Cinematic Phrases That Need To Be Retired

I was watching Defiance the other night.1  Linda Hamilton has been part of the cast for about half a season now.  In the middle of a rather serious scene, her character turns to another and says:

“Come with me if you want to live.”

Haha.  I get it.  Because she was in that movie where the robot guy said that.

Sigh.

While it is an amusing bit of fan recognition, there is a real problem with this kind of knowing wink to the audience -- it pulls you right out of the scene.  It is the dialogical
4 equivalent of a big neon sign flashing “You’re just watching a TV show/movie.”  This is something that most creative types want to avoid.  You don’t want to immerse the audience in your world, only to snatch them out again.  That’s a good way to lose your audience.

The exception to this would be projects which don’t really expect the audience to fully invest itself in the first place.  A prime example of this would be the recent
Expendables franchise.  Sure, there is a plot and an attempt at story telling, but we’re all really just going there to see our favorite action heroes all on the screen at once.5  Think I’m wrong?  Here’s a test: name the characters played by Sylvester Stalone, Bruce Willis, and Arnold Schwarzamynameisunspellable.  Yeah, that’s what I thought.

In an effort to improve the quality of story telling in the visual media, I have compiled a list of phrases which should be avoided
6.

Come with me if you want to live.
I had to start with this one, since it was the one which spawned the whole idea for this post, but it is far from the most used.  That award would probably fall to:

I’ll be back.
It’s an iconic phrase from an amazing movie. 
T2 gets a pass for its use because of how that film stood everything from the first movie on end.  I’m sure that the new Terminator movie will have both of these phrases and the next one too, but I wish that it didn’t.

Hasta la vista, baby [or some variation on this theme].
Sigh.
If there is a word that is even a remote homonym of “baby,” you can be sure that someone will utter this line in a bad Austrian accent.  I’ve even heard the phrase “Hasta la vista, gravy.”
Just sigh.

I’m getting too old (for this shit)
I am fairly certain someone used this before Danny Glover’s Sgt. Murtough, but no one before or since has been so closely with the phrase.  Hollywood writers, before you have your world weary detective mutter this, stop and think.  Do you really want to compare your current project to one of the best buddy cop pictures ever?  Because if you use this bit of dialog, everyone in the audience is going to be thinking about
Lethal Weapon instead of the movie they’re watching.

Go ahead, make my day
This one has fallen out of favor recently, but it still rears its head every once and a while.  As above, can your character go toe to toe with Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty” Harry Callahan?  Yeah, I thought not.

I’ll have what she’s having
This one is doubly painful.  Not only will your audience start thinking about
When Harry Met Sally, they will also be reminded of what Meg Ryan looked like before she tried to turn herself into an extra from the Howard the Duck sequel.  You will make them sad, don’t use it.

I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse
Or any variation of any line from
The Godfather.  Just don’t.

Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn
Badges, we don’t need no stinking badges
I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. Deville.
Play it again, Sam.
Rosebud.
There are a couple problems with these.  The first is that it flags you as theatre arts major who is just trying way too hard.  The second, if you are shooting a movie for a modern audience, odds are they are not going to get it.
7  Most importantly, two of those lines are misquoted, so not only do you look like a theatre arts major who is trying too hard, you look like one who didn’t do the homework assignment.

Bond, James Bond 
Or any other name.  Iconic character who had been around for half a century.  You don’t screw with those kind of credentials.

We’re going to need a bigger boat
Or a bigger anything. 
Jaws was the movie which started the concept of the summer blockbuster and it still holds up today.8  The only way you can play this line is for laughs and the laughter you get won’t be worth it.  

Those are the ones I can come up with off the top of my head.  Honestly, I’m sure I could go on for another couple thousand words, but I think I have made my point.  Rather than attempt to cash in on someone else’s dialog, try writing something clever of your own.  The audience will appreciate it.



1  What?  It’s a solid, if occasionally goofy, show.
2

2  Yes, it
is on SyFy, but their shows are usually as good as their movies are horrifically bad.  I think it is part of their business plan -- a way to appeal to both sides of the genre spectrum.3

3  Annnnnd we have the topic of another post.

4  Holy shit, that’s really a word?

5  I’m still waiting on the female team.  They better have Zoe Bell.

6  Unless, of course, you are working on a kitchy project like
The Expendables, in which case I would ask you not to continue with the project.

7  When my brother was about five years old, he would walk into a room and announce that he “did not need no stinking badges.”  He had no idea what he was talking about, just that it always got a laugh from the adults.

8  Trust me, I just saw it in the theater a few weeks ago and it was amazing.