Wednesday, May 11, 2022

I’ve seen that movie before: 10 hackneyed movie tropes


I watch a lot of mystery and thriller movies (I wonder why) and over the years have noticed repeated themes, scenes, and tropes in different movies from all over the world. Sometimes, I get the feeling the screenwriter didn’t honestly know what should come next. Here are 10 hackneyed movie scenes that come to mind. You probably have some of your own.

  1. The “splashing-face-then-look-in-the-mirror” scene. Often after a stressful event in the movie, the character goes to a bathroom sink at home or elsewhere, splashes their face, and then looks contemplatively in the mirror. This is the “calm down” scene, or sometimes, “What am I doing here? Who am I?” I might try this when next I’m stressed.
I’ll look in the mirror in a second (Shutterstock)

2.  The “crashing-through-the-market” scene. This happens in Bond, James Bond types of movies during a climactic chase in the setting of a “poorer” country where the fleeing party is being hotly pursued by the protagonist in a car, boat, helicopter, etc., and feel it necessary to destroy the local/street market, a reflection of the disdain felt by the screenwriters and film-makers for the indigenous people.

Helicopter chase scene from TOMORROW NEVER DIES (Twitter)
3. The “last-kiss-during-the-apocalypse” scene. Here, the world is exploding and crashing around the two main characters, who pause to say they will always love each other no matter what, and then embrace with a soulful kiss.

Last kiss: Pompeii, 2014 disaster movie (from

4. The “no-way-you’re-going-into-that-foreboding-haunted-house” scene. In this one, a girl(s), usually blond, sees a dark, creepy house, and instead of giving it a wide berth, which is what any reasonable person would do, they enter, squeaky door and all. The door, by the way, always slams shut behind them. And they keep going deeper, and deeper into the house, opening every creepy, whining door. 

Nooo, don’t do it! (Image: Shutterstock)

Seriously, woman? Get the hell out of there! From Crimson Peak
                                                   (Image: Pinterest) 

5.  The “little-girl-on-the-swing” scene. If you see a girl on a swing (which usually squeaks in rhythm), be afraid, be very afraid. Many times, after the camera returns to the swing from another scene, the girl has gone but the swing is still going back and forth. This is a really bad sign, but I’ve never been able to understand why.

Girl on a swing in a haunted forest (Shutterstock)

6. The sex scene. To be honest, a lot of these are pretty bad and unconvincing and the audience can tell there’s absolutely zero chemistry between the participants. There are usually uninspiring flashes of body parts rubbing against each other, some of which might even be stock footage. Some people think that the love scene between Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez (“Bennifer”) is among the worst in one of the worst movies.

The infamous “gobble, gobble” scene with Affleck and Lopez in Gigli (Image:

7. The “White savior/noble savage movie: here, an unlikely white person takes up the cause of some helpless but noble people of color, either saving them from a terrible ending or teaching the poor savages how to become civilized, better people. One of the worst/best examples of this is “The Blind Side,” which is just an awful, truth-based movie in which Sandra Bullock plays Leigh Anne Tuohy, a trophy wife who, out of the kindness of her southern belle heart, took in a homeless Black teenager named Mike Oher. The movie is cringingly bad, and I barely got through it. Other white savior movies are, GloryDangerous Minds, Amistad, and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Sandra Bullock in "The Blind Side."

8. A 
completely level-headed male protagonist of the tale breaks up with a woman, only for her to turn into a crazy stalker/murderess/generally insane ex bent on destroying the beloved hero’s life. One example is, Gone Girl. Wait a minute, thatanother Ben Affleck film! I felt this movie began well but collapsed in the final one-third.

Gone Girl (in more ways than one) Image: Wikipedia

9. The “get-the-gun” scene. The protagonist and villain are fighting and one of them drops the gun. Now they are both inches away from the gun and one is trying to reach it while the other is trying to prevent the hand from succeeding. This is an overdone and ludicrous scene.

If only I could reach the gun...(Image: Shutterstock)

10. The mirror scare: Very predictable, the character looks in a mirror, bathroom or otherwise,  and there’s a scary reflection that wasn’t there before. This is one of the most predictable scenes and a very cheap thrill indeed. If I were a screenwriter, I would be embarrassed to write such a scene.

Gasp! Cheap scare (Image:

And a bonus: walking away from a massive explosion without any ill effects whatsoever. We all know this one. It's a huge eye-roller and makes no sense whatsoever.

Why am I doing this? Just because I’m badass. (Image: industrial

Actually, there are dozens more of these tropes. There’s nothing new under the sun, but screenwriters should be very careful about not repeating these tropes, because they cheapen the movie. As an aside, there’s a lesson in here for us novelists: we should watch out for familiar scenes and phrases in our writing. We too, sometimes fall into the trope trap.



  1. That was fun, Kwei. Makes me want to say trope, trope, trope, the tropes are marching...relentlessly it seems from what Hollywood and TV are turning out these days.

  2. I love this, Kwei, movie junky that I am.

    I learned about twenty years ago something relevant that may still be true. The market for thriller movies is 15-year-old boys, who will see a movie in the theater many times ( now perhaps repeatedly rent or buy). I guess there is always a new crop. And the the some old, same old continues to appeal to that demographic. The screen writers, to our dismay, seem to be sticking with what appeals to their target audience, which does not include me and you.

    1. I think that’s the bottom age, Annamaria, hahaha, I think the top might be around 35 😂, that’s how long it takes boys to grow up.

  3. And there's the "person laying in bed, facing the camera, pretending to be asleep, partner gets in bed behind them, either trying not to wake the first person or wanting their attention, then gives up, then pregnant pause, then first person OPENS THERE EYES. GASP!" trope, or it's close cousin, the "person laying on the bed/ground/floor, dead or asleep or whatever, the camera slowly closes in, the music is suspenseful, then just as the camera is about to impact their nose, they OPEN THEIR EYES. GASP!" trope. Sharon gets tired of me telling her, five minutes into a show, exactly what's going to happen. I try to contain myself, but sometimes that's the only entertainment I can get...

    1. Yes, that’s a good one, Everett. And how come your trick from the night before can get out of bed while you’re asleep, get dressed and leave and you never heard a thing, and then you put your hand out to where the person was only to find it empty?

  4. The 'it's only a flesh wound', the pile of cardboard boxes for the car chase - and a started chicken- and the Teddy bear at the scene of a disaster!