List of film and television clichés

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The following is a list of clichés found to occur frequently in films and television series. Clichés are recurring ideas in fiction, and have been considered to have been overused in cinematic and televised media.[1] Clichés are present throughout the action, horror, and romance genres, among others.

Examples by genre[edit]

Primarily action[edit]

Description Examples Ref.
A chase scene, be it running on foot or a car chase. Except for the chased and chasing, no one else gets hurt, even if the car chase involves hair raising stunts on public roads. Bullitt (1968), The French Connection (1971) [2][3][4]
A deathtrap and/or an accompanying monologue. From Russia with Love (1963), The Incredibles (2004) [5]
Explosions. Spectacular explosions are common in action films. Following an explosion, characters often walk away without looking at it, to demonstrate their sang froid and grit. Breaking Bad (2008–13), The Other Guys (2010) [6][7]
A character falls from a dangerously tall height, but survives by landing in a body of water. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), Jurassic World (2015) [5][8][9]
Unrealistic vehicle explosions. Driven (2001), 21 Jump Street (2012) [5][10][11]

Primarily horror[edit]

Description Examples Ref.
A car fails to start in a time-sensitive situation. Cujo (1983), Back to the Future (1985) [5][12][13]
A character attempts to use a cell phone but finds that there is no reception. Wrong Turn (2003) [5][14]
A character runs from a threat and falls to the ground, without any force present that would impede their balance. Scream (1996), The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) [5][12][15]
The final girl, a female who becomes the sole surviving member of her peers to confront a killer. Halloween (1978), Alien (1979) [16][17]
A character repositions a bathroom mirror, revealing a threat behind them in the reflection. An American Werewolf in London (1981), Shaun of the Dead (2004) [5][18]

Primarily romance[edit]

Description Examples Ref.
Sex is used in many films to get certain audiences more interested. N/A [2]
Star-crossed lovers. Titanic (1997), Avatar (2009) [19][20]
A love triangle. The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009), The Legend of Korra (2012–14) [19][21][22]
The Manic Pixie Dream Girl, a free-spirited woman who teaches a repressed male protagonist to relax and have fun. Garden State (2004), Elizabethtown (2005) [5][23][24]

Primarily sports[edit]

Description Examples Ref.
A training montage. Rocky series (1976–), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997–2003) [25][26]
Victory by the underdog. Mighty Ducks series (1992–97), Creed (2015) [25][27]
An inspiring speech that motivates a sports team. Any Given Sunday (1999), Miracle (2004) [25][28]

Primarily Western[edit]

Description Examples Ref.
Climactic showdowns between the protagonist and antagonist. N/A [19]
A Mexican standoff, wherein two or more characters, usually three, engage in a duel. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), Reservoir Dogs (1992) [29][5]
Townspeople in a community that have to be saved by an outsider. High Noon (1952), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) [30]


Description Examples Ref.
Comic book death, the apparent death and subsequent return of a protagonist. WALL-E (2008) [5][31]
A computer used as a plot device to instantly solve a crime or otherwise defeat the enemy at the last moment. Jurassic Park (1993), Independence Day (1996) [2][32][33]
A cliffhanger. These are commonly found in serials to encourage audiences to return. Batman (1966–68), The Empire Strikes Back (1980) [34][35][36]
Deus ex machina, the term for a fortunate happenstance which saves the day. The War of the Worlds (1953), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) [37][38]
Dumb blondes, a negative stereotype about the intelligence of blondes. National Lampoon's Vacation (1983), Teen Wolf (1985) [5]
The protagonist awakes, therefore realizing that the events they experienced beforehand were only a dream. The Wizard of Oz (1939) [39]
Happy endings. N/A [40]
A hardboiled sleuth and a guilty rich person. The Maltese Falcon (1941) [19]
A protagonist who wants to commit one last job in a heist film before he retires from a life of crime. The Italian Job (1969), Ant-Man (2015) [41][42]
Villains attack one at a time, can't shoot straight, or become incompetent in the face of opposition by the protagonists. Roger Ebert called this the "Principle of Evil Marksmanship". Star Wars franchise (1977–), World War Z (2013) [5][43]
The Magical Negro, a black character who aids a cast of white characters. Song of the South (1946), The Green Mile (1999) [44]
The hero or heroes ride off into the horizon, silhouetted by a sunset. Stagecoach (1939), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) [30]
A formerly supportive, shrewish wife who stands in the way of her husband's heroic quest. N/A [41]
Time paradoxes which are easily solved. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) [5]
The wise fool, an apparently foolish character who possesses greater wisdom than his educated peers. Forrest Gump (1994) [41][45]
Voice-over narration, a stylistic choice that can unintentionally over-explain plot elements. The Shawshank Redemption (1994), 500 Days of Summer (2009) [41]
Instead of actors characters having conversations to illustrate the story, a message on a telephone answering machine can establish a plot point. N/A [2]
Depicting a character's life from birth to death, or otherwise showing different stages of someone's life. Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), Boyhood (2014) [2][46]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gary Blake and Robert W. Bly, The Elements of Technical Writing, pg. 85. New York: Macmillan Publishers, 1993. ISBN 0020130856
  2. ^ a b c d e Thomas, Bob (23 April 1996). "Film cliches play again, again, Sam". Daily News. Retrieved 26 October 2013. 
  3. ^ "20 Ultimate Car Chases". ShortList. Retrieved 8 August 2016. 
  4. ^ Dyce, Andrew (31 August 2015). "10 Most Epic Car Chases in Movies". ScreenRant. Retrieved 8 August 2016. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Ditum, Nathan (10 November 2009). "The 47 Greatest Movie Cliches". Games Radar. Retrieved 26 October 2013. 
  6. ^ Wales, George (18 April 2012). "Top Ten Action Movie Cliches". Total Film. Retrieved 10 October 2013. 
  7. ^ Chris Shackleton. "Top 10 Breaking Bad Moments". TQS Magazine. Retrieved 13 August 2016. 
  8. ^ "Behind the Camera on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 10 August 2016. 
  9. ^ Christopher Pratt, Colin Trevorrow (20 October 2015). Dinosaurs Roam Once Again. Universal Home Video. 
  10. ^ Hardigree, Matt (8 December 2010). "The Ten Cheesiest Hollywood Car Explosions". Jalopnik. Retrieved 8 August 2016. 
  11. ^ Lytellton, Oliver (19 March 2012). "10 Reasons Why '21 Jump Street' Exceeded Expectations". IndieWire. Retrieved 8 August 2016. 
  12. ^ a b "The Top Ten Worst Movie Clichés". Cinemassacre. 20 January 2010. Retrieved 8 August 2016. 
  13. ^ Noble, Oliver (31 October 2013). "Horror Movie Cars Never Start When You Need Them Most (VIDEO)". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 8 August 2016. 
  14. ^ Higgins, Chris (24 September 2009). "No Signal: When Movies Use Cell Phone Signal Loss to Heighten Drama". Mental Floss. Retrieved 8 August 2016. 
  15. ^ Barkan, Jonathan (24 May 2015). "What Horror Cliches Really Need To Stop?". Bloody Disgusting. Retrieved 8 August 2016. 
  16. ^ Rogers 2002, pp. 118,120.
  17. ^ Thurman, Trace (19 October 2015). "Ranking the 10 Best Final Girls in Horror Movie History!". Bloody Disgusting. Retrieved 10 August 2016. 
  18. ^ Owen, Edward (30 July 2013). "Edgar Wright: The Definitive Guide To Homages, Influences And References". WhatCulture. Retrieved 10 August 2016. 
  19. ^ a b c d Wilmington, Michael (10 June 2001). "Movies use cliches again, and again, to draw audiences". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 26 October 2013. 
  20. ^ Eric Ditzian (7 January 2010). "James Cameron Compares His 'Avatar' And 'Titanic' Couples". MTV. Archived from the original on February 6, 2010. Retrieved 8 August 2016. 
  21. ^ Oh, Eunice (25 August 2009). "Kristen Stewart: New Moon Love Triangle 'Killed Me'". People. Retrieved 10 August 2016. 
  22. ^ Cranz, Alex (10 July 2012). "Why the Hate for Legend of Korra's Mako". FemPop Magazine. Retrieved 10 August 2016. 
  23. ^ Kornhaber, Spencer (11 September 2015). "Why 'Manic Pixie Dream Girl' Won't Go Away". The Atlantic. Retrieved 8 August 2016. 
  24. ^ Denninger, Lindsay (14 October 2015). "Kirsten Dunst's Elizabethtown Character Is The Manic Pixie Dream Girl Worst". Bustle. Retrieved 8 August 2016. 
  25. ^ a b c Zalben, Alex (24 May 2011). "Think Sports-Movie Clichés Are Lame? Imagine Rocky or Rudy Without a Training Montage". AMC. Retrieved 27 October 2013. 
  26. ^ M. Browning, Laura (5 November 2015). "Not even an '80s training montage can help Giles slay Buffy's demons". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 10 August 2016. 
  27. ^ Ehrlich, David (1 December 2015). "Why 'Creed' Is the Greatest Underdog Movie Since 'Rocky'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 10 August 2016. 
  28. ^ Gordon, Jeff (15 July 2009). "Top 10: Sports Movie Pep Talks". AskMen. Retrieved 8 August 2016. 
  29. ^ Bellotto, Adam (2 April 2015). "Quentin Tarantino's Endless Homages to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly". Film School Rejects. Retrieved 14 August 2016. 
  30. ^ a b Black, Stacy (December 2009). "And the Hero Rides Off Into the Sunset… And Eight Other Western Cliches". AMC. Retrieved 8 August 2016. 
  31. ^ Jane Anders, Charlie; Krell, Jason (5 December 2013). "10 Robot Deaths That Were More Moving Than Almost Any Human's". io9. Retrieved 10 August 2016. 
  32. ^ Shay, Don; Duncan, Jody (June 1993). The Making of Jurassic Park. Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-38122-X. 
  33. ^ Brew, Simon (8 December 2014). "Independence Day: Dean Devlin explains alien 'virus' plot device". Den of Geek. Retrieved 8 August 2016. 
  34. ^ Roberts, Andrew (25 March 2012). "Enough With the Cliffhangers! Movies Need a Cathartic Conclusion". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 27 October 2013. 
  35. ^ McFarland, Kevin (5 September 2012). "10 episodes that find the '60s Batman at its campy best". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 10 August 2016. 
  36. ^ Moore, Ben (23 August 2013). "Joss Whedon Doesn't Like the Ending to 'Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back'". ScreenRant. Retrieved 10 August 2016. 
  37. ^ "Robert McKee". Time Out Sydney. 27 August 2009. Retrieved 20 February 2014. 
  38. ^ Underwood, John (5 January 2011). "Top 10 Deus Ex Machina moments". Best for Film. Retrieved 8 August 2016. 
  39. ^ Bulger, Adam (10 June 2015). "It Was All a Dream! Really? The Best and Worst Examples of this Cheap Trick". Van Winkle's. Retrieved 8 August 2016. 
  40. ^ Queenan, Joe (16 October 2010). "Joe Queenan's guide to romance cliches". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 October 2010. 
  41. ^ a b c d "Cliché, cliché, go away". The A.V. Club. 29 August 2009. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  42. ^ Holmes, Adam. "Ant-Man Is As Much A Heist Movie As A Superhero Film, According To This Video". CinemaBlend. Retrieved 8 August 2016. 
  43. ^ Ebert, Roger (2013). Ebert's Bigger Little Movie Glossary. Andrews McMeel Publishing. ISBN 9780740792465. 
  44. ^ Zoller Seitz, Matt (14 September 2010). "The offensive movie cliche that won't die". Salon. Retrieved 27 October 2013. 
  45. ^ Heather Stewart. "Neuroscience at the Movies - Cognitive Impairment". University of Washington. Retrieved 8 August 2016. 
  46. ^ Dargis, Manohla (10 July 2014). "From Baby Fat to Stubble: Growing Up in Real Time". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 August 2016. 

External links[edit]