Trope (cinema)

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A "Mexican standoff" is a common film trope

A trope is a cinematic convention, a short of visual shorthand or metaphor for conveying a concept. It is defined by The Art Direction Handbook for Film as "a universally identified image imbued with several layers of contextual meaning creating a new visual metaphor".[1]

Even more abstractly, it can be defined as an element of film semiology which connects between denotation and connotation.

Films create their own tropes and reproduce those of other arts.[2] Once a film trope has been created, whether as an original expression or borrowed from elsewhere, it can evolve into a convention that may be quoted by subsequent artists, either as an homage of sorts or a useful shortcut conveying perhaps in minimalist fashion what the entire trope over time represents.

George Bluestone, however, wrote in Novels Into Film that in producing adaptations, film tropes are "enormously limited" compared to literary tropes. Bluestone said, "[A literary trope] is a way... of packed symbolic thinking which is specific to imaginative rather than to visual activity... [when] converted into a literal image, the metaphor would seem absurd."[3]


A common, overarching thematic trope is the rise and fall of a mobster in a classic gangster film. The film genre also often features the discrete trope of a rising gangster buying new clothes as he sheds his street background and adopts a more prominent persona.[4] Another example is a "Mexican standoff", a confrontation in which no strategy exists that allows any party to achieve victory, thus requiring a change from outside the dynamic to break the stalemate.


  1. ^ Rizzo, Michael (2014). The Art Direction Handbook for Film (2nd ed.). Focal Press. p. 513. ISBN 978-0-415-84279-2.
  2. ^ Monaco, James (1981). How to Read a Film: The Art, Technology, Language, History, and Theory of Film and Media. Oxford University Press. p. 140. ISBN 978-0-19-502802-7.
  3. ^ Bluestone, George (1957). Novels Into Film. Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 22. ISBN 978-0-8018-7386-7.
  4. ^ McDonald, Tamar Jeffers. Hollywood Catwalk: Exploring Costume and Transformation in American Film. I.B. Tauris. p. 41. ISBN 978-1-84885-040-8.

Further reading[edit]

  • Ehrat, Johannes (2005). Cinema and Semiotic: Pierce and Film Aesthetics, Narration, and Representation. Toronto Studies in Semiotics and Communication (2nd ed.). University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-0-8020-3912-5.