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A Holy Halo has a lot of symbolic value attached to it, chief among them being saintliness, purity, and status as The Chosen One. Sometimes however, it just isn't appropriate to the genre for a character to sport an actual Holy Halo, even if it's very appropriate for them as a character at a given moment in a story. What's more, it's also very obvious, which is not always a good thing.

Enter the Background Halo, a stylistic visual technique where a character's head will be put in front of something shiny or below a circle or oval. It benefits from being fairly subliminal and subtle. Well, provided directors don't turn on the Holy Backlight Up to Eleven. Then it's just silly, and possibly blinding.

Of course, that this can be done with clever object placement and positioning or elaborate costuming means that a character may invoke this trope to give themselves an imposing and messianic aura.

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An opposite and similar version, involving background horns, is also fairly common.

Related to Crucified Hero Shot, Symbolic Wings and Pietà Plagiarism.


Examples

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    Anime and Manga 

    Art 
  • A famous print of Chujo-hime shows her with a large lotus leaf framing her head. This was later imitated by Catholic artist Daniel Mitsui in his Japanese-style drawing of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
  • Christ initially seems to lack a halo in The Last Supper, but if one completes the pediment above Jesus, it creates a circle around Jesus's head that acts as a substitute for a halo.
  • A 15th-century Netherlandish painting, The Virgin and Child Before a Firescreen, uses the woven wicker firescreen as a halo for the Virgin Mary.

    Comic Books 
  • In issue 27 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 a flashback shows Oz meditating with Bayarmaa. Oz sits inside a cage, and his head is framed by darkness. Opposite him and outside the cage is Bayarmaa, her head framed by artwork on the walls of the monastery in the shape of the sun, with beams radiating out from it. This trope occurs again one issue later: Oz hugs Willow and both their heads are framed by a painting on the wall.
  • Issue 5 of Shutter gives Kate both these and wings.
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    Films — Animation 
  • Cinderella: When Cinderella is transformed into her iconic ballroom gown by the Fairy Godmother's magic, some of the magic dust used to make that gown actually gets thrown into the air and forms a halo around Cinderella's head.
  • In the church meeting scene in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Lady Tottingham has one as she advocates a non-violent approach to dealing with the Were-Rabbit. And Victor, who'd rather just shoot it, has Background Devil Horns.
  • Inverted in An Extremely Goofy Movie when the villainous Bradley gets background horns from the decorative shield on the wall behind him while talking to his team about his plan to cheat.
  • When Esmeralda comforts Quasimodo after he's been ridiculed at the Feast of Fools in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, as she is walking up to the torture wheel the villagers strapped Quasimodo on to make fun of him, the Sun can be seen shining from behind her head, giving her the appearance of wearing a halo.
  • Many of the backgrounds in The Secret of Kells, especially the drawings and diagrams on the walls of Abbot Cellach's study, form these for several different characters throughout the movie.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Big Trouble, Nina has been knocked out and rescued by Puggy. When she opens her eyes, he is back-lit with a halo around his head, making her think she has died and gone to heaven. Puggy gently lets her know this isn't true.
  • A production photo for The Dark Knight Rises shows Gordon standing in front of a neon church sign so that Jesus's Halo is directly over his head. Presumably, they filmmakers felt it would be too blatant to put in the movie, but it's worth remembering that in The Dark Knight he faked his own death and "came back" to save Batman.
  • In History of the World Part I when Jesus has The Last Supper (with Mel Brooks as a waiter), Leonardo da Vinci comes in to paint a commemorative portrait — Brooks holds his silver platter up behind Jesus to look like a halo.
  • Done multiple times for Jesus in The King of Kings.
  • At least once in Metropolis, Frieder gets a Holy Backlight Halo (the light shining/diffused through his hair).
  • In Danny Boyle's Millions, the bad guy is never seen without a black woolly hat on — possibly a balaclava partly rolled up — which forms a dark halo around his head. Entirely deliberate per the commentary track on the DVD.
  • In Miss Congeniality, Cathy Morningside gets a Background Crown.
  • In the film version of Mommie Dearest, when Joan Crawford holds baby Christina for the first time, the top French window behind her form a sort of halo over her head, turning the shot into some sort of a perversion of a Blessed Virgin Icon.
  • In the 1993 movie Naked, Johnny takes a step back in such a way that a gold-colored clock frames his head.
  • Glenn Close's Iris character pulls this off with the sun shining through her hat in The Natural.
  • Scanner Cop: When Sam Staziak is officially inducted into the LAPD, the police logo behind him is framed to look like a halo.
  • This technique was inverted in The Shining, with Jack shown with a black chandelier over his head, an "anti Halo", after he went crazy.
  • Ra's outfit in Stargate invokes a halo behind him. It's a Sun Disk to be exact, and it's probable that at least some Pharaohs actually wore them. It's also a candidate for the origin of the halo in the first place.
  • Used in Starship Troopers 3: Marauder, where the devoutly religious assistant of now traitor Omar Anoke Holly begs Johnny Rico's no-nonsense atheist Action Girlfriend Lola Beck to pray in their hopeless situation. As Behemecoatl, a planet-sized "God of bugs", prepares to devour them and assimilate their knowledge, Lola sees seven lights of light appears in the night sky as a halo around Holly's head, which are in fact a unit of advanced Marauder mechs dropping from orbit who bomb the God Bug and hundreds of Warrior Bugs. This convinces Lola to convert to Christianity, which the Federation then use to better control the masses.
  • Star Wars: Deliberate style choice in The Phantom Menace. Most of Queen Amidala's costumes and background settings create a circular halo around her head.
  • In TRON: Legacy, when Flynn meditates on the Solar-Sailer, the light eminating from the engine forms a background halo around him. Rather appropriate considering that in the Grid, he quite literally is God.
  • In Twilight, when Edward is in the science lab, he's positioned with the outstretched wings of an owl on a shelf behind coming out of his shoulders.
  • W.: While praying after giving the order to invade Iraq, a low-angle shot makes a light in the ceiling look like a halo around Bush's head, and then the light goes off.
  • In Sherlock Holmes, Lord Blackwood is highlighted by the ornate golden sunburst at the Temple of the Four Orders after assuming its leadership. To complete the angelic imagery, he bid the other members not to be afraid. Of course, in his case, he is very much channeling the fairest and fallen angel.

    Literature 
  • There is a literary political satire in which a US politician with an approval rating lower than Hitler attempts to improve his image by getting visual FX artists to add subliminal haloes to his TV appearances. It backfires when one of the haloes slips and looks like a noose round his neck.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Jesse gets two in Breaking Bad. The first is a dark halo caused by the woofer of an enormous speaker he slouches in front of as he dwells on his complicity in a death. The second is caused by the inset of a playground carousel.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When Buffy is resurrected from the dead at the start of Season Six, she's walking through a graveyard and due to the camera angle appears to have the wings of an angel statue growing from her back. This foreshadows The Reveal that she was brought back from Heaven, not from some terrible hell dimension as her friends supposed.
  • In The Colbert Report, when the camera is facing Colbert and his desk straight-on, there's a circle of stars around Colbert's head, definitely making a halo. Kind of.
  • Danger 5. Mad Scientist Dr. Mengele gives virginal Action Girl Claire the choice of sleeping with him or seeing her friends thrown to the mutants. A pair of lab coats hung up behind Mengele give the appearance of horns.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In "The Dæmons", during several of the Master's devil-summoning scenes, a circle of candles on the ceiling is shot to frame him like a halo.
    • The opposite version — in "City of Death", there's a scene where the Fourth Doctor is forced to his knees by a man with a rapier who has taken him prisoner. The whole scene is shot so that the horns on an ibex skull mounted on the wall appear to be coming out of the Doctor's head as he looks on defiantly.
    • In the first episode of the revival, "Rose", the 9th Doctor is shown with his head framed by the London Eye (a huge Ferris wheel).
    • In "The Parting of the Ways", the Ninth Doctor says to the Emperor Dalek "Am I gonna be one of your angels?" while an illuminated pattern of lines on the door behind him spreads out of his sides like wings.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • The establishing shot of the "You win, or you die" scene shows Cersei in a Dutch Angle with her head obscuring the sun, which appears to be a deliberate invocation of this trope. Of course, Cersei is anything but a saintly person.
    • In "The Iron Throne", Drogo unfurls his dragon wings behind Queen Daenerys as she walks through the ruins of the Red Keep, making her appear to be a literal dragon queen or a Fallen Angel.
  • In the Richard II installment of The Hollow Crown, this is very much an Invoked Trope to go with Richard's carefully fostered messianic persona.
  • Jane the Virgin does this in its advertising, setting the titular Jane against things like the setting sun to form such a halo in order to emphasize her virginity and Catholic upbringing and how this contrasts with the Surprise Pregnancy plot.
  • Lucifer. In "God Johnson", Lucifer confronts an inmate in a mental hospital who believes that he is God. Although Lucifer's powers don't work on him for some reason, Lucifer is not impressed by this apparent nutcase and goes to leave — until Johnson addresses him by his true name. When Lucifer turns to look at Johnson in shock, the sunlight shining through the blinds behind Johnson provide a subtle version of this trope.
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • The Stargate is sometimes used to this effect. Notably, in the first episode of season 2, "The Serpent's Lair", where General Hammond is shown framed by the gate during his speech, with a timely activation concluding it.
    • In the Ori arc, the Doci (the spiritual leader of the Origins religion) has his head framed by an elaborate Ori symbol.
  • In the Star Trek: Voyager episode "The Chute", Harry Kim and Tom Paris are in an inescapable prison where the inmates are given aggression-causing brain implants so they will turn on each other. One prisoner however remains calm, claiming that he's figured out the secret of controlling the implants. As he speaks to Harry (whom he wants to become his first disciple), a forcefield ring surrounding the bottom end of the Chute frames the top of his head, appearing as a halo. However when he moves his head slightly it also appears as a pair of red horns, leading to a more ambiguous interpretation of his character.
  • The horns variant is played for laughs in a scene in Spaced, as Daisy realises she and Tim are going to have to keep lying to Marsha about them being a couple in order to continue renting her flat; "We're evil," Daisy laments, just as the shot is reframed to position a pair of bananas in a fruit bowl as horns on her head.
  • A promotional photograph for Supernatural depicts Dean with a full moon shining right behind his head, creating a halo-like effect. Interestingly, in that same photograph, Sam is shown as having a snake, well... Snaking up his arm.
  • A subtle example in a classic episode of The Twilight Zone (1959), "A Passage for Trumpet", where a mysterious figure pulls a suicidal trumpet player (Jack Klugman) back from the Despair Event Horizon and gives him a second chance at life. Just before he leaves, Jack says, "I didn't get your name." He turns around and answers, "Call me Gabe. Short for Gabriel." As he says this, he is standing directly under an overhead lamp, the light from which resembles a halo over his head. The shot was framed intentionally for that effect.

    Music 
  • A group of black lights behind Jay-Z in the video for "On to the Next One" gives him a weird pseudo-Satanic background halo. It fits the creepy vibe of the video, which also features gooey skulls, Baphomet, and Monster Clowns.
  • In the video clip of Rammstein's "Ich Will", Flake's head is framed by a large clock as he sits on a counter with a bomb strapped to his chest.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Space Marines of Warhammer 40,000 especially love this trope. Leaders like Chapter Masters and Captains often wear an "Iron Halo", a halo made of a metallic material and placed behind the head of the Marine, on their helmet or around the head. When active, the Halo glows with a sun-like aura and protects the wearer from almost any attack.
    • This trope is likely adopted by the Emperor of Mankind, the creator of the Space Marine, who had an actual halo of light around his head at all times. A few of his gene-wrought sons, the Primarchs, are often depicted with one as well in paintings, and a few also had an Iron Halo as a part of their armour, most notably Sanguinius, who had a pair of wings to go with his glowing halo of light.
    • Another faction of the Imperium of Man, the Sisters of Battle, often wear Iron Haloes as well, but even their Saints get actual halos upon ascending.
    • Hell, after skulls and wings, haloes are one of the main symbols of the Imperium of Man.
    • The Space Marines' evil cousins, the Chaos Space Marines, sometimes wear cursed haloes, especially the Dark Apostles, who administer the chaotic faith for their warband.

    Toys 

    Video Games 
  • In the poster for "The Sacrifice" for Left 4 Dead, Bill's head has the rising sun behind it as a halo of sorts. This is because canonically, he sacrifices himself for his friends in the campaign

    Web Comics 
  • Ava's Demon provides the page image.
  • The first chapter of The Meek opens with Angora sitting on a branch in the jungle, with a frond behind her bathed in sunlight looking like a halo.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Occurs in Dilbert, episode "The Shroud of Wally", with a disc in a Last Supper parody.
  • Shows up in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "The Ticket Master". When a rainstorm pours heavily on everyone but Twilight Sparkle thanks to Rainbow Dash screwing with the weather, Twilight accuses Dash of trying to butter her up for her extra ticket to the Grand Galloping Gala. As Dash plays innocent, the sun behind her head gives her the appearance of a halo.
  • Back-Alley Doctor Nick Riviera gets a ceiling light halo after he successfully completes Homer's bypass operation in The Simpsons episode "Homer's Triple Bypass".

    Real Life 
  • A common practice among some late Roman emperors (including pre-Christian ones, e.g. Diocletian) was to create an appearance of a nimbus by sprinkling gold dust in their hair. The association between nimbus/halo with sanctity precedes Christianity and Roman emperor did encourage an imperial cult where they were treated as divine beings in order to prop up their authority.
  • Some news photographers seem to enjoy the opportunity of taking pictures of the President of the United States with the Presidential seal behind his head like a halo. Here's an Obama example, and one of George W. Bush.
  • Ditto in the European Union for the president of the European Commission with the stars of the EU flag, for example this one of Jean-Claude Juncker.


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