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"They (young actors) see TV movies. They see Lifetime movies. They think that's melodrama. They don't know the true fun of ever-escalating emotions building up to a volcanic pitch!"
Quentin Tarantino on Douglas Sirk melodramas.

A type of theater, film, and television that focuses on heightening the emotions of the audience. The word "melodrama" derives from "melody [in] drama" (like opera); melodrama at its finest aspires to have the tone and the repetitive, building emotion of an opera or a symphony.

It's usually associated with everyone acting like a Large Ham, but it's actually about specific emphasis on any dramatic situation. This is done by amping up the perceived scale and emotional response on everything. Basically, every little hurdle becomes a mountain, every setback a tragedy of Greek proportions, and the official couple will be Star-Crossed Lovers over the tiniest things, usually thanks to outside interference and Poor Communication Kills.

Note that this isn't the same as stage actors speaking loudly and making broad movements. That's just a necessity of stage acting. This is when the actors portray the characters (or the characters are written as) being akin to teenagers with a very small, Soap Opera scale world. Every success, kiss, and snub will carry the sting of a legendary story. Essentially, what to us would be a pinprick gains the pathos of a rending wound.


Also note that this can be done right. Melodrama can quite easily hook viewers into becoming emotionally invested in the characters, something every story needs to survive. It helps if the stories are the type that can produce large emotions — and if the characters are depicted with proper motivations. Only occasionally does it fall into the Anvilicious Narm-fests we associate with them. Which is why nowadays it's more of a pejorative term for gratuitous drama, and something writing books today urge people to steer clear of.

A Sub-Trope of Rule of Drama.

A Super-Trope to Gasp!, Melodramatic Pause, Drama Queen, Dramatic Downstage Turn.

Compare Chewing the Scenery, Large Ham, Milking the Giant Cow, Narm, Mundane Made Awesome, Comical Overreacting, Wangst.

Contrast Dull Surprise.



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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 

    Films — Animation 
  • Sometimes turns up in the Disney Animated Canon:
    • In Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, all the characters are large hams to varying extents. There's the operetta-quality trilling of the heroine, the silent movie-esque gestures of the Queen/Hag, and the outsized personalities of the dwarfs (Bashful makes shyness hammy).
    • In Sleeping Beauty, a fairy duel erupts over the color of a dress. Wait until you see what happens when an entire kingdom's at stake, and all because an evil fairy wasn't invited to a party!
    • Frozen (2013) is possibly the most triumphant example. Elsa's childhood is one traumatic event after another, including seriously endangering her sister's life twice by accident. Not to mention how her Power Incontinence has plunged the entire kingdom in eternal winter. And add to that a Manipulative Bastard for a villain. Saying that everyone earned their happy ending would be an understatement.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Rotten Tomatoes critical consensus for The Girl on the Train reads "Emily Blunt's outstanding performance isn't enough to keep [the film] from sliding sluggishly into exploitative melodrama." Some fans enjoy it for exactly that very reason. Almost every single scene in the film is filled with exaggerated crying, shouting, violence, sex, or all of the above, almost to the point of camp. Some critics also commented on the rather theatrical style that Blunt used to play an alcoholic. And then there's this highly over-the-top scene.
  • Common in Film Noir, but special mention goes to Leave Her to Heaven (1945), directed by John M. Stahl, who defined melodrama in the 1930s, and two of whose films were remade by the aforementioned Douglas Sirk. It's a film about arguably the most evil of all femme fatales, played by Gene Tierney, and her obsession with a man (Cornell Wilde) that leads to both of their downfalls. It includes a very operatic scene of Tierney riding on horseback through the desert scattering her father's ashes, an iconic scene where she calmly watches another character drown while wearing Sinister Shades, another where she induces an abortion by throwing herself down the stairs, and much more, all shot in glorious technicolor. The end result is a film that's so far into melodrama, it's almost like a fever dream.

  • In The Baby-Sitters Club series, there's no other word to describe the scene in Boy-Crazy Stacey where the girls are saying goodbye. They're all going their (temporary) separate ways and the waterworks are endless. Sobbing, hugging, wailing. How long will they be apart? Two weeks.
  • Gothic and Romantic literature — The Castle of Otranto and Wuthering Heights certainly count as melodrama, which doesn't mean they're bad.
    • The standard Romance Novel is purely and unabashedly melodrama by design; though some are low-key, most thrive on emotional extremes and emotion-heightening situations.
  • The Three Musketeers, where every girl is the receiver of True, Passionate Romance, loyalty to King, Queen and Country are True and Absolute, and every tiny transgression is cause for a Duel! to the Death! Impassioned hamminess is considered the most praiseworthy of qualities in this novel. A bit of an Invoked Trope due to the setting's Blue-and-Orange Morality — the reason Milady is so dangerous in-universe is because she keeps a low profile and doesn't play by the rules.
  • Twilight. When you think about it, there aren't that many obstacles keeping Edward and Bella apart. They just like to think that there are.
    • In fact, most of these hurdles are put up by Bella and Edward themselves, be it Bella fretting over not being pretty enough to deserve Edward or Edward deciding that he needs to separate himself from Bella, resulting in him uprooting his whole family so that he can go live in South America and months of Wangsting from both him and Bella.
  • Hwang Sun-won's 1959 short story Sonagi (Rain Shower in English) is an enduringly popular melodrama in Korea that is often referenced in contemporary Korean culture, which is a culture that is very fond of melodrama.
  • One of the complaints of George Eliot's "Silly Novels by Lady Novelists":
    In the same way very ordinary events of civilized life are exalted into the most awful crises, and ladies in full skirts and manches à la Chinoise, conduct themselves not unlike the heroines of sanguinary melodramas.
  • Used quite a lot in Fern Michaels' Sisterhood Series. For the most part, it's done right. On occasion, it does fall into Narm.
  • H. P. Lovecraft, of all people, wrote a highly amusing parody of this genre entitled "Sweet Ermengarde".

    Live-Action TV 
  • Soap Operas, of course.
  • Lifetime Movies of the Week are these in spades.
    • There was one, called Her Married Lover, which is actually a Deconstruction of those melodramatic movies.
  • There was a Saturday Night Live sketch from the early 1990s, "Those Proud Pattersons", where everybody was an overdramatic actor.
  • The Colbert Report is already very emotional about everything, but occasionally it ramps it up to eleven. Even The Daily Show did it once.
  • Even though it's a reality show, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition seems to be chock full of melodrama.
    • Reality shows in general are a gold mine for this trope. For example, My Kitchen Rules makes putting on a dinner party look like an epic tale of love, hate, war and other things.
    • New-formula Masterchef: "Cooking doesn't get tougher than this!"
  • Scrubs exists to invert and subvert this trope. The show is about low-ranking, everyday doctors who realistically acknowledge that one-third of their patients are old farts about to die and most of their day is spent disimpacting people's bowels. This is in direct contrast to medical dramas such as House, ER and Grey's Anatomy where every single patient leads the cast on a roller-coaster of emotional torment and soul-searching. Although it should be noted that the doctors on Scrubs have, on occasion, been put on a rollercoaster of emotional torment and soul-searching (by their patients or otherwise) anyway.
  • A commercial for mail-order eye contacts had an "overly-dramatic recreation" ("But Mary, our eyes are different!").
  • Korean Drama. The ones labelled Melodrama will get you but the comedies and romantic comedies can sneak up from behind and hit you with a lead pipe while you are still laughing at that last comic bit.
  • Little House on the Prairie has melodrama in almost every episode. It's not uncommon to see someone crying in an over-the-top manner on the show.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Forget that some see the show as running on this for a moment; the episode "The Zeppo" dials it Up to Eleven poking fun at how the Buffy/Angel scenes can be. Later the Angel episode "Fredless" has Cordelia and Wesley imitate the scene, up to eleven, eleven times over.

  • Shakespeare is often regarded as a master of this trope. Although whether it's done well or poorly depends on who you ask, which play you're talking about, or both.
  • Takarazuka Revue productions.
  • The Phantom of the Opera and its sequel Love Never Dies.
  • Under The Gaslight, a play from the 1800s; it was eventually made into a silent film, which also qualifies.
  • The Warriors at Helgeland by Henrik Ibsen is by far the most melodramatic play he ever wrote. Later, Ibsen spoofed the genre in Rosmersholm by having an off stage suicide, commented on by the last person left on stage:
    Dear god, they embrace! And save us, they are jumping in the waterfalls together!

    Video Games 

    Visual Novels 
  • A significant number of Visual Novels appear to have no purpose other than to make the player (reader?) cry uncontrollably. See Utsuge for details.
  • In Double Homework, when the protagonist and Johanna finally have an honest conversation about their relationships with each other and Tamara, Johanna, when she isn’t smacking her brother, is construing just about everything he says as a reason why she’s not good enough.


    Western Animation 
  • The original Terrytoons Mighty Mouse series. Not only did it feature an Ace hero, a Damsel in Distress and a Card-Carrying Villain, but all the dialogue was sung, Opera-style.
  • Princess Sissi, the German Animated Adaptation of Elizabeth of Bavaria's life. This isn't surprising, as most historical drama isn't low-key.
  • Later episodes of South Park often go in that direction, thanks to Cerebus Syndrome. There are 3 ways that it's used: intentionally (i.e. "Raisins"), Played for Laughs (i.e. "Over-Logging"), or both (i.e. "The China Probrem").
  • Rarity from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has her moments, and out-hams everyone around her: "I VANT TO BE ALO-HO-HO-ON I WANT TO WALLOW IN... WHATEVER IT IS PONIES ARE SUPPOSED TO WALLOW IN! (aside to self) Do ponies wallow in pity? (back to the melodrama!) OH, LISTEN TO ME! I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT I'M SUPPOSED TO WALLOW IN! I'M SO PATHETI-I-I-IC"
    • Gets taken Up to Eleven as part of a Running Gag in a particular episode where she telekinethically summons a divan just so she can dramatically throw herself onto it whenever she wants to freak out about something... and is then parodied at the end when the couch doesn't arrive due to having been tied down, and she promptly switches to freaking out about not having a proper setting in which to freak out anymore.
  • The Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines episode "Stop Which Pigeon?" had the Yankee Doodle Pigeon impostor Dastardly hired (to fool the General) critiquing Dastardly's call for help from Muttley after their airborne bathtub plan failed as "a bit on the melodramatic side."
  • Steven Universe has Pearl, who expresses her emotions with the subtlety of a brick, and thus can be a little melodramatic at times. Best exemplified in the episode "Say Uncle", where she absolutely loses it after Uncle Grandpa's cartoony hijinks lead to the Crystal Gems getting trapped in a White Void Room:
    Garnet: Pearl, you're overreacting.
    Pearl: I'M NOT OVERREACTING! (runs off screaming)


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Anakin and Padme are troubled by their forbidden love.

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