10 Classic Hollywood Cliches Still Used Today

By: Alia Hoyt
Look out! Here comes another Hollywood cliché! Bruce Willis of 'Die Hard' would know a thing or two about that. See more movie making pictures.
20th Century-Fox/Getty Images

Bruce Willis doesn't worry about silly things like ruptured eardrums or flying explosion debris. He doesn't even need to turn around to see what the ruckus is all about in the first place. He's too busy being the perfect combination of cool, sweaty and sexy to care. And, you know what? We're usually too entertained to split hairs over the details of crazy and improbable film clichés ourselves.

Tried-and-true movie bromides often manage to simultaneously entertain movie-goers and drive us a little bit nuts. Visually, tropes are usually far cooler than reality, especially in cases like slow-motion explosion walkaways, which would cause normal people to soil their pants and run for the hills (in that order). From horror to action to sci-fi, every movie genre has a veritable trove of clichés to pull from regularly. Keep reading to see if your personal fave or pet peeve made the list!


10: Villain Monologues

Mike Myers (center) spoofed the typical longwinded villain when he played Dr. Evil in 1997's 'Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.'
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Cinematic villains love nothing more than to explain themselves via eloquent, thoughtful monologues while watching prey squirm like ants under a magnifying glass. From "Cape Fear" to "The Matrix," these detailed declarations might advance the plot forward, but we know the real reason for this most classic of tropes -- bad dudes love to brag [source: Max Level Geek].

Examples are so numerous you can subdivide this type of monologue into categories. There's the long-winded detailing of how the victim is going to die (almost any James Bond flick), the "let's explain some key plot points" speech (always a bad sign that the screenwriters think the plot has befuddled viewers) and the ever-popular, "let me wax philosophical" monologue. Exhibit A: Agent Smith in "The Matrix" opining to Neo, bound and gagged in a chair: "I believe that as a species, human beings define their realities ... misery ... suffering."


You wonder why the villain just doesn't get out his gun and kill the hero. But that wouldn't allow enough time for the good guy's friends to show up and save the day. The sad truth? In most cases, Evil Guy would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn't for those meddling monologues. Zoinks!

9: Ethnic Stereotypes

Two ethnic stereotypes define one movie: Jackie Chan (R) played the wise mild-mannered policeman while Chris Tucker played his crazy sidekick in 'Rush Hour.'
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Ethnic stereotyping is so yesterday. Except in the movies, of course, where anyone of Middle Eastern descent is classified a terrorist and Italian-Americans sport gold rope chains and down lasagna like it's going out of style. Sidekick roles in particular are stereotype central, including the sassy black best friend role ("Honey," "Bringing Down the House" and "Clueless" to name a tiny percentage) and the nerdy Indian friend (that's a newer one).

Evil Mexican drug lords, pearls-of-wisdom-spouting Native Americans, uppity white country-clubbers, Asians with a natural ability for martial arts -- they're all there for a variety of reasons, whether to provide comic relief or reassure viewers with their soothing predictability.


The bad news? This trend gets pretty stale (and often insulting), especially if the movie doesn't show someone of the same ethnicity in a non-stereotypical role. In the 1930s, a black character was most likely cast as a wisecracking or noble servant. In the 2000s, there's a different stereotype at work. "Not Another Teenage Movie" lampooned this when the character Malik said, "I am the token black guy. I'm just supposed to smile and stay out of the conversation and say things like: 'Damn,' 'S---,' and 'That is whack.'"

8: Sideways Gunshots

The sideways gunshot was popularized by the film 'Menace II Society' but it had been featured in movies from at least the '60s.
John D Kisch/Separate Cinema Archive/Getty Images

If you've ever shot a handgun, you know that it's not as easy as it looks. The tiniest imprecision will send bullets a-flying to the farthest recesses of the target -- if they hit it at all! Fortunately, movies are a break from reality, which is why we get to enjoy wildly inappropriate firearm techniques. My personal fave is the sideways gunshot, dubbed (and mocked) as the "kill shot" by a frantic Steve Carell in the 2010 comedy "Date Night." Featured in such iconic films as 1966's "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" and 1993's "Menace II Society," shooting sideways looks cool and tough and all that, but losing access to a gun's sight makes it pretty much impossible to aim and fire with any precision at all [source: Palmer].

Movies can go right on ahead making regular old actions look more interesting, though. Viewers enjoy the whole willing suspension of disbelief concept. In real life, however, it's probably best to leave the firearm trickery to trained military, 'mkay?


7: Malfunctioning EVERYTHING

Don't you hate it when your cell phone dies just before the bad guy shows up?
Taylor Weidman/LightRocket via Getty Images

Back in the day, having the killer cut the phone line before striking was a standard ploy of action and horror films (see "Die Hard" or the "Halloween" franchise). But as people started ditching land lines for cell phones in the late-1990s and 2000s, filmmakers had to come up with something more "believable" for their flicks.

Enter the cell phone with no reception. Zero. In the desert. In the car. In the dodgy part of town. Seriously, what phone company do these people use? (Pop Sugar has an entertaining compilation of 66 movies where the cell phone gets no signal or experiences some other kind of telecom catastrophe).


And that's not the only example of movie malfunctioning malfeasance. There's the dead car battery, the empty gas tank, the smoking engine. You get the idea – in films, the most basic and commonly used objects are often rendered totally useless, particularly when they're most needed. Like when a character is stranded in the middle of nowhere. This is illustrated in films like "The Hills Have Eyes," which features a storyline centered entirely on the classic Podunk vehicle breakdown [sources: Accomando, entertainment.ie].

6: Inexplicable Sci-fi Communication

Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker (from 'Star Wars') may have come from a galaxy far far away, but their English was terrific.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

According to just about every science fiction movie ever made, the universe is amazingly diverse in life forms, wardrobe preferences and silly hairstyles (Princess Leia, I'm talking to you!). So why does everyone either speak or perfectly understand English, exactly? Oh yeah, because a lot of detail would fall through the cracks if audiences couldn't process what the heck everyone's saying.

Of course, Wookies, Klingons and the like maintain their own lingo/communicative grunts, but English-speakers still seem to understand with little to no effort. Those of us who struggled through standard high school Spanish are muy bitter and jealous, to say the least.


5: Choreography on Cue

Choreographed break-out numbers have been part of film for decades. Here, a wild watusi marks the high point of a college vacation dance in a scene from the 1964 film 'Get Yourself A College Girl.'
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images

In real life, group dancing gets about as complicated as the Wobble or the Electric Slide. Anything more involved is likely to twist an ankle for untrained dancers. So you have to love it when normal teen or 20-something characters suddenly burst into professional-caliber choreography that typically has nothing to do with the plot. Not that I'm complaining – everyday life would be so much cooler with spontaneous dance-offs in the break room at work, am I right?

"17 Again," "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," and "Napoleon Dynamite" are all prime examples of perfectly synced and/or performed booty shaking sass. "She's All That" featured an especially awesome bit of prom choreography, later jabbed by movie website SLP Mode: "The film's mysteriously choreographed prom dance is the stuff of '90s legend, made even more amusing by the lame explanation offered by the DJ (played by Usher, of course): 'Right about now we're going to do that dance I taught you. And I know you've been practicing!'"


4: British Invasion

If there's evil lurking in Hollywood, a British accent is not far behind; here, Anthony Hopkins plays Hannibal Lecter in 'Silence of the Lambs.' Brits are in great demand when the script calls for someone highbrow, villainous or just 'foreign.'
Phil Bray/MGM Pictures/Universal Pictures/Dino DeLaurentiis

More than 53 million people call England home, according to Britain's Office for National Statistics. That's certainly not a paltry number, but compared with the planet's 7 billion and counting ... well, it's a drop in the proverbial bucket. Nevertheless, British accents dominate the box office anytime someone needs to sound highbrow, royal, evil, intelligent or otherwise not American.

English accents occur regardless of the geographic location of the film. You'll even hear it in movies set in periods before England existed. "The Lord of the Rings" series? "Troy"? "Les Miz"? "300"? English accents were featured in all these movies. Perhaps it's because the dialect is pleasing (and understandable) to the American ear while still conveying the message that "this film is set in another place and time." Plus, an exotic accent totally ups the hotness factor of any actor.


3: Failure to Practice Basic Home Safety

Hmm, wonder how the mummy got inside the house? Let's hope she didn't just open up the front door.
Express Newspapers/Getty Images

My basement is bright and open and literally covered with toys. In the movies, however, the lowest levels are always home to crazed psychopaths, dead bodies and torture chambers; so why do people insist on descending those fateful steps upon hearing a strange noise? Because it's a horror movie, that's why.

Movie characters always seem to make the dumbest decisions possible for our viewing pleasure. Why doesn't anyone look through the peephole before answering the door; think twice before picking up a hitchhiker or install a window covering or two. C'mon, fictional characters (and lazy screenwriters), you know your mamas taught you better than to take candy from strangers!


2: De-nerdification

This was Olivia Newton-John after her makeover from demure Sandy to sexy Sandy in 'Grease.' Hollywood sure loves a makeover.
Paramount/Getty Images

I've known plenty of perfectly popular people who wear glasses. In the movies, however, any old character can kiss a hopping social life good-bye if caught in a bespectacled state. Fortunately for characters like the one played by Patrick Dempsey in 1980s cult classic "Can't Buy Me Love," corrective eyewear can be easily removed and hair product applied to serve social status-improving purposes.

"Mean Girls," "Grease" and "She's All That" (well-known for its trope-worthy tendencies) all feature nerds, goody-two-shoes and otherwise naïve characters who get to see how the popular half lives following transformative, if totally unnecessary, makeovers. And if the makeover can be done as a montage set to a pop song, so much the better.


1: Beautiful, Butt-kicking Babes

Model LeeAnna Vamp, dressed as the character Lara Croft from the 'Tomb Raider' at Comic Con in 2013. The beautiful babe who can also kick butt is becoming a latter-day cliché.
Gabe Ginsberg/FilmMagic

Women have definitively broken through the cinematic glass ceiling. No longer are female actresses always expected to bat their lashes and wait for a big, strong man to save them. Nope, characters like Katniss Everdeen ("The Hunger Games" series, in case you've been stranded on a desert island), Tris Prior ("Divergent"), Lara Croft ("Tomb Raider") and many others are wowing movie-goers with their beauty, brains and biceps. Of course, they aren't the first to do so. Scarlett O'Hara was shooting rogue soldiers and picking cotton with her bare hands before most of these ladies were even vague fictional concepts.

This movement toward butt-kicking, tight pants-wearing, perfectly coiffed and typically virginal female leads is certainly better than the hapless, helpless women of yesteryear, but it is turning into a bit of a reverse stereotype. Nevertheless, expect to see more of it since casting experts are well aware that audiences prefer female leads who are both attractive and amazing, rather than one or the other.

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Author's Note: 10 Classic Hollywood Clichés Still Used Today

This article could easily have been turned into a list of 100 awesome Hollywood clichés, there are so many in constant cinematic rotation. A personal fan of the slow-motion walkaway and one-at-a-time fighting, I appreciate tropes for the humor and twists they supply, even if I usually am screaming at characters: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DON'T GO IN THE BASEMENT!

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