Magic tricks are difficult. Audiences are cynical, and people want to know how to do them. However, in TV Shows, a Stage Magician can do amazing things, completely impossible in real life. They don't even have to bother with an explanation; "magicians never reveal their tricks" is an ideal handwave for forgoing any explanation.
Compare Impossible Theft which is a similar idea applied to the field of thievery instead of stage magic. Contrast Magicians Are Wizards, in which a character is explicitly in-universe camouflaging real magic as stage magic. Related to Charles Atlas Superpower, in which mundane athletic training is depicted as giving people superhuman strength and agility that would be impossible for anyone to achieve in real life. Overlaps with Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane when there is an implication that the feat might have been genuinely supernatural.
- In Kaitou Saint Tail, the main character is the daughter of a retired Phantom Thief and a Stage Magician. Of course this trope gets involved. Despite being a Magical Girl, her "magic" is explicitly all stage magic, but she routinely pulls off impossible feats, such as being carried off by just a handful of balloons.
- Magic Kaito: In his solo episode when first introduced, and before even becoming Kaitou Kid, he manages to use a lifelike dummy that isn't noticed until its head screws off, and a giant monster-shaped balloon operated by a crane outside his school window, all as part of a prank.
- The author continues the tradition in Case Closed: while major or plot-relevant "magic" is at least as reasonable as the rest of the gimmicks non-magician criminals manage to pull off, stage magicians pull off all sorts of very implausible minor tricks - for example, loading half a dozen doves into somebody's clothes and underwear within half a second without them noticing. While this could be a sort of perceptual filter (it's well known how showmanship alters the audience's memory of stage magic performances in this direction), there are enough subtly yet critically inaccurate references to real-life stage magic to suggest the research could just have been spotty wherever it didn't matter.
- Mousse of Ranma ½ carries an utterly impossible amount of Hidden Weapons inside of his clothes. The series' setting contains plenty of supernatural phenomena, but there's no implication any of that is involved. Mousse just claims he's that good at concealment.
- In a biopic of Harry Houdini starring Tony Curtis, there are several magic tricks which are presented with absolutely no explanation. Two that come to mind are, Harry and his wife-to-be Meet Cute while he's doing a street performance, and he makes her name "magically" appear on his arm (which in reality needs a ringer and some rubber cement), and late one night he brings home a Saw a Woman in Half box and makes her get in so he can saw her in half right there and then.
- Inadvertently done in a short story-turned film by Penn Jillette. In "Invisible Thread", a magic store owner sells a copy of the "invisible thread" card trick to a kid. After making the sale, the storekeeper explains how it works. The thing is though that it's not really possible. When Jillette wrote the story, he just used a more or less plausible explanation; but when it became a film they had to figure out how to make it work using camera tricks and elaborate mechanical devices.
- It's also entirely possible that a false explanation was concocted on purpose, as to not explain the real life version of the trick. He is an actual magician, after all.
- Oscar, the title character of Oz the Great and Powerful, knows tricks that could put David Copperfield to shame, despite being much more small time and living decades earlier.
- Such tricks are the abundant in Now You See Me and its sequel. Several of them are analyzed and explained but a lot of them are not, and the ending makes it a case of Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane.
- As it's a movie about magicians, these are common in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. Even tricks that were explained still didn't make any sense.
- Mostly averted in The Prestige, where the tricks' explanations are shown and discussed, and are easily attemptable by real illusionists. However, the greatest trick of the film, Angier's "The Transported Man", turns out to be done by a cloning machine built by Nikola Tesla.
- David Copperfield, in Terror Train, does a few of these, including a disappearing act which would require exiting the moving train and re-entering to wind up where he does.
- In Terry Pratchett's Discworld, the Wizards of Unseen University, who can do real magic, are utterly disgruntled at the given fact that people will still pay real hard-earned money to see a stage magic act where everyone knows it's done by sleight-of-hand, mirrors and misdirection. This trope comes into play when the audiences think this is better than anything the wizards are capable of.
- The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay: During a business meeting Kavalier's magician background comes up and he is asked for a demonstration. He manages to make a lit cigarette disappear and then reapper inside someone else's cigarette case. (Later in the story, when he's working as a professional magician, the boy whose Bar Mitzvah he's performing at catches him planting cards for a trick to be done during the banquet, so it's not like there is no acknowledgement of magic's need for setup.)
- Blood Meridian: One of the many ways the Judge Holden is Ambiguously Human is his ability to perform magic tricks that defy explanation. Whether he's using real magic or not is never revealed.
- The magic trick performed by Reg to amuse a bored little girl in Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency is specifically stated to be such. Making the salt shaker disappear is simple, making it appear in a piece of ancient pottery on the other side of the table is completely impossible. Unless you have a time machine.
- In House, a stage magician manages to pull off some amazing tricks, that impressed and stumped even House himself. One such trick was a simple "pick a card" trick. Then he threw the deck at a window, where a card stuck to the glass. When House took the card and told him it wasn't his card... he found his card, stuck to the other side of the glass. Amazingly enough, this is an existing trick that real magicians can perform.
- The same actor played a magician in Just Shoot Me!, who managed to hide tickets inside an unpeeled banana... that a coworker brought from home... from across the room.
- In How I Met Your Mother, Barney's role as an amateur magician leads to many instances of this. Notably, the trick the TSA agent performs in "Magician's Code," although it may have been a simple card trick. Not to mention Barney's trick itself, which involves a broadsword (that he somehow pulled out of a 1-foot by 1-foot box... that had just been scanned by airport security).
- For all the jokes about GOB's illusions on Arrested Development, Tony Wonder did manage to have himself baked into a loaf of bread and turned into a giant sandwich for the troops.
- The uncut pilot of the series has GOB turn a 20-dollar bill into a Monopoly game box — which could not have been concealed on or near his person — and must have been a Stop Tricknote .
- In Drake & Josh, a magician is actually able to somehow make the titular characters' father's hair disappear and stuff a girl into a large popcorn holder (without anyone even noticing).
- Pushing Daisies has a few examples in the episode "Oh oh oh it's Magic." While several tricks of the episode are explained throughout the course of the episode, a couple are patently impossible (including the twins elevating a Lovely Assistant with bolts of electricity).
- In The Brady Bunch episode "Lights Out", Peter takes up magic for his school talent show. He does some classic tricks like the interlocking metal rings, pouring disappearing milk, and he builds a "vanishing lady" cabinet. But one simple trick was actually impossible. He takes two empty cardboard tubes and puts one around a bottle. The bottle disappears and reappears inside the other tube. Not complicated, but not possible without TV magic.
- In the episode of The X-Files "The Amazing Maleeni", the stage magician Maleeni has a magic trick where he rotates his head 360 degrees. Every other trick performed in the episode is possible in real life.
- In an episode of The Mentalist, Jane entertains some local kids with a magic trick: he makes a coin disappear from his hand and appear in the pocket of a boy standing in front of him, without having had an opportunity to touch or otherwise sneak a coin into his pocket.
- Some of Adam Klaus's tricks in Jonathan Creek can be like this (for example his escape routine in "The Scented Room", where he's somehow back in his trailer mere seconds after being put in the coffin). This is a bit ironic, since the point of the series is that Jonathan knows impossible things don't happen and there's always an explanation that a conjurer's assistant might see. (It's implied that he was never actually put in the coffin and that some kind of switch took place, but it still isn't fully explained how.)
- Played with in one episode of The Big Bang Theory, in which Howard repeatedly performs a card trick that has Sheldon completely stumped. At the end of the episode, it's revealed to the audience - but not Sheldon - that he's not actually finding anyone's card; they're all just playing along in order to drive Sheldon crazy.
- A main plot point of the Misdirection episode of Inside No. 9 is an up-and-coming stage magician murdering an old man who performs at childrens parties in order to steal his trick. The trick in question involves the magician sitting on an empty chair in the middle of a warehouse and floating up into the air on it. The creators have stated that the floating chair is impossible in real life, at least in the way they showed it.
- In one episode of The Golden Girls, Rose tells her friends about how her daughter Bridget was delivered by an obstetrician who was also a magician, and he performed some very strange sleight-of-hand with her newborn. Rose being the resident Cloud Cuckoolander, it's impossible to tell whether there's any truth to this story.
Rose: "It's a girl! Now it's a dove! Now it's a glass of milk!" (shaking her head) I don't know how he got her in that deck of cards, but there she was, right after the King of Hearts! "Is this your baby?"
- In Persona 4: Golden, the added S.link plotline with the main character's uncle's Bumbling Sidekick Adachi includes a scene where he demonstrates a magic trick that involves transporting a coin from his hand to the main character's pocket (from across a table they're sitting at opposite sides of). Which subtly foreshadows his true nature as a Corrupt Cop who's been committing the murders mainly For the Evulz.
- The Adventures of Dr. McNinja. There's a flashback to Gordito's father, the Great Flying Shooting Juan (a sharpshooting trapeze artist magician) performing a card trick. The volunteer chooses a card, places it back into the deck, and throws the entire deck into the air. Juan shoots the card in midair... but the volunteer can't find the card afterward. Then he gets a call on his cell phone...
Volunteer: That was the police. The man who robbed my house... they finally caught him because he was shot in the upper thigh... There was a queen of diamonds in his pocket.
- The David Blaine Street Magic video series, a parody of David Blaine's magic style, shows "David Blaine" repeatedly harassing the same two guys by performing increasingly improbable magic tricks such as having their selected card appear not only underneath one of their shirts, but also on their driver's license, the soles of their shoes, and up their asses.
- In this story on Not Always Romantic, a woman at a bar is approached by a gentleman who offers to do a card trick. When she informs him that the card he has selected is, in fact, not her card, he walks away dejectedly. She turns back to her drink - only to find that her card is now her coaster and he's written his phone number on it. The stinger is what really sells it.
I called him and we've now been married for three years. He still won't tell me how he did the trick!
- Played with in an episode of Justice League that shows Zatanna performs for an audience with traditional illusions and stage tricks that fit this trope already, but then ends her show by using a real magic spell in order to keep people guessing how she really pulls off her acts.
- What's New, Scooby-Doo?: The episode "Riva Ras Regas" centers on the ghost of the recently deceased stage magician Rufus Raucous, who turns out to have faked his death to get out of the spotlight and retire. He was last seen in a straitjacket nailed to a spinning wheel inside a building being demolishing by a wrecking ball, yet no explanation is given for how he survived other than "he's just that good" note , apparently. Later, when Rufus is encouraged by the gang to hold one more show to lure out the ghost, he perfoms tricks like being able to sprout new disembodied hands out of his sleeves, which walk around with a life of their own. How he does that isn't explained either, unless he invested thousands of dollars in animatronics.note His "ghost" can also fly, which turns out to be by magnets in its shoes, far more powerful than any real world magnet.
- Parodied in the Teen Titans Go! episode "Magic", where Robin is performing tricks that the team all consider ridiculously amazing, but Raven is not convinced. Then Robin tries to be a young Houdini by escaping a tank full of water while tied up. It doesn't work. Before the latter, we get this little gem:
Raven: I wouldn't try this if I were you.
Robin: I know what I'm doing, Raven. I saw it on the internet.
- Parodied with David Blaine in South Park, whose magic tricks depicted in "The Super Best Friends" include eating his own head, transporting a playing card into someone's anus, and bringing the Lincoln Memorial to life. Turns out actual magic was involved.
- Stage magician David Copperfield tried to prove that these were possible. He once did a show (on TV, but with a live audience) in which he made a running gag of complaining about how people always ask him whether his illusions are done with camera tricks. He insisted that they were not, and he wound up the show by doing a "real" camera trick; namely, he rolled a television camera onto the stage and made it disappear.
- The proverbial Indian Rope Trick, to the extent where while most people are pretty sure accounts of the supposed traditional piece of stage magic have gone through repeated cycles of embellishment and addition of new elements, nobody's sure what real trick inspired these accounts. The "complete" trick doesn't seem to have actually been performed, traditional performers of India seem unfamiliar with it, and modern attempts to reproduce it have never been entirely satisfactory (although individual portions of it can be done rather well, the best methods tend to interfere with attempting to do other parts of the trick).