Follow TV Tropes


Film / Scream

Go To
"Do you like scary movies?"

"Someone has taken their love of scary movies one step too far."
— Tagline

In 1996, director Wes Craven (of A Nightmare on Elm Street fame) and writer Kevin Williamson (who would go on to make Dawson's Creek and The Vampire Diaries) decided to make the ultimate slasher movie, Scream.

A peaceful town in California turns into a bloodbath when a masked killer begins to wreak havoc all over town. Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), a young teenage girl whose mother was killed a year before, becomes a target of the masked killer; her boyfriend Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich) and her father soon become the main suspects. Local tabloid news reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) and Woodsboro police deputy Dwight "Dewey" Riley (David Arquette) investigate and try to figure out the killer's identity - and if they killed Sid's mom the year before.

Scream and its sequels set themselves apart from other slashers. Instead of coming off just as straight-up horror films, they also served as dark, "meta" parodies of the slasher genre. The killers all deliberately invoked slasher movie cliches while their targets tried to survive by attempting to guess which horror movie tropes the killers would invoke next — a move that just as often got them killed as it did save them. The series was awash in Conversational Troping, as twenty years' worth of horror movie tropes got name-dropped, mocked, and then invoked anyway. To a generation that had grown up viewing slasher films as trite and cliched following the genre's burnout at the end of The '80s, Scream served as a breath of fresh air.


However, many (though certainly not all) of the horror films that copied its formula in the ensuing years didn't understand this. A good number of filmmakers instead felt that the Scream franchise's success came as a result of its casting (which featured stars from hit TV series like Party of Five, Friends and Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and its "hip" dialogue. As a result, the original film has suffered from Hype Backlash since its release, since its own various tricks and tropes became more commonplace in the horror genre.

In addition to all the copycats, Scream spawned three sequels of its own. While fans don't remember them as fondly as the original, they all have their fans:

  • Scream 2, released in 1997, saw the surviving characters move on to college while dealing with their 15 Minutes of Fame thanks to both extensive media coverage of the killings and Stab, the Ripped from the Headlines slasher flick made about the event. Just as the original satirized slashers, the second film satirized the genre's obsession with sequels (and all their related tropes).
  • Advertisement:
  • Scream 3, released in 2000, concluded the original trilogy and moved the action to Hollywood, where a work on a third Stab film has begun. This film — the only film in the series not written by Kevin Williamson — targeted trilogies (and their associated tropes) as well as the inner workings of the film industry.
  • Scream 4 (or Scre4m), released in 2011, brought the action back to Woodsboro as the surviving characters of the original trilogy dealt with the legacy of the events of those films. Scream 4 parodied the various trends in horror that cropped up in the decade between Scream 3 and Scream 4 — including, most specifically, the surge of remakes and reboots of classic horror franchises. While critics and fans gave it a decent reception, its disappointing box office returnsnote  may have short-circuited the film's attempt to restart the franchise with a new trilogy note . That said...
  • Scream, a television adaptation of the franchise, debuted on MTV in June 2015. It is a series reboot with all new characters, with the Show Runner being Jill Blotevogel of Harper's Island and Ravenswood.

Tropers like us owe a substantial amount of our hobby to the film. Scream wholeheartedly lampshaded and deconstructed a large number of tropes — which made it one of the first major, mainstream films to do so since Airplane! — while it remained grounded in reality and exploring a whole new genre. The original film predates Buffy the Vampire Slayer by only a few months when it comes to having a story about sarcastic, Genre Savvy teenagers in a post-modern horror setting.


The Scream franchise provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Action Girl: Sidney, being a Final Girl, has her moments.
  • Adorkable: Randy and Dewey.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Stu laments not that the police are coming, but that his parents are going to find out he's a serial killer, anticipating their anger and disappointment. It's as if it's finally sinking in as to what he's done.
  • Anyone Can Die: Any character featured in the first ten minutes, regardless of the actor in the role, can (and will) die. With other characters, however, this trope is averted — Sidney, Gale and Dewey have survived all four movies.
  • Asshole Victim: Steven Stone and John Milton in Scream 3, Charlie Walker in Scream 4
  • Audible Sharpness: Used to gratuitous levels in the death scenes.
  • Better Than a Bare Bulb: These movies love to lampshade horror tropes.
  • Big Bad: Ghostface is the identity donned by every one of the series' antagonists; no matter who it is behind the mask, they always exhibit the same basic personality and physical attributes: taunts victims through phone calls, grunts and groans when injured, remains primarily mute while face-to-face with a victim, prolongs a kill when an advantage is gained, stabs victims with a hunting knife, switches from being quick and efficient to clumsy and accident-prone, outright ignores blunt trauma, stabbing wounds and gunshots, strong enough to physically overpower victims in a fight, prowls without being detected, and often vanishes from the targets' defense before taking them by surprise almost immediately thereafter.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: All but the third movie have two people alternating as Ghostface, though usually one of them has a more personal motive for the killings, while the other killer just goes along with it. Billy, Mrs. Loomis, and Jill all had their own reasons, while Stu, Mickey, and Charlie were somehow talked into being their respective accomplices.
  • Bittersweet Ending: All the films seem to end on this note, Ghostface's dead and the heroes have lived to go on fighting and living another day, but most of the characters you have cared about are now dead and aren't coming back... unless they're still alive but barely.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: Discussed in the second film, but it actually used less fake blood and guts than the original. The fourth movie, however, is much bloodier than Scream 3, and possibly the rest of the series.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Billy and Roman. Sidney also shoots Mrs. Loomis in the head, but she was probably already dead.
  • Bound and Gagged: At least one character in every film: Steve Orth and Neil Prescott in the first, Derek in the second, Dewey, Gale and Milton in the third, and Charlie and Trevor in the fourth.
  • Brick Joke: One that occurs between movies. In the first, when Sidney is asked who she'd like to play her in the inevitable movie about the events, she says that she'd prefer Meg Ryan, but knowing her luck, she'd get Tori Spelling. Guess who plays her in Stab?
  • Butt-Monkey:
    • Dewey, who depending on your point of view is either the unluckiest or the luckiest character in the series: he gets attacked and very badly sliced up in every film but also manages to survive them all.
    • Sidney as well, when you consider that she's basically destined to spend the rest of her life being periodically attacked and having all her friends killed by nutjobs attempting to imitate the previous killers... some of whom she's related to in some way or another.
  • Catch-Phrase:
    • "Hello, Sidney..."
    • "Do you like scary movies?"
    • One of Randy's rules for surviving horror movies that isn't related to sex, booze, or drugs is never saying the classic catch phrase "I'll be right back", because you won't be back.
  • Conversational Troping: All over the place.
  • Characters Dropping Like Flies
  • Creator Cameo:
    • Director Wes Craven has brief cameos in all the films. In the first, he's the school janitor Fred; in the second, he plays a doctor in the hospital; in the third, he's one of the tourists on the movie lot. He would've had a cameo in the fourth, but it ended up on the cutting room floor.
    • Additionally, writer Kevin Williamson appeared as a man interviewing Cotton Weary in the second film.
  • Crossover: Ghostface is now a Dead by Daylight killer.
  • Cycle of Revenge: The whole series to a degree.
    • To start with, Roman wanted revenge on his biological mother, Rina Reynolds (real name Maureen Prescott), for abandoning him. He led Billy (who also had a grudge against Maureen for breaking up his parents' marriage) and Stu to rape and murder Maureen and frame Cotton Weary, setting up the events of the first movie.
    • After Billy and Stu's plan ended with both of them dead, Billy's mother orchestrated the murder plot of the second movie as a means of killing Sidney and avenging her son's death. This fails as well.
    • By the third movie, Roman's original plan to get revenge on not only his birth mother, but the family she replaced him with as well (i.e. Sidney), has backfired spectacularly due to the fact that Sidney's constantly surviving the murder sprees has made her infamous, almost legendary, world-wide. Angered, he tries to finish what he started himself by killing Sidney, her friends, and the main cast and crew behind the latest Stab movie, the cult horror franchise he inadvertently spawned. By the end of the movie, Sidney and her friends have killed him too.
    • For eleven years, it looks like it is all over and the characters can move on with their lives... until the fourth film comes around, in which we find out Jill Roberts, Sidney's own cousin, has plotted her own nefarious plot to not only get revenge on Sidney, but to claim her celebrity status as a Final Girl. And even though Jill dies and Sidney, Dewey, and Gale still survive, it is made clear that this probably will never end. Yeesh.
  • Damsel out of Distress: Sidney laughs at the Distressed Damsel trope!
  • Darker and Edgier: While being a horror series, and thus prone to being dark, Scream 4 is notable in being one of the most brutal. The deaths are more graphic and horrifying, especially Olivia's. Some of the characters aren't even killed instantly, but are left horribly wounded then either killed (Rebecca), or left to die slowly (Perkins, Robbie, Charlie, and potentially Kirby). Then there's the fight scene between Jill and Sidney at the hospital, which is just painful to watch. This actually comes up in the film's discussion of how remakes often have to up the ante versus the originals.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Most of the characters often say witty snarky comments, but Ghostface seems to be the biggest one when he taunts the victims. Gale and Randy are no slouch at this, either.
  • Dead Star Walking: A tradition for the films is to have a big-name actor in the opening scene, only to kill them off within fifteen minutes.
    • The first film had Drew Barrymore in this role. Notably, she suggested the idea herself, having originally been cast as Sidney. At the time, it was a major shock, as Barrymore had been heavily featured in the ads and promotional material and was easily the biggest name in the cast.
    • The second had Omar Epps and Jada Pinkett, which doubled as a case of Black Dude Dies First. Then, after the opening credits, the first victim was the Slayer herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar.
    • The third had Liev Schreiber, in a case of Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome.
    • The fourth started with a fake-out as Lucy Hale, Shenae Grimes, and Anna Paquin are knifed in the in-universe Stab films (which also featured Kristen Bell as Ghostface), before the events of the film proper kick off with the deaths of Aimee Teegarden and Britt Robertson.
    • As for the TV series, the season 1 pilot passed the torch to Bella Thorne, who specifically sought out the part of opening victim due to its iconic nature in the films. The season 2 premiere, meanwhile, had Vine star Lele Pons getting killed off in a cheesy fake slasher movie being shown at the theater Audrey works at, before subverting it in the 'real' world by having the Ghostface attacking Audrey turn out to be a harmless prankster. Finally, the Halloween Special had season 2's killer Kieran (Amadeus Serafini) killed off in prison, in a case of Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome.
  • Death by Sex: This is by far the biggest no-no for dealing with these movies; virtually every single character that has ever had sex (including Randy) will be sliced and diced by Ghostface at some point. This is outright stated as Rule No. 1 by Randy: Sex = Death. Sidney, being the lead character, is the only one to escape this trope despite not being a virgin at the end of the first film.
  • Deconstructed Character Archetype: As the series goes on, Sidney demonstrates just what a Final Girl would look like in real life after the credits roll, when she has to rebuild her life and cope with the loss of most of her friends, especially when it all starts happening again. The short answer: an Iron Woobie.
  • Deconstructive Parody: What it aims to be, but isn't.
  • Defictionalization: Some fans of the movies took the Stab series, Scream's in-universe version of itself, and made them — with permission from the rights holders to the Ghostface mask — for real as fan films. (Only films 4-7 were made, however, as they decided that the first three would be little more than poorly-made remakes of the actual Scream films they correspond to.)
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Gale over the course of the series.
  • Determinator: Ghostface is really driven when it comes to killing his intended victims.
  • Did Do the Research: It sure sounds stupid that Stu Macher killed all those people out of 'peer pressure'. But he's portrayed as tactless, without sympathy for the victims, and of below-average intelligence - all signs of a low-functioning sociopath. Billy Loomis is much more intelligent, confident, and stronger-willed, making him capable of manipulation.
  • Dysfunctional Family: The Prescotts and the Loomises.
  • Evil Phone: The killers are quite fond of messing with their victims over the phone.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: As the series went on, Ghostface's voice went deeper in tone, possibly as a result of the voice actor (Roger L. Jackson) getting older.
  • Film Within A Film: The Stab series of slasher films, which act as this universe's analogues to the Scream series. The first Stab, featured in the second movie, is based on the events of the first film (albeit with some artistic embellishment), is directed by Robert Rodriguez, and stars Tori Spelling as Sidney, Luke Wilson as Billy, David Schwimmer as Dewey, and Heather Graham as Casey. The third film, meanwhile, revolves around the production of Stab 3, which the masked killer is trying to sabotage. By the events of Scream 4, there have been seven Stab films, with the series having abandoned all pretense of being Based on a True Story after the third (Sidney sued to prevent any further use of the original characters) and gone into straight-out fantasy by the fifth (which included a Time Travel plot).
  • Final Girl: Sidney and Gale are subversions; while they survive all three movies, neither of them (especially Gale) represents the ideals of purity that this trope upholds.
    • Sidney evolves into a deconstruction of this trope as the series progresses, what with her life coming to be defined by the trauma suffered by her and those close to her thanks to her "perpetual victimhood."
    • Jill in the fourth film is arguably among the greatest subversions ever. She masterminded the killings and planned to frame someone else for it so that she could play this trope and get her 15 Minutes of Fame, much like her cousin Sidney did.
  • Floating Head Syndrome: The first film helped to popularize the use of this trope with horror movies, and all of the sequels indulged in it as well. This trope is so attached to the series that, when the fourth film finally released a "floating head" poster (even if it's only the Mexican poster), the fans were ecstatic that it was following series tradition.
  • For the Evulz: Many of any Ghostface killer's reasons, with Stu in the first film being the most notable examples. He really had no reason to help Billy, but did just because he wanted to. The third film has Sidney's Shut Up, Hannibal! speech to the killer insinuate that everybody who ever donned the Ghostface identity was like this, their Freudian Excuses being just that, excuses for them to get their rocks off killing people. Jill was a total sociopath and had no Freudian excuse on why she killed. She even said it herself: "Sick is the new sane."
  • Four Is Death: The magic words that Randy says is verboten, "I'll be right back", is exactly four words/syllables long.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Arguably, Ghostface. Roman Bridger being the biggest one since he masterminded Billy and Stu into killing his own mom then in turn the Woodsboro murders and followed through his own killings by killing his cast and trying to kill Sidney, his half-sister, as well while appearing as their dead mom.
  • Freudian Excuse: Almost every Ghostface claims to have one. By the third film, Sidney has had enough of it and yells at the killer that they all have no excuse, they're all just that — excuses to kill people Forthe Evulz.
    • The exception to this being Jill, who openly admits that she's evil, citing that "sick is the new sane".
  • Genre Blind: Ironically enough, the killers. Each time there have been two killers, one has turned on the other. And yet they never see it coming.
  • Genre Savvy: Randy, a horror movie fan who lists three rules for surviving a horror movie — don't have sex, don't drink or use drugs, and never say "I'll be right back." Naturally, the characters break all three in record time. Randy expands his rules to sequels and trilogies Warning  in the later films.
    • He is replaced in the fourth film with Robbie and Charlie, two horror geeks who deliver a rules for remakes.
    • All of the characters become this as the series progresses. Sidney becomes Genre Savvy by the end.
  • Ghostly Gape: The "Ghostface" mask.
  • Gorn: Even for a horror series where the killers only use knives to kill, some of the deaths are quite icky. A particularly grisly example is the second victim in the series — while she is eviscerated offscreen, it soon cuts back to her intestines falling out. Even Roger Ebert admitted being a little grossed out by the first two, almost to the point of docking the films for it.
  • Gutted Like a Fish: Trope Namer, and happens quite a bit in the series.
  • Harassing Phone Call: The killers love doing this to people they intend to kill.
  • Hate Sink: Billy Loomis in the first film, Mrs. Loomis in the second, Roman Bridger in the third, and Jill Roberts in the fourth would all qualify, due to them not just being revealed as the killers, but also Bitch in Sheep's Clothing Jerkasses who sadistically and mean-spiritedly give Sidney grief in The Reveal.
  • If It Bleeds, It Leads: Personified with Gale, although she gets better in the sequels.
  • Large Ham: Every actor who's been in the killer's shoes is clearly having a good time. Also counts as Evil Is Hammy.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: Best to watch the films in order, because the sequels tend to be quite open about the identity of the killers from previous entries.
  • Legacy Character: The Ghostface identity has been worn by seven different killers in the films, and three on the TV series.
  • Made of Iron: Notably averted. Ghostface is clumsy, falls down, and gets smacked around quite a bit, due to the fact it's normal folk under the masks, and not the genre's usual undead/supernatural/etc. figures. That said, it should be noted that it still takes a lot to kill them.
  • Meta Guy: Randy in the original trilogy, and Robbie and Charlie in the fourth film. See Genre Savvy.
  • Murder Simulators: Referenced several times with regards to violent horror movies. Considering that the director is a man who made his name with such films, this can easily be interpreted as a Take That! against fear-mongering Moral Guardians.
  • Not Quite Dead: In each damn one. The characters end up fully expecting it.
    • In Scream, Randy lampshades this with Billy, who promptly reveals himself to be not quite dead. Sidney very calmly shoots him in the head.
    • Subverted in Scream 2. Gale and Sidney expect Mrs. Loomis to be this, and then Mickey jumps up behind them screaming. They shoot and kill him, and then Sidney shoots the (probably already dead) Mrs. Loomis in the head, just to be sure.
    • Scream 3 has Roman play this straight, until Dewey shoots him in the head.
    • Scre4m shows Jill survive a defibrillator on full power to the head, and she gets up and attempts to stab the characters in the back with a shard of glass. Sidney, fully expecting it, turns around and shoots her in the heart, killing her.
  • Once per Episode: There are a couple common elements regarding the victims.
    • A pair is killed in the opening of each film.
    • A blonde is the third victim of Ghostface in each film (Casey Becker is the third victim of the first killing spree, as Maureen Prescott is the first).
  • Plucky Girl: Sidney.
  • Postmodernism: Numerous elements in the films as discussed in the main text. The film also started a massive wave of self-referential, teen-focused horror films that ran through the late '90s.
  • Reality Ensues: The Ghostface Killers, regardless whose behind the mask, are depicted as tripping and running into objects. Why? Well, the outfits are, in-universe, cheap-ass Halloween costumes consist of spandex robe and a rubber mask with eyes covered by black sheer material attached to a hood. These features makes running after people difficult because you can barely see out of the mask at night and the skirt contracts your movements.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The plot was loosely inspired by the Gainseville Ripper, Danny Rolling, who murdered five students in Florida in the early '90s.
  • Self-Referential Humor: The series' bread and butter.
  • Serial Killer: Needless to say.
  • Sequel Escalation: Discussed with regards to sequels, Grand Finales, and remakes over the course of the series. Randy's rules for horror sequels in the second film include an increased body count and more brutal and elaborate deaths, while his rules for trilogy closers and final chapters in the third involve the killer being superhuman, Shocking Swerves, and main characters now being on the chopping block. In the fourth, Robbie and Charlie's discussion of horror remakes emphasizes that they not only have to be way more brutal to appeal to desensitized modern audiences, they also have to put twists on old tropes and plot turns so as to subvert the expectations of those who have seen the originals.
  • Slasher Movie: Despite the director's initial intentions, the films are well-accepted members of the genre.
  • Sliding Scale of Comedy and Horror: The first two films were roughly equal mixes of horror and comedy. The third film, which had a different writer, was more of a straight horror film, with more of the humor coming from the characters rather than from jabs at the genre. Finally, the fourth film, which brought back original writer Kevin Williamson, is arguably the most comedic of the franchise, with even a few of the deaths (such as Deputy Perkins) being played for laughs.
  • Teens Are Monsters: Five of the killers over the series are teenagers.
  • Tempting Fate:
    • The phrase "I'll be right back" is treated like this. Stu makes a point to say it multiple times, apparently jokingly. Considering he's one of the killers, though, he knows things the rest of the cast don't...
    • Sidney, why did you even mention the idea of Tori Spelling playing you in the movie?
  • Too Dumb to Live: Sidney makes fun of this trope in the first movie ("...some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can't act who's always running up the stairs when she should be going out the front door"), but there are multiple straight examples throughout the entire franchise.
    • In the first film, Tatum Riley tries to escape Ghostface when she panics and tries to get through a large dog-door. Not only can she not get through, she gets stuck so she can't get back in. Ghostface recovers and switches on the automatic door, which snaps her neck rather messily. When one considers there were several instances where she could have a) defended herself with any of the numerous objects lying around the garage and/or b) curb-stomped Ghostface to within an inch of his/her life after managing to knock Ghostface down not once, but twice, it becomes this trope.
      • Ironically enough, Rose Mcgowan discovered that she could fit through the pet flap and would fall out when the door started rising. If the scene had been played for any degree of reality, this trope would not have happened with Tatum.
    • In the first movie, Ghostface told Casey to choose a door to escape the house through. Instead of taking the risk of Ghostface being behind the door, she chose she could have taken a third option and gone out a window.
    • Officers Ross and Hoskins are another classic example.
  • Troperiffic: Lampshadedly the whole point of the series, especially the first film.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Maureen Prescott was probably unaware how her attempt to break into Hollywood would lead to all this, though a majority fault could also be laid to John Milton.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: In-universe, the Stab movie's portrayal of Casey's murder at the start of Scream takes a few liberties with the facts.
  • Voice Changeling: Ghostface's voice changer, which can even replicate other people's voices in the third film. On the other hand, Technology Marches On...
  • Wham Line:
    Casey: "Why do you wanna know my name?"
    Ghostface: "Because I wanna know who I'm looking at."
  • White Mask of Doom: Ghostface.
  • World of Snark: Most of the main characters, good and evil alike, are known for their snarky remarks about their situation and about horror movies in general.


Example of: