A Quick Guide to Cinematic Tropes 

  

Jumping the Shark

Named after that episode of Happy Days where the Fonz ski jumped over a hungry shark this trope refers to any film or TV show that stretches incredulity a little far. Clearly stories work within their own limits of reality; Superman flying is not ridiculous because it’s all about a mega strong guy who can fly and stuff. Sometimes though they take it too far; Superman flying round the earth so fast that it spins the other way on its axis and time turns back is just stupid.

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Example:

The invisible Aston Martin in Die Another Day

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Nuking the Fridge

Obviously related to the idea of jumping the shark, nuking the fridge refers to something that features in a film that is so dumb it undermines everything else that happens in the movie, before or afterwards. The worst examples cheapen not just one movie but a whole series of films and it is worse when those other instalments have been great. The film the idiom comes from, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, is a perfect example of this. In it Indy survives a nuclear blast by hiding in a fridge and being blown safely away from any danger.

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Example:

Jar Jar Binks

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The Woman in the Refrigerator 

Nothing to do with Nuking the Fridge, this trope concerns films where the most important thing a woman does is die or get injured. The name comes from an edition of the Green Lantern comic where the male hero finds his murdered girlfriend, Alexandra DeWitt, wedged inside his fridge. Of course in this circumstance the guy is then motivated to avenge his loved one thus beating the bad guy and achieving greatness. So it is that the woman has contributed to the story, being more use dead or incapacitated that she was before. It’s hardly flattering.

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Example:

Rachel in The Dark Knight

  
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Dead Man Defrosting

By contrast, when a guy is beaten and left for dead he tends to recover to fight another day. It doesn’t matter if he has been so resoundingly smashed up that in any normal circumstances he would never walk again he still shakes it off eventually. 

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Example: 

Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight Rising

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The Rebecca Principle

Sometimes the ladies don’t even survive long enough to appear in the film, they are in the ground even before the story starts. Let’s not waste time getting to know her, think the film makers, what is important is that the male protagonist misses her and is a different man now she’s gone. Occasionally she’ll feature heavily in flashback, as with Inception, but sometimes she’s lucky if she’s even glimpsed in a photograph. This trope obviously takes its name from Daphne du Maurier/Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca.

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Example: John Wick, Ant Man, The Revenant, Minority Report

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The Smurfette Principle

Coined by feminist poet, essayist and critic Katha Pollitt, this refers a film that includes a single woman in the boys gang so as tokenistically nod toward gender equality.

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Example:

Black Widow in The Avengers

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The Trinity Syndrome

Trinity in The Matrix is a great example of a strong female character. She is brave, tough, capable, heroic, smart, resourceful and uncompromising. Yet once the male hero comes on the scene and gets up to speed on the situation, thanks in no small part to her, she suddenly and inexplicably becomes a damsel in distress. This habit of marginalising women in contemporary action films is common and was picked up on by Tasha Robinson in her blog piece ‘We’re Losing All Our Strong Female Characters to the Trinity Syndrome’. So it was that more Hollywood sexism was called out and another expression was born.

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Example: 

Wildstyle in The Lego Movie

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A Mary Sue

Way way back in 1973 a lady named Paula Smith wrote a parody of Star Trek fan fiction and published it in her fanzine Managerie. In the story a young Lieutenant named Mary Sue boards The Enterprise and impresses everyone with her incredible ingenuity, intelligence and all round likability. In fact she ends up saving the day when the well established and experienced crew could not. Hence forth a ‘Mary Sue’ was any poorly written, too good to be true, idealised female character with abilities and skills way beyond those that she would feasibly be capable of; an unrealistically perfect girl who proves usefully victorious when the story needs wrapping up. The male version is a Marty Stu but if you’ll excuse me going all feminist again, male characters are rarely criticised for these characteristics.

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Example:

Possibly Rey in The Force Awakens although this suggestion has caused some uproar in the geek community.

  

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