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Meaningful Background Event
aka: Significant Background Event
When some critical event is due to happen, it usually happens all of a sudden and this moment is accompanied by camera focusing and music effects. But think of a scene where we can see the event going on for some time. No Ominous Latin Chanting, no triumphant music, just some sort of silent background process, which an attentive viewer can notice some seconds earlier than his attention will be drawn to it forcefully by some means.

The similar Funny Background Event is used less for plot development and more for comedy.

See also Dramatic Irony and Chekhov's Gag.


Examples:

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    Anime 
  • In Paprika, it's entirely possible to miss Osanai's bloody hand moving across the glass in the background of a mostly still shot of Dr. Chiba and Shima.
  • Before the sudden and gruesome death of General Regius in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS, we actually see the killer moving closer to the victim in the background with each shot of the room they're in. But since she was disguised as a Living Prop, it's quite easy for the audience's mind to ignore it the first time around.
  • In the Suzumiya Haruhi anime, during the episode "Live Alive", we can see Haruhi and Yuki with their musical instruments walking through the background, foreshadowing their unexpected involvement in the ENOZ concert. Earlier on, the two uninjured ENOZ members can briefly be seen running past in the foreground while the main characters are talking. And, even earlier on, all four members of ENOZ can be seen arguing with the student council representative in the background, as shown up close in the flashback later in the episode.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, while Al, Heinkel, Marcoh and Yoki's car breaks down in Central, you can see Fuhrer Bradley walking in the background.
  • Code Geass has a rather divisive example. The death and return of Nunnally vi Britannia was seen as an Ass Pull by some segments of the fandom. Others, however, pointed out some of these in the death episode, particularly the presence of a second, identical transport plane in the hangar. Additionally, Rollo is sent to retrieve Nunnally, while Sayoko rescues the captive Kallen, gets her to her mecha, and still manages to find Nunnally first. This doesn't make sense unless Rollo found the wrong plane and assumed Nunnally was in it without actually bothering to check.
    • During Zero's rescue of the Black Knights near the beginning of Season 2, Villetta can be seen sighing in relief at it going down successfully.
  • In the background of episode 6 of Persona 4: The Animation, Nanako leaves a television show playing while the conversation with Yu and Dojima is going on. The words are fully intelligible, and it's very obviously reminiscent of Naoto's show on the Midnight Channel, much later on.
    Mr. Experiment: Thanks for tuning in, all you curious kiddos! With the body of an adult and the heart of a child, lovely whiskers and gentlemanly ways, I'm Mr. Experiment! [...] In this corner let's try to solve mysteries found in your everyday lives!
  • In episode 17 of Legend of Galactic Heroes, while Yang Wen-li and his staff are having a discussion in the central command centre of the newly-captured Iserlohn Fortress, crews of technicians can be seen in the background dismantling the ornate Imperial decorations and replacing them with plain Alliance-themed fixtures.
  • Attack on Titan does this in Chapter 42, with the revelation that Reiner and Bertholdt are the Armored Titan and the Colossal Titan, respectively. Absolutely nothing in the page layout or tone suggests this conversation happening off to the side is important, until what's being said sinks in. Instead, all the attention is focused on the other characters discussing their next move, with the layout suggesting this is the important part to follow.
  • In Naruto, during the Chuunin Exam arc, when Naruto, Sasuke and Sakura create a password for identifying themselves we see a piece of bamboo sticking from the ground near them, the next shot, the stick is gone. Which turned out to be the villain Orochimaru in disguise eavesdropping.

    Comic Books 
  • There's a scene in #6 of the original ElfQuest series where Cutter is telling the Wolfriders he's made an important decision. This goes on over three panels, and in the background of these panels his lifemate Leetah and his best friend Skywise are apparently conspiring behind his back.
  • In Marvel Zombies, the Wasp surprises people on two separate occasions. Both times, you can see her in the background of the panel before she pops up.
  • In one issue of Legion of Super-Heroes, Legion leader Cosmic Boy is having a talk with the President of the United Planets over a viewscreen. In the panel backgrounds, you might not even notice an electronic pad on the President's desk quietly floating up and away—the only visible sign that Legionnaire Invisible Kid is making off with some damning information while Cosmic Boy provides a distraction.
  • The strange-looking redheaded man carrying the "End is Nigh" sign in Watchmen. Later revealed to be Rorschach without his mask.
    • In Watchmen no 5, "Fearful Symmetry", at page 6, panel 3, Rorschach mentions that if Moloch wants to send him a message, he could do it by "leaving him a note at the trash can in front of the Gunga diner, between the 40th and the 7th." At page 12 panel 9, and again at page 17, page 8, we see a character checking out that trash can. That means that the reader could have figured out Rorschach's identity before The Reveal at the end of the issue. The Dramatic Irony is that Bernie give us this monologue:
    "You never know, never know what awaits you. Everything we see is the surface. There is a lot of garbage that we donít even notice. Until itís too late."
  • In the beginning of the "Half a Life" arc of Gotham Central, almost a full issue before the reveal, Brian Selker (Private Detective) is following Renee Montoya to a restaurant called "Maloney's", taking intrusive pictures for a lawsuit that is about to be leveled against her. Being a long-distance shot in a comic book, with hand-drawn lettering instead of typed, there is not a lot of detail to be made out about the restaurant, and the name almost seems to be drawn as an afterthought: Maloney's Bar & Girl. It is not a typo, it is a revelation, and if you missed it you need to wait until the end of the issue to get the full story.
  • In Transformers: All Hail Megatron while the Decepticons are smashing up everything in New York, the reader might notice that in the background Thundercracker doesn't look particularly happy about what's going on. Sure enough in the finale of the story Thundercracker betrays the Decepticons and ends up saving the day.
  • In the MAD Monroe story in which he goes to China on an exchange program, while some sweatshop owners are pretending to be his host family, you can see his actual host family holding up a sign and calling out to him in the background.
  • In the splash page in the first issue of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (IDW), there's a sneaky changeling right next to Time Turner.
    • Also, in both issues there appears to be a mysterious brown stallion observing the Mane Six, even appearing where he couldn't possibly have gotten to normally. In the crowd of freed ponies in issue 1, when the Mane 6 leave the caves in issue 2, when Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy are about to fall in the oubliette in issue 3, and when Celestia and Spike join the Mane 6 after Chrysalis is defeated in issue 4.

    Fan Works 
  • Occurs in The Lion King Adventures. There are several holes scattered around the area Simba, Nala and Haiba are walking through in The Prince and the Frog. This foreshadows the sinister Camp Kazi in Dig It.
  • In Forward, during the "Charity" episode, there are several minor scenes involving Zoe walking around with a child from the village named Katie, whose parents were killed in a raid, and whom Zoe became attached to out of a sense of maternal protectiveness. Katie's full name is Kathryn Wade, and she's an "Inducer" psychic who escaped from the Academy, and can apparently control emotions and perceptions in people around her - and is apparently behind everything that happened in that arc of the story.
  • In With Strings Attached, the four and the Hunter find themselves on a ledge overlooking a 500-foot-wide canyon that they have to get across. Paul and John get into an inane argument about whether or not Paul should jump across and thus break the ledge, while behind them, the Hunter calmly sets up a series of magic stepping squares across the canyon.

    Film 
  • The Alien films love this:
    • In the original Alien, when Brett enters the cargo bay looking for Jones the cat, one of the shots is from a low angle, looking up at him. It is very difficult to see unless one knows what to look for, but the xenomorph itself is clinging to the ceiling above him, completely motionless and blending in seamlessly with the piping and ducts above.
    • In Aliens, we see a facehugger drop from the ceiling moments before it attacks Ripley.
    • In Alien≥ we see the xenomorph creeping from the top of a vertical passage when one of the prisoners is trying to retrieve a flare from the bottom.
  • In Signs we first see the shadowy figure of an alien on the roof while Mel Gibson assures his daughter nothing's there; however you only notice it's there when it moves at the end of the scene.
  • In The Matrix Reloaded, when Neo flies to rescue Morpheus and The Keymaker from an explosion, we can see Neo coming from some distance away, before he grabs the two and corresponding music plays.
  • In the film The Mist, the man standing on the watch handles his evening meal; the camera shows him and the view out of window which he must guard. We can see a bug silently flying from afar seconds before it actually smashes in the glass and sets everyone (including the viewers) on alert, as we realize that, instead of a normal-sized bug a few inches away, it's a bug the size of a hubcap halfway across the parking lot.
  • In Black Swan, right before Nina starts having a breakdown, she's walking through the apartment. Keep an eye on the pictures on the wall.
  • In Pulse, the main characters ride in a car and are busy talking. The viewer follows their dialogue and is quite startled when another car smashes into the characters' one, although we could see the second car coming for a while.
  • In Jeepers Creepers a car drives up close and blares its horn before proceeding to drive them off the road. Also used when a truck approaches from Trish's blind side as she's watching the road and subverted, as it's the wrong truck. To say nothing of what the audience gets a glimpse of, when Darry stops to tie his shoe with the flashlight under his arm, so its beam tilts up and reveals that the ceiling (!) is covered with corpses.
  • In The Forgotten, when Telly and Ash are driving, you can see A Friendly Man's car rapidly approaching them from the side.
  • In Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: Return Of The King Shelob approaches Frodo silently, with no music. The entire scene is played for as much "Look Behind You!" dramatic irony as possible.
    • In Fellowship of the Ring you see the giant eagle behind Saruman right before Gandalf jumps from the tower of Orthanc.
  • In Finding Nemo, the whale approaches Marlin and Dory slowly from behind before it swallows them whole.
    • A similar instance happens earlier with the swarm of jellyfish. Marlin and Dory don't notice the jellies swimming towards them until they've been surrounded.
  • In Death Becomes Her, after Ernest has pushed Madeline off the stairs and is on the phone, Madeline can be seen standing up in the background. As she approaches the foreground, the audiences slowly realizes that Madeline's head is on backwards.
  • In Men In Black,
    • Agent J and Agent K are sitting, contemplating their navels and covered in alien goo, when in the background out of focus something stirs... and then lunges for J! Only to be obliterated by a chick with a really big gun.
    • At the beginning of the movie, we see a ramshackle house with a starry sky above, and hear a husband and wife fighting. Unless you know what you're looking for, by the time you notice that one of the stars is moving and getting brighter, it's already been moving for some time.
  • All of Cloverfield, a film that does not stop to make sure you know what's going on. Particularly the end, where something crashes into the water in the background. Many people missed this, including everyone living in the movie's world, apparently. With the possible exception of the FBI guys who are presumably now watching the tape.
  • In the airport at the beginning of Red Eye, Cillian Murphy's creepy villain is first introduced this way, standing quietly in line behind Rachel MacAdams for a good amount of time.
  • The Japanese horror film Chakushin Ari (remade as One Missed Call) had an example of this. The main girl and her love interest are in the ghost child's former apartment, in broad daylight, searching for clues about the child's death... and the girl suddenly reacts in horror to the sight of the ghost's hand and face crawling slowly out of the kitchen cupboard behind her head. They are visible in the scene for a good few seconds before attention is drawn to them.
  • In Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds there's a scene where Tippi Hedren's character is sitting outside a school, and behind her we see one or two crows flying down to perch, and then a few more, and a few more, until one of them finally catches her eye and she turns to see hundreds of them perching on the playground climbing frame...
  • In the movie Don't Look Now, the main character is convinced that his daughter (who drowns in the opening) is alive and wandering around the town he is staying in. During the movie's events, background noise coming from nearby radios and televisions warn civilians about a serial killer terrorizing the town. When the man finally corners the apparition of his daughter, it turns out to have been the serial killer - an elderly midget - in disguise the whole time.
  • Ju On:
    • The original film has a particularly unsettling scene in which the female lead is slowly exploring the haunted house. The camera turns with her to a foyer and stairs leading up. And if you aren't paying very careful attention, you probably won't notice anything unusual until the little boy's head peeking out from halfway up the stairs leans out of sight.
    • A classic scene from both the Japanese and American remake The Grudge is the lead in an elevator travelling up, with aforementioned little boy staring at her from the second floor. And the third floor. And the fourth floor. And the fifth floor...
  • Like the movies it's ripping off, Ju-Rei is fond of sometimes having ghosts appear silently in the background with no obvious attention drawn to them.
  • Michael Myers just sort of appearing all over the place in Halloween (1978). Ditto the remake. Myers is seen several times out of focus just standing around.
  • A lot of the humor in Shaun of the Dead comes from background events to which the heroes are initially oblivious. The most startling example comes from the scenes where Shaun and Ed enter and exit The Winchester. When they enter, there is a couple making out by a phone booth. When Shaun and Ed leave, the couple is still there. Shaun and Ed make a note of this and go on their way, not noticing how one is being devoured. Another oft-noted example contains an element of Ironic Echo - in two scenes, Shaun walks to his local supermarket, buys something, and walks back home. The first time, everything's normal. The second time, the street is trashed, and there's a lot of blood and dead bodies - some walking about - around the place. Shaun's equally oblivious both times.
  • In Friday the 13th (1980), one girl sees there's nothing there and says she must be going crazy, just as we see the shadow of an axe rising up behind her.
  • A double example in The Descent. Before the crash, you can see both the other car approaching and that their own car is drifting over the white line into the wrong lane.
  • In Spider-Man 3, a meteorite falls to earth while Peter and Mary Jane are macking on a giant web hammock.
  • The film Adaptation has a really heartbreaking one where the car that kills Laroche's family starts coming toward the screen seconds before impact, making you jump before it even happens.
  • A Fish Called Wanda has Otto spying in through the window on Archie and Wanda before entering the house. This doubles as a Funny Background Event.
  • In Darkness Falls, the evil Tooth Fairy pulls this trick when the good guys have made it to the top of the lighthouse. Everything seems okay to them, but after a moment we can see the monster out the window, drifting closer...
  • In the beginning of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a man is pretending to be Allan Quatermain, while halfway through the conversation we can see Sean Connery, the real Quatermain, sitting in shadows just to his left. Eventually he turns around and tells the impostor to toddle off.
    Nigel: (cheerfully) Toddling.
  • In The Dark Knight, Two-Face (or at least his hand) can be seen grabbing Maroni's passenger as Maroni gets in the car, before Two-Face gets in and kills his driver.
  • In the Dario Argento film Deep Red, when the main characters enters the psychic's apartment after her murder, the murderer's face can briefly be seen in a mirror as he passes. He spends the rest of the movie trying to remember what he's seen, and doesn't put it together until the very end; nowadays, an alert viewer with a DVD and a pause button can figure it out immediately.
  • During the infamous rape scene in Irreversible, a figure in silhouette is seen entering the far end of the tunnel while the attack is still in progress. Rather than come to any kind of aid, the figure simply watches for a few moments and then departs, allowing the attack to come to its brutal conclusion.
  • Mr. Kreeg (Brian Cox) of Trick 'r Treat is one of the few horror movie characters to try to get out of his house when he knows that there's an intruder trying to kill him; in this case, Creepy Child Sam. Unfortunately for him, by the time he gets to the door, his hands are all cut up, and the door is covered in locks because he's a shut-in. So as he's trying to open all the latches with his cut-up hands while panicking... Sam comes crawling along the ceiling.
  • A subtle version can be seen in The Nightmare Before Christmas. While Oogie Boogie is taunting Sally and Santa Claus, if you look behind him, you can see Jack Skellington sneaking into the lair all spider-like.
  • In Oliver Stone's Alexander, Hephaistion's death scene: Alexander speaks with him, then goes to a window and makes a speech about his future conquests and their growing old together...meanwhile, in the background, very much out of focus, Hephaistion dies.
  • In the Stan Winston directed horror film Pumpkinhead there's a moment when a character walks across the room and we just see the titular monster walking past the window behind her.
  • Happens a lot in Coraline. Mr Bobinsky is often doing stuff in the background before the titular character notices him, as well as Wybie and the cat in the beginning. At one point, while Coraline's fighting yellow flowers, a bunch of bigger, blue flowers creep in from behind her. (It's very noticeable, though, because of the sounds and the very next scene is from the flowers' "point of view" crawling to her.)
  • The film The Strangers did this once. One of the killers just walked right into the house, a few feet behind the main character, with absolutely no fanfare. You might not actually notice him at first, and he leaves shortly after entering. When you do notice him, it can be quite unsettling.
  • In Boiler Room, during the scene when Seth and Abby are talking in the car, you see the FBI agents pull up and start walking over (to arrest Seth) in the background quite a while before it actually happens.
  • In Insidious, Renai walks right by the demonic boy in her new house on her way to the kitchen less than a minute before he actually appears.
  • In Back to the Future, in a scene where Doc and Marty are outside talking, a man on a bicycle passes by in the background. In the sequel, we learn that this is Doc from the future - though this is more of an unintentional Early-Bird Cameo by way of coincidence: the sequels weren't planned at the time of the first one, and the movies aren't in a Stable Time Loop besides.
    • Starlog magazine once ran an article based on something viewers noticed in one early scene. Just as Marty arrives at the mall, and before he is first sent to the past (and Doc Brown is supposedly shot dead), in the background, out of frame, something or someone can be seen passing in front of a light. The article postulated that this may be Marty from an alternate timeline arriving.
    • When Marty is in the cafe in the '50s, George Mc Fly is there all the time, mostly concealed by his newspaper, before he's finally revealed to be sitting next to Marty.
    • In Part III, when Marty and Doc are at the train stop looking a the map of the train and the ravine, Clara is in the background, waiting to be picked up by Doc.
  • In As Good As It Gets, when Melvin and Simon return from Maryland, an attentive viewer will notice that Melvin does not go through his lock routine when he closes the door. Melvin doesn't realize this until a couple of scenes later and it counts as his Eureka Moment, realizing he's changed for good.
  • In a 'blink and you'll miss it' moment at the end of Thor, during the final fight between the two brothers, the two are thrown from the sphere at the base of the BifrŲst and one tumbles over the edge of the bridge. Look carefully and you'll see that, just beyond him, he's actually tumbling further and what's dangling over the edge is an illusion.
  • During the quidditch match in the first Harry Potter film, when Hermione looks at Snape and sees him muttering an incantation you can see Quirrell nearby doing the exact same thing.
  • In the 1973 film of Jesus Christ Superstar, during the song of Simon Zealotes, Roman soldiers can be seen gathering in larger numbers observing the commotion, and more meaningfully, Judas is in the background visibly disturbed by the events, forcibly walking off in the background during the next song, "Poor Jerusalem".
  • In the Disney film The Emperor's New Groove, the wicked Yzma attempts to poison Kuzco over dinner. The poison is supposed to kill him, and her assistant puts it in every glass at the table. In order to dispose of her drink, Yzma tosses the liquid into the plant beside the table. Just before the poison, which is actually extract of llama, kicks in, we can briefly see that the plant in the background has changed into the shape of a llama.
  • In the first scene of Seven Psychopaths, two mob hitmen are discussing violent criminals and eye removal, all while someone in the shot's background is walking towards them. Eventually, it becomes more apparent that the figure is heading towards them. Cue the Jack of Diamonds shooting them both in the back of the head.
  • In the first scene of Pulp Fiction, when Pumpkin and Honey Bunny are discussing the merits of robbing liquor stores or restaurants, Vincent can be briefly seen heading for the bathroom, and Jules can be overheard in the background (listen here starting at 3:06).
  • In Reservoir Dogs., After Mr. Pink sneaks off with the diamonds, the viewer is left to expect that he managed to get away scott-free. If you listen closer though, you can hear him getting caught by the cops off screen.
  • In Superman: While Perry is talking about journalism and Superman, Clark is listening to Luthor's message and looking for a window to duck out of.
  • In Yellow Submarine, Fred accidentally drops all the band's instruments in the Sea of Monsters. It's not mentioned (beyond all four Beatles playing imaginary instruments for "Nowhere Man") until they arrive in Pepperland and have to find new ones.
  • In Star Trek: First Contact, in the scene where the Borg use the Enterprise to fire on the Phoenix, Data can be seen in the background advancing toward the warp core coolant tanks. Moments later, when the queen discovers that Data set the torpedos to miss the Phoenix, he breaks it.
  • In The Karate Kid we see the bullies gathering outside the dinner where Daniel and his mother are having a conversation, then leaving as they plan their next prank against Daniel.
  • At the beginning of Tim Burton's Batman, we see Batman silently gliding down in the background to take on two unsuspecting robbers.
  • Since there is no sound in space and the musical score does not make a big deal out of the action sequences, all of the space debris attacks in Gravity are experienced in a purely visual manner.
  • In the "X-Men 1.5" extended cut of X-Men (released to home video just prior to the theatrical debut of X2: X-Men United), when the energy pulse from Magento's device washes over Jean Grey, it affects her (and only her) noticeably. This hints at the Power Incontinence she develops in the sequel.

    Literature 
  • In The Dresden Files novel White Night, when Harry and Elaine are heading for Thomas' boat at the marina, there's mention of a boat with a particularly bad engine belching smoke. It gets passed off. The boat in question is carrying Madrigal Raith, a White Court vampire with a grudge against Thomas and Harry, and his ghoul hit squad. The boat then attacks Thomas' ship a chapter later.
    • In Turn Coat several characters are described as having ink on their fingers and the clerk is often described in the background insistently and obsessively collecting people's signatures for menial things. This seemed insignificant until the end when the clerk was found out to be a traitor and the ink contained alchemical substances used for psychological attacks.
    • In Cold Days, Murphy, Harry and Thomas are in a standoff with seven Sidhe. Harry is injured and on the ground, so isn't participating in the parley. The situation changes, and he's the only one who notices. What happens next is equal parts Nightmare Fuel, Crowning Moment Of Awesome and Crowning Moment of Funny.
    Harry: Hey, weren't there seven of you guys a minute ago?
  • In the first book of Diane Duane's Young Wizards series, So You Want To Be a Wizard, has Nita waking up rather disappointed after she's taken the Wizard's Oath and nothing is different. Except a careful reader will notice that now 'Sun' is capitalized, even if not at the front of a sentence...
  • These show up occasionally in the Wheel of Time series. Sometimes a person (or persons) slipping into the scene is slipped into a paragraph. A paragraph or two later, someone notices that he (or they) are carrying knives. It's a gray man attack.
  • In Purple Hibiscus the main character's father is head of a newspaper that repeatedly refuses to censor its stories so the government looks better. It's very much out of focus until the main editor is violently killed by a parcel bomb

    Live Action TV 
  • In one episode of Boy Meets World, the characters are sitting around in the student center having a comedic conversation while Cory gets in a fight with his teacher in the patio outside. The event is brought to the foreground when Cory shoves the teacher through the doorway.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
    • In "The Body" is noted for its complete absence of any incidental music. This is used for great effect when Dawn goes into the morgue to look at her mother's dead body and a vampire silently rises in the background.
    • Also in "After Life", when Xander is on the phone to Willow and Anya after the Buffy impostor attacks them, and just out of focus, we see Anya walking back into the room, possessed.
    • In "Conversations with Dead People," Dawn is alone in the house, and strange things are happening. As she tries to figure out what's happening, the camera suddenly shifts angle, and we see her mother's body in the background. Cue Scare Chord as she suddenly realizes what's behind her, and turns to see nothing.
    • Spike can be seen in the background of a minor scene in the two episodes prior to his main appearance in the series, dancing in The Bronze the first time, and in class with our heroes the second.
    • In the episode "Him," Principal Woods is oblivious to Buffy carefully taking aim at him with a missile launcher as Spike interrupts her and then Buffy starts chasing him, cartoony-like back and forth. Finally, Woods looks up and see no one around, and shrugs it off.
  • In the Community episode The Psychology of Letting Go, Abed has a SUBPLOT play out in the background of other characters' stories - he meets and bonds with a pregnant girl, gets in a fight with her boyfriend, and delivers the baby. This is then lampshaded in a later season 2 episode - when Shirley goes into labor, everyone is surprised to learn that Abed has experience with the situation.
    • In "Cooperative Calligraphy", you can very briefly see Annie's Boobs picking the pen up off the table just as Troy says "I want to lick it!"
  • Doctor Who:
    • In the episode "Midnight", a videoscreen behind the Doctor briefly shows Rose mouthing his name. None of the characters notice. This is foreshadowing for the next episode.
    • "The Waters of Mars": the first person to get infected by the Flood does so in the background of the shot with his back to us, with lots of jerking and writhing, so that we know something is wrong and are yelling for the character in the foreground to get out of there.
    • In "Forest of the Dead", while the Doctor is talking to the Vashta Nerada, Other Dave says "We should go now, Doctor!" repeatedly. It turns out that he has been eaten, and the words are just his communication device ghosting.
    • In "The Time of Angels", you can notice Amy occasionally slipping numbers into her dialog. It's so fast you'll have trouble noticing it, and you might not even pick up that she's counting down. Eventually the Doctor notices, and realises that it means the Weeping Angels are possessing her For the Evulz.
    • Spin-Off series Torchwood continues this — in the episode "Captain Jack Harkness", a "Vote Saxon" poster is seen on the dance hall door.
  • In ER, when Doctor Pratt was seeing off a patient up on the roof, there were two faint lights behind him. Then, when Pratt turned around, we see that the two lights collided. A commercial plane and a private jet had crashed.
  • Firefly
    • in "Safe", while Simon and Kaylee are arguing in the general store, River can be observed in the background wandering away, setting up the rest of the episode.
    • In the episode "Objects in Space", while (almost) everyone's asleep, Serenity is boarded by a bounty hunter looking for River. The hunter's ship could actually be seen in the background in the previous episode, although its significance wasn't immediately apparent.
  • During the first season of Fringe viewers began noticing that the same bald man appeared in the background of at least one scene in every episode. Of course, the significance of this was made clear as the series went on as the man became an official recurring character. As a publicity stunt during Fringe's first season the same actor appeared in character in a crowd shot during an actual live NFL football broadcast.
  • In Ghostwatch, the evil poltergeist "Pipes" can be seen several times at the back of a room, etc., meaning you could either jump or not notice it at all.
  • In the How I Met Your Mother (Wham) episode "Bad News", numbers starting at 50 and counting down can be seen strewn about random locations throughout the entire episode. When the "countdown" finally hits zero, Marshall learns his father's just died.
    • In "Drumroll Please", behind Ted first seeing and falling in love with Victoria, you can see Marshall first tasting and falling in love with the best cake of his life; a comparison that comes up later in the episode.
  • In Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger episode 13, you can briefly see a man in a red shirt making the Monster of the Week obey a crosswalk sign. In the very next episode we learn that the man is Kyosuke Jinnai, former Carranger leader Red Racer and the focus of that particular episode.
  • In the first episode of Kamen Rider Double, during Shotaro's phone conversation with Phillip, the Magma Dopant can be seen for a brief few seconds before Shotaro could bat an eye at it.
  • The LOST episode The Other 48 Days opens with a beach scene. Several dots appear in the blue sky, which slowly get bigger and reveal themselves as the tail and other pieces of Oceanic Flight 815 hurtling towards the island.
  • Mad Men did this well with JFK's assassination as two men are in an office having a conversation with the TV on with very low volume. The report becomes a special report, but neither pay attention as they are busy in their conversation.
  • In The Middleman there is a scene where the focus is on the Middleman speaking to his Mission Control, who is telling him that the Monster of the Week MUST be captured alive. In the background, the Middleman's sidekick is shown finding, fighting, and ultimately killing the fish. Really more of a Funny Background Event, but plot-relevant.
  • The Nanny did it once (combining with the humorous cousin): when Fran describes to Mr. Sheffield the reactions of children being disappointed by their parents, C.C. is on the patio acting out these symptoms on Niles. Then commented on by Fran "And that concludes today's audio-visual demonstration."
  • In the second season finale of The Sarah Connor Chronicles, during the confrontation between Weaver and the Connors in her office, one can see the explosive HK drone that's about to crash into the building out the window a few moments before it becomes very relevant.
  • In the Stargate SG-1 episode The Brocha Divide, you can see one of the Touched in the forest behind Daniel and Teal'c as they tend to the body of a woman. They actually attack a couple of minutes later.
  • In an early episode of True Blood, two characters are talking in the foreground. In the background, a hanging corpse is visible through a doorway for several minutes before the characters draw attention to it.
  • In the season 2 premier of The West Wing, Josh is waiting for a plane when several Secret Service agents enter the frame around him, one-by-one. It takes a bit before the audience notices, but Josh doesn't until the President enters from offscreen.
  • In the mini-series Whitechapel the camera would often linger on a red-headed nurse who worked in the hospital that the investigators keep visiting. She ends up being the Ripper's last victim.
  • From Ultra Seven: In the episode "Escape from Area X" Dan is seen covering his ears while an Ultra Garrison staff officer is explaining the concept of virtual space to Kiriyama. This may look like a blooper, but the Monster of the Week hiding in that virtual space emits an ear-piercing ring that bothers and eventually harms humans, but it can and does stun a Human Alien like Dan. It seemed like Dan's hearing could pick up the sound no matter how faint. Cue the ear-piercing ring coming out of the radio a few seconds later.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation has one that almost becomes a Chekhov's Gun when the musical score turns ominous seemingly for no reason when Picard orders a fairly routine operation. This becomes meaningful later when it is revealed that the order Picard gave is what prevented life from arising on any planet in the Alpha Quadrant, summarily wiping out every living thing seen in Star Trek up until that point.
  • In the episode "The Lion and the Rose" of Game of Thrones, there is a brief scene where Olenna Tyrell speaks with Sansa Stark during the wedding between Joffrey Baratheon and Margaery Tyrell. In a blink-and-you-miss-it moment, Olenna plucks one of the seven crystals from Sansa's necklace. Those crystals contain a deadly poison, and we see Joffrey put down his goblet within arm's reach of Olenna. Guess who ends up dying of poison at the end of the episode? For bonus points, a later shot of Sansa shows only six crystals on her necklace.

    New Media 
  • Marble Hornets milks this for all it's worth. Many times in the videos Slender Man is visible in the background standing statue stiff and staring at the viewer. And except for Entry #7, no one ever notices him.
    • There is also Entry #12, where the cast seems to notice him but not his strange features.
    • Also, look very carefully at the window in Entry #19. Masky peeks in for a couple of frames before coming into the room.
    • In the DVD Commentary, the creators joked that all of MH can be summed up as: "Agh! Look at the background!"
  • There is a man hiding in the shadows during the video conversation in chapter 17 of Broken Saints. He proceeds to kill minor character Sandra.

    Roleplay 
  • Destroy The Godmodder consists of lots of strings of this. Almost everything big that happens was alluded to earlier, was a failed action that got upgraded, or a summon that a player has been charging for a very long time. The vast majority of these are drowned out almost entirely by the swarm of player actions and entity attacks up until they take the forefront.

    Video Games 
  • In BioShock, the first time you see a Little Sister Annex (the metal things built into the walls where Little Sisters come out of), there's one staring at you for a few moments. The object isn't a visual focal-point for the player, and quite a distance away from you when it happens, so many players miss it.
  • Psychonauts has a few of these these.
    • Multiple times throughout the scene where the Lungfish is attempting to fish for Lili and Raz.
    • While ascending the insane asylum, it's easy not to notice the sobs or the flashes of a girl's image. (Unless you have subtitles on...) It's Sheegor, trying to warn Raz off.
    • Throughout the Meat Circus level, one might notice a strange blue apparition appearing randomly to scare the crap out of players. Raz's father is trying to break into Raz's mind to save him.
  • Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas - During the cutscene for the 'Wu Zi Mu' mission, a man in a black jacket and green jeans is sitting casually on a car in the background. That man is Claude, the player character of Grand Theft Auto III, who is Catalina's new boyfriend in the next mission and who gives CJ his car garage in San Fierro.
  • Most of the G-Man's appearances in Half-Life. The first is even before all the trouble starts - you look through a window and see a scientist arguing with him.
    • The advisers can be seen in monitors throughout Half-Life 2: Episode One.
  • When Princess Peach's birthday cake is first seen in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, you may notice for a second that the "decorations" are actually the hair/headgear of the Koopalings.
  • In Brutal Legend, upon arriving at the Kill Master's domain, there's a difficult to see event occurring just above the default camera position (and above the focal points of the scene): Razor Girls, who will not be introduced for a couple of missions, are peering through the holes in the rock building to see if Ophelia is going to be okay.
  • In Call Of Cthulhu: Dark Corners Of The Earth there are several instances early in the game where you get visions of being watched. If you look in the right direction at the right moment, you may catch glimpses of your watchers on the rooftops, hinting at what's waiting for you later in the game. Also, if you look through certain windows in the starting area, you can see various disturbing sights, such as corpses being dragged away.
  • A number of suspense scenes from The Lost Crown have small yet creepy details in the background, like the face of an Ager brother looking on when Nigel is attacked by flies in the Nightmare Room.
  • A lot of plot points in Golden Sun games tend to be foreshadowed in NPC dialogue or thoughts, browsing through bookshelves in random houses, or the like.
  • In Rule of Rose, when Jennifer first goes up to the Old Mansion (first part of the intro), take a gander up at the roof region; most players miss it, but the airship's billowing form can be briefly (like 1 to 2 seconds) seen as a dark shadow overhead while a cloud passes in front.
    • Another scene that this happens is in the first half of the April chapter. You are given the task to find a beautiful butterfly in the background; after rescuing Brown, when you're doing 'Find' commands with him you will sometimes notice the little boy from the opening occasionally running by if you have Jennifer facing the camera. This sometimes serves as a reminder that the game's creepy as sin.
    • Several moments before the terrible Player Punch with Brown occurs, Wendy is visible in a window outside near the coffin (after the cut scene) if you rotate your camera around while walking in the orphanage.
  • During an early cutscene No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, a man falls from the sky and destroys a car across the street from where Travis and Sylvia are sitting, without even getting a notice or mention in their conversation. What at first seemed like a random incident turns out to be the final boss' insta-kill.
  • In Kingdom Hearts II, Stitch can be seen crawling around the hidden laboratory a couple times before Goofy notices him on the ceiling.
  • Batman: Arkham City uses this five times in row during the opening. When the player first starts walking through into the city they can see Black Mask, one of the villains, getting forced into a corner by some guards. Shortly after while standing in line they see a prisoner that looks an awful lot like Deadshot standing in line and hear him say that Bruce Wayne is "on his list". Shortly after that as the player walks towards the gates they just barely see Azrael standing on the top of a nearby building. Soon after you get the batsuit you can encounter a group of doctors, one of whom has been disfigured and is wearing bandages that make him look just like Hush. Finally during one of Joker's messages you can just barely hear someone that sounds oddly similar to the Joker coughing and whispering in the background. Turns out later that the "Joker" you've been interacting with is actually Clayface in disguise.
  • At the end of the Dragon Age II: Legacy DLC, before Hawke strikes the final blow on Corypheus, we see his eyes turn briefly black and Janeka or Larius stagger in the background. It's heavily implied that Corypheus is now possessing them, since they adopt a large Slasher Smile as they leave
  • Mass Effect 2: On the Derelict Reaper, if you look closely when you first enter the room with the Dragon's Teeth, you can see Legion walking along the upper catwalk, several minutes before he finally makes his dramatic entrance.
  • In Hatoful Boyfriend, during the summer holiday Hiyoko decides to go for a run, and several backgrounds proceed to pass by. One of them consists of the ruins of several skyscrapers, hinting that things aren't quite as cheerful as they first seem. Also, during Yuuya's route you can find him chatting briefly with the janitor, who has a role more fully revealed in BBL.
    • One event that shows up on many routes is Hiyoko finding a student's lost ID card and returning it to a member of the faculty she trusts. On Dr. Shuu's route, it's obvious that she's helping him hide the evidence of his... experimentation. In the paid version, she can recognize it as belonging to Anghel if she's on his route.
  • In World of Warcraft, early on in the Terrace of Endless Spring, you can see Tsulong fighting with the Sha of Fear off in the distance while you fight the trash and the Protectors of the Endless. After the Protectors are defeated, Tsulong gets corrupted and you face him as the second boss.
  • In Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and Nintendo 3DS, the Wily's Castle stage will have the Yellow Devil appear on the roof of the castle in the background before disassembling himself and sending his chunks to the main platform to regenerate.
  • In one of the later, Wheatley controlled levels in Portal 2, you can briefly spot Atlas and P-Body from the Co-Op campaign fleeing through the wreckage, but only if you're looking in the right place and have keen eyes.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • In Final Fantasy III Trilogy, while the heroes are answering the bridge troll's questions, you can briefly see Kefka pull Celes offscreen and then replace her after taking her likeness.
  • In RWBY Episode 12, while Jaune is confessing to Pyrrha about having faked his way into Beacon, one can briefly see Cardin Winchester leaning out of a window below them, listening to everything he says.
  • In Red vs. Blue, in Season 2, Church and Tucker are having a conversation, and someone in blue armor just runs by in Blue Base. In Season 3, it's revealed to be Church from the future (or "past") trying to fix everything that went wrong in the past two seasons. Didn't work well.
    • Until Season 8, where it is revealed that the whole time travel loop he went through (aside from the idea of making copies of himself) was just a sample of Cold-Blooded Torture For the Evulz by Gamma. So it was probably just Caboose after all.
  • Crosses over with a Funny Background Event in the first Tankmen cartoon. During one scene there's a gag in the background where we see a soldier get shot right after learning that he's about to have a son with his wife. It seems like just a minor one-off joke in the background. Over the course of the various Tankmen cartoons we learn who he was, how he joined the Tankmen, how he met Sgt. John Captain, his origins, some of his personality, and who killed him.
  • In Worm, during Skitter's first bank robbery, Tattletale is described as wandering off to the bank manager's office, ostensibly to use the computer systems there to monitor the response of the authorities and the security cameras. She's even able to give the Undersiders some warning when the Wards are scrambled. We find out later that she used the opportunity to skim from the robbery's tank and bank assets for her own personal funds. This is one of the instances used to build a financial powerbase to rival Coil's.
  • This is the Slender Man's entire shtick, right up until he takes you. You never notice him.
  • Broken Saints: The scene where Raimi's coworker is killed has the killer visible in the shadows of the background the entire time until he decides to commit the act.
  • In A Couple of Cunts in the Countryside, the long-haired figure who provides a Jump Scare in the intro to the horror episode actually appeared in the three previous videos, in the distance at first, before getting gradually closer.

    Western Animation 
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender while Zuko is talking to Jet. In the back, he can see Iroh heating his tea prompting Jet to correctly believe they are firebenders.
  • In the Futurama pilot, Nibbler's shadow can be seen for a split second after Fry falls into the cryogenic chamber. You'll have to be looking for it to notice. In another episode, Nibbler's eye can also be seen sticking out of a trashcan in a flashback. As with the shadow example, it's only there for a split second and you have to pay close attention to see it.
  • Used in X-Men: Evolution, not in terms of plot, but theme. After the kids are outed as mutants, there's an episode about whether mutants should be allowed to go to the same schools as 'normal' people. In the shot when they walk back into the school for the first time, there's a black kid in the background drinking from a water fountain; a clear nod to a rather less Fantastic Racism.
  • In the Young Justice episode "Infiltrator", Miss Martian and Artemis are supposed to be gaurding the perimeter, but start arguing over how Artemis embarrassed Superboy. While they are distracted, the assassin Cheshire can be seen in the background, somersaulting over the fence and sneaking in behind them.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has several in the episode "Keep Calm and Flutter On." While Discord enchants several beavers in a subtle-yet-not-so-subtle way near the beginning of the episode, and they build a notably huge dam by the end of it, the beavers can be seen hauling logs and sending them downriver throughout the time between. They're easy to miss the first time with Discord being quite the scene-stealer.
  • An early episode of The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes introduces villains Amora the Enchantress and the Executioner. Before they make their official debut attacking the heroes, they're first seen several scenes earlier as just two civilians walking past the Avengers Mansion.
  • In the zombie episode of Six Teen several minor characters are seen being turned into zombies in the background.
  • The Moral Orel episode "Innocence" has Orel come into his teacher Miss Sculptham's classroom to ask for advice. She freaks out (because all the adults are avoiding him) and puts away her newspaper she was cutting out. The paper reads "Rapist's Profile Emerges: He Doesn't Like Blondes" and less noticeably "Victims Share Common Characteristics". She's shown to still have this newspaper article the next episode.
  • There's a few background events in Gravity Falls that seem inconsequential if not ignored outright due to them being both a combination of this trope, Living Prop and "blink and you'll miss it" incidents but later on we see Blendin Blandin, a time anomaly corrector from the future who does appear in the episodes mentioned during the sequences we see in the credits of a later episode.

    Real Life 
  • Due to change blindness, you can miss this happening right in front of you, even if you are told it is happening, unless you are told exactly what you are looking for. Visit the University of Illinois Visual Cognition Lab and try the seven "Gradual changes to scenes" videos. You know in advance that something is being added or taken away from a scene you are watching, but many (most?) people will miss most of them.
    • There is also the Selective Attention Test video, in which two groups of people pass a basketball each back and forth, and half the audience is supposed to keep track of how many times one of the groups passed the ball. Most people fail to notice the guy in the gorilla suit walk in, thump his chest, and walk out partway through the video.
    • A similar test had students who volunteered for a survey who were met by a receptionist and given a form to fill out. This receptionist dropped a pen, bent down behind the counter to pick it up and a completely different person stood up and continued the conversation. A large number of the participants didn't notice.
  • This trope was how a purse snatcher got nabbed.
  • A Tampa reporter was filing a report about high gas prices when two cars had a serious collision in the intersection right behind her. The anchorwoman deadpanned: "They must have been shocked by the gas prices."

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alternative title(s): Significant Background Event
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