They're not always this subtle...
"How do you know they're watching us?" "Because that pool cleaner's van has been parked out on the street for over four hours. No one's pool is
You've Seen It a Million Times
— that large, menacing black van pulling over on the other side of the street the moment you go inside. Maybe you dismissed it as paranoid speculation
, just as The Man
wanted you to but you should know what it means — They
are watching you at this very moment from that very car. If Lampshaded
there will be a honkin' big radar dish on top.
These vehicles provide a sense of foreboding mystery to the characters they follow and the audience. The vans appear in the background, and are viewed only from the outside. Unlike Spies in a Van
, it's common that neither the audience nor The Protagonist
ever find out who is in the vans, or what they are doing. Occasionally, both tropes can occur in the same series, if there are competing vans or if the organization operating them determines the heroes are not their enemy and invites them into The Masquerade
If they're not only watching you but about to kick your ass, then the black van will be replaced by a black sedan or SUV with tinted windows - the Volga GAZ-21 and 24 and the Chevrolet Suburban, depending on the setting. An important distinction was that in Soviet times and places, black vehicles were entirely reserved for official government fleets while when a black Suburban is seen on American streets in real life, it is assumed to be in soccer-mom use.
See also Black Helicopter
. The title is a pun on The Men in Black
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Anime and Manga
- The van in Runaways, although it's white and actually is fairly nondescript.
Chase: Remember those two sniper dudes last year? When everyone in Virginia was looking for one white van? The cops couldn't find it 'cause every plumber and electrician and whatever drives one of these things. [..] That's why I asked my parents for one. I get in this bad boy, and I totally drop off The Man's radar.
- Mooks driving around in a black van sedate Wallace and capture Esther in Sin City.
- Clint Barton thinks he sees one outside his apartment window:
Hawkeye: Is it just me, or does that van look like a van.
Mockingbird: Even for you that makes no... Oh, wait yeah, that's definitely a van.
- In The Game, Michael Douglas finds himself being terrorized by various cars marked "CRS." One's a cabbie (Crown Royal Sedans), another a maintenance van (Cable Repair Services), etc.
- The van used by the bank robbers in Inside Man.
- The Zap 'Em Pest Control van in Men in Black ironically serves as transportation for a big bad bug. Somewhat Lampshaded because half of his spaceship stuck out of the back and top.
- A scene in Ocean's Eleven involved the team attempting to purchase a Van in Black. Hilarity Ensues.
- In ET The Extraterrestrial, the government forces use a van with surveillance equipment to find E.T.
- Played for laughs in Old School, when the protagonists use one of these to kidnap their fraternity pledges, complete with Metallica soundtrack.
- Twister. The opposing storm chasers drive black vans/trucks, fitting their role in the story as the "bad guy" corporate sell-outs.
- Karl Hallzemoff, the Hugos' transport van from Cars 2.
- In a deliberate parody (just like every other trope invoked in the film), the heroes of the first Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! movie traveled in a car with the words "F.I.A. Unmarked Car Pool" painted on it.
- In The President's Analyst, soon after a paranoid Dr. Schaefer flees his job by ingratiating himself to a family of tourists who take him to their home, there's a big service van with a 'TPC' logo on the side parked on their neighborhood street. It doesn't really merit any notice, but toward the movie's end we find out 'TPC' is The Phone Company, which has been tailing and finally abducting him.
- Also used in The Handmaid's Tale; usually the Eyes drive in black vans only notable by the insignia they have on the side.
- One appeared in Johnny and the Bomb, though it was more of a limousine.
- The short story "The Van on Atlantic Street" by Desmond Warzel. Though the van is white, it is in other respects an example of this trope.
- In Anne Fine's Old Bones the main character is followed around by a van, and is receiving numerous hate calls. As his secretary is very bad at writing messages and as he is quite distracted, he doesn't really connect the dots until after his house is burnt down.
- Parodied by Dave Barry in "The Columnist's Caper":
Some 2,347 miles away in East Berlin, a man and a woman, walked briskly eastward on Volkswagenkindergarten-pumpernikelstrasse
. Talking intently, they did not notice the sleek black Mercedes sedan, its windows tinted almost black, as it turned off Hamburgerfrankfurterwienerschnitzelstrasse
and came toward them from behind, picking up speed until, traveling at 130 kilometers per microgram
, it roared into a parked garbage truck.
"Too much window tint," the woman said.
Live Action TV
- This is how Samoa Joe disappeared when he was abducted by ninjas.
- The Cleaners' vans in Max Payne 2.
- There are some Vans In Black in Mirror's Edge but seeing how you more often take the roofs, they are much less prominent than Black Helicopters.
- The weird black vans throughout the first levels of The Simpsons Hit & Run. It turns out they're only pizza vans.
- An absurdly oversized van in Silent Hill Origins (it's just a prop, but somebody forgot to scale it correctly) is treated as this in a Let's Play.
- The famous Milkman Conspiracy level in Psychonauts doesn't have the classical black vans, but it has the next best thing: huge black limos... with radar dishes on top.
- Black Vans appear occasionally in Deus Ex, along with Black Helicopters.
- Get a 5-star wanted level in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and the FBI will come after you in black tinted SUV's. Probably the best time to retreat to a safehouse before the army shows up.
- Agency vans in Syphon Filter 2.
- After Max becomes president in Sam & Max Season 1, a truck with the label, "Secret Serv-ice Cream" remains parked outside the duo's apartment.
- In KateModern, a black van is the preferred mode of transport of the sinister Watcher.
- In LG15: the resistance, black vans are used by villain groups LifesBlood Labs and the Order, mainly for the purpose of kidnapping.
- 4chan calls it a party van. Sounds fun!
- The Simpsons:
- In the episode Bart the Murderer, a government agency surveillance team is hiding out in a florist van. The florist's name: Flowers By Irene.
- Earlier, Marge had noticed a pizza van that had been parked outside the Simpsons's house for days. After Marge asks 'How long does it take to deliver a Pizza?' it zooms off to be replaced by the van above.
- Parodied again with similar vans labeled CIA, FBI, and ATF, which here stand for "Chinese Intelligence Agency", "French Bureau of Investigation", and "A-Team of Finland".
- In one episode Homer is sent into the Kwik-E-Mart with a hidden camera by the Channel 6 news team, which is monitoring him from a van parked out front, with "Ordinary Van" painted on the outside.
- Crocker in The Fairly OddParents used a fairy tracking van disguised as an ice cream truck at least once. This proved horribly ineffective since he was immediately mobbed by kids. To drive them away, he converted the van into a spinach truck... and was immediately mobbed by sailors instead.
- Jonny Quest TOS episode "The Quetong Missile Mystery". When the Quests drive away from their ship, we see a van with surveillance equipment inside that was keeping an eye on them. It drives off after them when they leave. It was sent by General Fong to keep watch on them.
- Superfriends 1973/74 episode "The Balloon People". Dr. Noah Tall uses his spy van the "Snoop Wagon" to perform surveillance before he attempts to kidnap the Balloonians.
- The "Black Ravens◊" (GAZ M vans◊) in which Stalin's NKVD agents moved around.
- The legendary black Volga of Polish urban legends (not a van but a sedan) serve the same purpose.
- A 1990s article in a British magazine tested a metallic-tan GAZ-21 Volga; it was remarked that the car had originally been black and had to be repainted due to black Volgas' association with the KGB.
- The Chaika◊ was a car that looked like a sinister black Checker cab and was reserved for important operations. However, the Chaika was more often used as a limousine for the Party top brass, which is something you don't mess with but not immediately dangerous.
- More often than not, Real Life surveillance vans are white since that's by far the most common color for commercial vans (being the easiest color for non-surveillance fleet users to put their logo in vinyl tape on dozens/hundreds of).
- There are persistent rumours that The BBC once operated -and perhaps still does operate- a fleet of these equipped with sophisticated electronic equipment that could detect an active cathode ray tube in order to catch people who hadn't paid their television license. Evidence gathered by this technology has never been produced in court, and nobody seems to know how these devices could actually work, so the whole story is widely believed to be a complete fabrication to encourage compliance. Magical telly-detectors or not, TV license vans parked outside houses are a common scare tactic.
- The United States Secret Service uses black Chevrolet Suburbans (or similar vehicles) with tinted windows in the Presidential motorcade, as do many other U.S. government agencies like the FBI.