This is usually done with a landline phone. The character calls someone or someone is calling him, they talk for a while and then for any reason the other person hangs up earlier than the character thinks they should do so.

At this moment the character hears continuous tone from the handset (we know this because we hear it too) which means that the conversation is over, deal with it. He should have heard the tone, optionally curse and then either hang up or call that person back/again or perhaps just move on.

Yet the character will keep saying or better yet shouting "Hello???" into the handset several times before he finally understands that.

What's the purpose of this? How does it make any sense?

  • 7
    The dial tone is added in post, so the question should really be, "Why do the editors feel the need to add a dial to and make the actors look like idiots"?
    – Catija
    Apr 3, 2015 at 12:08
  • 2
    Not when the film is shot. The phone isn't usually hooked up to anything.
    – Catija
    Apr 3, 2015 at 12:22
  • 7
    The script writer is paid by the word. "Hello?" -ching!, "Hello?" - ching!, "Hello?" - ching! - I count three chings! there = more money.
    – wbogacz
    Apr 3, 2015 at 12:41
  • 2
    @wbogacz that is not true at all and I have no clue where you got that idea.
    – Catija
    Apr 3, 2015 at 13:13
  • 9
    @Catija - It's the internet - not everything will be true. A joke on top of a joke. Humor is lost when you need to explain too much.
    – wbogacz
    Apr 3, 2015 at 14:22

2 Answers 2


You have to keep in mind that while movies often have the motivation to depict reality and a realistic story in a realistic way, they still are in many respects subject to a certain degree of explicitness upto hyperbole, as is the acting of the cast.

So in this viewpoint, the actor actually saying "Hello?" even though hearing the obvious "death-tone" is a way to clearly and expressively convey to everyone that the conversation ended abruptly and unexpectedly for the character, even if a real person would maybe just "deal with it". An actor can't just reserve each and every emotional reaction to his inner self as that would not be too compelling to watch in the majority of cases. Even if the acting in movies might generally be less hyperbolic than in theatres, it's still acting and relies to a large degree on conveying emotions in a less subtle and more expressive way. (It should be clear, though, that I'm overgeneralizing things a bit here, but so does the question. There might very well be cases where this technique isn't employed.)

An excellent, albeit probably rather extreme, example that comes to mind here is the finale of The Silence of the Lambs, where Clarice phones with Dr. Lecter and after he hangs up she repeatedly asks "Dr. Lecter?" although it's obvious for everyone that he hung up. But her desparate and apathic repetition of this question disregarding this fact makes her reaction all the more emotionally intense. Now the usual case of people asking "Hello?" after the phone hung up might be less emotionally intense, but it nevertheless follows the same principles. The character did not expect the conversation to end and this surprise has to be conveyed, for which this technique has simply established itself as an obvious way to go, even if it might start to get old or not reflect reality perfectly.

  • Well, okay, they might ask once but why would they do so several times?
    – sharptooth
    Apr 3, 2015 at 14:44
  • 4
    @sharptooth Added drama? I can see this being especially effective in horror movies, with each "hello" more desperate than the previous one.
    – BCdotWEB
    Apr 3, 2015 at 15:00
  • @BCdotWEB I dunno, little absurdities like this can also pull you out of the movie.
    – Andy
    Aug 29, 2015 at 18:39

First of all: in real land lines you don't get the dial (continuous) tone after the call has been disconnected. Especially, if it was you who initiated the call the connection is usually maintained. Catija's comment is spot on - it's the tone that is the mistake, not the actor's shouts.

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