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Creators sometimes like to tweak the audience, and what better way than fudging the reality of the work itself? Or maybe they want to give the fans a little taste of something long awaited, but without actually committing it to canon. Enter the Daydream Surprise. The work's perspective subtly shifts inside a character's head, and while viewers think
they're seeing the story play out, they're really just seeing that character fantasize. Usually, a nearby character will then snap the dreamer back to reality, and the viewers suddenly find out that the last 20 seconds were a lie
The Daydream Surprise is the stealthy counterpart of the Imagine Spot
, which is very clear from the beginning that it's not real. In its purest form, this trope is a very short-form Reset Button
of Fantasy Sequence
. Compare Indulgent Fantasy Segue
, a common subtrope where the daydream specifically involves physical violence, frequently Played for Laughs
. Contrast All Just a Dream
, where the daydream is used as a Twist Ending
. Somewhat related to Fever Dream Episode
. The Final Temptation
can be a dramatic version (although in that case it's often explicitly a vision from the start).
By the nature of this trope, expect spoilers.
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Anime & Manga
- In episode 6 of Another, Sakakibara randomly jumps up from his desk, grabs Misaki's hand and the two of them indulge in a hilarious dance in the middle of class. None of the other students take notice. Cut to Sakakibara staring off into space with a stupid grin on his face. Due to the seriousness of the show before that though, Mood Whiplash may occur.
- In Genshiken, Madarame starts talking to Saki about the latest episode of Kujibiki Unbalance, to which she responds with increasing interest, then enthusiasm, and then finally full-on fangirlism — and then we snap back, she's still reading her shoujo manga, and Madarame berates himself for coming up with such an out-of-character fantasy for them.
- Worked repeatedly into the same episode of the second season of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, it leaves even the character (let alone the viewers) questioning whether his fantasies are real or not. One of the more bizarre episodes of the series.
- The multi-layered brainhack/dream sequence in Ghost in the Shell II: Innocence. The first run-through is pretty normal (for GitS, anyway), but as Togusa completes each iteration it gradually gets more and more bizarre, until Batou snaps him out of it before the place is levelled by a passing warship.
It Makes Sense in Context. It Makes Sense after watching 5-6 times, with notes. It is very pretty though.
- Used ambiguously in Martian Successor Nadesico: Akito is stranded in a drifting shuttle with two of his would-be love interests, where their chances of survival would increase dramatically if one were to bail out. The camera cuts to the outside while Akito immediately names Yurika as the jumper: "You're a real burden on my shoulders." When we cut back inside, there's none of the shock or offense you might expect, but some dialogue later on implies that he did indeed make his thoughts known. What probably happened was that he asked Yurika to jump, and she made up her own (surprisingly plausible, for Yurika) reason for why he said that; she's a lot more capable of surviving in space than inexperienced civilian Megumi.
- Ninin Ga Shinobuden has Onsokumaru and the ninja gang planning to peep on Shinobu and Kaede while they're in the changing room. We then see Shinobu and Kaede in the changing room, and Skinship Grope begins complete with "seductive" music and some...interesting sound effects. Then Kaede and Shinobu ask Miyabi to join them... at which point it cuts back to Onsokumaru saying "And that's what I expect it to be like!"
- This is a favorite gag of Rumiko Takahashi's Ranma ˝. Often interrupted as another character spots the daydreamer acting out the dream and makes some loud noise to bring him or her back to reality.
- Maison Ikkoku also does this constantly throughout the series. The daydreamer is, with one or two exceptions, always Godai, and it almost always involves him getting into a prone position with a willing Kyoko. He never actually manages to get there because he always bows his head in real life and bumps into to something at the last moment, usually a lamppost, and that snaps him back to reality.
- One episode of K-On features this courtesy of Azusa, who's suffering from heatstroke and keeps nodding off. At several points the episode almost imperceptibly segues into something bizarre, such as the other light music club members rushing down a waterslide while balancing pots of yakisoba on their heads, only for Azusa to then wake up and realize she'd only dreamt it.
- After her mother asks if she's got a boy she likes, Hinagiku of Hayate the Combat Butler has a dream of Hayate confessing to her. After she wakes up she fights with herself about whether she actually likes him like that. She doesn't realize she does until halfway through the next season. From the manga it's been stated that she loved him at first sight though.
- Change 123: Happens at least two times, first time (chapter 3) it's about Kosukegawa confessing to Motoko that he loves her (back when he was still too shy about it), second time (chapter 43) he has an angst-driven fantasy about getting bolder with her.
- This happens in One Piece, on the voyage to Impel Down. Boa Hancock demands an absurd amount of food to be delivered to her cabin that's also off-limits. We cut to what looks like Hancock and Luffy sharing a meal, with Luffy looking suspiciously suave and spouting cliche'd romance lines. We next see Hancock huddling in the corner sihging at the thought of it actually happening while Luffy gorges himself as expected.
- Samurai Champloo: The first episode goes to commercial with Mugen and Jin fighting inside a burning building. Coming back from the commercial, it seems Mugen's still fighting, but then it gets all weird, with fire being cold and Jin in a bathtub. He eventually comes to and realizes he'd been knocked out and tied up along with Jin. This results in a very amusing and just-slightly-naughty exchange:
Mugen: I remember a dream. There was fire all around me.
Jin: It wasn't a dream.
Mugen: Oh yeah? So you were in a bathtub with your thing hanging out?
Jin: Now that was a dream.
- A Batman comic features a just-on-the-brink-of-insanity Harvey Dent shooting up a courtroom. Then the judge calls him out for daydreaming. Of course, everything in the daydream is red, so that might tip you off.
- One issue of Ultimate Spider-Man had him disagreeing with Charles Xavier's decision to present Geldoff, a Latverian youth who was genetically engineered into a mutant, to the UN and the scientific community as proof of immoral and illegal genetic research. We then see him taking out the entire X-Men team on his lonesome and escaping the mansion with Geldoff... only for Xavier to telepathically appear in his daydream and ask him if that's really a good idea.
- At the end of the "Murdock Papers" story arc in Daredevil, Matt is on trial for being Daredevil, and is asked what he pleads. He then knocks over a table, runs away to Paris with his wife, finds his wife killed by Bullseye, kills Bullseye, spends several years traveling, ends up in Japan with Elektra...and then it cuts back to the courtroom, where he pleads not guilty.
- In one arc of Superman, after Brainiac (who's been re-retconned back into an alien scientist) indirectly kills Pa Kent Superman suddenly takes off, breaks into Brainiac's prison cell and punches his head into a bloody green pulp. Cut to Clark just sitting there in the funeral parlor, with Lois asking if he's all right.
- Used repeatedly in Serenity: Better Days to show what the crew plan to do with their share of the treasure. Because of River's... condition, the illustration of hers is surreal to say the least.◊
- Is Kid Paddle's father acting even remotely cool in this strip ? Yeah, spoiler warning, it's one of these.
- Spy Kids: Gregorio Cortez sees his son starting to be bullied, then sees the bully's father, gets into a fight with him, tosses through a window, embraces his adoring son... and nope, it was all a daydream and he walks away from the taunting dad.
- The first joke of Analyze This is Dr. Ben Sobel listening to a neurotic patient vent about a breakup and responding, "Well, what I think you should do is stop whining about this pathetic loser. You are a tragedy queen! 'Oh, Steve doesn't like me! Steve doesn't respect me!' Oh, who gives a shit, GET A FUCKING LIFE!!!" Cut to Ben still quietly sitting at his desk.
- Bridget Jones is talking to Mark at the launch party when her coworker Perpetua walks up to them. Bridget introduces them to each other with thoughtful details: "Mark's a prematurely middle-aged prick with a cruel raced ex-wife. Perpetua is a fat-arse old bag who spends her time bossing me around." Then the voiceover says, "Maybe not," and we cut back to reality, where Bridget gives a much more ordinary introduction.
- Mean Girls:
- The DVD edition has an alternate version of the anti-clique workshop scene.
Ms Norbury: Nothing you wanna apologise for?
Cady (as narrator): And then she said it. The worst thing you can hear from any adult.
Ms Norbury: Your parents have been eaten by cannibals!
Cady (as narrator): ...Uh, OK, the second worst.
Ms Norbury: I'm really disappointed in you, Cady.
- One of the final scenes counts, as there's a brief spot of the freshman Plastics getting hit by a bus before it's revealed they actually stepped back just in time.
- Ripley being killed by a chestburster in Aliens. It's a proper nightmare and not a daydream, but you don't find that out until she wakes up.
- An homage to Aliens is found at the beginning of Hostel 2, which practically duplicates the scene. Both movies start with the protagonist from the first movie hospitalized, then being killed off in the theme of the movie series... only to reveal it was All Just a Dream. Though in Hostel 2, the protagonist ends up getting killed a minute later.
- At the end of The Chase, Charlie Sheen gets out of his car and is riddled with bullets...or not. A clue was left for the observant viewers: he lights a cigarette with a lighter that, in reality, was thrown off the car long ago.
- Chicago has a fake-out. It's like punching the audience for being so credulous with their Willing Suspension of Disbelief. Then again, this could be said of almost every musical number, that they're all part of Roxie's imagination.
- Die Another Day:
- After Bond is reinstated back into MI6 and the base is suddenly attacked. He makes his way through shooting the assailants until he gets to one holding M hostage... so he promptly shoots her to get to the assailant. Q suddenly appears and chastises Bond on his performance while taking off the VR glasses. The whole thing being a training simulator.
- The end abruptly jumps to Bond walking in on Moneypenny in her office, where things quickly begin to get steamy... until R shows up wondering why Moneypenny is using his virtual reality machine.
- Infamously, Phoebe Cates at the poolside in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
- In Kenneth Branagh's version of Hamlet, the title character (eavesdropping on Claudius' soliloquy from the other half of a confessional) imagines stabbing Claudius through the ear; the scene snaps back as Hamlet reconsiders his plan.
- The Girl Next Door uses this a few times: The first time, the protagonist imagines skipping school and getting pulled over by the police, while the second time he imagines a faculty member walking in on his Get Rich Quick sex-education video production.
- One of the most poignant uses of this trope forms a substantial portion of the latter half of Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ, in which Christ is allowed to descend from the Cross, marry Mary Magdalene, and live out the rest of his days as a mortal man. On his deathbed, however, he realises this was a trick by the devil, and renounces the illusion of His mortal life, returning instantly to the Cross.
- Next, as might be imagined in a movie with a precog as the protagonist, does this a lot. (Such as everything after Nick Cage sleeps with Jessica Biel, which comes out to about two-thirds of the movie). In fact, it's the main gimmick of the movie: his precognition is frequently represented as a "daydream", and if he wants to change what happened, it then becomes the "surprise".
- A very long version occurs before the climax of Romy And Michele's High School Reunion, where Michelle daydreams an entirely different ending to the film, culminating in a 90-year-old version of Romy flipping her off over videophone for ditching her at the reunion.
- Requiem for a Dream:
- Marion dreams about stabbing, with a fork, the hand of a man she absolutely detests while she is on a date with him.
- Harry fantasizes himself and Tyrone playing keep-away with a police officer's firearm, the policeman in the middle.
- The "escape" scene at the end of Brazil. Although, unlike Winston Smith in 1984, Sam Lowry actually does escape - according to his captors. "He's got away from us"...
- The Maiden Heist opens with one. It involves Christopher Walken with Guns Akimbo. It is awesome.
- When praying in Black Death, Osmund sees dead Averill calling his name, then he broght back to reality by Ulrich, who does the same.
- In True Lies, the briefest daydream ever: trained spy Harry is driving along listening to the chatter of the schmuck in the passenger seat — who he knows is messing around with his wife. Harry, without taking his eyes off the road, elbows the guy in the face and knocks him out. Then suddenly we're back to the guy rambling on and laughing.
- In Up, as Carl and Russell float over a city, Carl attempts to lower Russell to the ground (and thereby not have to put up with him) on a bedsheet harness, only for the 'rope' to be too short, and Russell falls screaming. Switch back to Carl, still standing behind Russell inside the house, and he mutters "Well, that won't work."
- Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle: Harold, returning home from a long day at work, gets into an elevator with his sexy neighbor and successful chats her up. We then cut back to reality, where the scene actually plays out as an Uncomfortable Elevator Moment.
- In The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce imagines a conversation with (the deceased) Ra's al Ghul.
- The Dutch film Majesteit ends this way. The queen reads the first few lines of her Prinsjesdag speech, stops, announces she steps down from the throne then and there and walks away. When she gets to the door she looks back and sees herself still sitting on the throne, reading out her speech normally. Because the queen of the Netherlands did not in fact step down in 2003, we know the version in which she walks away is a daydream, but the camera stays with her nonetheless, following her through The Hague.
- Dressed to Kill opens as closed with a tense Hitchcockian shower scene. Each time its revealed to be a dream sequence.
- In a scene in One Hour Photo, Sy drives up to the Yorkin house while the family is away. This is followed by a montage of him breaking into and exploring the house, and doing mundane things like going to the bathroom. This culminates in him sitting on the couch watching a football game, while drinking a beer and wearing a sweater he hadn't had on before; all just as the family's coming home. They walk in and see him before he can escape, but instead of reacting with shock or outrage, they chat with him like he lives with them and they were merely surprised to see him home. The camera then cuts back to Sy, still sitting in his car, revealing that the whole scene was just a daydream.
- Happens frequently with protagonist Troy in Fat Kid Rules The World. The very first scene has him attempting suicide by jumping in front of a fast-moving city bus: When it appears he's been hit, he explodes into Ludicrous Gibs, which cover a passerby on the sidewalk with blood as the bus-driver merely wipes off the mess with his windshield wipers and drives on. Cut back to Troy still on the sidewalk working up the nerve to do it - this time he really does run out in front of the bus, but is tackled and saved at the last second.
- A Deleted Scene in Lolita (1997) has Humbert swimming with his wife after she decides to send her daughter Off to Boarding School (meaning Humbert won't be able to be near her). Humbert pulls her underwater until she drowns, coldly brushes aside her drifting legs, then resurfaces... and his voiceover admits that he couldn't do it.
- The Killing Room (2009). An NSA psychiatrist is recruited to observe an experiment, and is shocked to find it's part of a lethal Mind Control program. She steals the swipe card to the titular room, slips into the room and frees the two subjects who are still alive. As they're fleeing down the corridor and the Red Alert goes off, we cut back to her watching the subjects through a double-sided mirror, being unable to go through with it. The head scientist then demands the return of his swipe card.
- A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge: Subverted. At one point during Lisa's journey into Freddy's lair, a wound on her leg is suddenly infested with insects. She frantically tries to get them off until she realizes that nothing is there, as it was another dream. Except she was never asleep—Freddy's powers are just starting to reach into the real world.
- Another episode of the series (Part 3 or 4, I forget) has the protagonist being coached to "lucid dream" herself out of the scary setting and onto a tropical beach. When the shift happens in her dream, she's wearing a bikini and lounging on a towel. It's quickly subverted when the glove "swims" like Jaws through the sand straight toward her.
- Done a twice in Monster-in-Law. Viola imagines slamming Charlie head-first into a cake, and later, Charlie imagines whacking Viola in the head with a frying pan.
- In Atonement, as a kind of retroactive daydream, Briony (as the author) writes an alternate ending where her sister and Robbie survive and reunite. Later, she reveals that she made that up, and they actually both died before they could find each other again. An interesting example in that it then throws the truth of the rest of the book into question, not just that one surprise daydream.
- Stephen King's Pet Sematary gives us a double whammy. First the sequence of events that involved Gage getting hit and killed by a truck and Louis getting into a fistfight with his father-in-law at the funeral, was revealed to be just a vision that flashed before Louis' eyes as Gage was running toward the road. The book goes on to describe how Gage escaped the truck, grew up to be an honor student and then an Olympic swimmer, and then, as Louis and Rachel are watching Gage's winning event on the television, the point of view shifts back to reality, where it's made clear that THAT was the fantasy, and Gage is still very much dead.
- The short story An Incident At Owl Creek about a Confederate deserter who escapes his hanging and makes his way home. None of it was real and he hanged.
Live Action TV
- A variation on the concept was used in the MAD feature "The Shadow Knows" (after the famous introductory line: "What evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!"). Each cartoon would show a realistic scene, with the characters' shadows acting out what's in their heads.
- Second Sight. It starts with the protagonist strapped to a gurney in a hospital, and over time does flashbacks to time he spent overseas with an elite military unit. Turns out the the game's "Real" time frame is the flash backs; the opening sequence and any other part of the game based in the States is precognition. Revealed somewhat since every time you have a "flashback", and then find yourself back in the "present", something has changed. (Such as the mandatory love interest still being alive.)
- The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay uses this as its tutorial level. After a brief dialogue scene between Riddick and Johns, the ship lands at Butcher Bay. There is a sandstorm going on, and Johns' dialogue is notably stunted and he doesn't respond like a normal human would. He also goes down ridiculously easily when he turns his back on Riddick. This catches the attention of security, so Riddick escapes down a hatch and spends the rest of the level teaching the controls to the player. Just when it appears he's home free, we hear Johns say: "Wake up, Riddick." Then we get to see the actual arrival at the prison.
- The sequel, Assault on Dark Athena opens with Daydream Surprise, taking advantage of of Riddick's Furyan heritage to let him dream about killing enemies he hasn't even encountered yet. It ends in a hallway with the lights going out one by one, while Riddick narrates: "Embrace the darkness." Then he wakes up from cryo-sleep.
- Eternal Darkness opens up with Alex being attacked by a horde of zombies. The player can fight them off, but they'll eventually become too numerous and kill her. That's when she wakes up.
- The Pokéwalker has this trope used by the player's in the Pokéwalker when it's bored.
- It is the cause for Pokémon Heart Gold and Soul Silver, in which it happens to the player's first Pokémon in the party, in which a "..." speech bubble appears over its head, and a message says, "(Pokémon's name) appears to be lost in a daydream." Then the player can snap the player's Pokémon back into reality.
- The opening cutscene of My Pokémon Ranch had Hayley explaining the whole goal while she is daydreaming; it shows the Pokemon playing in the ranch and vise versa. That is when Hayley snaps out of her daydream, and comments that she "was daydreaming again."
- In The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, Dr. McNinja had one involving Ben Franklin, being stalked by the Headless Horseman's horse (long story) as he as McNinja are boarding a plane. Franklin needs hair to stave off the horse but the airport security won't let him through with it. So Ben starts to go on a rampage cutting people's hair much to McNinja's embarrassment. However we find that is all in Ben's imagination considering what to do and he politely carries on without it.
- El Goonish Shive:
- It had Grace imagine her first day at school. The last row of panels has her admitting that it probably won't be as awesome as she imagines, but she hopes it comes close. It came as such a surprise to some readers that the author devoted an entire filler strip to pointing out the hints in each panel that indicated it was all a dream.
- Sarah has apprehensions about Grace!Tedd's experiments.
- Think Before You Think does it here.
- Homestuck has a variation here - instead of a dream, the perspective switches to a prophetic vision of an alternate timeline.
- A sequence in Wapsi Square, starting here had Shelly imagine that her boyfriend Justin surprised her in the shower. The sequence includes a few spoilers including the reason why this would be a bad thing.
- Alien Hand Syndrome: While waiting on a station platform with her friend Erin, the shy, retiring Mina suddenly narrows her eyes, walks toward a total stranger, shoves him in front of an oncoming train and grins wickedly as his blood splatters a warning sign. Then Erin tells her to wake up because their train has arrived, and she wonders why the hell she would ever imagine such a thing. The sequence proper begins here, but in the preceding strip Mina's shadow turns demonic.
- Sunstone has these thanks to characters fantasizing about outlandish BDSM scenarios. Interestingly the daydreams so far have been reuses of the pin ups the comic consisted of before gaining a continuity, meaning for avid fans these are Daydream Surprises that took two years to pay off.
- Yosh has such a sequence for a monster trapped in an illusion where it's winning the fight... bloodily.
- Sometimes happens in Survival of the Fittest. One particular incident was Brad Kavanagh's 'Death'.
- In I'm a Marvel... And I'm a DC, Spider-Man and Green Goblin are trapped by a gang of possessed Darker and Edgier superheroes. Until Green Goblin unleashes a can of high-grade Whoop Ass on each of them, single-handedly saving the day and delightedly elating that he "beat 'em all!"... until Spider-Man brings him back to reality.
: Yeah. That'd be great if that actually happened. But we're gonna freakin' die
- This happened at least twice in the popular YouTube series Chad Vader, and on both occasions involving the title character murdering his boss in a strange fashion. The first time he gets mad at her for deporting his girlfriend and explodes her head with a bazooka, only for it to cut back to reality. A later scene involves the boss socializing with Chad, who asks her if she'd like to be blown up by a bomb and die, to which she casually accepts. Just as Chad is getting excited over her death, the boss quickly snaps him back into reality.
- Happy Tree Friends:
- Done very darkly in the episode "Without a Hitch" to Flaky.
- Done in "A Sucker for Love (Part 2)", combined with Why Don't You Marry It?.