The SDMB Dictionary of Film cliches

flashlight disco
Whenever the police or FBI are entering a dark area, they wave their flashlights around wildly. They never seem to point the beams in the direction they’re actually walking and yet they never trip over anything leaving one to wonder why they need the flashlights in the first place. The flashlight disco is often accompanied by dry ice fog, also commonly found in discos.

protagonist parking
The phenomenon where the subject of the scene is always able to park right at the entrance of the building, even in large cities like New York, San Francisco, and Boston. Protagonist parking apparently gets precedence over handicapped parking.

Exception: If said protagonist is going to be confronted by a bad guy, he/she will have to cross the parking lot (usually while absent mindedly digging through purse).

Cites: too generic to mention

The Everybody Dance Now party scene.

Despite that fact that fewer than 1% of the populace has ever gone to a friend’s house and danced at a party, any party scene in a film/TV series will have a living room chock full of young hip people dancing up a storm. (Behind the sofa seems to be a prime location to dance.) This dance scene usually comes 4 seconds before the fist fight, which is 2 seconds after someone is spotted dancing with the wrong girl. Scriptwriters like to use the Everybody Dance Now to show the white trash hero flex his Gold’s Gym pecs and rescue the damsel in distress from the blonde rich kid and his Calvin Klein posse.


If a villain in a Disney animated feature is to die, it must be by accident (usually from falling) because true heros NEVER resort to violence to solve their problems.

Sightings: Snow White, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Tarzan,

The Bad Guy Cavalier Gun-Wave Shooting

During some climactic moment, the Bad Guy has the hero or sidekick or heroine or love interest or whatever at gunpoint. The hero/sidekick/heroine/etc. delivers some uppity, defiant comment, like, “You’ll never win!” or such, to which the Bad Guy holds his hands (and his gun) out to his sides, smiles confidently, and delivers some unwitty non-joke in return, like “Sure I will!”, after which he’ll shoot the victim. Often, the Gun-Wave will be a Gun-Twirl, which is surely a definite sign of disaster for the protagonists, as there is nothing more threatening than a villain that will twirl his gun in the air.

The Joker did it in Batman, for instance.

You guys do known about Ebert’s Little Movie Glossary: A Compendium of Movie Cliches, Stereotypes, Obligatory Scenes, Hackneyed Formulas, Shopworn Conventions, and Outdated Archetypes, by Roger Ebert, don’t you?

I must take umbrage with this, as just about every party I go to with my buddies involves someone putting on some funk and gettin’ jiggy. However, I WILL admit that they always play shitty music. Movie makers should throw more Earth, Wind, and Fire into their movies.

As a matter of fact… no.


In any movie that features a major character who is blind, said character will inevitably find himself behind the wheel of a car.
Sightings: “Proof,” “Sneakers,” “Scent of a Woman.”

The Stock Character Stockpile:

-Whore With the Heart of Gold

-Hip Urbane Asexual Gay Guy

-Minister/Moral Guardian who’s actually a pervert

-Old Woman Who Makes Sexually Explicit Jokes

-Black Guy Who Makes Jokes About White People

Also, when entering a dark room, said person (above) will always use a flashlight, rather than turn the light on.


Any character going for a midnight snack will traipse through their house with no light and the only light in the whole scene will be when they open the refridgerator door.

At night, all streets be wet.

The instantly crackable military strength 1024-bit encryption system

With little more than three attempts at trying to hack a password, any competent hacker must surely be able to bypass high security systems, such as those employed by the Pentagon.

Seems to be a prevelant misconception in most films detailing computer use.

Another one:


No matter how beautiful the main character is (and she will always be played by a VERY famous actress. She will be mocked and deemed undateable, ugly, awkward, geeky, or any combination of them by the rest of the movie’s characters.

Sightings She’s All That, Head Over Heels, any Sandra Bullock movie

The EVIL army

In Any non war film the military characters will be incompetent and evil characters who don’t value human life. They are more obsessed with their power and how much firepower they can weild. The higher the rank the more evil and ammoral they are. Generals tend to be the worst as they think of human lives as merely pawns.

sightings Hulk, 28 Days later, Day of the Dead.


Any moving vehicle which quickly changes altitude (most often downward, as in: off a cliff) will immediatly detonate upon impact with any other solid (most often the ground) despite the fact that in reality, such accidents rarely cause flaming explosions.

As seen in: Absolutely every single movie that could be described as an “action” movie

(Disclaimer: I’ve been telling this for so long that I’m not sure I made it up; I may have read it in the abovementioned Ebert’s Little Movie Glossary. I think I made it up, though.)


A character is not really dead unless we, the audience, actually see the dead body. Otherwise the character will miraculously appear later in the film, startling the others, who will say, “We thought you were dead!” just in case the audience is dense enough to be furrowing its collective brow and thinking, Hey, wasn’t he dead?

Examples: The Third Man, SubUrbia, Anaconda, &c.

Thanks for spoiling The Third Man.

The “Doesn’t Play By The” Rule

No action hero will ever play by the rules, corollary to the angry captain rule.

The Most Over Used Movie Cliche Of All Time, Ever: ** The Incredibly Stupid Teenagers **: Teenagers will always hold a major party at the same date and time and in the same place as where a major massacre occured.

Sites? Hell, the whole teenager slasher genre. The second cliche is the last teenager standing will be incredibly beautiful and very scantily clad.

In a similar vein : The Bomb Timer that Slows Down when Nobody is Looking.

Our hero sees that there’s only a minute left on the timer. He has a heated conversation on how to diffuse the bomb that lasts three-to-five minutes. When he returns to the bomb, there’s still a healthy ten seconds left to diffuse it.

This is quite similar to The Really Fast Train that Slows Down When Nobody is Looking and a Car is on the Tracks. It will, of course, speed up for dramatic effect when the hero turns back to look at it.


The most advanced computer operating system in the world, available only to movie and TV characters. Includes, but is not limited to, the following features:

[li]The ability to write viruses without a single line of code. While it’s working, sometimes MovieOS will display a helpful reminder like a flashing screen that says “ASSEMBLING VIRUS.”[/li]
[li]MovieOS can hack into any system at any time (unless a major plot point hinges on not being able to hack something), all without leaving the confines of a friendly GUI. A hacker can destroy someone’s credit rating, render them bankrupt, and other dastardly deeds, all within 30 seconds. (See “Changing Lanes.” Or, better yet, don’t.) MovieOS magically makes all computers with sensitive information connect to the Internet so they can be more easily hacked.[/li]
[li]Laptops running MovieOS never need wires connected to them. Ever. For any reason.[/li]
[li]MovieOS runs primarily on stylish Macintosh computers, because those are the only computers that exist in most movies.[/li]
[li]Command Line Interface? What’s that?[/li]
[li]If someone wants to hack into a local machine running MovieOS, but doesn’t know the password, it will spit out an arcane hint after three attempts, which the hacker will instantly connect with the correct password on the first try. (Used to embarrassing effect on an episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent)[/li]
[li]Mentioned by jjimm, MovieOS also contains Photoshop on Steroids, an excellent program that can zoom in to over 1000% on grainy security cam footage and enhance it so that the viewer can read a word written on a grain of rice at a distance of 200 yards. Its method of creating just the right pixels out of whole cloth to enhance the image is a closely-guarded secret among MovieOS developers.[/li][/ul]