Vs. Overused Movie Dialogue

Posted: August 25, 2011 in Hollywood
Tags: , , , , ,

Here’s the deal.  I have a hobby called writing screenplays that no one will ever produce.  I sit in front of a computer screen and type out fascinating plots, layered characters, amusing dialogue, and edge of your seat finales.  Then I print out this labor of love.  This stack of paper just waiting to become a realized film.  And then I set in on a pile with the others and start the process again.  It’s a lot of fun.  I recommend it to no one.

So when I do see a screenplay that has navigated the stupendous maze of the studios and is available for public consumption on the screen, I am slightly irked when I see clichéd dialogue.  Granted, some clichés are hard to avoid.  I’ve read that, “Let’s get out of here,” is the most common line in films.  I don’t know if this is true or not, but it’s not such a bad line.  I’m sure everyone reading this has said, “Let’s get out of here,” at some point in their lives. 

QWERTY keyboard, on 2007 Sony Vaio laptop comp...

A sample of some of the letters I use when I write.

I’m not talking about characters saying, “I love you,” or “How you doing?”  – if you try to make everyday conversation sound too unique it becomes ridiculous and you’re trying too hard.  I’m talking about the lines that you only hear in movies…and way too many movies.  Here are five of them.  Listed in convenient numerical order.

1: “You messed with the wrong guy.”  If I hear this again in a movie it better be followed by additional information.  “You messed with the wrong guy…you should have messed with Stan, third door on the left.”

2: “I was born ready.”  This seems pretty unlikely.  The whole reason that babies are so dependent upon their parents is that they are not born ready.  They pretty much need help with everything.  So the only way this line of dialogue could ring true would be like this – “The time has come.  Are you ready to bawl, drink from a bottle and fill this diaper like a champion?”  “I was born ready.”

3. “Don’t you die on me!”  (“Die on him…or her…anywhere but on me.”)

4: “Breathe, damnit!”  Along with #3, this is the general response to impending death in movies – to shout commands at the person who is dying.  If this worked, you’d think doctors would employ this strategy more often, “Stop dying.  I said stop it.  You, there, do not die.  And don’t get sick.  Stop coughing.  Are you listening to me?  Get better.  Fight that virus…fight it, or else.”

5. “It’s a little too quiet.”  This might be my favorite, because I can’t imagine anyone has ever said this in real life.  Because, honestly, what the hell does it mean?  In the real world, lack of noise is not an ominous sign.  I don’t have pets and I live alone, so every time I walk into my apartment I encounter silence – it’s not scary.  What would be scary is if there was noise coming from the back.  Then I’d say, “It’s a little too loud,” and I would be running away to find a place that was more quiet.   

So, how am I going to do it?   How will I rid the silver screen of these overused lines?  What can I do?  I will continue to write screenplays where characters say things that haven’t been said before.  All I need now is for you to think back on every person you’ve ever met.  Do you know someone whose cousin works at Paramount?  Did your first college roommate become an agent?  Is your manicurist’s last name Spielberg?  Let’s get on this people.  Contact your contacts and let them know that I’ve got original screenplays for sale.  Make some noise if you’re with me…hmmmm…it’s a little too quiet.

  1. Neeks says:

    I like your list, very entertaining.

  2. Jack Campbell, Jr. says:

    The big problem with a lot of that dialogue is that no one has ever said it outside of a movie, but they have been so widely used that people think it sounds like something someone might actually say. I don’t think I have ever said any of that stuff, except in mockery of bad movies. Too much movie dialogue sounds like movie dialogue rather than people conversing.

  3. angelina says:

    It doesnt bother me as much as say everyone doing bad impersanations of Arnold Swartzinager…”I’ll be back” uuugghhhhhhh

  4. heathersnyder1 says:

    Here’s some I think that are overused:
    “This is as good as it gets.”
    “We have a problem” or “Houston, we have a problem…”
    “There’s no time!”
    “We’ve got company!”
    “Let’s do this thing!”

    One phrase that is cliche’, but, I thought was hilarious in “School for Scoundrels”–Jon Heder says, “Why is this happening to me?” when a gang is attacking him in his Meter Maid cart.

    • heathersnyder1 says:

      And, I can’t wait to see your fascinating plots, layered characters, amusing dialogue, and edge of your seat finales on the big screen!

  5. AiXeLsyD13 says:

    My favorite is… “I’ve got a bad feeling about this…” from all over the place in Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies…

  6. Lokyra Stone says:

    Ok. First of all.
    If you have children, or spend a lot of time with children, you know that silence is ALWAYS ominous.
    2- I say “It’s quiet here. A little.. *too* quiet.” (Alternatively, I say, a “A little *too* Raph.” But thats because I watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movies WAY too much as a kid. And a teenager. And sometimes as an adult.)
    3- I am still waiting for a good opportunity to say “You messed with the wrong guy.” (Even though I am a woman. Not a guy.)
    4- I yell at dying plants not to die on me.
    5- I personally love “We’ve got company.” The best alternative, which might even be better, is, “Don’t look now, but I think we’re being followed.” First thing people are gonna do is look. And it’s wondrously melodramatic.
    6. I also love “Don’t look down.” No matter what movie it is in, you know the exact sequence of events and facial expressions that are going to follow that statement.

    I’ll start looking for contacts for me to develop so I can then pass those contacts onto you, at a discount price.

    • Makya McBee says:

      Neeks – Thank you. My list is blushing.

      Jack – I believe movies should be heightened reality, but I agree that they often need to pull back on the heightened and plant their feet a little more firmly in the reality.

      Angelina – No problem. I’ll stop everyone from doing bad impersonations, just give me a few minutes…

      Heather – I’m not sure “Houston, we have a problem,” is overused…more like over-recognized…but I join you in your anticipation of seeing my stuff on the big screen…Let’s do this thing!

      Ax – Yeah, those guys get a lot of bad feelings – I wish they would once say, “I’ve got a good feeling about this”…like, before a lovely get-together or visit to a local art gallery…

      Dan – You put me in the awkward position of not being able to respond to your comment in as terse a manner as you present it – but thanks.

      Lokyra – Always ominous? Is it ominous when the wee ones sleep? Aha! Check and mate. I appreciate your determination to utilize as much bad movie dialogue as possible in your real life. It’s an interesting alternate solution. If we start using these phrases all of the time, they’ll actually become part of normal dialogue.

      • Lokyra Stone says:

        That is a very small exception, and most little ones have this little baby snore they do.
        And I utilize bad movie dialogue merely because I am a ridiculous person. I never considered fighting bad movie dialogue by making it real life dialogue. Brilliant! I will spread the word.

      • heathersnyder1 says:

        Yeah, “Houston, we have a problem” is more over-recognized. But, it’s also a title of a movie about Texas oil men and our dependence on foreign oil, global warming, using alternative natural resources, etc. Save the planet people!!!
        …and produce Makya McBee’s movies!!!

  7. Unfortunately, the stereotype that every Southern Californian knows someone from Hollywood isn’t true. I always laugh when I hear an overused phrase, but what bugs me more are horror movie scenes. If I see a dark, scary house, I am not about to walk in saying “H-hello?!?” And I am pretty sure that after I realize a horror movie has become my life, I am not going to shut my medicine cabinet mirror or slowly pan across to see what’s under the bed.

    • Lokyra Stone says:

      Also, don’t be blonde, buxom, or a sorority sister.

      • Makya McBee says:

        Redd – What? You’d just live your life with open medicine cabinet mirrors? What kind of crazy existence is that?

        Lokyra – Don’t be buxom? Time to rethink my life goals again…

      • Lokyra Stone says:

        No, no. Totally feel free to be buxomy. Just not if you’re in a horror movie, cuz that nearly always means you will die before the end of the movie. Sometimes in the first five minutes.

  8. Laura4NYC says:

    Haha, once again brilliant! Yeah, you sorta start thinking about how stupid these phrases would sound in real life! How do you come up with these topics? I just don’t get it… All the best to your big coming out! Unfortunately, I don’t have contacts of these kinds here in NY… not yet, that is. Will keep you posted if I do. lol

  9. Wesh says:

    “That’s above your pay grade” or some version of it. Die Hard, Shooter, 2001 Maniacs, Last Castle, Inside Man, Bourne Supremacy, Recruit, Sum of All Fears, Lakeview Terrace, etc….

  10. phannieg says:

    Hilariously entertaining, however I have to disagree on the quiet. I get creeped out easily when it is too quiet, and I hate being alone. I don’t see how you can deal not having a pet or something. But I often remark on the quietness and turn on some music or something.

    • Makya McBee says:

      Laura – Perhaps it is a byproduct of the fact that I very rarely get angry that I can think of so many things that irk me. But honestly, many of the things I write about don’t even bother me much, I just find it easy to imagine what it would be like were they to bother me…rarely a day goes by where I don’t entertain a new topic…and, yes, please let me know once you are a mover and a shaker in New York.

      Wes(h) – I will say that at least the very first person who wrote that line was being relatively clever (clever enough for so many people to copy them)…and how is it that you have a photographic memory for which movies have used a fairly specific phrase?

      phannieg – I have a plant. A pretty big plant. But it keeps quiet too. I am, however, sticking with my story…I think that any human being would be less scared coming home to a quiet home than one that is unexpectedly noisy. It’s just that the line, “It’s too loud,” doesn’t work because you wouldn’t be able to hear the person saying it.

  11. heathersnyder1 says:

    I got one more, just heard it on The Lincoln Lawyer, but I’m sure I’ve heard it used in a dozen other films. Divorced parent dropping their cute, sleeping child off with their ex…the exes look into each others eyes and referring to cute, sleeping child, “At least we did something right.”

  12. klsprout says:

    My personal overuse favorite:

    ‘He’s lost a lot of blood.’

  13. “don’t you die on me” is overused and dramatic….but when Jim Carry said “don’t you go dyin’ on me” in Dumb and Dumber…..now that’s just good writing 🙂

    • Makya McBee says:

      Sprout – To which the doctor should respond, “Stop loosing a lot of blood, damn it!”

      DTH – It might just be me, but I’m proud to say that I’ve never seen Dumb and Dumber – I feel that even catching a few minutes of it here and there runs the risk of making me the title.

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