Hackneyed plots that could be improved by inversion?

Inspired by this thread.

I remember from Mad magazine collections from the 1950s and 1960s, they had a running “Scenes We’d Like to See” segment with cliched movie plots inverted – e.g., the Western heroes besieged in the fort by the Indians see a thundering charge of horses on the horizon, but instead of the U.S. Cavalry it turns out to be more Indians (“Lance Strong didn’t get through!”). Or the swashbuckling hero has a sword-duel with the sneering, black-bearded villain and the villain wins (“Don’t give me any of that ‘clean living’ baloney! Didn’t I tell you I was the best swordsman in Europe?”). Or the white hero and heroine are fleeing through the jungle chased by savages, and after the third time she stumbles and falls, he stops picking her up and hurries along without her.

Could this kind of thing be applied to movies and made to work? Suppose we had a rom-com where the seemingly “unsuitable” guy with whom the heroine has been feeling sexual tension ever since they met-cute turns out to actually be unsuitable, and she finds happiness with the dull, rich prick. Or the vulgar, down-to-earth party-animals challenge the elitist assholes to some kind of contest, and the snobs not only win, but the story is played so that that the snobs clearly deserve to win. Could you make a movie worth watching, that way?

Some things might be flatly impossible to successfully invert, of course. The wife-beater always gets his comeuppance in the movies – would it really be possible to make a movie where he not only gets away with it but is portrayed sympathetically, and the bitch was asking for it? Or a modern Birth of a Nation where racism is glorified? Or the child-molester is a noble martyr to society’s ignorant prejudice? (See the tvtropes page on Values Dissonance.)

Of course someone could deliberately make a movie like that as a vanity project, either as propaganda or to flip the public the bird; just don’t expect it would be very successful.

In general, deliberately subverting a cliche is usually done when it’s funny that someone does what would be rational in real life rather than following a fictional trope. A good example of this was in Raiders of the Lost Ark, when Indy declines to go mano-a-mano with a swordsman and does the smart thing. Another was in Firefly when Mal takes a villain at his word that he’ll seek vengence, so Mal kills him.

There’s also the Tragedy or it’s lesser cousin the Bittersweet ending, where the guy doesn’t get the girl, good doesn’t triumph, etc.

You know, there’s one of these cliches I’d really like to see overturned: the temporary foundling. Unless it’s part of the set up of the show (Punky Brewster, 4400, The O.C., Smallville) the lil foundling on just about any tv show exists only to tug at the heartstrings of a main character…right up until his/her family wisks in and leaves the character heartbroken*. It’d be nice to see this cliche overturned by the character actually getting to keep the kid.

Of course, in order for this to work, it would need to happen on a TV show rather than in a movie.

  • Ally McBeal, Medical Investigation, ER, Monk and so on

You don’t often see a lynching victim who was actually guilty of the crime or Nazis executing someone who was a complete scumbag.

Though both of those happened a lot, I have no doubt.

I’d like to see love fail to redeem a self-centered jerk.

I’d like to see a man and woman who clash on first meeting get into a relationship only to realize at the end that they really are incompatible.

I’d like to see a sports movie where the coach fires up his team with an inspirational halftime speech only to have the team go out and get clobbered.

I’d like to see a movie in which an American ends up living among an indigenous people and finds that they’re just as narrow-minded and short-sighted as the folks back home.

The Last American Virgin

Ironically it was probably more true to real life than the standard Hollywood ending anyhow.

Lumpy already caught it, but I want to explicitly point out that this sort of thing is usually called “subverting” the cliche/trope now (probably with thanks to TVTropes.) According to them, inverting would be more like, using your examples:

[ul][li]The cowboys have the Indians besieged, and and the Indians call for their own cavalry.[/li][li]Either the hero is the one who keeps falling, or the “ethnic” hero and heroine are running away from white “savages.”[/li][li]This one’s close, but, the hero would be the one good with a sword, and the plucky villain with less training would win.[/li][li]The girl is the unsuitable one, and the movie mostly follows the guy. And it’s the guy who gives up the “perfect” partner to be with the girl.[/li][li]You’re pretty close with this one, especially when you added in “the snobs clearly deserve to win.” But, in a true inversion, we would have been following the snobs the whole time instead of the party-animals. [/li][li]Husband beater gets her comeuppance.[/li][li]An alternate history with white slaves owned by black people, and a black KKK against white people.[/li][li]And this one is even more bizarre, as all I can think of is a child that molests adults and gets caught by the other children.[/ul][/li]
Hopefully, though, you’ve seen the theme. An inversion is about switching the roles. It doesn’t mean you just invert what happens at the end. No, you’ve flipped it from the beginning.

And now to briefly touch on the actual topic: How about when you know how long the movie is, and the plot is starting to be wrapped up halfway through? I think it’d be cool if that is the ending. I don’t know how they could pull it off, though.

They couldn’t. Being unexpected isn’t a merit when it’s unexpectedly disappointing.

If I recall correctly, an episode of the original Twilight Zone had a case where a woman’s family was pressuring her to marry the respectable but dull guy, and she wanted to marry the unsuitable but exciting guy. During the course of the episode, she was pursued by a mysterious old woman, who seemingly had something to tell her.

Of course, the old woman was her elderly self, trying to tell her (unsuccessfully) that marrying the exciting one had proven to be a terrible mistake.

This happens in The Great White Hype. The premise of the story is that audiences are getting tired of watching black boxers beat on each other and it would spice things up to have a white guy square off against the champ. The boxing promoter finds a white guy who beat the champ back in the amateur days and sets up a match between the two…

Despite the champ being out of shape and treating the whole affair like the joke that it is, it takes him all of a minute in the first round to deliver a knockout.

This would be the problem with most inversions of hackneyed plots. Either they’d be disappointing/distasteful because they would involve the unexpected triumph of the villains, or they’d just be so silly that they’d be better suited to a brief comedy sketch than a full length feature. Plenty of good movies have avoided or twisted hackneyed plots, but a complete reversal wouldn’t often work.

An exception might be a reversal of the old-fashioned Western with Good Cowboys and Bad Indians, because audiences have become a lot more sympathetic towards Native Americans in the past few decades. Dances With Wolves and the like have already twisted this familiar plot, and a movie about say the Battle of Little Bighorn where the heroic Lakota and Cheyenne warriors defeat the villainous General Custer might be successful.

In the world of romantic comedies, “hero/ine is in love with long-time friend, but friend is romantically involved with rich, attractive partner” is a pretty hackneyed plot, but I can think of some very well-known films that did NOT end with the two friends in love. In My Best Friend’s Wedding the beautiful and rich Cameron Diaz is also a truly nice person who loves her fiance, and he marries her instead of his scheming friend, popular romantic comedy star Julia Roberts. And going back to the '80s, in Pretty in Pink Molly Ringwald does wind up with the rich guy instead of her goofy friend Jon Cryer. (The original ending of the movie was actually the other way around, but focus groups didn’t like it and it was changed.)

[quote=“BigT, post:8, topic:532397”]

…[li]An alternate history with white slaves owned by black people, and a black KKK against white people.[/li][li]And this one is even more bizarre, as all I can think of is a child that molests adults and gets caught by the other children.[/list]…[/li][/QUOTE]

I swear I once saw a movie where a racist got sent back in time to an alternate past where the races where reversed (ie whites sit in the back of the bus). It might have been a made-for-TV movie.
As for the “adult molestation” thing that’s just so bizarre somebody just has to try and pull that off. I’d want to see that.

Writers take a huge risk when they do the unexpected. Especially if it means that things turn out badly for characters that you’ve come to like.

When I think of a rom-com that subverted the usual nice-guy-gets-girl paradigm, I think of Broadcast News. Romantic triangle in which the bright schlub is in love with the talented female reporter who’s in love with the good-looking but dim anchorman. And, in the end, no one gets anyone. In the context of the movie, it’s probably the right ending. But it’s definitely a downer and I think it pissed off a lot of people who were expecting a more upbeat ending from a comedy (the characters basically ended up pursuing their careers, but maybe not happily ever after).

Another movie that did the unexpected was “The Great Waldo Pepper”. It was a movie about barnstormers after WWI and the first half was a light hearted frolic. Then the plucky female love interest decides she wants to wing walk. And once on the wing, she freezes. The pilot can’t land with the plane unbalanced. So the hero goes up in another plane to rescue her. Dramatic rescue, he’s out on the wing, he has her hand, she’s safe, she slips and she’s gone. To say that audiences HATED this scene would be an understatement. The movie did $20,000,000 of business in 1975. Two years earlier, The Sting, also with Redford, did $156,000,000 of business.

A “Lolita” scenario where “Hubert” IS the victim and the child is the predator… Hmmm… could work if you tie it in with the “hellchild” horror trope…

Maybe as an animé :wink:

Well, there ARE “vigilante plots” a-la Death Wish. I suppose this refers to one in which the persons taking justice in their own hands are UNsympathetic types.
As mentioned in another thread before, some of these inversions do exist, if in transposed form. For instance, one inversion I proposed is that the conventional wisdom of the establishment squares turns out to be right, and the brash young maverick with the revolutionary theory fails. Yet isn’t exactly THAT a common plot wherein Urban Hipster tries to bring modernity to small town plain folks and it’s their old-fashioned traditional ways that eventually win him over?

But yeah, I’d love to see one where the Noble Savages turn out to be just as or even more destructive, rapacious, petty and greedy than the Westerners, and the only reason they did not pick the continent barren was they did not have the machinery for it…

The hero attempting to win the girl by a campaign of endearing stalking totally creeps the girl out and he actually ends up getting arrested and charged with stalking.

Spur of the Moment. That’s what I thought of when the OP wrote

(Although she didn’t find happiness, of course, since this was The Twilight Zone.)

South Park did an episode like that, Stanley’s Cup. The pee wee hockey tam was trying to win for one of their members who was in the hospital dying of cancer. In the last period the team was slaughtered by the Detroit Red Wings, and the kid dies in the hospital, muttering, “No hope.”

Oooh, you can watch it on-line.

I sincerely hope this is within the spirit of the thread. I was thinking of possibilities when my wife asked if I could name the tune that DeNiro danced to in Awakenings and I was searching YouTube to try to locate it.

“Awakenings” (1990) - Inappropriate Soundtracks disclosed something that might be used to expand the idea of the OP. At least I hope so!

I had so often wanted to find some editing glitch in one of those Biblical epics like Ben Hur or The Robe where right in the middle of the most harrowing part, somebody had erroneously spliced in some scenes from Creature from the Black Lagoon or House of Wax.

No Country for Old Men actually subverted a cliche. It was set up as a somewhat conventional suspense/chase flick, with a hero being pursued by a bad guy for a bag of money, and using his wits to stay a step ahead. He has a dramatic moment on the telephone after the bad guy says he’s going to kill the hero’s wife, telling the bad guy, “you don’t have to come after me, I’m coming after YOU.” Then…

The bad guy casually and effortlessly finds and kills the hero, gets the money, then goes and kills the hero’s wife, just like he said he would.