In 1994, Roger Ebert published a small book entitled, ” Ebert’s Little Movie Glossary: A Compendium of Movie Clichés, Stereotypes, Obligatory Scenes, Hackneyed Formulas, Shopworn Conventions, and Outdated Archetypes “. This wonderful compilation reveals and brings together many of the movie formulas that we have come to accept over the years.
The original hardcover edition is out of print but the book has been updated and released in both paperback and Kindle versions as:
Ebert’s Bigger Little Movie Glossary: A Greatly Expanded and Much Improved Compendium of Movie Clichés, Stereotypes, Obligatory Scenes, Hackneyed Formulas, Shopworn Conventions, and Outdated Archetypes
Some of his examples are:
An expletive used by knowledgeable film buffs during any chase scene involving a foreign or ethnic locale, reflecting their certainty that a fruit cart will be overturned during the chase, and an angry peddler will run into the middle of the street to shake his fist at the hero’s departing vehicle.
Dead Werewolf Defense
In any horror film involving a human transforming into a monster, the hero never has to explain to the police the naked dead human body that is left after he has killed the monster. This despite the fact that no one in authority ever believes in the monster in the first place.
One Size Fits All (1)
Any stolen clothing or shoes will perfectly fit any male character whether they were stolen from a clothesline or removed from a Nazi guard, police officer, lookout, etc., who was overpowered and whose identity the clothing thief has now assumed.
One Size Fits All (2)
If a woman character steals clothing to disguise herself, the clothing, if male, will be too big. If female, it will be much too skimpy and revealing.
Here are a couple from us:
Milk in the Face Syndrome
If a movie character has never milked a cow, goat, etc., when they try to do it the first time no milk will come out until they point the teat of the animal at their face.
The Mad Scientist’s Question:
In horror films that feature a mad scientist there is always a scene where the scientist explains the rational for his bizarre experiments. After the explanation, the scientist will always turn to his guest and say, “You think I’m mad, don’t you?”
…and here are some submissions from our visitors:
Movie cliché submitted by VVick (TX):
WhoDoneIt Syndrome; or The Meek Shall Inherit The Guilt:
The least threatening character in a murder mystery is always the guilty party.
Movie cliché submitted by awkr772 (SC):
The Inescapable Window:
Whenever you see a movie character backing up to a window (open or closed) during an argument, a fight, or out of fear, the character will lose his/her balance and fall through the window, usually to their death.
Movie clichés submitted by Steven Stratton (FL):
The Rolling Hubcap:
Any automobile accident that occurs offscreen will be indicated by a crashing noise followed by a single hubcap rolling across the frame.
Bubbling Chemicals Emitting Vapor:
Any nefarious serum or chemical compound created in a movie by either a villain or a misguided protagonist, will always bubble furiously and emit a thick vapor. If it is a color movie, the liquid will usually be fluorescent yellow–green.
Movie cliché submitted by Tom Phelps (NV):
Police Station Roundup:
In most recent movies, when a scene takes place in a police station it almost always opens with a garishly dressed hooker or transvestite being booked.
Movie cliché submitted by Melissa (MI):
The Nearby Cop:
Whenever someone in a film breaks a store window and reaches inside to steal something, a policeman is always near enough to hear the crash of the glass and/or the store’s alarm, and arrives in time to chase the robber.
Movie cliché submitted by Gary (IL):
The Best Friend’s Fate:
In every cop, detective or spy movie, the hero’s best (male) friend will either: a) be killed or, b) turn out to be the villain or be working in collusion with the villain, regardless of how many years the hero has known him.
Movie cliché submitted by Josh (OH):
The Facetious Admiration of the Villain:
During a martial arts or spy movie, after the hero has dispatched a group of villains (usually single–handedly), the main villain will appear on a balcony or a spiral staircase and slowly clap his hands in mock tribute. Then, after a smile crosses the villain’s lips, an even larger group of thugs will suddenly emerge from hiding to surround and attack the hero.
Movie cliché submitted by Libby (Sydney, Australia):
The “Bursting into Song” Syndrome:
In any movie musical from Hollywood’s “Golden Age”, whenever one character asks another character a question (anything from “What will our next show be about?” to “Do you love me?”), the character responding to the question will smile thoughtfully and then suddenly burst into a song and dance routine, usually accompanied by a full orchestra.
Movie cliché submitted by Tigh (IL):
The Sudden Appearance of the Screeching Cat:
Whenever a movie character is investigating a dark house, room, alley, etc., the soundtrack will grow very quiet. When the audience least expects it, a cat will suddenly jump out of hiding, hissing and screeching as it runs away.
Movie cliché submitted by Christopher White (WI):
Sour Milk is a Guy Thing:
Whenever a movie has an extended scene in a bachelor pad, the guy living there will eventually go to the refrigerator and pull out a carton of milk. After shaking the carton to see how much milk it contains, he will hold the carton up to his nose and suddenly jerk his head back when he smells how sour the milk has become. Despite the fact that the milk has obviously gone bad, he will still either add it to his coffee, drink it straight from the carton, or put it back in the refrigerator.
Movie clichés submitted by Ian Price (Wales):
The “Let’s split up!” Syndrome:
When a group of people are in a haunted house, they will defy logic and either decide to split up so that each can investigate on their own, or huddle together while one of the group goes off to search the house alone. Lone investigators inevitably get lost and encounter some mysterious phenomenon or frightening apparition before rejoining the group.
Losing the “lost” treasure:
Whenever there is a treasure at the end of a movie’s quest, the treasure will always be given up or lost because of a main character’s greed, love, or sense of duty.
Movie cliché submitted by David Meyers (IN):
The “I Must Explain My Plan Before I Kill You” Syndrome:
Once a villain has the movie’s hero cornered, trapped, or caught, the villain will almost always take the time to explain his evil plan to the hero. The hero will, of course, escape and use his knowledge to foil the plan.
Movie cliché submitted by Maria Madden (USA):
The “I know who did it but I won’t tell” Syndrome:
In most murder mysteries, before the story’s investigator can solve the crime somebody will reveal that he/she knows the identity of the murderer but will not immediately reveal who it is. This, of course, gives the murderer ample time to kill the witness before he or she can be named.
Movie cliché submitted by Ken Martin (CA):
The Amazing “Disappearing Apparition”:
When a movie character is left alone in a room during a suspenseful scene, and an apparition (a monster/ghost/killer/etc.) suddenly appears looking in through the window, the character will yell or scream and run off to tell their companion(s). When their companion(s) returns and searches outside the window, the apparition will have disappeared leaving no trace. Despite the fact that the apparition probably just walked away, the companion(s) will wonder if the first character really saw anything and suggest (sometimes insist) that it was only their imagination. The first character will then begin to doubt that he/she saw anything.
Movie clichés submitted by Minnie (England):
“I Wanna Hold Your Hand“:
When placed in a dangerous situation, female characters who are otherwise portrayed as being quite intelligent, physically fit, and feisty, will be unable to run to safety unless a man seizes their hand and drags them along. While running, the women will usually fall (often because a heel breaks off their shoe) and will need to be rescued from imminent harm by the man.
The “Clothing Durability” Paradox:
In any disaster a woman’s clothing will sustain much more loss and damage than a man’s.
Movie cliché submitted by Addie (New York City):
The “Hey, what happened to the body?” scene:
In most horror/mystery/suspense movies, once a dead body is discovered it will usually disappear if left alone.
Movie cliché submitted by Kevin Miller (USA):
The “Here’s What I’m Going to do When This is Over” speech:
In war/police/spy films, when a secondary male character tells the star of the movie what he plans to do with the rest of his life after their mission is over, often told while showing the star a worn photograph of his girlfriend or his wife and children, that secondary character is almost certainly going to die before the end of the movie.
Movie cliché submitted by Anna (USA):
The “New Kid on the Block” situation:
In a movie where the main character is a child, if a new kid moves into their neighborhood the new kid will almost always be either a troublemaker or maliciously evil. Although the new kid will implicate or even involve the movie’s main character in whatever trouble he/she causes, the new kid will never be caught or blamed for the trouble until the end of the movie.
Movie cliché submitted by Luanne (NY):
The “Wow, Look at This!” moment:
When a movie’s main character is searching for an important or valuable object, there will always be a ruthless villain trying to obtain the same object. When the main character finally gets hold of the object they are seeking, he or she will always pause to study it long enough to allow the villain to catch up with them.
Movie clichés submitted by Carlos Olivares (Mexico):
The “Creepy Observation”:
When a group of characters enter a dark, mysterious, desolated or weird place, a female character will always say, “This place gives me the creeps.” Immediately after saying that, a creature (like a bat, cat, spider, etc.) or a sudden strange noise will startle everyone.
The “Need Information? Ask the Kid.” solution:
When an American character is in Mexico, they will often be approached by (or find) a poor but clever Mexican child who will be able to tell the American whatever he needs to know (e.g. the location of the drug dealer’s hideout, where to find the señorita he just met, how many bad guys are waiting for him back at his hotel, etc.)
The “It’s Easier to Run Without A Gun” conviction:
During a chase scene, as soon as a movie character (usually the one being chased) runs out of bullets they will throw away their gun as though it has no further value.
Movie cliché submitted by Sharelle (Winnipeg, Canada):
The “How Can I Avoid Being Run Over” conundrum:
When one or more of the main characters in a movie is on foot and being chased by someone in a car, they will run straight down the road until the car has almost caught up with them. Only when they are about to be run over will the person or persons being chased think of running off the road or diving to safety behind a tree, boulder, another car, etc.
Movie cliché submitted by Christopher Godfrey (WI):
What part of “Crime Scene: Do Not Cross” don’t you understand?:
In a movie where an area has been cordoned off with yellow police tape that states “Crime Scene: Do Not Cross”, the movie’s protagonist will blatantly disregard the tape if he/she cannot get permission to look for clues.
Movie cliché submitted by Jim (Australia):
The “Staring at a telephone will help evaluate a message” belief:
At the end of a phone call in which a movie character has been given some disturbing or puzzling news, the character will briefly gaze with a contemplative look at the telephone receiver in their hand before hanging up. Walking away from the phone the character, who is obviously lost in thought, will suddenly stop, turn and gaze back at the telephone with a quizzical look.
Movie cliché submitted by Blakeney (NY):
The “Friends and Lovers” dilemma:
When two male friends are attracted to the same woman in a movie, one of the friends will either: decide to move far away after assuring his friend that he has no feelings for the woman; somehow risk his life so that his friend can survive and live happily ever after with the woman; or – usually in a horror film – become mentally deranged and try to destroy the other friend. The woman, on the other hand, is almost always attracted to the friend who is showing the least interest in her.
Movie cliché submitted by Tina (New Zealand):
The “Psycho’s Last Grab” cliché:
When a psychotic killer, who has been terrorizing a person or group of people throughout the movie, is finally subdued and apparently either unconscious or ‘dead’, he will suddenly open his eyes and grab the person who is checking to make sure he is no longer a threat. This will end in a quick, violent struggle during which the killer will finally die (usually accidently when he either falls upon a sharp object or slips and falls from a great height).
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