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The Most Cringeworthy Movie Moments & How to Avoid Them in Your Script

By Alex Edge · August 18, 2021

What makes these scenes so cringy?

There have been many moments in cinema that are toe-curlingly cringy, but do we ever stop to understand why? Below I have provided a few examples of movies that have some pretty cringeworthy scenes, dialogue, and deliveries in hopes of showing you what not to do.

In no particular order, let the cringe begin!

Teen Witch (1989) – “Top that!”

Teen Witch has some very questionable scenes in it, this is an 80’s screenplay but unfortunately, this doesn’t excuse its cringe-worthy nature.

This scene is unbearable to watch, but also hard to look away from. Its stereotyped and cliched characters make it seem like your embarrassing uncle found out how to write a script.

There are several reasons why this scene may make you uncomfortable. Let’s look into it…

The phrase “write what you know” is as true now as it was in the ’80s, but unfortunately, it seems like in this example, pop culture at the time wasn’t something easily understood by the screenwriter.

Even if you haven’t got the most in-tune social perspectives, it’s always important to understand the social dynamics and culture between the age of the characters you are writing about.

The Room (2003) – “Why Lisa, Why?”

The Room has gone down in the history of cinema, however not in the way the filmmakers may have wanted. The film is famous for its bad acting and questionable screenplay, something many writers can learn from! 

This scene is one of the pillar climactic moments in the story, however, due to its expositional nature and weak setup, it doesn’t hold up as an impactful scene.

Although the performance doesn’t do the script any justice, the script equally doesn’t do the scene any wonders either. Here’s where the script went wrong:

  • The character’s problem doesn’t inspire empathy. 
  • The character isn’t compelling enough.
  • The scene isn’t written in a unique or interesting way.
  • The dialogue is too on-the-nose.

The Happening (2008) – “Stay ahead of the wind.”

This cringe-worthy scene I’m sure has had many audience members thinking, “really?”. M. Night Shyamalan has made an admirable mark on the film industry but has made some questionable decisions in his films.

The line “let’s just stay ahead of the wind” is inherently problematic for a film, especially when the characters intend to outrun the wind on foot!? Shyamalan may not have anticipated what this may look like visually, but it looks a little ridiculous knowing wind doesn’t move at the pace of a walk.

So, how can you avoid a potentially disengaging and cringe-worthy moment in your screenplay? The main issue that we face in this scene is the fact that M. Night has messed with our realistic perception. 

Just as if you make water in the middle of the ocean deadly still, something which goes against a realistic perception of nature can quickly disengage the audience. In this particular example, the wind is the antagonist so it seemed a little cheap and peculiar that M. Night didn’t make this scene seem realistic.

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) – “I don’t like sand.”

There are many cringe-worthy moments in romantic scenes which can be tricky to avoid. Love itself can be cliched unless shown in a unique and more complex way, for example in Charlie Kaufman’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

The Star Wars franchise is massive and is in fact the second-largest grossing movie franchise in the world, but that doesn’t make it void from cringy moments! 

“I don’t like sand, it’s coarse and rough and irritating. And it gets everywhere. Not like here — here everything is soft and smooth.”

The near unforgivable blunder here was made without the understanding of “playing it cool.” If this guy came up to you in the bar and laid this on you, would you buy him a drink? Or would you be halfway out the exit?

Even if your character isn’t meant to be the smoothest cat, being blatant about feelings in weird ambiguous metaphors isn’t the way forward, for life and screenwriting advice alike!

Conclusion

The best to way avoid writing cringe-worthy moments in your screenplay is to simply understand what a cringe-worthy moment is comprised of. 

You’re a few things to watch out for and avoid when you’re writing your scenes:

  • Don’t be too obvious about what you’re trying to tell the audience.
  • Don’t stereotype the characters if you do not understand their culture. 
  • Disbelief is suspended by a thread — don’t cut that thread with writing that pushes your audience’s realistic perception further than it can go.

Another tip for avoiding writing these scenes is to get feedback from fellow writers or peers. It’s always the case that the writer didn’t understand they were writing a cringe-worthy moment, so an outsider’s perspective might be just what you need.

Check out the TSL Script Library, where there’s a ton of (non-cringy) screenplays for you to download for free!


Alex EdgeAlex Edge has worked for companies such as MTV, Nickelodeon, and Comedy Central. His roles and specialties in these companies lie in production and script consultancy. He currently works at Screenwriters Network as a director. Reading and writing scripts whenever he can!