“It’s Not What It Looks Like” (Screenplay Cliches)

(Captured from a subreddit thread and a screenrant article on screenwriting cliches). A lot of these don’t carry over into the world of fiction writing. I’ll have to make my own list for that.


We’re not so different, you and I.

When someone says anything even remotely scientific and someone replies, “Ummm, in English please??”

“You still don’t get it, do you?”

It’s not what it looks like. (Funny compilation clip here )

Person 1: “Hey”.

Person 2: Stops and turns around.

Person 1: “Thanks”. “Thanks” can also be swapped out for “Be careful,” “I love you,” and “Nothing.” just as frequently. This one needs to die.

“Don’t just stand there DO SOMETHING!!”

(Badmouths somebody)” .(S)HE’S BEHIND ME, ISN’T (S)HE?”






Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Secret of the Ooze played this well.

That was easy.

Yeah, a little too easy.

It’s quiet

Yeah, a little too quiet.

Look, it’s Raph!

Yeah, a little too Raph.

Ok sort of the opposite of this and I LOVE IT every fucking time is: “NO! Not in a MILLION YEARS. There is NO WAY you are DRAGGING me to this STUPID, WASTE OF TIME BULLSHIT…”

Cut to….

[Deep sigh]


“Do you remember when…” Usually used to tell us a plot point instead of thinking of a creative way to show us.

Not a specific line but I’ve worked for both an agency and a management company as an assistant so I’ve read a lot of incoming scripts from people trying to get signed and let me tell you: The amount of scripts where the writers have their protagonist longingly stare at a photo of a dead loved one is just incredible and (99% of the time) reads as very lazy. Grief is one of the most complicated, powerful emotions we feel and how a character expresses it can tell an audience so much about them. Find new ways for your characters to show grief people!

Or how about walks into their closet… lightly ruffles their fingers through the clothes of a lost one, smells it, and then begins to dance with it. (Honestly as cliche as that sounds it tells much more about a character picture-staring. ANYTHING BUT THE PICTURE STARING PEOPLE)

Enemy henchman: “Let’s go. This place is giving me the creeps…”

“Forget, everything you think you know.” (MITCH HEDBERG: I saw a commercial on late night TV, it said, “Forget everything you know about slipcovers.” So I did. And it was a load off my mind. Then the commercial tried to sell me slipcovers, and I didn’t know what the hell they were.)

“Then it’s settled” or “It’s settled then.”

“Is everything just a joke to you?” (in romcom argument)

“Look, you’re my little brother, and I love you, but…” You’re my (twin brother, oldest friend, cousin, mom, etc.) – I’ve never once in my life heard someone reiterate their relationship to another person. I’ve never had to remind my sister that she’s my sister, but it shows up in movies way too often.

Which has now become “So let me get this straight, you want to?” Silence. “Yeah. Pretty much.” Silence. “Well okay then.”

You’re gonna get us both killed!”

If we’re going to get through this, you’re going to have to trust me!

When the writer is too lazy to let the conversation unfold organically, they’ll start the scene with one character asking another out of the blue: “Can I ask you a question?” The subtitle should read: “Can you deliver some exposition?” (LOST did this a lot.)

“We got company.”

That’s what I’m talking about! (Almost always said by a supporting person of color) Don’t forget the classics like “Aww shieet,” “Damn!” Or my personal favorite “Aww hell nah!” Pretty sure you can throw in a “That’s some bullshit!” somewhere in there.

“I have a bad feeling about this.”

“How long have we known each other? Ten years?” “Twelve.” type exchange. Writers still do it, but even the little variations on that stand out now. I think that crap makes most writers groan, but even very casual viewers will subconsciously hear that stuff and tune out even if they don’t realize exactly why.

“Let’s get out of here.”

“This ends tonight”

I cringe every time I’m watching an action movie and someone says a phrase using “gentlemen” when speaking to tough guys with guns. Like, “gentlemen, we’ve got company….” Maybe it was cool and ironic the first time but now it just makes me roll my eyes.

Argument descends into chaos, multiple people all shouting over each other at once. Sitcom character: “Stop! This doesn’t help anyone. We’re gonna have to work together…” or some variation of.

record scratch “Yup. That’s me. I bet you’re probably wondering how I got here.”

A hated thing of mine is when a character says something, and another character takes the last word or two of what was said and poses it as a question. I particularly hate if it goes on a while. As in:

Character A: We’re going to need a plasma gun.

Character B: Plasma gun?

Character A: Yes, a gun that shoots beams of plasma.

Character B: Beams? Of plasma?

A police officer that says “ I didn’t sign up for this” dude you’re a cop.

When the hero or their ally returns to help in the climactic battle: “You came back!”

“I can’t perform your appendectomy until the stone of Wilburglibrwur is safely in the escape pod..”

“This is bigger than both/all of us.” The second I hear this line or some variation of it, whatever I’m watching loses all credibility.

“Welcome to __”.

“I thought we were friends.”

Hey “name”.

Short pause.

Good luck.


Supporting character discloses a major plot point by accident: “[Name], you’re a genius!”

“Could someone just please tell me what’s going on here?”






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