5 Tired Movie & TV Tropes (That Don’t Really Exist)

These staples of pop culture are rarer than you think ...
5 Tired Movie & TV Tropes (That Don’t Really Exist)

As pop-culture addicts, we're obviously familiar with a ton of movie cliches, like horror victims claiming they'll "be right back," romantic hopefuls making a desperate plea in a crowded airport, or Kevin James not making us laugh for 90 minutes. But it turns out that even some tropes which we've all accepted as universally overused aren't really a thing, such as how ...

“Fortunate Son” Isn't in Every Vietnam Movie

Imagine a movie scene set during the Vietnam War -- okay, now what song is playing on the soundtrack? For a lot of us, it's probably "Fortunate Son," Creedence Clearwater Revival's blistering anti-war anthem about how the wealthy and privileged were able to avoid the draft. It's become such a predictable choice for Vietnam movies that there was even a whole Family Guy bit about the song's cinematic ubiquity.

Except … that's not really the case. Despite this public perception, the song never plays in the most famous of Vietnam movies like PlatoonFull Metal Jacket, or Aliens. From what we can tell, the only Vietnam movie that features "Fortunate Son" (with the exception of a documentary) is goddamn Forrest Gump. And because we were all brainwashed into thinking this was a good movie back in the '90s, the association stuck. 

"Fortunate Son" has since been used in Vietnam-set video games, but it was really just that one fleeting scene in terms of movies. There are other CCR songs in Vietnam movies, like "Suzie Q" in Apocalypse Now and a cover of "Born on the Bayou" in Born on the Fourth of July, but there's a good reason for that; CCR's frontman John Fogerty signed away his distribution and publishing rights (which he apparently later regretted doing) making the band's songs "readily obtainable" for music supervisors in the '80s and '90s. So while CCR tunes were used in some war films, they quickly became "nostalgic shorthand" for that time period in non-Vietnam stories as well. 

The Butler Almost Never “Did It”

We're all familiar with that old murder mystery staple: "The butler did it." And, to be fair, preparing meals and laundering the soiled underwear of some rich jerk is arguably one of the more justifiable motives for homicide. But despite the fact that this has become the go-to example of a whodunnit twist, it doesn't seem to have happened in many actual whodunnits. In all of the mystery legend Agatha Christie's books, for example, in only one of them did the butler turn out to be the murderer -- and even then, it was a butler who was disguised as someone else entirely. More famously, in the third ending of Clue, Wadsworth the butler's shown to be the first murderer -- but then reveals that he's not actually the butler.

Surprisingly the "butler did it" trope owes its origins, not to an actual literary trend, but a random book by a forgotten author that you've probably never heard of: 1930's The Door by Mary Roberts Rinehart. A novel which was hurriedly written to give her sons' new publishing company a bestseller. And even in 1930, despite it not happening in many stories, it was still considered hacky for mystery writers to pin the crime on butlers. Why? Because just two years before Rinehart's novel hit stores, art critic and mystery author S.S. Van Dine published his essay "Twenty Rules For Writing Detective Stories" in which he writes that: "A servant must not be chosen by the author as the culprit" because "it is a too easy solution."

Regardless, The Door was a huge hit at the time, and its success meant that the murderous butler became an "easy target for comedians and satirical writers" who "pounced … on the archetype." So the butler doing the crime became widely circulated in whodunnit parodies rather than an actual influence on the genre. 

"Redshirts" Weren't More Likely To Be Killed On Star Trek

One of the most famous unwritten rules of Star Trek -- other than "Admirals are universally evil," "the Holodeck is a goddamn death trap," and "Always wash your hands after touching Kirk" -- is, of course, that crew members in red uniforms are fatally doomed. Every time one of these so-called "redshirts" beams down to a planet's surface alongside the main crew, they end up being eaten by a slime monster or choked by a toxic alien daffodil.

In the recent past, this widely-acknowledged trope has become a key tenet of Trek-based humor and a real boon for the crappy merchandise industry. But the truth is, redshirts aren't suspiciously fatally doomed like Spinal Tap drummers or Kevin Spacey accusers. Star Trek fan and mathematician James Grime actually crunched the numbers and, statistically, being a redshirt on the Enterprise wasn't such a bad gig after all. Yes, we saw more redshirts die on screen, but that's because there were just way more officers in red uniforms. 

According to Grime's research, 25 redshirts died, but that's out of a population of 239 crew members in red uniforms, which is around 10%. On the other hand, just 10 goldshirts died over the course of the show, but there were only 55 on board, which is about 18%. So, if we go by the numbers, it was actually safer to be a redshirt than to wear a gold uniform. Although arguably no one was super-safe while hurtling through the black void of space in a ship commanded by a drunken sex fiend in a bad toupee. 

"The Call Is Coming From Inside The House" Wasn't a Common Twist

While it may not be so surprising today when phoning your partner from the bathroom after you've run out of toilet paper is common practice (right?!), one of the most famously chilling horror movie twists is that "The call is coming from inside the house!" But this particular plot wrinkle, a killer dialing up their victim while under the same roof, doesn't happen in many movies at all. The first example of this twist in a film doesn't even come from the movie we most associate with it, but rather Bob Clark's pre-Halloween yuletide slasher flick Black Christmas

The most famous reference point is 1979's When a Stranger Calls, featuring Carol Kane as a terrified babysitter which, like Black Christmas, took inspiration from an old 1960s urban legend seemingly derived from the "insecurity felt by adolescents as they are required to accept increasing responsibilities while making the transition to adulthood." But even in When a Stranger Calls, the iconic line isn't a big twist; it happens just 20 minutes into the movie.

Most of the story then takes place seven years and focuses on the now-escaped killer and the detective who's trying to bring him down. And when the film was later remade in 2006, the trailer straight-up used the twist's notoriety as a selling point in the trailer. 

While the urban legend may have led to various parodies over the years, it's really just in a very small number of movies.

Scores of Cops Haven't Been Murdered Two Days Before Retirement

Most cop movies are basically overflowing landfills of familiar cliches; how many times have we seen two mismatched oddballs teamed up as partners? Or a hot-headed rogue turn in their gun and badge? One of the most lampooned cop movie beats is the partner who gets killed just two days before their retirement; it's been referenced multiple times on The Simpsons, most famously in a scene from McBain.

And in Last Action Hero's movie-within-a-movie, Arnold Schwarzenegger watches helplessly as a cop similarly bites it with only two days before packing it in and collecting their gold watch.

Columbia Pictures

Columbia Pictures

But this doesn't seem to happen in many movies. Both The Simpsons and Last Action Hero seem to be riffing on the Lethal Weapon movies, where Danny Glover's Roger Murtaugh is in a perpetual state of near-retirement and suffering from a case Too-old-for-this-shit-itis. But barring some kind of wild Sixth Sense-esque fan theory, we're pretty sure Murtaugh never dies at any point in the series. The only movie we can think of where the partner dies after telegraphing his imminent retirement plans is William Friedkin's To Live and Die in L.A. -- which isn't even about cops exactly; it's about secret service agents hunting counterfeiters. 

In retrospect, it seems like it was more of a crime movie trope, with crooks agreeing to "one more job" before retirement, only to have it blow up in their faces like a common vagina-scented candle.

You (yes, you) should follow JM on Twitter! And check out the podcast Rewatchability.

Top Image: Paramount Pictures

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