"Definitive List of Cliched Dialogue"

March 8th, 2012 by

This thing has a life of its own, I swear. It’s one of the most popular pages on GITS and every so often I’m reminded to pull it out to update with your suggestions.

I have copied and pasted the entire thread of posts, updates and what-not. It’s sort of a meta thing at this point. But I believe you’ll get a kick out of it and learn something in the process.

[Originally posted August 17, 2010]

The “Definitive List of Cliched Dialogue” started with U.K.-based screenwriter Kevin Lehane. I explained the background in a post here back in November, 2009:

Just about a month ago, I posted this:

Writer Kevin Lehane, whose script “Grabbers” made the most recent Brit List, the UK equivalent of The Black List, has a blog called The Anthology of Codology. I was bumping around it the other day and hit this post: “The Definitive List of Cliched Dialogue”. The first 10:

  1. I was born ready.
  2. Are you sitting down?
  3. Let’s get out of here!
  4. _____ my middle name.
  5. Is that all you got?
    I’m just getting started.
  6. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?
  7. Don’t you die on me!
  8. Tell my wife and kids I love them.
  9. Breathe, dammit!
  10. Cover me. I’m going in.

You can read the rest of the list — 111 in all! — here.

Got any to add to the list?

Well, two things have happened in the interim. First, GITS readers did come up with some suggestions which Kevin added to the list. Second, since Kevin has become so busy with his writing career, he decided to take a respite from blogging. But that presented a problem: Where to host the list of cliche dialogue? So I get this email from Kevin:

Over the weekend I discontinued my blog. A new beginning and all that. Anyway, it seems a shame to lose some of the posts which people found useful and entertaining, particularly The Definitive List of Cliché Dialogue. So I was wondering if you’d like to post it on your blog, maybe as a guest post from me? If so let me know. It’s now 120 lines and always ever growing. If this sounds worth it to you, let me know and I’ll forward you the full post.

And of course, I said yes. So here is the official list as it now stands with Kevin’s original introduction:

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Don’t even go there! You know as well as I do, I’ve literally been there, done that, bought the t-shirt and to be honest with you at the end of the day when push comes to shove and it all boils down to it if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Know what I mean? Basically, what I’m trying to say is with all due respect between you and me screenwriting is not rocket science, it’s about breaking the mold, thinking outside the box, giving it 110% 24/7. And I think we can all agree clichés suck but, hey, it’s a job. You gotta do what you gotta do. Just remember you’re writing for an audience and there’s no “I” in . . . you get the picture.

Here is my “definitive” list of the worst offenders when it comes to lazy, trite dialogue:

1. I was born ready.
2. Are you sitting down?
3. Let’s get out of here!
4. _____ my middle name.
5. Is that all you got?
I’m just getting started.
6. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?
7. Don’t you die on me!
8. Tell my wife and kids I love them.
9. Breathe, dammit!
10. Cover me. I’m going in.
11. He’s standing right behind me, isn’t he?
12. No, no, no, no, NO! I’m not going. [Cut to them going.]
13. No. Come in. ____ was just leaving.
14. You’d better come in.
15. So, we meet again.
16. We’ve got to stop meeting like this.
17. (Greeting) Well, if it isn’t ____.
18. I’m just doing my job.
19. You give ___ a bad name. Calling you a ___ is an insult to ____.
20. You’ll never get away with this!
Watch me.
21. Looking good. [Said into a mirror.]
22. Now . . . where were we?
23. What the. . . ?
24. How hard can it be?
25. Time to die.
26. Follow that car!
27. Let’s do this thing!
28. You go girl!
29. You ain’t seen nothing yet!
30. . . . Yeah. A little too quiet.
31. If I’m not back in __ minutes, get out of here/blow the whole 
thing up/call the cops. 32. What part of _____ don’t you understand? 33. I’m not leaving you. You have to go on without me. 34. Don’t even go there. 35. I’ve always wanted to say that! 36. Ready when you are! 37. Is this some kind of sick joke? 38. Oh haha, very funny. 39. Did I just say that out loud? 40. Wait. Did you hear something? 41. It’s just a scratch. 42. How is he? He’ll live. 43. I’m . . . so cold . . . 44. Is that clear? Crystal. 45. What if? . . . Nah, it would never work. 46. . . . and there’s nothing you or anyone else can do to stop me! 47. You say that like it’s a bad thing. 48. Note to self . . . 49. Honey, is that you? 50. What’s the meaning of this? 51. What seems to be the problem, Officer? 52. What’s the worst that could happen?/ What have we got to lose? 53. I have a bad feeling about this. 54. Leave it. They’re already dead. 55. Don’t you think I know that! 56. Whatever you do, don’t look down. 57. Why wont you die?! 58. I eat guys like you for breakfast. 59. Oh now you’re really starting to piss me off! 60. We’ve got company. 61. Hang on . . . if you’re here then that means . . . uh oh. 62. Oh that’s not good. 63. Awkward! 64. What just happened? 65. We’ll never make it in time! 66. Stay here. No way, I’m coming with you. 67. This isn’t over! 68. Jesus H. Christ! 69. It’s no use! 70. It’s a trap! 71. She’s gonna blow! 72. Okay, here’s what we do . . . [and cut to a different scene] 73. Fuckin’ A! 74. I’m getting too old for this shit. 75. Wait a minute, are you saying– ? 76. You’ll never take me alive. 77. Okay, let’s call that plan B. 78. I always knew you’d come crawling back. 79. Try to get some sleep. 80. I just threw up in my mouth a little. 81. Leave this to me. I’ve got a plan. 82. No, that’s what they want us to think. 83. Why are you doing this to me? 84. When I’m through with you (etc.) – 85. Hi, sis. 86. Impossible! 87. Wait! I can explain! This isn’t what it looks like. 88. Showtime! 89. You look like you’ve seen a ghost. 90. If we make it out of this alive . . . 91. That’s it! You’re off the case! 92. How long have we known each other? We go back a long way. 93. Well, well, well . . . 94. Aha! I knew it! 95. Done . . . and done! 96. Leave it. He’s/She’s/They’re not worth it. 97. In English, please. 98. As many of you know (yadda, yadda, yadda). 99. Too much information! 100. Yeah, you better run! 101. . . . Unless? Unless what? 102. What are you doing here? I was about to ask you the same thing. 103. So, who died? . . . Oh. 104. You’re either very brave . . . or very stupid. 105. Oh, yeah! You and whose army? 106. Now that’s what I’m talking about! 107. Don’t call us, we’ll call you. 108. It’s not you, it’s me. 109. This just getts better and better. 110. This is not happening. This is not happening. 111. Make it stop. 112. Shut up and kiss me. 113. I’ll see you in hell! 114. Lock and load! 115. Oh Hell, no! 116. Not on my watch! 117. You just don’t get it, do you? 118. I have got to get me one of these! 119. I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you. 120. It’s called ____, you should try it sometime. 121. That went well!

I created this link — The Definitive List of Clichéd Dialogue — under Lists and over time, people have clicked on it and added some suggestions. So here is an update:

122. Listen to me, and listen good, 'cause I'm only gonna say it once.
123. Let me guess --
124. Fire in the hole!
125. Did I miss anything?
126. So, where was/were I/we?
127. On Three. One, two...
128. Are you tryin' to get us killed?
129. I've got a confession to make...
130. That's what she said
131. Over my dead body!

Any more you want to add to the list, please post in comments.

UPDATE: Remember that there are times when cliche dialogue can be a positive, not a negative. For example, you may have a character whose personality is in part defined by the fact that they do speak in cliches, they are a rather surface level and unoriginal personal, the cliches a reflection of that dynamic.

Also as George mentioned in comments:

Ha ha!! One more post that reminds me how grateful I am to have discovered this blog!

I’m guilty of using in my script three items from the abhorred list, but two of them function in a self-conscious, I’m-twisting-the-cliche way, so I guess they don’t really count. Uh, do they? ;-)

That’s right. If you take a cliche and spin it in a new / different direction, something that leads the reader to think the dialogue is going one way, then surprises them. In the OP over a year ago, GITS reader bonzob@earthlink.net wrote this:

Should be noted that if you subvert the cliche in an interesting way, you can surprise the audience with something unexpected. Joss Whedon does this a lot. There’s three I can think of just in Serenity.

One is a spin on something from this list — “Remember, if anything happens to me, or you don’t hear from me within the hour… you take this ship and you come and you rescue me.”

Another fun one: “I’m takin’ your sister under my protection here. If anything happens to her, anything at all, I swear to you… I will get very choked up. Honestly, there could be tears.”

And lastly, the Captain, after a crewman threatens mutiny:
“Do you want to run this ship?”

Which is of course the standard cliche threat that should shame the crewman into quieting down. But instead the reply comes:
“Yes!”

To which the flustered captain responds:
“Well… you can’t.”

Great examples.

Another good use of cliche is irony. Here’s a not so inspired example, but it makes the point. There are two street toughs. Tough A likes to opine, “Danger is my middle name.” Tough B loathes it when Tough A says the line because it’s, you know, cliche. Eventually in the story, Tough B whacks Tough A. Standing over Tough A’s body, Tough B smiles and says, “Danger was your middle name.” Or “Danger is my middle name.”

So like virtually any narrative element, a writer can use cliches well or poorly. It all depends upon story circumstances and creativity.

If you have any more cliches to add… or thoughts on the matter, feel free to hit reply and opine away. Seriously this thread may outlive us all.

BTW Kevin Lehane’s movie Grabbers was produced and just got picked up for domestic distribution here in the U.S. by IFC Midnight. You can read about that here. And you can follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinLehane.

27 thoughts on “"Definitive List of Cliched Dialogue"

  1. Oh, My, God! — Oh… My… God… is missing from the list.

    1. Scott says:

      Yes, that belongs there.

  2. davidbishop says:

    Amazingly, this list leaves out one of all-time, most-overused, cliched lines of dialogue ever:

    “We need to talk.”

    1. Scott says:

      Absolutely needs to go on the list.

  3. “Mr.____ is my father’s name. Call me____.”

  4. Has anyone compiled a cliched action list?

    I nominate the cell phone call at the worst possible moment as the number one cliche action of the last 15 years.

  5. John Penny says:

    “Looks like we got company.”

  6. Guy Gondron says:

    We’re not so different, you and I.

  7. 87 needs the added rejoinder: “What does it look like?”

    As in: “Wait! I can explain! This isn’t what it looks like.”
    “What does it look like?”

  8. Joshua Nite says:

    “What are you?”
    “Your worst nightmare.”

    Or worse . . .

    “Your worst nightmare: a____ with a ____.”

  9. ellinst says:

    Also “He needs some space right now”

    “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

    “That is so not going to happen”

    “She’s way out of your league”

  10. How about this one, heard it yesterday again:

    Girl: “I’m busy tonight/tomorrow/this weekend”
    Guy: “With what?”
    Girl: “Washing my hair”

  11. We need to work smarter not harder.

  12. [...] Are you thinking what I’m thinking.  Is this some kind of sick joke?  This just gets better … (via Metafilter) [...]

  13. [...] The Definitive List of Cliche Dialogue: You can probably play a decent enough drinking game with this, on reflection (NB – Web Curios encourages moderate, sensible drinking wherever possible, so don’t do it with Michael Bay films). [...]

  14. fernanhugo says:

    “Is there somebody there/here?”

  15. Gwyntaglaw says:

    My fave: “We can DO this!”

  16. RowCro says:

    You forgot “You look like shit”…

  17. Imogen Dall says:

    Another scifi classic:

    “Use the [whatever device].”
    “Sir, it’s not ready!”
    “We have to try!”

  18. Lukas Fauset says:

    “What are you supposed to be?”

  19. arkmallen says:

    “There’s a storm coming.”
    Which is kind of the entire plot of Take Shelter…but no-one ever says it.

  20. “you’ve been out of the game too long!”

    -Every crappy script about someone trying to rebound from a breakup EVER

  21. Charles Ryan says:

    I could’ve missed it but…

    “Never send a boy to do a man’s job.”

  22. […] Cliche statements (“Don’t you die on me, Man.”) READ MORE HERE […]

  23. Can understand these lists, but after awhile they just get silly. And the more time people spend on checking their so called perfect lists, free of cliches…so that their perfect scripts are free of cliches? Time’s wasted. I don’t kinow of any Osacr winning movie, from and Oscar winning script…that didn’t have cliches in both dialogue, character and plot moments. Majority of people who really love movies, will see it once…enjoy themselves and not even think of what’s cliched and what’s not. Me? As writer-driector and content creator for a new world i a new age of the digital…as I connect to auds globally? If the cliched dialgoue propels the scene and connects to the auds? I’ll use it. It’s about a great story…and many times, made up of cliche. Quantity over quality makes better quality.

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