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Daydream Surprise

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But it was just my imagination
Runnin' away with me

Creators sometimes like to tweak the audience, and what better way than fudging the reality of the work itself? Or maybe they want to give the fans a little taste of something long awaited, but without actually committing it to canon. Enter the Daydream Surprise. The work's perspective subtly shifts inside a character's head, and while viewers think they're seeing the story play out, they're really just seeing that character fantasize. Usually, a nearby character will then snap the daydreamer back to reality, and the viewers suddenly find out that the last twenty seconds were all just a lie!

The Daydream Surprise is the stealthy counterpart of the Imagine Spot, which is very clear from the beginning that it's not real. In its purest form, this trope is a very short-form Reset Button.

Sub-Trope of Fantasy Sequence.

Super-Trope to Indulgent Fantasy Segue, where the daydream specifically involves physical violence, frequently Played for Laughs.

Compare/Contrast All Just a Dream, where the daydream is used as a Twist Ending, and Danger Room Cold Open, where the opening scene is an engineered training simulation that may include a certain amount of fakery such as feigned "deaths". Somewhat related to Fever Dream Episode. The Final Temptation can be a dramatic version (although in that case it's often explicitly a vision from the start). Bullying creators may include those scenes in a trailer, for increased effect; a reason why you should Never Trust a Trailer. If the "snap-back" involves finding out that a character has been doing the thing they were imagining in real life, then this trope overlaps with Acting Out a Daydream. Also see Cutting Back to Reality.

By the nature of this trope, expect spoilers.


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    Comic Books 
  • Aggretsuko (Oni): Haida sees Retsuko ditching the office chair race for him after he crashed thanks to Tsunoda's banana peel, only to reveal on the next panel that it was just his imagination. Cue his embarrassment.
  • Batman:
    • A comic features a just-on-the-brink-of-insanity Harvey Dent shooting up a courtroom. Then the judge calls him out for daydreaming. Of course, everything in the daydream is red, so that might tip you off.
    • "Penguin Dreams" details a successful trick where Penguin succeeds in murdering Batman, then kicks a bound and gagged Bruce Wayne off his yacht. To maintain the illusion, the title wasn't shown until the last page, when it was revealed to be Penguin looking out the window daydreaming.
  • The Batman Adventures: The backup story for the eleventh issue of the 2003 series has the Riddler wait in line at a bank and get so impatient that he spontaneously decides to rob the place and then gets confronted by Batman. The panel after Batman shows up reveals that the Riddler was only daydreaming about this when the bank teller informs him that it is his turn.
  • The 45th issue of The Boys has The Female retaliate to a boy taking her lollipop by tearing his face off. This turns out to be a daydream with Frenchie discouraging her from retaliating violently so as not to blow their cover.
  • Daredevil:
    • Born Again has an exceptionally depressing version when a close-to-rock-bottom Matt briefly fantasizes about an over-the-top Deus ex Machina Happy Ending before realizing he hasn't even gotten up from his flophouse bed:
      "I walk out and a kind stranger gives me a ride uptown to the Kingpin's headquarters and I punch the Kingpin out and he begs for mercy and gives me my life back and surrenders to the police and everybody knows it is me who beat him and there's a parade."
    • At the end of the "Murdock Papers" story arc, Matt is on trial for being Daredevil, and is asked what he pleads. He then knocks over a table, runs away to Paris with his wife, finds his wife killed by Bullseye, kills Bullseye, spends several years traveling, ends up in Japan with Elektra... and then it cuts back to the courtroom, where he pleads not guilty.
  • Empowered refers to these as "counterfactual scenarios", a term the author Adam Warren borrowed from the alt-history community because he felt it was amusingly pretentious-sounding.
  • In the Heroes Reborn (2021) one-shot Peter Parker: The Amazing Shutterbug, a flashback to Peter not being bitten by a radioactive spider ends with him sitting on his roof talking to MJ, who's leaning out her window telling him he's going to be a great scientist. Then in the last panel, he's staring at a closed, dark window, and says "So long, MJ. It would have been nice to have known you."
  • Kid Paddle: Is Kid's father acting even remotely cool in any strip? Yeah, then spoiler warning, it's one of these.
  • Used repeatedly in Serenity: Better Days to show what the crew plan to do with their share of the treasure. Because of River's... condition, the illustration of hers is surreal to say the least.
  • In Sin City: That Yellow Bastard, when a Dirty Cop is trying to force Hartigan to sign a False Confession, he briefly imagines snapping his handcuffs and killing his tormentor with a single punch.
  • Superman:
    • New Krypton: After Brainiac kills Pa Kent in Superman: Brainiac, Supes suddenly takes off, breaks into Brainiac's prison cell and punches his head into a bloody green pulp. Cut to Clark just sitting there in the funeral parlor, with Lois asking if he's all right.
    • A similar moment occurs during Ending Battle. Manchester Black reveals that he has killed Lois Lane (actually an illusion created with his telepathy), and Superman evaporates him with heat vision, before snapping back to reality and telling Black that he's under arrest.
    • In The Unknown Supergirl, Linda Danvers is sitting in her home's living room when she suddenly develops an uncontrollable deadly gaze. Before she can react, she has killed a potted flower, her parents' goldfish, and her parents themselves. Horrified, Linda decides leave Earth, but as heading spacewards she kills a mailman and Krypto by accident. Then she decides to atone for her accidental murders by exterminating an alien race of evil, world-ravaging monsters. Afterwards, she collapses, crying... and suddenly she is sitting in her living room again, and she can see her parents entering the room. Linda remembers she was exposed to Red Kryptonite earlier, and she realizes it was all just a hallucination.
  • The 21st issue of The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye, Whirl asks Cyclonus if they're cool and Cyclonus responds by shoving the Autobot to his demise. The next page shows that Cyclonus only imagined killing Whirl.
  • One issue of Ultimate Spider-Man had him disagreeing with Charles Xavier's decision to present Geldoff, a Latverian youth who was genetically engineered into a mutant, to the UN and the scientific community as proof of immoral and illegal genetic research. We then see him taking out the entire X-Men team on his lonesome and escaping the mansion with Geldoff... only for Xavier to telepathically appear in his daydream and ask him if that's really a good idea.

    Comic Strips 
  • Calvin and Hobbes:
    • Calvin enters a traffic safety poster contest, and is certain that his poster, "Be Careful Or Be Roadkill", is a shoo-in. One strip begins with several newspaper headlines about Calvin winning the contest, and praising him for his greatness. The last panel then has Susie excitedly going up to Calvin, telling him that her poster won.
    • One strip has Mom waking Calvin up to get ready for school, so he gets up, goes through his morning routine, and as he's out the door, he hears Mom say, "Calvin, it's time to wake up." It's then revealed Calvin dreamed up the whole morning as Mom tries to get him out of bed. He complains that his dreams are getting too literal.
  • Doonesbury does this regularly with "Mike's Summer Daydream."
  • The promotional comic strip for Punch-Out!! Wii depicts Glass Joe as the World Champion, with bombshell women fawning over him and a baguette inscribed on the belt. However, in the last few panels, he is literally punched in the face with reality, where he is shown as his normal, scrawny self.
    ...Someday it will all come true...(I wish!)

    Fan Works 
  • The Bolt Chronicles: "The Kippies" presents a scenario where Bolt and Mittens have mixed-species offspring. It is later revealed that this is a recurring daydream fantasy of Mittens.
  • Dragons With Silver Linings starts out with Harry being protected from a dragon by another dragon. This is then revealed to be a daydream he had while trying to identify the curses on a box.

    Films — Animated 
  • Michael's paranoia-filled nightmare in Anomalisa about meeting the hotel manager plays out as a real event until Lisa snaps Michael out of his sleep.
  • In The Croods: A New Age, Grug is being annoyed by Phil Betterman attempting to get his attention and hurls a stick into his eye as he screams. Then we return to reveal it's just Grug happily daydreaming this event while Phil is still trying to get his attention.
  • The multi-layered brainhack/dream sequence in Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. The first run-through is pretty normal (for GitS, anyway), but as Togusa completes each iteration, it gradually gets more and more bizarre, until Batou snaps him out of it before the place is levelled by a passing warship. It makes more sense after watching 5-6 times, with notes. It is very pretty, though.
  • In Moana, following a lesson on ocean navigation from Maui, Moana is surprised to find that they've arrived back at Motunui... which is being engulfed by the darkness. As her parents are swallowed up before her eyes, she awakes with a start to find that they're still in the middle of the ocean.
  • When the Director asks Ambrosius Goldenloin of Nimona if there’s anything on his mind, he proceeds to spill his burgeoning anxieties about being forced to hunt down his beloved, his place as descendant of a legendary hero, the pressures on him, his guilt… then snaps back to him quietly looking out the window, telling her he’s fine.
  • In Spies in Disguise, as Walter talks to Lance in the airplane and drones on about the facts of being a pigeon, the latter suddenly snaps at Walter and ejects him and his bird Lovey out of the airplane. As Lance does an Evil Laugh after he seemingly killed Walter, we switch back to Lance with both Lovey and Walter still in the same plane with him, the latter still talking about pigeon facts.
  • This trope is seen several times in Toy Story 4, mainly by Bunny and Ducky's during the plans for their "Plush Rush" (and in the after credits stinger).
  • In Up, as Carl and Russell float over a city, Carl attempts to lower Russell to the ground (and thereby not have to put up with him) on a bedsheet harness, only for the 'rope' to be too short, and Russell falls screaming. Switch back to Carl, still standing behind Russell inside the house, and he mutters "Well, that's not gonna work."
  • When Marnie Was There: After supper, the scene cuts to Anna walking through the marsh to the mansion and seeing Marnie for the first time. Then the scene cuts to Anna in her bed, revealing the whole sequence to be a dream of hers.

  • In Atonement, as a kind of retroactive daydream, Briony (as the author) writes an alternate ending where her sister and Robbie survive and reunite. Later, she reveals that she made that up, and they actually both died before they could find each other again. An interesting example in that it then throws the truth of the rest of the book into question, not just that one surprise daydream.
  • The short story An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge about a Confederate deserter who escapes his hanging and makes his way home. None of it was real and he was hanged.
  • Stephen King's Pet Sematary gives us a double whammy. First the sequence of events that involved Gage getting hit and killed by a truck and Louis getting into a fistfight with his father-in-law at the funeral, was revealed to be just a vision that flashed before Louis' eyes as Gage was running toward the road. The book goes on to describe how Gage escaped the truck, grew up to be an honor student and then an Olympic swimmer, and then, as Louis and Rachel are watching Gage's winning event on the television, the point of view shifts back to reality, where it's made clear that THAT was the fantasy, and Gage is still very much dead.
  • Post-High School Reality Quest: In the chapter "Graduation: May 12, 2009", in the bathroom, the Text Parser that Buffy uses to interact with the world, doesn't let Buffy actually do something:
    > Wrestle Sephora to the ground
    You wrestle the lipstick from her hands and scream "You whore!" and write mean things on the mirror. Then you stuff her head in the toilet and prevent this horrible story from actually happening.
    And by that, you only daydream of wrestling Sephora to the ground.

  • A variation on the concept was used in the MAD feature "The Shadow Knows" (after the famous introductory line: "What evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!"). Each cartoon would show a realistic scene, with the characters' shadows acting out what's in their heads.

    Web Original 
  • Happens in an episode of Captain Disillusion, where Cap angrily calls out Mr. Flare for lying about how a particular series of stunts was performed and gives a detailed explanation of the visual effects trickery employed; the whole sequence is eventually revealed to be a daydream (or possibly part of a hallucination).
  • This happened at least twice in the popular YouTube series Chad Vader, and on both occasions involving the title character murdering his boss in a strange fashion. The first time he gets mad at her for deporting his girlfriend and explodes her head with a bazooka, only for it to cut back to reality. A later scene involves the boss socializing with Chad, who asks her if she'd like to be blown up by a bomb and die, to which she casually accepts. Just as Chad is getting excited over her death, the boss quickly snaps him back into reality.
  • Dad: In "Kiss", Dad is feeling nostalgic over when he first met Mom, and how she used to kiss him on the cheek every day. He claims that he can even feel her kiss at that very moment, and the viewer sees the Mom show up to kiss him, which makes him very happy...until he snaps out of it, with both him and the audience realizing he was just daydreaming.
  • In I'm a Marvel... And I'm a DC, Spider-Man and Green Goblin are trapped by a gang of possessed Darker and Edgier superheroes. Until Green Goblin unleashes a can of high-grade Whoop Ass on each of them, single-handedly saving the day and delightedly elating that he "beat 'em all!"... until Spider-Man brings him back to reality.
    Spider-Man: Yeah. That'd be great if that actually happened. But we're gonna freakin' die!
  • This happened in Episode 6 of Steve And Carlos where we're lead to believe Carlos stabbed Steve. But it was just Carlos daydreaming.
  • Sometimes happens in Survival of the Fittest. One particular incident was Brad Kavanagh's 'Death'.


Marsha is a Klutz

When Marsha starts acting rather clumsy, Billy imagines how she might react if he confronts her about it.

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