Every film includes tropes. Sometimes, tropes are a welcome fit within a story to help it move forward. Then there’s the opposite: movies using tropes to be lazy, and applying them as crucial plot devices that cheapens the cinematic experience.

Tropes are especially parasitic in queer cinema or when movies involves queer characters. There are so many tropes that revolve around queerness that deserve to get the ax, but let’s focus on five that are used so often they practically leap off the screen and smack you in the face.

MRS. DOUBTFIRE AND THE GAY BEST FRIEND/FAMILY MEMBER TROPE

You know this one. The gay characters who are sure to be the comic relief with a great sense of fashion and heavily into or employed in the arts: musical theater, acting, dancing, or hair, and makeup. These characters usually exist in a world of mostly straight people and serve to further the story arc of the straight protagonist and don’t have any agency outside of that. The gay friend/family member is typically reserved for men, and Mrs. Doubtfire provides the perfect example of this. 

The film stars Robin Williams and Sally Field as Daniel and Miranda Hillard, a divorced couple who split custody of their three children. When Miranda finds Daniel doesn’t set enough boundaries for their kids, she restricts his custody by court order. To circumvent this, he runs to his gay brother Frank (Harvey Fierstein) for help. With top-notch makeup skills, his team turns Daniel into Mrs. Doubtfire, a fake elderly woman who eventually gets hired to babysit the Hillard children. 

In the transformation scene, when Daniel becomes Mrs. Doubtfire, we learn Frank and his boyfriend Jack (Scott Capurro) are skilled with makeup and prosthetics. The three sing various show tunes, crack jokes, and call each other honey. Once the signature look for Mrs. Doubtfire is complete, the two are never seen or heard from again.  

NURSE 3D AND THE PSYCHO LESBIAN TROPE

In this trope, the lead woman is insane. And also a lesbian. Her mania is peaked due to unrequited love from another female character, or revenge against men for wrongdoing. This is the case of Abby Russell (Paz de la Huerta) in Nurse 3D

Russell is a dedicated nurse with great boobside manner, but behind that wicked smile and inappropriate cleavage hides a serial killer of men. Her current obsession is newly hired nurse Danni Rodgers (Katrina Bowen). When Abby’s attempts to woo Danni don’t work, she drugs her and stages it to look like Danni cheated on her boyfriend, Steve (Corbin Bleu), hoping he’ll find out and dump her. As Abby becomes further unhinged, the bodies pile up and once Danni suspects Abby is the culprit, she becomes a target in her murdering spree.

There isn’t a specific scene to focus on here because the whole film is based around the psycho lesbian trope. Abby is a mentally unstable woman who murders men who cheat on their wives/girlfriends. By the end of the film, Abby is angry at the world for rejecting her, and everyone is a target. Then she moves on to the next town, and assumes a new identity in order to find another woman to obsess over. Because that’s all lesbians are in movies like this: obsessive, deranged killers.

THE ROOMMATE AND SITUATIONAL SEXUALITY TROPE

College freshman Sara Matthews finally meets her roommate, Rebecca. At first, the pair vibe well together, going out to parties, helping one another with homework, and sharing personal details about their lives. Sara notices Rebecca becoming consumed with her life, so she does some digging and discovers her roommate is supposed to be on antipsychotics, but refuses to take them. Rebecca will do anything to become Sara’s only friend, including killing people to make it happen. To get close to Sara, she uses her current best friend Irene in a case of situational sexuality.

Situational sexuality means featuring a character who engages in same-sex activities only to reach a goal. There’s no previous indication of the character being interested in same-sex relations until that one specific opportunity arises, usually to further the plot or achieve a unethical goal.

Sara cuts off all contact with Rebecca, so she needs a way to get back into her life. In a scene toward the end of the movie, she conveniently ends up in the same nightclub as Irene. While on the dance floor, the two lock eyes, and Irene walks seductively to the bathroom in hopes Sara will follow. Rebecca follows her into the bathroom, flirts with her, they make out, and then the two leave for Irene’s place. WTF. Even in all her lunacy, Rebecca never showed sexual feelings for Sara. Or for anyone. There is never an indication throughout the movie that she might be queer (she hardly interacts with anyone outside of Sara), which makes this scene dramatically jarring and gross.

ATOMIC BLONDE AND THE BURY YOUR GAYS TROPE

LGBTQ characters are often seen as expendable and die in service of a straight, cisgender protagonist. An overwhelming number of lesbian and bisexual women characters, most of whom are already poorly written, fall victim to this trope. One of the worst cases of this I’ve seen is in Atomic Blonde.

Atomic Blonde is based on the graphic novel The Coldest City by Antony Johnston. The film follows intelligence agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) as she travels through Berlin at the tail end of the Cold War. Broughton is on the radar of the KGB, the CIA, and French intelligence agent Delphine LaSalle (Sophia Boutella). Together with James Percival (James McAvoy), they race against time to obtain a top secret list of other operatives working in Europe before it ends up in the wrong hands. 

In all the fighting and chaos, Delphine and Lorraine become lovers – which is a death sentence for Delphine. She’s disposed of with extreme brutality and isn’t given much to do other than be a plot device for Lorraine’s advancement. She is one of the lesser and insignificant characters in the film, so you see this coming a mile away. Her death doesn’t invoke enough of a response for anyone to care beyond being a little annoyed at the inconvenience of it all.

X-MEN, MYSTIQUE, AND ADAPTATIONAL SEXUALITY TROPE

One of the most frustrating tropes out there is when a character’s sexuality is changed in a work’s adaptation from book to television or movies, often omitting queerness altogether. This is the case with Mystique in the rebooted X-Men film franchise.

When Rebecca Romijn took on the role of Mystique, she didn’t have any onscreen love interest. She was a femme fatale, a murderer, and nothing more. But at least in those early films, her purpose was bigger and closely linked to the comics. The later X-Men movies: X-Men: First Class, X-Men: Days Of Futures Past, X-Men: Apocalypse, and X-Men: Dark Phoenix include a characterization of Mystique (this time played by Jennifer Lawrence) that’s unrecognizable.

In the comics, Raven Darkhölme, aka Mystique, is a skilled assassin and shapeshifter who isn’t interested in protecting the interests of non-mutants. She’s cutthroat and villainous – a far cry from her heroic persona in the newer X-Men movies. 

In addition to her new personality attributes, her sexuality also differs from the comics. On the page, Mystique is canonically bisexual and sustained a long term, loving relationship with powerful psychic mutant Irene Adler, aka Destiny. In the movies, there isn’t a single mention of Mystique being anything other than straight. She engages in a relationship with Magneto (Michael Fassbender) in the films, but that’s all. Queer fans of the character pleaded via social media for the studio to change that, but it never happened. I suppose that’s just another reason why the new iteration of Mystique has been so boring.

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