Sometimes, at the end of a Dream Sequence
or an All Just a Dream
episode, after the character in question has woken up and demonstrated any Aesop
that the dream might have been communicating, there's some small hint that it wasn't a dream after all, even though it quite obviously was... right?
That hint is often some kind of small object from the "dream world" that was given to the character there, innocently sitting on the bedside table.
May be an example of The Ending Changes Everything
, though those are usually even more of a Mind Screw
Don't ask for advice; you're bound to get You Imagined It
may apply to what was, is, and will be the dream, and which one is real.
of Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane
, in that the mundane explanation has to be dreaming.
Not to be confused with That Was Not A Dream
Compare Real After All
, Here We Go Again
, and The End... Or Is It?
As with all Ending Tropes, beware of spoilers.
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Anime and Manga
- The climactic scene in Suzumiya Haruhi wasn't a dream, but the title character is convinced it was one. To the extent that she rewrote the universe into one where the scene was a dream. 'Snow Mountain Syndrome' ends with Haruhi convinced all the weirdness was essentially a waking dream. The possibility of this is explored (and dismissed) as a potential ending for the student movie.
- The Pokémon Mystery Dungeon manga ended with Ginji, who had been turned into a Torchic, waking up as a human again. He thinks it was a dream but he soon finds the badge that he received in the Pokémon world. The one problem with this idea is that the beginning of the story shows Ginji searching for his hidden birthday present, which he never found... the present may be the badge, making the adventure All Just a Dream after all.
- Paprika by the director Satoshi Kon has this. Justified - the movie is about a machine that lets you invade people's dreams, which glitches but really gets sabotaged and brings reality and dreams together. Whether or not something is Up the Real Rabbit Hole is a more pressing question than Schrödinger's Butterfly.
- Possibly spoofed in one Axis Powers Hetalia strip where after Greece takes it on himself to teach Japan how to enjoy sex more, Japan is seen bolting wide awake in bed, yelling "Is this an 'it was all a dream' ending?! I'm SO GLAD it was that kind of ending!" While naked. And with an equally naked Greece sleeping next to him. Sure it was, Japan.
- The very end of Monster features a scene in which Johan, supposedly comatose, appears to sit up in his bed and reveal to Tenma the true source of his frustration and madness. Then Tenma appears to wake up as if from a dream. Then Johan appears to be gone from the hospital bed.
- In the ending of the Eureka Seven movie, its debatable on whether Renton and Eureka survived and their whereabouts. Is it really their homeland Warsaw? or in Renton's dream world? or even an afterlife world? You decide.
- The first scene of Puella Magi Madoka Magica is dismissed by Madoka as just a "weird dream," until she meets the real version of the dream-Homura. This makes it appear to have been a Prophetic Dream. It's actually an inversion of that trope—it happened in the past, a previous timeline that Madoka only remembers subconsciously.
- Wolverine tracks down the studios set up by the Weapon X program to stage his Fake Memories, but one key period, when he shared a cabin with Silver Fox, does not have a corresponding set, giving him hope that his happy recollections of that time actually happened. When he encounters Silver Fox again, she shows no recollection of the cabin, but after her death, Logan is told the location of the real cabin and allowed to bury her there.
- The Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight story "Masks" features Batman apparently in an insane asylum, having imagined all his adventures after years of homelessness when his parents' debts left him penniless. It turns out that it was all a gaslight by a psychologist who blamed Bats for his criminal father killing his mom in a murder/suicide. The second to the last page throws The DCU into doubt.
- While Dream from The Sandman isn't exactly the warmest and kindliest guy out there, one of the most cruel punishments he ever doled out was to give somebody who had wronged him the gift of eternal waking. That is to say, the man will have a ghastly nightmare, then as the most horrible part plays out, will startle awake and sigh in relief... only to realize he's in a worse nightmare. And suddenly wake up, etc... FOREVER. As fates worse than death go, this is pretty bad.
A few years later, however, when that iteration of Dream dies, the guy wakes up. For real. Presumably as a result of some belated mercy, he is not a completely psychotic broken shell of a man - instead he eventually simply forgets his dream(s).
- Inverted in the "Quantum Quest" story arc in Captain Atom: there is plenty of evidence in the text to support the supposition that Cap's experience of creating, misgoverning, and ultimately destroying his own universe were just a fever dream brought on by Shadowstorm's attack, but that idea is never considered in the story itself.
- In Marvel Comics Presents, Spider-Man is woken up by another Spider-Man ("Spider-Mech") who recruits him into the Galactic Alliance of Spider-Men, a sort of neurotic parody of the Captain Britain Corps. When he is thrown back through the portal by a "Doctopoid" and lands back in bed, he naturally assumes it was all a dream, unaware that Spider-Mech's Subspace Spider Signal is still under the bed.
- Hector Vector in Oink! once had an adventure which resulted in him being made to walk the plank off the moon... whereupon he fell out of bed. But was that moon dust in his pocket? It was just a dream... wasn't it? Of course it was a dream! How would Hector know what moon dust looks like? It's probably just a bit of pocket fluff. (As a caption below the last frame helpfully pointed out).
- The last issue of Darkhorse's Godzilla Comic Book series involves Godzilla returning to the time of the Dinosaurs after being swallowed up by an Earthquake. Upon exploring his new location, he is attacked by a Giant Dragon Monster simply known as "The Stranger". Godzilla and the Stranger fight just as the meteor that killed the Dinosaurs impacts Earth, forcing the Stranger to flee, but not without Godzilla tearing off a piece of his tail as Godzilla plunges into another crevasse. At the comic's end, Godzilla wakes up to see that it was all a dream... Until he notices a piece of the Stranger's tail in his claw.
- The Star Trek: New Voyages episode "To Serve All My Days", which involves Chekov undergoing Rapid Aging to the point where he may have died, has a final scene at the end of the closing credits that may suggest that most of the episode was All Just a Dream.
- The Rainbow Blade, a Nickelodeon fanon show was revealed to be a dream by the main character. However, Web uses his Rainbow Blade in several other series he appears in.
- ''An Alternate Ending to Matrix Revolutions'' has the events of The Matrix turn out to be a dream… of Ted Logan's. However, the two endings suggest something more since the first one features an appearance of Smith, and the other has Trinity.
- This trope is a key part of Terry Gilliam's "Trilogy of the Imagination", for self-evident reasons, as they are built specifically around Gilliam's belief in the power of imagination.
- Time Bandits is the story of a young dreamer. At the end, Kevin is rescued from his burning room by firefighters, and is thus convinced that the entire weirdness was just a dream — and indeed the entire movie was filled with clues that everything was a dream inspired by the toys and decorations of his bedroom. Then he finds in his pocket the Polaroids he took of the events in the dream. Just before his parents are destroyed by a fragment of Evil in a broiler oven. The Father Figure he met in his dream gives him a wink as the camera pulls away.
- Brazil is the story of an adult dreamer, and reverses the trope. At the end, Sam is Strapped to an Operating Table, about to be tortured by an acquaintance, an Obstructive Bureaucrat who knows very well that he doesn't know anything, but is rescued by La Résistance Just in Time. He reunites with his Love Interest and they retire to the countryside… only to reveal that he hasn't physically escaped at all. Throughout the movie, he used his powerful imagination as his own personal Lotus-Eater Machine for periodic escapes from the bureaucratic Crapsack World he was born into, and knowing that his Love Interest is dead and no one is coming to save him, he enters his fantasy world one last time and locks himself in it, escaping his tormentors forever. They know it, and don't even bother to unstrap him, they just leave his body to die and rot as he wistfully sings Ary Barroso's "Brazil".
- The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is the story of an old dreamer, and it takes the trope to new levels. Throughout the movie, the city has been besieged, with cannon-fire falling like rain and a sense of doom in the air. Its titular Baron finishes his ridiculous yet hilarious and moving yarn by stating that though he died, Death Is Cheap to him and "everyone who had a talent for it lived Happily Ever After." He then mounts his horse and rides out of the city, which is as it had never been attacked. The townspeople are in awe, but his most devoted listener, Sally, states in wonder that, "It wasn't just a story, was it?". The Baron waves to them as he vanishes as if he was never there.
- Edward Scissorhands also does something similar. The Framing Device is a girl being told a story by her grandmother. The grandmother is in fact Edward's Love Interest, who states that before Edward's adventures, it never snowed. And it now does with regularity. It is in fact Edward carving snow sculptures in her memory, the ice flakes blowing over the town.
- The Wizard of Oz
- Early storyboards have the Ruby Slippers appear under the bed at the end. And even without this, there's the similarity of all the characters to people she really knows.
- The 2011 Andrew Lloyd Webber-produced Screen-to-Stage Adaptation references this by having a gust of wind blow open a cabinet in the bedroom, revealing — if only to the audience — the Ruby Slippers.
- Likewise, the coda for Return to Oz has the scene where Dorothy touches her new bedroom's mirror, only to have a vision of Ozma and Billina manifest itself.
- The original Total Recall (1990) plays with this extensively, as the main character wants a virtual reality experience of being a spy, then is chased by spies because he accessed protected memories in his head, then is told he's really in a virtual reality experience and if he doesn't snap out he'll be lobotomized, then decides he isn't, and then at the end is told to kiss the woman he saw in case he really is in a dream, and the movie fades to white, leaving us to wonder if it was a dream (and he was lobotomized) or not. Another possible interpretation is that it might be both a dream and NOT lobotomized — after the last scene, he wakes up in the chair, and then is asked, "Did you like your virtual vacation? Were you the super agent you dreamed of being?".
The "dream" interpretation is made more plausible by several factors, such as the title of the virtual reality experience selected for him: Blue Sky on Mars. If you look closely at the movie sequences before the Rekall experience, you'll also notice that all the characters (except Michael Ironside's) appear before he goes to Mars. The point of divergence seems to be when he woke up screaming that the doctors blew his cover, and they apparently put him to sleep. Only after this do they claim he had a memory cap planted, maybe for his subconscious to blame the "big bad Agency". The Big Bad appears on TV, so do things about ancient alien artifacts, a news presenter having a close resemblance to Quaid's new Love Interest, also "model 41" is a perfect resemblance to her, which is a big coincidence for just 3-4 specifications. At the beginning of the movie, Quaid seems a bit... unnerved, maybe his wife knows he already has some psychological problems which he doesn't know, and is trying to no avail to put Mars out of his head. And does the "crooked taxi drivers" line said by the main doctor ring any bells?
- Dreamscape had a sequence like this. Where the hero and the girl, on getting on a train in real life, encounter a train conductor they had encountered in a dream sequence earlier in the movie.
- Straight example in MirrorMask, when Valentine's real-world equivalent is introduced after the whole adventure, subverting And You Were There.
- Dead End, the ending of which is peppered with a mixture of references to things encountered in the 'dream' (A sign reading 'Marcott' in the dream, a doctor of the same name in the real world), characters dying in ways relevant to a pretty bad car accident and various other things, which seem to suggest pretty clearly that the film has been entirely dreamed up by the survivor from crash to hospital... until someone cleaning up from the accident locates something her father wrote during the 'dream'.
- In Young Harry Houdini, Eric/Harry dreams that he escaped during a stunt. At the end of the film, he wakes up and is told that he had failed to escape and was knocked unconscious. He then reveals that he still has a crystal given to him during the dream.
- In Contact Elenor Arroway is led to believe that the climax of the film was all just a dream brought on an anomalous effect of the Machine, and not an actual 18-hour trip to the Vega Star system, but a fall of several seconds. However, an investigator notes that, while the electro-magnetic interference could have caused her video camera to record static during the fall, it recorded 18 hours of it, meaning that something outside the normal laws of physics occurred when Elly dropped through the machine, it just wasn't recorded.
- In The Mask, Stanley wakes up with the titular artifact in his pillow, and thinks the bizarre incidents caused by masking himself were just a dream. Then a policeman comes to his door, telling him a masked individual attacked the landlady and jumped out the window.
- In The President's Analyst, the pressures of the job turn the title character paranoid to where he sees spies tailing him everywhere - he wakes up from a nightmare that his girlfriend is a spy. Shaken, he calls her on the phone, and as she talks to him, she opens a drawer in her nightstand and switches on a tape recorder...
- The Science of Sleep doesn't use this an ending trope. Stéphane has lots of dreams and it becomes difficult to know what is and isn't real... also due to the fact he isn't sure either.
- The 'fantasy' world in Pans Labyrinth may or may not have been real. The ending presented a hint that it was not real, but Word of God said that it was...
The movie also presented a hint that is WAS real namely Ophelia getting out of a locked second floor room. The camera shows the chalk 'door' she drew and used to get out according to Word of God
The ending would be impossible if it wasn't for the magic. The Labyrinth must open to Ophelia for her to get away from Captain Vidal that quickly, leaving him confused at the dead end.
- Used in An American Carol, where the protagonist wakes up after being visited by the long-dead President JFK and thinks (desperately hopes) it was all a dream.
- Also in at least one version of A Christmas Carol, near the beginning. When ghost Marley takes Scrooge flying and a terrifying ghost flies toward them, Scrooge covers his face. He then looks around, sees that he's in his bedroom, and says aloud, "It was a dream." Then Marley announces his presence nearby.
- Jan Svankjamer's adaptation of Alice in Wonderland has Alice wake up from her nightmare and find that the White Rabbit is missing from his case, leaving it ambiguous as to whether the events were real or if she's still dreaming.
- At the end of Masters of the Universe, everything seems to be returned to normal, until the female protagonist sees that her dead parents are still alive. She prevents the path that lead to their deaths in the old timeline, then she and her boyfriend joyfully look at the artifact the Sorceress gave them to remember Eternia.
- In Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland, a couple times Nemo wakes up in his bed, thinking that the whole adventure was a dream; only to find the Royal Scepter from his dream under the covers of his bed.
- Invoked early on to establish the conflict in every single A Nightmare on Elm Street movie.
- In Click, Adam Sandler falls onto a bed in Bed, Bath & Beyond, falling asleep for a couple of seconds, before going back to the loading dock and meeting Mort, who gives him the "Universal Remote." After fast-forwarding through (and missing) most of the important parts of his adult life, and finding his wife married to another man whom his daughter calls her 'second father', he dies of a heart attack, twenty-something years in the future. Later, he wakes up, back on the same bed in BB&B and makes his way home thinking it was all a dream. When he arrives home, he finds the same remote, with a note from Mort saying everyone deserves a second chance and that Mort knows he'll do the right thing, this time. Sandler's character promptly throws it into the trash, where it finally stays.
- Prince of Darkness and its mirror ending, even though it does not technically show you the other side of the mirror, nor the anti-god, still leaves the possibility of the entire movie being (or not being) a dream open for debate.
- The Golden Child. Sardo Numspa appears in Chandler Jarrell's dream, leaving a long burn on Jarrell's arm. When Chandler wakes up, the burn is real.
- In The Wolfman (2010), did Gwen really visit Lawrence in the Asylum or was she just a hallucination?
- In Gozu, the protagonist has a strange dream where he is being licked by a man in underwear wearing a cow head. Then he wakes up via Catapult Nightmare and finds the leather pouch in his lap that he was given by the man in his dream.
- The Night Flier: At one point, Richard Dees has a nightmare about the vampire hovering over him as Richard is sleeping in his motel room. He wakes up and it turns out to be a dream... except immediately afterwards he finds out that the vamp left a warning written in blood on his window.
- In Black Knight, Jamal falls into a moat at a Medieval theme park and finds himself in the Middle Ages. He ends up saving the land from an usurper, finds a Love Interest, and is knighted by the Queen. Just then, the Queen shouts "clear!", and Jamal is shocked with defibrillator paddles by a paramedic who looks like the Queen. He assumes it was all a dream, but the experience turns his life around (he goes from a slacker out for easy money to a hard-working man with dreams who is taking night classes as the local community college). Six months later, he forgets the "dream" and meets a woman who looks remarkably like Victoria, his Love Interest from the "dream", whom he called Vicky. Unlike Vicky, Nicky speaks with an (over-the-top) American accent. He appears to recognize her from somewhere but can't remember where (he assumes he must've seen her at the community college where she works). He then notes a scar on her neck in the same place where Sir Percival drew Victoria's blood in the "dream". Nicky can't remember where she got the scar, only that it was a long time ago. He ends up chasing after her, falling into the same moat... and getting up in Ancient Grome being chased by lions in the Colosseum.
- The Astral Dawn series by Adam R. Brown. Caspian wakes up from his first surreal dream wondering if it truly was all a dream or if there was more to it than that. At some points during his first adventure, he's told "This is more than just your dream". Caspian later gets confirmation when he discovers his grandfather really had passed away.
- Ghosts I Have Been, a young adult novel, has the protagonist comfort a little boy who died on the Titanic. When she comes back from her "vision" in the school's office, she is clutching a Titanic blanket and is soaked in seawater.
- Pretty much the point of Terry Pratchett's Johnny Maxwell Trilogy, especially the last book (Johnny and the Bomb). To quote from the Word of God:
There are natural explanations for a lot of the things that happen in the books, if you are desperate to find them (and people will sometimes go through some serious mental gymnastics to avoid changing their preconceived ideas about the universe). But I like to be equivocal about what is "real" and what isn't — to Johnny it's all real, and that's what counts.
So: is what happens in the books real? Yes. Does it all happen in Johnny's head? Yes. Are the Dead a metaphor? Yes. Are they real? Yes. Not just waving, but particalling.
- Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts series.
- Larkin's encounter with the angel in Ghostmaker. He explicitly describes his mental problems to her, and that he's not taking the drugs for them, but at the end, he sees the piece of white cloth she had given him to wrap about his gun, still there.
- Inverted in Straight Silver. Gaunt and Beltayn meet a woman in the woods and borrow a car. When they go to return it, they find that not only the car but its keys have vanished. Gaunt later learns that her name was that of a woman who had served Saint Sabbat and had died centuries ago.
- Reality Check by David Brin
- It manages "or was it a story?" Apparently eternal life is so boring that the immortal protagonist has voluntarily entered a Lotus-Eater Machine, and someone's trying to bring them out of it. The thing is, it's written in the second person—the protagonist is quite literally you, and the story is your wakeup call, the tone growing increasingly urgent as you fail to respond. Yes, it is as damaging to your sanity as it sounds.
- Dude, thanks a lot, now I won't be able to sleep for days—got to look for the exit protocols . . .
- The Saint story The Darker Drink plays with this on multiple levels. A man named Big Bill Holbrook claims to serve as the dream avatar of Andrew Faulk of Glendale, California. He encounters the Saint in the High Sierras. Holbrook claims that the personages from a recurring dream Faulk had have started to manifest in the waking world. Templar takes a jewel off of Holbrook. When thugs searching for Holbrook open fire on Templar, he loses consciousness. When he awakens later, he has no injuries, but still feels the jewel he took from Holbrook in his pocket. When he searches for Andrew Faulk in Glendale, he discovers that Faulk died after slipping into a coma. Templar intends to show Faulk's widow the jewel from Holbrook, but it has disappeared from his pocket.
- There's a weird scene at the end of the Discworld novel Soul Music which has the feel of this ending, even though there's been no suggestion it might have been a dream. At the end of the novel, Death states that the events of the novel had happened, but also not happened. The guy who was the center of it all had been a rock star, and at the same time worked at a fish-and-chip takeaway. A small line in The Truth confirms that the Music With Rocks In incidents had happened, but the ultimate fate of the guy who initiated it was never known.
- Gregory Benford's short story "Sleepstory" features a space pilot fighting a war on Ganymede who gets a little compressed downtime with a dream-guiding narrative system, telling a story about an engineer in Los Angeles trying to fix breaches in the dams that keep the Global Warming-afflicted seas from flooding the city ...or possibly the other way round.
- Near the end of Farther Up and Farther In the hero wakes up in hospital thinking that all the weird stuff that happened before was a near-death hallucination. Until he opens his computer and finds it holds the story he wrote in Asgard at the start of Part 3...
- In Robert E. Howard's "The Shadow Kingdom", Kull teeters on the verge of believing this in the final scene, except when he sees Brule, which prevents him.
- In Time Cat, after traveling all throughout time and history via the powers of his talking, magical cat, the protagonist wakes up at home from a nap to find that his cat doesn't talk at all. But he still has an ankh that he kept from when the two were in ancient Egypt.
- C. S. Lewis' Out of the Silent Planet plays with this. Ransom falls ill after his return to Earth from Mars, and afterwards considers the possibility that his entire adventure on Mars was actually a fever dream. The argument isn't enough to convince him, but it's enough to make him realize that no one will believe his story, so he decides to keep it all to himself. Then a colleague finds a reference to Oyarsa (who Ransom spoke with on Mars) in a 12th century manuscript, and this convinces Ransom to tell his story.
- Mary Poppins. The title character constantly denies taking the Banks children on mystical adventures, but they often find signs that the adventures really happened.
- In Stephen King's Pet Sematary, Louis dreams that the ghost of one of his dead patients shows up in his bedroom and takes him to the eponymous cemetery in order to give him a warning. When he wakes up, his feet are covered in mud.
- In the Sweet Valley High version of A Christmas Carol, Jessica wakes up on Christmas morning after dreaming that the ghosts visited her in the night, only she can't find her left slipper (which fell off while she was with the Ghost of Christmas Present) and her ankles are covered in scratches (she walked barefoot through a forest while with the Ghost of Christmas Future).
- In Tempted, Zoey comes to this conclusion when it turns out the locations Kalona has been chosing as the back-drop of their dreams together reveal his actual location.
Live Action TV
- The title character once got knocked in the head pushing a guy out of the way of a falling flower pot which led to a Wizard of Oz-style dream adventure where he went to Arthurian England, encountered Merlin, gave him his pocket knife and at one point possibly inspired the invention of scissors. At the end he is revived, and all is back to normal... except a paramedic who looks just like Merlin is there, the bride of the guy he saved also looks like a woman from the dream and the paramedic has scissors and a pocket knife just like Mac's. He then reaches for his pocket (presumably for the knife) and an object from the dream is inexplicably there. Hmmm... This was a bit of a self-parody, since the show was already notorious for reusing actors of minor characters in very obvious ways, for no other reason than cheapness.
- A similar plot happens earlier, when he dreams of being in the Old West, and then wakes up and finds the bullet-holed Swiss army knife that saved his life in the dream. This may have been a reference to the Bugs Bunny Looney Tunes ep. listed below in the Western Animation section, which involved Merlin the wizard being changed into a horse.
- Though not quite a dream, one episode of Hustle hinted that the fake story they sold to a newspaper wasn't so fake after all.
- Since the last thing we see in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Normal Again" is the insane asylum where Buffy had spent much of the episode "hallucinating" that she was a patient, accompanied by a doctor pronouncing that she's lapsed back into catatonia, it's left to the viewer whether the previous six seasons were real, or a psychotic hallucination. Word of God (Joss Whedon) is that he personally believes that the events are real.
- The same twist has been used in Seven Days, at the end of the "Run Lola Run" inspired episode "Deja Vu All Over Again". Did the events of the series take place, or is Frank Parker still locked up in the ward?
- Two episodes of Growing Pains have done this.
- In "This Was Your Life", Ben dreads the idea of having his tonsils removed - leading Ben to state that he doesn't "want to be a Seaver". After a cab driver brings him home, he discovers that his life was replaced with that of another boy. After waking up from his surgery, he sees the boy who replaced him on a gurney.
- In "Meet The Seavers", Ben is upset that his parents don't remove his punishment - even after hugging them, and saying that he loves them. As a result, he wishes that he could be in a TV show. He then finds himself on the set of Meet the Seavers - which is very similar to, well, Growing Pains. After he wakes up, he's relieved to be home. However, after turning on the television set, Mike/Kirk begs Ben to let him out.
- The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
- In a Halloween themed episode Will Smith wakes up from his nightmare (where he was "hexed" into causing horrible luck to everyone around him causing him to thrown out of the house) and goes to breakfast. At the breakfast table, every character repeats the exact same lines they said in the first scene of that episode with Will realizing this and trying to convince them to say other things and finally culminating in a Big "NO!". It's a very Groundhog Day moment for Will.
- In another episode Will breaks Jazz's concentration during a poker game by telling him a story about having witnessed a murder forcing him to go into Witness Protection in Alabama. He admits the lie to Jazz and makes off with his money...only for the killer to later suddenly show up in front of Will. Will runs...and it turns out to be Jazz in disguise (somehow looking EXACTLY like the killer Will imagined).
- The Twilight Zone TOS episodes:
- In the episode "Where Is Everybody?", a man finds himself trapped in a deserted town. The Twist Ending is that the man is an Air Force pilot training for astronaut duty in an isolation booth, and he hallucinated the entire experience. When Rod Serling adapted "Where Is Everybody?" for a book of short stories based on his Twilight Zone scripts, he changed the ending slightly: after the pilot leaves the isolation booth, he inexplicably finds a ticket from a movie theater in the empty town in his pocket.
- In "King Nine Will Not Return", a former pilot hallucinates that he's in the North African desert at the site where his WW2 bomber crashed (he didn't go on the bombing mission because he was ill). When he's brought to a hospital, the doctors find desert sand in his shoes.
- Subverted with Claire's dream in the episode "Raised By Another". Claire dreams about a crib full of blood, which she gets all over her hands. Then when she wakes up screaming, her hands are covered in blood! But after the commercial we find out she just dug her fingernails into her palms because of the terror of the dream.
- Not to mention her claims that she was approached by a man in the night, which everyone shrugs off as a dream until she gets kidnapped...
- Also the flashback of Hurley at the mental institution involving Libby in season 2. Whether this was real or imaginary has yet to be resolved.
- The Young Ones
- One episode ended with Neil about to get beaten up, then waking up and saying to camera "Oh. It was all just a dream." The credits roll over shots of him getting out of bed, but when they end he wakes up again, about to get his face smashed in. He only dreamed about it being only a dream.
- In 'Summer Holiday', he daydreams about undergoing a Hulk transformation and getting revenge on his flatmates — he is awoken from it by Vyvyan asking what's happened to his clothes...
- The Wild Wild West episode "The Night of the Man-Eating House". Near the beginning, the characters discover and approach the title house. After a series of terrifying events, at the end the characters wake up and discover that the horrific events in the house were all just a nightmare. In the last scene, they find themselves approaching the house again.
- One of the last episodes of Married... with Children had Al Bundy selling his soul to Lucifer. After three centuries spent in Hell, Al asks Lucifer if there is a way to get his soul back, and the Lucifer, among other things, gives him a chocolate bar. After waking up and realizing it was all a dream, Al realizes he still has the chocolate bar in his pocket.
- The "horror special" episode of Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps involves the main characters sneaking into their soon-to-be-closed local pub and invoking a curse which will cause them to be killed by the things they love most. At the end of the episode, one of the characters, Janet, wakes to find that it was All Just a Dream. However, this is followed by a shot of her biscuit-loving husband, Jonny (subsequently Killed Off for Real), whose head has been replaced by a giant Jammy Dodger.
- Very creepily done in an episode of Carnivŕle that involved the protagonist getting drugged by a creepy mask maker who wants to make a mask out of his face, then waking up with the guy claiming he had fallen asleep and must have had a bad dream. Ben is suspicious, but he never finds out the truth. The guy's occupation was making death masks, which are done by pouring plaster on the corpse's face, and it's implied that after retiring he became a serial killer who killed dozens of children by drowning them in plaster, as he made the masks out of them.
- "The Red Hat of Patferrick", one of the "Gelliant Gutfright Presents..." The Twilight Zone spoofs in A Bit of Fry and Laurie, is about a publisher who receives a mysterious phone call about the Red Hat of Patferrick, which inspires his secretary to commit suicide, and then another call that his wife has been killed by the hat itself. Then he wakes up and it was all a dream. And then he does receive a call about the Red Hat of Patferrick, so he throws himself out the window. And then his caller turns out to be Gelliant Gutfright himself, trying to sell The Red Hat of Patferrick, a story about a publisher who has a strange dream...
- One particularly odd episode of CSI: Miami has Calleigh critically injured during a case. She finds herself a walking spirit interacting with the ghost of the victim while her physical body fights for its life in a hospital. In this state, she finds a critical clue just as she is brought back to consciousness. She wakes up thinking of a hint that leads to the clue, but no memory of how she got it. Horatio Caine figures that she saw it before she was injured, and her subconscious brought it to the forefront while she was in a coma. And that would be the accepted explanation... If the vic's ghost hadn't appeared one more time (unseen by anyone) at the end of the episode...
- At the end of the Community episode "Epidemiology", Troy receives a hint that more happened than just being roofied for no reason in the form of a voice mail sent during the night by Chang, claiming he and Shirley did it in the bathroom. Troy doesn't understand the relevance only wondering why Chang would tell him about it despite the sounds of the zombies attacking at the end.
- The Boy Meets World episode "And Then There Was Shawn" turned out to be an extended dream Shawn was having of some maniac in a skull mask killing everyone in detention to make sure Corey and Topanga stayed together. The killer was revealed to be Shawn... by Shawn. After he wakes up and everyone leaves Mr. Feeny's classroom... the killer emerges from behind the computer stand and departs the room.
- The BBC show Life on Mars (2006), and its sequel Ashes to Ashes have this trope as one of their central themes. Whether Sam Tyler (and later Alex Drake) has truly gone to the past, or is simply having a coma hallucination is played with throughout the series. ( It's neither, but closer to the second one.
- A Saturday Night Live "Wayne's World" sketch has Wayne dreaming a "Summer of '42" fantasy with Garth's hot mom (Candice Bergen). Garth angrily enters the fantasy and "shoots" Wayne (leveling a shotgun and shouting 'Ka-BOOOM!'). Wayne wakes up and declares "It was just a dream...[sees the grocery bags from the fantasy on the floor]...OR WAS IT? WOOOOAAAHHHH!"
- The Enterprise episode "Carbon Creek" is framed as a story T'Pol tells Archer and Trip about her ancestor T'Mir. It's a bit of a tall tale involving Vulcans meeting humans well before historical First Contact; Archer likens it to hearing that Neil Armstrong wasn't really the first man on the moon. They end up suspecting T'Pol made the whole thing up, and her vague answers seem to confirm this. But then we see her in her quarters contemplating T'Mir's handbag. T'Pol also claims in the episode that her ancestor "invented" Velcro by selling a Vulcan pouch with the fastener to a businessman.
- One episode of The Colbert Report opened with Steve Carell (Stephen's Sitcom Arch-Nemesis on The Daily Show) having his own show- "The Carell Corral". Stephen bursts in, demanding an explanation. Steve tells him that Stephen had left to make movies and other shows (essentially switching out their respective careers) and pointing out that Stephen has a hoof for a hand. After a Big "NO!", Stephen wakes up, relieved to find himself on his own set with everything back to normal... except that he still has a hoof for a hand.
- The Late Late Show ended its final episode with Ferguson waking up in bed next to Drew Carey, apparently dreaming that he had been a late-night show host with a robot and a fake horse for the past few years. After discussing the dream for a bit, the two go back to sleep, only for the camera to zoom in on the snow-globe on Ferguson's nightstand. It features himself, Geoff, and Secretariat inside.
- Aaron Carter's kiddie-pop hit "How I Beat Shaq", about his dream where he played the basketball player and won:
But if it was a dream, and it wasn't real,
How'd I get a jersey with the name O'Neal?
- "#9 Dream" by John Lennon contains the line:
Was it just a dream?
- The end of Supertramp's "Even in the quietest moments" also contains the line
Was it just a dream?
- Michael Jackson's Thriller music video. A young woman, after walking out of a horror movie only to be pursued by dancing zombies, wakes up screaming. Michael comforts her and offers to take her home. As they leave, he turns around to reveal his evil eyes accompanied by Vincent Price's signature Evil Laugh as the video ends.
- D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince's "Nightmare On My Street," a musical tribute to the "Nightmare On Elm Street" series, ends this way.
He jumped on my bed, went through the covers with his claws
Tried to get me, but my alarm went off
And then silence... It was a whole new day
I thought, "Huh, I wasn't scared of him anyway!"
Until I noticed those rips in my sheets
And that was proof that there had been a nightmare on my street
- "We Damn The Night" by Helloween —
Blood on my pillow. // Blood on my skin.
Am I going mad // Or was this a dream?
- The music video for Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" depicts its heroine going through what seems to be a very strange dream that has something to do with a boarding school... and then its final scene has her greeting what appears to be a graduating class, normal as anything — until one of their number's eyes suddenly starts glowing like the ones in her dream, to her and another witness' visible surprise. "Mullet with headlights? Over-surprised guy!..."
- Candorville leans pretty hard towards the "wasn't" side. The night Susan takes home a stray dog, she has an apparent nightmare in which the dog speaks to her, hypnotizes her, and tries to get information out of her. In the morning, of course, it's perfectly normal—but the dog's addressing her as "whore" fits neatly with some of Lemont's crazy theories, and provides the first outside indication that his scenes are more objective than they seem.
- In FoxTrot Paige writes a story for a school assignment. The story is about Jason entering a haunted house and getting attacked by monsters. At the end, Story!Jason wakes up in bed...and his head removable. Not surprisingly, Paige got an appointment with the school counselor along with her grade.
- In this strip, Garfield was about to kick Odie off the table when Odie suddenly spoke and told him not to even think about that. That case of The Dog Bites Back turned out to be a dream. When Garfield tried to kick real Odie, he turned around like dream!Odie.
- Used at the end of The Musical Starmites, where a mother reassures her daughter that she just had a crazy dream, not a musical adventure set in a sci-fi comic, prompting the daughter to sing a song titled "It Wasn't a Dream." And to drive the point home, as mother and daughter share a hug, the Big Bad pops up from behind the girl's bed just as the show ends.
- The Calderon play La vida es sueńo ("Life is a Dream") has protagonist Segismundo spending most of the play wondering what parts of his life have been reality and which dreams (of course, this is primarily to do with his father messing with him). He comes to the conclusion:
Segismundo: Que toda la vida es sueńo, y los sueńos, sueńos son. ("For all of life is a dream, and dreams themselves are merely the dreams of dreams.")
- The Legend of Zelda
- The world of The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening was a dream of the Wind Fish, and Link had to wake it up from inside in order to leave. If you beat the game without dying, at the end of the credits you see the character Marin flying around. The implication in this case is not that it wasn't a dream, but that one person from the dream became real (having wished during the game to become a seagull and travel the world.) The DX version changes this to a picture of Marin that fades into a seagull, which flies off. You get the ocarina in this game in a dream, then you wake up and still have it.
- A sequel many years later, Phantom Hourglass, ends with Link waking up aboard the pirate ship he began the game in, the shipmates oblivious to the events of the entire game and insisting that only a few moments have passed, but when Link peers to the horizon, he sees the ship of his ally in the game sailing away. Oh, and he still has the titular (now empty) hourglass.
- This is the ending of Chrono Cross if you end the final boss battle correctly. A very confused Serge will wake up next to his girlfriend on the same beach where the plot kicked off, with her telling him that he fell asleep for a few minutes and never left her side.
- Scratches has two dream sequences, the first one shows the location of a secret door along with the tool that must be used to open it.
- In Tsukihime along several paths Shiki wonders if he's a killer as he sees himself murdering people in dreams who turn up dead the next day. Except in Kohaku's route, he was just watching someone else do it. But at least this time he gets to have a nice friendly chat with SHIKI about society, his eyes and coffee after they try killing each other.
- In the fifth episode of Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People, Strong Bad awakens at the end, apparently having dreamed almost the entire episode... until he sees that Trogdor is still rampaging around.
- Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days. Roxas is with Organization XIII for 358 days. However, he wakes up (in the simulated Twilight town) and considers the events a dream. The evening he goes to sleep and the morning he wakes up is over 2 days.). Note that he doesn't consider the events a dream. He can't even remember what happened when he was in the Organization.
- In Pokémon Diamond/Pearl/Platinum, if you get a special item, you are granted access to an abandoned inn, where your trainer falls asleep. In your dream, you go to New Moon Island and fight/capture Darkrai. When you wake up, he's still in your PC box/party...
- Super Mario Bros. 2, considering many of the enemies (and characters) reappeared in actual Mario games in the non-dream Mushroom World, and considering the intro has Mario and co. enter a cave which matches the land from Mario's dream during a picnic.
- One of the endings to Yo-Jin-Bo has Sayori waking up in bed, assuming the entire adventure to have been a dream…and then discovering the princess's diary in the ruins the next day (don't ask how the ink survived 150 years under a lake…), making her realize it wasn't just a dream after all.
- In Nightmare Ned, everything supernatural is obviously a Dream Sequence, and the same seems to go for the game at first. After a fashion, it was a dream of some sort, but the "shadow creatures" in it were very much real. In the good ending when Ned conquers his fears they're stranded outside his head, still alive but uncertain what to do next.
- In the intro to Phantasmagoria, the protagonist Adrienne wakes up from a nightmare to find that it was All Just a Dream. After a few seconds of relief, a Hannibal mask is wrapped around her face. It wasn't a dream! Oh wait, yes it was. Seconds later, she wakes up again.
- At the end of the game of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Tom awakens in the schoolhouse to find three feathers from Injun Joe.
- Touhou fangame Concealed the Conclusion plays with this: while the series' events are played as a Dream Sequence and the game ends with a Dream Apocalypse, in the Extra and Phantasm stages Gensokyo is restored (at least partially), and the heroines return there.
- Whether you complete Night Of The Blood Moon or get a game over, it is revealed that the Tormented Girl is real. Dying in the dream has her ghost kill you in real life.
- In A Witchs Tale, the second playthrough ends with Liddell waking up from a dream, but she still has Anne's necklace.
- Episode 7 of the webtoon Deep Fried Live has Chef Tako being kidnapped by aliens and forced to cook steak. At the end of the episode, he wakes up back in his kitchen on Earth, seemingly discovering it was All Just a Dream; however, it turns out shortly after that that was just a hallucination (possibly brought on by head trauma), and he really is still on the alien ship.
- Used in the finale of The Land Before Time Youtube Poop Rock Falls, Everyone Dies (no relation to the trope); at the fifth alternative ending Pterano, after touching the cold fire stone, becomes an Evangelion style angel. Littlefoot wakes up; take 3 guesses of what happens next.
- In Black Adventures, everything that happened in the first two chapters was just a dream...but a wandering Mushama turned it into reality. Now we have Hitler running around in the present.
- General Protection Fault had several arcs that were obviously dreams, and one that had a scene like this. At the end of the Secret Agent Geek arc, Nick and Ki are running to escape the bomb, when suddenly Nick wakes up. Strangely, Ki had a similar dream. When they mention it to Fooker, he scoffs at the story as being inherently ridiculous. After they leave, he speaks into his communicator/underwear: "Good news, Amadeus. They don't remember a thing."
- In Gunnerkrigg Court, Antimony's confrontation with the Ghost with the Sword looks for all the world like a dream, but Annie speaks about it afterwards as if it really happened. And the cut on her cheek that Annie received from the Ghost briefly reappeared, visible to a girl who sees things that shouldn't be there. It eventually turned out that the spirits who escort the dead arranged for Annie to receive the blinker stone so that she could help free the ghost to pass on.
- Housepets! hung a lampshade on this, yet the character was still surprised to find a huge gigantic griffon feather in the couch.
- Just Another Escape, Solina's encounter with the dragon Abraxas ends with her waking up and looking out her window, and the metal flower from the dream is clearly seen.
- In Sinfest, Fuchsia thinks she's emerged from a Flashback — and finds her painting changed.
- In Tales of the Questor, Quentyn assumes that his dream about a glowing white stag licking his forehead and telling him "Be what God made you to be" was just his subconscious psyching him up. But as his forelock starts to turn white, it becomes increasingly clear that it was real.
- In Rhapsodies, while Kevin seems to know he’s dreaming during the annual Christmas Story there is just enough circumstantial evidence to make him wonder… things like waking up in a different country.
- One particular creepypasta has the protagonist going through this trope mixed with "Groundhog Day" Loop. He wakes up from a nightmare in which he dies by hanging, walks for ages, walks past a bunch of creepy statues, sees a bunch of wierd cultist people who kill him by hanging him on the tree from his dream... then he wakes up again.
- The online Murdoch Mysteries Spin-Off The Murdoch Effect features Murdoch jumping from 1899 to 2012 whenever he suffers a blow to the head, solving the same crime in both time periods. At the end, he's back in the 19th century and is almost convinced it was a dream, when a strange buzzing comes from his pocket. He pulls out a cellphone, with a picture of himself and the 21st century versions of George and Julia.
- Codename: Kids Next Door, "Operation: NUGGET": The whole ep is a parody of the 1849 Gold Rush, except with chicken nuggets instead of gold. Numbuh 4 wakes up in the stream he fell into at the start of the ep (where he had discovered a chicken nugget) and continues on his way. Pan to a rock with a chicken nugget on it.
- Played with on Futurama, "The Sting": After Fry's death, Leela wakes up from a dream about him with the jacket he was buried in, but when she tries to use it to convince the Planet Express crew that Fry is alive, she sees that it's her own jacket. As it turns out, for most of the episode it was All Just a Dream; Fry isn't really dead and Leela is in a fevered coma.
- In one episode of The Boondocks, Huey is followed by someone who claims to be a secret agent hired by the government to tail him (later named "The White Shadow" by Huey). Since no one else can see him and he seems to disappear inexplicably, it suggests that Huey is fantasizing about it all, although the show intentionally leaves it ambiguous.
- The Simpsons
- In the episode "Thank God It's Doomsday", Homer wonders if visiting the afterlife was all a dream. When Homer sees that God had granted him his wish to see Moe's Tavern restored (whereas earlier in the episode it had been converted into a sushi bar), he takes what happened as fact.
- In ''Treehouse of Horror II", Homer wakes up from a horrible dream where Mr Burns's head was grafted to his body only to find Mr Burns's head is still there.
- Parodied in "Tennis the Menace." Homer has a nightmare that Bart has murdered him and married Marge. After waking up, Homer sees a picture of Bart and fearfully says, "That's the guy from my dream."
- In a Garfield and Friends episode parodying The Twilight Zone, Garfield gets Trapped in TV Land. Some time later, he wakes up along with Odie, considering it to be a dream. Then he notices he's wearing a scarf he got on a shopping channel... and on the floor is a broken remote which Odie destroyed trying to free the cat...
- Used on Arthur in the story "D.W.'s Name Game." D.W. has a nightmare in which she learns you couldn't meet people names and meets a dinosaur called Thesaurus. (It's one word!) She then wakes up and tells her family that she had this dream and about all the people were in it. She then says "and you were in it too" and Thesaurus appears at the window and says "Aw, sheesh!"
- Looney Tunes cartoons
- "Water, Water Every Hare". At the end of the cartoon, Bugs Bunny wakes up in his bed and thinks the events of the cartoon were all just a dream. Then Gossamer, who Bugs had made small earlier, comes in on a boat his size and says, "Oh yeah? That's what you think!"
- "Knight-Mare Hare", in which during the dream portion Bugs had turned the wizard Merlin into a horse. When Bugs comes out of it, he sees a farmer calling his very similar-looking horse "Merlin".
- "Scrap Happy Daffy": "Next time you dream, include us out."
- "The Aristo-Cat": the cat wakes up in his bed and says "What a terrible dream." Then the mice and dog from the dream appear in bed with him.
- "Rocket-Bye Baby": A Panicky Expectant Father has a crazy dream about accidentally bringing home a Martian baby, where he and his wife eventually receive an ultimatum from the Martians that they will return his human son (which they've taken to calling "Yob") in exchange for the Martian tyke. He awakens from the nightmare to find himself back in the waiting room and seeing the nurses wheel his perfectly normal son in... and the cartoon ends with a close-up of the baby wearing a bracelet that says "YOB".
- "The Mouse That Jack Built" has a live action Jack Benny wake up from from dreaming the entire short which depicts him as a mouse. He directly addresses the audience how silly the dream was, only for his animated mouse counterpart to suddenly pop up.
- The Cars Toons series of Pixar Shorts actually all end this way. Here are all the examples:
- "Rescue Squad Mater": Nurse GTO visits Radiator Springs.
- "Mater the Greater": Lug and Nutty (Mater's assistant pitties) can be seen cleaning up the mess Mater made at the very beginning of the short.
- "El Materdor": The bulldozers notice Lightning McQueen and start chasing him.
- "Tokyo Mater": DJ can be seen attending the dance party at the end of the short (there was a car shaped like him that appeared in the background several times). Also, several cars from this short, such as Kabuto, the short's villain, actually make cameo appearances in the upcoming sequel. However for some reason, Kabuto somehow got all of his modifications back even though he lost them (as a result of him losing to Mater) at the end of this short.
- "UFM: Unidentified Flying Mater": Mater flies away as if he was a UFO.
- "Heavy Metal Mater": The inflatable Mater from the concert at the end of the short flies past Radiator Springs.
- "Monster Truck Mater": Tormentor's biggest fan visits Radiator Springs.
- "Moon Mater": Captain Roger the Space Shuttle flies away with Mater.
- "Mater: Private Eye": A colorized Carmen (the waitress at the nightclub Mater visited in the short) visits Radiator Springs.
- "Air Mater": The Falcon Hawks fly Mater away.
- Dreamy Smurf in The Smurfs dreams that he has been taken to the land of the Pookies, who have been waiting for his return to deliver them from the tyrannical Norf Nags. The end of the episode, however, may suggest otherwise, as Dreamy trips over a crystal similar to the ones seen in his dream.
- Darkwing Duck: In "Dead Duck", after dying and spending the rest of the episode as a ghost, Darkwing wakes up in his bed at the end. Then Lucifer shows up in the real world in a pre-credits gag, and later on even has an entire episode dedicated to him.
- Zig And Sharko: The episode "Coral Reef Cowboys". At the end, Bernie soaks Zig with a bucket of water to snap him out. However, the latter notices Sharko, Marina and a couple of fish play blindfolds, and then takes out a starfish from the dream.
- Played with while Beavis and Butt-Head are watching the video for "Nightmares" by Violent Femmes near the end of the episode "Cow Tipping". During the video, Beavis mentions having had a nightmare where "everything sucked" and that it was "real scary". Butt-Head responds, "But Beavis, everything does suck!" causing Beavis to scream in horror, complete with Scare Chord, and ever since then does this every time something is mentioned as sucking, either by Butt-Head or Beavis himself.
- Alfred J. Kwak
- Alfred's adventure with the Chess pieces were all just dreams... or so it seems, until the White Queen talks to him after she's put back on the board at the end.
- After Alfred's experience with a witch trying to marry him turns out to be a nightmare, he takes Winnie out for an evening walk. He almost gets a Heroic BSOD (he snaps out of it pretty quickly) when he briefly spots the witch flying on her broom.
- The Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode "Shadow of the Bat!". After being bitten by the vampire Dala, vampire!Batman turns almost all the members of the Justice League into vampires. The Martian Manhunter moves their base close enough to the Sun to incinerate them. However the scene cuts to black and then to Batman waking up, back to normal. He looks at Jason Bard and Martian Manhunter, saying that it was nothing but a hallucination caused by Dala’s bite. It's unknown if Batman’s experience as a vampire was just a dream or real.
- Ned's Newt: The episode "Jurassic Joyride" turns out to be All Just a Dream, but right then Newton realizes W-ZIP TV is informing about it. The host even calls him a "big blue doofus", much to his anger before he turns back into a newt. He then watches dream!Ned and dream!Newton end up at Gilligan's Island.
- In the Classic Disney Short "Duck Pimples", Donald Duck has a crazy fantasy sequence where he's threatened by characters from a mystery novel who accuse him of stealing a pearl necklace. The short ends with Donald trying to brush off the whole thing as his imagination, while a string of pearls appears around his neck.
- In Over the Garden Wall, near the end it is suggested that the journey into The Unknown was a dream Wirt had after falling into a river, but some signs suggest he and Greg did go there.