And then, at the absolute climactic height of the action sequence, everything went dark.
—"Fangs of Endearment: A Vampire Novel" by Dave Barry
Or: A Non-View To A Kill
It's finally arrived; the climactic moment where good meets evil, where right fights wrong, where...someone will get their ass kicked! But then, suddenly, the camera decides not to focus on the great battle, but rather on something a little more insignificant, like the pool or some other innocent area, with only the sound of the battle heard (perhaps somewhat muffled) and perhaps the occasional Screen Shake, especially in animated media. Focusing on the faces of observing characters gives a good gauge of the brutality of the fight without showing the fight itself; zooming out farther without reducing the battle noise is a less common variant, but still not too rare in comedies. It stays this way for the entire fight, only showing the aftermath.
There are a variety of reasons for this. The first is money: the producers might not have had enough money to actually film an epic battle, resulting in a Fight Unscene. This might lead to an Offscreen Moment of Awesome. On the other hand, if they care enough, they could combine this with the second reason: artistic quality. A big fight scene might not be that interesting or original - but deliberately not showing the fight, instead focusing on something mundane, that could be considered art. But beware: this could lead to Faux Symbolism. There's also a third reason: perhaps the director did want a really violent and/or bloody battle, but the Moral Guardians objected too much. Or, if it's a cartoon, it could be due to the Rule of Funny. Often, these are shown either through a Big Ball of Violence or zooming outside a building and showing it bounce and tumble around from the force of the battle.
Related to Fight Unscene, Gory Discretion Shot, Big Ball of Violence and Sound-Only Death. Compare and contrast with Charge Into Combat Cut, Offscreen Moment of Awesome, and Relax-o-Vision. Most of the time, the viewer will have to Take Our Word for It.
Warning: Contains spoilers
The majority of the gun battle between Revy and Roberta of Black Lagoon was done like this.
In Bleach, the fight between Espada #0 Yammy Rialgo and the team of Rukia, Chad, and Renji takes place mainly off-panel. We see them preparing to fight... and then we switch to the Real World for a few months to cover the fights there. By the time we catch up in Hueco Mundo, Much of the battle has already taken place, with Rukia the last one standing.
Yammy again this time he's fighting Kenpachi and Byakuya then we switch to Ichigo and Unohana on their way to Fake Karakura Town. Then after it's all over we see Yammy defeated.
One Piece, Chapter "0": the fight between Admiral Sengoku and Vice-Admiral Garp versus Gold Lion Shiki that ended with the latters defeat and half of Marineford in ruins. Somehow, a full-sized ship got lodged into it.
The end of the first arc of The Twelve Kingdoms. It's spent something like twelve episodes building up to Youko rescuing Keiki and claiming the throne- then skips over the entire civil war in about 5 minutes. Sure, the series is meant to focus more on character interactions, but still.
Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch managed to have one minor example, being an anime that focuses on magical girls who fight their opponents by singing. In one scene, Rina encounters a group of boys who want to give her a ride and seem to be thinking naughty thoughts. The scene then switches to a calm scene on the beach. Cut back to the car scene to see the boys knocked out with Rina dusting off her hands.
In Fairy Tail, Erza Scarlet vs. Erza Knightwalker Round One was this.
My Bride Is a Mermaid parodies this: During the war between Sun and Lunar's fan clubs, Nagasumi's "epic fight scene" is animated entirely with incredibly half-assed stick figures. The other characters treat it as if it's mindblowingly awesome.
In 52, there's a beautiful example of this. Lex Luthor has been provoking Steel for months — at the moment, Steel's niece is his hostage — and has often crossed the Moral Event Horizon for reasons related to his "Everyman" project, which has culminated in Luthor gaining Superman's powers. Steel's armor has been destroyed, which leads to several pages of No-Holds-Barred Beatdown — and Steel still gets back up, every single time. Fortunately, Natasha (The niece) uses Luthor's paranoia and her own ingenuity against him, ultimately shutting down Luthor's powers. Luthor has an Oh Crap moment, and then the next panel is a wide shot of the building, and the sounds of smackdown echoing across Metropolis. It is unspeakablysatisfying. The creator commentary included in the trade paperback reveals that, originally, we were supposed to actually see the end of the fight, but the writers realised that nothing they could draw could possibly look as amazing as what the readers own minds would fill in.
In the "Grand Theft America" arc of The Ultimates, Hawkeye has been captured and tortured in order to provide defensive codes allowing the Masters to attack New York City. After hours of torture he tears off his own fingernails and kills several guards by flicking them into their throats before threatening a scientist to let him go. After he's released a battallion charges in with him about to pick up an assault rifle. We cut to guards watching the carnage on security cameras before cutting back to reveal Hawkeye standing over a dozen dead soldiers holding two smoking rifles. His response to the security cameras? "Run."
In Street Fighter, one issue ends with Ryu accepting a challenge from "the greatest Kushti wrestler in all of India." We don't see the fight, but one can only imagine how it ended.
In The Smurfs comic book story "The Smurf Menace", Hefty gets into a fight with three Grey Smurfs who have stolen food from the Smurfs, and while only the two Smurfs following Hefty get to see the fight that we don't, we do get to see Hefty shaking his fist at the badly-wounded Grey Smurfs running back to their village.
"Salad Smurfs" teases us with this, as in one panel Papa Smurf sees a cloudy skull wearing a Smurf-style chef's hat, indicating that the Smurfs were ganging up on and beating Chef Smurf to a pulp, protesting Chef's recent spell of bad cooking, but when Papa Smurf enters the kitchen, Chef Smurf looks like the only thing that was harmed was his pride.
Part of the climax for Let the Right One In: Oskar is about to be drowned by the brother of the bully he beat up, his head held underwater. We only see it from under the pool, so we don't know what's happening at first, but it becomes apparent soon enough that Eli is killing the bullies when a severed head falls into the pool, followed swiftly by an arm.
Fahrenheit 9/11 didn't show any footage of the September 11th attacks, but instead showed a blank black screen while audio clips of the events were played, followed by reactions of people who saw it happen caught on (muted) video.
Invoked in Spy Kids: "Carmen, Juni, close your eyes! We don't want you to see this!"
Fight Club: The fight between the Narrator and Blondie. According to the director's commentary, the original version was more directly graphic, but the censors boohooed it. The result that made it into the cinematic version fit this trope. The change, arguably, led to a scene more horrible because it used this trope.
The Incredibles: Just before escaping Syndrome's base in a rocket, Mr. Incredible confronts a van full of Mooks. Cue an outside shot of the van rocking and shaking as he takes them out.
The Warriors: Near the end of the movie, Swan and Luther engage in a duel, which simply ends with Luther being stabbed in the hand with Swan's knife, dropping the gun. Then the Riffs show up, tell the Warriors they're off the hook, and surround Luther and The Rogues. An intense asskicking ensues, but the audience is not allowed to see it, as the camera instead pans to The Warriors walking along the beach...
Vietnam War film 84 Charlie MoPic is shot from the point of view of a cameraman attached to a army squad. (The title is his callsign.) At one point the squad calls down unseen artillery on unseen Vietcong, as the film didn't have the budget to show either of them.
A short film named Woodshed is nothing but this: a static shot of a woodshed and the noises of a huge scuffle.
How to Train Your Dragon: Happens in the last dragon training exercise. Despite Hiccup's willingness to let Astrid win the exercise, by the time Astrid comes around to make her move, Hiccup has already incapacitated the dragon (and by his expression, probably by accident). Also used the first time the Vikings try to take the dragons' nest.
Predator 2: King Willy, voodoo drug lord of L.A., squares off against the titular Predator. He draws his Cane Sword as the cloaked Predator approaches, becoming more and more visible with every step... and then it cuts to the Predator carrying his severed head off.
Large chunks of the battles between Godzilla and the MUTOs in Godzilla (2014) take place just off-camera, with the shot following the humans caught in the middle.
Rackety Tam has a small group of robbers occupying a family of farming voles' home. Then, The Lancer (and The Big Guy) and the Lightning Bruiser come along and decide to infiltrate the home as "hostages". In an offscreen battle inside the home, from the POV of the vole family who have evacuated their children outside to keep them away from the fighting, the two protagonists manage to kill all the three or four robbers. According to the sounds inside, they fight them with kitchen utensils and their own weapons. In the end, the last of the robbers trundles out, gargles violently and dies as well.
The Battle of the Whispering Wood in A Song of Ice and Fire is told entirely from Catelyn Stark's perspective. She is somewhere close to the battle where she can hear it, but it was too dark for her to see.
C. S. Lewis was fond of this. The climactic battle in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which the filmmakers took as an excuse to do the epic thing, is recounted second hand in the book, and the duel between Peter and Miraz in Prince Caspian is told by being described by a spectator to a short-sighted companion.
In The Book of Three, Taran is briefly involved in the initial part of the final battle before being knocked out by trying to draw the magic sword Dyrnwyn. The rest of the battle is recounted to him by his companions after he wakes up in the high king's castle. Definitely used for Character Development in the next five books as he becomes more and more centrally involved in the conflict.
A lot of the historical events in Time Cat are known to have ended less than peaceably, and the protagonists conveniently skip out of time for a lot of them.
In MYTH Inc. Link, Tananda, determined to complete an assignment herself, forbids Chumley from coming into a bar where she's trying to get information. Chumley shrugs, stays outside, and entertains himself by analyzing the sounds of the subsequent Bar Brawl:
That was a table going over... Another chair... A mirror (wonder how she missed the glasses?)...
Done repeatedly in Rome. The series includes several major battles of the early Roman Empire, but only once actually showed huge groups of soldiers fighting each other. For example, Caesar's campaign against Magnus is represented with a few screaming soldiers and a Roman standard falling into a puddle. That's about five years of warfare, right there.
Heroes has season one's big showdown between Future Peter and Sylar - colorful lights busting through the door Mohinder's holding shut.
Also season three's big showdown had the Petrelli brothers facing off against Sylar at his absolute strongest. All we saw was colorful lights and Claire's eye peaking through the door. The fandom was a bit less forgiving this time.
During the first fight of Power Rangers RPM (between Dillon and some Mooks), the camera stays focused on a lone flower, which Dillon had watered just beforehand and is probably the only thing still living in the wastes.
In the Stargate SG-1 episode "Upgrades", O'Neill, Carter, and Daniel get into a Bar Brawl while wearing the Atoniek armbands (which make them way faster and stronger, among other things). After O'Neill opens the fight by flipping a guy upside down one-handed, the camera cuts to the bar's exterior whereupon you hear a series of loud smacks, thuds, and shattering glass.
A running gag on Person of Interest is of them abbreviating a fight scene to only the part where the villian goes flying out of a window.
The episode "Believers" has Ivanova and a Mauve Shirt go out in Starfuries to escort a damaged passenger liner to the station. Ivanova pursues and destroys a Raider ship, then cue Oh Crap as dozens more appear on her sensors, and ... cut back to the episode's main plot on the station. At the end of the episode she and the liner turn up at the station with enough damage to her fighter to put it in the shop for a week, and she basically laughs it off.
In another episode, Marcus threatens an entire bar with an ass-whooping unless someone tells him what he wants to know. It then cuts to commercial and, on return, we see Marcus knocking out the last guy standing, before lamenting that he now has to wait for one of his opponents to regain consciousness for questioning.
A more mild example from Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined) when Starbuck's fighter malfunctions right before the first big battle and she listens to the first half of it over the radio before she can finish repairs and launch.
In the William Hartnell-era Doctor Who serial "The Reign of Terror", the Doctor convinces the leader of the press gang he's in that they're digging up gold coins. While the man scrabbles on the floor, back turned to the Doctor, the Doctor slowly takes a shovel from another of the gang members and readies it. We cut to the face of the man whose shovel the Doctor took as he looks on in confusion, before suddenly wincing in sympathetic agony. This was probably done because having the Doctor kill someone with a spade on screen would not be possible to Play For Laughs - he's allowed to kill people on screen at dramatic moments, though.
In Game of Thrones, the Battle of the Green Fork is skipped. Tyrion gives a pre-battle speech to his mountain clansmen, then gets promptly knocked unconscious. He wakes up after the battle and receives a summary from Bronn.
In Fargo, Lorne Malvo machine-guns the entire Fargo mob, but all we see of it is one man being thrown through a window to the sidewalk below. The rest is simply the camera moving up and over the side of the building from the door Malvo enters, following the shots and screams past rows of mirrored windows.
One Calvin and Hobbes strip had Calvin sledding down a particularly treacherous hill. Instead of seeing him crash, we see Hobbes standing at the top of the hill, watching and reacting.
The Team Fortress 2 video Meet the Sandvich takes place entirely inside a refrigerator with the camera pointing at the eponymous Sandvich. The beauty is in the sounds of the battle - first the Heavy chows down on his sandvich with an almost-adorable "OM NOM NOM" noise, then come some sickening cracks and the Scout's screams of "MY BLOOD! HE PUNCHED OUT ALL MY BLOOD!" Hilarity ensued.
In Mega Man X, right before the rematch with Vile, Zero goes in first, and the player merely hears battle noises for a few moments before they regain control of X.
Used a couple times in the Monkey Island series; once in the governor's mansion in The Secret of Monkey Island and then in Club 41 in the first episode of Tales of Monkey Island. The latter is one of those "creators didn't have the resources" versions; in a game commentary they explain that showing the inside of Club 41 would have put them over the Wii's file size limit.
Played for laughs in Samara's loyalty mission in Mass Effect 2. In the nightclub VIP room, a slightly drunk turian won't take no for an answer from an asari stripper. If Shepard tells him to lay off, the turian will pick a fight with him/her. Shepard and the turian move off-camera so only the asari is visible, whereupon there's a string of blows-landing sounds with accompanying winces from the asari, then the turian goes flying past the camera. Bonus points if it's FemShep wearing the Little Black Dress from Kasumi's loyalty mission. Especially given the dialogue for the scene if you're playing Female Shepard. (Watch it here.)
Female Shepard: The lady asked you to step away.
Drunken Turian: You want in on this transaction? I don't care if it's you or this bitch — I just like good times!
[Drunken Turian moves in on Shepard and gets his ass royally kicked]
Female Shepard: Good times are over.
Star Trek Online, episode "Wasteland", mission "A Fistful of Gorn". Old Romulan named Law challenges a Gorn pirate gunning for the Player Character's head to a Showdown at High Noon. They square off, and the camera cuts to the town sign as they draw and fire. Next camera has Law walk up to you and shrug.
8-Bit Theater loves this trope. For every battle that's shown on panel, there are at least two whose effects are only observed by the other characters or implied via speech bubbles, sound effects, or rivers of blood from offpanel. The crowning moment, however, is in the Final Battle with Chaos where this is used twice — first when it actually happens and again, in a Double Subversion, in flashback. The latter also counts as an intentional Offscreen Moment of Awesome.
In the Tom and Jerry short "Mouse Trouble", Tom pounces on Jerry while the latter is backed into a corner, on the advice from his new mouse-catching guide that "A cornered mouse never fights". There's sounds of a violent scuffle, then a battered and bruised Tom sticks his head out and says, in an ominous voice, "Don't you believe it!"
Lampshaded in the Animaniacs episode "Bully for Slappy." After being warned to tone down the level of violence in her cartoons by the US government, Slappy Squirrel spends the rest of the episode building a strange machine while Skippy deals with a school bully. Once the machine is finished, Slappy feeds the bully AND a senator into the machine, explaining that this machine helps eliminate the viewing of violence on screen, by allowing all the violence to happen OFF screen.
The Yakuza/Springfield Mafia fight in The Simpsons takes place mostly from the view of the Kitchen. Homer is then rather bummed out that he's missing out on all the good action.
Especially since "The Little Guy hasn't done anything yet, and you know when he does, it's gonna to be good"
"Kiyaa!" * thud* * thud* * thud* "Aww!"
(Little Guy crashes through the window) "Forgiveness, please!"
Happens a lot in cartoons to get around the Moral Guardians. You'll see stars and planets shooting into frame from offscreen and you get to see the onlookers wincing reactions.
Ironically, in the Rankin-Bass animated The Return of the King, even during epic battles, all violence is hidden: a human will fall out-of-frame to the left, and then an orc will enter the frame, and swing his axe in the direction of the (hidden) human.
It also happens in their version of The Hobbit some examples include when Gandalf kills The Great Goblin you see him swing the sword and it cuts to the Great Goblin grabbing at his throat and falling into a tunnel, when Bilbo stabs the spiders you see closeups of their spinning faces, and during The Battle of Five Armies the only impacts shown are when an enemy is hit with a shield other than that they swing their weapons and it cuts to the enemy falling, and from a distance you see dots throwing spears and arrows at each other.
Looney Tunes: Happens near the climatic end of the Bugs Bunny short "Knights Must Fall".
A few big battles in the animated Astérix movies use the Big Ball of Violence to hide the brutality, filling the screen with dust and armour flying out (also odder things like false teeth and boxer shorts).
In a more specific example, During Asterix in Britain, when Obelix is imprisoned in the "Tower of Londinium", we see him leave his cell in the fashion you'd expect of Obelix, then we cut to outside the Tower, hearing the sounds of Obelix knocking the guards about (and occasionally one flying out the window) as he goes down. Once he's down, however, Asterix goes in the front, thinking Obelix is still in there, and it happens again, only this time, going up. They both then realize where the other is, and it happens again until they meet in the middle.
Pinkie Pie:(enters dragon cave in a silly outfit) Sharing a laugh is a surefire way to get someone on your side. Pinkie Pie:(to dragon while offscreen) Hi! (cue sounds of offscreen beating) Pinkie Pie:(exits dragon cave in a busted silly outfit) Apparently, he doesn't like laughing. Or sharing... * Happens a lot in cartoons made by Xilam, such as Oggy and the Cockroaches and Space Goofs, where characters are beaten senseless off screen. Although we do get to see the results.
Transformers Rescue Bots features one of these when the titular Bots finally manage to confront the MorBot in combat at the end of "The Reign of Morocco". It may double as a robotic form of Gory Discretion Shot, as the resulting rain of robot parts implies that what they did was rather brutal.
Chase: MorBot decommissioned.
In the Earthworm Jim episode "The Eggbeater" Jim and Peter Puppy are about to engage Queen Slugforabutt's army of undefeatable Zergs, when suddenly a female news anchor announces that as a result of skyrocketing costs they are cutting the budget for action sequences in cartoons and are going for a cheap substitute, we then cut to Jim putting away his laser gun saying what a spectacular battle it was and that they barely escaped with their lives.