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We watch indie films to avoid the clichés of mainstream movies. But as indie has become a genre itself, it’s accumulated its own tropes. We’re not saying these are bad, we’re just saying they show up everywhere.

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl

500 Days of Summer, Garden State, Annie Hall

The MPDG is the answer to any dashing young narrow-minded protagonist. She dispels all cynicism with her sunny outlook on life and gives off enough whimsy to make your audience “aw”. Or cry profusely, because no real girl is this perfect.


The Anti-Manic Pixie Dream Girl

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Ghost World, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

The alpha to the MPDG’s omega is kind of a hypocrite but mostly a badass (or is it the other way around?) and as a result she is a meek man’s kryptonite. Unlike the MPDG she has no interest in enriching her next victim’s life. She may have a tough exterior but inside she’s barely stable enough to hold that cigarette (she’s been meaning to quit though).

The Fixer-Upper

Stranger Than Fiction, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Paper Man, Garden State

Caught up in mundane, he isn’t focusing on the bigger picture in life. But his habit of routine is about to be broken when he runs into the MPDG or the Anti-MPDG and she slows his daily rush.

The Fun Oldster

Little Miss Sunshine, The Royal Tenenbaums

He’ll make a scene dramatic and heartfelt with his old timey wisdom, but can turn on a dime and also add a quirky unexpected (and sometimes inappropriate) touch. Kids love him.

The Wise Kid

Me You and Everyone We Know, 500 Days of Summer, Magnolia, Rushmore

An intense scene can be even more shocking when you add a wide-eyed innocent kid. In addition to being an easy symbol of innocence, this kid can be incredibly smart when her adult counterparts are too dumb to learn the lesson by themselves.

The Hopeless Man

Memento, Donnie Darko, Half Nelson, Requiem for a Dream, Moon

This is your guy if you want to spend the first hour letting your audience absorb all the sad details of his life, only to discover by the end of your film nothing really changes for him and his lonesome existence.

The Cradle Robber

American Beauty, Lost in Translation, Paper Man, Ghost World, Harold and Maude, probably something with Philip Seymour Hoffman

He’s truly a good man, but he wants to escape from his dreary life and he just so happens to find it through jailbait. He may be old enough to be her dad, but he’s got that charm the younger kind seems to lack (extra indie charm points if you make him dress like a cute community college professor).

The Older Woman With Issues

Closer, The Good Girl, The Kids are Alright, Little Miss Sunshine

She’s a real woman and she’s got real things to deal with. Whether she’s dealing with complicated relationship troubles or trying to hold a family together, she’s a laugh line away from a breakdown.

The Outsider Artist

Art School Confidential, The Art of Getting By, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Ghost World

This character finds the norm to be odd. He doesn’t understand most people but what he really needs is for someone to understand him. The core indie audience instantly relates.

The Overly Hipster

Juno, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist

Full of sass and attitude like Bo Diddley, this character is totally-schmotally in the know of all things cool, and her dialog lets the audience know how fresh n’ cool the script is, Homeburger. Let’s get it on like Donkey Kong.

The Accidental Charmer

Garden State, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Juno, Eagle vs. Shark

He may not say the right things, but he always means well. He’s quirky but conveniently handsome enough that those odd mannerisms quickly just become adorable — an instant hipster heart throb.

The Crazy Hoodlum

SLC Punk, Trainspotting

He’s the go-to guy if your characters need to score drugs, find a party, and maybe even a good spot to dump a dead body.

The Sarcastic Wit

Ghost World, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, Youth in Revolt

She has a dark sense of humor and sees people for what they are–characters. Use her to recap an event or a person in a funny-cause-it’s-true way.

The Man with a Wacky Family

Dan in Real Life, The Squid and the Whale, Running with Scissors

He’s easy to relate with and appears to be a seemingly average guy until his family shows up (or intrudes, rather), which brings out all his inner flaws and makes the audience ponder a big-thinker question like whether anyone really is “normal”. Heavy stuff, man.

The Oddball

Lars and the Real Girl, Thumbsucker, Little Miss Sunshine, Youth in Revolt

He’s a nice guy…really. But he’s got a quirk in a big way and if the supporting characters can look past it, they can learn a valuable lesson. Or be kidnapped. Either way. A valuable lesson (and possible plot twist?).

  • Lindsey Prks

    but if its indie….shouldnt…shouldnt there NOT be character cliches?

    • James V. Salzman

      What “Should be” is like a unicorn flickering dreamily through the cold, dark forests of What Is. It doesn’t exist and you’re only going to watch people starve to death as they stumble over roots and stumps and ROUS’s and collapse, wheezing “IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN”

  • Darrell Loudermilk

    It’s Eternal Sunshine OF The Spotless Mind.  And, have you ever even seen a Philip Seymour Hoffman movie?

    • kiska

      soeey, Darrell, didn’t see your post, you beat me to it! lol

  • Umm…

    I appreciate the sentiment, but the overwhelming majority of films you listed don’t come remotely close to being indie (Little Miss Sunshine is acknowledged by AMPAS as the first indie to be nominated for Best Pictue, so your mention of American Beauty literally made me lol. Eternal Sunshine? Closer? Aronofsky? Wes Anderson? Trés mainstream).

    • Anonymous

      Excuse me, your beret is showing.

  • kiska

    It’s ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, not FOR. This mistake has been repeated here every time the title was used.

    • Nick

      Oh god, I have no idea why I didn’t catch that. Fixed, thanks!

  • kidAmy

    Who did the illustrations for this? They’re lovely.

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