The characters are stumbling through a desert, for whatever reason. They're unprepared, dehydrated and starving, desperate, depressed, generally in a sorry way.
But hark! One of the characters sees an oasis. Glittering blue water, cool palm trees, a small carpet of grass growing around it, and in some cases, beckoning Bedlah Babes. They sprint to it and fill their mouths with handfuls of refreshing water... and then the scene fades, leaving the characters to spit out their mouthfuls of gritty sand. Some examples forgo the oasis altogether, resulting in a phenomenon similar to Meat-O-Vision where characters hallucinate bars, ice cream stands and water fountains that vanish into thin air when the desperate travelers sprint towards them.
A Real Life mirage is simply an optical illusion wherein it appears that the sky becomes refracted on a hot, flat surface, creating a blue area that looks like water a distance ahead of you; this can happen in several climates (including temperate ones where one sometimes sees puddles of water on a warm blacktop road), but seeing water in the desert has a greater appeal. Only a water-like blue patch appears in a real mirage, however. The palm trees, grass and refreshments that disappear with the water are largely a result of comedic exaggeration. However, the term "mirage" is also used for when someone has a hallucination, leading to this confusion.
- Pepsiman: One commercial features a man stranded in the desert, whom Pepsiman appears to. Only it's a cactus that the man believed was Pepsiman. The Pepsi can at the end of the commercial also disappears.
- In the Speed Racer episode "The Desperate Desert Race," Spritle and Chim-chim become lost in the desert and encounter one of these, jumping into the water and swimming, before they come to their senses and realize they're just rolling in sand.
- In One Piece, the mirages Nami creates are...interesting to say the least. They properly use the idea of mirages being created by the differences in air density caused by sharp temperature differential, but they have Nami create mirages by standing behind the anomaly, which logically would reflect her image back at herself, not distort it for the enemy to see. It was used correctly the first time, though.
- Not even going into how she can supposedly control what is seen...
- A lot of what Nami does in a fight, post Alabasta arc, pretty much can boil down to using her Clima-tact.
- Not even going into how she can supposedly control what is seen...
- Jewelpet: Magical Change: Episode 33's "Jewelpet: Currently on the Run" segment has a thirsty Ruby in a desert running into mirages of not just an oasis, but of things like a store and a water park too. Then she sees Labra offering her water, at the price of being turned into one of her minions. When Ruby decides to drink the water despite Labra's mind-control attached to it, she discovers Labra is a mirage... and then Ruby herself realizes she's a mirage as well.
- Happens to Tintin in "Cigars of the Pharaoh", Captain Haddock in "The Crab with the Golden Claws", and to the Thom(p)sons in "Black Gold".
- The Carl Barks comic "Mcduck of Arabia" had Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck wandering in the Saudi desert. They see a mirage of a water cooler offering water at 10 cents a cup. Scrooge refuses to buy it—"we can get all the water we want for free back at our hotel!"
- A variant occurs in An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, where Fievel saw his family while stumbling in the desert, but they turned out to be (apparently very small) cactuses. Tiger is going through the same desert and confuses an owl with his old girlfriend. The two then pass and ignore each other, because each thinks the other is another mirage.
- In the second Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf movie, Lord Japper throws Weslie and Wolffy into the desert, where they try to find a pyramid described by Mr. Slowy as having a special totem that can make them invincible. They come across several pyramids that they think is the one they're looking for, only for them to turn out to be mirages.
- A live-action version occurs in Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion.
- In The Flight of the Phoenix, one character hallucinates a memory of a stunningly beautiful exotic Arabian Belly Dancer performing a Mating Dance for him, although he snaps out of it
- Subverted in Looney Tunes: Back in Action — Bugs, Daffy, and their human companions see a mirage in the desert. Which turns out to be a conveniently placed Wal-Mart. "Convenient, or product placement?" Bugs wonders aloud.
- Road to Morocco has a mirage of a drive-in, followed by a singing mirage of Dorothy Lamour, who disappears when touched.
- In The Three Stooges short "We Want Our Mummy", Curly is convinced he sees the ocean in the middle of the desert and even goes "swimming" in it (in reality just flopping around like a beached fish); when he convinces Moe and Larry that the water is real, they dive into it and open a trap door into an underground tunnel.
- Happens multiple times during the trek across the desert in Carry On in the Legion.
- Inversion in The Mummy, Hamunaptra is hidden by a mirage (which makes it look like an empty desert all the way to horizon) until the rising sun reveals it.
- In Kangaroo Jack, out in the desert, Charlie sees a mirage of a Jeep and sees a rock as a frozen drink.
- The Far Side: One strip has the caption "Wasted Mirage", and depicts a guy trudging through the desert past a mirage of a giant glass of ice water.. and he's blind.
- Players can run across mirages in Pathfinder that pose much more danger than simple false hope. Living Mirages are a type of gaseous ooze that can create mirages while remaining invisible, as well as drain all the moisture from the bodies of its victims.
- Happens in Mario Party 3, somehow. In the desert board map, there's a 'mirage' form of the Millennium Star, which only vanishes when someone tries to buy a star from it (and beforehand, makes it appear like there's two of the character on the map). It's probably more accurate to call it a hallucination.
- In Quest for the Shaven Yak: Starring Ren Hoëk & Stimpy, The Stinking Dry Desert has what appear to be glasses of lemonade. However, when Ren or Stimpy get close to them, said lemonade glasses turn into scorpions.
- In Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, when Nathan Drake is stranded in the desert after a plane crash, he sees an actual oasis complete with lush palm trees and other foliage that fades away into nothing when he approaches it. He also hallucinates proper about his longtime mentor and friend Sully.
- Looney Tunes
- One short shows Daffy Duck in the desert, seeing things including an oasis and an old car.
- In "Sahara Hare", Bugs thinks he spots an old car he can use to get away from Riffraff Sam, but it fades out as he climbs in and tries to start it up. Bugs' line afterwards is the page-top quote.
- When Donald Duck and Goofy get lost in the desert in Crazy with the Heat, Donald sees icebergs everywhere, while Goofy sees a soda fountain, complete with an Arab sheikh behind the counter. Unaware that it's a mirage, Goofy orders drink after drink, only to have them disappear in his hand. And yet the sheikh becomes very real when he demands payment... or else.
- In the Family Guy episode "And Bango Was His Name-O", the second part of the movie Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story, Stewie and Brian think they see a Dr. Pepper machine in the desert, but...nope, it's RC Cola.
- In an episode of Inspector Gadget the titular character travels into a desert and sees a lemonade stand. After realizing that it isn't real he then proceeds to assume EVERYTHING HE SEES from that point forward is "just a mirage." This includes the M.A.D. agents out to kill him, the sacred golden scimitar he is supposed to be protecting, a tree he bodily crashes into, Chief Quimby, a pit full of cobras...
- In an episode of Garfield and Friends, Jon's car breaks down on a desert road, leaving him, Garfield and Odie stranded. As Jon goes to get the car fixed, Garfield explains and demonstrates the cartoon definition of mirages several times to Odie, including at least one Red Herring. The ending takes a turn for the Mind Screw when it's revealed that the guy who towed and repaired the car was himself a mirage.
- In The Smurfs (1981) episode "Mummy Dearest", Greedy sees what he thinks is a big muffin in the Egyptian desert, only to find himself biting into a rock.
- During his long march in the desert along with Olive and Popeye, Wimpy in Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba's Forty Thieves suddenly spots a table covered with fruits and other delicacies. As he's about to reach it, the mirage suddenly fades out and Wimpy finds himself on the sand beneath.
- Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa used this trope in "Dances with Bulls" when Marshal Moo Montana and Sheriff Terrorbull wandered through the desert while tied together, the latter hallucinating a cactus as a water fountain and a street sign as a giant popsicle.
- An implied example happened in The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy in the episode "Fear and Loathing in Endsville". We do not see anything from Dracula's point of view in the scene, but when he claims to find a limo, said limo turns out to be a cactus.
Dracula: This limo hurts Dracula's butt!
- In the Dr. Zitbag's Transylvania Pet Shop episode "Dances the Hula", Zitbag and his skeletal canine companion Horrifido get lost in the desert. At one point, Zitbag hallucinates that the Exorsisters are around and dancing while wearing leis.
- The Scrappy-Doo and Yabba-Doo segment of The Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo Show had this happen in the episode "Law & Disorder", where Scrappy, Yabba, and Dusty came across a mirage of an attractive woman offering them watermelon.