20 Old Movie Tropes We Don't See Much Anymore – MovieWeb

Movies have changed over the years. The current landscape in Hollywood has made some tropes outdated or problematic. Find out which made the list!
The story of cinema is filled with tropes you could see in almost every film at certain ages of the industry. Times have changed, and sensibilities have evolved. Many of these tropes are now problematic or lack the cultural relevance they used to have. Audiences have also grown to be more intelligent, and they notice these failings. In the day and age of the internet, these same audiences tend to be very critical of these tropes.
Some tropes are visual stages that simply don't work anymore. Other are health hazards that promote dangerous habits. Other tropes are mostly related to the evolution of technology, so it's hard to make them work anymore. Many cinematic tropes, however, defy logic and common sense. Audiences want a more cohesive experience in these times, so it makes sense for many of these elements to go the way of the dodo.
This ranking lists classic movie tropes you don't get to see that much anymore.
In the golden age of Holly Wood, smoking was seen as a sign of class and sophistication. Guys like Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant or ladies like Audrey Hepburn were often seen in their films smoking with elegance and finesse. Smoking was something done by characters or people with good social standing. It looked glamorous until it wasn't anymore. In the latter part of the 40s and most of the 50s, multiple experts raised awareness about the dangers of nicotine.
Things went downhill in 1964 when the U.S. Surgeon General declared smoking a health hazard and the leading cause of the increase in lung and throat cancer. The increasing rise of public health concerns related to tobacco products made the habit dangerous and a hot potato for Hollywood studios. These days you can still see characters in movies smoking, but someone will always point out how dangerous the habit is to their health.
Any movie or TV show you see up until the early 2000s always has a character speaking with another using old-school phones. If the characters had a heated argument over the line, one was prone to end the call by slamming the phone into the receiver. In the smartphone age, you don't get to see that much anymore unless you are dealing with a modern film set in the past.
Or course, this doesn't mean the trope itself hasn't evolved. Nobody slams phones on the desk anymore, but many characters can be seen venting their frustrations by smashing their smartphones or outright shouting to the receiver on the other side of the line. Slamming a phone was a sign of cutting off communication, while smartphone interactions tend to be more complex.
The Wilhelm Scream is a sound effect that has continually used in multiple movies and TV shows since the 1950s. The sound effect was first recorded for the film Distant Drums in 1951. It has since become one of Hollywood's most well-known sound effects and is used by many studios, as no one has ever claimed exclusive rights to the classic yelling sound.
The Wilhelm scream has mostly a comedic effect these days. In many films, it's used as an Easter egg to see how many people can notice it, but its use has dwindled over the years. It has a similar legacy to the Goofy hollering, which was constantly used in cartoons during the 40s, 50s, and 60s, to slowly fade away and be used as a comedy resource across social media.
Flashback stares were a popular storytelling device used in many films to indicate the presence of trauma in a character without the need to give too much content to it. It's usually presented with a lead lost in thought while a series of images, typically related to war or other traumatic events, flash on the screen. The trope was used to indicate a character was having a reflective moment.
These days, most filmmakers have found great value in showcasing the events that lead to the trauma of any given character by taking the viewer down the memory line, offering an exposition dump that explores the causes of trauma or what caused the lead to behave in a certain way.
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Eternal love was the promise sold by many storytellers in the past. This trope is not exclusive to films, as it's been used in poems and novels since we can read and write. Films like Romeo & Juliet or The Notebook do a magnificent job of showcasing the promise of eternal love. Sadly, the hard reality of modern times doesn't allow filmmakers to sell this fantasy in their stories anymore.
With 50% of all first marriages ending in divorce, storytellers have shifted the narrative into making love stories more realistic. Kramer vs. Kramer was a groundbreaking story because it showed the American people the ugly side of divorce for the first time. Recent offerings such as Marriage Story with Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson showcase the consequences of poor communication and infidelity.
We could argue cynicism killed this old-time Hollywood trope. People in America love a happy ending, but the world continually does its best to show us that happy endings are hard to come by. Something terrible is happening everywhere you look, and many real-life issues go unresolved. Hollywood has acknowledged this by making their conclusions more grounded, especially regarding biographical figures or historical events.
On the one hand, this is good in many aspects since we get more grounded stories. You can still find shreds of optimism in Superhero stories, but even these colorful characters have to deal with a rough hand, such as with Batman at the end of The Dark Knight or Spider-Man in No Way Home. European cinema handles this storytelling method carefully, even if the final results are bleak and hopeless.
If you want to measure modern storytellers' competence, notice how frequently they use exposition dumps to tell you everything you need to know to understand the story. If you watch old-time classics, you'll see how often you can be surprised by the film's plot, as the unexpected twists catch you off guard, but a quick analysis of the story leads to that logical conclusion.
We don't get the same courtesy with modern filmmakers. Many writers tend to underestimate their audiences and need to fill every single gap in the plot by having the characters relate to us what is happening and how we should feel about it. Recent properties such as Matrix Resurrection and Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness commit this cardinal sin with exposition dumps that kill the pacing of the film and retcon events of the past.
Oh man, this truly ruffled a lot of feathers right up until the 90s. Hollywood had no filter for depicting people from other countries in the most offensive, stereotypical fashion they could think of. While it's funny in a comedy context, many of these portrayals were problematic when the 2010s arrived.
Before the decade started, Latinos were often portrayed as gang members full of tattoos or drug dealers. Jewish people were always depicted as greedy and concerned with money. Asian people were usually shown as expert mathematicians or good at martial arts. Middle eastern were usually terrorists by default, and African people were usually tribesmen with no understanding of civilization.
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You can blame John Hughes and anyone following his footsteps for perpetuating this trope. Someone wearing glasses means we have a nerd in the room or someone socially awkward to the point of being ostracized and marginalized by the rest of the characters in the film. Hollywood reached peak consciousness with the release of Not Another Teen Movie in 2002.
The film not only mocks the trope of the hot girl wearing glasses and overall as the personification of the ugly nerdy character. It also mocked numerous tropes of teen dramas, such as having actors in their mid-20s playing adolescents, the presence of a single token black guy in most of these films, and many more tropes you rarely get to see anymore in these movies.
Now this one is fair to miss, as comedy has evolved into something that is borderline pretentious, mean, or obnoxious. Slapstick comedy was at one point a great American staple, with characters often relaying in exaggerated physical humor for the sake of the laughs of the audiences.
Many films by The Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy, and other similar characters are still a great source of laughs. During the 80s and the 90s, the trope was still alive thanks to creatives such as David Zucker and Jim Abrahams, who directed highly entertaining classics such as The Naked Gun Trilogy, Airplane, Hot Shots, and Top Secret! You don't see films like these anymore.
Old-school films usually had a narrow sense of right and wrong to make it clear to the audience who to root for. It was a battle of good versus evil with no grey areas to think about the action of any side of the conflict. Modern storytelling, however, has proved to be more complex than that by embracing the grey area and giving antagonists a clear motivation.
The result is more complex tales exploring the morality of each side in a conflict. Superhero films have done a great job at this. Thanos is likely a mass murderer in the eyes of the audience, but his motivations are altruistic if you think about them objectively. There are still great villains in cinema, but most have their motivations made more explicit for the audiences.
Watch a few old action movies and try to notice how many times the hero switches a clip in their gun. It doesn't happen too often, and even when it happens, you are still wondering just how much ammunition our hero is carrying around in their garments. Better yet, look at the first two Tomb Raider movies with Angelina Jolie and notice how she hardly runs out of bullets.
Not many people complain about this, but Hollywood has corrected this minor grievance in many modern films. It's not uncommon to see a movie hero say he's running out of ammo. It places limitations on the characters and increases the stakes in the story. Nobody likes an invincible hero, especially when their plot armor prevents him from running out of bullets.
This ancient trope has been present in literature for centuries, so it's no surprise it made its way into Hollywood production. The damsel in distress was wearing a fragile veil by the late 80s, especially with women looking to make their way into better acting roles. Rescuing a fair maiden from danger was still present in many films, but the women in these roles played an active role, as happens with Bonnie Bedelia, who plays John McClane's wife in Die Hard.
By the time the 2000s were here, the damsel in distress slowly disappeared in favor of more feminine characters with more control. While women are still placed in dangerous situations in films, many prove to be resourceful in avoiding danger or helping the main character overcome the obstacle that represents having to rescue her. These new narratives and perspectives place women as problem solvers instead of passive witnesses.
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Dear heavens, this trope was really problematic back in the day. Modern audiences have caught on to this narrative in many films by making memes about it on social media. It never fails; a lazy filmmaker wants to build tension by making the victim of a slasher the clumsiest, more idiotic person ever. It's one thing trying to convey anxiety; it's another to showcase utter incompetence.
Clumsiness is widely appreciated in multiple forms. From slowly jogging away from the killer (instead of running) to failing to start a car. There is also the always-present "let's stay in this *clearly* dangerous place to have some fun." If you ever wonder why so many slashers in the 80s failed to capture the imagination of audiences, it's mostly because they have some version of this trope on full display.
This trope was born in the 80s and was a staple of most action flicks, as the ultimate showmanship of badassery. After a convoluted car chase or a fight where the antagonist is left trapped, the hero walks away from the scene while everything is exploding, without glancing to make sure the villain is dead, because why would he be after that? Admittedly it looks cool as hell, but it is also nonsensical.
As with some of the tropes of this ranking, Hollywood gained self-consciousness by having a meta moment about this trope in Deadpool. The merc with a mouth, played by Ryan Reynolds, takes a shot at every action film trope, such as this one or superhero landings. These days walking away from the explosion is rarely used since moviegoers seem to expect a definite resolution for certain characters, especially if they are villains.
The act of hacking a network using computers has been depicted in movies as this all-encompassing magical resource that instantly switches the plot in favor of heroes or villains. Films like Goldeneye, Die Hard 4, and The Matrix place technology and online resources front and center as doomsday devices capable of overwhelming governments or even ruining humanity.
On the other hand, hackers are portrayed on the two ends of the spectrum. Either they are weasel guys working deep in someone's basement, or they are sophisticated, classy, and full of wit. In a world where cyberattacks are common, people have learned the true nature of these events. That's why the trope of the master hacker is depicted with more realism these days.
Most romcoms and slice-of-life dramas have a character like this—someone living next door who is obnoxious, loud, temperamental, and rude. The trope's twice problematic if the production makes the neighbor a foreigner, as it usually falls into specific stereotypes. Real life has plenty of people like this in every neighborhood or condo, but they are often the exception, not the rule.
Sure, some films are the exception for the sake of comedy, such as Deck the Halls from 2006. Overall Hollywood has slowly drifted away from this trope by making neighbors more empathic figures and sometimes the friend and confidence of the main character in the story. The harsh reality is that we don't get to pick who lives next to us, and most humans find a way to balance their relationships, even with the most unlikeable person in their vicinity.
Library research is not a problematic trope, but the increasing swipe for modern technology reflects negatively on old-fashioned research. Many films until the early 2000s show a lot of characters going to libraries to conduct research. Even when a character goes to a library, they do so to use a computer and review digital files of anything they need. We never get to see proper research anymore in the smartphone age.
The internet is a great resource to start some research, but it's not the ultimate authority about any stance related to history or applied sciences. The use of technology for research in films and TV shows only works to promote confirmation bias, which is a recurring issue in the real world. Period pieces tend to be more generous in this regard, as books are the only means of access to knowledge in this stance.
"Bimbos" in film are women portrayed as dim-witted and overly sexualized for superficial narrative purposes. A bimbo is usually a clueless girl who finds herself acting naive in front of mostly salivating guys for her attention. Marilyn Monroe was not the first bimbo girl in Hollywood. Still, she perpetuated the stereotype, which is truly shameful, as she did her best to overcome it by taking acting lessons.
As time went on, Bimbo girls fell out of fashion, especially after the civil rights movements of the 60s, where women gained notoriety because of their talents and ability to pull their weight in society in many tasks solely relegated to men. Since then, Bimbos are often depicted as girls playing possums to hide their real intentions or skill sets, as in the Austin Powers films, where the female leads usually show more competence than the titular character.
Stoicism used to be a manly trope in Hollywood. The no-nonsense attitude was a coveted trope until the 70s when audiences started expecting more from male leads. Male main characters who were silent and got things done were an industry staple for many years. The ultimate showcase of this resource is The Man with No Name, portrayed by Clint Eastwood in A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (1966).
The action hero of the 80s still had stoic traits. However, they showcased signs of vulnerability. We can see some examples of this in First Blood, as John Rambo has PTSD. In Lethal Weapon, Martin Riggs has depression and is suicidal after losing his wife. Modern heroes need that unique spice to give them a reason to be the way they are, as happens with characters like John Wick or Hutch Mansell in the film Nobody.
Good entertainment makes you forget you’re being entertained. Happy to be here to share my takes on cinema and TV shows with you.


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