Nine More Underreported Movie Cliches

The Spit-take

It is pure coincidence that it was in January of last year when I wrote a list called Nine Underreported Movie Cliches. Perhaps January is simply a time when I think of such things. Anyway, here are nine more pointless, silly, unrealistic things that films do all the time.

  1. The Spit-take. You know the drill: One character is drinking out of a cup, another character says something outrageous ("I'm pregnant," "Is that my urine sample?" etc.), the first character sprays whatever he or she is drinking all over the place. I've seen this as recently as (500) Days of Summer, a movie that should have known better.
  2. Characters in noisy bars, parties, and clubs talking quietly. You've been out on a Saturday night. The music is deafening. You have to scream at the top of your lungs in order to be heard. But see how many films put their characters in these locations and have them talk in normal, even hushed, voices. This is because there must be quiet on set as the dialogue is recorded. But actors and directors often forget that one cannot talk like this in a noisy bar. Or in a convertible car racing down the freeway, for that matter.
  3. Drivers who don't keep their eye on the road. Similarly, few scenes inside cars are in actual moving vehicles driven by the cast; the cars are mounted on truck flatbeds, along with cameras and lights. Since the actor behind the wheel isn't driving at all, he may forget how one really drives. In the old days, when the car was stationary on a soundstage and the scenery was projected behind the rear window, the flub was that an actor would be driving down a perfectly straight highway, yet jostling the steering wheel left and right the whole time. Today's on-screen drivers are so confident that they spend about 90% of their time looking at their costar in the passenger seat instead of the road – even in dangerous traffic.
  4. High school classrooms surprised by the bell. I have yet to see a movie scene set in a classroom where this does not happen: A teacher is in the middle of a lecture (usually a lecture he began just 20 seconds earlier) when suddenly the bell interrupts him, then all the students gather up their things and are out the door within seconds. I'm sorry, but in every high school class I've ever been in, five minutes before the bell would ring, the students would already be clutching their binders and staring at the clock. (Some would even be waiting at the door!) The teachers used that time to do paperwork. After all, why should anybody be surprised by a bell that rings at the exact same time it has rung on every school day for months?
  5. 20/20 vision in the '50s. If you see photographs of real people from the 1920s through the 1960s, you will see a plethora of eyeglasses – over a quarter of adults wore them. (This was before contact lenses.) But not in the movies – neither those made in the era nor in today's period pieces. Who's to blame: vain actors who don't want to look "nerdy"? Cinematographers who fear glasses will reflect the studio lights? Costume designers who don't want to spend their budgets on dozens of horn rims?
  6. Answering machines still in use. Does anybody under 60 even have an answering machine these days? Only if they're movie characters – because screenwriters rely on these machines for expository purposes or to show emotion. (Voice on machine: "Julie? It's Todd. Are you there? Look, I'm sorry about last night." A teary-eyed Julie sits on the couch, listening but refusing to pick up.) This plot device worked well in the '80s and '90s, when people had answering machines. But writers need to enter the 21st century.
  7. The touching last words on the deathbed. Or the battlefield. A character, near death, manages to say that one last poignant thing with his final breath, instead of screaming in pain, babbling medication-fueled nonsense, or simply being comatose. This cliche is not exactly underreported, but it's funny how filmmakers still employ it.
  8. Beeping computers. Everybody uses a computer in some capacity today. And as you know, when you type on a computer, or see a password prompt, or read vital information, it is silent. But not in the movies! The high-tech operating systems that characters use in lieu of Windows or Macs all make beeping sounds with every keystroke. And password prompts, of course, always arrive with cool animation and sinister sound effects over a black screen.
  9. Bad liars. You'd think actors would have figured out by now that, when telling a lie, real people don't first take a few moments to look around nervously, search for words, stutter, and blink. But actors love doing this business, to make sure every last person in the audience understands when a character is fibbing.