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Anime and Manga
- In the Batman manga story "The Monster of Gore Bay", a gang of criminals use a mechanical fake sea monster to cause chaos so that they can commit crimes, only for their machine to finally be attacked by a real sea monster.
- One episode of Dinosaur King features the Loch Ness Monster, sightings of which are initially thought to be the work of the Alpha Gang's submarine. The Alpha Gang themselves are only there because they believe that Nessie is really one of the dinosaurs that escaped from its card. Sure enough, the characters do face a dinosaur on the loch... but in the very last scene, after the dinosaur has been safely captured and returned to its card, the shadow of the real Nessie appears menacingly in the mist.
- The Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu episode "The Patient of Darkness" uses the "hoaxer goes 'but that wasn't me'" version—subverted when it turns out that the last "ghost" really was a living person the hoaxers just didn't know about.
- Kagewani has each episode ending with the revelation that the claims of a cryptid attack were actually real.
- In Kiss Him, Not Me, the group gets stranded and separated on an island, and experience supernatural phenomenon. Among them, Serinuma and Mutsumi get attacked by a vengeful samurai's ghost, but manage to fend him off and then banish him using talismans they had bought earlier. When the group is rescued, they are informed that they had mistakenly eaten hallucinogenic mushrooms earlier. Everyone dismisses their experiences due to this, but Mutsumi reaches into his pocket and finds his talisman has the same damage it took from blocking the samurai's sword strikes.
- The Florian Triangle in One Piece is a place where nearly a hundred ships go missing every year. In the course of the Thriller Bark arc, we learn that the arc's Big Bad Gecko Moria has been assaulting ships that pass through and stealing their crews' shadows to give rise to an army of zombies. At the arc's very end however, a huge shadow watches the crew leave and the narration reveals that something has been destroying ships long before Gecko Moria ever set up shop.
- Onii-chan Dakedo Ai Sae Areba Kankeinai yo ne! has an episode that begins with Arisa spotting green lights from inside forest. This leads the student council dorm members to look around the surrounding forest before returning to the dorm. When these 'green lights' appear in front of them, they conclude that those were just fireflies.. before they realize these are Will-o'-the-Wisp. The light novel or anime never explain what their true nature is.
- Pokémon: A first-season episode concerned a hoax haunting. The spirit of a young bride-to-be who died waiting for her deceased fiancee's return supposedly caused trouble for the protagonists, until the troubles were revealed to be caused by the spirit-like Pokemon Gastly. At the end of the episode, however, it is revealed that Gastly is actually a friend of the real ghostly maiden, who Gastly merely posed as in order to keep her legend alive.
- Samurai Pizza Cats, "Unidentified Flying Oddballs": Princess Vi is abducted by a UFO, but it turns out to be a hoax/kidnapping by the usual bad guys. At the end of the episode, as the narrator comments that aliens don't really exist, it's shown that the events are being watched by some real aliens in a real flying saucer.
- In Sengoku Otome, everybody gets trapped by samurai ghosts. After managing to appease them, the ghosts tell Nobunaga that she is the one destined to rule the land before departing. Later, Ieyasu meets her minion Hanzo and thanks her for the great special effects and using the fake samurai ghosts to stoke Nobunaga's ego so she will fall into her plan. Hanzo replies that she just arrived and didn't have time to set up the fake samurai ghosts. Though a little unnerved, Ieyasu shrugs it off, since the real ghosts helped her manipulate Nobunaga anyway.
- Two episodes in Sword Art Online deal with an apparently impossible murder in a safe zone, and players believe that it was committed by Griselda's ghost. The murders turn out to be a hoax, but at the end, the ghost briefly makes an appearance.
- In an Archie Comics comic, Archie and the gang are in a living room on Christmas Eve discussing how Santa Claus is an outdated concept, that it's wrong to teach children you can get something for nothing, and so forth. Suddenly they hear jingling bells out the window. When they go outside to check, they find several gift-wrapped packages with their names on them. The contents were items they all needed yet they hadn't told anyone as much. Further investigation revealed hoof-prints and an inexplicable sled-runner trail in the snow.
- There's a Donald Duck story where Donald and Daisy have to seek shelter at a spooky castle whose owner turns out to be a vampire. This is revealed to be part of an elaborate commercial that was being shot at the castle, but when Donald asks him how he managed all those crazy "tricks" for the camera like floating in mid-air, the count states that they weren't tricks. Donald takes this to be a joke, but the last panel shows that he really wasn't kidding.
- In House of Mystery #190, a man who wants to join a dueling fraternity accepts their challenge to spend the night in a haunted house but loses his mind when they reveal to him that he spent the night in the wrong house and all the supernatural experiences that he had were not tricks but real.
- In an issue of Grant Morrison's Justice League of America run, Plastic Man tells his sidekick's nephew a story about the Justice League saving Christmas and fighting alongside Santa (who has heat vision in Plastic Man's telling), and after he's done with the story, his sidekick's nephew expresses disbelief—only to look out the window and see Santa flying by on his sleigh, blasting "Merry Christmas" into the snow in the yard. But then it turns out to be Martian Manhunter playing along. After Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter fly away, we see the real Santa scoffing at the heat vision idea.
- In The Ultimates, the Ultimate Marvel version of Thor is presented as a lunatic who believes himself a god. Eventually it's revealed that Loki has used his Reality Warper powers to rewrite the world and trap Thor on Earth.
- One of the plots of the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fic "Hearth Warming Chaos" involves Discord accidentally telling Pinkie Pie's daughter Raspberry there's no such thing as Santa Hooves and he makes it up to her by building a version of the sleigh she and her sisters wanted. Much to his surprise, Hearth's Warming morning, among the presents is a flying reindeer and the toy Discord lost when he was a young draconequus.
- All Hail The King, an epilogue to Iron Man 3, shows that the Mandarin really does exist and wasn't just an invention by Aldrich Killian. What's more, he's pretty peeved at his name being disgraced.
- After the Ghost Shaman in Bodycount is revealed to be one of the characters in a mask, the ending shows another character getting the axe from the real Ghost Shaman.
- After Holly's doppelgänger is revealed to be a combination of her Split Personality and Big Bad using disguises to frame her in the climax of Doppelganger, she, under a great deal of stress, manifests an actual doppelgänger.
- In the film Griff the Invisible, at least one of Melody's crazy theories turns out to be true. Maybe.
- An interesting case in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix : Luna Lovegood mentions Nargles, which Hermione and Harry consider to be a fictional creature, even in the wizard world...until we see the Daily Prophet mentioning it.
- In Hellraiser: Hellworld, the bad guy uses drugs and hypnotic suggestions to make people think they are being stalked and tortured by Pinhead and the Cenobites. At the end, as he gloats over his victory, the real Pinhead shows up and gives him his Karmic Death.
- Labyrinth has Sarah returning from Jareth's castle and reappearing in her own room, and finding everything just as she left it before she wished for Toby to be taken away—and then her friends (and several former enemies!) from the Goblin City appear in her bedroom. (There is some speculation on whether that means it really happened or if she's just lost her mind, however.)
- Lake of the Dead: This Norwegian thriller revolves around a group of friends trying to solve an ancient mystery that involves an immortal crow leaving its feathers as calling cards. In the end a natural explanation has been found, but there is some disagreement about its feasibility. The protagonist insists that the solution is acceptable and nothing supernatural is involved, and to punctuate his words he picks up something from the table and waves it around...
Bernhard: Hey, where did this come from? It's a crow's feather...
- Live and Let Die, in what's probably the only appearance of the occult in the James Bond series, ends with Baron Samedi appearing at the front of the train Bond is in, laughing as usual, even though he was subjected to a coffin full of (presumably) venomous snakes earlier in the film.
- A subplot in Look Who's Talking Now involves 7-year-old Mikey losing his belief in Santa after his mother gets a job as Mall Santa's elf. The end of the film has a guy hearing Santa... on a CB radio.
- Miracle on 34th Street (1947) revolves around the question of whether a Mall Santa is actually the real thing, with most of the main characters not believing that Santa is real at all. It has the scene at the end where the little girl gets exactly the present she wanted, but notably avoids an explicit sleigh shot.
- In the film Nightmare Man, there is a major twist a husband aims to have his wife killed by a man dressed up as the evil monster haunting her dreams and she believes to be inside of her. The plan involves her going crazy by not taking her pills to go along with it. Except that the monster is real and seems to have a problem combating the pills effects, meaning when she's off her medication the monster is able to kill people for real, including the hitman dressed up as him too.
- The Rapture: At first it seems like Sharon's beliefs are destructive and misplaced, causing a terrible tragedy. Then they get confirmed at the end of the film.
- In The Screaming Skull, a man attempts to gaslight his second wife into killing herself by faking the haunting of their house by his first wife's ghost. It turns out that her ghost really is haunting the place, apparently seeking revenge for her own murder.
- The supernatural and bizarre events that occurred throughout the Korean film A Tale of Two Sisters by The Reveal that the protagonist was insane, but then the real stepmother is later attacked by the ghost that was earlier dismissed as a delusion.
- This is Played for Laughs during The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep. Unable to find the real creature to photograph, some journalists make and photograph a fake...with the real one watching the whole thing curiously.
- William Hope Hodgson's "Carnacki the Ghost-Finder" is an Occult Detective whose stories sometimes feature real supernatural events and sometimes hoaxes. In the story "The Horse of the Invisible" a murderous ghost turns out to be a hoax by a human would-be killer. Until... "It's not me! My God! It's not me! My God! It's not me."
- In the Judge Dee novel The Chinese Gold Murders the ghost of Dee's murdered predecessor as district magistrate is supposed to be haunting the tribunal but it turns out to be the dead man's twin brother looking for clues. All explained rationally. Until the judge asks how the 'ghost' managed to look transparent when Dee saw him at the temple - only to find the faux ghost was never at the temple.
- The Convenient Monster, a Leslie Charteris short story featuring The Saint involves a villain faking attacks by the Loch Ness Monster. The villain is then eaten by the Loch Ness Monster. Really. This was also done in the TV series episode of the same name.
- Don Quixote. Sancho Panza is fooled by the Duke to assume a governorship (really a complicated series of Massive Multiplayer Scam just to prank Sancho). When Sancho patrols his Insula, he is the victim of various pranksters, except for the last one, a Sweet Polly Oliver that no one knows, who is a girl that has escaped his Gilded Cage, to all the pranksters confusion.
- The Invisible Dog brings The Three Investigators to an old church rumored to be haunted by a "phantom priest" who carries a candle. No sooner are they in the church when they encounter a ghostly figure walking forward menacingly, holding a candle. The boys book it out of there, but come on, this is The Three Investigators! It will turn out to be some old man faking it, right? Nope; come the end of the book, the only part of the mystery left unsolved is...who is the phantom priest? After bringing up and discarding every possibility they can think of, they finally conclude that there very well may be a phantom priest!
- In the Goosebumps book Phantom of the Auditorium, the threatening messages left behind by the "phantom" turn out to be the work of a homeless person who didn't want them to find his secret living quarters beneath the school. However, the real phantom eventually does show up and even leaves behind evidence of his real identity for the two protagonists to find.
- In Ragtime in Simla, Sandilands visits a medium as part of his investigation, assuming that she's a scam artist. She claims she meant it as one initially, but found that she really can speak to the dead. He's unconvinced, until during the seance she speaks to him in the voice of a dead comrade from WWI.
- In the Stephen King story Secret Window, Secret Garden (collected in Four Past Midnight) after Mort dies and Amy digs through his belongings, she finds Shooter's hat. When she returns there's a note inside from Shooter telling her that he's gone back to Mississippi. She wonders whether Shooter came to life in some form.
- In the Tairen Soul series' last book, Lillis is trapped in an elaborate Lotus-Eater Machine, where all her loved ones are safe and happy. She talks with many of them, finding that they're all a little bit off...except her dead mother, who asks her to give a message to Ellysetta as "it will mean more [from you]". She also tells Lillis about Bess (something she would never have done while alive) and subtly encourages her to return to reality.
Lillis: [to Bess] Hello. Mama loved you very much, and so will I. I'm so glad you've come.
Ellysetta:...How did you know that?
Lillis: Mama told me.
- In The Vampire Affair, a Man From U.N.C.L.E. novel by David McDaniel, Solo and Kuryakin spend most of the book in an Eastern European country battling what seems to be a vampire. At the end it all turns out to have been a hoax by a THRUSH agent ... except for the coffin, which he denies using. And then when Solo and Kuryakin go back to the car, they find a message written in the snow on the windshield— "Thank you. I return to my rest."
- In The Last Battle, the villains attempt to exploit the legend of Tash, the God of Evil, for their own benefit, only to be shocked and horrified when he actually shows up.
- The Basil Brush Show had a Christmas episode where Santa gets food poisoning from the cafe and the gang is forced to make and deliver presents in one night. The next morning when Santa comes round and everyone finds out that he is a department store Santa. After everyone leaves they find the flat full of presents and hear a loud "ho-ho-ho!". It transpires the department store Santa was the real Santa after all.
- In the Baywatch episode "Strangers Among Us", a group of half-crazy UFO believers cause problems for the lifeguards as they misinterpret water phenomena on the beach as signs of aliens and almost drown and so on. They are led by the more sensible Dr. Faye Taylor, who has a more scientific view on UFOs. All seems to be normal until the very last minutes of the episode, where she disappears without a trace during something resembling a strange weather phenomenon.
- One episode of Benson involved a supposed UFO sighting. At the end, Benson and the Governor are out in a field and get flashed from overhead by a series of strange lights.
- In one episode, a person is found dead in the middle of nowhere by a ufologist. At the end of the episode, Brennan and Booth manage to find the real killer. They are lying on the hood of a car in a field, stargazing and talking about whether or not aliens are real. Just then, all the crickets and other natural sounds disappear, leaving both of them a little freaked out in complete silence.
- In another, a murderer uses a myth about a witch in the woods (an intentional parody of The Blair Witch Project) to cover up the unintentional killing of his filmmaker brother. At the end though, Angela and Hodgins see what appears to be a real ghost on footage of the murder. They promptly decide to never mention it again.
- Castle has quite a number episodes that pit Castle's child-like belief in the supernatural against Beckett's rational skepticism but most of them usually go for the Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane ending. However, there are two notable exceptions:
- In the 6th season episode "Time Will Tell," an episode about (gasp) time travel, Beckett spills her coffee on a letter that had been a key piece of evidence in the case after the case is over. The murderer had been using a stained copy of that letter to try to track down an intended victim but the cops had used the pristine original to find him first. The stain Beckett made that afternoon matched the one on the murderer's copy even though his copy predated the spill of the coffee. The incident is not really "in your face" proof, but it is chilling because the only possible explanations are "time travel" or "1 in a million coincidence."
- But the 7th season episode "Clear and Present Danger" takes the cake for playing this trope straight as an arrow when it turns out that the victim really was killed by "the invisible man." (Well, an invisible woman). A scientist working for a shadowy government agency made a breakthrough and had created a functional invisibility suit which was then, in an ironic twist, used to murder him. Beckett adjusted reasonably quickly to the reality of invisible people walking about and Castle's paranoia and creation of an "invisible man trap" suddenly seemed unusually reasonable.
- British medical soap/drama Casualty pulls this one once. In one episode Tom Baker plays a patient who claims he's an alien; the nurse treating him believes he's delusional until a power cut knocks out the lights and he's shocked at the sight of the patient's glowing green eyes.
- Doctor Who:
- "The Abominable Snowmen": An explorer looking for yeti in the Himalayas runs afoul of some yeti that are actually robots controlled by an Eldritch Abomination. At the end, as the explorer is saying farewell to the Doctor, a real yeti appears.
- In "Robot of Sherwood", Clara has the Doctor take her to the time where Robin Hood existed, despite the Doctor saying that Robin Hood was merely a legend. Deciding to prove it, the Doctor took her to the era...and came face to face with Robin Hood. Throughout the remainder of the episode, the Doctor tried to find proof that Robin Hood wasn't real. Upon learning of the presence of robots, the Doctor became convinced that they used the legend of Robin Hood to create a Hope Bringer for the peasants as part of their ruse...until the Sheriff pointed out the impracticalness of creating an enemy that could ruin their plans. Upon learning that the future would believe he was only a myth, Robin was okay with that.
- In one episode of Don't Eat the Neighbours, Lucy ends up depressed after she learns that Old Father Bunny has not delivered the bicycle she wanted. So that night, the other adult male characters in the show get up onto the roof, each claiming to Lucy that they are Old Father Bunny and they have brought her the bike she wanted. The next morning Lucy has 7 bikes, but there were only 6 men up on the roof last night. She then finds a note attached to it from Old Father Bunny apologizing that it is a day late, but he and his elves were busy painting it into a multicolour one.
- Eerie Indiana, "Marshall's Theory of Believability": A visiting paranormalist turns out to be running a UFO scam. After this is revealed, the scammer's accomplice shows up and it's revealed that the alien artifact people have been fighting over all episode isn't one the accomplice planted — upon which it starts glowing and flies away.
- Family Matters did the Santa version in "Miracle on Elm Street", with Carl getting a space helmet he had wished for as a kid.
- In an episode of Gilligan's Island, on the first Christmas Eve they're stuck on the island, the Skipper shows up dressed as Santa Claus. He happily tells the castaways that they should be thankful that they are on an island with food and water, that they all get along with each other, etc. "Santa" then leaves into the jungle. An instant later, the Skipper, dressed normally, emerges — from the opposite direction — out the jungle, carrying the firewood that he went to get a moment ago. Even the professor was puzzled by this one.
- The Golden Girls liked this trope.
- In one episode, Rose thinks she sees a UFO overhead, and even Dorothy is convinced when the U.S. Air Force confirms it. At the end of the episode, Sophia reveals that the "spaceship" was just an experimental aircraft that the military didn't want anyone knowing about. When Dorothy goes out to break the news to Rose, the two sit for a while on the lanai, and Dorothy drops off to sleep...just in time to miss the sky suddenly flood with light and sound. Rose sits back in her chair and smiles, convinced that she's seen the real thing.
- In a non-supernatural example, Sophia, who's been struggling with memory issues, clings to the fact that her late husband carved a big heart that read "SAL LOVES SOPHIA" on the pantry door in their apartment in Brooklyn. When Dorothy and Sophia visit, they find the Petrillo family height chart instead, which deeply upsets her. However, at the end of the episode—and after a visit from a ghostly version of Sal himself—Sophia discovers the heart in question on the door of the bedroom closet.
- Both Blanche and Sophia have ghostly visitations in a Season 7 episode. Blanche insists that she hears the voice of her dead grandmother in her old room at the family plantation, which is set to be torn down; at the end of the episode, a set of wind chimes Blanche took from the room swings in the breeze, suggesting that Blanche is right. Meanwhile, Sophia has a near-death experience and talks with Sal in Heaven, only to be revived. When Dorothy tries to explain this away as a hallucination brought on by lack of oxygen, Sophia teasingly calls her "Spumoni Face," a nickname which Sal told her about while she was temporarily deceased. Dorothy's shocked—she's never told her mother about that nickname...
- The Greatest American Hero, "The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea": The missing boats aren't due to the legendary sea monster "Carrie", but to pirates. The real sea monster appears at the end of the episode.
- The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries:
- "Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Meet Dracula": In the episode, the Hardy Boys suspect a man of being Dracula, but this is apparently dis-proven. At the end, the villain is in handcuffs and standing in front of a mirror, and Joe Hardy notices that the villain has no reflection, while the other characters conveniently not look at the mirror. The villain is taken away by the cops before Joe can get anyone else to notice.
- "House on Possessed Hill": The Hardy Boys have supposedly dis-proven a haunted house. Final scene is the brothers driving by the house in their van; Frank is giving logical common-sense explanations for all the haunted phenomena. Cue Joe looking towards the house just as they drive away, in time to see a ghostly figure walk out of the house...which disappears when Frank stops the van to look.
- Home Improvement:
- Played for laughs in an episode, complete with The X-Files-parodying dream sequence. The episode starts out with Tim mocking Wilson for believing he'd been visited by aliens. The end implies that Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman, and several other NBA players are, in fact, aliens—with "bluish-gray" immigrant cards.
- Wilson visited Mark as Santa Claus when he was told that Santa does not exist—or at least this was what Tim and Jill thought, as the REAL Wilson was revealed to be in his garden the whole time Santa was visiting.
- An episode of Hustle has the con artists tricking a corrupt tabloid publisher into believing that the Queen Mother was killed in World War II and an actress was hired to keep up public morale. It works and the team laughs at how the publisher could believe such a crazy story. However, the final shot of the episode shows what is quite clearly Queen Elizabeth II placing flowers on the grave of that "actress."
- JAG: In an episode, a father kidnaps his son while he has him for weekend visitation because he is convinced the boy is the reincarnation of his old war buddy and has to take him to their cabin one last time. The episode consists of Harm trying to find him and convince him to turn himself in while authorities are also chasing them. The episode ends with Harm sitting on the porch step with the father and son, and the boy turns to them with a smile and thumbs up while flashing briefly into the form of the father's friend. Both of them see it, though the kid doesn't seem to be aware.
- An episode of Jonas revolved around the ghost of a volunteer fire fighter who swore he would return from the grave so that he could once again "volunteerily [sic] fight fires." He also loved chili and plaid socks. After the episode, we see Joe sitting in a chair narrating, like Kevin had been doing for most of the episode. The two start arguing about which has a better evil laugh, when they suddenly hear another evil laugh, and run. Turns out it was Nick, who was using a voice changer. He tells us there's no such thing as ghost, winks at us then leaves....and we hear the laugh again, and see a nearby bowl of chili get emptied after a voice says "oh, chili".
- C.J. Lamb on L.A. Law was representing a home owner who claimed his house was haunted. She got her assistant to make the lights in the house go out and on, freaking out the jury when they visited the house. When C.J. and her assistant are outside, the lights in the house start going on and off on their own, causing the two to run away themselves.
- Lois & Clark: A Christmas episode sees Superman pull a Santa-suited Perry White around in a sleigh to distribute presents to children on Christmas Eve. Later, as Lois and Clark leave the Daily Planet, they hear sleigh bells and a jolly "Ho Ho Ho!" from high above, and Lois exasperatedly comments that Superman must still be dragging Perry around in the sleigh—unaware, of course, that Superman is actually standing right beside her...
- I Love Lucy: The four adults each separately decide to dress up as Santa to amuse Little Ricky. But when they gather together in the kitchen afterward, who is the FIFTH Santa? The one who vanishes into thin air?
- The Lucky Luke Live-Action Adaptation had an episode about a fake ghost train that used the "helpful person was dead all along" variant.
- MacGyver (1985):
- In the episode "Ghost Ship", MacGyver reveals that the monster is just a man in a suit and a prerecorded monstrous roar. At the end, MacGyver and Pete hear the exact same roar from somewhere out in the wilderness while they're looking at the stereo that isn't currently playing the tape.
- "The Visitor": after Mac exposes a couple of con artists claiming to be aliens to exploit a cancer patient and her husband, the oddball vacuum cleaner salesman that helped him suddenly disappears. He and the sheriff then see a UFO taking off...
- In the Martin Halloween episode "The Night He Came Home," Martin's friends set up an elaborate haunting hoax based around a ghost story involving the former tenant of his apartment. Naturally, after the joke is played and he kicks them out, he begins to relax with Gina. The two become so wrapped up in each other, they just miss the real ghost lumbering across the room and shutting off the lights on his way out.
- Matt Houston had the titular detective abducted by real aliens in an episode where he's investigating a (fake) claim of abduction covering up a murder. Of course, he doesn't remember, no one else sees it, and the abduction has no relevance to the rest of the plot at all.
- Midsomer Murders:
- In one episode, the villains organize a series of 'ghostly' appearances in order to try and drive their victim insane. Right at the end, after the hoax is revealed and all the characters have left the room, we see an empty rocking chair creaking back and forth...
- "Talking to the Dead" ends with the body of Cyrus LeVanu (a purported psychic that may or may not be genuine) being discovered in the supposedly haunted Monks Barton woods. The medical examiner determines that the cause of death was parasympathetic rebound; which is a scientific way of saying someone literally died of fright.
- Another starts off when Barnaby's wife thinks she ran over someone crossing a road next to an old asylum, but can't find the body. At the end of the episode, Barnaby himself does the same, but where the previous one was explained by the presence of a door near the road, the door here had been walled off...
- The Munsters, "If a Martian Answers, Hang Up": Herman thinks he's contacted aliens on his radio, but actually it's just a couple of kids playing a game. The alien costume they used at the end was originally seen in The Outer Limits.
- Murdoch Mysteries:
- In "The Curse Of Beaton Manor" Murdoch scolds George that voodoo is not real. It is revealed that Timothy Beaton used pufferfish poison (from Haitian voodoo) to induce a near-death state and thus 'come back' from the dead. At the end of the episode the final Beaton suffers a fatal heart-attack from being pierced by a Voodoo Doll.
- The Holy Grail in "Murdoch and the Temple of Death" is strongly implied to be the real thing. The killer jumps off a 60-foot cliff thinking it will save him, despite Murdoch telling the man to stop, and as Murdoch looks down on the man's corpse, a thunderclap sounds (seemingly in daylight) and Murdoch reacts to it. Later, Dr. Iris Bajali steals it from the station house and flees with Murdoch in pursuit; he tells her it belongs to God, and when she shouts back, "There is no God," she is struck by lightning and dies. Later still, a museum staffer accidentally knocks it over and disposes of the clay outer layer, leaving a metal chalice standing on the shelf that appears bathed in a (heavenly?) shaft of light.
- My Hero: George is dismayed by the increasing discontent at Janet's Christmas Day party, so he asks all the guests what they'd like. Dr. Crispin is dismissive, but the others answer honestly. He flies out, bringing in a man in a Santa costume (who complains about being very tired)... but just as the guests mock his charade, the man gives them all exactly what they asked for. At the end, Janet wonders how the man got the requested items, and George answers, "I'm glad he decided to help. Normally he sleeps all day today."
- Night Court:
- In the first season Christmas Episode "Santa Goes Downtown", a man that Harry Stone takes for a street corner Santa turns to be the real thing.
- Another Christmas Episode has Buddy handing out presents that were picked out by "his friend Nick". At the end he gives a present to the episode's antagonist, a man he'd never met before, and it turns out to be a specific yo-yo he had asked for as a child but never gotten. The cast is quick to be freaked out by it and wonder if "Nick" is Saint Nicolas a.k.a. Santa.
- Played with in a Clip Show when an auditor from the state board comes to ask about the huge costs of rebuilding and various other expenses the court has racked up over the years. After hearing their tales (mass food poisoning, a hurricane, women giving birth, a clown taking people hostage), the auditor snaps that there is no way in hell he can believe that one courthouse is home to so many bizarre occurances and this is obvious fraud by the entire staff. At which point, a huge crash is heard and everyone runs in to find an elephant standing in the courtroom. Harry looks to the auditor, who holds up his hands and backs up, saying "I believe everything you say."
- On Nip/Tuck, Sean and Christian are met by an elderly man who wants them to remove a device from his body that he claims is alien technology so he can bring it for study. Before the surgery takes place, a pretty young blonde woman comes by, saying the man is her mentally addled father and the device is just a medical scanner. The man protests he doesn't know her ("my daughter is dark-haired and fat!") and the "doctors" with her are government agents. He's still screaming when he's led away. At the end of the night, the two talk on how sad it is to see someone losing their mind like that. At which point, an overweight brunette woman enters to ask if her father's surgery is done yet...
- Quantum Leap:
- "A Portrait for Troian". Sam finds himself helping a young woman who seems to be haunted by the ghost of her late husband. The haunting turns out to be a hoax staged by her brother to drive her to suicide, but at least one member of the episode's supporting cast turns out to be an actual ghost.
- Another was about a mummy's curse being faked. It ended with the mummy strangling the hoaxer.
- Yet another episode involved a creepy castle with several characters, including the one Sam leaps into, believing themselves to be vampires. One of them gets zapped by lightning, after which Sam triumphantly takes off the dead guy's fake vampire teeth. Just before leaping, he looks into a metallic tray and doesn't see his own reflection. The previous episode ended with Dr. Ruth being replaced in the waiting room by a man with vampire fangs. It doesn't seem likely that fake teeth would be transported there.
- Don't forget the episode where a Yeti helped rescue someone, and they only see it at the very end, IIRC.
- In "It's a Wonderful Leap", Sam leaps into a cab driver named Max in 1958 who's due to be murdered. Sam is thrown by the arrival of Angelita, who claims to be an angel. Sam and Al naturally assume she's a nutcase, especially given how she can see and hear Al (as mentally addled people can). In the end, Sam saves Max's life with Angelita telling him she has to leave and once she does, everyone in this time will forget she was ever here. She stuns him and Al by calling "Max" Sam and "who do you think I was sent here to help?" She goes as Al asks if Sam is going to follow her. "Follow who?" Sam asks and a stunned Al realizes Sam has absolutely no idea who Angelita is.
- This was always the ultimate joke in the "Penelope" sketches on Saturday Night Live. Kristen Wiig plays the titular character, a passive-aggressive young woman who constantly one-ups everyone around her: if someone is going through a divorce, then she just divorced her husband in the hallway; if someone claims to be the inspiration for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, then she's actually aging in reverse right now. The sketches would end with Penelope making a truly outlandish claim, such as an ability to shrink or being best friends with Liza Minnelli and a tomato, and everyone getting so angry that they storm away. After they left, that final claim would come true (Penelope shrinking down as she took a phone call, or Liza herself—carrying the tomato—bursting through the door and declaring that she wanted to have a girls' night out). It's unclear if all of Penelope's crazy stories were real, though.
- This trope occasionally appeared on Seinfeld.
- The plot of "The Library" centers on a copy of Tropic of Cancer that Jerry apparently never returned in high school; in a subplot, George discovers that an unstable homeless man on the New York Public Library steps is his and Jerry's old gym teacher Mr. Hayman. George and Jerry are never able to find the missing Tropic of Cancer, but as the episode ends, we cut to Mr. Hayman muttering to himself in an alley, with the weatherbeaten book at his side.
- The subplot of "The Bizarro Jerry" focuses on George gaining access to an exclusive secret club for models and other wealthy, attractive people by using a picture of Jerry's current girlfriend. When the picture burns up, he tries to use a generic photo from a magazine as his entry pass—but the model from the photo is a member and immediately exposes him as a fraud. As he's kicked out, he drops the photo. When George brings Jerry to the club's location, they find a meatpacking plant instead, with absolutely no trace that the business ever existed...but as they leave, the camera pans down to the sawdust-covered floor, with the magazine picture still sitting there.
- In the Smallville episode "Lexmas", Clark uses his Super Speed to deliver presents to the children of Metropolis. Along the way, he meets a drunk man in a Santa suit and saves him when he falls off a roof. After a talk where Clark reveals he sacrificed his original plans for the day to deliver the presents, the man decides that the Christmas spirit isn't dead after all and departs. Later, the man comes to Chloe, who's looking after the last of the gifts until Clark gets to them, and says he will deliver them to pay Clark back for saving him. After Chloe gives him the last children's addresses, the man pulls a Stealth Hi/Bye, taking the huge pile of gifts (big enough to fill the room and reach the ceiling) with him.
- At the end of the fifth season of Stargate SG-1, a "malfunction in the ventilation systems" is implied to be Daniel Jackson looking after his old team.
- An episode of The Suite Life of Zack and Cody revolved around a haunted hotel room. They decide to spend the night in it, and weird stuff, including everyone but Zack disappearing, starts happening. Turns out it was all a prank to get back at Zack for the pranks he pulls. Later Zack and Cody go back to get Cody's blanket, and a woman (whose portrait is in the room) walks up to them and hands them the blanket. After they thank her, she walks into the portrait. The episode ends with Zack and Cody running and screaming. Interestingly, the portrait did come to life and speak to Zack while the prank was going on (she even said "they're out to get you", in retrospect a warning that it was a prank by his friends), but Zack never brings this up while they're explaining the hoax to him.
- In an episode of Taggart the team are investigating a series of murders centering round an alleged medium. The medium claims to DCI Jardine that he is receiving messages for him from the late Jim Taggart and backs this claim up with a number of facts only someone who knew Taggart could know. Later on Jardine discovers that Taggart actually investigated a crime involving the medium. When confronted with this, the medium agrees but says that in fact he never met Taggart himself.
- A non-supernatural example from That's So Raven. Raven has a vision that the high school's new janitor is "undercover," and guesses that he's actually a scout from "Undercover Superstar," a Show Within a Show that uses spies to discover talented teens. This leads to all of the main characters performing elaborate production numbers for the janitor...who turns out to be "undercover" in the sense that he's secretly searching the school for insects. After the truth comes out, another janitor approaches Raven and asks if anyone in the school is interested in music. Raven, who's sick of the whole idea by now, leaves...and misses the janitor removing "his" disguise and revealing herself to be Paula Abdul, who's working for "Undercover Superstar."
- The Twilight Zone:
- In "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street", a town goes into a panic when they come to believe that aliens have landed nearby and that someone on their street might be helping them. It turns out to be mass hysteria— induced by the actual aliens, who want to turn the humans against each other by having them chase imaginary aliens. Tricky.
- In "Nightmare At 20,000 Feet", a man who spent six months in an asylum is on a flight back home when he sees a strange creature on the wing of the plane. He becomes especially distressed when it begins tearing at the plane's engines, but every time he tries to tell someone, the creature disappears. After he steals a police officer's gun and opens the emergency exit to kill it, it gets him sent back to the asylum. However, as he's being carted off, the camera pans to reveal the damage the creature did to the wing.
- One episode of Two and a Half Men has Charlie experimenting with marijuana. He ends up having hallucinations of his ex-girlfriends (and ZZ Top). After he makes a date with Rose, it's revealed she's the only one who's real.
- Most of the season 3 premiere of Under the Dome takes place in an artificial reality. Christine and Eva appear to be manifestations of that reality, but it turns out that although everything else about them is a lie, they are in fact real.
- In Veronica Mars it is clear that our titular heroine's dreams and conversations with her dead friend Lilly are happening in her head, and after Lilly's murder is solved they stop. However the second season episode 'Normal is the Watchword' has Lilly briefly appear and save Veronica's live by distracting her at a key moment—the implication being that her (Lilly's) ghost intervened directly.
- Walker, Texas Ranger season 3 episode "Case Closed" was about an alleged government cover-up of an UFO several decades ago. A few unreliable accounts and an unfruitful search lead to nothing more than an empty chamber where it seemed the government had created a living environment for this so-called alien, which is empty. The episode then rolls into the average fight scene at the climax of the story like all others, and has a fairly mellow ending... until an old tape is found that was supposed to be destroyed by the government, and it shows evidence of a real alien being discovered, though only a hand to maintain some realism and avoid dipping into science fiction.
- There's a non-supernatural variation in Weeds. Shane claims he saw a mountain lion and shot it with a BB gun, but when Nancy finds out the neighbor's cat has disappeared, she finds the timing suspicious and thinks Shane's imagination has got the better of him. Shane insists he knows the difference between a mountain lion and a cat, but Nancy is unconvinced. Then at the end of the episode, she steps outside and finds herself face to face with a very real mountain lion.
- A Halloween Episode of Wishbone had an appropriately mild example. Joe is scared of a haunted house because when he was a kid, he saw a pair of glowing eyes that left him scared since. Those same eyes are glimpsed stalking the main characters throughout the episode. At the end, they turned out to belong to a stray cat, leading Joe to believe that it was just a cat he saw all those years ago, ending his fear. However, after the kids leave, another pair of eyes appeared, just for us. Still cat-sized, though. (Oh my God, another cat).
- The X-Files, "Quagmire". Mulder and Scully investigate a lake where a Nessie-like monster is rumored to exist. After narrowly surviving an encounter with and killing the "monster", they discover that it was a giant alligator all along. Moments after they leave to report a false lead to Skinner, the real monster mockingly pops up from the lake.
- Kids Praise: The series' only villain is a con-artist called Risky Rat. He first appears in a dream where he offers Charity Churchmouse a contract allegedly to make her a star, but that actually makes her a slave, but then later he appears as a real character outside of anyone's dream. No one really comments on the fact that he first appeared in a dream, though.
- In Peanuts, the Great Pumpkin is usually portrayed as Linus simply confusing Christmas with Halloween, however some strips show that the Great Pumpkin is apparently real, or at least believed by other people across the country.
- A Christmas installment of Stone Soup shows pre-teen sisters Holly and Alix in bed, listening to a voice crying "Ho! Ho! Ho!" outside the window, and remarking that they know perfectly well it's their stepfather and uncle "messing with us". Meanwhile, outside the other window, Santa's sleigh flies past unnoticed.
- In the Hamish and Dougal episode "The Monster in the Loch", everyone in the Glen knows that the titular monster is just a log that brings in gullible tourists. When Hamish and Dougal accidentally burn the log, the Laird replaces it with another one, only to see his log get eaten by a loch monster. He's so angry, he shoots it.
- Spoofed in I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again, when Tim has been telling the others a ghost story, and towards the end exaggerates it severely to give them a fright. After they've all left, fed up, Tim finishes the story, chuckling slightly...only for the lights to turn off as he's confronted with an ethereal voice. After he's run off, this exchange occurs:
Bill: Hah-hah! Ah, you certainly frightened him off with that spooky voice, David.
David: It wasn't me, it was Graeme.
Graeme: I thought it was Bill.
Bill: ...No, it wasn't me.
Jo: Or me.
David: ...Well, if it wasn't any of us...it must have been... [dramatic music] ...somebody else!
- This happens in some versions of Ruby Moon. Two actors play all the characters throughout, then it's gradually revealed they are doing this in-universe, and are (at least partially) aware of it; the script implies their missing daughter never existed in the first place, and the dolls of her simply made them convince themelves she was real. Lights down, curtain... and then she is heard singing her ditty one last time.
- The play The Woman in Black plays with this. The premise of the play is that two men are acting out the events, aware that they are doing so (but unaware of the audience). In fact, there are three actors, one of whom plays the Woman in Black herself. Both 'actors' believe the other to have hired her as a surprise for the other, until the end. The pretense extends as far as not crediting the Woman in Black in the programme.
- In Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura, there's the Stillwater Giant. One main quest involving you tracking this thing down to get it to a person who can mark your next destination. It's normally hide in form of a blue rabbit, but when you captured one that's marked and sent for examination, it turns out to be a fake, but the guy still gives you the location to Qintarra. After finishing the quest and leaving the town, you will be pulled into an encounter with...a blue rabbit. Attacking it and it turns into the Stillwater Giant. It looks very much like the fake Stillwater Giant skin that the player can steal or purchase from a museum display.
- In Captain Morgane and the Golden Turtle, Morgane, on learning that Dinsdale thinks he's seen a ghost, successfully tricks him and his brother with a fake Bedsheet Ghost. However, she then finds out that Dinsdale's original ghost wasn't his imagination.
- A Wings of The Goddess quest in Final Fantasy XI has you investigate a soldier's father and whereabouts. In the end, you find out someone you meet in the quest wasn't really alive. Turns out to be that Galka who helped you relay that message to the soldier about his father. At the end, though, it all seems to be a hoax, but then again, who, or what was talking to one of the soldiers in on it at the end?
- The puppet in Five Nights at Freddy's 3 has both a Phantom state and a real form◊
- The whole plot of Odin Sphere: essentially, all events in the game are a collection of overarching storybooks read by a girl named Alice in the attic of her house. If players manage to unlock the path leading to the best ending of the game, Alice states how tragic the story ended until she notices one of the book's cover ornament resembling a Valentine coin. She takes it off and prays that the Pooka will find the coin, but reminds herself that it's just a story. Upon leaving the attic, a portal opens up and two Pooka come out to retrieve the coin, implied to be the last Valentine coin they are looking for that will undo the curse of the Pooka transformation, and leave a final book in its place. This indicates the current world is actually The Future set sometime after the events of Armageddon, which the last book details.
- In Professor Layton and the Unwound Future, time travel turns out to be real. "Celeste" is actually a time-displaced Claire, who was sent forward in time moments before the accident that claimed her life. The nature of the time travel means she gets forced back to the time and place she was sent from at some point.
- In the horror adventure game Scratches: Was everything that happened to James Blackwood the product of a curse? Or was it simply a misfortune that Blackwood in madness blamed to a cursed mask? If the curse was not real, then how to explain the first dream? The coda on the alternate ending describes a rational explanation for everything, however it mentions at the end that there is still something that doesn't fit while panning to the cursed mask.
- Irregular Webcomic!: A storyline in the "Steve and Terry" theme had Steve discovering that the monster in Loch Ness was actually Lovecraft's Cthulhu; after they leave, the story ends with a shot of a reptilian head emerging from the loch (and a Lampshade Hanging narration). A parody example, since the "it's not really a plesiosaur" explanation is actually considerably weirder than the standard Nessie.
- At the end of the "Big Haunted Battleship" storyline of Schlock Mercenary, it's pointed out by several characters that the "rational" explanation of the ghostly voices on the PDCL is so contrived that it's more rational just to accept it was haunted. This isn't a throwaway gag, either; Petey's inability either to accept or to deny the existence of ghosts is responsible for both his introduction and the PDCL's eventual destruction.
- This happens every now and then in stories from the Slender Man Mythos. Usually in the middle of it, as demonstrated in Seeking Truth/The Mystic.
- A video by Smosh titled "Bigfoot Is Gay" has the two main characters looking for Bigfoot after they are shown a video on the news showing footage of him. They are captured by someone who has captured Bigfoot but it turns out to be someone in a costume and it is stated they made up the video shown on the news. Shortly after that, a real Bigfoot comes by.
- Aaahh!!! Real Monsters: One episode had the Power Trio trapped in a severely haunted house, the rub being that while monsters exist, ghosts do not (this is repeatedly stated by
HermioneOblina). It turned out that the house was the bunker/battle ground for a soldier monster who caused all of the strange happenings—except one. All four monsters quickly leave, and the house resumes all of its disturbing behavior.
- The Ace Ventura: Pet Detective Animated Adaptation, episode about "G.C." used the "helpful person was dead all along" variant.
- The 1992 The Addams Family cartoon had an episode called "Puttergeist", which revolved around the legend of a golfer ghost with a giant golf ball for a head appearing every Halloween. It initially turns out that the Puttergeist is nothing more than a publicity stunt performed by the Normanmeyer family for generations, but the very end of the episode shows that the Puttergeist actually exists.
- The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron:
- Subverted multiple times before being played straight in "Phantom of Retroville": The tale of a ghost at an amusement park is told, and Jimmy, being Jimmy, decided to disprove it. The first phantom encountered throughout the episode turns out to be Nick in a costume. Then another phantom shows up, but is quickly revealed to be Cindy and Libby, also in costume. Then another phantom shows up, this one having a sinister glow, and succeeds in scaring the kids into running away, but turns out to be Judy Neutron in a more elaborate costume, with the goal of scaring the kids for sneaking out at night in mind. Then, while she and Hugh have an argument about pie, a fourth phantom rises out of the ground, this one translucent and glowing purple, scaring the two away.
- Being a person of logic and science, Jimmy Neutron didn't believe in Santa Claus (it didn't help that he didn't get the present he wanted two years prior), but soon learns that there are some things that can't be proven with facts.
- In the Adventure Time episode "The Creeps", all the characters are seemingly killed one by one by an evil ghost. It is finally revealed that the whole thing was a practical joke organised by Jake that all the others helped with... and then Jake denies being responsible for the ghost sighting and poltergeist activity experienced by Finn after he thought that he was the sole survivor. A later episode returns to this and explains the nature and origins of the real ghost in detail.
- In the The Amazing World of Gumball episode "Christmas", Richard accidentally runs over a homeless man who he (and the children) believe to be Santa, who turns out to be the real thing.
- One episode of Angela Anaconda has the entire class teasing Angela about being in love with "Bob": a fictional kid on a flash card after she created the sentence "I love Bob and hot chocolate" with them. The episode ends with a kid who looks and dresses identically being transferred into the class, who is actually named Bob. He even becomes a background character from then on and even dons the "Bob" t-shirt from the flash card!
- In The Angry Beavers episode "Omega Beaver", Daggett becomes convinced of the existence of the Howler Leeches from a conspiracy comic book, eventually being attacked by a group. After it's revealed that the leeches were actually Norbert and their friends playing a trick on Daggett (following him siccing a vicious leech-killing dog on them), it's revealed to the viewers that the leeches are real.
- In the Season 3 episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender titled 'The Painted Lady', the heroes encounter a small fishing village that is dying out because of pollution caused by the Fire Nation. Shenanigans occur while Katara masquerades as the Painted Lady, the patron spirit of the river and the village, and saves the day despite her ploy coming to light. Valuable lessons are learned regarding honesty and hard work, and it appears that the Painted Lady exists only in the hearts and imaginations of the village. The end! Oh, except for the part where after all this, right before they leave, the REAL Painted Lady appears to Katara to thank her for all that she's done. This sort of makes sense since spirits are real, though mostly intangible, beings in the Avatar universe.
- In the episode "Grundy's Night" of The Batman, after Solomon Grundy is revealed to be Clayface in disguise, a real zombie hand reaches out of the swamp. Ooooh...
- Captain Pugwash once came up with the brilliant idea of using a fake sea serpent to scare the crews of other ships into running for the lifeboats so that he and his crew could rob them blind. (The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything, the crew of the Black Pig most assuredly were not!) Just after the grand scheme had gone hilariously pear-shaped in a way that Tom the cabin-boy couldn't get his boss out of, a real sea monster showed up and succeeded where the fake had failed.
- Code Lyoko has "Is Anybody Out There?" After the "ghost" is revealed to be a monster created by XANA, the episode ends with Sissi trying to summon the ghost after a Return to the Past. Sissi and her friends are scared off by a spooky voice, but it turns out to be Odd and Ulric playing a joke. But then they leave and we see the boiler door shut and hear a ghostly moan...
- Celebrity Deathmatch has "The Prophecy". Stacy finds what she believes is a prophecy foretelling that one of the Deathmatch staff dies tonight. Throughout the episode it looks at several points like one of them will bite it (Nick gets shocked by a faulty microphone, Stone Cold gets run over by a moose, Mills Lane almost spontaneously combusts, and finally a plane crashes into Johnny), but they all survive. At the end, Stacy admits that she made a mistake. Then she explodes, killing her.
- The Emperor's New School: Yzma used fake aliens in a failed attempt to become Empress and she constantly told Kronk aliens didn't exist. In the end, Kronk met real aliens but didn't believe it.
- In Fairly OddParents episode "Crocker of Gold", Cosmo kept spouting about a being called the Great Potato. Towards the climax of the episode where Timmy and the fairies were in danger of being boiled by angry leprechauns, Cosmo claimed that the Great Potato would save them, to which Wanda snapped at him and told him there was no such thing as the Great Potato. At that moment, the Great Potato shows up to save them, much to Wanda and Timmy's shock.
- When Barney Rubble sees a sea serpent in the The Flintstones, his response is to tell Fred "I was reading this article where this scientist says there's absolutely no proof for the existence of sea monsters". Fred says so what and Barney delivers a punch line of "So I wonder if that sea monster believes in scientists".
- At the end of Fun and Fancy Free, Mortimer Snerd is crying over Willie the Giant's Disney Villain Death. Edgar Bergen assures him that Willie didn't die because Willie wasn't real to begin with, that he was just a figment of Snerd's imagination. Then Willie lifts the roof of the house to peek in! Bergen faints dead away.
Willie: What got into him?
Mortimer: Oh, uh, just a fig-a-ma-tation of his imagination.
- The Funky Phantom:
- At the end of the episode the "ghost" was usually shown to be a fake a la Scooby-Doo, but in a couple of episodes one of the guest characters turned out to be a real ghost.
- An episode had a real Bigfoot running around in addition to the fraud.
- Garfield and Friends:
- In "Unidentified Flying Orson", Roy pranks Orson with a fake alien invasion. Real aliens show up at the end.
- "Barn of Fear" had the gang frightened in a barn by "ghosts" that turn out to be Orson's brothers trying to scare them off so they can steal the harvest. Then the brothers are attacked and driven out of the barn by floating objects. Orson dismisses the event as an earthquake, but after they all leave it is shown to be the spirits of departed farmers haunting the barn.
- In "Heatwave Holiday," Garfield, Jon, and Odie deal with the titular heatwave by setting up a Christmas display in the middle of July. Soon, everyone in town follows suit, and the group even exchanges presents—right before a news announcement reminds everyone that it's still, you know, July. That night, as Garfield sleeps, we hear sleigh bells; the fat cat wakes up and goes into the next room, where he speaks to someone just offscreen: "Oh, it's you...no, it's not Christmas. Sorry." Garfield goes back to bed and comments that of all people, "he should know better"—and a loud "HO HO HO!" is heard.
- Goober and the Ghost Chasers often featured the real ghost helping the gang against the fake ghost (sometimes the fake ghost is also pretending to be the real ghost).
- In the show Gravity Falls, this trope would appear a lot since it's a show about kids who look for supernatural weird stuff in a creepy town, but they usual find out it's real in the middle of the episode. The only exception is in the episode "The Legend of the Gobblewonker", where the titular sea serpent was revealed to be an automaton made by Old Man McGucket. But at the end, the camera shows the bottom of the lake, revealing a large sea serpent swimming around, making whale noises...
- Growing Up Creepie:
- In one episode, a "haunted" theater is revealed to have just had a termite infestation—except for the part where the termites are eventually revealed to actually be ghosts.
- In another episode, after Creepie and friends fail to find Bugfoot, the camera zooms out to show that the wilderness they're in is actually located on said giant arthropod's back.
- Hey Arnold! was very fond of this trope, having several horror based episodes with this sort of ending.
- "Haunted Train" was an episode where Arnold, Helga, and Gerald heard the story of a train that takes you straight to a "fiery underworld" with the ghost of the conductor who'd supposedly driven the original off the tracks and down into the underworld. The kids go check it out and sure enough a train shows up and takes them through a hellish scene, just like in the story. It turns out it was just an average train that passed through a steelworks. At the end the train races past with the ghost conductor sitting on the front, playing accordion and singing the urban legend.
- "Wheezin' Ed" tells the story of the gangster Wheezin' Ed and his treasure, located out on Elk Island and hidden in one of the caves. Intrigued by the promise of treasure, Arnold, Gerald, and several of the supporting characters head out to the caves where instead of a ghost they come across two counterfeiters. They end up saved and the counterfeiters arrested while the scene ends with the sound of Wheezin' Ed's laughter echoing through the cave.
- "Ghost Bride" finds Gerald telling the story of a woman who, left on her wedding day by a groom in love with her sister, puts on her wedding dress, grabs an ax and kills both her ex-fiancee and sister before jumping out the window to her own death. Every year on the same day, the ghost of the bride returns to the cemetery looking for fresh victims, humming the wedding march the whole time. Of course the children decide to meet up that night at the cemetery. The boys are then chased through the graveyard by Helga dressed up as the bride, and later by Curly. After agreeing that there's no ghost bride, the group minus Curly leave...and then he hears humming.
- "Headless Cabbie" has the boys at the sleepover, telling scary stories. Arnold tells of a cabbie who finds himself approached by a woman, mourning the loss of her little dog. She asks for a ride through the park and gets into the carriage, offering the cabbie her scarf because it's such a cold night. When she hears barking she becomes mad, encouraging him to go dangerously fast, until a man with a golden hook for an arm causes him to swerve off the road, the scarf getting caught in the tree and taking his head off. When the boys go through the same park for ice cream later...they believe they're being chased by the cabbie who is eventually revealed to be Ernie, driving a carriage to earn more money. It ends with him being approached by the same woman, mourning the loss of her dog and offering him her scarf.
- In "Four-Eyed Jack" from season 2, Grandpa tells Arnold and Gerald a story about a mad scientist who lived in the boarding house and was killed by an experiment involving beans. Afterwards weird things start to happen that fit the tale. After the events are revealed to be coincidental to Grandpa and his secret bathroom, the boy's go to bed and Gerald wakes up to Four-Eyed Jack who halfheartedly scares him.
- Used as a Double Subversion in Jackie Chan Adventures, "The Chan Who Knew Too Much": Jackie tries to stop a villainous group of modern-day druids who believe Stonehenge is an ancient magical Weapon of Mass Destruction and intend to activate it; he dismisses their claim as a crackpot theory, along the same lines as people who think it's a landing beacon for UFOs. At the climax, they succeed... but nothing happens. Later, after the disappointed druids are arrested by Interpol, a UFO appears, drawn by the signal of the activation.
- Jem, "Mardi Gras": Jem and the group are invited to stay at a haunted hotel where there are strange things happening. People assume it's the ghost of a pirate that loved Lily Rose. Jem is able to use a hologram of him to scare a boy band hired by the Misfits to screw up Jem's group. It turns out the stolen stuff was stolen by a descendant of the pirate's pet, a monkey named Francis. At the end, the ghosts of the pirate and Lily Rose appear.
- Jonny Quest TOS:
- In the episode "Monster in the Monastery", a group of Communists dress up as yeti to scare a group of monks. They're eventually discovered dead, ripped to pieces by an unknown force. At the end of the episode, a real yeti, the one that killed them, is seen walking into the mountains.
- In another episode, a con-man kidnapped half the protagonists and tried to convince the other half they'd vanished magically in the Bermuda Triangle, in an attempt to get at a sunken treasure. He does get it, and makes his escape. By boat. Through the Bermuda Triangle. Guess how that turned out.
- In Jonny Quest: The Real Adventures there's an episode where in South America the main characters encounter a group of natives living in hiding, who protect something by sending a guy dressed as a legendary local monster Amok (looking like hybrid of gorilla, baboon and sloth) to scare the curious. Later, everybody got caught by a bunch of terrorists (or something like that). Jonny escapes and together with Amok-guy manages to free everybody, but the villain's leader escapes into the jungle. When Jonny thanks the guy in the Amok costume for his help, he responds that he was with everybody else all the time. And then we hear the leader's screams and a monstrous roar coming from the jungle.
- The Little Critter cartoon "Just Me and My Dad" has a creature called Bigpaw, which is believed to be an urban legend. At the end of the cartoon, the creature is shown happily eating a bag of nuts.
- In The Mask animated series, a crime wave perpetrated by criminals dressed as Santa Claus prompts the mayor to decree wearing a Santa costume ground for immediate arrest. This causes the real Santa to be thrown in jail.
- In the Goofy and Max segment of Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas, Max's faith in Santa is shaken. The real Santa shows up at the end.
- Moville Mysteries: The local Conspiracy Theorist drags Mo into investigating the Mystery Meat in the school cafeteria, since it's really good (and cafeteria food that tastes good is unnatural) and it glows in the dark. He's convinced it's alien in origin, and all the evidence Mo finds seems to confirm this. The two of confront the lunch lady while she is in a meeting with two guys from the mystery meat company. She reveals the heinous secret behind mystery meat: it's not made by aliens, it's made of tofu. All of the kids are immediately disgusted that they've been eating something that's healthy and renounce mystery meat for good, causing the distributors to cancel their contract with the school. After they leave, Mo asks the lunch lady why the mystery meat glowed in the dark. She says she didn't know it glowed in the dark. Cue a shot of the meat guys driving down the road, and their cars turning into UFOs and flying away.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic
- One episode revolves around a ruined castle supposedly haunted by the Pony of Shadows, but all the odd things in the castle turn out to have a mundane explanation. The Stinger reveals that the Pony of Shadows is real after all.
- The next episode revolves around the Mane 6 going off to meet the creator of their favorite fictional character, Daring Do. The shocker for them comes once they discover that the author and Daring Do are one in the same! And those villains she fights in her stories? They're real too!
- In the in-universe story in "A Hearth's Warming Tail", Snowfall Frost is of the opinion that the Windigos are nothing but a myth. Turns out they're very much real.
- In the My Little Pony Tales episode "Slumber Party", Patch tells a ghost story that scares the others and makes them check the attic for signs of the ghost, but find nothing but a cat. In the last scene, Patch is surprised when the ghost appears to her and thanks her for helping keep his legend alive.
- Phineas and Ferb:
- "That's the Spirit" Lampshades and then subverts it. After discovering the haunted house was just a Halloween hoax, Phineas says "Isn't this the moment in one of these things when someone really turns into a ghost?". Spooky music plays, the camera focuses on the family behind the hoax for a moment before Russell just says "Dude that's it", and they wander off.
- In the original airing, this episode was followed by "The Curse of Candace", where Candace spends most of the episode thinking she's a vampire due to some of Phineas's and Ferb's preset experiments. At the very end, they clear up the misunderstanding, she takes off her cloak... and then she crumples into ashen dust. So in a way, this is a double subverted Brick Joke.
- Recess: In "Yes, Mikey, Santa Does Shave", Mikey has a crisis of faith about Santa, but rallies after an inspiring conversation with an old man who turns out at the end to be Santa himself.
- In Rocko's Modern Life there's a Halloween episode were the main characters go to a cemetery to prove that a legendary ghost is just a legend, turns out that he is not only real but a nice guy that befriend the main character. And takes another twist when one year later the guys and the ghost are looking at pictures of the last year's Halloween (most of them are pictures of the characters running away) then when they are leaving, Filburt is scared at the last picture when he realizes that it's a picture of all (5) of the characters in that episode.
Filburt: Who took that picture?
The rest of the characters: [jaw drop]
- Rugrats, "The Santa Experience". Drew hires someone to play Santa at the lodge where the Pickles are celebrating Christmas, but the guy flakes out on him. Then Drew does a double-take when he realizes this is after a guy dressed like Santa Claus came in and gave gifts to all the kids.
- The Scooby-Doo franchise itself has done this in some of its shows. And some of the DTV movies.
- In "A Night of Fright is No Delight", the will said the house is haunted yet for most of the episode it's a hoax, until a bone comes floating out of nowhere at the end.
- In "Scooby's Roots", Grandad Scooby says a ghost haunts Scooby Manor, and it's a sheet ghost. Until they unmask the fake ghost as the real ghost of Great Grandpa Scooby!
- Scooby-Doo Meets the Boo Brothers: With all the ghosts being revealed as a hoax, Scooby impersonates the ghost of Shaggy's Uncle. Then when driving away Shaggy sees him standing on the road and tells Scooby to knock it off, who then reveals himself to be in the back of the truck this time.
- A Pup Named Scooby-Doo: In an episode where the gang goes trick or treating they find an evil ghost pirate haunting the house. It's a hoax, but the rumors about the house being haunted are true; the real ghost is actually nice and hires the Scooby Doo Detective Agency.
- In one case, the gang ends up needing to save the real aliens (who had been tagging along with the gang for most of the movie disguised as unremarkable characters) from the humans who had been pretending to be aliens !
- The film Camp Scare has the gang being menaced by a trio of monsters. While it turns out the first two were the same guy in disguise, the post-credits scene reveals that the third wasn't a disguise: it was a real ghost!
- Scooby Doo And KISS Rock And Roll Mystery played with this trope. It's implied that there may be two Crimson Witches: the real one wanted to use the the 'rock of Kisstera' as a tool for unleashing the Destroyer, the fake one wanted to sell it as a priceless diamond.
- In What's New, Scooby-Doo? episode "Reef Grief!" a coral monster was believed to be pulling people under the beach, but it was actually a hippie digging a tunnel to New Zealand using hypnotized slaves. The monster was real, but it was harmless and saved Scooby from drowning.
- In Scooby-Doo! and the Loch Ness Monster, the plot advances like what you would expect from Scooby-Doo, with it turning out that the two Loch Ness Monsters appearing throughout were homemade submarines/robots made by the same person with the intent of using them to convince a colleague that the monster is real (her cohorts just wanted to do it as a prank). After the villain (unaffiliated to the hoaxers) is arrested, the gang sees pictures taken by a previously lost underwater camera taken at a much greater depth than the submarines could have operated at, which show flippers and other body parts of a completely different entity. As the gang drives off in the Mystery Machine, the real Loch Ness Monster briefly comes to the surface in the foreground before diving underwater again, unnoticed.
- The Simpsons:
- The eleventh "Treehouse of Horror" episode combines this with a parody of The Brady Bunch. Lisa and Bart, playing Hansel and Gretel, are captured by a witch, who claims she needs to get ready before her boyfriend comes over. She says that his name is "George Cauldron," a deliberate reference to Jan Brady saying she had a boyfriend named "George Glass" after seeing a drinking glass on her nightstand. After Homer saves the children from the witch by pushing her into the oven, a man arrives—his name is George Cauldron, and he's looking for the witch so they can go to a concert.
- In "Don't Fear the Roofer", Homer makes friends with a roofer called Ray Magini, but when asked to prove the man's existence, he can't - because he fails to appear whenever Homer is sure he will. Homer is sent for psychological treatment (electroshock)... and right after the treatment is done, Ray appears in front of everyone, proving Homer was right.
- In "Yokel Chords", Bart makes up a story about a cook named Dark Stanley who cannibalized school children in the past in order to steal his schoolmates' lunches. Later in the episode, while Bart's counselor is discussing with her own psychiatrist, it turns out that Dark Stanley was in fact real.
- Parodied by South Park in "Crack Baby Athletic Association", which does this with Slash.
- In the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Christmas Who?", after Squidward dresses as Santa and gives away all his stuff as gifts to the entire town, the real Santa comes and thanks him.
- In "Yeti Krabs", Mr. Krabs tries to scare Squidward and SpongeBob into working harder by making up a story about a Yeti Krab who tracks down and eats lazy workers, along with anyone in the vicinity. When a real Yeti Krab coincidentally shows up after Mr. Krabs leaves, SpongeBob is terrified and runs around doing busywork to placate it, while Squidward, who never believed Mr. Krabs' story in the first place, simply assumes it's him in a costume. The Yeti Krab, who's merely hungry and was attracted to the Krusty Krab by the smell of food, eventually does try to eat all three of them out of desperation, but SpongeBob figures out the problem and wins it over with some fresh Krabby Patties.
- In one episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a monster hunter comes to look for the "green man in the woods" after the turtles are spotted and videotaped; about halfway through the turtles discover that the green man is real and have to keep both it and themselves out of her reach.
- Subverted in an episode of The Tick: The villain of the episode is a robbing Santa impersonator who has managed to clone himself. This confuses the Tick, who refuses to fight even when his fellow superheroes are viciously attacked by a dozen guys in Santa costumes: "Odds are it wasn't the real Santa, but how can you ever be sure?" Santa later appears, with a Elf Secret Service team, compulsively hands out gifts such as pencil sets, and tells the Tick to get a grip.
- The Wild Thornberrys:
- An episode that took place in the Himalayas had Eliza searching for the Yeti who supposedly lived there. She eventually discovers that the "Yeti" is actually a doctor who dresses up like a monster to protect the local wildlife. At the end of the episode, a Yeti approaches and helps Eliza fight off some villains; later, Eliza thanks the doctor, but he explains that he wasn't wearing his suit at the time. Eliza ponders what this means, and a loud roar sounds from the mountains...
- Another episode that takes place in Mexico had Eliza running into a friendly old woman who helps her solve her problem of the week. The episode's ending reveals that the woman has been dead for years. Fitting, as the episode was centered on the Day of the Dead.