It’s amazing what tiny little details in movies can do for the audience. With a slight smile or change in tone, a skilled actor can change a scene from horrifying to humorous in 3 seconds flat.
Take, for example, one of the final scenes in Avenger’s Endgame (!SPOILER ALERT!). Robert Downey Jr. played the role of Tony Stark/Iron Man for over a decade, ending his iconic run with the prophetic line “I am Iron Man” as he snaps his fingers and restores life to the universe.
His tone, the tears in his eyes, and the shake in his voice as the realization hits that he will be one of the only members of the avengers to not survive the ordeal all made for one of the best moments in cinema of all time.
There are countless images and clips in movies that stick in our minds for one reason or another. Some of these scenes are great simply due to a well-timed cough.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the best coughs found in the movies over the years.
*Note: this article is a follow up to one of our previous pieces, found here.
Coughs in Cinema: The Derek Zoolander Cough
The incredibly silly movie Zoolander took the world by storm in 2001. With Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson starring as rival male models, the film took an absurd premise and made a truly hilarious film out of it.
In perhaps the most well-known (and well-quoted) scene, Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) goes to work with his dad and brothers in the coal mine. After a single day of work in the mine, Derek approaches his father, coughing meekly into his hand. “I think I’m getting the black lung, Pop,” he says, to the dismay of his father and brothers.
Without the obviously fake, purposefully weak-sounding cough, this scene never would have reached the level of stardom that it did.
Coughs in Cinema: The Pineapple Express Cough
In one of Seth Rogen and James Franco’s finest collaborations, Pineapple Express demonstrates the perfect depiction of a stoner’s cough. After taking a massive hit of Saul Silver’s (James Franco’s) marijuana, Dale Denton (Seth Rogen) begins to cough uncontrollably (and hilariously).
This scene represents a turning point in the movie where Dale and Saul become friends and begin the wild adventure that takes up the remainder of the film. Yet again, the scene relies heavily on the use of cough as a major plot driver.
Coughs in Cinema: The Breakfast Club Cough
Is there a better movie that captures the 80s in America? Long hair, insane jeans, and Emilio Estevez; I don’t think it gets more 80’s than that!
In one of the most well-known scenes, the group covers for John Bender by coughing loudly as a whole. This distracts the teacher and allows Bender to avoid further punishment. Once again, the coughing in this scene signals a bit of a turning point where the group develops more camaraderie as they band together against the detention supervisor.
As you might have guessed, the cough plays a big role in this scene as well. In this instance, the cough may simply be used as a stand-in for “any loud noise”. But the scene benefited significantly from all of the actors coughing together in harmony!
Coughs in movies can serve many functions. They can move the plot along by providing an anchor point for the scene. Coughs can foreshadow an illness that will come up later on in the film. Also, they can provide comic relief when they are obviously fake and meant to make us laugh. And they can bring the characters of the movie together by binding them to a common goal.
The next time you’re watching a movie, pay attention to the coughs you see on the screen. You may just be surprised at how effectively coughs can be used to improve a film!