There’s nothing better for screenwriters than conjuring that one line of great dialogue that jumps off of the page and imprints itself on anyone that reads their screenplay — or watches the eventual movie based on it.
Classic lines like I’ll be back, Show me the money, You make me want to be a better man, and It’s not the years, it’s the mileage stand out for a reason. They’re original, creative, and capture the moment so well.
These 35 lines below are the opposite of that. They represent clichéd and overused lines that screenwriters fall back on out of habit and lack of creativity. You’ve heard these lines spoken in endless movies and television series.
We’ve detailed the meaning behind the line of dialogue, along with some additional notes, and we’ve challenged writers with this little exercise. Take this list, copy and paste it into a document, and with each overused line of dialogue listed below, write at least a couple better versions that you can utilize in your scripts.
Feel free to share your alternative versions in the comments section if you’d like.
1. “We’ve got company!”
This is usually uttered when the bad guys appear.
2. “Don’t die on me!”
A character is severely hurt during or after an action sequence while the other is trying to save them in an emotional moment.
3. “(S)he’s behind me, isn’t (s)he?”
A character thinks they are privately berating another to a group of friends or peers when that character notices them staring at what he or she realizes is the subject of conversation behind them.
4. “We can do this the easy way, or the hard way.”
This is a threat from one character to another — usually from protagonist to antagonist.
5. “You just don’t get it, do you?”
This usually comes before a character’s explanation of their point of view of the situation.
6. “You look like shit.”
Often used when one character has had a horrible day and comes back, well, looking like shit.
7. “____ is my middle name.”
Insert any cliché term like danger, action, etc.
8. “If you touch one hair on his/her head…”
The antagonist has the protagonist’s loved one as a hostage or has threatened to do so. This line is usually used over a radio or phone, but has been uttered in person as well.
9. “There’s a storm coming.”
This phrase is often used at the turn of the second or third act in a script, denoting the coming conflict, danger, or opposition.
10. “Yeah, you better run!”
A character uses this line egotistically when a threat has decided to walk away, only to look back upon hearing the line as the character that unwisely uttered it backs away in fear.
11. “Is that all you’ve got?”
A line utilized to either showcase toughness or skill — or used for ironic comedy after a weak character has showcased a lack of toughness or skill.
12. “It’s/she’s gonna blow!”
For some reason, writers feel the need to have a character scream this before something blows up.
13. “If I’m not back in X minutes...”
One of the worst lines used in many action and thriller movies. The character states that if they’re not back in X minutes, the other character(s) should assume they’re dead or not coming back — thus a different course of action should be taken. It goes against all logic.
14. “Get outta there!”
Much like when an explosion is going to happen and a character screams X is gonna blow, this line is utilized in similar fashion. While it’s more forgivable than most others here, there still has to be a better version of it.
15. “I could tell you, but I’d have to kill you.”
Whether this line grew in popularity from Top Gun or something before it, the line is overly utilized in a wide variety of movies. It’s mostly now used in an attempt at comedy.
16. “It’s not what it looks like.”
A character has been caught in an embarrassing situation. Sometimes it’s exactly what it looks like and sometimes it’s not. Either way, it’s an overused line and perfect example of lack of creativity when used.
17. “We’re not so different, you and I.”
Often spoken by the antagonist as they square off against the protagonist. The irony is that in screenwriting, that’s exactly what should happen between the two. A good antagonist or villain should showcase similarities with the hero, but as spoken dialogue it plays as too on-the-nose.
18. “Sit down and shut up.”
Utilized in many variations, but often when one character is about to lecture the other.
19. “Don’t do anything stupid.”
Used in many genres, often from an authority figure. Movie characters are movie characters. If they didn’t do anything stupid, there wouldn’t be a movie.
20. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
A character has the upper hand as their foe considers taking action in retaliation.
21. “Try me.”
A character states that another character wouldn’t understand something or wouldn’t be able to undertake a certain task. That character in question accepts the challenge.
22. “I was born ready.”
An overly used and clichéd response to, “Are you ready?”
23. “Cover me. I’m going in.”
Overly used in action sequences. Better to do some research and utilize tactical jargon that military or law enforcement would use. “Cover!” “Cover fire!”
24. “How hard can it be?”
A question that turns into irony as it is followed by proof of how hard it can really be.
25. “Did I just say that out loud?”
A character blurts out something that clearly should have been filtered, leading to moments of embarrassment. It’s a cliché often used in comedies.
26. “I have a bad feeling about this.”
A line said multiple times in every Star Wars movie, which then carried over to many, many movies after that. It has been used so many times, it’s stopped being clever, witty, or worthy as dialogue.
27. “Let’s get outta here.”
Sure, it’s more harmless than others. However, if you see a compilation of this line from movies, it will surely begin to get under your skin, just like it does for script readers that read the line endlessly.
28. “Okay, here’s what we do . . . [and cut to a different scene]”
Usually used to introduce a montage. While it can be a cinematic tool, there has to be a better way to introduce a montage.
The term is now widely used to break tension with comedic results, however it has been so overused that yes, it has become, “Awkward!”
30. “In English, please.”
A character uses technical jargon to explain something when others clearly need the layman’s terms. It’s often used for a laugh, but has been so overused that you can often hear the metaphorical crickets after the line is spoken.
31. “Shut up and kiss me.”
It’s meant to be titillating to some. In other cases, it’s merely used when a character is trying to explain themselves to a love interest only to be surprised when that love interest clearly forgives them and cuts to the chase.
32. “I’m getting too old for this shit.”
Perhaps we can blame Lethal Weapon‘s Murthaugh for making this line iconic — or we blame the endless screenwriters that used it over and over themselves after watching that movie.
33. “That’s what I’m talking about!”
A useless line characters use when they’ve accomplished something or something blows up.
34. “It’s quiet. Too quiet.”
Perhaps one of the most overused lines in cinematic history. At first it was used in thrillers with a serious tone. Now it’s often utilized for a laugh because of the cliché it has become.
35. “You’re acting like a crazy person.”
Perhaps the one line most won’t remember as overused until they start hearing it in endless TV shows and movies (this is the one I personally hate the most).
It is used when one character is acting erratic, frantic, or goofy. The other character (usually female) witnessing this behavior utters this line that no one in the real world has ever said to another. Instead, we say you’re being an idiot, you’re crazy, you’re insane, etc. We don’t know where this line originated and why screenwriters feel the need to use it time and time again, but we hope that they stop.
More from ScreenCraft:
50 Words and Phrases That Screenwriters Get Wrong
The Secret Screenwriting Themes Behind All Pixar Movies
This Post originally appeared on the blog ScreenCraft. ScreenCraft is dedicated to helping screenwriters and filmmakers succeed through educational events, screenwriting competitions and the annual ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship program, connecting screenwriters with agents, managers and Hollywood producers. Follow ScreenCraft on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.