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Dream Sequence
"I want to see you clearly, come closer to this
But all I remember, are the dreams in the mist
These dreams, go on when I close my eyes
Every second of the night, I live another life."
Heart, "These Dreams"

The images are slightly blurred, the music has harps or ominous over-tones, and might be shot from a first-person perspective. The last word of every sentence echoes (echoes, echoes). Yep, your character is having a Dream Sequence. Expect the action in this dream sequence to be a thinly disguised look at the dreamer's internal dilemmas — their rocky romances, the choices they are facing, the regrets they've left behind, yes, the Dream Sequence is an excellent excuse for a short-term excursion into a character's head.

Another variety of this sequence is when the characters have fantastic and silly adventures in settings that the show's main premise could not accommodate. This can also overlap with Separate Scene Storytelling if the dreamer is told a story while falling asleep.

Differs from All Just a Dream in that usually you know immediately that the character is dreaming, and the dream usually lasts for no more than 2-3 minutes.

Musically, its beginning is often indicated by an upward-moving whole tone scale (example: C, D, E, F#, G#, A#, C, ...) played on a instrument like a harp or a keyboard with lots of reverb. The end of the sequence is often indicated by the same scale played downwards. The same musical motif is often used for Flashback Effects. In the whole tone scale, all the notes are the same distant apart, with no single tone standing out, which creates its blurry, dreamy quality. "Impressionist" composers like Claude Debussy made an extensive use of that scale.

Sometimes ends in Or Was It a Dream?, just like All Just a Dream. See also Dream Land, Dream Within a Dream, Real Dreams Are Weirder and I Was Having Such a Nice Dream. Go to Nightmare Sequence for the horrifying alternative. Compare and contrast with Fantasy Sequence.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga 
  • Dream sequences play a major part in the plot of Da Capo, even though they tend to be rather surreal at times.
  • Azumanga Daioh has an episode dedicated to Osaka's, Tomo's, and Sakaki's (and Kaorin's, in the anime) New Year dreams. Chiyo doesn't have a dream, but somehow ends up in everyone else's dreams.
  • Takeshi Hokuto has two of these in Cromartie High School: one of them deals with his subordinates and an obsession with meat, and the other deals with him switching places with Ara-chan the seal, whom he despises.
  • In the manga version of Chrono Crusade, Chrono has a dream in which he's standing on a battlefield littered with bodies, and Aion holds out an outstretched hand and urges him to come. It reflects Chrono's troubled past and foreshadows flashbacks we get to see in later volumes.
  • In Princess Tutu, Ahiru has a dream in the beginning of each season. The first one is later revealed to be a flashback showing how Drosselmeyer chose her to be the titular Magical Girl, while the second season shows her dancing with Mytho—only to be shocked when he performs the ballet mime for "death" and transforms into Fakir. This foreshadows Fakir slowly becoming her main love interest, and probably relates to his backstory as well. There's several other dream sequences that either foreshadow coming events, or relate to a character's current problems.

    Princess Tutu Abridged plays the first one (mostly) straight but the second seems slanted towards the sexy and is more blatant with the imagery. In this, Ahiru (Duck) is heading towards Mytho and is about to take his hand before Fakir snatches it, pulls her away, lifts her chin up, runs his finger over her lips and closes them and leans in for the kiss and Duck wakes up. She is quite upset, being the Mytho fangirl she is, about dreaming of Fakir.
  • The third episode of the OVA My Dear Marie consists entirely of these.
  • Yuichi in Kanon briefly has one of these while actually still awake after briefly snapping when Mai appears to have committed suicide. But he can't hold onto it and returns to reality, and things... get better somehow. Magic!
  • Mysterious Girlfriend X, at least its earlier issues, would periodically have short dream sequences or immense panoramic dream panels. Fans miss them...
  • Not really a dream, but Ouran High School Host Club had "Tamaki Inner Mind Theatre". The anime had a straighter example with Haruhi taking a trip Down the Rabbit Hole complete with Ouran characters taking the role of various Wonderland characters.

     Comic Books 
  • Dreams appear quite regularly in The Adventures of Tintin. They are often surreal.
    • In one the Captain hallucinating that Tintin is a bottle of Champagne and attempting to pull his head off.
    • The one in The Cigars of the Pharaoh is downright creepy.
    • In The Seven Crystal Balls, Tintin, Haddock and Calculus all dreamed that the mummy one of Calculus's friends had brought back from Peru had come to life and was going to destroy them. The mummy — not all bandage-wrapped, but a arrestingly realistic dessicated corpse — comes to life to throw a glass ball filled with poison gas. The mummy is hallucinatory but the gas is real. Tintin dream sequences had a heckuva lot of disturbing images in them.

    Fan Works 

    Film 
  • The film Waking Life was (possibly) nothing but dream sequences. These were depicted by surreal rotoscoping, the surreal happenings, and almost no overarching plot.
  • The 1945 Alfred Hitchcock film Spellbound famously has a dream sequence designed by Salvador Dali(!).
  • The movie The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (it is every bit as bad as it sounds) features a long, freakish dream sequence reflecting the effects of mind control on the main character. In the MST3K version, it makes Servo freak out for the entire duration.
  • The live-action Dr. Seuss musical The 5,000 Fingers of Doctor T is a feature-length dream sequence with reality bookends. A boy falls asleep at the piano when he's supposed to be practicing his piano exercises: he has a long surrealistic nightmare in which he imagines that his piano teacher is a "racketeer" attempting to take over the world.
  • Most of Buster Keaton's film Sherlock Jr is a dream that the main character has when he falls asleep next to a movie projector.
  • Unto A Good Land features a couple of very long dream sequences which are essentially flashbacks of what happened to Arvid and Robert on the California Trail.
  • The Science of Sleep had an abundant amount of dream sequences due to Stéphane's difficulty with copying with reality and it later gets difficult to know which scenes were real or not... that scene where they're all dressed like cats playing instruments was definitely a dream though.
  • In Dracula: Dead and Loving It, Dracula has a "daymare," where he believes his vampirism is cured and goes out to enjoy the beauty of the light. Then he bursts into flame and wakes up screaming and running.
  • Most of Inception is basically a huge dream sequence. With dreams within dreams.
  • In Kontroll when Szofi wakes Bulcsu and shows him a straight and narrow tunnel leading out of the underground system. Probably not many people find it.

    Literature 
  • Deryni:
    • Kelson has recurring anxiety-induced dreams about Mahael, Teymuraz and Araxie in King Kelson's Bride. Their faces are vague because he doesn't really know what any of them look like (this is before he met Liam's uncles for the first time, and he hasn't seen Araxie since they were children).
  • Harry Potter: Aside from the special dreams that resulted from his psychic bond with Lord Voldemort, Harry was also very prone to bizarre and amusing dreams, including one of Neville and Professor Sprout waltzing in the Room of Requirement while Professor McGonagall accompanied them on the bagpipes and another of Ron chasing him wielding a Beater's bat after he falls for Ginny and worries that Ron won't approve. These were left out of the film adaptations.
    • In the very first book, in Harry's first night at Hogwarts, he dreams various creepy things encompasing the strange new magical world he's in, which finishes with Quirrel's Turban talking to him.
  • In the third book of The Emigrants series, the story of what happened to Robert and Arvid on the California trail is told through Robert's dreams after his return.
  • Sputnik Sweetheart has several, though some are hard to tell as to whether they are dreams or not. One of the key ones that definitely is forms the basis of a piece of writing from Sumire, one of the main characters.
  • The efficiently-named poem Dream of the Rood is about the narrator receiving a dream-vision of the tree that was used to make Christ's cross.
  • In Hard Times, Stephen Blackpool's dream of a wedding quickly becomes that of a burial.
  • Martha has a couple in Clocks that Don't Tick. In the first, she dances with one of her imaginary friends. In the second, she looks down at the decaying world from the Space Needle while being accosted by a different one.

     Live Action Television 
  • In Smallville, Lexmas is mostly Lex's extremely heartwarming and tearjerking dream.
  • The Brady Bunch: Several times, Bobby went into a dream world:
    • "The Winner," from Season 2, where perpetual loser Bobby – complaining that he had never taken first place in anything on his own merits – has a dream one night about winning at everything, including racing (a foreshadowing of his adult career as a race car driver). Of course, he falls out of bed and tearfully vows to win something.
    • "Never Too Young": In perhaps the most suggestive scene of the series, a dream sequence shows Bobby and his girlfriend, Millicent (a pre-Little House on the Prairie Melissa Sue Anderson'') running toward each other and kissing.
    • "Out of This World": Bobby dreams that a UFO — manned by two friendly aliens from Klaputian — lands in the Bradys' yard. The Klaputians take the awed youngest Brady boy on a trip to their world.
    • "The Hustler": Bobby dreams he's a billiards champion.
  • Northern Exposure: An extended Dream Sequence (in this case actually a hallucination) — lasting nearly the entire episode — was used to very good effect in "Dinner at Seven-Thirty". As evidenced by this episode, an extended Dream Sequence may perform the function of an Alternate Universe in series where an Alternate Universe per se would not fit with the show's genre.
  • The Golden Girls episode "questions and answers".Dorothy dozes off while studying for Jeopardy and has dream in which she goes up against a first time opponent and a returning champion,who surprisingly is Rose.
  • The entire Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Restless", the finale for season 4, was four dream sequences; these turned out to prefigure the major events for the remaining seasons.
  • There was an episode of NewsRadio in which the air conditioning was malfunctioning, causing the entire cast to have hallucinations. Some of these were short All Just a Dream moments, but others were obvious dream sequences.
  • Frasier episode "Freudian Sleep". Frasier has an All Just a Dream experience, followed by dream sequences from the other members of the Crane family (even Eddie, the dog.)
  • 3rd Rock from the Sun: The dream episode — each of the four aliens dreams for the first time. Their dreams were all surreal, lavishly produced, full of symbolism, and directed by guest directors, and were all done in very different styles.
    • It was also in 3D, as part of a theme night.
  • The Vampire Diaries: Stefan has one in which Elena is bitten by Damon. Damon finds this hilarious.
    • Katherine does this several times to Stefan. He has dreams involving him and Katherine doing the dance in 'Miss Mystic Falls' (which was done by his brother and Elena), and a dream with Elena and Damon kissing and acting like cute little love birds. Due to the popularity of Elena/Damon this was presumably partly to provide Ship Tease.
    • A heartbreaking example, also courtesy of Damon: when Rose is dying, he gives her a calming dream of her favorite place and stays in the dream with her until she dies.
  • Twin Peaks. The dream sequences contained major plot points, and the reality of the dream-world was eventually shown to be the home of several minor characters as well as BOB, the Big Bad.
  • Gilligan's Island had more than its share of dream sequences, though they often provide the program's biggest laughs and the cast reportedly loved doing them.
  • Saved by the Bell: Silly dream sequences were often seen.
  • Mash has a season 8 episode, simply titled "Dreams", which concentrates on the dreams and nightmares had by each of the main characters as they try to catch sleep during a grueling, casualty-heavy two-day period.
  • In The 10th Kingdom, Virginia and her father have an extremely bizarre and disturbing example of this, complete with the ghost of Snow White doing her level best to snap them out of it. Christine's usage of the poisoned comb on her little girl's hair is particularly chilling, while the weird Electra-complex suggested by Virginia being Tony's wife (not to mention Wendell the dog as her brother—or is that prophetic?) are just plain odd. But what do you expect from something inspired by eating magic mushrooms? Of special note (something which appears throughout the miniseries) is the emphasis on the decidedly more grim aspects of fairytales...
  • A common form is for the dreamer to slip into the world of whatever they were researching or watching when they nodded off. Expect an Identical Grandson. MacGyver got sent back to the Old West twice, and to Arthurian Britain.
  • Growing Pains sent Ben into a world where his family life was a sitcom, of which he was the star.
  • In Moonlighting, episode 10 hung a lampshade with the title, "The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice", using not one but two dream sequences in succession. After a brief framing sequence, Maddie Hayes dreams herself and Dave as Rita and Zack, respectively, in one possible sequence of events for an unsolved murder mystery from the 1940s; and at the halfway point, David Addison falls asleep and dreams himself and Maddie as the same pair in another possible sequence of events for the same mystery.
  • Even KateModern managed an example (supposedly a reconstruction of a dream), Awful Dream.
  • LOST frequently employs dream sequences. Often these dreams are prophetic, but occasionally the "glimpse into the psyche" type is used, such as Hurley's dream in "Everybody Hates Hugo," which reveals his anxiety about being the one to ration the newly discovered food.
  • The Black Adder episode "Ink and Incapability" features a scene where it appears that Edmund's looming catastrophe has suddenly been solved, but when more and more bizarre things start happening, he realizes he's dreaming, and thus still screwed when he wakes up.
    Dr. Johnson: I think it's an awful dictionary. Full of feeble definitions and ridiculous verbiage.
    Blackadder: Are you sure?
    Dr. Johnson: I've never been more sure of anything in my life sir.
    Blackadder: I love you, Dr. Johnson, and I want to have your babies. [Sees Aunt Marjorie] Sorry, excuse me, Dr. Johnson, but my Auntie Marjorie has just arrived. [Blackdrick appears with a dog's head instead of his own] Baldrick! Who gave you permission to turn into an alsatian! Oh god, it's a dream, isn't it? [Dr. Johnson, Aunt Marjorie and Bladrick starts to dance around the room] It's a bloody dream! Dr. Johnson doesn't want us to burn his dictionary at all.
  • The Sopranos has some of the best dream sequences in any show or movie. Some of the creepy ones with Tony's mom are much more frightening than your average horror scene.
  • Blair on Gossip Girl is prone to having these. They are always nightmares, based on her favorite movies, and usually open the episode they appear in.
  • Sesame Street: In a 1992 Sesame Street insert, After Cookie Monster ate the whole box of his grandmother's cookies that he was going to have at his birthday party, He got depressed that there were no cookies left for the party, And takes a nap and dreams of meeting "The Monster Cookie." The Cookie tells Cookie Monster a tearjerker story of how he became "The Monster Cookie." All he ate was just cookies and was turned into one. He sadly regrets that he never had any healthier food. After the dream sequence, Cookie Monster took his advice and vows to never eat cookies ever again. Then he started to eat carrots, fish, and whole wheat bread. And then he ask the cookie: "Say you talking, Cookie?....You crying, Cookie?" Then eats the cookie and remarks: "Well, Maybe sometime a cookie."
  • Sunset Beach: The trope appeared often, and with great hilarity.
  • This scene from series 3 of Ashes to Ashes. UPTOWN GIRL!
  • Home Improvement had several, mostly depicting Tim's dreams, including one where he and his family are wooden dolls like in a Christmas Special, and one where he and Jill are paranormal investigators like in The X-Files.
  • Walter Sherman from The Finder tends to have symbolic dreams regarding the case he's working on, generally leading to an Eureka Moment which leads to him solving the case.
  • The Young Ones - "Sick" has a memorable one. A conscience-stricken Rik, believing that he has killed Neil, dreams of being tried and sentenced to death by Mike and Vyvyan, causing the gallery of attractive young women to plead for his life and then start to remove their clothes...
    Rik's Conscience: Oi! OI! - Stop having a wet dream, you little pervy, you're supposed to be racked with remorse!
  • Wonderfully done on Eureka in which the town experiences shared dreams. Hilarity Ensues.

    Music 
  • In the mid 1980's, the Rolling Stones produced a compilation of music videos/promo films entitled Video Rewind, which entailed bassist Bill Wyman, disguised as a guard, breaking into a 'lost' exhibit at the British Museum, which consists of various rock artifacts - one of the artifacts being a mid-70's Mick Jagger! They use the artifacts as a springboard to show the various videos, while also making pithy comments about their own career as the Stones (Mick: You ever try sleeping in the same room with Keith? Bill: No but Ive stayed in the same hotel with him!). Near the end, Bill iswandering through the room, sees a 'Paul Mc Cartney jacket, complete with one of the MB Es, that The Beatles had, commenting, "They never gave US one of those!", and takes it, pinning it on HIS jacket. Just then, real guards bust through the doors, and then the scene shifts - Bill is waking up to Mick shaking him, telling him its time to go on stage...except..Bill has the MBE on his shirt lapel!
  • Happens in the video to Queensrÿche's well-loved Black Sheep Hit, "Silent Lucidity". There's also a Nightmare Sequence thrown in for good measure between the middle and near the end of the video.
  • Krokus's Screaming In The Night plays with this. On a mysterious island, the hero, who is imprisoned, is in love with a beautiful woman, but an evil dictator sentences him to death and kills the woman. The hero turns out to be the lead singer, and he ends up in a diner, where the beautiful woman is a waitress, the dictator was the chef, and Krokus was on the TV, which the lead singer sings to while standing on the counter that his band-mates were eating at.

     Newspaper Comics 
  • Beetle Bailey: Sarge gets a really trippy one about being a food-themed superhero.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Dungeons & Dragons 3.5E supplement Heroes of Horror includes tips on how to DM a dream or nightmare sequence.
    • The free adventure "Fallen Angel" suggests a dream sequence as a plot hook.

    Theater 
  • In musical theatre, the Dream Sequence is a conventional way to work in a ballet. "Laurie's Dream" from Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma is one of the earliest examples.
    • Unusually, Lady in the Dark concentrates practically all its singing and dancing into three long Dream Sequences. The sole exception is an "I Want" Song which appears in a flashback to complete the Dream Melody with lyrics.
    • The second act of Mamma Mia! opens with a warped, strangely echoing reprise of the earlier songs, and then segues into the young heroine's nightmare about who her real father is. The dream involves neon and black colors (with plenty of purple), eerie lighting, snorkels and flippers, and a man in a bridal gown (we do not make this up.)
  • The Rodgers and Hart musical I'd Rather Be Right is almost entirely a dream sequence. The young lovers fall asleep in Central Park, sharing a dream in which they meet President Franklin Roosevelt and various other political figures of the 1930s, then awakening at the end.

     Video Games 
  • Scratches has two dream sequences on different nights, the first one has hints of not being just a dream, the second is purely nightmarish.
  • Baldur's Gate 2 has a number of dream sequences, each urging you to submit to your destiny as Bhaalspawn.
  • Eternal Sonata is mostly this.
  • The Mask of the Betrayer expansion to Neverwinter Nights 2 has several dream sequences during which you can gather the pieces of the titular Cool Mask if you're paying attention. The Very Definitely Final Dungeon (where you battle the Spirit-Eater for control of your soul) is a dream sequence as well.
    • Teammate Gannayev-of-Dreams is an old hand with dream sequences as his name suggests. He shepherds the Player Character through them all if he's in the party. Yes, he can enter other characters' dream sequences.
  • Final Fantasy VIII has sequences where the characters fall asleep due to a mysterious force, and they dream about the adventures of Laguna Loire, Kiros Seagill, and Ward Zabac. It later turns out that these "dreams" are essentially a form of time travel caused by Ellone, allowing the characters to experience actual past events from the trio's perspective.
  • In Tears to Tiara 2, Hamil dreams of meeting the supreme goddess Tanit in an oasis and begs for guidance. His request is answered and Tanit appears on earth as Ashtarte.
  • In Vivid Conceptions, the protagonist belongs to the Bantam race which tends to have very vivid dreams. In-game, these become "dream levels" with tough platforming sequences that eschew realistic environments.

    Webcomics 
  • The Chapel Chronicles: season one ends in a four page Dream Sequence entitled Chapel in Wonderland in which Chapel finds herself dressed as Alice from Alice in Wonderland. Fred, her archenemy is the Cheshire Cat, Lady Gaga appears having beheaded Justin Bieber, wanting to play chess with flamingos and using Rupert as the ball. Chapel finally leaves and walks off but is still dressed as Alice at the end.
  • El Goonish Shive has a Story Arc showing the quite revealing dreams of each major character the night after the fight with Big Bad Damien[1]; this continues into the succeeding arcs with Ellen's dreams, which are particularly significant due to Nioi's magical intervention.
  • Gunnerkrigg Court features an amusing dream sequence from Kat. It involves lots of Fox Mulder.
  • Homestuck uses this trope in many different ways: First, the use of "dreamselves" that reside in Prospit and Derse. Sometimes the story follows all of the main character's dreamselves. Then there is the "dream bubbles," basically the afterlife, in which people relive their memories and stay there for eternity. Sometimes the story follows characters in dream bubbles. These are also used for people who have no dreamselves. Third, there is WV's nightmare, shedding some light onto his Survivors Guilt.
  • Honey And The Whirlwind takes place partially in a dreamworld.
  • Project 0 opens with a dream sequence. Doubles as a Good Morning, Crono.
  • Punch an' Pie uses Dream Sequences as a means of contrasting the two main characters' different thought processes. Angela has wacky and meaningless dreams involving her favorites TV shows, video games, and books; Heather has introspective dreams where she reexamines her flimsy Freudian Excuse and tendency toward projecting her repressed traits onto others.
  • At the start of Commander Kitty, CK's tenure as the dictator of the entire Cat System turns out, mercifully, to be this.
  • The Bully's Bully begins each story with one of these, usually the little girl heroine dreaming of bullies getting their comeuppance.
  • morphE pulled this off by having a very dark and twisted animated sequence mostly in first person with ominous music.
  • Newheimburg features the Jack's friend Mortimer experiencing a fever dream where his fish lead him to an undersea palace.
  • The protagonist of Life, Felicia, has a few of these, this one being one of the longer ones (and one of her Recurring Dreams).

     Web Original 
  • Broken Saints makes frequent use of these, most notably in Acts 2 through 5 of Chapter 20.
  • Survival of the Fittest has PLENTY of dream sequences, one of the more memorable recent ones being Maria Graham's dream after her accidental killing of Francine Moreau, which included Nicholas Cage and Robobear 5000. According to the writer, the likely never-to-be-finished endgame of v2 included Bryan Calvert's highly symbolic dreams on the helicopter ride to meet Danya and while back home, including being back with Tori again.
  • Noob makes use of them from time to time. So far one for the Yaoi Fangirl, two for The Team Wannabe to the best guild and one for the Kindhearted Simpleton (that ended up being some kind of Sugar Bowl version of reality).

     Western Animation 
  • Hey Arnold! has had some dream sequences as well, usually those of Helga's, and she does a little Lamp Shade Hanging about dream sequences in "Phoebe Takes The Fall". However, the show has also had an "All Just a Dream" type of dream in "Arnold Visits Arnie", and that dream featured an Alternate Universe.
  • South Park referenced this version of the trope in "I'm A Little Bit Country". Instead of studying, Cartman tries to learn about the founding fathers by triggering a flashback via blows to the head.
  • A number of the classic Little Lulu cartoons from the 1940's contain dream sequences, such as this one
  • Arthur is king of this trope.
  • The short-lived Nightmare Ned built its entire premise around dream sequences.
  • The Jimmy Two-Shoes episode "Air Force None" featured two for Heloise, both about her being with Jimmy.


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