Meta Twist

Say you're into a particular author who likes giving each of their stories a special kind of Twist Ending. They like using it so much it's practically a signature element for their works. For some, it's predictable and groanworthy, while others might like it. Either way, it's always going to be there. Right?

Imagine the surprise when, after finishing with the story, the twist isn't there. Much like an Empty Room Psych, the author willingly removes that twist from their latest work to throw avid fans who expected It Was His Sled for a loop.

Maybe they realized that using the trope was becoming predictable or worse, a crutch, and ditched it. Or perhaps he plotted a perfectly good waste from before even starting their first work just to give fans a huge surprise. And of course, maybe they just wanted (horror of horrors) to surprise the audience in order to entertain them. It doesn't matter which it is, the net effect is the same: the plot twist for that story becomes the absence of an established twist. So, a Meta Twist.

For a moment, the experienced have become just as easy to surprise as the newbie. In fact, a newbie into the works/genre will be pleasantly surprised regardless. The avid fan will get the added bonus of not knowing what happens next. This can be a good way to keep the audience interested in their future stories.

Compare with The Un-Twist. Not His Sled is a Sub-Trope where the Meta Twist occurs in an Adaptation or a Reboot as opposed to a sequel or an otherwise unrelated franchise by the same creator.note 

Note: This is a Spoilered Rotten trope, that means that EVERY SINGLE EXAMPLE on this list is a spoiler by default and most of them will be unmarked. This is your last warning, only proceed if you really believe you can handle this list. In fact, these spoilers are even more dangerous than the usual variety, since it's impossible to not spoil the twist ending usually utilized from the moment the name of the work or creator is stated.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: When it was revealed that Gen Urobuchi was working on the series, many fans immediately suspected that the show would be a lot darker than it at first seemed. And they were right... mostly. The ending, while still bittersweet, was much happier than he is normally known for. Also a possible subversion of Lying Creator—when he claimed he wanted to write a heartwarming anime, few believed him. This gets twisted again in The Movie. The ending is even more happy and even more bittersweet at the same time.
  • One Piece did this powerfully in the Marine Ford Arc. A tradition in One Piece, is that no one dies in the present. This had been taken to ridiculous extremes on multiple occasions, perhaps most notably when Pell sacrificed himself to carry a massive bomb into the sky where the explosion would only barely not reach the ground. It's not long before he's implied, then later confirmed to have somehow survived. Then in the Marine Ford Arc, a bunch of powers are all colliding, but Luffy's just there for his brother, Ace. They tease that he may not have enough time to save him, but due to an immense amount of luck, he makes it and rescues his brother (of course, no one dies, right?). However, Luffy has been severely taxed by the events leading up to the Marine Ford Arc, and collapses at the height of a dangerous battle (partially thanks to only surviving the worst poisons on the planet due to an immense will and extensive outside help, another example of death being avoided against all odds). His brother rushes to his defense to take the blow from Akainu, a man with lava powers. Ace has fire powers and can turn immaterial, so he'll be fine, right? Well, lava and fire are members of the same elemental family and since lava is much hotter he's able to directly injure even a man made of fire. Needless to say, he did not survive. The Meta Twist made this moment extremely powerful, making it a significant moment for the audience as well as the characters, while also symbolizing a major shift in the tone of the story. The Straw Hats were no longer just having fun adventures on the seas. They had drawn the attention of the biggest and most dangerous names in the world.
  • In Fairy Tail, much of the Tartaros arc's final battle is about as formulaic as you can get with this series. Natsu is the last person standing against Mard Geer Tartaros. He gets help from his friend(s), Gray in this scenario, but he's eventually down for the count and has no choice but to let Natsu finish the job. Natsu goes full Power of Friendship mode, unlocks a convenient new Power-Up, and pours every last ounce of strength he has left into his Finishing Move...but Mard Geer doesn't go down. And as it so happens, Natsu reveals he was counting on this as Gray suddenly gets back on his feet, allowing him to finish Mard Geer off as Natsu has him pinned right where Gray wants him. This marks the first break from the "Natsu beats the Arc Villain" streak since it began with Jellal at the Tower of Heaven, who came six villains before Mard Geer.

    Comic Books 
  • Final Night is about a present-day version of the Sun-Eater. It features, among others, Ferro (based on Ferro Lad, who died in the original Legion of Super-Heroes story against the Sun-Eater). When he's about to make his classic Heroic Sacrifice taking Superman's place as in the original story, he's saved by Hal Jordan, who makes the sacrifice instead.
  • Mark Millar's run on Marvel Knights Spider-Man: Right after Spider-Man sends Green Goblin to prison, Aunt May is kidnapped. Osborn protests that he hasn't had time to formulate a revenge plan from prison yet, so it couldn't have been him. It turns out the mastermind was Mac Gargan AKA The Scorpion AKA the new Venom. But he didn't know who Spider-Man was and wasn't smart enough to orchestrate the scheme, so who gave him the instructions? Norman Osborn, of course.
  • The infamous comic The Night Gwen Stacy Died pulled this after ten years of ol' Web Head always saving the Damsel in Distress. Even with that blunt of a title (which, to the story's credit, was saved until The Reveal to avoid spoiling the ending), nobody saw it coming that yes, Gwen Stacy does in fact die in that issue. She doesn't come back from the dead, it's not a dream, her back is broken and Spidey would never be the same again least until the reboots, which came later in droves.
  • An early example from Spider-Man's original run — villain Big Man was revealed to be Peter's coworker Frederick Fosswell. Later, Fosswell gets out of jail and gets his job back. The Crime Master shows up, having a mysterious relationship with Fosswell. In the end of the two-parter, it turns out the Crime Master is... some random, never-before-seen mobster. Fosswell did reform (as far as that issue went, at least), he was working as a police informant all along, which could explain how he got such a good plea bargain.

  • David Lynch, once he got famous for making Mind Screw movies, then directed a completely straight story called The Straight Story.
  • M. Night Shyamalan is so famous for adding completely unexpected twists to his works that when The Happening lacked one, people were disappointed. Though that was far from the only reason people were disappointed in the movie. In the case of Split, the twist isn't so much a shocking reveal about the story itself (as is the case of Shyamalan's other works) but a reveal about the world in which it's set (that of Unbreakable).
  • The Brothers Bloom is about con-men, and it has become something of a cliche that any story about con-men is usually a con itself—the viewer waits for the twist to be revealed. The twist at the end of the movie is... there is no twist. The movie has played fair with the audience all along, and what you saw is what really happened. The feeling of the viewer's plot-twist-sense tingling was just paranoia.
  • In David Mamet's debut movie House of Games, he played the aforementioned trope that the events in a con man movie are revealed to be part of a massive con straight. But when he directed his second con man movie, The Spanish Prisoner, he must have realized that viewers were now expecting this kind of a Plot Twist. To counter that, the movie keeps constantly introducing new plot elements that may be innocent, or may (to a viewer expecting the twist) be part of a con. The result is that by the end of the movie, a sufficiently paranoid viewer can't be sure how large the actual con was, or who exactly was involved in it.
  • Scream (1996): The guy that was really, really, ridiculously obviously the killer... was the killer! And another guy is his accomplice! They screw it in even further by having said accomplice pretend to murder him at the start of the third act.
  • Rear Window: Alfred Hitchcock is known for making movies with shocking twists, in which what appears to be going on turns out to have been something entirely different. Rear Window has the perfect setup for this kind of thing, as the main characters spend the movie speculating based on limited evidence... but it turns out that, yes, the main character's theory that his neighbor had murdered his wife was one hundred percent correct.
  • Though many viewers thought that Star Trek Into Darkness would reprise Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in the rebooted continuity, others took Spock's words in Star Trek (2009) to heart and thought that it would resolve in some other way. It was reprised alright, along with the rest of "The Spock Trilogy", but with significant differences, the most obvious being that Kirk and Spock were swapped, making Into Darkness fit both this Trope and Not His Sled, each with regard to a different movie.
  • Sean Bean's reputation as a Chronically Killed Actor can make movies like National Treasure or Silent Hill where he lives to the end of the film a sort of twist. This also applies retroactively to films made before he had this reputation; in Goldeneye he appears to be killed in the opening sequence but faked his death and is later revealed as the Big Bad.
  • Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie is about The Angry Video Game Nerd, a Caustic Critic renowned for reviewing terrible video games, and his adversarial relationship with Eee Tee, a game so horrible that it scarred him as a child. In the end, when the Nerd reviews what many consider to be the absolute worst video game in the entire history of the medium, the Nerd actually states that Eee Tee is not the worst game of all time, but one that, in spite of its myriad flaws, was actually very innovative for its time, especially considering it was developed in less than two months.
  • While The Force Awakens has a reputation with some fans for having almost the same plot as A New Hope, The Last Jedi has many twists that polarize fans and audiences who were expecting this film to be the same as The Empire Strikes Back. Examples:
    • Supreme Leader Snoke, who was supposed to take over the Emperor's place in the new trilogy was killed by his apprentice Kylo Ren in the middle of the movie.
    • Rey's parents being revealed as just ordinary people means that she was unrelated to the Solo or Skywalker families or to Obi-Wan Kenobi, as many fans expected her to be. There was therefore no I-am-your-father type twist as in The Empire Strikes Back.
    • Kylo Ren destroying his helmet, then killing Snoke and telling Rey to let go of the past (which includes the Sith and Jedi Order) and taking over Snoke's role as Supreme Leader means that, instead of becoming a menacing, faceless and strong Sith Lord like Darth Vader who is still loyal to the Emperor, he will become a composite character, midway between Darth Vader and Palpatine.
    • Luke Skywalker dies in the end, creating disappointment for fans who expected him to be the Yoda/Obi-Wan for the sequel trilogy.
  • Cloud Atlas: Timothy mentions Soylent Green in connection with cloned Koreans before Sonmi's story even starts; the clones all drinking the same nutrients each day invokes the connection very strongly. But the plot thread seemingly gets dropped very early on in Sonmi's tale, to focus on political intrigue instead. Small hints are dropped — a reference to Malthus, for example. By the time Sonmi reaches the ship, it's of course a Foregone Conclusion that Xultation isn't real... but the sudden return of the Soylent Green theme is unexpected, if just because the story already includes such a large number of other famous sci-fi twists in its loving pastiche. And then it gets taken a step further when it turns out that not only is the Soap made of discarded clones, but so is the regular food in Papa Song's diner.

  • Harry Potter:
    • The first five Harry Potter books follow a specific pattern: the people Harry suspects are never the actual bad guys. In Half-Blood Prince, Harry is actually right about who's responsible. There's a slight twist, admittedly, but the reader doesn't find that out until Deathly Hallows.
    • Half-Blood Prince also has another one: Up until then, the Defense Against Dark Arts teacher always had been a character newly introduced in the respective book. This turned out not to be the case in HBP. Even Harry and friends were surprised by this. There is a new teacher introduced, and everyone had been expecting him to take the DADA slot, but it turns out the new guy had actually been recruited to teach Potions, and Snape was finally given the position of DADA teacher. Also, in the first five books, the new DADA teacher was always unable to teach a second year. The reasons varied, but they always left the school at the end of their first year. The new DADA teacher from HBP was no longer teaching DADA in the next book, but in a shocking twist, this was actually because he had become headmaster instead.
  • Most of Dan Brown's work to date has involved the final villain of the story actually being a trusted ally in disguise, and the obvious villain just doing the dirty work for said person. So it was quite a surprise in The Lost Symbol when the obvious villain was the primary antagonist from start to finish.
  • In the opening chapters of Sarah Waters' The Night Watch, a main character thinks about her secret lover and why nobody can ever know about their relationship. As Waters' previous books centered on lesbians, it seems obvious where this is going — but the lover is actually a man (the forbidden love aspect is because he's married).
  • Goosebumps is notorious for having a Mandatory Twist Ending in practically every book. In the few episodes where there effectively is no twist ending, we get this.
  • Harry Turtledove is well known for his Loads and Loads of Characters, to the point where most of his books start out with a filler scene for each one that only serves to remind you of the position each of the many viewpoint characters were in at the end of the last book. Except on the rare occasion that one of them dies in this section.

    Live Action TV 
  • 24:
    • By the third season finale, fans have come to expect some huge cliffhanger twist. Jack enters his car, there's a long silence as the viewer waits expectantly... and then Jack breaks down crying. Whoa.
    • The deaths of David Palmer and Michelle Dessler in season 5 and Bill Buchanan in season 7 served as this, as they wound up happening at the beginning of an episode rather than the end which was usually the case whenever a major character was killed off.
  • Lost is well known for its use of flashbacks, a fact which was taken into account in the first episode of both seasons two and three, each of which began with what appeared to be a flashback but was revealed to be showing a previously unseen area of the island.
    • The most notable example is the season 3 finale, with what appears to be a typical flashback turns out to be a flashforward instead. This twist has since entered It Was His Sled territory as being one of Lost's most famous.
    • Season 5 has an interesting variation: by this point, most of the audience knows that the opening scene will be set on the Island, but this time the opening scene turns out to be set in the 1970s with Pierre Chang and then we see Daniel Faraday, so the audience has no idea if this is a flashback or flashforward. Indeed, it isn't until much, much later in the season that this scene is revisited.
    • And yet again in the season 6 opener, where what looks like a flashback to the crash diverges from the actual events, and we get our first flashsideways. However, the twist is not the plane's failure to crash, because the viewer was previously informed of the likely creation of a no-crash alternate timeline. Instead, the twist happens when we pan down to see the island submerged underwater. Ultimately, even this becomes a Meta Twist, taking advantage of the audience's new expectation that the show will play around with the flashback/forward gimmick. At the very end, it's revealed that the "flashsideways" are actually depicting the afterlife of all the characters, at some point in the future after they have all died, meaning that the "flashsideways" had actually all been flashforwards the whole time.
  • During the 2009 season of Home and Away, police officer Angelo Rosetta is investigating a people smuggling ring operating out of the bay, and confides in Charlie that he suspects Hugo, Martha's new boyfriend. In the season finale, after several months of Angelo focusing on Hugo, it's revealed that, yes, he is involved.
  • Dr. House's catchphrases get twisted every now and then:
  • There's an episode of Dangerfield called "Silence Has Rhythm Too" in which a musician and friend of series lead Jonathan Paige is found standing over the strangled body of the neighbour he didn't get on with, holding the cord she was strangled with. The police arrest him but obviously he's innocent and Paige will unearth the real killer, right? Instead the episode ends with Paige realising that, yes, he actually did do it.
  • A suspect in The Closer was a junkie arrested while he was high, showed violent tenancies when he chucked a chair through a window, had blood on his clothes, and possessed the keys to a stolen car with a murdered girl in the trunk. Rarely is the guilty party quite so obvious. The episode was largely dedicated to convincing Brenda that it was probably exactly what it looked like.
  • An episode of Person of Interest saw Detective Carter concur that a murder occurred just as it appeared to. The suspect was found at the scene standing over the victim's body with a gun and made a full confession. Granted, the murder had nothing to do with The Machine or the episode's main story.
  • HBO helped pull this off in Game of Thrones. Who does the marketing focus on? Who's the obvious main character? Sean Bean, who's the biggest name and most recognizable actor, thus seemed to be the one star with Contractual Immortality. Fans of the book loved it because they fell for the Decoy Protagonist when reading it and from the sheer amount of reviews and YouTube videos so did most of the television fans. In hindsight, of course, this cemented Bean's reputation as a Chronically Killed Actor. Joffrey's death took fans, especially non-book readers, by surprise by happening in only the second episode of the fourth season.
  • Firefly:
    • In the pilot episode, Kaylee is shot and treated by Simon, with Mal threatening to pitch Simon off the ship if she doesn't recover. And Joss Whedon is well known for being willing and eager to kill off characters, levity, and anything resembling cuteness with extreme prejudice. So, of course, Mal walks in on Simon and declares simply that she didn't make it — and is lying through his teeth because he thinks it's funny (as does the rest of the crew).
    • The finale "Objects in Space" partially answers the question "just how great are River's mental powers?" River announces that she has "become" the ship, but she's really just broadcasting from Early's ship. So the answer is "not that great".
  • Doctor Who:
    • Early Doctor Who fans had become quite used to very dodgy looking aliens. So when it turned out that Koquilion from The Rescue actually was a man in a costume, it managed to take people by surprise.
    • Steven Moffat is regarding as something of a master of the shocking twist. So when River Song was announced to have killed "a good man, the best [she'd] ever known" it was thought it was just too obvious for it to be the Doctor. After all, it was the first name which came to everyone's mind the second it was suggested. It just couldn't be true, right? In fact, entire sections of the fandom (across more than one discussion group) dissected the idea. They argued that River Song, knowing and often mentioning the Doctor's flaws, would never call him the best man she'd ever known. They argued that this Doctor had even said why he wasn't truly a good man because "good men don't need rules". Meanwhile, Rory (who doesn't need rules) was repeatedly stated to be a good man throughout the series. He showed a habit of dying several times (almost as though the universe were trying to make him...). When he was revealed out to be River's father in "A Good Man Goes to War" it seemed guaranteed (and many fans were sitting back quite content with themselves and saying "I told you so"). After all, who would a daughter be more likely to consider the best man she'd ever known than her father? And then it was the Doctor after all, only it wasn't actually him — it's complicated.
    • Moffat outdoes himself spectacularly with "Listen". He is well-known for taking classic childhood fears like a fear of the dark or of statues and designing monsters around them. So when the Doctor theorizes that there is a monster that has evolved to hide so well it cannot be seen, ever, it seems like another Moffat monster. At the end, it turns out that there is no monster and that it's all in the Doctor's head. He thought up an exceptionally terrifying monster because he was once scared as a little boy. That's right, Moffat managed to deconstruct not only the character of the Doctor, but also his own idiosyncratic storytelling tropes.
    • At the apparent end of "Last Christmas", the Doctor discovers that Clara was actually attacked by the Dream Crab as an old woman, and that it's over sixty years from her frame of reference since the end of "Death in Heaven". This looks like exactly the kind of Diabolus ex Machina twist that the 21st-century series has frequently relied on to forcibly and angstily part companions from the Doctor. Then it turns out that it's just another layer of dream trap, and when they wake up completely she's young again and happily leaves with the Doctor for more adventures. This one's Real Life Writes the Plot, though: The actress had been leaning against returning for the following season, so it was written so that it could be Clara's exit. The "nope, still dreaming" bit was added when she decided she would return after all.
    • The Twelfth Doctor's final episode, "Twice Upon A Time", has the Doctornote  investigating a mysterious entity known as Testimony, which claims to appear at the moment of a person's death and "extract" someone. After much investigation, it turns out to be a human project from the distant future designed to copy the memories of everyone who's ever died, so that they can be recorded for all time in a kind of artificial afterlife; for once, the episode's "villain" wasn't actually malevolent, but rather just happens to have a needlessly ominous design. The Doctor lampshades this briefly, saying that he's not quite sure what to do in this situation.
  • The X-Files episode "End Game" had what was technically a twist, but might have been intended as a meta twist. This episode and the preceding episode "Colony" concerned alien clones and the apparent return of Samantha Mulder, so to have the woman claiming to be Samantha turn out to be a clone seemed too obvious. On the other hand, had she turned out to actually be Samantha it would have been a strange card to play at that point when the show was virtually guaranteed a third season.
  • In Siberia, Carolina and Victoria claim they saw a tiger after deciding to form an alliance and try to undermine the others. It turns out there really is a tiger. Or there was. The show was too new for this non-twist to have subverted any established conventions, but as half of this show's tropes are on loan from Survivor...
  • In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., of course the guy played by Brad Dourif is the Big Bad, right? Not this time.
  • The cases on Cold Case are usually elaborate puzzles and webs of lies involving several people, each of whom has a more or less believable reason to want the victim dead, so it's the ones where the killer is obvious from the beginning that are the surprising ones, as the puzzle is therefore something else. Examples have included...
    • "The Runner," the case of a murdered cop who was recorded screaming "Runner! Runner!" before his death. Once the police discover "Runner" was the street name of an Evil Former Friend of the cop it becomes clear who did it, but he eludes the cops at every turn, at least until they find out there was another witness. And then they have to find her.
    • "Hubris:" The killer had been correctly identified when the case was still hot, but the police were unable to prove it. The suspect has been hounded by the victim's family ever since, and in hopes of getting them off his back he asks for the case to be reopened himself, as in the interim he'd taken the liberty of framing someone.
    • "Creatures of the Night:" The killer is already in prison in another state, but thanks to a deal he took will soon be eligible for parole. After learning he'd spent time in Philadelphia, the Philly PD is forced to hunt for a victim they're not even sure exists in hopes of keeping him locked up.
    • "Saving Patrick Bubley:" Everyone knows that a vicious street gang is responsible for the deaths of four brothers. However, due to either fear of the gang or hatred of the police, no witnesses are willing to come forward, meaning all the cops "officially" have is a hunch.
    • "One Night" and "The Road:" The killer is ID'd before the first commercial break, but during interrogation it's discovered there's a still-alive victim stashed somewhere. Cue a battle of wits between the cops and the killer to try to find them before it's too late.
  • On the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode "Brief Interlude," a Canadian woman is found severely beaten, possibly by a random stranger. Then her husband, played by Richard Thomas (who had played a killer in an earlier episode), comes to New York and it eventually transpires that the guilty party was- a random stranger.
  • Nearly all adaptations of And Then There Were None change the book's Kill 'em All ending into a happier one where Vera is actually innocent of the murder that U. N. Owen accused her of committing, she and Lombard fall in love, and Lombard is consequently able to convince Vera to not kill him and the two survive the murderer's plot. Because of this, it can come as a nasty shock to viewers who are more familiar with the film adaptations than the original book when the 2015 BBC adaptation follows the films' lead of having Vera and Lombard fall in love and Lombard making a plea to Vera to trust him about the murderer being neither of them that's very similar to the plea he makes in the 1945 and 1965 films... and then having Vera — who is revealed immediately afterwards to be 100% guilty of the murder she was accused of — shoot him dead anyway.
  • Even The Twilight Zone (1959) did this. In the episode "Ninety Years Without Slumbering", an old man is determined to keep an old grandfather clock from ever running down, because, as his father and grandfather told him, when it stops, he'll die. Nobody takes him seriously, and eventually he's put in a situation where he can't wind the clock. This being The Twilight Zone, something bad is bound to happen when that clock stops, right? Well, what actually happens is that the old man decides that it really is silly to believe that the clock stopping will kill him, and he wakes up the next morning in high spirits, telling everyone "When that clock died, I was born again."

    Newspaper Comics 
  • In one Calvin and Hobbes strip, Calvin opens the door, shouts that he's home, and Hobbes doesn't tackle him into the yard like he usually does. Calvin finally finds Hobbes sitting nonchalantly, and gets no more reaction out of him than an acknowledgment: "So you're home."

    Professional Wrestling 
  • At Wrestlemania 27, Edge and Christian headed into Edge's title match vs Alberto Del Rio with a series of tense promos that caused most to assume that Christian's Chronic Backstabbing Disorder would rear its head again and cause him to screw over Edge during the match. The match itself never even teased the possibility, leading to a clean win for Edge, with the two of them leaving the stage together. In a way, it was quite fortunate, as due to a medical condition Edge retired legitimately before he could wrestle another match. Instead of going out being screwed by the other half of the Edge-and-Christian Those Two Guys vibe, he retired as the champion with his best friend still in his corner.

    Video Games 
  • Brave Fencer Musashi had action figures of enemies and bosses you could purchase, often before actually facing them, which had actions and sometimes even voices that displayed their attacks. Of course there's an action figure of Colonel Capricciola with all of his attacks which never get seen in-game since he's The Unfought and actually helping you.
  • Uncharted:
    • The first two games had the twist of there being supernatural monsters (zombies and Yeti, respectively) involved in the events. The third game, Drake's Deception, has its supernatural enemy, the Djinn (Arab fire demons), turn out to be just a hallucination. Finally, to cap it all off, A Thief's End has absolutely nothing. The pirate gold is uncursed.
    • The villains of the first two games are big, scary bald men with foreign accents, so the player is lead to believe that Charlie Cutter, scary bald British man is the antagonist of the third game, but it turns out that's only to fool the real villain, and Cutter is actually an ally.
  • Mega Man X:
    • Given the series track record with villainous doctors, a lot of fans were surprised when they faced Dr. Doppler in Mega Man X3 and, rather than unveiling a Humongous Mecha, he instead tosses his coat off and fights X all by himself.
    • Sigma has always been the Big Bad and Final Boss in every game... except for one where there was someone else controlling Sigma all along (Mega Man X8) and a Gaiden Game where where he doesn't make an appearance (Mega Man X: Command Mission).
    • Mega Man X through X4 had minor characters as the intro level bossnote  that has no bearing whatsoever on the plot. Then Mega Man X5 changes it up by throwing Sigma himself at you as the intro boss in a battle that kick-starts the entire plot of the game.
  • After spending an entire franchise as the Big Bad, Mega Man Legends threw players for a loop by making Wily a completely benign boathouse owner who even helps Mega Man on his quest.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog's Dr. Eggman picked up a bad habit of getting upstaged by the game's real Big Bad around the Sonic Adventure-era games. It initially looks like this is going to be the case in Sonic Generations, until it's revealed that Eggman is the real Big Bad and Final Boss after all. Not just Eggman, in fact, but Eggman teaming up with himself from the Genesis-era games. Sonic Colors also completely lacks the upstaging part altogether by having Eggman be the Big Bad from beginning to end, and then when he's upstaged for real in Sonic Lost World he wrestles his Big Bad status back from the game's villains at the very end for one more Final Boss fight.
  • Fire Emblem
  • There is a Flash version of Portal on places like Kongregate. The final level is simply an open room, with a cake on a pedestal. When you move over to the cake... you pick it up, and can leave the room safely, completing the game, in complete defiance of expectation from anyone who's ever played Portal itself.
  • Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time. After seeing the ninja, western bandit, and caveman ancestors, who didn't expect Sly's medieval ancestor to be a Robin Hood Expy? Turns out he's a hilariously hammy noble knight, and Sly becomes the Robin Hood expy via a costume that lets him shoot arrows.
  • Used in Metroid: Fusion to score a cheap shot on Samus. Everyone playing this the first time ran right in and tried to grab the powerup from the Chozo statue in Sector 1, only to be damaged by it and have the statue turn into a Core-X.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • It's frequent to have to explore three dungeons to gather an initial set of Plot Coupon items before something unexpected occurs and the Master Sword has to be collected (or, conversely, the Master Sword is collected and then the twist occurs). So it was very shocking for gamers to discover that the location of the third quest item from The Wind Waker is utterly destroyed and the holder of the item went elsewhere for safety (this was most likely due to time constraints during development). The item is gotten after a series of events in the overworld, rather than the completion of a dungeon. The real third dungeon, Tower of the Gods, is found after making use of the three quest items and is completed to find the Master Sword. And the traditional unexpected twist occurs after completion of the fourth dungeon (Forsaken Fortress).
    • Another twist on the Plot Coupon gathering formula happens in The Minish Cap, when Link finishes the third dungeon just to discover that the MacGuffin he was searching for isn't there anymore.
    • Since The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, the dungeon boss is usually fought with the dungeon item, so when Ghirahim shows up in the first dungeon of Skyward Sword, and is fought in a pure sword fight, it comes as a shock. It comes as an even bigger shock when you fight him again. A double shock because Zelda villains usually loom in the background, never encountering you until the finale. Lastly, bosses are never fought in the overworld prior to this game, yet Skyward Sword has a whopping four outside of dungeons (including the True Final Boss).
  • Pokémon:
    • In Pokémon Black and White, many aspects of the series' standard plot formula are subverted: the villainous team plot is not solved prior to the eighth badge and the Champion is actually defeated by the Dragon-in-Chief before you reach him. Said Dragon becomes the (next-to) Final Boss, relegating the Champion to the post of Bonus Boss. On the other hand, the Gym Leaders are not resting on their laurels either and take on several of the Evil Team's admins, allowing you to bypass them.note 
    • Pokémon Sun and Moon also subverts many standard Pokémon gameplay and story tropes. Pokémon Gyms are absent entirely, with Island Trials taking their place instead; the Pokémon League itself is only recently introduced to Alola. While there is the usual Team X as recurring antagonists, they're not the primary Big Bad. There isn't even a Champion as the Final Boss; rather, the player becomes the region's very first one after a final battle against (of all people) the region's Professor, and subsequent playthroughs of the League have the player defend their title from various important Trainers.
    • Ever since Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, the main antagonists have used the Mascot Legendary in their plans. In both Black and White and Sun and Moon it is you, the player character, who uses the Mascot Legendary to stop the villains.
    • At the end of every Pokémon Mystery Dungeon game, the Player Character has to leave for whatever reason, but inevitably ends up doing no such thing before the credits sequence ends. Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon looks like it's going to go the same way, until it suddenly turns out that the partner is the one who has to return — and what's more, they don't come back until you advance the post-credits plot a bit.
  • Castlevania:
    • When you get to the end of a game, you can expect to fight Dracula as the final boss and for him to alternate between teleporting around and firing bursts of fireballs at you. Midway through the battle he'll usually transform into some grotesque creature, so the twist here are those few times he doesn't. For example, in Super Castlevania IV he merely loses the flesh on his head. Then there's Order of Ecclesia, where instead of transforming, Dracula simply power walks around much like the recurring golem and armor bosses.
    • Aria of Sorrow pulled one, though it is widely known now. If Dracula has been reincarnated, you expect his new incarnation to be the final boss, not the player character.
  • Live A Live pulls the same trick as Final Fantasy IV where, if you face a boss and he has an animated sprite instead of a drawn portrait, you will recruit him at some point, thus spoiling who will and won't be a playable character. Except this isn't the case at all and you can and will play as not only a Humongous Mecha in the Near Future chapter, but will also control all the bosses if you play Oersted's final chapter.
  • Persona 5: Futaba's dungeon is set up exactly like one from Persona 4, a mental world created by the inner thoughts and insecurities of a future party member, controlled by their Shadow. It's all flipped on its head once you reach the end: Due to Futaba's outward self-loathing, Shadow Futaba is a Hero Antagonist who represents Futaba's repressed positive side, and only fought the Thieves because she thought they were trying to harm Futaba. She's not the boss of the dungeon, the real boss is a monster born from the feelings that caused Futaba's depression: the belief that she's responsible for her mother's death. Shadow Futaba pulls a Big Damn Heroes to help the party defeat the boss, by convincing Futaba of the truth and becoming her Persona.
  • Earthbound lets you name the four main party members right at the beginning even before any of them have been introduced by the narrative, so when you name Lucas, Claus, Flint, and Hinawa at the beginning of MOTHER 3 you know that's your party, right? Oh ho ho NO. You play as Flint until Hinawa and Claus die very early on, driving the poor guy out of your party and into near suicidal depression, and Claus returns as a Hollywood Cyborg as well as the Brainwashed and Crazy Dragon to the Big Bad who offs himself in the final battle so Lucas won't have to do it. Yeah, it's that kind of game.
  • Five Nights at Freddy's:
  • For its time, Bowser joining Mario's Team in Super Mario RPG was a massive twist. Until then Bowser had just been the series Big Bad, no more no less. Then Smithy's Gang rolled up to the party, booted him out of his own castle, and caught everyone off guard when he "let Mario join the Koopa Troopa" to help take down Smithy and served as The Lancer for the remainder of the game. It was also a very big revelation that Bowser's honestly not such a bad guy at heart and is even A Father to His Men.
  • In the Mario RPGs, Bowser is normally demoted to Big Bad Wannabe and only acts as Big Bad when there is not an original villain to serve as the actual main antagonist. Mario & Luigi: Dream Team is the exception, where it is the original villain who plays second fiddle to Bowser.
  • Batman The Tell Tale Series manages to pull a doozy when the Children of Arkham begin spreading the story that Thomas Wayne was actually one of Gotham's worst criminals ever and made his fortune through theft, murder, and sending innocent people to Arkham to rot. No way in hell any of this is anything other than a fabricated story to drag Bruce through the mud, right? It's all true. Every word of it. This time around the franchise's Paragon is actually a Greater-Scope Villain the entire time, and the only reason The Penguin and Lady Arkham's Roaring Rampage of Revenge isn't entirely justified is they're targeting Bruce and the innocent lives of Gotham to get it.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Tetsuya Takahashi is rather infamous for his tendency to include evil, Demiurge-inspired gods in his games. So it comes as a bit of a surprise to discover that the Architect is a genuinely benevolent figure who ultimately wants the best for his creations.
  • The Etrian Odyssey series has a well established pattern of fellow adventurers who are helpful and friendly early on, only to become antagonists after some major plot twist. So in the fifth game, when Lili and Solor show up for the first time, experienced players were already planning for the inevitable betrayal and battle. It never happens. While they become a major part of the plot around the third stratum, it leads to them fighting the boss alongside you.
  • In the Video Game/Splatoon series, a lot of weapons are re-purposed everyday items such as hairdryers, washing machines, and giant paintbrushes. So come the the sequel's DLC campaign "Octo Expansion", some players may be forgiven for thinking that this could extend to other pieces of machinery and that the "thangs" they're collecting which look suspiciously like blender parts will form a teleporter or something. That is until Mission Control takes a glance at their video feed and realizes that, no, you've all been fooled into building a giant blender that's going to puree you into fish paste.

    Visual Novels 
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney:
    • Each game usually follows the Good Lawyers, Good Clients trope, so the one case in the series where Phoenix's client actually is guilty comes as a massive shock. Many consider it one of the best cases in the series. Similarly, in Investigations 2, one of the people who Edgeworth proves to be innocent of the murder they're accused of turns out to be a two-faced, conniving mastermind who orchestrated every single present-day murder in the game (yes, including even the murder Edgeworth acquitted them of, as they knowingly manipulated someone else into doing the dirty work for them). Even Edgeworth can barely bring himself to believe it when he finally puts the pieces together.
    • In the first case of every game (which serves as a tutorial), the culprit is inevitably the witness brought in, since the first case takes place in one day and there's no investigation period to establish multiple suspects. Thus, in the first case of Apollo Justice, when the witness is revealed to have been lying about the events of the murder and hiding a bold personality with a shy demeanor, players would suspect she was the culprit. Instead, the real killer was Apollo's mild-mannered mentor and boss, Kristoph Gavin.
    • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice, Amara Sigatar Khura'in manages to be such an effective Red Herring because they tick practically every Ace Attorney Big Bad box in the book: Involved in a past unsolved case? Check. Appeared since early in the game, but as someone Beneath Suspicion? Check. Requiring a lot of effort to bring to the witness stand? Check. Dramatic transformation when accused, complete with new ominous Leitmotif? Check. Face of an Angel, Mind of a Demon? Check. Terrifying "shock" animation? Check. It's all there, yet they're not the final case's killer, and the realization probably won't hit the player until their "breakdown" is surprisingly anti-climactic. Along with their complete lack of motive.
  • In Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, the first game of Zero Escape, a huge plot twist was that June- the stereotypically kind, naïve love interest- was really the Deadly Game's amoral mastermind, Zero, and the series' Big Bad. (That was also, for reasons that make sense in context, confirmation that magical abilities did exist in the ZE universe, and formed the plot's backbone.) This drastically altered many facets of the story, and made June's characterization far deeper than it had been before. So when the second game's cast page was released, and it described Luna as kind and naïve, fans decided that this must mean Luna was an expy of Akane and secretly a two-faced murderer who couldn't be trusted. As it turned out, however, they were wrong- Luna really is a compassionate optimist who wants the best for everyone. She has her own...issues, like being a robot, but she's one of the most solidly good characters in Zero Escape. So that was a surprise in itself. The real villain is Dio, who was an overt Jerkass, the twist being that yes, he really is as evil as he seems.
  • The first Dangan Ronpa quickly brings up the existence of a famous Serial Killer named Genocider Syo, who eventually turns out to be one of the students trapped in the school. Super Dangan Ronpa 2 then does the same set-up with a different Serial Killer. The killer of that trial then reveals herself to be that Serial Killer, only for everyone to find out soon after that she was faking it as part of a ruse to get everyone to quickly vote for her as the culprit before they could find out everything that happened around the time the murder took place.
  • Super Dangan Ronpa 2 in general is very fond of taking plot elements from the previous game and going in a completely different direction with them, eventually leading to a massive Player Punch with Chiaki's execution. It happens in the exact same chapter as Naegi's foiled execution in the first game, and the two are found guilty under similar circumstances (Naegi being framed outright and Chiaki being tricked by the victim himself into killing him without her knowledge,) and thus the sequence keeps trolling the player by continuously making it look like she's going to escape, before finally executing her for real.
  • New Dangan Ronpa V3 pulls a big one near the end of the game. By this point in the series, pretty much everyone in the audience is expecting Junko Enoshima to be the one behind the new killing game; after all, she was the mastermind of the last two killing games, and is effectively responsible for almost every bad thing that has ever happened in the Danganronpa franchise. So when Chapter 5 has Shuichi and the others regain memories of being students at Hope's Peak, and The Stinger at the end of the chapter shows the silhouette of a familiar girl imitating Monokuma's laugh, that seems to confirm things, right? Nope, Junko has absolutely nothing to do with this game; the person we saw was actually the real mastermind cosplaying as Junko. Also, Junko may or may not be a fictional character in this universe.
  • From the When They Cry series:
    • In the original sound novels of Higurashi: When They Cry, almost every arc would end with a "wrap party", consisting of the characters being Animated Actors who discuss what happened in the arc and put forth their own theories about what's going on. In Umineko: When They Cry, the first arc seems to end in a similar way as a "Tea Party"...but then Battler starts to feel disturbed by how the other characters all seem to agree that the witch Beatrice was behind everything with no one questioning it. Then the other characters rapidly return to their state of death, Beatrice reveals herself for the first time, and she whisks Battler away to Purgatorio where their battles of logic will frame the rest of the series.
    • In both Higurashi and Umineko, there are characters who are trying to Set Right What Once Went Wrong so that everyone can stop dying over and over again. Both of their last arcs are the most optimistic in tone. In Higurashi, Rika Furude is able to save everyone thanks to The Power of Friendship, leading to a big case of Earn Your Happy Ending. So that means in Umineko Ange will be able to fix everything thanks to The Power of Love from her family, right? Wrong. In reality almost everyone on Rokkenjima was killed and will never come back, and even though Battler survived he no longer considers himself Ange's brother due to Trauma-Induced Amnesia. Thus, Umineko has much more of a Bittersweet Ending than Higurashi did.

    Web Comics 
  • Survivor: Fan Characters: Many of the webcomic's fans employ Survivor Edgic, a system that keeps track of the screentime and Manipulative Editing given to each contestant, to try to predict the seasons' winners ahead of time. After this led to them figuring out Season 7 and 8's winners much earlier than the creator expected, he began actively working to catch these Edgic-savvy readers off-guard by going for extremely unconventional winners who Edgic logic would've deemed as having too Out of Focus or Large Ham edits to win. Then, after four straight seasons of completely out-of-left-field winners, he pulled another Meta Twist in Season 13 by having a much more conventionally strategic and level-headed contestant easily beat a finalist that perfectly fit the mold of the loud, crazy, non-strategic type of recent winners and explicitly stated in his season notes that he deliberately played into his readers' paranoia about another Shocking Swerve outcome to generate suspense about the otherwise-predictable result.

    Web Original 
  • Discussed in Zero Punctuation: Yahtzee feels that the "shocking" moment in the Modern Warfare games has become so token that by the end of the third game, it'd be more shocking if there wasn't one.
  • The first three episodes of Don't Hug Me I'm Scared end with a Snap Back that leaves it open to interpretation whether the horrifying things the characters went through were All Just a Dream. This formula is broken in episode 4, which ends with Duck Guy and Yellow Guy still trapped in the digital world and Red Guy apparently dead, and is ignored for the rest of the series.

    Western Animation 
  • South Park fans know that Cartman is always, always doing good deeds for his own twisted reasons, which may range from Poke the Poodle to all-out Moral Event Horizon in scope. No matter how good he seems, fans and the characters can bet that he's really being manipulative. This makes his subplot in "Major Boobage" something of a surprise, when he really does take in all the town's cats (which had been recently outlawed) simply because he's a cat lover and felt sorry for them. It does, however, lead to some humor when Cartman, a well-known anti-Semite, gets compared to Schindler helping Jews hide from the Nazis.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra are famous for how in episode 10 of every season something goes horribly wrong. In Avatar: Season 1 had Jet bombing a dam and destroying a city. Season 2 had Appa getting stolen. Season 3 had Ozai knowing all along about the invasion and he left early before it started. In Legend of Korra: Season 1 has Amon taking Lin's bending. Season 2 has Jinora being unable to return to her physical body. Season 3 has the Earth Queen's death and destruction of Ba Sing Se. One would think that in the final season of Legend of Korra the 10th episode would be insanely horrid for our heroes (especially with its much darker tone in that season overall). Instead, Lin's rescue mission works and Zhu Li tells everyone what Kuvira's plans are.
  • Scooby-Doo:
    • The series is well known for its "Scooby-Doo" Hoax, though sometimes (usually in the films), the monster they are chasing is, in fact, a monster, and not a guy in a costume.
    • No matter how much Fred insists, Red Herring is never the culprit in any A Pup Named Scooby-Doo episodes. Except for that one time he was, and even then he had good intentions.
  • The Simpsons: Homer Simpson is not a smart man, nor one known for having any kind of scientific prowess or a clear enough sense of the world to understand how things might play out when, say, a comet is bearing down upon Springfield and threatening to wipe the town off the face of the earth. So in "Bart's Comet", when Homer predicts that the nuclear pollution from the power plant would burn the comet down to a small rock no larger than a chihuahua's head, nobody (in universe, or out) takes him seriously. And then that's exactly what happens. There's even a chihuahua conveniently nearby for scale. Bart, Lisa and Homer himself are terrified by this.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has a few goodies:
    • The first two major villains are dispatched with the Elements of Harmony and of course the ponies try to use them to stop Queen Chrysalis as well. Turns out she anticipated this and stationed about umpteen-thousand changelings in the room to capture them. The elements never actually get used; instead Shining Armor and Princess Cadence nuke the changelings with the Power of Love.
    • In a similar vein, Starlight Glimmer manages to bring the Mane 6 down a peg by ripping off their cutie marks and rendering them unable to use any of their talents or even any above-average abilities. But that doesn't slow them down, does it? Actually, yes it does: they can't even keep up and rely on the villagers of the unnamed town to save the day for them.
    • A huge doozy comes in "Crusaders of the Lost Mark". After four seasons and change of the Cutie Mark Crusaders trying and failing to get their cutie marks, along comes yet another episode where they'll be humiliated by Diamond Tiara and not get jack in the end. Nope: not only do they manage to turn Diamond Tiara around but they actually get their marks at the end. Even Derpibooru was shocked, with its usual "pony with care and use spoilers for this weeks episode" read something along the lines of "Holy shit pony with care".
    • Season 6 has a handful of episodes that break the trend of a recurring villain will pull a Heel–Face Turn, as was increasingly common beginning with Season 3 to the point of coming across as unrealistic. First comes "Viva Las Pegasus", where Applejack reluctantly enlists her Arch-Enemies, the Flim Flam Brothers, in an Enemy Mine situation to complete a friendship mission. Fluttershy expects them to say that Good Feels Good, but no; once the partnership is over, they slip right back into their conniving ways like a glove. The next and bigger example comes at the end of "To Where and Back Again", where a reformed Starlight Glimmer offers Queen Chrysalis a chance at redemption. At first, it looks like she'll go through with it, reaching out to grab Starlight's hoof in friendship...only to smack it aside and making it absolutely clear she won't be her friend anytime soon.
  • Adventure Time had many cases of apparently cute entities who were actually very dangerous and/or evil. The episode "Conquest of Cuteness" has a group of apparently cute and harmless would-be conquerors who really are as harmless as they seem.
  • Samurai Jack: In the fifth and final season of Samurai Jack due to the rating being changed to TV-14 there is a significant tone shift. In the previous seasons, Jack only fought monsters, aliens, and robots who would "bleed" green goop or oil. In the second episode of the fifth season, Jack actually murders another person.
  • Dan Vs. fans know that whatever bizarre supernatural entity Dan blames for his problems will turn out to be real, and Dan will get revenge. Not so in "The Monster Under The Bed", where the eponymous monster turns out to be a "Scooby-Doo" Hoax by Chris to get revenge on Dan.
  • Rick and Morty: The promo for Season 2's finale only focused on one joke, when the entire episode was revealed to be an emotional rollercoaster. After that, Season 3 had two more instances of misleading marketing: one for "Vindicators 3: The Return of Worldender", where the eponymous villain was hyped while he was killed offscreen by Rick, and the second instance in "The Ricklantis Mix-Up" focusing around Rick's and Morty's journey to Atlantis, rather than the rebuilt Council of Ricks. So when the Season 3 finale only had a trailer of the President of the United States sending Rick and Morty off on a quest to beat a monster, many fans assumed, due to the vague plot summary of Rick taking on the President, that it would be Evil Morty, who became the president of the above council, and that the episode would have the same emotional intensity on par with Season 2's finale, right? Wrong. The plot summary was Exactly What It Says on the Tin, the plot was mainly self-contained, and many fans who had wanted to see Evil Morty were undeniably pissed.
  • The Spectacular Spider-Man does this with the Green Goblin's identity. In the comics, multiple people have worn the mask, but Norman Osborn is the first and most well-known. Midway through season one, Peter concludes the Goblin is really Norman... only to find it's Harry Osborn (the second comics Goblin), under the influence of a Fantastic Drug. When the Goblin reappears in season two, Peter assumes Harry's fallen Off the Wagon, only for the Goblin to attack him while Norman and Harry are standing right there. Then it turns out the Goblin is and always has been Norman, and all evidence to the contrary was either deliberate misdirection or a lucky coincidence.