Uncle Owen: That's what I'm afraid of.
A clue or allusion embedded in the narrative that predicts some later event or revelation. It could be a wayward comment or action, an event that doesn't make sense until later, a Meaningful Name, a rare blood type... so many things can warn us of the future. The foreshadowing may be ominous, or mildly suggestive, or it could merely be obvious in hindsight.
Good foreshadowing doesn't spoil the surprise, yet seems an obvious clue in retrospect. Bad foreshadowing either deflates the suspense or is too obfuscated (such as an Ice-Cream Koan) to predict anything, and capable of being overused. Foreshadowing may establish something to avoid an Ass Pull. Or it may put a viewer off as introducing a needless supernatural element to the story.
In literature, foreshadowing is commonly done when a possibility is mentioned, but almost immediately dismissed or disproved. Some readers will dismiss the suggested possibility just as the unsuspecting characters do. More experienced readers will immediately call the author's bluff and know what to expect.
Dreaming of Things to Come often foreshadows. Chekhov's Gun is often used as a foreshadowing tool. If it makes no sense, it may be Strange Minds Think Alike. If this is done in a Prequel, it's a Call-Forward.
Two specific variants are Futureshadowing, where the shadowing comes after the actual event chronologically but is still seen before it, and Foreseeing My Death, where a character has foreseen, prophesied or predicted his/her own demise.
When there's only a tiny gap between the foreshadowing and the actual foreshadowed event, that's Five-Second Foreshadowing.
Contrast Plot Point. Compare AND contrast Harsher in Hindsight (where something comes off as an unfortunate foreseeing of a real-life tragedy) and Hilarious in Hindsight (where something becomes funnier or more relevant due to appearing to be prescient to more recent events). Contrast Fauxshadow and Tempting Fate. Production Foreshadowing is this trope's meta version. This Index Will Be Important Later covers foreshadowing tropes. This trope is a good Rewatch Bonus.
Please do not misuse this trope to refer to a series installment having something that appears to reference franchise installments that couldn't have been planned until years after the fact. The more recent event is more likely to be an Internal Homage.
See also Trope Telegraphing.
Not to Be Confused with The Shadow Knows.
Naturally, the examples are full of spoilers. Consider yourself warned.
- Anime & Manga
- Comic Books
- Fan Works
- Films — Animated
- Films — Live-Action
- Ascendance of a Bookworm
- Harry Potter:
- The Locked Tomb
- A Song of Ice and Fire
- The Tale Of Magic
- Live-Action TV
- Video Games
- BioShock Infinite
- Call of Duty: Zombies
- Cyberpunk 2077
- Detroit: Become Human
- Dragon Age II
- Final Fantasy
- Five Nights at Freddy's
- Ghost Trick
- World of Assassination Trilogynote
- Library of Ruina
- Life Is Strange
- Persona 2
- Persona 4
- Persona 5
- Persona 5 Strikers
- Psychonauts 2
- The Reconstruction
- Red Dead Redemption II
- Silent Hill
- Visual Novels
- Web Original
- Western Animation
- The Last Supper: Peter, the second apostle from Jesus's right, is seen holding a knife. As The Four Gospels depict events, Peter will cut off the ear of a Roman centurion within a day.
- Happy Heroes: In the final episode of Season 8, a television comes out of nowhere to save Sweet S. Said television has the color scheme of Kalo, who had died in Season 7 - implying that Kalo isn't truly dead after all. Season 10 confirms this.
- ''Mechamato: In "The Legend of Sumorai", Mr. Gobi points Amato to the broken wall of his store that Sumorai broke through after robbing him. An attentive look at the scattered aisle shows cat products on the shelves. It's later revealed that Sumorai is taking care of a cat, but he got startled by Mr. Gobi's panicking and crashed through the wall, a clue to his not so violent nature.
- The Infernoid archetype's existence has been mentioned in Qliphort Monolith's flavor text. They're known as the Fire Flood in the OCG text and as the Scourge in the TCG text.
- Qliphort Scout's flavor text explicit mention of Infernoid Tierra (the Infernoid's boss monster) and mentions "C:\sophia\zefra.exe." "Sophia" refers to Sophia, Goddess of Rebith, a monster that can be summoned when you have Ritual, Fusion, Synchro and Xyz. "Zefra" refers to the Zefra archetype released two sets later, which are a Pendulum-based deck that works on bringing out all the summoning methods in a similar vain to Sophia.
- Magic: The Gathering: The Future Sight set, as the name suggests, featured many cards from potential futures of the game, differentiated by a different frame. Many of these cards have since been printed in other sets.
- Notably, the group of Planeswalkers called the Lorwyn Fivenote were originally meant to debut here, but appeared in the next set, Lorwyn, because WotC wanted to take the time to develop the new card type correctly. The five have nothing to do with the story, the cards are just there as, well, this trope.
- A particular note is Ghostfire. Seemingly a red anti-protection spell, it never has technically seen a reprint. It has, however been a major plot point in that it was the key to the lock sealing away the Eldrazi, and the card itself foretells of Ugin, a major figure revealed later.
- Happens with individual cards in other sets, too. For example, Interpret the Signs from Theros block displays the set symbol for Dragons of Tarkir, which was released about a year later.
- Sentinels of the Multiverse: Hints about OblivAeon were popping up from the start: his Aeon Men minions appear in multiple decks getting beaten up, for example, and the "Villainous Weaponry" card in Wagner Mars Base shows Grand Warlord Voss's Scion form, years before the actual set was released and contained Rainek Kel'Voss as the last of OblivAeon's ten Scions.
- Two 1989 Bloom County strips foreshadowed the ending of the strip later that year, in which Bill the Cat with Donald Trump's brain fires all the characters. In the first, Milo says to Binkley that he has been feeling really secure around here and that around Bloom County, he feels a real sense of...permanence. Binkley responds "Dabbling in a little bit of ironic foreshadowing, are we?". In the second, Opus spots a shooting star, and after wondering what to wish for, he then says "I wish I knew if I'll have meaningful employment after August 6th" (August 6th was the day the strip ended).
- The Far Side: Some Natives are bidding farewell to a group of European explorers, when one of them turns to the man just to his right and asks: "Did you detect something ominous in the way they said 'See you later'?"
- Subverted in For Better or for Worse. Elly, discussing her daughter Elizabeth with a policeman, says "I suspect it will be a few more years before she meets Mr. Right!" A caption points out the Meaningful Name on the policeman's office door: "Constable Paul Wright." Paul and Elizabeth do begin a romance within a few weeks after that — but he doesn't turn out to be Elizabeth's Mr. Right and she winds up marrying someone else.
- Discussed in Foxtrot, when one arc focused on Jason and his excitement at the upcoming The Phantom Menace, including his acquiring a poster with the page image.
Jason: Note the ominous Vader-like shadow he casts.
Andrea: I'm noting more your school photo glued over his face.
Jason: A boy can dream, can't he?
- Franz Xaver von Schönwerth's "The Turnip Princess": The first lines of the story establish that the king went missing several years ago, "as if he'd vanished into thin air or been turned into a wild beast into the forest". off-handily the king disappeared because he went turned into a wild beast. At the end of the story, the bear who helps the prince turns out to be the king.
- "Barkeep, another beer before the shit starts again!" He gets his beer. Later: "Barkeep, another beer before the shit starts again!" The barkeeper doesn't ask. Still later: "Barkeep, another beer before the shit starts again!" Another beer. Midnight. "We're closing! Here, your bill!" "The shit starts again..."
- BIONICLE's various tie-in media loved doing this, as the toyline's story was planned ahead about a decade in advance.
- The names and positions of the Mata Nui island's landmarks corresponded to facial features. Even the name itself meant "Great Face" in Maori, and one of the primary promotional posters featured half of the island enveloped by an Infected Mask representing the evil Makuta. All of this was to be taken literally at face value: in 2008, eight years into the storyline came the revelation that Mata Nui, the Physical God whom the island was named after, was slumbering below the island, which acted as a sort of face mask for him.
- From the 2001 Mata Nui On-Line Game:
- The game's later events as well as Mata Nui's identity were foreshadowed at numerous points. The base of the Great Telescope contained tablets and symbols hinting at what was to come, one of which bore an eerie resemblance to Mata Nui's face.
- Numerous hints are made toward the Bohrok Saga, which begins after the game's conclusion. One of the prophecies placed under the Great Telescope shows the silhouette of a Bohrok. A rock in the jungle area has "Wake one and you wake them all", the Bohrok Saga's Tag Line scribbled on it in Bionicle writing. Similarly, the message "Beware the swarm" is engraved into one of the rocks in the snowdrifts, which triggers a cutscene about the player seeing a vision, during which the text and the Bohrok symbol appear on screen.
- When you talk to Turaga Vakama, he says something vague about "expecting the arrival of another...". At the end of the game, he compares the player's (who we then learn is called Takua) adventures to those of the Toa heroes. Takua, two real-life years after the game's story, becomes a Toa himself.
- The Onu-Koro miners talk about hitting an impenetrable rock strata that has organic properties. This plot point went unresolved until seven years later, when we learned that the miners had reached Mata Nui's face.
- The MNOG II also had a few. When you (this time controlling Hahli) talk to a scholar in Ko-Koro, he says something about her losing her loved one and reuniting the island. One of the game's puzzles also involves a comically convoluted calculation that requires you to account for seven rather than six Toa, hinting at the appearance of a seventh member. These all happen in the Mask of Light movie, although Jaller's death was undone by the end.
- From the movies:
- Two tremors happen at different points in Mask of Light, one when Takua obtains the titular mask and one when Jaller muses about his future. The quakes signalled the coming awakening of Mata Nui from beneath the island.
- In Legends of Metru Nui, Makuta putting Mata Nui to sleep is represented by the twin suns over the city closing like eyes. Turns out they were indeed Mata Nui's eyes as seen from the characters' perspective, as the movie took place within the giant's head.
- Vakama's visions throughout Legends of Metru Nui foreshadow that Dume is an impostor, that the Matoran are being rounded up and mind-wiped, and that they won't be able to save Metru Nui, the island will be ruined and evacuated.
- Easy to miss, but the stone representing Makuta in the LOMN's opening narration is very briefly colored blue before it turns to red. In the film proper, when Makuta reveals himself as the mastermind behind the Matoran folk's disappearance, Lhikan calls him out that he had an oath to protect the Matoran. Both of these foreshadowed the twist that Makuta used to be a good guy whom Lhikan had known, setting up an origin movie that was ultimately scrapped. Makuta's origin and ill-fated role as a guardian were later told in books and online story serials.
- The entire 2003 novel Tales of the Masks is about the Turaga elders discussing whether to reveal their secret past on Metru Nui, which set up the prequel arcs of the following two years.
- Vakama's forced vision in the 2005 book Time Trap built up the events of the 2006-07 stories, namely that he would have to send six heroes on a deadly mission to a faraway island.
- The promotional poem from 2006 (Where Evil’s Afloat, A Secret Brings Hope. Where a World has Gone under, Comes Lightning and Thunder. What Darkness Divides, A cut will unite. Ignite the Flame of the Heart, For the Future to Start.) summed up the entire Ignition Trilogy of stories for the following three years: the floating island Voya Nui, the electrical-powered Toa Inika heroes, the sunken city Mahri Nui and the destruction of the Cord that anchored Voya Nui in place, and the giant cavern Karda Nui, the literal heart of the universe that had to be reignited for Mata Nui to awaken.
- The insect-like Bohrok swarms and the Bahrag queens of the 2002 story were originally thought to be under Makuta's control despite originating from within the Mata Nui island. When the Toa defeated the Bahrag and by extension their swarms, they accused the heroes of opposing their "brothers". In the 2008 story, it turned out the Bohrok and Bahrag weren't evil at all, nor where they allied with Makuta. They were serving the will of Mata Nui just like the Toa, Makuta had just turned them against each other. The whole 2002 Bohrok saga was basically an elaborate buildup to Mata Nui's true nature and his awakening and the eventual destruction of the island that bore his name. The connection between the Toa and Bohrok was further elaborated with the revelation in one of the 2008 novels that many Bohrok were originally Matoran, the same species as the Toa.
- Daniel Amos's The Alarma Chronicles was a series of four Concept Albums, with an ongoing story (about an apocalyptic vision) in the liner notes linking them together. The first album, ¡Alarma!, has a scene where a one-eyed giant threatens the narrator; the third album, Vox Humana, reveals the giant is a symbol for the dehumanizing effects of the modern world, which serves as that album's major theme. Alarma also has one song, "Shedding the Mortal Coil", written from the perspective of a dying man; the final album, Fearful Symmetry, reveals that the entire series was the narrator's Dying Dream.
- In The Hamilton Mixtape, the conclusion of "Cabinet Battle #3," where Washington's hope that the next generation with find a solution to the slavery problem is punctuated by cannon fire.
- In "Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun" from A Saucerful of Secrets by Pink Floyd, one line foreshadows The Wall (which came out eleven years after the former album).
"Witness the man who raves at the wall"
- At the beginning of the video for "Holding Out for a Hero" by Bonnie Tyler, the singer asks, "Isn't there a white knight upon a fiery steed?" Minutes later, her question is answered... in the form of a white-clad hero cowboy on a white steed.
- Also, his appearance is portrayed in a picture frame foreshadowing his arrival about a second before she takes it.
- "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Trapped in the Drive Thru", a parody of R. Kelly's "Trapped in the Closet," has Al and his wife sitting in a drive thru trying to order dinner, a mundane affair that becomes more and more emotionally fraught. When Al asks the fast food employee to read his order back, she doesn't mention he wanted onions on his burger. In the final line of the song, Al learns to his dismay that they forgot the onions. Presumably he got distracted by her super-sizing his drink at no additional cost.
- the ending actually gets foreshadowed twice: earlier in the song, the fast food worker asks him if he wanted onions on his burger when he had already started out his order by asking for a hamburger with onions - she might have gotten distracted because he'd started out ordering two burgers, then changed it to one burger and one chicken sandwich.
- Foster the People - Best Friend: The video is about a Supermodel who devours other women to gain their beauty. Almost every time she does, she coughs up something the woman was wearing when she got eaten. About halfway through the video, the Supermodel vomits up a shoe from her most recent victim. Vomiting up a dress is what ultimately kills her.
- The Bible: Book of Genesis 3:15 'he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.' If you're Christian, this is foreshadowing to Jesus punishing Satan (the snake) long before he was born.
- A subtle example occurs in the Escape from Vault Disney! episode discussing A New Hope. The episode opens with the typical opening line saying they're covering movies, tv shows and short films on Disney+ chosen completely at random. When there is a special shortlist, such as this Star Wars one done for the episode coming out on May the 4th, Tony will say mostly completely at random instead. This clues in that this episode takes place in a universe where Star Wars, as a massive franchise, does not exist.
- Two moments in Interstitial: Actual Play foreshadow the reveal that Roxanne is actually the Nobody of Ennora.
- Near the start of the series the group jokes that Roxanne must be a Nobody because she has an X in her name. This wasn't meant to be foreshadowing, but afterwords Jo and Riley discussed the idea and worked it into the plot.
- When Larxene tells the group what DiZ is doing gathering people like her, she gestures to Roxanne and says "not like you".
- Pili Fantasy: War of Dragons: Lord 100 Years of Statecraft comments with his friend Half-foot Sword that the Tenth Bodhisattva seal isn't necessarily Cast from Hit Points or a lethal Dangerous Forbidden Technique. Someone who can transfer their Chi/breath to another body could survive it, but only one person has mastered that ability, Yin Shih-jen as part of his "liquification" technique, and he has no idea of his ability's "dark side." Same character has, coincidentally, received the manuscript detailing the technique.
- Foreshadowing is commonly discussed trope in Terrible Writing Advice.
- Usually, J.P. Beaubien recommends to avoid foreshadowing whenever possible, whether it is for the future plot twists, characters' decision to make sense, or for other purposes. After all, foreshadowing would ruin the surprise and it would take effort to properly foreshadow something. Other reason he suggests avoiding foreshadowing is because it simply takes too much work.
- In a few times he does recommend foreshadowing, he suggests using it in absolute excess.
- In Critters: A New Binge, the Crite leader at one point uses a dog whistle-like device on his fellow Crites to keep them in line, which is also shown to affect the seemingly human Christopher. This foreshadows the fact that Christopher is half-Crite and the missing Crite that the Crites have been sent to Earth to look for.
- Gavreel's Ex, Terrence can be seen liking Pearl's posts, and in Gavreel's Vidgram photos before he is properly introduced in the story.
- Cairo's Childhood Friend, Wesley, seems a little too enthusiastic about Snape's childhood crush on Lily Potter. If there was any doubt, there a Freeze-Frame Bonus in Episode 12 where you can read "Be With Me" on his shirt while on a call with Cairo.
- Nightmare Time: In the episode "Honey Queen", Zoey and Sam smoke a joint of a strain called "perky's buds," which Zoey mentions she got from her coworker, Emma. The very next episode focuses on Emma and her pot farm.