Out of fairness, I destroy my favorite genre: thrillers

Daniel Craig put the studliness back into James Bond -- no more invisible cars and silly nonsense. Also, he is blond, and can kill you with a spoon.
Daniel Craig put grittiness into James Bond — no more invisible cars and silly nonsense. He makes you believe he could kill you with a spoon.

Top Ten Thriller Clichés

Act I: A wealthy, disfigured foreigner toils late into the night

1. The Villain of the Week is a wealthy, disfigured foreigner who (a) steals a nuclear warhead, (b) plans to kidnap the president or (c) discovers a lock of Hitler’s hair and is busy cloning the Führer.

2. The Standard Hero is tall, dark and deadly. He used to work for the government, wears anything as long as it’s black — wet suit, tuxedo or cat-burglar outfit — and solves every problem by beating it up, blowing it up or sleeping with it.

3. The Villain of the Week has an endless army of faceless minions except for two people: (a) the femme fatale, who has a special bond with our hero because her wardrobe is also exclusively black, just tighter, and (b) a giant, impossibly strong thug who never speaks and has a signature way of killing people.

Act II: The Standard Hero wakes from his slumber to blow things up

4. The hero is out of the business and cares nothing for money, but the state appeals to his patriotism — or the villain kills his wife/girlfriend.

5. Although our hero is a lone wolf, he must now work with a team, including (a) one beautiful young sidekick who knows kung fu almost as well as the Kama Sutra and (b) a science nerd who provides exploding pens and tech support. He will also have (c) a Bureaucratic Boss, who will suspend our hero, then turn out to be a mole working for the Villain of the Week.

6. If the president isn’t involved, the prime minister of Britain shows up, plus a politician involved in the conspiracy, who will either be a slick, greedy senator with a southern accent or an ancient and decadent member of the House of Lords.

7. Between car chases and explosions, the femme fatale tries to kill the hero, who bests her, making her decide to sleep with him. This is how you know she is doomed.

Act III: The Big Showdown ends in a fist fight; never mind all the guns

7. The hero infiltrates the villain’s lair with the help of the femme fatale, who betrays him. The villain doesn’t kill him right off. He delegates death-by-torture to the femme fatale, who sets the hero free, then turns bad again at the last minute so she can have a long catfight with the beautiful sidekick.

8. After our hero kills countless minions, he faces the invincible giant. The hero uses the invincible giant’s signature killing move against him.

9. Despite the carpet of dead thugs clutching AK-47s, the Villain of the Week decides to fight the hero bare handed as the lair self-destructs. The Standard Hero dispatches the villain by (a) tossing him down an endless chasm, (b) impaling him on a massive spike or (c) throwing him down a chasm that ends in a massive spike.

10. Nothing changes. Our hero doesn’t change or grow — he’ll be back for more in the sequel.The world doesn’t change. The average person in Cleveland has no idea anything happened at all.

13 thoughts on “Out of fairness, I destroy my favorite genre: thrillers

  1. “Between car chases and explosions, the femme fatale tries to kill the hero, who bests her, making her decide to sleep with him. This is how you know she is doomed.”

    Almost choked on my baby carrots from laughing so hard. Love the snarky look at thrillers!

  2. Cliches sell. Over and over and over. And let’s face it, every story has been told about a million times. The real trick, I think, is creating new and interesting characters.

  3. I like charts. I am a political scientist in real life. This means I live for charts. I would have babies with charts if I could manage it. Ross Perot is a sex object because of charts.

    But I digress.

    I love thrillers, though I tend toward old school Ludlum for my thriller fix. You mustn’t blame me – that is totally my father’s fault. They were the only thrillers in the house when I was growing up.

    Also, I can identify any Bond film in less than 30 seconds from any point in the film excepting the actual shot down the barrel. Where else would we romance novelists get names for our characters?

  4. Isn’t there some book that details/claims there are only seven plot lines out there and ALL books are a deviant of one of them?

    Wish I could remember where I read that – does anyone else know what book I’m talking about?

    Loved the breakdown, Epic. It was like reading a tear-down of every cheesy action film I’ve ever seen. Or good one I loved. Eh, I’m a fickle bitch.

      1. Aristotle: two plots — tragedies and comedies.
        Blake Snyder / SAVE THE CAT: 10 plots
        Recent book – 20 MASTER PLOTS
        Old book – 37 DRAMATIC SITUATIONS
        Robert McKee – “Well, it’s complicated.”

  5. Romance gets so much crap for having cliches when people don’t realize that other genres have them too. Thanks for the laugh!

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