10 Cringiest Sci-Fi Movie Tropes

Stills from Avatar, Star Wars, Don't Look Up

Both the avid watcher and a casual one would agree that science fiction movies have some recurring themes and elements that are emblematic of the genre. The seasoned viewer would also recognize that not all of them are good. Sci-fi is a genre that stretches the bounds of the imagination, which is why it’s a shame that so many cringey tropes manage to make it into many sci-fi movies.

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From Don’t Look Up to Star Wars, these themes have been used widely in a host of films. Now, they have become overused or just nonsensical, which is what makes them so cringey to watch. Movies that subverted these sci-fi tropes have stood out from a sea of those that have leaned into them heavily.



10 Humans Are Good, Aliens Are Bad

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Like many other genres, sci-fi tends to work in binaries. Humans are always made to look like the good, kind, and merciful race, while the aliens are always evil creatures waiting to destroy the Earth to some all-important end. It could be a natural resource that they’re trying to get their hands on, or even worse, there is no good reason for the bad aliens to do what they want to do.

Some of the greatest sci-fi rivalries have arisen from this stereotype, and it is something that cinema needs to leave behind. In reality, humans are probably always going to be the more evil of two races.

9 Trying To Apply Logic To Time Travel

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Neil talking to the Protagonist in Tenet movie ending

Time travel is one of the best sci-fi tropes of all time, as there is something quite thrilling about being able to revisit the past or jettison into the future on demand. What is tedious, though, is when movies like Tenet and Avengers: Endgame try to apply scientific logic to time travel to make it seem more legitimate.

The entire exercise is futile, since time travel is extraordinary and, as yet, impossible to do in the real world. There are so many mysteries attached to the ability to go back in time, that rationalizing it just takes out the fun and enigma from the activity for the audience.

8 Terrestrial Rules In Space Battles

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Dune Harkonnen Troops

Battles are always fun to watch for action lovers, and space battles are even more cinematic in nature. However, many movies completely ignore that the fight is taking place in space, which means that terrestrial laws of gravity, direction, suspension, and planes are simply not the same. Here, there is a chance to make the battle play out in surprising ways by following the laws of space.

Sadly, these skirmishes in the recesses of the galaxy are made identical to how they would look on Earth, on land. Movies like Dune built excellent sci-fi worlds but missed some opportunities when the otherworldly fights looked like run-of-the-mill earthly wars which are boring.

7 Unnecessary Tech To Replace Everyday Objects

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Luke and Anakin Skywalker pose with their lightsabers in Star Wars

While a lot of the appeal of sci-fi movies lies in everything looking futuristic and leveled-up, this cliché becomes ridiculous when audiences realize that most gizmos in these movies will run out of battery at some point.

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Beamy technology that replaces everyday objects looks cool, but is usually extremely impractical: lightsabers could die, and the prison that is a forcefield will be completely ineffective if the power goes out. Considering that a large part of the genre does rely on scientific explanations for fantastical events, the addition of sleek-looking tech without any thought is cringey.

6 Monocultural Alien Races

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Worf, a Klingon in Star Trek.

Several older sci-fi movies, as well as some newer ones, did not care to explore the complexities of a new alien race. Star Trek‘s Klingons were a warrior race who only lived to fight, while Doctor Who (the TV series has had TV movies and shorts) paints everyone from Daleks to Cybermen as people who live to exterminate and delete others.

Just as there is heterogeneity in humans, fans now want to see some nuance in alien races, too. It is lazy writing to make an entire people identical to one another, and an archaic trope that makes audiences cringe when they watch it.

5 Aliens Looking Like Humans, Especially The Ladies

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Gamora talking to Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War

Keeping humans as the template for every single race, including aliens from distant lands is dull, but many sci-fi movies are guilty of this. From Avatar to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, aliens are given the comfortable appearance of four limbs, a humanoid structure and faces, and viewers want more.

Science fiction is one of the most imaginative genres out there, and there is much enjoyment to be had from aliens that have different appearances and biological structures. Worse than humanoid aliens is when the lady aliens, like the MCU heroine Gamora, are conventionally beautiful.

4 Saving The Earth From An Asteroid

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Kate and Randall looking at the data

While not a terrible premise, the meteorite hurtling toward the Earth as a band of brave humans attempts to avert disaster has become a cliche that fans are exasperated with seeing. Armageddon may have been a thrilling watch, but Don’t Look Up was tiring because of how worn out this trope is.

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There have been way too many sci-fi movies that deal with this same storyline, and cinema may have used up all the possible endings to this story for a while. Unless someone revolutionizes the trope, the same disaster movie needs to be done away with.

3 Demonizing Science

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Bridge battle from rise of the planet of the apes

A recurring theme in sci-fi cinema seems to explore the dangers of acquiring “too much” knowledge, which leads to humans becoming too powerful and wreaking havoc upon mankind. Scientific thinking is not rewarded but painted as a curse to humanity, while those who are opposed to it are the heroes of the movie.

Not only is this formula an outdated one, but a fatal one to enforce on the screen. Science and technology have only furthered human progress, which is why it is folly to demonize rational thinking by perpetuating the mad scientist character and glorifying conspiracy theorists instead. The Monsterverse franchise is guilty of this.

2 Attributing History To Aliens

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Two men standing in the desert in Stargate

The genre does leave a lot to interpretation, but the worst cliché that has risen in sci-fi is attributing the achievements of ancient civilizations to aliens. These movies, like Stargate, only undermine human feats and efforts and are even worse when they take the creations of an ancient people of color and discover that an otherworldly race built it instead.

Again, it only encourages nonsensical conspiracy theories that have been prevalent for decades. It also seems quite racist to take away the accomplishments of brown or black people, implying that they couldn’t possibly have had it in them to build the world as they did.

1 Humans Using Only 10% Of Their Brains

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Scarlett Johansson as Lucy using her psychokinetic powers.

A trope that got popularized for a long time (and continues to be used) was that humans only use a part of their brains, around about ten percent, at least according to Lucy. This formula implies that humans would be superpowered if they actually used a hundred percent of their brains, and unlock abilities that they could only dream of.

While inoffensive, this trope is annoying because many viewers think that this is an actual fact, when it isn’t. It also doesn’t help that the movie is promoted in a way that encourages audiences to believe a highly inaccurate and unscientific piece of information.

NEXT: 13 Cringiest Superhero Tropes


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