SO right on, Robwrite!!! The french baguette, the lethal cough... I suppose these things are devices as much as cliches, but I love 'em!

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Thanks, Yadira. I appreciate the kind words.


    • YadiraE profile image


      7 years ago from Puerto Rico

      This is so true!!! Loved your Hub!!

    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 

      7 years ago from Manchester, England

      Well I think it's part of the fun of the Bond films that the villain would rather show 007 around his lair and have a chat and even a drink rather than just shoot him on the spot. A classic example is in From Russia With Love, Red Grant pointing a gun at Bond and chatting on the train giving Bond the time to figure a way out of a tricky predicament. :)

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi Steve; Yeah, the Talking Villain Syndrome is the classic cliché. And the most annoying, as far as I'm concerned.

      Thanks for your comments, Steve,


    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Banjoman: Also, anyone with a red shirt was as good as dead on Star Trek. The term "Red shirts" has become a nickname for cannon-fodder characters on TV shows and movies.

      Thanks for reading, banjoman.


    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 

      7 years ago from Manchester, England

      Fun hub Rob. My favourite is the "Talking Villain Syndrome" it's in every James Bond movie. :)

    • banjodman profile image


      7 years ago from Alabama

      Oh, and don't forget in every Star Trek episode when you hear "Ensign Green to the Transporter room" You know who WON'T be coming back from the planet....I liked it ..voted up.


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