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All Just A Dream / Live-Action Films

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Live-action movies that are just characters' dreams.

  • Subverted in 1408, where the protagonist "wakes up" from his harrowing ordeal in room 1408 to be told it was only a dream, only to find his surroundings demolished and stripped away to reveal that he is still in fact stuck in the hotel room. Bonus points for the film having run long enough to make you think it might be ending.
  • Ripley's nightmare of having an alien rip out of her chest near the beginning of Aliens. This is especially misleading since some of the marketing material played up that the aliens would be attacking Earth... well, a space station around Earth... well, a dream sequence on a space station near a planet which could maybe possibly be Earth.
  • Related to this is the film Atonement in which the entire conclusion of the plot (involving Briony taking back her evidence and Keira Knightley getting back together with her boyfriend) from the wedding of the rape victim and her rapist onwards is from the imagination of Briony. She reveals that James McAvoy's character in fact died while at Dunkirk and Cecilia was killed in the (real-life) flooding of Balham tube station by a German bomb.
  • Subverted in Audition. Near the finale of the film, the protagonist wakes up next to Asami in bed and is immeasurably relieved that all of the horrific things that were happening were just a nightmare born of the fear of her leaving. Turns out that this was actually a hallucination born of the pain of having his foot cut off.
  • This was enforced in the 1925 Race Film Body and Soul. Due to one of the characters being a criminal pretending to be a pastor, censors were upset over the film. Four reels were cut and a new ending was quickly shot where it turned out it was all just a dream.
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  • In Boxing Helena, the bulk of the movie from the first amputation onward was just a dream that Nick had.
  • Subverted in The Butterfly Effect. At one point near the end of the film it looks like the story is gonna go out with a Twist Ending. As Evan's doctor explains that there are no journals, he asserts that everything that we've apparently seen so far is a delusion that Evan created to cope with the guilt of killing Kayleigh, describing alternate universes with colleges, prisons, and paraplegia. Then it turns out that the mental time travel was real when Evan goes back one last time.
  • The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari gives a particularly jarring version. Notably this was because of the Executive Meddling, which the creators despised, as the whole point was to show an evil, monstrous authority figure, but the censors in Weimar Germany didn't like it. They apparently even made an extra twist for an alternative version where it wasn't a dream after all, despite of all the attempts to convince otherwise.
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  • Open to interpretation in Click. Just as the main character is about to die, he wakes up at the Bed, Bath, and Beyond where he laid down for a short while at the beginning. However, Morty and the magical remote turn out to be real. It could be that this was more of his imagination. Given the prevalence of time travel in this film, it could also be that Morty simply reversed time to the exact point at which he laid down on the bed.
  • The Company of Wolves addresses this trope from the very beginning. The lead character - the one who dreams up the storyline - is a modern-day pre-teen girl, and when she wakes up, she is attacked by wolves.
  • Cruel and Unusual: Discussed by Edgar early on, who says he'd like to believe that the afterlife is just a nightmare, but knows it's too real for that to be true.
  • Dead End. Early in the film, the characters are all weary and very nearly get involved in a car crash, startling them awake. From here, things start to get weird. By the end, it transpires that nobody woke up in time to prevent the crash.
  • The Descent. Did the crawlers exist, or was Sarah unable to handle the claustrophobia and stress of the already bad situation, causing her to imagine them and kill all her friends? All that can actually be said is that there was dreaming going on; where it started or ended is never made clear.
  • Happily subverted in The Forbidden Kingdom. He's back in his own world, but has mysteriously gained self-confidence, and is a better fighter. Was it all a dream?... oh, wait, the old shop-keeper is actually the now-immortal Jackie Chan character!
    They didn't even try to play it straight. When he wakes up on the pavement, the cut he received in his "dream" is still there.
  • Give My Regards to Broad Street. All portions of this film with plot are a dream, so it's a good thing this is a McCartney musical. This dream even has a Dream Within a Dream inside it.
  • In Hackers, the two main characters (played by Jonny Lee Miller and Angelina Jolie) each have erotic dreams about the other at the same time.
  • The first twenty minutes of the Halloween II (2009) ends up being nothing more than a nightmare that the main character was having.
  • Played very non-comedically in Happiness, where one of the characters apparently goes on a rampage through his neighbourhood with a machine gun, only to wake up. He's a... troubled guy. We later find out he's a paedophile.
  • In Hellraiser: Inferno there is an extended sequence halfway through the film where Joseph takes a rest on his bed as his wife comforts him, only to be informed by the Engineer that he's going after Joseph's parents and Joseph rushing to their rescue. Joseph fails to save them and his surroundings turn nightmarish, after which he wakes up with his wife beside him and the sequence starting all over again with a different outcome.
  • In Hook the titular character uses this trope to psyche out Peter during their climactic duel, claiming that the entire movie is just a dream.
    Hook: You know you're not really Peter Pan, don't you? This is only a dream! When you wake up you'll just be Peter Banning, a cold, selfish man who drinks too much, is obsessed with success, and runs and hides from his wife and children!
  • Taken to the extreme with Inception. The whole plot revolves around making sure they wake up from the layers of dreams at the right time. In Cobb's backstory we learn that his wife became convinced she needed to wake up from reality. And finally the ending and beginning both suggest that the whole movie was a dream. Maybe.
  • Both the original and remade version of Invaders From Mars have the whole thing turn out to be a young boy's nightmare only to have the invasion start all over again at the end. The first version in particular emphasizes this, with off-kilter sets and camera shots throughout.
  • At the ending of Jacob's Ladder, we discover that the lead character is experiencing the events of the entire movie as a hallucination as he lies on a cot dying in a military action.
  • Krampus after an evil version of Santa captured your entire family and send you to hell... it was just a nightmare... or was it?.
  • Labyrinth. Invoked and then subverted: Sarah, after hours of weirdness, finds herself in a place that looks exactly like her room. She cries out in delight, jumps on the bed and wraps the pillow around her head... then looks up in wonder and realizes the whole thing was just a big dream! She goes to open the door to the hallway... and is greeted by a goblin, while the other side of the door is a junk heap at night-time.
    Played straighter by the end, where you could interpret the entire thing as a dream, then subverted again when the creatures show up in her room and everyone has a dance party while Jareth watches in owl form outside the window.
  • Each sequence of Living in Oblivion is revealed to be All Just A Dream, a dream which is referenced in the following sequence. In the final sequence is about trying to film a dream sequence important to the production, and lampshades tropes typical of filmed dream sequences.
  • The Matrix. The entire world the film starts in is All Just A Dream, albeit an artificially constructed one induced by an empire of evil computers. Some have suggested that even Zion is just another level of the Matrix, satisfying many beyond the official interpretation as it explains the liberties taken in the third movie.
  • Most of Mindscape is revealed to be the main character's memories being examined by a psychic.
  • In MirrorMask (boy, Neil Gaiman sure loves dreams), Helena figures out pretty early on that the entire Magical Land is all a dream, populated by characters based on people she knows. However, the possibility is certainly left open that it isn't just a dream, when she meets someone who was in her dream, but she'd never met before in her day-to-day life.
  • One of the few relatively certain things about the plot of Mulholland Dr. is that it includes some element of this. One interpretation is the whole movie is a sinister creeping inversion: it is a dream where the dream gradually wakes up and walks away, rendering the original dreamer fictional.
  • In Next, most of the second half of the film is actually the protagonist looking into a future, which he then changes.
  • Everything but the last couple of minutes in Nightmare City is in the main character's dream, and the movie ends with the beginning of his dream playing out in real life, with an end card reading "The nightmare becomes reality..."
  • The first A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) toys with the boundaries between dreams and the real world throughout the film. At the end, the Final Girl wakes up and thinks her entire ordeal has been a dream. Then Freddy takes control of the car she's in...
  • Most of North is the title character's dream, unlike the original book, where the events did actually happen to the title character.
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: Subverted: while the audience is aware that the Manson cultists are all too real, Cliff was considerably drunk and chose that night of all nights to smoke an LSD-laced cigarette before walking his dog. As a result, when he encounters them he treats the entire situation with amusement at first, actually asking if they're real. Then things get nasty right before they go back to being hilariously violent. The entire film, while not exactly a dream, is equally non-realistic, in case the title didn't tip you off.
  • Throughout Pan's Labyrinth, there are strong suggestions that certain aspects of the plot may be All Just a Dream. Word of God debunks that possibility, though that same god also explicitly tells you not to listen to him so in the end it looks like nobody's happy.
  • The Pirate Movie (1982) is a kooky adaptation of The Pirates of Penzance in which the story plays out as the dream of a present-day heroine, which results in the plot and songs of the Gilbert and Sullivan original existing alongside pop culture-derived gags and light pop songs. When the heroine realizes she's dreaming, she's able to engineer a happy ending.
  • The last third of Repo Men - in the last two minutes or so, it's revealed that Remy suffered brain damage from getting hit in the face by a hook, and Jake then had Remy hooked up to the M5 Neural Net to live the rest of his life in happiness - everything that happens between the hook to the face and the reveal is part of the happy illusion Remy is living because of the neural net.
  • Robot Monster -1953 - Ultimately the youngest member of the family, a boy, apparently wakes up after suffering a mild concussion, revealing that the bulk of the film had presumably been a dream.
  • Romy and Michele's High School Reunion: A large chunk of the film takes place in Michele's dream which isn't revealed to be a dream until the very end. This portion is so significant that many of the jokes from the trailer were taken from the dream sequence.
  • Inverted in Rosemary's Baby. The title character undergoes a series of increasingly bizarre dreams, culminating in her rape by a demon which, as she realizes partway through, isn't a dream at all.
  • A planned (but never filmed) alternate ending of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World removes the Video Game Physics and recasts Scott as an Unreliable Narrator, culminating in his being convicted as a serial killer for seven counts of murder, though this was very likely discarded due to the fact that it was deemed too unfriendly.
  • Parodied in Sex Mission, when at one point Albert dreams of the whole plot being a dream, and not even a normal one, but one shared with Maks during the hibernation.
  • At the end of the Italian horror movie Shadow, we learn that the main character has never left Iraq, and was under anesthesia as the camp doctor (the evil creature in the dream) and nurse (who is the girl he met in the dream) worked on him. He survives, but loses his legs and his left eye. The two hicks who the evil creature tortured and killed are revealed to be fellow wounded soldiers who died of their wounds.
  • In The Shining, it sometimes got difficult to tell what was real and what were projections of the family's minds. Roger Ebert's review talks at length on the subject.
  • Most of Shoulder Arms by Charlie Chaplin, including all of Charlie's adventures in France, turns out to be Charlie's dream. Foreshadowed when Charlie is shown lying down to sleep in boot camp before the film cuts to him in the trenches of World War I.
  • The Slayer — The whole movie turns out to be a prophetic dream that main character had as a child.
  • All of Sleepy Hollow High turns out to a dream, including a Dream Within a Dream, with the exception of of the start (the cutting of the articles out of a newspaper. Whether the first murder occurred is open to debate) and end (Shannon waking up in class and her walk home).
  • In The Smurfs 2, Smurfette turning into a Naughty turns out to be this.
  • Tall Tale: Right before a shoot-out with the Big Bad and his mooks, Daniel loses consciousness and wakes up in the raft he fell asleep in back in the beginning. Subverted, when he learns that the coal company has already begun mining, and Pecos, Bunyan, and Henry show up to help stop them.
  • Happens three times in Thirteen Seconds. First, the main character is attacked by demons, and wakes up in bed. Later, a demon grabs his groin and drags him under the bed; he wakes up again. As for the third time, during the movie, he shoots up on heroin. The entire rest of the movie turns out to be a hallucination he experiences in the 13 seconds it takes him to die of an overdose.
  • Time Bandits seems to use this at first, with Kevin returning from being enveloped by smoke from one of the remnants of Evil by seemingly waking up in his room during a house fire... but it doesn't just settle for an Or Was It a Dream? and goes for a full-on subversion. The film ends with Kevin finding the photos he took on his journey, and discovering that the fire was started by the final fragment of Evil getting lodged in the toaster oven — which his parents promptly touch despite his warning and explode. Also, it's implied that the fireman that rescued him actually is King Agamemnon, not just another case of the film using the same actors for multiple characters.
  • Lampshaded/parodied in Top Secret!: Nick Rivers passes out under torture by the East German secret police and dreams he's back in high school about to take a test for which he hasn't studied. He wakes up back in the torture dungeon and smiles with relief, while being whipped: "Oh, thank God."
  • In Total Recall (1990) we are Left Hanging as to whether or not the entire film after the point Arnold Schwarzenegger goes to Recall is real or a hallucination.
  • The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2: The battle shown near the end of the movie was just a vision seen by Aro through Alice that would foretell his death if he tried to murder Renesmee anyway. It must be noted that though Alice also shows him a vision in the original book, no such battle was ever explicitly depicted there.
  • Vanilla Sky (2001), directed by Cameron Crowe and starring Tom Cruise. Remake of 1997 Spanish film Abre los Ojos, a.k.a. Open Your Eyes. After a car accident that kills his girlfriend and disfigures his face, the protagonist is haunted by increasingly bizarre occurrences. The ending explains that everything that has occurred after the car accident has been a dream. In real life, after the car accident, he signed a contract with a company that preserves its clients' bodies after death and keeps their brain waves active in lifelike virtual reality dreams, and then committed suicide. The bizarre occurrences are explained as glitches in the program. In the end, he decides to wake up from the dream program.
  • The entirety of The Wizard of Gore is implied to be a brief dream of Montag's as he's starting his routine.
  • The Wizard of Oz is the most famous film example, though there is a wee bit of room for alternate interpretation. In the book it is definite that Oz was real and Dorothy returns there several times in other books; Oz was changed to an elaborate dream in the film because producers felt that the 1930s audience was too sophisticated to accept a straight-on fantasy like that.
  • Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild! opens with a dream sequence. It's a sort of meta-subversion since it's a parody of the scene where Dorothy wakes up. It's also Breaking the Fourth Wall by explaining that three of the four lead characters are being played by different actors because the actors' agents advised against playing gay twice.
  • In The Wolfman (2010), Lawrence has quite a few hallucinations while recovering from his nasty little bite, as well as hallucinations in the asylum.
  • Fritz Lang's 1944 noir The Woman in the Window, complete with recognizing the people from his dream after waking up. Many sources report that The Hays Code compelled Lang to use this ending, but Lang insisted that it was his idea.


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