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. Sub-Trope of Fantasy Sequence. Super Trope to Indulgent Fantasy Segue, 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, and Danger Room Cold Open, where the opening scene is an engineered training simulation that may include a certain amount of fakery such as feigned "deaths". 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 sighing 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: ...No.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.
- The DVD edition has an alternate version of the anti-clique workshop scene.
- 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 Part II, 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.
- The Dream Master 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
- In an episode of Workaholics, Adam, high on bath salts, painkillers and alcohol, sings (pretty well, too) a song at Karl's Wedding, dedicated to his new homeless girl, complete with backing from Jakob Dylan of the Wallflowers. Only the song cuts out after a minute, the lighting changes and we're back to reality, with Adam drunkenly moaning and yelling at the wedding guests.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
- Played for Drama in the episode "The Body." Buffy imagines that the paramedics are able to revive her mother, rush her to the hospital in an ambulance, and get the "good as new" seal approval from the doctor; cut back to shot of Joyce lying dead on the floor.
- Used as a Love Epiphany in "Out of My Mind". After yet another double-cross Buffy turns up at Spike's crypt determined to stake him once and for all. A pissed off Spike rips off his shirt to expose his manly body and tells her to get on with it, whereupon they start making out passionately as Spike tells Buffy he loves her... only to wake up in bed with an expression of horror on his face.
- Seen from the outside in "The Dark Age" - Buffy walks into a computer class as Ms. Calendar says "Okay, guys, the first thing we're going to do is - Buffy!" Xander sits up saying "What, did I fall asleep just now?"
- In the spinoff to Buffy Angel, an entire episode, featuring a tidy resolution of all of Angel's problems, emotional personal or supernatural, turned out to be a fantasy constructed by a spell to orchestrate the removal of his soul.
- It makes liberal use of both Daydream Surprise and the Imagine Spot. J.D. is quite the Mr. Imagination.
- Subverted in the episode "My Best Laid Plans". On a date with Molly, when he's in a relationship with Kylie, J.D.'s Inner Monologue says he knows exactly what will happen if he brushes the hair out of her eyes, and we get a speeded up sequence of them kissing, leaving the bar, going back to J.D.'s place and they're just about to take their clothes off when we snap back to reality, and J.D.'s monologue says "But I didn't". Then, when he accidentally lets slip to Kylie he was seeing Molly, the inner monologue says he knows exactly what will happen if he doesn't say the right thing, and we get a similar speeded up sequence of them arguing, and J.D. leaving and going home. Instead of another snap-back, the monologue just says "And that's what happened."
- This was subverted in one episode where Dr. Cox punches out Dr. Kelso. Both the audience and J.D. expect this trope, but are surprised when there's no snap back to reality. The event actually happened!
- Happens a lot in Unfabulous, once where Addy throws excrement at the popular girls for teasing her.
- Done frequently in Spaced, starting with the second episode, when Tim wakes up, finds the flat is bright and airy and his ex-girlfriend (who chucked him out) is making breakfast. She laughs at his dream that "you dumped me and I moved in with a girl I hardly know"...and then a monster attacks him. He wakes up for real, and the awful truth hits him.
- Murdoch Mysteries used it quite often (together with Imagine Spot), regarding Detective Murdoch and Dr. Ogden's Will They or Won't They? and on-again-off-again relationship:
- In the episode "Still Waters", Murdoch stumbles over saying, "Can I ask you a question?" and when Dr. Ogden says, "Yes?", he kisses her. Cut to a moment later, and Murdoch actually asking to have his bathwater back.
- In the Season 3 finale, Murdoch steps out of a jewellers with a ring, heads for the infirmary, and asks Dr Ogden to marry him. Then it flashes back to the jewellers, and Murdoch really does go to the infirmary, only to find she's already left for her new job in Buffalo.
- In season 4 when Julia is engaged to Dr. Garland, she meets William in the morgue and they discuss the case that was just solved and which involved Hemo Erotic and Kiss of the Vampire craze. Julia gets aroused and they end up violently making out. It turns out it was just Julia's fantasy.
- In season one of House, Dr. House tells Vogler that he has a stage four cancer before suddenly waking up. The small, sad, disappointed noise from the audience was heard three and a half kilometres away.
- Stargate SG-1:
- An instance in the episode "Grace".
- Done confusingly at the end of "The Other Guys", with the end of the episode having a fake kiss between a main character and the Non-Action Guy the episode was based around. The confusing part is that they forgot to mention if it was the entire episode that was the dream, or just the kiss at the end. It took Word of God to sort that one out.
- Used at least once in "200", where the SGC blows up in the middle of the episode for no apparent reason. The opening sequence could also count, as the last recap is from a fake episode where SG-1 meets the Ewoks — er, Furlings — which somehow leads to their planet exploding. Sam interrupts the recap by complaining, "Now that never happened!"
- Lost plays heavily with dreams and reality, such as Kate's vision of Claire in the season 4 finale, or Eko's vision of Ana-Lucia immediately following her death. Another form of the trope was the teaser for "Catch-22," in which Charlie is killed by an arrow to the throat. This turns out to be one of Desmond's precognitive "flashes," which will actually occur later if he doesn't prevent it.
- Possibly best known from the The Twilight Zone episode "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" (adapted from the short story of the same name by Ambrose Bierce), in which a Civil War prisoner being hanged from the eponymous bridge manages a miraculous escape, makes his way across miles of hostile countryside to his home, stumbles inside to the welcoming arms of his loving wife... and finishes his drop on the end of the rope and dies.
- A nice little incidental use of this in the Series 1 finale of Mad Men contrasted Don's hopes for his family with the reality of his isolation from them.
- A Season One episode of Pushing Daisies sees waitress Olive Snook realize that a customer had been proclaiming his love for her just before he returns to the Pie Hole and sweeps her off her feet. Blink, and she's back holding his left-behind coffee cup.
- Used frequently on the Canadian sitcom Corner Gas, most notably in the fourth season finale, which plays out as if it's the final episode of the entire show, with characters moving away, character arcs being resolved, a Bittersweet Ending and the eponymous gas station being taken over by a megacorporation as Dog River goes from being a small town to a proper city...before it's revealed that all of this is just a prolonged daydream sequence on the part of Hank.
- Used constantly on Passions. Part of these scenes would usually be used in the next episode preview.
- Star Trek: Enterprise:
- The "stinky" scene. Malcolm Reed images that he's lying in Sickbay after being rescued from a shuttle accident, and is about to snog T'Pol when he wakes up back in the shuttle.
- T'Pol dreams she's having a Shower of Love with 'Trip' Tucker, only to suddenly turn into a Trellium-D zombie and attack him. This is a sign of her breakdown in emotional control as a result of the drug.
- A variation of this occurs in the pre-title sequence of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Hollow Pursuits". Reginald Barclay is initially portrayed as an arrogant tough guy who scares his superiors and is popular with women. Then he's called in for duty outside the holodeck that this scene takes place in, and it turns out that he's actually quite meek. It happens again at the end of the episode when Barclay announces he's "leaving" the crew and it turns out he's instead speaking to the holographic version of them, as he is determinedly breaking away from using the holodeck recreationally.
- The Star Trek: Voyager episode "Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy" has The Doctor (no, not that one) upgrade his program so he can dream like humans, but a glitch in the algorithm causes him to spontaneously daydream on duty.
- In That '70s Show, episode "It's All Over Now", Jackie comes to the Hub, and when Hyde asks how she is, she says she wants to marry him. He replies he does too, and everybody dances in joy. Next scene: everybody except Jackie is sitting, and Hyde asks her once more how she is.
- In "That's My Dog", Season 4 of Six Feet Under, David imagines the hitchhiker he's picked up coming out to him, calling him cute then propositioning him for an on-the-side relationship. Blink and it cuts back to him offering David a drink of water, saying to the daydreaming David: "Hello? Where did you go?!"
- True Blood:
- When Eric was daydreaming about Sookie.
- The NewsRadio episode "Daydream" is a series of these as the characters deal with a broken air conditioner with a series of heat-induced hallucinations.
- Royal Pains did this in the Season 1 finale, with Divya imagining standing up to everyone at her engagement party and breaking it off, but really going through with it.
- Heroes uses a few in the new season.
- Happens in one episode of A Nero Wolfe Mystery, when the client mentions Nero Wolfe's daughter:
Wolfe: I have no daughter. This is flummery!
Archie (narrating): At least, that's what I thought he'd say. What he actually said was this:
Wolfe: I have no daughter. She died.
- In one of the later episodes of the Battlestar Galactica reboot, Tigh shortly after finding out he's a Cylon, shoots Admiral Adama in the CIC. Everyone panics. Then he looks up and it turns out that was all in his head.
- In an episode of Dark Angel, a Mook pulls a gun on Max. She effortlessly knocks the gun away and defeats her opponent, then goes home to celebrate. While she's in the middle of having sex, she starts to feel a pain, then collapses from being shot in the chest by the mook.
- A trailer for Castle sees Beckett and Castle at a trendy pool bar, Beckett wearing a very figure-enhancing red dress and sexily flirting up a storm with the very appreciative Castle... until Beckett snaps Castle back into reality. Turns out they're at a murder scene, involving some poor bastard who's been impaled on a pool cue, and Castle was just indulging in a fantasy.
- Glee featured one in an episode with Artie getting out of his wheelchair and finally dancing. A 'Daydream Ballet', if you will.
- A Crime Story episode ended with idealistic public defender David Abrams representing the street thug who beat up his (Abrams') girlfriend. While questioning him in his cell, Abrams pulls out a gun and empties it into the guy...then he snaps out of it.
- How I Met Your Mother:
- One episode had a Running Gag of a character saying something sensible, then the film stops and the narrator says "...is what (character) should have said", and the scene starts over with what the character really said, which wasn't sensible at all.
- One episode has Ted finally rage out on Stella for what she did. Then the camera snaps back to him in the cab with his friends, who cheer him for the speech he has planned out. When he gets out of the car, though, he sees her with her daughter and Tony and can't bring himself to do it.
- The Big Bang Theory:
- In "The Infestation Hypothesis", Penny gets a chair that was thrown away and Sheldon becomes obsessed with getting rid of it. Penny convinces him that she had the chair cleaned, so he takes a seat, and is suddenly swarmed by cockroaches. He them wakes up from his dream.
- In the episode where Penny asks about Sheldon's "deal" regarding his sexuality, one of the theories they have is that Sheldon reproduces asexually, and that one day he will eat too much Thai food and split into two identical copies. The Stinger depicts just that, which turns out to be Leonard's nightmare.
- On "The Recombination Hypothesis" one of these takes up the entire plot, as Leonard imagines the ramifications of hooking up with Penny again. In the end he decides to go ahead anyway.
- One scene depicts Sheldon passionately kissing Amy. This, of course, was Amy's daydream.
- Dexter figures out Miguel was playing him for a fool all along, he screams in rage, knocks his computer monitor off his desk, and throws his chair through the lab window—in broad daylight, in the middle of the police station. Then the camera cuts, and he's sitting calmly at his desk, waving cheerily to Miguel. For all his charm, Dexter is a sociopathic murderer—that's a moment when we see what's often going on inside his head.
- In another episode, Debra's therapist points out that she's always talking about how much she loves her brother, and that they're Not Blood Siblings, and wonders whether she has feelings for him that way. She tells her therapist to fuck off... later that day, there's a scene between the two of them that's full of Incest Subtext. Then it... rapidly becomes text. Then it turns out Deb was dreaming it. Quoth Deb, upon waking up: "fuck".
- Andy Richter Controls The Universe had this almost as a reoccurring theme, to ridiculous lengths. The show even started with an extended one. They were also lampshaded A LOT.
- In The Sopranos episode "Long Term Parking", the viewers see Adrianna driving her Ford Thunderbird out of New Jersey with her suitcase, but then a few seconds later we realize that she was daydreaming, and is back in Silvio's car on the way to her execution.
- In the Masters of Horror episode "The Screwfly Solution", Alan heads home on a flight, and arrives there at night. He and his wife Anne put their daughter to sleep, and then make love to each other. Alan becomes violent, starts strangling Anne, and pulls a knife on her. Then he wakes up back on the plane. Alan then realises he's been infected by the virus he's investigating which turns sexual feelings into violent ones.
- In the pilot of Profit, G&G security chief Joanne is walking down the company's hallways when suddenly Jim Profit walks up to her from around the corner and shoves her up against the wall as he strangles her. Joanne quickly startles awake from her nightmare.
- Supernatural. Sam has a dream where Bella knocks on his hotel room door, lampshades their Foe Yay, slips out of her trenchcoat to reveal she's wearing lingerie, and snogs him until Dean snaps him out of his fantasy. Bella then knocks on their door wearing a trenchcoat, causing Sam to go wide-eyed when she takes it off...but she's just wearing her normal clothes.
- Criminal Minds has this occur several times, but a prominent example is the episode "Sniper Sniped": The Scary Black Man protector of the UnSub's target we had followed throughout the episode was in reality the UnSub himself, a mercenary Cold Sniper using a kind of "focusing technique" so as to keep alert until the time the victim exposed herself.
- Charmed: In the episode "Pardon My Past", Leo gives Piper a Valentine's Day card. He put it in her purse, where he was sure she would find it. Although Piper still had feelings for Leo, she was still going out with Dan Gordon. In the card Leo stated he was not going to give up on Piper because the two of them belonged together. After reading the card, Piper walks across the room to Leo and kisses him passionately, before the scene fades back to reality revealing it was just a day dream. She then looks at Leo and they smile at each other.
- 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 strip Battleship: The Games Continue from The Chapel Chronicles, Chapel imagines herself in a submarine being sunk by a patrol boat when in reality, her submarine has been sunk in the game.
- Whats Shakin:
- Coffinshaker daydreams at times where his fantasies blend into the story layout without notice.
- Coffin mourns the death of his butterfly friend in a funeral scene completely inside his head.
- Coffin has a bit of a 300 fantasy after driving off a horde of villains from the edge of a castle.
- Pai has a bit of a blended fantasy moment when she first meets Coffin.
- Misfile does it here.
- Dave confessing his feelings to Helen in Narbonic.
- 8-Bit Theater:
- 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.
Spider-Man: 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?.
- From A To Z-Z-Z-Z: Ralph's daydreams are often harshly interrupted by his teacher telling him to pay attention.
- American Dad!:
- An episode revolves around Stan's opposition to gay couples raising children. So, when Francine tells him she's agreed to become a surrogate mother for their gay neighbors, he comes at her with (in order) a broken bottle, a chainsaw, a leopard, and a leopard holding a chainsaw. It's then revealed she was just trying to imagine his response, but it moves her to put off telling him for nine months.
- Another episode had Stan finding out his boss and daughter are sleeping together. He then suddenly shots his boss, chloroforms Hailey but notices the mailman and chases him down before killing him. He then see a blind man who quickly points out he blind and didn't see anything getting Stan to back off. We then suddenly cut back to the point before, the whole sequence being a daydream...though Stan realizes the bystander in his daydream was lying about being "blind".
- In the 100th episode, when Stan reads a note saying that Hayley and Jeff had eloped, he gets so mad that the note burns up in his hand and proceeds to fly around the world to reverse time. It turns out he merely fainted and hit his head on the table, though Stan is still convinced he went back in time and thinks Francine his her grandmother.
- In the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "Nightmares and Daydreams," a sleep-deprived Aang finally breaks down and confesses his love for Katara...or not.
- In Danny Phantom, Danny and his father fail to change the filters on the ecto-filtrator as recommended, with disastrous consequences...that turn out to be a computer simulation of what happens to the ecto-filtrator if you don't change the filters on it as recommended. When Danny asks why his father has this computer simulation, Jack replies that it's to remind Danny how important it is to change the filters on the ecto-filtrator.
- In one episode of Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends Bloo offends a huge friend and is challanged to a fight. After exhausting every possible method of getting out of it, Mac frantically tells him to run far away. Cue montage of Bloo running away, being driven in a taxi and getting on a plane which flies away... which occurs in a thought bubble that Bloo looks into saying "Yeah, that's what I should do."
- It's been mentioned elsewhere, but in Justice League Unlimited, B-villain Milo's Corrupt Corporate Executive bosses screw him over once too often, so in a rage, he pulls out a massive gun and terminates them one after another until all are dead... and then we cut back to reality.
- In an episode of The Simpsons, Homer is riddled with bullets and dies on the spot...and it turns out to be the news channel's computer simulation of the event.
Kent Brockman: Now here's what it would look like if they killed him with baseballs...
- Family Guy:
- They parodied Scrubs fondness of the trope, with Peter appearing to shoot himself in the head after hearing something he didn't want to do. Flash back to Peter, who then lampshades this with, "Oh, I was just having one of those Scrubs fantasy moments."
- Lampshaded in the episodes "Stewie Kills Lois" and "Lois Kills Stewie". When Peter and Lois go on a cruise without Stewie, Stewie then uses a virtual reality program to see what it would have been like if he had killed Lois in revenge.
- Phineas and Ferb:
- In the opening of "Out to Launch", Candace works up the nerve to ask Jeremy out to a dance. He turns her down, and starts laughing at her. Everyone in the food court, and eventually all of Danville, starts laughing at her too. Then the Earth explodes, and... we cut to Candace telling her friend Stacy that's why she can't ask Jeremy to go to the dance with her.
- In "Isabella and the Temple of Sap", when Isabella asks Phineas "What'cha doin'?", he sudden confesses his love for Isabella. Then he turns into a centaur (for some reason - a play on All Girls Like Ponies perhaps?), Isabella jumps on his back and they ride away together. Turns out she was just daydreaming, and she didn't even hear his real response. Apparently, she's done this often enough that her fellow Fireside Girls have a nickname for it: "Phineas-Land".
- In "Summer Belongs To You!", Phineas frustrates Isabella so much with his Oblivious to Love behavior that her head explodes. He reacts with horror. Of course, she's just so frustrated that she's imagining her head exploding, and Phineas's shout of "Isabella!" was just him trying to get her attention.