10. Grim-faced men walking away from explosions without looking at them
This cliché has become so ubiquitous that now grim-faced women are getting into the act, too. It's largely an action-movie trope, although even George Clooney can be seen walking nonchalantly away from an exploding car in the weighty 2005 drama Syriana. Nicolas Cage has probably walked away from explosions a dozen times in his movie career. Cars are the most common incendiary objects, often containing either dead people or some other evidence of crime, and under a bridge is generally the preferred location. The grim-faced men may be villains, but heroes (or rather, anti-heroes) seem to have more experience with explosions, which explains why they're not interested in looking at them. They don't even feel a need to quicken their pace as they walk away. Audiences would leave, too, if they weren't already seated.
9. The Rogue Cop
You know the type. He's a rough man, with serious authority issues. It's these issues that get him in hot water with his superiors, because he bent the rules, used too much force, let somebody get away. He's asked to hand over his badge and his gun, but that won't stop the rogue cop because he's got other guns, and he don't need no stinking badges. He'll just keep after the bad guys, because this time … it's personal. Quite often the rogue cop has been done quite well in movies — John McClane in the Die Hard films, The French Connection's Jimmy Doyle and of course Dirty Harry. But these classic movies are also old movies. The cliché of the rogue cop has become dated because times have changed. Authority, with impenetrable walls of bureaucracy on its side, has become harder to fight. The rogue cops of today are more likely to just become security guards.
8. One Last Job
Screenplays employing this cliché have led to some truly fine movies that have crossed genres — Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven, a 1992 western, and 1995's Heat, in which the one-time Hollywood heavies Al Pacino and Robert De Niro go head to head. It would be a stretch to define the characters Eastwood and Pacino play as even anti-heroes, but it's their reluctance to embrace destructive ways of life they thought they left behind that wins audiences over. The cliché is most often used in heist pictures, a genre largely left untouched today but for directors with academic inclinations (Steven Soderbergh and his "Ocean's" movies). As a result, actors who once made their living in these or other action films but have since aged along with those movies are now often relegated to "one last job" flicks. Watching them creakily go through the motions, it becomes easy to take the cliché literally.
7. The Romantic Comedy Montage Sequence
It could be argued that romantic comedies, certainly as they exist today, traffic in nothing but cliché. But for the highest number of clichés per minute, you can't beat the romantic comedy montage sequence — the happy couple sharing an ice cream cone as they walk down the sidewalk, or posing for goofy pictures with the primates at the zoo, and don't forget the department store dressing rooms, where the guy patiently watches the girl model dress after dress (often sped up, Keystone Cops style). Such montages are a lazy way of skipping over character development, so it should be no surprise that an exceptional rom-com like, for instance, When Harry Met Sally … doesn't have a montage sequence. Granted, that film's soundtrack of Harry Connick singing songs of old New York has been mimicked many times over, but that's not the movie's fault.
6. Extraterrestrials Always Dress and Look Alike
To a certain extent, of course, this is understandable. Don't our own astronauts wear uniforms? But there's something about the outfits worn by space aliens that suggests militarism, an elimination of individuality or both. Moviegoers also make the assumption, wisely or not, that this is what aliens wear all the time, probably because they also look identical. Even when they assume human form, as in the 1999 film Galaxy Quest, there's a sameness to the aliens' appearance, demeanor and speech patterns. Galaxy Quest was a comedy, which is why those aliens appeared non-threatening. More typically, they possess some variation of a scary exoskeleton and insect-like claws, best exemplified in the 1996 picture Independence Day. When it comes to the movies, space aliens say more about us than what may actually be out there.
5. Soldier who shows photo of his girlfriend is usually first to die in war movies
This cliché has been around for so long that it's hard to identify the first war film to adopt it, but to this day new war films are beholden to uphold it. The character is there to remind us of the absurdity of hope on the battlefield, that war is indeed hell. The cliché does have its variants. A photo of the girlfriend doesn't have to be involved if the doomed soldier prattles on about his mom's apple pie, or baked ziti, or Swedish meatballs (American movies do not have a monopoly on this cliché). What's most peculiar is how even good war films feel duty-bound to honor this tradition, from Oliver Stone's 1986 Vietnam picture Platoon to Saving Private Ryan (1998). What are they afraid we're not going to get?
Maybe it's because fencing, as opposed to fisticuffs or gunfights, can only play out in a limited number of ways. Or perhaps it's due to the fact that swordplay looks so good on screen that we see the same moves over and over. You know the routine. At some point during a duel the hero will be forced up a flight of stairs backwards. To escape he will then leap off the stairs, or better yet, swing from a chandelier. First blood is always drawn with a nick on the upper arm, followed by a look of significance from the victim that stops the action for just an instant. The duel will later end when the hero slices the cord attaching the chandelier to the ceiling, sending the fixture crashing down on the villain. Errol Flynn mastered these moves in 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood, as have the Three Musketeers in a variety of pictures. No one's been able to do it better since.
3. "I must explain my evil plan to you before I kill you.”
A great many motion pictures over the years have been guilty of indulging in this cliché, with James Bond movies some of the most regular offenders. Who doesn't remember Sean Connery, captured and at the mercy of his captor, carefully eyeing his surroundings as the villain even more carefully explains what's about to happen to him? Before the bad guy can finish his windy monologue, Connery gets loose, dispatches the villain and escapes. This, of course, is why the sequence exists in the first place, so the movie's hero can make it to the next scene. But it also serves as a clumsy stab at exposition. After the bad guy details the workings of the elaborate torture device he's just about to switch on, he'll usually take several more minutes to outline his plans for world domination, or some such thing. Who ever said film is a visual medium?
2. Car Chase Obstacles
They constitute some of the most electrifying moments in cinema. Audiences never tire of car chases (at least male ones don't); indeed, the biggest complaint about chases is usually that they're too short. The chase sequence in The French Connection (1971) is still frequently lauded as the best in movie history, but several more recent films give it a run for its money. The Fast and the Furious flicks may be dumber than dirt, but their chase scenes are uniformly invigorating and inventive, particularly when it comes to obstacles. Every chase must have a slow-moving truck, it's expected and realistic. But if you're watching a chase sequence in which a fruit and vegetable cart is upset, you can probably do better. If two workers are seen gingerly moving a large plate of glass as the cars whiz by, you're either watching What's Up, Doc? (1972) or something equally dated.
1. "You just don't get it, do you?"
It's not the kind of line that stands out. It's innocuous, even commonplace, but boy, can it be useful. It's that utility that makes "You just don't get it, do you?" as well as its variant, "You still don't get it, do you?" the most used line of dialogue in movies today. Go ahead, pick any genre you like; if the movie was made within the past 20 years, chances are you'll find the line, doing its small part to advance the plot. That's what makes it so handy. In virtually any storyline there's bound to be a character who's a little slow on the uptake (this is particularly true of romantic comedies), who needs guidance; it's no accident this character is often a stand-in for the audience. Were Gone With the Wind made today, it's not so hard to imagine Rhett turning to Scarlett and instead of uttering that legendary line, "Frankly, Scarlett, I don't give a damn," tossing off, "You just don't get it, do you?" instead.