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I’ve Seen That Movie Before: 10 hackneyed movie tropes

I watch a lot of mystery and thriller movies (I wonder why) and over the years have noticed repeated themes, scenes, and tropes in different movies from all over the world. Sometimes, I get the feeling the screenwriter didn’t honestly know what should come next. Here are 10 hackneyed movie scenes that come to mind. You probably have some of your own.

  1. The “splashing-face-then-look-in-the-mirror” scene. Often after a stressful event in the movie, the character goes to a bathroom sink at home or elsewhere, splashes their face, and then looks contemplatively in the mirror. This is the “calm down” scene, or sometimes, “What am I doing here? Who am I?” I might try this when next I’m stressed.

Young female washing her face with clear tap water, one of many movie tropes
I’ll look at my reflection in a minute

2. The “crashing-through-the-market” scene. This happens in Bond, James Bond types of movies during a climactic chase in the setting of a “poorer” country where the fleeing party is being hotly pursued by the protagonist in a car, boat, helicopter, etc., and feel it necessary to destroy the local/street market. Is it a reflection of the disdain felt by the screenwriters and film-makers for the indigenous people?

Helicopter hovering low over an Asian street market
Causing mayhem: scene from TOMORROW NEVER DIES (Image: Twitter)

3. The “last-kiss-during-the-apocalypse” scene. Here, the world is exploding and crashing around the two main characters, who pause to say they will always love each other no matter what, and then embrace with a soulful kiss.

Man (Milo) kisses woman (Cassia) surrounded by flame and falling ash, another common movie trope
Milo kisses Cassia as Vesuvius erupts in 2014 movie POMPEII (Image:

4. The “no-way-you’re-going-into-that-foreboding-haunted-house” scene. In this one, a girl(s), usually blond, sees a dark, creepy house, and instead of giving it a wide berth, which is what any reasonable person would do, they enter, squeaky door and all. The door, by the way, always slams shut behind them. And they keep going deeper, and deeper into the house, opening every creepy, whining door.

Red-headed woman standing in front off a large, foreboding dark house, common movie trope
Don’t go in there! (Image: Shutterstock)

Movie trope: young woman with long blond hair holding a candelabra with four candles about to open the door behind which a monster lurks
Don’t open that door! Still from CRIMSON PEAK(Image: Pinterest)

5. The “little-girl-on-the-swing” scene. If you see a girl on a swing (which usually squeaks in rhythm), be afraid, be very afraid. Many times, after the camera returns to the swing from another scene, the girl has gone but the swing is still going back and forth. This is a particularly dangerous omen, although I’m not sure why.

Girl swinging in a terrifying forest
Creepy girl in creepy forest (Image: Shutterstock)

6. The sex scene. To be honest, a lot of these are pretty bad and unconvincing and the audience can tell there’s absolutely zero chemistry between the participants. There are usually uninspiring flashes of body parts rubbing against each other, some of which might even be stock footage. Some people think that the love scene between Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez (“Bennifer”) is among the worst in one of the worst movies.

Movie trope with man (Ben Affleck) approaching a woman (Jennifer Lopez) indoors about to have sex
The infamous “gobble, gobble” scene with Affleck and Lopez in GIGLI (Image:

7. The “White savior/noble savage movie: here, an unlikely white person takes up the cause of some helpless but noble people of color, either saving them from a terrible ending or teaching the poor savages how to become civilized, better people. One of the worst/best examples of this is “The Blind Side,” which is an awful, "truth-based" movie in which Sandra Bullock plays Leigh Anne Tuohy, a trophy wife who, out of the kindness of her southern belle heart, took in a homeless Black teenager named Mike Oher. The movie inaccurately portrays Tuohy teaching Oher how to play football. The movie is cringingly bad, even though Bullock won an Academy Award for it. Other white savior movies are, Glory, Dangerous Minds, Amistad, and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Blond woman (Sandra Bullock) talking to man (Quinton Aaron) in common movie trope of the white savior)
Quinton Aaron and Sandra Bullock in THE BLIND SIDE (Image:

8. A completely level-headed male protagonist of the tale breaks up with a woman, only for her to turn into a crazy stalker/murderess/generally insane ex bent on destroying the beloved hero’s life. One example is, Gone Girl. Wait a minute, that’s another Ben Affleck film! I felt this movie began well but collapsed in the final one-third.

(Image: Wikipedia) 9. The “get-the-gun” scene. The protagonist and villain are fighting and the villain drops the gun. Now the protagonist is inches away from the gun and trying to grab it while the villain tries to prevent the hand from succeeding. This is an overdone and ludicrous scene, since all the villain needed to do in the first place was to kick the gun away.

Woman on floor trying to reach a gun on the floor while a man stands behind her
If only I could reach it . . . (Image: Shutterstock)

10. The mirror scare: Very predictable, the character looks in a mirror, bathroom or otherwise, and there’s a scary reflection that wasn’t there before. This is one of the most predictable scenes and a very cheap thrill indeed.

And a bonus trope: walking away from a massive explosion without any ill effects whatsoever. We all know this one. It's a huge eye-roller.

In fact, there are dozens more of these tropes. There’s nothing new under the sun, but screenwriters should be very careful about not repeating these tropes, because they cheapen the movie. As an aside, there’s a lesson in here for us novelists as well: we should watch out for familiar scenes and phrases in our writing. We too, sometimes fall into the trope trap. ~~~

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Max P
Max P
19 במאי 2023

''white person takes up the cause of some helpless but noble people of color... saving them from a terrible ending'' - so, the good thing to do, if you're white, is never try to save a black person (yay?)


19 במאי 2022

Excellent list!

Regarding novels, I'm not sure these qualify as true tropes, since the entire book is a trope.

  1. Dark secrets.

  2. Often related to #1, a young woman finds a letter or other artifact from long ago. She is obsessed with finding its origin/meaning. Sometimes an attractive man assists her in her search. We (and the young woman) discover the letter was written years and years ago by another woman, and there's a remarkable connection between the two. And perhaps a Dark Secret.

  3. Perfectly imperfect: "The Perfect Family," "The Perfect Nanny," "The Perfect Wife." Shockingly, it turns out the family/nanny/wife are far from perfect. VERY far.

  4. Apostrophe titles, where the noun following the apostrophe is an unnamed woman: "The Clockmaker's…

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