Movies are a powerful form of storytelling, capturing our imaginations and transporting us to other worlds. However, not all films are created equal, and even the most promising movie can lose its audience's interest due to overused storytelling tropes. Here are the 16 most annoying movie tropes that cause viewers to disengage.
1. “There's No Time To Explain!”
There was a consensus among movie buffs that, by far, the most overdone trope is when the central conflict is entirely dependent on miscommunication that even the most basic of communication could fix. Even a tropey one-liner is always trotted out in these movies: “There's no time to explain!”
It always seems to be the issue at the end of the second act in rom-com films.
2. Accidentally Hearing Crucial Information
Sometimes filmmakers write themselves into a corner, making it impossible for the protagonist to progress beyond an impossible-to-solve puzzle or some sort of roadblock. That is until they happen to hear exactly what they need to, be it some nuanced piece of dialogue that sparks their genius (a la House) or the exact resolution they’ve been searching for. It’s lazy writing and can dilute the hero’s success down to obnoxiously dumb luck.
3. Future Medicine Being Akin to Magic
I’m sorry, but at the rate modern healthcare is progressing, there’s no way half of the futuristic medical treatments we see in movies are even remotely possible. I often think of the Reaver fight scene at the end of Serenity, when Zoë suffers a gash to her back. It’s a bad enough wound to lay out the otherwise unfaltering fighter, and all it takes is a little goo from Simon Tam’s bag of tricks to patch her up.
How about med bays that can heal someone with nanomachines or magic liquid, a la Starship Troopers, Star Wars, and Passengers? With impossible future medicine, the threat of death is virtually nonexistent, and if a character does die, it’s simply important to the plot.
4. The Weird Nerdy Girl Played by The Hottest Woman You've Ever Seen
Say what you will about films that have become too meta-aware of movie tropes. I'm talking She's All That.
As one moviegoer rightfully points out, the clumsy, nerdy, awkward girl was always played by the most beautiful woman you've ever seen. Someone who could have played the popular girl if the costume department hadn't lazily put her in glasses and overalls.
5. “Smart” Characters Being Stupid
This problem is two-fold: the so-called “smart” character usually isn't particularly insightful or clever. Instead, they have a lengthy vocabulary. The second problem with these characters is when the writers contradict their supposed intelligence by making dumb decisions for drama.
What made Alien and The Thing so compelling, one horror fan claims, is that the characters weren't stupid, yet they would still die.
6. The Useless Dad
Sure, men and women are different. Women are said to have a “mother's intuition,” which leads to different parenting styles, but do men need to be portrayed as incompetent bumbling idiots in every sitcom and movie we're exposed to? It seems the only way to escape the trope that men can't hold down the fort at the house or even keep their children alive is for him to be a single parent or a widower.
7. Mary Sue & Gary Stu
Writing a strong female character with agency has understandably become the intention of every screenwriter in the business for decades. However, they often surpass their goal and create a one-note character who is unexplainably gifted, has no flaws, and is so perfect that they are boring. This is known as a Mary Sue.
We know they will always succeed because this type of character is usually an idealized self-insertion of the author. The male counterpart to this is Gary Stu. We're not invested in this character because they can do no wrong. They lack realism and character development. They, quite literally, can never fail.
8. If I Kill This Murderer Who Is a Menace to Society, I'm No Better Than Him
A film fanatic points out how ridiculous the line “If I kill him, I'm no better than him” is when it's quite clearly the moral thing to do. If a killer is standing before you, about to stab you and your entire family, is self-defense really that unethical? They point out that the character often says this directly after they killed a bunch of the killer's henchmen, which they had no qualms over. Then, the bad guy gets out and comes after the protagonist again, only to be dealt with usually by their sidekick or a betrayed henchman.
9. Resurrection & Fake Deaths
If there's any sure-fire way to kill an audience's investment in your movie, it's to magically resurrect characters after revealing their supposed death was a fake-out. When stakes are high, emotional investment is at its peak. When you betray the audience's intelligence and investment by pulling a cop-out, like resurrecting a character without explanation, the consequences of the characters' actions no longer feel real.
10. The Expert on Everything
This one overlaps with the Mary Sue and Gary Stu trope, but it deserves its own distinction because these characters may have flaws and character development. Still, they are magically specialists in vast ranges of expertise. Conveniently, they know everything their character needs to know medically, scientifically, and academically to advance the plot. This is lazy writing. At least introduce new characters who can be these specialists instead of one character who's a one-size-fits-all genius on every subject.
11. Cheap Kills
In the same way that it's insulting to resurrect a character we just witnessed die lazily, it's become just as cliche to kill characters for no reason other than end-of-season shock value. TV viewers immediately pointed to The Walking Dead as a huge offender of this trope. Killing off valuable characters can be incredibly powerful, but there must be a good rationale behind that decision. When no character is safe, it can blur the lines between high stakes and disposability.
12. The Retired Cop Saves The Day
By far, the funniest trope pointed out by a cinephile is the ex-cop or ex-FBI agent who comes out of retirement because the entire government can't catch a criminal.
Don't forget that they always win because they don't play things by the rules.
Legend has it that this overused trope is waiting for the chosen one to move the plot forward so that they may fulfill their destiny.
14. Polar Opposites Finding Love
She put her career first. He is moving back home after the divorce. They may have known each other since pre-school, but this holiday season, they will find something new: true love.
It feels like every Hallmark movie follows the same formulaic plotline.
15. Forced Love Triangles
As if the drama over new romance isn't enough to entice viewers, films have to shoehorn in a love triangle to keep us guessing.
We all know who will end up together, and, more often than not, we just feel bad for the person left behind.
16. Third-Act Conflicts Before The Movie's Climax
There's nothing more frustrating than seeing the main characters, who have incredible chemistry and get along super well, get into an argument as the third act begins.
These fights only exist to create tension when the script fails to do so.