While they tend to have bad reputations, tropes are pretty much an unavoidable part of writing. It’s individual writing talents and creative thinking that create unique scenarios in the films, shows, and books we love, regardless of how common the tropes they use are.
But just because some of these can be used for good, it doesn’t mean they all can. There are plenty of terrible tropes out there, ranging from simply bland and uninteresting to outright offensive, demeaning, or ignorant. You’d think that concepts like this wouldn’t have such staying power in modern entertainment. But many of them still persist today, despite outcry from viewers who are sick of them. So here’s a list of 15 well-known tropes that need to leave entertainment for good.
15. The Love Triangle
Once upon a time, this trope was a common way to build melodrama in movies and TV – and a good way to get viewers to talk about your project. From Buffy the Vampire Slayer to the Twilight saga (and other non-vampire themed programs), writers loved the idea of two characters competing for the romantic love of a third (usually a woman). But recently, more and more people seem sick and tired of seeing it happen on both the big and small screens. Sure, not all love triangles are bad. But the bad ones tend to hurt characterization more than help it, portraying pointless conflict and annoying bravado acts as romantic development. Maybe if mixed with less rehashed concepts, love triangles could make a comeback one day. But for now, they’re mostly bland and cliché and most audiences can do without them.
14. The Damsel in Distress
As one of the oldest tropes out there, many books, films, and shows over the centuries have damsels in distress. But these days, a lot of us could do without it in modern storytelling. In an age where female characters are finally starting to receive more active roles and respect, a woman who relies solely on a male lead to save her from danger is not only annoying but also impractical. This concept can work in very certain situations, like in a comedic parody of outdated tropes, but for the most part, the damsel in distress simply doesn’t have a place in good writing anymore.
13. Pseudo-“Strong” Female Characters
It’s actually surprising how often some people misunderstand what a strong female character is. When writing about women, making them “strong” doesn’t necessarily mean giving them physical strength. The most important thing to do is fully flesh them out as characters with flaws, consistently inconsistent personalities, and thorough character arcs. But many writers – especially male writers – have failed to understand this. A female character with a gun and martial arts skills isn’t automatically progressive or well-written. Instead, she often becomes a character who, despite being able to kick butt, often comes off as bland, over-sexualized, and still just a love interest to some guy with little character outside of that.
12. Excessive Jump Scares
Jump scares are one of many popular techniques used in horror flicks and TV shows. But even other forms of media make use of them, including popular games like the indie ones in the Five Nights at Freddy’s series. In recent years, many fans of horror have been critical of relying too heavily on this technique since it’s kind of a cheap tactic. While a few good jump scares can tactically enhance the experience of terror for audiences, there should be a stronger, slowly built sense of dread and fear throughout the experience. When a movie has too many, it doesn’t leave you with much once the credits start rolling. In the end, it not only cheapens the experience, but it ruins the sense of true fear horror should provide.
11. Glorifying or Mocking Unhealthy Relationships
There’s nothing funny about abuse. There’s also nothing funny about two people in a miserable, toxic, and/or manipulative relationship. Yet for some reason, writers behind shows like Family Guy and films like Fifty Shades of Grey seem to think these topics are respectively the height of comedy or romance. Maybe once many years ago, someone felt that this trope was a good way to break away from nuclear family dynamics. But all it really does is make a mockery of people who’ve experienced these exact kinds of relationships. Besides, there are plenty of unique family types that could do that, like single-parent households, adoptive families, or LGBTQ+ parents.
10. Incompetent and Bad Parenting as Comedy
Raising children certainly isn’t an easy task to accomplish. But sometimes, the parents that show up on film and TV just make every good parent sick. Now sometimes a character who’s not the smartest still clearly loves and cares for their children. But when a parent character openly mocks, degrades, or neglects their kids – especially in the name of apparent comedy – there’s just something off about it all. There’s hardly anything funny about a parent being manipulative and non-attentive towards their own children. And when you consider all the people in the world who’ve gone through the same things, such thoughtless jokes can easily turn sour.
9. Pointless Rivalries Between Women
There’s nothing wrong with a little conflict between two characters. It’s a natural part of character development, and films like Legally Blonde use it to encourage growth and evolution through the story.
But conflict should always serve a creative purpose in the plot. Having female characters cruelly tear each other down doesn’t do that, nor is it any sort of female empowerment. Instead, it usually rehashes the stupidly sexist idea that women have to one-up and crush each other in order to succeed. It’s even worse when a writer makes the conflict center around a male love interest, which iis just male gaze-inspired fantasy, anyways. BYEEE.
8. Middle Eastern Terrorists
For years, action and drama films have used foreign terrorist groups as main antagonists. Many are the result of past terror attacks, usually invoking themes of patriotism in the face of terrible tragedies. But while international terrorism is a legitimate threat, the constant portrayal of people from this region as terrorists can devolve into prejudice propaganda. Civilians and refugees from Middle Eastern countries are perhaps the biggest victims of terrorist groups. Yet they almost never receive a perspective in popular media, ending up grouped with their oppressors as threats. Worse still, people end up ignoring equally dangerous terrorists from the US and Europe, as though their acts are somehow less significant.
7. The Token Gay Character
Members of the LGBTQ+ community face unfair prejudice every day simply for loving who they love. Like so many other minorities, they absolutely deserve more representation, especially in film, in books, and on TV. But token gay tropes are far from the proper representation they deserve. Usually, this kind of caricature is based solely around stereotypes of white gay men, ignoring the diversity amongst real-life gay men and other sexualities within LGBTQ+. Furthermore, these characters usually end up as sidekicks for straight main characters, never developing true personalities outside of stereotypes.
6. Outdated High School Archetypes
Movies like Mean Girls and the Heathers are just a few examples of this trope’s long history in popular entertainment media. For decades, film after film and show after show have used them when writing about the high school experience. But while there’s some truth to those archetypes, adult writers tend to over-exaggerate and make assumptions when writing teen characters. Real high schools aren’t just full of one-note kids who can only enjoy one activity. The cheerleading captain can be a good math student, and the star jock can like comics and play in the concert band. Seeing that on big and small screens would be far more interesting than repeating old tropes.
5. The Chosen One
Everyone’s seen at least a few films or TV shows where the protagonist is a “chosen one.” Whether wanted or not, these heroes will discover their destiny to save the world from whatever evil forces they face. The true problem with tropes like this is they’re constant, making them a common and dull way to make the protagonists stand out. What truly makes this one guy or girl different from billions of others? Why does some writing or prophecy from an ancient time automatically make them unique instead of actual personality and character traits? It’s simply more interesting to see an average person discover themselves and rise up to the status of hero. It makes readers feel like they’ve actually earned something instead of having it handed to them towards the start of the story.
4. Completely Unlikable Horror Protagonists
One of the horror genre’s biggest issues recently is how they write their main characters. In many bad horror and slasher films, the entire cast features shallow and unlikable characters, particularly teenagers with stereotypical personalities. What writers of films like this don’t seem to understand is that characters like this actually ruin the experience. Many horror classics – like Alien and It, for example – have several enjoyable characters, and part of the apprehension and horror comes from the thought of them not surviving. When every character is just an unlikeable jerk, there’s no attachment, and no true desire to finish the film through to see who makes it out alive.
3. The Psycho Ex
Some films, like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, can use tropes like this in comical or entertaining ways. But one of the biggest issues with the trope is that it’s usually meant for comedy, which kind of undermines the seriousness of an ex-lover or friend viciously harassing someone. Not only that, but the term “psychopath” is so regularly misused in popular culture that many forget it’s meant to describe a genuine mental health issue with specific symptoms. It’s not a mere blanket term for someone who’s apparently acting “crazy,” and shouldn’t be used as such.
2. Contempt for the “Friend Zone”
One of the quickest ways for a movie or show to go south is rehashing silly and outdated concepts. And while there are plenty out there, one of the worsts is ridiculous negativity about being “friend-zoned.” For the most part, this concept often refers to when men – in real life or as characters in some sort of entertainment – are told by women they’re romantically interested in that they only want to be friends, and how that’s somehow an insult. This trope is regularly criticized for perpetuating ideas that men are automatically entitled to romantic affection and that “nice guys finish last” or whatever. It also treats the concept of platonic male-female bonds as some sort of anomaly, which it most certainly is not – not that you’d ever know from watching a TV show or movie.
1. Killing Off Minorities
It’s bad enough that people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and other minorities don’t have nearly as much media representation. But what might be even worse is getting that representation only to have it snatched away. Recently, many viewers have been criticizing TV writers and creators for frequently killing off minority characters. To be fair, TV show creators should be able to control their own story. But good storytelling dictates that character death should have some sort of purpose besides cheap shock value, a factor many of these shows seem to forget. It also doesn’t help that it perpetuates the idea that minority characters are dispensible. Seriously, think of some of your favorite TV shows and you’ll see how persistent these tropes really are.