If you grew up in the ’90s, then chances are you were bred on the best and most popular ’80s movies that were constantly running on TV. I’m talking about that WPIX (Channel 11 for the New Yorkers) Sunday afternoon movie.
Each genre of movie had their own cliches and tropes. Action films, kids movies, romantic comedies, fantasy/adventure films, and even family-friendly and holiday fare all followed a rubric.
You could almost play bingo with how often these movies “borrowed” certain scenes, gags, lines, and even characters, from each other. But, like most trends, many of these tired tropes in TV and movies have gone the way of the dodo, thankfully.
Super old teenagers
It’s kind of crazy how when you were a kid, high-schoolers seemed like they were so much older. That’s probably just because we were so young and still wet behind the ears, so anyone two to three times taller than must’ve seemed like they were in their mid 30s, right?
But I know I’m not the only one who’s gone back and watched films about “high school” that inexplicably featured people in their late 20s. I mean, in some movies, the school bully looks more like he works there and less like he turns nerds upside and swirlies them in the toilet.
Drunk driving is whatever
Hey, you know what’s a big deal? Driving while under the influence of alcohol. Out of the Furnace really drives that point home early on in the film. But for some reason, older movies aren’t that concerned with drunk driving.
Take Gordon Bombay from The Mighty Ducks. Emilio Estevez’s character is riding loaded in the beginning of the movie — and this is a kids flick, remember. He gets pulled over and this boozy dude’s immediate “punishment” is to be put in charge of a children’s hockey team. Wholesome.
Cops were always ready with that .38 special.
In older movies, mustachioed cops probably had the itchiest trigger fingers known to mankind. Seriously, you’d see them always slinking about with their revolvers drawn, ready to plug holes into anything that moves.
That included moving cars, a cliche that is still somewhat present today. But seriously, what kinda damage are you going to do to a speeding vehicle with your 6-bullet revolver? Why are officers always so willing to fire bullets on a busy street in broad daylight?
No reloading/running and gunning
While we’re on the topic of guns in movies, especially revolvers, have you noticed how combat in movies now has become a bit more realistic these days? You actually have protagonists who need to reload and look for cover/use tactics in flushing out the enemy.
Back in the day, you’d have a grizzled, old-school cop run into the bad guy’s HQ with nothing but a ripped gray suit, ugly black shoes, a terrible haircut, a .44 magnum with no extra bullets, and some balls. He manages to shoot and kill some 40 dudes before conveniently running out of bullets when it’s time to fight the main villain… bare-=fisted!
Everyone and their mother knows Kung-Fu.
Listen, I’ve got nothing against traditional martial arts, and yes, kung-fu is beautiful. But don’t you find it a little strange when the janitor that’s been hired by the main villain starts swinging his broom stick around like he’s been trained in bow staff fighting since he was 4?
And why does everyone throw looping punches? It’s like no one ever took a solid wrestling or regular boxing class in their entire life. Everyone’s doing jumping kicks and cartwheels and all of those inefficient moves, but no one can throw a straight punch or transition to a double-leg and scramble to get on top of someone else. Fighting isn’t pretty, but older movies made brawling with a hot dog vendor look like Shen Yun.
“We’ve got company” and other tired lines
The cop who dies two days before retirement, is an action movie trope that I don’t think is ever going to die out. The first time it ever appeared on screen, it probably hit a lot of people in the gut. “Oh no! They were almost home free!” But now it’s come and gone like the McRib, thankfully.
But it’s been a minute since we heard tired lines like, “you just don’t get it, do you?” and “we’ve got company!” Seriously, try saying “we’ve got company” without picturing a dude maniacally driving while his calm and collected partner, maybe someone like Bruce Willis, is cocking back a gun and looking at some baddies in the rear-view mirror who are gaining on them.
Carrying giant panes of glass
Back to the Future did it, and so did tons of other movies. I just want to know why there were so many guys just walking panes of glass around all the time. Is it crazy that I’ve never seen that happen in person, yet it occurred in older movies all the time?
See also: fruit carts conveniently placed in locations that are just begging to be toppled.
Barrels inexplicably on fire
It’s like all older movies, regardless of genre, took place in some shared universe where there were just tons of burning oil barrels around. Whether the fires were started by bums for warmth, or teens at a cool beach party, there was a burning barrel for almost every occasion. Why is what I want to know.
Listen, we know the movie’s starting. We get it, but we don’t need a laundry list of everyone’s names at the top of the film before it begins to mentally prepare us to watch the movie. Out of all the tropes on the list, I think I’m happiest that beginning credits, for the most part, are over and done with.
For the most part, people today in movies and TV shows look like supermodels in one shape or form. And I think that’s the biggest thing I miss about ’80s movies: those underdog sensibilities. Those movies were incredible for the most part because you had average joes or absolute losers rising to the occasion.
Now, for the most part, everyone’s get perfect teeth (even if it’s a period piece) everyone’s super attractive or has chiseled abs. Even people who are supposed to play social outcasts or weirdos are super sexy, and it’s not just in film and TV either. Remember when Bradley Cooper played the Elephant Man on Broadway?
Like a good friend of mine points out, the whole point of the Elephant Man is supposed to be that he’s so ugly no one could look at him, but here’s B. Coops shirtless and looking good, and walking around with a fake limp and contorting his face slightly. He was still sexy for crying out loud!
The incredulous hobo
It’s a running gag that’s simultaneously awful/awesome: the dirty hobo who’s sipping on whiskey and sees something crazy, maybe in a superhero movie, or a car chase, and who then rubs his eyes and looks at the bottle. Bonus points if he lets out a sigh or remarks, “Man, I really oughta cut back!”
Awful sound effects
Whether it’s the “chhhyyeeeeaaaaahhh” scream or that snapping sound of a punch or strike, or just screaming in action movies for no reason, like Van Damme’s cyborg, there were some pretty heinously bad sound effects in older movies.
Dancing around the table while listening to music.
This was pretty much a staple of ’90s romantic comedies or chick flicks: a group of women are drinking wine and just cutting it loose with their pals. There’s dancing around the table, a moving camera, booze, and positive vibes while a feel-good track plays in the background. Terrible.
What are some movie cliches you aren’t sad to see go? There’s probably a ton more you could add to this list, like receding hairlines, or paper bags of groceries with a baguette and some spinach poking out the top of it. Oh, and smoking. Everyone was smoking cigarettes on camera back in the day.
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