If you told Steven Seagal you can use a pool table to play a game, he would have no idea what you're talking about, because every time he's ever been near one, someone has tried to break a pool cue over his head. Nothing says "a fight is about to start" in a movie more than a pool table, and as moviegoers, we're somehow okay with it, despite many of us only getting into life-and-death battles once every five or six games.
If Your Nose Is Bleeding Or You Have A Cough, You Are About To Die
Everyone has had or will get a nosebleed at some point in their lives. They can be caused by anything from altitude to nose-picking to cocaine to punches. The point is, we know you were picking your nose, and all you need to do is jam a tissue up there for a few minutes and move on with your day. Unless you're a character in a movie. Then you're so, so about to die.
The instant and enduring classic The Butterfly Effect had to show that Ashton Kutcher had Punk'd himself (this joke brought to you by the year 2004) by time-travelling too much. You see, his chrono powers were taking their toll on his body, killing him from the inside out. But instead of showing that with a dinosaur bursting out of his chest or having him transform into Napoleon before flickering out of existence, they gave him a simple nosebleed. Because in a film, a little blood from the nose is as instantly lethal as a chest-bursting time raptor.
New Line Cinema
What we're trying to say is that a lot of bad decisions went into making The Butterfly Effect.
Even non-terrible films like Pan's Labyrinth might use a nosebleed to tell us how dead people are. The movie is a tornado of eyeballs and goo, and it's not clear what the rules are or what happens at the end. Until you see Ophelia's nose bleed. Then you know, without question, that girl's dead.
No medicine on Earth can bring back a movie character from a nosebleed.
When Naomi Watts watches the cursed video in The Ring and she's doomed to die in a week, the movie lets us know this isn't some hoax or prank or hallucination. They give her a nosebleed to make it clear that YES, she's about to die from the curse of a very real ghost girl murderer. And when she manages to escape the curse, the movie can reassure us it worked by having her nose stop bleeding.
You see how handy it is?
If you don't have the budget for all that nose blood, you can also mark your characters for death with a cough. Coughing, as you may know, is quite ordinary in real life. In fact, it's so ordinary that we literally treat it with candy. But in a film, a cough is certain doom. If you see a character coughing for any reason other than being bad at weed, the editor might as well skip right to their funeral scene. As soon as a cough left Nicole Kidman's lips in Moulin Rouge, you knew she was dead. And you were confident Doc Holliday was going to win every gunfight in Tombstone because once he coughed, you knew that was going to be his cause of death.
For more tropes that probably need a break, check out 18 Baffling Tropes Hollywood Can't Stop Using and 6 Absurd Action Tropes You Never Noticed And Can't Unsee.
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