Screen Tropes Discontinued: Use At Your Own Risk


Some tropes in films and television are well-meaning or at least necessary given the limitations of the medium in question. Movies and TV are meant to be entertaining, so it makes sense that we often never see characters doing normal things like watching TV. Part of our suspension of disbelief incorporates reasonable relaxations of expectations of film and TV portraying things exactly as they are in real life. But note the distinction: reasonable relaxations of expectations. Below, I’ve compiled a by no means exhaustive list of some of the film/TV tropes that need to disappear entirely or be used with caution.

Love Triangles: Romance on screen can be complicated enough without resorting to love triangles. While affairs can be interestingly portrayed, the classic ‘two people in love with one person for years even though there are plenty of other eligible humans around’ trope probably needs to end. This trope usually only creates discord in the fandom and necessarily results in one or more characters losing out. Especially when played out over many seasons on TV, I find myself no longer caring who ‘wins’ in the end. Classic example: Twilight.

Attraction = Action (Even When It’s Stupid): Often on screen, once two characters experience sexual tension, they are almost always bound to act on it… even when it’s the worst decision they could rationally make. Sure, love isn’t always rational, but if you are married and all of a sudden become mildly attracted to your assistant at work, self-control is crucial, rational, and not that difficult if you care about your spouse’s feelings. The main problem with this trope is that writers often portray the eventual hook-up as inevitable. “Honey, I couldn’t help myself”. Teen-targeted films/TV are particularly guilty of this trope. Take US series The Fosters: when a teenage boy falls in love with his soon to be foster sister, their relationship is painted as taboo but ultimately unavoidable. But these characters are just teenagers, and probably aren’t the love of each other’s lives. Just wait it out, the butterflies will probably go away in a few weeks.

Beauty “Transformations”: Remember that time The Princess Diaries tried to convince us that Anne Hathaway is ugly? Remember classic teen flick She’s All That, where they basically removed Rachel Leigh Cook’s glasses and magically people saw that she was beautiful? Many times films cast an obviously beautiful actress, curl their hair, throw some glasses on them and call them ugly, all to have the ‘big reveal’ that, yes, Anne Hathaway is pretty.

One at a Time: This trope has also been dubbed the ‘Principle of Evil Marksmanship’ or ‘Stormtrooper Effect’. Basically, villain groups attack our protagonist one at a time so that he/she can somehow win a twelve against one fight. They are also marvelous at failing to shoot our beloved protagonist despite firing an unthinkable amount of rounds directly at him/her. Classic example: Star Wars franchise, hence the alternate name ‘Stormtrooper Effect’.

The Power of Positive Thinking: It doesn’t matter if a character is under supernatural mind control or has been dead and unresponsive to CPR for minutes. Love and conviction conquers all. “You can fight this”. Those are the magic words to cure all ills. “I know that the evil villain has been flawlessly controlling your mind for the duration of this entire film, but just look into my eyes, remember our love, and fight this”. And just like that, the spell is broken. My question is, if all it took was trying really hard, why didn’t the controlled person think of that um… any sooner?

Die Another Day: Our fatally wounded hero won’t die until he slays the villain, delivers a powerful speech, and poses powerfully for the camera.

Saved by The Bullet: *click, click…click* Oops it seems I’ve run out of bullets conveniently right when I was about to kill you point blank. My bad! How narratively convenient that even though I’m most likely a trained marksman who has been doing this for some time, I never count the amount of rounds I fire or have any inclination that I’ve emptied my clip. O well! Maybe next time!

“-aking News”: Whenever something alarming happens, Character A will tell an out-of-the-loop Character B to “turn on the news”. Somehow, Character B will the TV on to the exact news station that is reporting this event and will do so just in time to catch the entire news report. “Braking News, tarantula attacks city. Here are all the details”. It is more likely Character B would have missed some of that (“-aking News tarantula attacks city”).

Head Injury, Schmead Injury: Our hero gets bashed in the head multiple times and may even be knocked unconscious, but best believe that when he/she regains consciousness he/she will be more or less coherent and coordinated enough to carry on with the rest of the high-paced, physically demanding action movie. Don’t even get me started on possible spinal injuries…

If You’d Let Me Finish: Rom-com fights are stretched out forever, because Character A will never let Character B finish the sentence that will explain that this is all just one big misunderstanding we will laugh about later.

Hello from the Other Side: Characters rarely say goodbye to end phone conversations, they just hang up.  

Flashback Angles: When a Character A explains the past, the audience gets a flashback of the event from angles Character A couldn’t possibly have seen.

Just a Flesh Wound: Last time I checked, flesh wounds bleed too.

Deus Ex Machina: What better trope to end with other than a true classic? Ever written yourself into a corner? Is the world about to end with no resolution in sight? Fear not, Deus Ex Machina is here to save the day (but not your film). Something random that we haven’t heard of until now will swoop in at the last moment and all will be well. Classic examples: The Adjustment Bureau, The Avengers, The Matrix Revolutions, War of the Worlds, Independence Day, several episodes of Doctor Who.


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