50 Most Cliché Moments to Avoid in Screenplays
By Ken Miyamoto · July 17, 2020
What are the most cliché scenes and plot points in movies and TV episodes that all screenwriters should avoid?
We all come across the same type of overused scenes in movies and TV — those overly utilized go-to moments that seem to be in every major Hollywood film or television episode.
Here we feature our list of the fifty worst examples and challenge you with a little exercise to help you polish your own writing.
Feel free to take this list, copy and paste it into a document, and with each overused and cliché scene listed below, write at least a couple better versions that you can utilize within your screenplays.
If you disagree with any on this list, or if you’d like us to add any more, please let us know on Twitter.
1. A character waking up from a scary nightmare, only to experience a second scare when it’s revealed that, yes, they’re still in a nightmare.
2. Unattended cars always have their keys hidden in the visor above the driver seat.
3. Knocking a character unconscious with a single blow to the head.
4. A detective is about to close the case but is suspended right before they can catch the bad guy — and then they solve the case anyway.
5. The dog always survives the disaster that is killing hundreds of humans.
6. Characters never have time to eat breakfast that has been cooked for them.
7. Old police officers have revolvers and young rookies have automatic weapons.
8. Cars blow up when you shoot them.
9. Heroes walking away unphased from an explosion behind them.
10. Characters investigate strange sounds with little to no hesitation.
11. The protagonist always has a friend that points out the mistakes the protagonist is making — yet the protagonist never listens to their observations.
12. When characters are told to stay somewhere safe, they never do.
13. Bad guys surrounding the hero only attack one at a time.
14. Aliens that come to Earth always want to destroy or conquer it.
15. When characters die, they always have enough time to say something significant before they die.
16. When a character needs to start their car quickly, it has somehow developed an otherwise unknown issue that prevents it from starting at all.
17. A performer can see their loved one within a crowd instantly.
18. Most henchmen don’t say a word.
19. A flashlight loses battery power at the worst of times.
20. A smartphone loses coverage or battery power at the worst of times.
21. A weapon is out of ammunition at the worst of times.
22. Aliens always invade American cities.
23. Aliens always invade big cities instead of military bases.
24. Buddy cop movies always consist of two opposites.
25. Spies are always rich, well-dressed, and drive the best cars.
26. Heroes are always former Special Forces operatives.
27. Special Forces operatives are always experts of Martial Arts.
28. Castaways always seem to be able to make anything out of bamboo.
29. Two characters of the opposite sex who hate each other the most will likely end up together.
30. Henchmen or enemy soldiers are the worst shots.
31. Heroes rarely pick up the weapons of those they’ve incapacitated — usually with a single blow to the head (see #3)
32. Heroes rarely pick up the weapons of those they’ve incapacitated — even though they only have a single sidearm.
33. Older cops have drinking problems.
34. Despite being shot in the leg, characters can walk or run when necessary.
35. Despite being shot in the arm, characters can lift their weapons or fight with their fists.
36. Police officers or soldiers know how to disarm a bomb.
37. Disarming a bomb is as easy as pulling a single wire that the character happens to know.
38. Bombs have digital timers to let the disarming hero know how long they have.
39. Every spaceship has a self destruct feature that is easily activated by a single character.
40. Villains that wanted to get caught for a surprising reason.
41. Voiceover describes the plan for a heist as we see the action played out onscreen.
42. Zooming into a camera image allows you to see a perfectly detailed element.
43. Soldiers going against their training protocol to play the hero.
44. Characters surprising other characters by sitting in the dark of another’s person home as they enter.
45. The hero is the chosen one.
46. A character opens a mirror-covered medicine cabinet, only to reveal a scary reflection when they close it.
47. Seemingly dead bad guys that come back to life right when the protagonist lets their guard down.
48. Police officers that taste the cocaine evidence (this doesn’t happen in real life).
49. Truth serum.
50. CPR only works after minutes of repetition followed by screaming at the victim.
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