All right, you and your friends are hitting up that new monster movie at the theater. You're ready to see some carnage. Some death. Some crazy special effects. The film is sure to be packed full of it.
Except you have to wait 20 minutes to actually get to that part. No, the director has decided to introduce you to a ragtag bunch ofhip kidsaged 16 to 27 who are all experiencing relationship drama and personal issues and family problems which they're going to clumsily cover in 20 minutes. The idea here is to use Character Development to try to make the audience identify with the future victims more, so the audience will be more affected when they die.
Problems often arise when the audience simply doesn't care about their personal issues. Some viewers are Just Here for Godzilla, in which case they have to sit through the tedium of introductions for characters they know are going to start dropping like flies. (After all, viewers are going to be able to guess which characters won't make it through anyway, so why should they care about them?) Other viewers might actually like to see some character development, but they tend to be disappointed too, because the development here is usually pretty sloppy and rushed. And, of course, if the characters aren't very likeable, it's going to be twenty minutes of impatient waiting for the monster to come along and start killing off the insufferable jerks.
This trope is not confined to film, however, and can frequently be seen in the likes of mystery literature or television series.
Often overlaps with the audience Just Here for Godzilla, and, in video games, Scenic Tour Level and Play the Game, Skip the Story. Averted with Starring Special Effects, which puts the thing everyone's here to see front and center as the star.
Compare with the Sacrificial Lamb, a genuinely sympathetic innocentvictim. Also contrast the Sacrificial Lion, a straight-up main character who still ends up dead. Compare and contrast the Mauve Shirt, who is expected to be just plain old Cannon Fodder and ends up with enough character development to live through at least an arc, if not the whole series/book/movie. Also compare Hate Sink, who is often doomed and always has the kind of character development that gives the audience a reason to hate him and be glad when he meets his doom.
Done well in Bokurano. Deconstruction aside, it is essentially a Super Robot show, but still insists on spending an episode or two developing each character even after we know for a fact that they will certainly die, which just makes everything so much more tragic.
Seven Soldiers #0 featured a team of largely new, never-before-seen heroes assembled to fight a huge threat. After all the characterization that 24 pages could take, they were all slaughtered. Surprisingly, this has some bearing on the plot of the miniseries that follow — for instance, the Bulleteer was the missing member of the doomed team, and does some research into what went wrong.
Films - Horror
Hostel is more like 60 minutes with jerks as it's pretty much only the very end that has any horror at all.
Cabin Fever, also by Eli Roth, uses the trope, though it doesn't take that long for our canon fodder to get The Virus due to a classic case of old school horror movie Idiot Ball.
A common complaint about Cloverfield is that the first twenty minutes are spent watching the main characters throw a party. The point is to show why they would travel across Manhattan to save someone, but the characters are so bland.
The Prom Night 2008 remake had some murder, then twenty minutes of Developing Doomed Characters, then a murder, then another twenty minutes Developing Doomed Characters, then a murder, then... The killer was picking off the characters while they were alone and the incompetent police didn't see a need to raise the alarm, so the protagonist only realized something was wrong near the end of the movie. It's even worse in the original.
The Friday the 13th series of films falls into this trap a lot, due to its general style. Each of the teenagers is hunted down one by one, with none of the others generally being the wiser as time goes by. Thus, the effect becomes a series of murders, interspersed with five minute segments of jerks.
The remake is especially egregious, as it makes you go through this twice.
Freddy vs. Jason shows the audience warmed-over teenage drama for a large part of the movie, instead of Freddy Krueger and Jason Vorhees fighting each other.
Taken to an absurd degree with Death Proof which had 45 minutes with jerks... and then 30 minutes with some simply more Badass (and thus entertaining) jerks.
Neil Marshal's The Descent made this work with some good tension between the characters and some genuinely scary scenes of spelunking.
It takes a very long while for an actual alien to appear in Alien, but it all works because the characters are interesting and interact in a setting that's interesting even before the alien.
Predators has the audience wait 45 minutes to see a Predator. But like Alien (which also took long to reveal the alien), it tries to develop the characters, and has both Scenery Porn and some tense scenes (e.g. an attack by "hunting dogs") to make the waiting worthwhile.
Averted in Feast: while the 99% Red Shirt cast are indeed an assorted bunch of jerks, time that would otherwise be wasted introducing their personalities is supplanted by a quickie on-screen caption for each.
Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds opens with an extended soap-operaish romance. While many agree that it works, being Hitchcock, the viewers who know the basic plot can be a little anxious for Hitchcock to get on to the bird attacks.
Hitchcock also did this with Psycho. Audiences were led to believe that the film was all about Marion Crane...until she had that unfortunate incident in the shower.
The Evil Dead, with its 30-minute buildup to the horror, is sometimes given the dubious honor of creating this horror trope. The sequels, however, avert the trope in increasingly drastic ways: Evil Dead 2 recaps the first movie's plot in about ten minutes before jumping straight into the action, while Army of Darkness starts In Medias Res, followed by a quick flashback sequence explaining how Ash ended up a prisoner in the middle ages.
It's at least 45 minutes into Alien vs. Predator before either an alien or a Predator is seen, except in momentary flashbacks.
In Cujo, there is a half-hour wait between Cujo getting bitten and going rabid. In the meantime the audience gets to watch two families with problems that will soon seem trivial in comparison. This was at least honest to Stephen King's story.
The Happening spends its time split between the protagonists running from a mysterious suicide epidemic and bickering about whether or not Zoe Deschanel's character is cheating on her husband. At least when that particular thing is resolved, the movie has the grace to acknowledge how dumb it was.
In Skyline, the aliens take a long time to just attack already.
Audition is all about this trope, spending most of the film very slowly drawing back the curtain of horror until the bigfinale.
Wolf Creek and Wrong Turn, two movies that give the lie to the idea that good horror depends on character development: they feature characters who are more or less unlikable, faced with horrors that one would not want to see inflicted on anyone.
May, in which the eponymous character is much more sympathetic than likable; and is largely sympathetic because she's so surrounded by jerks.
Catacombs hasn't just 20 Minutes with any Jerks, but with french Jerks! And P!nk...
Spoofed in Shaun Of The Dead. The Zombie Apocalypse has actually started right from the opening scene, but no one notices due to either self-absorption, idiocy or the fact that the zombies staggering around the streets arenít incredibly different from everyday people doing everyday things, making it hard to tell the difference between a coffee-deprived nine-to-fiver and an undead monster or precisely when the former has become the latter. This also actually works to foreshadow both the main characterís Character Development and his at-that-point dormant potential and leadership qualities, as numerous times he notices something very odd and seems be just on the verge of working out exactly whatís going on... only for something to distract him before it clicks and make him lose his train of thought. The first morning after the apocalypse is in full-swing, the protagonist takes a casual stroll down a street littered with zombies to the corner shop for coffee and walks back without noticing a thing.
While the earlier Halloween movies aren't so bad, the later ones revolve around the typically unlikable, rebellious teens with teen issues that are standard in many slasher flicks. In fact, Michael Myer's killings come off as more of a background issue to the love-triangles and teen angst of the protagonists.
In the 2007 remake it takes about 20 minutes for Michael to kill a human, and this is before we get to the present day.
Lockjaw takes this to the extreme. How? Well, the trigger incident is them running over someone's wife and not even knowing what they hit, let alone knowing if they hit anything at all. This makes the person sicking the eponymous monster to kill them much more likeable compared to these Asshole Victims.
The Ruins follows this trope to the letter, taking almost exactly 20 minutes. And goes above and beyond when it comes to the "jerks" part.
The Cabin In The Woods subverts the whole "jerks" aspect of the plot, which is standard in slashers. Curtis's introduction makes him look like a typical Jerk Jock, only for him to make a joke and give some helpful academic advice. Overall, the main characters are all likeable people.
Until they are artificially turned into jerks by means of chemical pheromones for the benefit of the Eldritch Abominations watching.
The Haunted Mansion has about 15 minutes establishing Eddie Murphy's character as an obnoxious workaholic to go between the prologue and the family arriving at the house.
247 F pretends it's going to subvert this by starting with an accident in the first minute, but, no dice; we know that's not the event we came in to see if we've seen so much as the film's poster. Instead we have to suffer through 32 minutes of film tedium before the main disaster begins. (And the film's only 87 minutes total.)
Gosford Park is both an extreme example and proof that Tropes Are Not Bad— it's a two and a half hour murder mystery where the murder doesn't take place until nearly two hours in, but the screenplay won an Oscar.
Many Transformers fans accuse the 2007 Michael Bay movie of this with everyone who isn't Lennox or Epps. However, this is generally par for the course in the franchise. The sequels were even more slammed for this.
Neil Marshal's Dog Soldiers does this by necessity, considering the budget limitations on showing the werewolves too often, but actually makes the squaddies pretty likeable.
Battle: Los Angeles uses this, but lessens the annoyance by taking the time to get us acquainted with the main characters. For example, a Marine getting ready to retire, New Meat having a good time, an officer saying goodbye to his wife, and a soldier remembering his fallen brother.
Averted in Re Animator. The crew thought it was taking too damn long to get to the good stuff, and so filmed what would be the first scene after the rest of the movie was already done to set up the proper tone of the movie. Two minutes in we see a reanimated corpse go berserk, and then its eyes swell up and explode all over some poor woman's face. Incredibly, this is one of the less outrageous scenes in the movie.
Peter Jackson's King Kong spends a full hour and a half just getting to the island where King Kong lives. The more interesting half of the cast are the ones that die.
Which lead to Tripod's song "King Kong", featuring the line "Get to the fucking monkey!"
While the 1998 Godzilla movie does present a few scenes of Godzilla sightings at the beginning, it still takes a good half hour until he shows up, and until then you had to watch a spineless New Yorker complain about her career. And once Godzilla shows up and then keeps 'hiding' during parts of the movie, guess what? More of a spineless New Yorker, except now you get to watch her screw everything up and have an awkward re-kindling with her ex-boyfriend.
In fact even in the Japanese Godzilla movies, the first act of whatever movie one happens to currently be watching often falls into this trope.
Twister shares half its plot with gigantic tornadoes and the other half with a divorced couple constantly arguing over every little thing before inevitably getting back together. And a smaller fraction devoted to the Hate Sink Jonas, because you need someone to boo, and can't really hate tornadoes (although part of the heroine's backstory is that she does, so to speak).
One of the criticisms of the Doom movie is that it has too many talking Space Marines followed by too little demons for about 20 minutes.
2012 gives the impression that it know exactly what kind of movie it is and why the audience is there, by dashing through the science, quickly sketching the characters (unsuccessful author, his kids, ex-wife and her more successful husband; Russian tycoon with bratty sons, young sexy girlfriend and colder wife; the President, his daughter and the Vice President; the science expert who alerts the White House, the Indian scientists and the Tibetan family in the Himalayas) and then getting down to its explosive business.
The Michael Bay version of Pearl Harbor has the attacks as the setting for a drama story, rather than the actual subject of the film.
According to one critic, the Japanese launched a sneak attack on an American love triangle.
Every disaster movie either done or inspired by Irwin Allen. The Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure, The Swarm, and every one of the Airport movies, all featured a random group of people who would be trapped together in the disaster, which usually didn't happen until past the mid-point of the movie.
Done well in Iron Man, as it opens with the attack on Tony Stark's Humvee, then flashes back to twenty minutes of how he got there. This works due to how fun it is to watch Robert Downey Jr. act like a dick.
Minor cult hit Outpost manages to pull this off: The characters are all badass anti-hero mercenaries from various walks of life, making them actually interesting in their own right. They could've gotten away with double the time spent developing the characters before the inevitable grisly death and it wouldn't have been boring.
My Soul to Take. To quote from this review: "The first half of the movie is devoted to the weird hierarchy at Bugís high school, where a mean girl named Fang (Emily Meade) rules with an iron fist and doles out punishments to lesser students — none of which has anything to do with anything."
Everyone knows that It's a Wonderful Life is about a guy who hits rock bottom, wishes he'd never been born, and is shown how much worse the world would be without him by a Guardian Entity. But if you haven't seen the movie, and just think you know what happens in it, you may not know that those events don't happen until roughly ninety minutes in. Everything up to that point is just to reinforce that George really is a wonderful guy, lay the contents of a small armory on the mantelpiece, and hammer home the premise.
Batman Begins does something like this — it's about an hour before Batman even shows up, and most of the preceding time spent watching Bruce Wayne angst about his parents and gradually develop the skills that will enable him to become Batman.
Reservoir Dogs basically begins as a funny comedy set in a diner about the mores and opinions of a bunch of easy-going-looking guys. Then, jumpcut to Tim Roth shot in the gut and it's off to the races...
The Perfect Storm takes much time to show the regular life of the Andrea Gail before the storm actually starts. This trope is far more excusable with stuff Based on a True Story, since it helps you get to know a little bit about the people who actually lost their lives for real.
'Terkel In Trouble spends a lot of time establishing the characters in Terkel's life, despite the fact that the Narrator has already introduced us to his mother, father, sister, and best friend. As a result, a lot of the film before Terkal sits on the spider is Big Lipped Alligator Moment after Big Lipped Alligator Moment - songs, a pointless scene where Terkal gets spooked in the toilets (which only really serves to show how easily scared he is, something we definitely see firmer evidence of later on), a pointless scene where Terkal and his friend watch a gory horror film (which serves to establish how spineless Terkal is, which we see firmer evidence of later on), and so on. It's not until after the wedding scene half an hour in that the plot really starts, and once Terkal is doing things it's a lot easier to care about him.
Melancholia treat us to 125 (first) minutes of dialogues and evolving characters angstyness, and to 5 (last) minutes of actual disaster.
Nudies have used this trope as well:
In "Nude on the Moon", it's 15 minutes before they land on the moon and see the naked cuties.
In "Queen of Outer Space", it's 15 minutes before they even roll the credits and longer before you see the mini-skirted cuties on Venus.
In the first Planet of the Apes movie, its at least half hour until we encounter the title characters, and all but one of the humans you meet till then either end up dead or worse lobotomized.
It takes 40 minutes for the characters to get to Neverland in Hook; most of the time is spent establishing and reestablishing that Peter Banning is a distracted killjoy dad who doesn't believe in anything fantastic, much less that he is actually Peter Pan.
Parodied on Airplane! with the sad but boring saga of Ted and Elaine's doomed relationship.
It takes about 700 pages for the hero of Atlas Shrugged, John Galt, to show up. It takes about 400 pages for some of the instigating action to take place. That first portion of the book is taken up with introducing the characters, establishing just how bad the "looters" are and setting the stage for their truly awful deeds.
The first half of The Great Gatsby is mostly composed of episodic chapters that serve to introduce us to the main characters. The actual plot is kicked into gear when Gatsby requests that Nick set up a private meeting for himself and Daisy. Arguably justified in that Fitzgerald is aiming to paint these characters in a negative light and does so quite successfully.
As pointed out in the film section, Stephen King can fall into this. Sometimes creating an Anyone Can Die atmosphere requires giving enough attention to everyone that they look like they could be the main characters - however, this means a good deal of pages are spent on the not-relevant-to-the-plot-in-any-way life stories of people who only exist to become Redshirts not too far down the line.
King himself acknowledged that he hardly ever plans out a plot for his novels or stories in detail (The Dead Zone is the most notable exception), preferring instead to place a group of characters in a situation and see what happens.
Jack McDevitt loves to do this, often interrupting the action to do so. In Moonfall, as a shuttle is doomed he takes a moment to give a minor character's back story - then he dies and isn't brought up again.
Harry Turtledove is noted for this, especially in his Timeline-191 series, where multiple characters are developed over several volumes only to be killed by random events (some of them quite mundane such as blood poisoning or heart attack), their deaths not affecting the plot in the least.
Dan Abnett does this a lot, especially in the Gaunt's Ghosts series, both with the Ghosts themselves to establish that Anyone Can Die and with one-off characters to humanize people who are about to die horribly, regardless of which side they're on. War Is Hell, anyone?
Actually, now that I think about it, the entire point of the Gaunt's Ghosts series is that EVERY developed character is doomed...
The Goosebumps series can have some particularly interesting plotlines and villains, but the majority of a book usually focuses far too much on kids doing goofy things until the scary stuff happens.
Charlie And The Chocolate Factory doesn't actually get to the factory until the 1/3 mark because it has to establish the legend of Willy Wonka, the Serious Business of the Golden Ticket contest, and the personalities of the five kids who find the tickets, and both movie adaptations follow suit. (In fact, the reason the 1971 version's "Cheer Up, Charlie" is often a Cut Song in commercial TV airings is because the director thought Charlie's situation/personality was well-established by that point, but he wasn't able to cut it from the theatrical release.)
A Star Wars Expanded Universe horror novel Red Havest spends several chapters on daily lives of students in the Academy where the outbreak of Zombie virus later happens. What makes it even worse than other horror examples is that because it's a Sith Academy Every. Single. Character. is an Asshole Victim.
Live Action TV
Some Power Rangers seasons have the Rangers get their Powers in the First Episode, but others wait for the second while they build the story up. Maybe not the worst offender, but when you're a little kid, chances are you're more interested in seeing the super heroes in the colorful suits than seeing the story set up.
Done interestingly in Power Rangers RPM where they introduce the story and (most) of the main characters, but then jumps straight into the action without showing how the core three Rangers got their morphers from Dr. K. Even so, there's a lot of setup and action going on before then. Later episodes would devote themselves to flashbacks explaining how they got to where they were in the premiŤre.
Similarly, Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger also pulled off what RPM did and have the characters already having their powers by the time the show starts, and as it progressed, it showed the backstories and how the heroes became pirates. Well... Except for Doc.
Gokaiger really spaced things out; we didn't find out how Ahim joined the crew until Episode 41 out of 51. Overall it works, mainly because the characters are fun and interesting even without getting into their backstories, especially Doc.
The TV adaptation of the Agatha Christie story Dumb Witness forces the audience to sit through 40 minutes of nothing but wall-to-wall upper-class twits bickering about breaking the water-speed record before the first of the resident jerks has the decency to die. And then Poirot wastes another half-hour attending seances and dicking around with the murder victim's dog before the next corpse shows up.
This aversion could, in a way, be considered an aversion to an aversion. While it remains to be seen how the TV adaptation plays out, the comic is in no way about the zombies or awesome head-blasting action, but rather is focused on the characters and how they deal with the new world they find themselves in. Many issues have no zombies at all.
Dead Set. Partially justified as the story is set in a Reality TV Show Mansion and so the characters really are jerks, being the contestants selected deliberately to antagonise each other to make better television. However, this trope arguably works better for establishing affection towards the contestants (like Brainless Beauty Pippa, Wholesome Crossdresser Grayson and Deadpan Snarker Joplin) than it does for The Determinator Kelly, for whom we are introduced to her love life, friends, work-related woes, Pointy-Haired Boss, celebrity friends, etc., long before she does any of the actual Determinating which makes her so awesome.
Also partially justified in that this is a Necessary Weasel for Reality TV in general. After all, someone will be eliminated first, and we're supposed to be sorry (or in some cases gleeful) to see them go.
Pretty much standard operating procedure for TV mystery shows like Perry Mason and Murder, She Wrote. We're introduced to the eventual victim and suspects in order to establish why the person dies and why everyone wants him/her dead.
Done cleverly in the 2005 adaptation of Bleak House, with the character Nemo. He is played by John Lynch, and has several scenes in the first episode that give the impression his story will be developing alongside the other main characters introduced, so it comes as a bit of a shock to viewers new to the story when he drops dead at the end of episode one. This is in contrast to the book where he starts out essentially as a Posthumous Character.
Doctor Who classic: To veteran fans, "War Games" is the one that introduces the Time Lords, establishes the Doctor as an alien, and ends both the Second Doctor's appearance and two very likable companions... in the very last few minutes of a ten-parter serial. That's more than four hours of interaction with villains and allies that end up brushed under the carpet.
At many concerts, the opening act or the band on a double bill playing before the one you wanted to see can seem like this if you're not a fan.
Theater example: the musical Jekyll & Hyde. There is no romantic subplot of any kind in Robert Louis Stevenson's original story, but thanks to Lost In Imitation this version has two. Early on there is a lengthy scene at Jekyll and his fiance Emma's engagement party ( the Board of Governors members there, save for Emma's dad, will all be killed by Hyde by show's end); after that he pays a visit to a seedy nightclub and encounters performer/prostitute Lucy. Thus Hyde doesn't show up until about 13 songs into Act One. The show continues to focus more on the two women's relationships with the protagonist and his alter ego than his murderous rampage. Talk about a Romantic Plot Tumor!
The Colonels Bequest (and its sequel) opens up with a long list of unlikeable stock characters and their cliched interrelation dramas, affairs, blackmails and so forth. You get points for discovering every little detail about these through spying on them; however, none of it matters even one bit as soon as people start dying like mayflies. By the end of the game, all of the cast except two are dead, and none of that can be prevented.
Quest For Glory V also does this. The game plot opens with a contest between five candidates (including the protagonist) who have to take a series of trials so that the best of them will become king. Most of the other candidates prove to be irrelevant as they end up dying in a way you cannot prevent, and the trials turn out to irrelevant when the hidden enemy starts summoning the titular dragon. By the end of the game, you become king by virtue of having slain the dragon, and the whole trials are quietly dropped.
The beginning of Xenogears does not even attempt to hide the doomedness of Fei's Doomed Home Town, but all the same the first couple hours are spent exploring the sleepy farming village of Lahan, speaking to its quirky inhabitants, doing tutorials and meeting Fei's friends and adoptive family. Thanks to the charming dialogue, colorful art design and delightfully catchy background music, this works surprisingly well, so that when the inevitable catastrophe rolls around the average player will feel a genuine sense of loss.
Most of the first half of Ultima VII Serpents Isle is spent traveling through the three towns of Monitor, Fawn, and Moonshade, with lengthy plots in each one exploring their politics and relationship to both the Britannian and Ophidian virtues. Great effort goes into making you care about the Non-Player Character residents and sympathize with their problems. Then virtually everyone on Serpent's Isle gets slaughtered offscreen by the Banes. According to Word Of God, it was the only way they could get the game on store shelves by the deadline.
Subverted at the beginning of Far Cry 3, where the story begins by showing a group of young rich kids joking around, drinking and generally being insufferable...only for the camera to pan out and reveal it all as a movie being played on a smartphone, the owner of which is locked in a dingy cave, being taunted by the human trafficking pirate that's kidnapped them all.
Vaas: I really like this phone. This is a nice phone.
The last is an interesting example, as Carver and Bethany are developed equally. Whichever dies, is this trope. Whichever doesn't, continues development.
Zoe's college friends fill this role in the Sluggy Freelance horror spoof "KITTEN." Surprisingly, about a third of them end up surviving (at least until KITTEN II), though only main characters Torg and Zoe escape without being mauled, going catatonic, or becoming Satan's concubine.
The Survival of the Fittest 'Pregames'. A variation in that its purpose is to establish relationships and set up storylines for the island itself - as well as flesh out the characters. However, ultimately Pregame amounts to a delay between the start of the next game - something which a number of handlers dislike. They want to skip straight to the killing!
Unskippable mocks video games that start out with five-to-ten minutes with jerks before pressing buttons starts to matter.
The Stardancerseries in the Chakat Universe, SO MUCH. For the uninitiated, this is one of the most dark, disturbing tales in the Chakat Universe, a tale of what is very nearly a first contact worst case scenario. Many characters are introduced, and even well developed, just to die in the chapter they appear in, but quite a few are around for multiple chapters, and in one case from the beginning, but are eventually killed off for real, often in horrible ways such as having their escape pod crushed or being sucked into space.
Everyman HYBRID has a weird take on this. At first, it looks like Marble Hornets-lite, with the Slender Man making painfully obvious background appearances while the cast talk about diet tips and workout routines. Then someone else wearing a very convincing Slender Man outfit shows up, and you find out that it was an in-universe ripoff that has now been gatecrashed by the real deal. The rest of the series is more dialogue-heavy than any other Slender-story on Youtube, but from that point on the characters are actually talking about relevant stuff.
Pheloushates these type of characters, particular the cliche in horror of obnoxious teens who like to party! This is also why he often refuses to refer to characters by name.
His favorite character in Crocodile? Princess the tiny white dog. He very explicitly hated everyone else.
Especially called out in Cabin Fever where Phelous notes that by making the Jerk Assso much of a jerk you not only don't care about him, but lose sight of the other characters because you're just wondering when and how the jerk will die.
Film Brain and Welshy discussed this for Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning where Welshy refused to let Film Brain tell any of the victim characters' names, stating that they were just dead meat waiting to be slaughtered and should be treated as such by only being given numbers.
Think about it everyone will eventually die no matter what kind of great things happens to them.