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Real After All
Johnathon Davis: "Now, let's find out exactly who these pirate ghosts really are!"
*Pirate ghosts suddenly vanish into thin air*
Johnathon Davis: *beat* "Oh... I guess they really were pirate ghosts..."
South Park, Korn's Groovy Pirate Ghost Mystery

If an episode revolves around a haunting (or alien visitation) (or lake monster sighting) (or whatever) that turns out to be a hoax, the episode will end with a shot of a real ghost/alien visitor/lake monster/whatever.

A variation is for the episode to end with the investigators remarking on one detail of the hoax they found particularly impressive, only for the hoaxer to say, "But... that wasn't me." Or, in haunting cases, for the investigators to remark how helpful Bob was, only for one of the locals to say, "Bob? But he's been dead for five years." Sometimes, the characters won't be around to see it, especially if a real sighting would bring an end to a long-running mystery. Many times, a Scooby-Doo Hoax about a lake monster will end with the real one coming out of the water to watch the heroes leave.

A niche variant: Christmas episodes of children's series often feature the adults setting up the various elements of the Santa Claus pretense, and then end with a shot of the real Santa flying away in his sleigh (often while the children open wonderful presents that none of the adults can remember buying). If the budget doesn't allow for it, they may just play a sound of jingling bells as a hearty "HO HO HO!" echoes in the distance.

Tends to happen in series where hauntings (or alien visitations) (or whatever) are not only uncommon, but usually unconsidered, like Sitcoms or Action Adventure series. Usually avoided in series that are about investigating and debunking hauntings (or alien visitations) (or whatever).

A variant of Skepticism Failure. Compare Or Was It a Dream?. Sometimes a case of And You Thought It Was a Game. Occasionally, the characters do see the creature, but it's Mistaken for an Imposter. Often occurs at the end of a Cryptid Episode.

Contrast Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane where it remains up in the air to the very end. Sometimes, technically, that trope and this one combine when it is established that the hoaxer could not have done one thing, but it is never established that no other mundane cause could have done it.

See also You Imagined It. May result in a character being Horror Struck.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Things from Outer Space 
Anime & Manga

Film
  • Not really from "outer space" per se, but 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.)

Live-Action TV
  • 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 UFO's. 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. Which became Hilarious in Hindsight after Baywatch Nights' infamous second season...
  • 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.
  • Eerie Indiana, "Marshall's Theory of Believability."
  • Played for laughs in an episode of Home Improvement, 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.
  • MacGyver, "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...
  • 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.
  • The Munsters, "If It's a Martian, Hang Up". The alien costume they used at the end was originally seen in The Outer Limits.
  • In the Twilight Zone episode "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.

Western Animation
  • Garfield and Friends, "U.S. Acres: Unidentified Flying Orson."
  • 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 UFO's. 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.
  • The Emperor's New School: Yzma used fake aliens on 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.

    Things from the Afterlife 
Anime & Manga
  • Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu, "The Patient Of Darkness" - Subverted when it turns out that the last "ghost" really was a living person the hoaxers just didn't know about.
  • A first-season Pokémon 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. However, after the protagonists leave, Gastly is then shown to be a friend of the 'real' ghostly maiden.
    • The Ninetales Lokoko might also qualify, as she states (via an illusory proxy) that after being captured and released by Brock, she is now free to go to the afterlife and find her real master, who died a hundred years ago.
  • 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.

Comic Books
  • Lucky Luke Live-Action Adaptation (an episode about a fake ghost train) (Bob).
  • In Houseof 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.
Film
  • In Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning, a man impersonates the currently dead Jason Voorhees. In the sixth movie, Jason really does come back from the dead.
  • In what's probably the only appearance of the occult in the James Bond series, a voodoo henchman from Live and Let Die appears on the front of the train Bond is in, laughing, even though he was subjected to a coffin full of venomous snakes earlier in the film.
  • 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...
  • Pee-wee's Big Adventure. Be sure to tell'em Large Marge sent'cha!
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Literature
  • 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 Expiration Date by Tim Powers, a psychiatrist decided to emulate a seance as part of a group therapy session; all hell broke loose, and she lost her license. She spends most of the novel discovering that ghosts are real and she had inadvertently called up a few. The main protagonist colorfully compares her actions to an anthropologist re-enacting the quaint tribal ritual of loading a "bullet" into a "gun" and pulling the "trigger".
  • The classic Three Investigators novel The Invisible Dog brings the three boys 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 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.

Live-Action TV
  • 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.
  • In the JAG episode "Ghost Ship", Harm & Mac are saved by a real ghost.
  • An episode of Jonas revolved around the ghost of a volunteer fire fight 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.
  • 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.
  • In one episode of Midsomer Murders, 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...
  • 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.
    • Don't forget the episode where a Yeti helped rescue someone, and they only see it at the very end, IIRC.
  • 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 women (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, but Zack never brings this up while they're explaining the hoax to him.
    • Hell, she even said "they're out to get you"! She was warning him that it was a prank by his friends!
  • 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.
  • 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.

Music
  • There are likely enough ghostly encounters in various Country songs to make a TV series out of.
    • These range from the somewhat malevolent Ghost Riders In The Sky (the Johnny Cash version), to the friendly ghost of Country Music legend Hank Williams.
    • There are two versions of the song The Ride. The old version has the ghost of Hank Williams as the driver. The newer version has the ghost of Dale Earnhardt as the driver.
    • Another popular song is Phantom 309, by Red Sovine, which features the ghost of "Big Joe" (as well as that of the truck, itself), who gives the passenger a dime (the cost of a cup of coffee when the song was made). The story goes that Big Joe crashed his rig (said to be the fastest on the road) in order to avoid hitting a school bus full of children. His ghost sometimes returns to that stretch of road to give hitchhikers a ride to the truck stop.
      • "Big Joe" makes an appearance in a more recent song Big Joe, Red Sovine, and Phantom 309, in which the ghost of Big Joe can't figure out how to operate a modern payphone that lack a coin slot (instead requiring a credit or calling card) and is met by the singer. The singer then invites Joe to join him for lunch and pays for the both of them. Joe's ghost thanks the singer and leaves, saying that his "friend, Red" is waiting for him out in the truck. It doesn't dawn on the singer until later that he has had an encounter with Big Joe and that the "friend" is likely Red Sovine, the singer of the original song.

Radio
  • 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!

Theatre
  • 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.
  • 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.

Video Games
  • 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?
  • 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.

Web Comics

Western Animation
  • 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 Hermione Oblina). 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." (Bob).
  • In The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron episode "Phantom of Retroville": A ghost at an amusement park.
  • 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...
  • In the Funky Phantom Saturday morning cartoon, at the end of the episode the "ghost" was usually shown to be a fake a la Scooby-Doo. In a couple of episodes one of the guest characters turned out to be a real ghost.
  • In one episode of Growing Up Creepie, 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.
  • 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...haunted train that takes you straight "fiery underworld" with the ghost of the conductor who'd supposedly driven the orginal 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 titular 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.
    • And another episode that contained this trope was "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.
  • 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 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, as the ghost of the pirate and Lily Rose appears.
  • Scooby-Doo itself has done this on occasion. After the gang reveals the main ghost of the episode as a hoax, some minor, benign supernatural event occurs during the denouement.
    • Two animated movies from the late 1990's take this a step further. The Scooby gang believes that everything going on so far is a hoax, and they eventually prove it. At which point the real thing shows up, almost without warning, to drive the climax. 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 !
    • In Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, when faced with real supernatural events Freddy even goes into a state of denial, frantically trying to pull the zombie mask off of a very real zombie, until the whole head comes off, at which point he tries to argue that it was animatronic.
    • 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 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 is a picture of all(5) the characters in that episode.
    Filburt: "Who took that picture?"
    The rest of the characters: *Jaw drop*
  • Phineas and Ferb episode "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.

    Monstrous Wildlife Things 
Anime & Manga
  • 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.
  • 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.

Film
  • A lot of cryptozoological documentaries end with a moody shot of the supposed monster's habitat. Perhaps they're hoping for a Real Life version of this?
  • This is Played for Laughs during "Water Horse". Unable to find the real creature to photograph, some journalists make and photograph a fake...with the real one watching the whole thing curiously.

Literature
  • 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.

Live-Action TV
  • In one episode of Bones, 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.
  • Doctor Who, The Abominable Snowmen: An explorer looking for yeti in the Himalayas runs afoul of some yeti that are actually robots controlled by am Eldritch Abomination. At the end, as the explorer is saying farewell to the Doctor, a real yeti appears.
  • The Greatest American Hero, "The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea"
  • MacGyver: 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.
  • A Halloween episode of Wishbone had an appropriately mild example. A pair of glowing eyes were glimpsed stalking the main characters throughout the episode. At the end they turned out to belong to a stray cat... and after it scampered off screen, followed by the kids, 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.
  • 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.

Video Games
  • 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.
    • And it looks very much like the fake Stillwater Giant skin that the player can steal or purchase from a museum display.

Web Comics

Web Original
  • 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.

Western Animation
  • 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 Gobblewonker" when the 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...
  • In another episode of Growing Up Creepie, 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. This is just one of many, many examples in the series' run.
  • 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.
    • Again 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.
  • In one episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003), 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.

    Things in Sleighs 
Comic Books
  • 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.
    • Santa exists in the DC universe according to other comics, and he's even more powerful than the regular version - he delivers gifts to everyone in the UNIVERSE and he's a match for Darkseid.
      • Although he apparently is no match for Lobo in their Versus miniseries...
  • In an Archie 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.

Film
  • Look Who's Talking Now has a guy hearing Santa... on a CB radio.
  • Miracle on 34th Street (1947) has the scene at the end where the little girl gets exactly the present she wanted, but notably avoids an explicit sleigh shot.

Live-Action TV
  • 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 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.
  • In the ER episode "City Of Mercy", Morris unselfishly decides not to have a one night stand with a woman on Christmas Eve. Afterwards, walking outside, he begins mocking himself out loud for being sentimental and being affected by Christmas, finishing his rant by screaming "There's no freaking Santa!!" Immediately, a man calls to him, wishing him a merry Christmas, and as Morris turns around, sleigh bells suddenly jingle (it's left intentionally ambiguous whether they are just the soundtrack or actually audible in the show) and Morris freezes, staring at something in the sky right behind the camera.
    Morris: Holy....!
  • Family Matters did this, with Carl getting a space helmet he had wished for as a kid.
  • In Home Improvement 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.
  • Lois and 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...
  • 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."
  • In the Night Court first season Christmas Episode "Santa Goes Downtown", a man that Harry Stone takes for a street corner Santa turns to be the real thing.
  • 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.
  • In the Doctor Who Christmas special "A Christmas Carol", the Eleventh claims to know Santa Claus and Jeff is a good friend.
  • 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 with him.
  • A variant occurs in The Twilight Zone episode "The Night of the Meek". A department store Santa Claus finds a sack that gives everyone what they want most for Christmas. At the end it turns out that he actually is Santa, and he and his elves fly away in his sleigh.
  • 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?

Western Animation
  • The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: 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 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.
  • 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.
  • Recess: "Santa Shaves".
  • Rugrats, "The Santa Experience".
  • 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:
      The Tick: Odds are it wasn't the real Santa, but how can you ever be sure?
      Die Fledermaus: Here's a clue: If he runs up and punches you in the stomach, HE'S PROBABLY NOT SANTA!
    • 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.
  • In the Sponge Bob Square Pants 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 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.

    Other 
Anime & Manga
  • The Florian Triangle, the setting for One Piece's Thriller Bark story arc, is a place in which hundreds of ships go missing each year and are said to have ghost ships. During the course of the arc, we learn that the main source of this is Warlord of the Sea Gecko Moria, is implied to be the one responsible, as part of building his zombie army. The arc's finale reveals that ships were going missing long before Moria set up shop and we see the shadow of a gigantic figure in the fog of the Triangle which goes unnoticed by anyone else.

Comic Books
  • In Ultimate Marvel 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.

Film

Literature
  • 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 victim of various prankers, except for the last one, a Sweet Polly Oliver that no one knows, who is a girl who has escaped his Gilded Cage, to all the pranksters confusion.

Live-Action TV
  • 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.

Western Animation
  • At the end of Fun and Fancy Free, Mortimer Snerd is crying over Willie the Giant's Disney Villain Death. Edgar Bergan 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! Bergan faints dead away.
    Willie: What got into him?
    Mortimer: Oh, uh, just a fig-a-ma-tation of his imagination.
    Willie: No!
  • 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!
  • 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!
  • Parodied by South Park in "Crack Baby Athletic Association", which does this with Slash (yes, that Slash).
  • 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.)


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