5 Strange Movie Terms—Explained!


Do you call yourself a movie buff? Here are five storytelling terms to store away for movie trivia night.

1. Chekhov’s Gun

Once upon a time, Anton Chekhov—the famous Russian writer from the 19th century—wrote the following advice:

If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.

Years later, the term “Chekhov’s gun” has taken on a life of its own. It now has come to mean “an insignificant object that later turns out to be important.”

A favorite Chekhov’s Gun is from the beginning of the movie Men In Black when Kay (Tommy Lee Jones) and Jay (Will Smith) are driving in his 1987 Ford LTD Crown Victoria. Jay asks about the little red button in the car, and Kay responds: “Oh, the red button there, kid. Don’t ever, ever touch the red button.”

Later in the movie, Jay and Kay are speeding to Queens to kick some alien butt. Kay turns to take the Midtown Tunnel. Jay questions why Kay would want to take the tunnel, since it’s going to be crowded with traffic. Kay then says, “You remember the little red button. Push the little red button. And you may want to put on a seatbelt.” The button then catapults the car to the ceiling of the tunnel and bypasses all of the traffic below.

2. MacGuffin

Alfred Hitchcock first popularized the term “MacGuffin” with the following explanation:

In crook stories it is almost always the necklace, and in spy stories it is most always the papers.

In other words, a MacGuffin is any object that motivates the plot of a story. Without the MacGuffin, the plot would grind to a screeching halt. It is usually some sort of mysterious package or artifact that everyone in the story chases around or tries to steal.

Remember National Treasure with Nicolas Cage? The Declaration of Independence is the MacGuffin of that film. It could be interchanged with any government document or fossil or whatever; it wouldn’t change the plot of Nicolas Cage trying to steal it.

Another favorite MacGuffin? Pulp Fiction's mysterious suitcase. In one scene, Vincent Vega (John Travolta) opens the suitcase and is bathed in a bright orange light; the contents of the suitcase are never revealed—in true MacGuffin style. Many Pulp Fiction fans have dissected the movie to determine the suitcase’s contents.

3. The Icebox Scene

The “icebox scene” is another term coined by Alfred Hitchcock. When questioned about some of the impossible inconsistencies in his films (specifically Vertigo), he responded by saying the scene was one that “hits you after you’ve gone home and start pulling cold chicken out of the icebox.”

An “icebox scene” is a scene that is inconsistent with the plot and that the audience somehow accepts while watching the movie, only to realize later that the scene was illogical. Let's look at Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: After the kids get zapped and shrunk down to a size smaller than ants, why can't they see or hear the giant Szalinskis searching for them in the backyard? Or the rules in Gremlins: You can't feed a Mogwai after midnight ... but technically, the entirety of each day takes place after midnight of the day before, so when can you feed a Mogwai? If you need something to keep you occupied on a rainy day, here is an entire forum dedicated to discussing the numerous icebox scenes in many, many movies.

4. Deus ex Machina

A “Deus Ex Machina” refers to a situation in which a character gets into a seemingly unsolvable predicament, only to be rescued in a sudden, unexpected, and sometimes illogical way. In many cases, it creates more confusing questions about the plot.

For instance, in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Gandalf the Grey falls to his death when the gang runs into the Balrog. Later, without any real explanation, he reappears as Gandalf the White.

5. Tsundere

Tsundere” is a Japanese term that refers to a character whose personality alternates between two extremes: “tsuntsun” (which means “irritable”) and “deredere” (or “lovestruck”).

One of the most famous American examples of a tsundere is Helga Patacki from Hey Arnold!. In the animated series (which was later turned into a movie), Helga is often conflicted about her feelings toward Arnold: “Oh, Arnold, how I love you. And yet I hate you! And yet I love you. And yet I hate you! And yet I love you.”

Zach Hyman, HBO
10 Bizarre Sesame Street Fan Theories
Zach Hyman, HBO
Zach Hyman, HBO

Sesame Street has been on the air for almost 50 years, but there’s still so much we don’t know about this beloved children’s show. What kind of bird is Big Bird? What’s the deal with Mr. Noodle? And how do you actually get to Sesame Street? Fans have filled in these gaps with frequently amusing—and sometimes bizarre—theories about how the cheerful neighborhood ticks. Read them at your own risk, because they’ll probably ruin the Count for you.


According to a Reddit theory, the Sesame Street theme song isn’t just catchy—it’s code. The lyrics spell out how to get to Sesame Street quite literally, giving listeners clues on how to access this fantasy land. It must be a sunny day (as the repeated line goes), you must bring a broom (“sweeping the clouds away”), and you have to give Oscar the Grouch the password (“everything’s a-ok”) to gain entrance. Make sure to memorize all the steps before you attempt.


Sesame Street is populated with the stuff of nightmares. There’s a gigantic bird, a mean green guy who hides in the trash, and an actual vampire. These things should be scary, and some fans contend that they used to be. But then the creatures moved to Sesame Street, a rehabilitation area for formerly frightening monsters. In this community, monsters can’t roam outside the perimeters (“neighborhood”) as they recover. They must learn to educate children instead of eating them—and find a more harmless snack to fuel their hunger. Hence Cookie Monster’s fixation with baked goods.


Big Bird is a rare breed. He’s eight feet tall and while he can’t really fly, he can rollerskate. So what kind of bird is he? Big Bird’s species has been a matter of contention since Sesame Street began: Big Bird insists he’s a lark, while Oscar thinks he’s more of a homing pigeon. But there’s convincing evidence that Big Bird is an extinct moa. The moa were 10 species of flightless birds who lived in New Zealand. They had long necks and stout torsos, and reached up to 12 feet in height. Scientists claim they died off hundreds of years ago, but could one be living on Sesame Street? It makes sense, especially considering his best friend looks a lot like a woolly mammoth.


Oscar’s home doesn’t seem very big. But as The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland revealed, his trash can holds much more than moldy banana peels. The Grouch has chandeliers and even an interdimensional portal down there! There’s only one logical explanation for this outrageously spacious trash can: It’s a Doctor Who-style TARDIS.


Dust off your copy of The Republic, because this is about to get philosophical. Plato has a famous allegory about a cave, one that explains enlightenment through actual sunlight. He describes a prisoner who steps out of the cave and into the sun, realizing his entire understanding of the world is wrong. When he returns to the cave to educate his fellow prisoners, they don’t believe him, because the information is too overwhelming and contradictory to what they know. The lesson is that education is a gradual learning process, one where pupils must move through the cave themselves, putting pieces together along the way. And what better guide is there than a merry kids’ show?

According to one Reddit theory, Sesame Street builds on Plato’s teachings by presenting a utopia where all kinds of creatures live together in harmony. There’s no racism or suffocating gender roles, just another sunny (see what they did there?) day in the neighborhood. Sesame Street shows the audience what an enlightened society looks like through simple songs and silly jokes, spoon-feeding Plato’s “cave dwellers” knowledge at an early age.


Can a grown man really enjoy taking orders from a squeaky red puppet? And why does Mr. Noodle live outside a window in Elmo’s house anyway? According to this hilariously bleak theory, no, Mr. Noodle does not like dancing for Elmo, but he has to, because he’s in hell. Think about it: He’s seemingly trapped in a surreal place where he can’t talk, but he has to do whatever a fuzzy monster named Elmo says. Definitely sounds like hell.


Okay, so remember when Animal chases a shrieking woman out of the college auditorium in The Muppets Take Manhattan? (If you don't, see above.) One fan thinks Animal had a fling with this lady, which produced Elmo. While the two might have similar coloring, this theory completely ignores Elmo’s dad Louie, who appears in many Sesame Street episodes. But maybe Animal is a distant cousin.


Cookie Monster loves to cram chocolate chip treats into his mouth. But as eagle-eyed viewers have observed, he doesn’t really eat the cookies so much as chew them into messy crumbs that fly in every direction. This could indicate Cookie Monster has a chewing and spitting eating disorder, meaning he doesn’t actually consume food—he just chews and spits it out. There’s a more detailed (and dark) diagnosis of Cookie Monster’s symptoms here.


Can a vampire really get his kicks from counting to five? One of the craziest Sesame Street fan theories posits that the Count lures kids to their death with his number games. That’s why the cast of children on Sesame Street changes so frequently—the Count eats them all after teaching them to add. The adult cast, meanwhile, stays pretty much the same, implying the grown-ups are either under a vampiric spell or looking the other way as the Count does his thing.


Alright, this is just a Dave Chappelle joke. But the Count does have a cape.

The Most Popular Netflix Show in Every Country
most popular Netflix show in each country map
most popular Netflix show in each country map key

If you're bored with everything in your Netflix queue, why not look to the top shows around the world for a recommendation? recently used Google Trends data to create a map of the most popular show streaming on Netflix in every country in 2018. The best-loved show in the world is the dystopian thriller 3%, claiming the number one spot in eight nations. The show is the first Netflix original made in Portuguese, so it's no surprise that Portugal and Brazil are among the eight countries that helped put it at the top of the list.

Coming in second place is South Korea's My Love from the Star, which seven countries deemed their favorite show. The romantic drama revolves around an alien who lands on Earth and falls in love with a mortal. The English-language show with the most clout is 13 Reasons Why, coming in at number three around the world—which might be proof that getting addicted to soapy teen dramas is a universal experience.

Pot comedy Disjointed is Canada's favorite show, which probably isn't all that surprising given the nation's recent ruling to legalize marijuana. Perhaps coming as even less of a shock is the phenomenon of Stranger Things taking the top spot in the U.S. Favorites like Black Mirror, Sherlock, and The Walking Dead also secured the love of at least one country.

Out of the hundreds of shows on the streaming platform, only 47 are a favorite in at least one country in 2018. So no hard feelings, Gypsy.


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