Say Hello to My Little Cliche!
I was doing something unusual the other day – watching TV. And while poking around the dial, I saw a promo for a show called Psych. Seems like a fun show, set in my hometown of Santa Barbara, CA, but I saw something that turned me off. There is the star of the show, and he is doing an imitation of Al Pacino in Scarface. “Say hello to my leetle frien’,” says our hero and I thought, well, I guess I won’t be watching this.
Because I have heard every variation on “Say hello to my little friend” there is. It’s a joke and an imitation that should be retired.
But shame on me, because while going through an old script this weekend, I found something similar that made my hair curl.
“I won’t do it,” says my character stamping his foot. “You won’t get me to do that in a million years. God as my witness, I will never put on a dress.”CUT TO: The next scene, where, you guessed it, the character is wearing the dress. (It wasn’t exactly that bad, but you get the point.)
We are talking about cliche, and our #1 job as screenwriters is to avoid these. These are old jokes, tired rhythms, lame parodies, and, yes, imitations of old movies we and our friends around the water cooler have seen a million times. It’s time to dispense with them all.
So, as a public service, I would like to institute the First Annual Cattie! Awards and I am officially opening it to the group for nominations. I want to hear from you in the Comment section below the worst offenders you have either seen on TV or read in a script (your own or someone else’s) that fall into the category of the soon to be banned. I would like to post the list on the site as a handy-dandy guide to NOT doing something that will devalue the worth of our writing.
The winner of the Most Offensive Screenwriting Cliche will be awarded a copy of our STC! software, along with enshrinement in the Cat! Hall of Fame (presently looking for a location somewhere in Beverly Hills or is that too cliche?), along with our undying thanks for saving us from the fate of ever using these cliches again. So folks, let’s hear from you all!
So the cliche I’m so tired of seeing, which is constantly used in movies (for example, I believe Daddy Day Camp) is a man getting hit in the crotch. Sometimes they’ll jazz this up and instead having him get hit in the head, but it is such a tired, over used excuse to try to get a cheap laugh. At least the guys on Jackass would go to an extreme to do stuff to their body’s, but anything else is just awful writing.
I’d tell you…but then I’d have to kill you.
crawling thru an air duct to escape
- Donovan McGrath
Movie: “Rush Hour 3”
Chris Tucker does a hilarious, wacky, exchange with the Chinese characters who are named Yu and Mi. You can see how funny it is can’t you? I mean he asks “Who are you?” and the guy says “Yu”. Then we just watch the comedy unfold.
If I had to pitch this scene to a producer I would say “Think who’s on first, but racist and really lame”.
You should call the awards Road Kill. That’s what happens when you don’t STC!
How about the getaway van driving down the street, turning a corner – and there just happens to be two guys carrying a very large pane of glass across the street in the path of the van?
For the record though, I think the “kick in the crotch” scenes are priceless. Sorry!
- Troy DeRego
This line bugs me in movies and in everyday life:
“It’s like de ja vu all over again.”
No, it’s not.
A “homely” girl is coaxed into removing her glasses (Turns out she didn’t need them to see anyway!) and suddenly she’s, *GASP*, hot!
- Top Abbott
I think I can win this one! As I look around these comments and ponder this site, all I can think is:
We’re not in Kansas anymore!
The biggest movie of (my) recent memory to abuse the line yet again and adding a curse word in the middle was; The Matrix.
I believe this was the first most overused line in all of movie and tv-dom before the somewhat recent advent of Say ‘ello to my ‘ittle friend.
Without a doubt:
I thought you’d be taller.
Let me be frank…
But what “kills” me is the UNCONFIRMED KILL – when a character intends to kill another character, yet simply shoots him once and leaves without making sure he is dead. And without fail, HE’S NOT DEAD! (LOST did this TWICE in last season’s finale – both Locke and Mikheil)
Just behind that is the “Let me tell you everything before I kill you” also known as “I’m going to go on and on as you slyly make your way to the gun on the other side of the room”
- Jose Silerio
I’ve heard this before and just read it in a script:
“Hey, shit for brains!”
- Mike Rinaldi
Would it spoil things if I said that somebody already has a running list going on their blog that’s probably over 100 clichÃ©s long? I think it’s Ken Levine, but I don’t remember for sure.
An oldie: “I remember it like it was yesterday.” “That was yesterday.”
A newer one is any variation of Dave Chappel’s line “I’m Rick James, bitch!” [It was immediately copied so much that it was already long since worn-out by the time it appeared in X-Men 3 as “I’m Juggernaut, bitch!”]
- Jamie Nash
Here’s one I see about once every four movies…
Mr. Important: What do you think, Jimmy?
Jamie: It’s Jamie.
Mr. Important: Whatever…
And to make matters worse this cliche/when was it funny joke is usually repeated about 5 more times.
- Blake Snyder
I feel like Leonard Pith Garnell! Oh my! These cliches are really, REALLY bad! But let’s get badder still. Keep the terribleness coming! I need to run back to my old scripts and start erasing things!!
The character that utters the lines at the start of a scene:
So let me get this straight…
Or how about, and even one of my favorite action movies does this, Bad Boys 2…”I’m getting too old for this s***!”
- Bryan Dunn
“I have a really bad feeling about this.”
- Stephen Todoro
“You can run…but you can’t hide”
- Kim Linekin
I’m reading a lot of scripts lately so I’m trying to stop the cliches before they make it to the big screen.
Here are a few that bug me:
Someone walks into traffic. The hero runs and pushes the person out of the way just before a truck would’ve smushed them. Trust ensues. Ugh.
Lovers who break up because one saw the other kissing someone else — only it was a misunderstanding, that person didn’t initiate the kiss (yeah, right).
Irish cops with drinking problems. For the love of the Irish, ban ’em. No self-respecting Irish actor will play this role anymore.
Same goes for saintly First Nations characters.
Vapid supermodels. Lying lawyers. If you think up an ethnicity or profession, don’t give that character the first trait that comes to mind. Your audience will immediately write off the character — and maybe your whole story too.
The revelation of incest or sexual abuse as a plot twist. We’re supposed to feel either really, really sorry for the hero now or really, really mad at the perpetrator. Fifteen years ago, this revelation had an impact. Now it’s a cheap device. And trust me — it’s really, really overused.
- James Van Leer
“Now that’s what I’M talking about.”
- Daniel McD
During the denouement, this handy little line is rolled out and delivered by the protagonistâ€™s pursuer (who never believed the protagonist) once the protagonist has managed to prove their own innocence. The protagonist sets up the line with a question or an invitation, to which the pursuer (sheriff/prosecutor/governor/general) replies:
No, I need to see a man about a _______ (murder/embezzlement/treason/robbery).
- richie t. najor
Almost most of the films someone says, “”You’re in dangerous.”
That line has to retire and create new line!
- Stephen Todoro
Another scenario cliche:
The surly, future father-in-law wants the future son-in-law to join the family business against his wishes…yada yada – or some variation of that.
Give the old man some personality!
I think “Meet The Parents” did well by NOT doing this. Sure, DeNiro was sort of surly, but they gave him reasons for the way he was. AND, it was funny.
Wow, I like the It is your destiny, but I’m sticking with We’re not in Kansas…
These are funny. Could a script be written entirely off cliche’ lines?
Here’s a few more: Cop movie cliche’s
You’re in too deep.
You’re too close to this.
You’re going down!
Is she worth it?
Sometimes you’ve got to bend the rules.
I’m taking you off this case!
Followed by a chase where they drive there’s two guys carrying a very large pane of glass across the street (nod to Stephen)
And then the cop’s wife or girlfriend MUST say:
I can’t take the nights wondering if you’re coming home
Or how about any cop movie at all where the chief or who ever the top guy is of the department just yells and swears at the detectives the whole time they are in his office.
I despise the “falling in love” montage. Lovers take a boat ride through the park, share an ice cream cone, buy balloons or watch darling children buy them, giggle at each others jokes (can’t hear them of course because of the perfect 80’s pop tune that’s playing over the whole boring mess) etc. Yuck!
The other one I can’t stand is that whenever a person goes grocery shopping they ALWAYS have a baguette sticking out of the top of thier grocery sack. If it’s set in Paris the baguette always sticks out of the charming bicycle basket.
Always in comedy trailers: folks are going down hill fast (usually in a car) yelling: “Aaaaaaaaahhhhhh!!!!” Oh my gosh! Will they die?!! Or will I die first? Please…
Girls/Women letting their hair down, bonding while dancing to something like Aretha Franklin or these days, a tired 80’s tune. (Maybe I just hate trailer cliches!)
- Stephen Todoro
“You’ll never make it in this town!”
“If you’re ever gonna’ make it in this town…”
any logline that contains “…and learns the true meaning of friendship”
- Sarah Beach
Well, I’ve mentioned this one before to you, but it still bears repeating —
“You have no idea!”
But I can think of a few more —
“We don’ need no stinkin’ badges!”
“I’ll be back!” (in deadpan voice with or without Arnold imitation)
“Show me the money!”
In fact, I think quoting any famous line from another movie should be verboten, unless the character is a rabid movie-fiend whose whole dialogue is movie quotations!
Other cliche: the “I’m not dead yet” comebacks — bad guy is shot (or cut or whatever) down, hero starts to relax, and bad guy pops up yet again, with another strength to seriously throttle hero.
Home answering machines with tapes in them (who still has one of those things?).
Vehicles that never run out of gas. Guns that never run out of bullets.
- Olaf de Fleur
My childhood is fogged with movie memories of bad guys who kidnap someone, and they never ever just take the money and say “thanks, nice doing business with you”. And simply leave with the money.
It would be nice see that at least once before I die.
- Victor Mejia
“You’ll never get away with this.”
“You set me up!”
“What are you talking about?”
“We’re gonna need a bigger … boat“
“Don’t make me angry…you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”
The biggest cliche that has reared it’s ugly head in countless films sparing no genre, is the infamous car engine not starting when trying to escape from a dangerous person or situation. After a few engine turnovers a seemingly dead car roars back to life in the nick of time to help our heroes escape from impending danger!
- Mike Rinaldi
The bad guy gets shot or hit over the head. Then the protagonist walks away or turns his back on him to check on the friend without bothering to check if the villain is truly dead or incapacitated. Especially if a weapon has been ignored and left within arm’s reach of the villain.
- Robert Henny
Someone in the film, at some point, looks at their cell phone and realizes he/she has no reception. We are now guaranteed that he/she will be stuck in that same lost reception area when he/she needs a cell phone most. Probably right around the same time the car engine won’t turn over.
- Matthys Boshoff
Making either the Russians, Germans or Arabs the bad guys.
Moments before ‘All is Lost’ the hero has to confess something to the girl and says:
‘There’s something I have to tell you…’
The hero’s best friend gets killed and all he utters is one loud echoing ‘Noooooo!!!!!!’
Someone’s dying and asks the hero to:
‘Tell x I love her”
‘For America…and rest of the world.’
‘He died doing what he loved to do.’
‘I don’t want to die.’
(Am I getting a bit morbid here?)
A person appears to be doing something he/she’s not doing and reacts with:
‘It’s not what it looks like.’ Usually ‘Honey, it’s not what it looks like.’
‘Let’s go kick some ass…’
An overweight cop eating a donut.
An Italian character who’s name is….Tony.
Man on a mission: ‘You’re going down!’
- Stephen Todoro
The “Thighmaster” – be it a reference, a visual – however it’s used!
Two enemies pointing their guns at each other at the same time a la John Woo style. It was cool in HARD BOILED and THE KILLER, but now too many action movies copy it.
In my eyes, THE MATRIX slow motion camera spin died after being used in SHREK.
I love the above action sequences, but unfortunately they have been overused.
It seems all the movies I’ve watched recently has someone getting a swirly. The best swirly scene award goes to THE BIG LEWBOSKI:
FROM THE SCRIPT:
The Dude is propelled across the bedroom and on into a small bathroom, the satchel once again taking away a piece of doorframe. His head is plunged into the toilet. The paper bag hugged to his chest explodes milk as it hits the toilet
rim and the satchel pulverizes tile as it crashes to the floor.
The Dude blows bubbles.
We want that money, Lebowski. Bunny said you were good for it.
Hands haul the Dude out of the toilet. The Dude
blubbers and gasps for air.
Where’s the money, Lebowski!
His head is plunged back into the toilet.
Where’s the money, Lebowski!
The hands haul him out again, dripping and gasping.
WHERE’S THE FUCKING MONEY, SHITHEAD!
It’s uh, it’s down there somewhere. Lemme take another look.
His head is plunged back in.
Don’t fuck with us. If your wife owes money to Jackie Treehorn, that means you owe money to Jackie Treehorn.
The inquisitor hauls the Dude’s head out one last time and flops him over so that he sits on the floor, back against the toilet.
The Dude gropes back in the toilet with one hand.
Looming over him is a strapping blond man.
Beyond in the living room a young Chinese man unzips his fly and walks over to a rug.
Ever thus to deadbeats, Lebowski.
He starts peeing on the rug.
The Dude’s hand comes out of the toilet bowl with his sunglasses.
Another one I cringe at is when someone is detained by someone else (doesn’t matter who) and the person doing the questioning says something like…
“Ok, let’s take this from the top”
To which the captive replies.
“We’ve been over this a hundred times!”
Then of course they have to retell or recap what happened.
I have no problem with the retelling, even if we did get to previously see what happened. I just cant stand that little useless “lets take it from the top” section of the dialog.
Its just a little segue I guess, they could have spent those 5 second on something a bit more unique.
- Top Abbott
Okay, here’s my last one, I just read it in a magazine, but have seen it said in COUNTLESS movies:
Think that originated in All That Jazz, but wow, it’s been in everything. Not as many things as We’re not in Kansas anymore, but everything else. Except Blake Snyder scripts of course.
- Sarah Beach
If we must have cliched lines, I’d like new ones. How about “Save the cat!”
Oh, wait! That actually is used in Enemy of the State!
Which was a nice change from the usual pet cliche of the pet dog that needs saving — including the alternate version of the pet dog getting away, running off and disappearing, only to reappear at a happy climactic moment. One of the few moments that I really enjoyed in the T. Rex-loose-in-San-Diego sequence of Jurassic Park 2 was when the dino ate the dog. Heh.
Character tirades in comedies that are some variant on this form:
“Donna? I can’t stand Donna! Donna is a bad-smelling, evil-tempered, fat cow and … she’s standing right behind me, isn’t she?”
Craig Mazin and his readers followed this same exercise in May 2007 and came up with an outstanding list of “clams” — jokes repeated enough to deserve retiring. Sharp and up to the minute:
Ou. I just watched the Transporter. It started off good. Like, when the guy, don’t know his name: the Transporter gets his car bombed. I wasn’t expecting that. I was like, “YEAH!” this is gonna be great!. Thirty minutes later, “maybe, this will be okay. One hour later, “Yikes! This is really bad!”
I hate it in movies when, “Yeah, right!” bad guy corners good guy, when good guy just a few scenes earlier was busting everyone to the floor, and now’s he’s being threatened by on old grandpa???
Last seen in Transformers. Computer geek can’t get the system to do what he wants, he types fast and furrows his/her brow and finally…he smiles… “I got it! We’re in!” UUUUGGGGHHHH!!!!
I hate this because it’s SO obvious and boring to watch.
Character falls off a ladder, bounces off of an awning, lands in a trash bin with “garbage” flying all over the place….beat….then the inevitable “I’m OK!” from the muffled voice in the bin.
Pleeeeeeease stop using this one.
- Scott Pinzon
In contrast, a clever writer can use cliches to advantage by twisting them. Has anyone seen the series of Cingular/AT&T commercials where they take typical family arguments and stand them on their head?
SON: You can control me forever!
DAD: Listen young man, I raised you to talk to me that way.
SON: That is so fair!
DAD: Yeah, well I’ve got news… life is fair.
PSYCH has James Roday’s character often quoting TV and film and his character has become overly obnoxious. Then Gus’ character, who was fairly smart and normal the 1st season is suddenly nutty in the 2nd Season… he must have gotten bored playing the straight guy.
Few shows have fresh writing, but I actually find better written shows on TV then in film. I never thought that would be a comment coming from my mouth… or fingers… but it’s very true.
The worst movie to stomp on my brain was The Contract… it is riddled with cliche’s, horrible dialogue and improbablities. How did it attract excellent actors… how did this movie even get made?!
Okay… these two I saw just yesterday.
A guy walks into a room to find the one person they can’t stand/are looking for, etc and says, “Well look who/what we have here.”
And this one literally makes me ILL… a not very attractive man walks into a bar/night club/room with some buddies and starts primping and posturing followed by “Let me show you how it’s done” (or other variations) believing that the ladies will swoon over him and he’s going to get lucky… no matter how unappealing and obnoxious he is…. these guys in my opinion should just be neutered… as well as any male writer and/or executive who thinks this is funny (even when the guy gets shot down) and must be included.
The other cliche that MUST GO… bathroom humor.
- Stephen Todoro
“See you in Hell!”
Bathroom humor must go? …THAT won’t happen!
I hate it when someone in a movie opens a mirror cabinet above the bathroom sink, and when they close it there’s somebody there. Also, when the open the fridge then close it, there’s someone standing behind it.
- Matthys Boshoff
‘You talking to me?’
I agree with the scene where the cop’s girlfriend says: “I can’t take the nights wondering if you’re coming home”, even though it might be a truthful scene. But one film that placed a brilliant twist on this was Donnie Brasco. Johnny Depps’ wife keeps telling him how much she worries about him, but in the end it is Al Pacino who goes to his death, with his wife never breathing a word about the sleepless nights. And without saying a thing, we know what this night will be like for her.
- Bob Murray
These two sportscasters walk into a bar just to see what’s on tap. They make sure they give the barkeep one hundred and ten percent of their attention before they play “Pick-Up-Chicks.” Because money talks they get raked over the coals by the new sheriff in town. Because they don’t measure up, they’re told to “Get of of Dodge.” “There’s a bus leaving at midnight! Be under it!”
“I gotta get me one of those!” Because, because, because. . .
“He died doing what he loved.” (talk about a buzzkill!)
“He’s in a better place.” (the guy I knew…I’m not so sure.)
“It was God’s will.” (I’m calling to speak with God…Yes, I’ll hold.)
The only thing worse than the kick-to-the-groin gag is the kick-to-the-groin-then-the-guy-speaks-in-a-really-high-pitched-voice gag. But I’ve been kicked in the balls several times with no effect on my voice. This cliche must die.
Ouch! Now that’s gotta hurt!
“Did I say that out loud?”
Or any of its tired variations. Actually saw it this weekend in Dedication. Ugh.
Several years ago, it was the Guinness Book of World Records (if I recall correctly) who documented the most quoted film dialog of ALL TIME is:
“Try and get some rest “
Most leading men or women are always good looking, with great hair, flawless skin, teeth etc etc….
“At the end of the day…” I’m embarrassed I used that one myself, even if it was still luke warm it the time.
Or this one from our little friend Blake Snyder (LOL), who has seen this stuff “a million times.”
I know I’m way behind but I must add this one for posterity because it drives me nuts and I have seen it in EVERY SINGLE 90s sitcom.
Sitting on the couch, a couple is about to finally kiss and a little kid or dad or annoying neighbor pops in. Funny scene ensues and character leaves.
Man: (tells a related joke)
Man: Now where were we?
Woman: Right about… here.
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The woman/girl at home by herself, she hears a suspicious noise… creeps into the bathroom to investigate, spots the shower curtain… whirls it aside… there is nothing, then turns into (insert whatever horror element is working) and screams