Sometimes you track down the monster and pull the rubber mask off to reveal the janitor.
Sometimes you try that, and the monster gobbles you up.
And sometimes you don't get either way. You are left with nothing except the tracks, the sightings, and hypotheses. Two characters can argue for the alternative explanations, supernatural or naturalistic, without either one of them carrying the Idiot Ball.
How this is done affects any reaction to it. Sometimes it invokes The Chris Carter Effect or Kudzu Plot. Sometimes it is an eminently satisfactory way to create an open ending (generally when the question has not been the focus of the plot).
A common effect is to offer a mundane explanation of how something could have happened, but not in fact establish that is how it did happen. (Such as never trying to eliminate the purported cause and establish that the effect does end.)
The verifiable presence of magic in the world does not preclude this trope; in Fantasy works, this may come into play for divine intervention, or rare forms of magic (vs ordinary forms as well as mundane). Or some magical things may be clearly magical, and others more ambiguous. Conversely, the presence of high technology or other non-magical special powers extends the possibilities of this trope by allowing a greater range of "mundane" phenomena. It can also effectively come into play when characters ponder whether an effect was natural or extremely high tech.
Often comes into play with Angel Unaware, and does when characters say Because Destiny Says So about situations that could be interpreted as Contrived Coincidence. Any apparent Dead Person Conversation (particularly if Talking in Your Dreams) may fall under this, if the conversation contains nothing that the character could not have known. Prophecies Are Always Right does not preclude their looking like dumb luck.
Compare Ambiguous Ending; and Fantastique (from The Other Wiki), a genre of fiction typified by supernatural phenomena that is not explained to the reader or the main characters, hinting at a magical occurrence.. Also compare Through the Eyes of Madness, where the audience sees evidence in favor of the weird explanation, but remains unsure of whether it's real or not because of the possible unreliability of the narrator.
Contrast Real After All, which often involves a mix of mundane and magical explanations, but usually makes it clear at the end which incidents were which (at least to the audience, Gave Up Too Soon is common for the characters).
This may also happen in adaptations. The original character may have a certain ability to do a supernatural thing, but the adaptation never openly states that he has such a power. And yet, at some point something happens, that may suggest it, but with no clear explanation. Those familiar with the source work may be free to consider it a Mythology Gag to the original work, and others may suspect a mundane explanation for it.
- Chiyo's parentage in Azumanga Daioh falls into this. Both Osaka and Sakaki dream of her father being a "cat creature" which is also encountered in the waking world as a stuffed animal. When scenes are shown of Chiyo interacting with her family, her parents are neither seen nor heard (Chiyo's lines to them are typically the sort of declarative statement that would not require a response, and the scenes end before they would have time to speak). Thus, while one possibility is that she has parents like the other girls who just never appear on-camera, there are also the distinct possibilities that her parents are imaginary or that her father is, in fact, the cat-creature.
- Goshiki Agiri from Kill Me Baby is a ninja, yet most of the actual ninja tricks she uses are either obviously accomplished or purely jokes.
- Hayate × Blade: Did Wanko REALLY curse those two girls in her debut fight, or did they just freeze from fear at her sheer creepiness?
- Sound of the Sky thrives on this. Are the main religions right and "Them" were supernatural beings? Are the ghosts real, or just a hungry owl and a PTSD induced hallucination?
- Some of the things Break does in Pandora Hearts fall into this. We've seen him use actual magic to bind Alice right at the beginning. But he also produces things from nowhere (or out of his hat) which could be illusions or could not. And is Emily ventriloquism or something else?
- This trope is a major theme in Ground Control to Psychoelectric Girl. The title character, Erio Touwa, believes she's an alien and eventually secludes herself from almost all human contact. Then her cousin Makoto Niwa moves in due to his parents having to work outside of Japan, and he brings her back to reality. She slowly starts to reintegrate into human society, and then a strange girl named Yashiro Hoshimiya appears and berates him for causing her to stop believing in aliens. He constantly ridicules her as well, thinking she's got the same psychological issues Erio went through. At the end of episode 13, Yashiro tells Makoto to move slightly from the position he's standing in. Shortly after he does, a meteor crashes into the exact spot he was just standing in, causing him to wonder if she really was telling the truth about being an alien.
- Denpa Teki na Kanojo: The Because You Were Nice to Me scene that is Remembered Too Late by Juun could perfectly explain Ames Past-Life Memories of being King Juuns knight. However, it could not explain the Psychic Link Ame has with Juun.
- In Berserk, the Hellhound entity that resides within Guts. Its presence being hinted in the early Black Swordsman Arc and having a full physical debut in the Lost Children Arc, fans speculate what the Hellhound is and where it exactly came from. Is it an independent spirit that latched onto Guts during the Eclipse event, or is it merely a trauma-induced hallucination spurred by the traumatic Eclipse? Is the Beast a separate and malevolent force that has always resided within Guts since birth, or is the Beast in fact Guts himself and is just an anthropomorphization of his darker nature? As the setting of Berserk has Clap Your Hands If You Believe in full effect, it could have started out as an abstract idea but then took a life of its own through Guts' constant contact with the supernatural world. We just don't know what the Hellhound is and might never know.
- Death Note:
- In the manga's final chapter, it's noted that Mikami mysteriously died in prison ten days after Light's defeat, leading Matsuda to theorize that Near wrote in the Death Note so as to restrict Mikami's actions, enabling Light's conviction. The anime includes no such speculation from Matsuda, and Mikami instead commits suicide on the spot, casting doubt on a supernatural interpretation.
- Then, there was that part where Light's archenemy L appeared during his death, both staring at each other and lampshading L's own death. This almost drove fans insane with their theories, riots and flame wars. Although the author has made it quite clear that the afterlife doesn't exist in the Death Note mythos * , there are still speculation that it wasn't Light's hallucination but L actually staring at him supernaturally.
- The notebook itself is a subject of debate. Does it contain some sort of sentience that can actually bring out the worst in people's egos, or is it just an (extra)ordinary notebook?
- The title dog of Junkers Come Here can speak and is able to grant Three Wishes to his owner, Hiromi. By the end of the movie he loses his ability to speak and is now a normal dog and Hiromi wonders if Junkers was really a talking dog and if everything that happened was because of his magic or just a series of coincidences.
- The encounter with Heike Shige in Samurai Champloo may have been the result of the accidental ingestion of psychedelic mushrooms, or he and his men may have actually been undead. There isn't really anything that confirms or debunks either theory, and no mention of the incident was made after that.
- Ryou from Bokura no Hentai can see his dead sister's ghost. It's left ambiguous whether she's real or not but it's implied he's hallucinating it and it's his subconscious.
- A number of things that Big Bad Altena does in Noir don't seem possible unless she has some manner of magical/psychic powers, with one scene in particular involving her watching three candles that represent the "saplings" or candidates for her plan to recreate the titular Noir, a duo of two girls who "govern death" on behalf of an Ancient Conspiracy. When one of the candles goes out representing how one, Chloe, has just died Altena not only seems to know what it means but which sapling it was referring to. Not to mention how Altena is generally pretty unsettling and vaguely supernatural, and lives in an Eldritch Location somewhere between Spain and France that happens to feature an active volcano.
- It's left vague if Yuuki post-episode eight in Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 was a ghost or Mirai hallucinating. He did have hope Mari's daughter was alive even though he saw her presumed daughter's body, which could mean he has a knowledge of the dead, and we see him disappear later. However it's possible that was all in Mirai's head and she was imagining what Yuuki would do.
- In Peach Girl, an otherwise fairly realistic slice-of-life/Drama series, resident Alpha Bitch Sae sometimes displays... interesting abilities, such as becoming paper thin, usually when she's depressed. You'd just chalk this up to artistic effect, except sometimes it affects the plot - She walks right past a security guard by turning wafer-thin and hiding when he tries to stop her, and he reacts as you really would in that situation. Another time she hides under a box no human could reasonably fit into, by once again, slimming herself down.
- The main point of Miki Yoshikawa's one-shot The Demon's Classroom. An elementary school class gets a new teacher who claims to be Diablo de Mon, the former king of the underworld. At first, he acts quite weird and seems oblivious to the customs of human society, making the kids think he really is a demon. When they decide to try and bust him as a demon, they are unsuccessful as now he acts like a normal human. By accident, they set fire to his house, and the next morning, the house is whole, and de Mon himself is unharmed. He claims he used his powers to nullify the fact that the fire took place. Then the main character notices that he has burns on his hands. At the end of the story, the narration states that the kids grew to like de Mon, but never actually found out if his claims were true.
- School-Live! makes readers wonder whether Yuki can actually see the ghost of her teacher, Sakura-sensei AKA Megu-nee. The readers know that Yuki is delusional and an Unreliable Narrator (and that Megu-nee is Dead All Along), so the most likely explanation is that it's just another hallucination. However, the apparition always seems to know what's going on and to actively help the girls. It's also implied somewhat that Yuki's helpful (if apparently strange) suggestions come from her.
- The ending to Your Lie in April has Kaori's death happen during a piano performance of Kousei's. It's left vague if her playing the violin alongside him and later bursting into light is another one of the artistic interpretations from Kousei's head while he plays music, or if that was really Kaori's spirit playing one last song with Kousei.
- Dragon Ball: The Ultra Divine Water. Korin says that it's magical and can unleash a fighter's latent power. Yajirobe claims that the water is just poison after tasting it. In the anime, the Darkness, the entity who guards the Ultra Divine Water, states that the water is poisonous, but it does bring out a fighter's latent abilities if they can withstand the pain and have latent power to bring out. In Z, it appears that the Ultra Divine Water was just really powerful poison since as a Saiyan, Goku gets stronger from near death and no one before Goku has ever survived drinking the Ultra Divine Water, so we don't know if it can make a human stronger.
- JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond Is Unbreakable: Josuke and Okuyasu meet Mikitaka Hazekura who has a power called Earth Wind and Fire that gives him Voluntary Shapeshifting abilities but a Weaksauce Weakness to high pitched sounds like a police siren. This ability of his isn't what makes him maybe magic, maybe mundane, as supernatural powers are unusually prevalent in the series. It's that he claims to be a Human Alien, when up until this point there hasn't been any suggestion that aliens exist within JoJo.
- The first season of Tsukiuta. The Animation seems to abuse this trope. Shun, the leader of idol unit Procellarum, calls himself the "Demon King", and at several points tells the other characters he's casting a spell, and they appear to believe him. Is it magic, or is he just chuunibyou? Well, it turns out the rest of the franchise is quite the Fantasy Kitchen Sink, with Yokai, trolls, demons, and multiple isekai adventures. And Shun definitely has powers - as does Hajime, the leader of Procella's sibling/rival unit Six Gravity, who Shun has a major crush on. Those mad scientist girls really are moon goddesses in training, and that palm-sized reindeer that looked like a plush toy? He's actually a fairy.
- Pokémon: The episode "The Poké Spokesman", the titular spokesman, named Simon, claimed to be able to speak with Pokémon and understand them. Many people considered him a conman, but he explains to Ash and company why he insists he's not. He tells about how, as a child, he was trapped in a cellar during a storm. During this, a Rattata, Pidgey and Oddish appeared and actually spoke with him. He spent hours talking with them, but when he fell asleep and the storm was over, the three of them disappeared and he couldn't understand Pokémon in human language anymore. He does admit it's possible he was dreaming and he's fooling himself, but he truly believes he can communicate with Pokémon.
- Komori-san Can't Decline!: At first Komori just seems to be pretty strong from years of helping people. Then it seems like she has Super Strength. Then it seems like just being asked to help with something gives her a Determinator status that enables to her to do it against all logic to a level even other characters consider almost supernatural. Considering that this takes place in the same world as Cool-kyou's other works, this isn't really so implausible.
- At one point of Superman storyline Kryptonite Nevermore, Superman confronts a villain who uses an ancient artifact — called the Devil's Harp — to steal powers and abilities. After breaking the Harp, Superman ponders on its nature: Was it a magical device? Or just a piece of forgotten technology? He concludes that he will never know, the story does not tell, and both answers are possible in this setting.
Superman: I guess we'll never know what this thing was! Magic — or the relic of some forgotten science — or how it took musical talent from Timos Achens and super-powers from me! A pity... such a device could have been a great good!
- The villain Scarface, a ventriloquist dummy mob boss, is sometimes teased as something more than a delusion of an unstable mind. The Ventriloquist himself believes that the dummy is possessed by the spirit of a gangster rather than a facet of his own personality; since it was cut from wood of a tree that in the past was used to hang criminals, it is a rather spooky origin for a seemingly mundane puppet. How "real" Scarface is also depends on the continuity. In some, the Ventriloquist is able to free himself of Scarface's influence via therapy; in others, all it takes is destroying the doll.
- Zigzags in Batman: The Cult with Big Bad Deacon Blackfire, who claims to be a 500-year-old Native American mystic. On one hand, his methods of recruitment are clearly shown to be based on psychology and drugs, just like documented cults. On the other hand, evidence suggests Deacon Blackfire really was immortal. Whether he was a complete fraud or merely a partial fraud is never fully explained.
- Batman as a whole tends to take this approach to the nature of Gotham City itself and Arkham Asylum in particular. Is the city cursed, plagued by demons, tormented by Darkseid's Omega Power, by nameless things, or is it just an incurable Wretched Hive of scum and villainy all on its own? Hints at various supernatural origins for the city's woes and the Asylum's troubles come and go, but none are ever confirmed and there's always a mundane or comic-book-mundane explanation for everything else.
- Bat-Mite's whole Post-Crisis existence. Two stories by Alan Grant show Bat-Mite appearing to a criminal named Overdog. Both times Batman (who doesn't find Bat-Mite) rationalizes that these were just Overdog's drug-induced hallucinations, but the reader is left wondering...
- Global Frequency #5, "Big Sky", revolves around the appearance of a spectral, otherworldly being referred to as an 'Angel', which is powerful enough which drives the entire population of an isolated Norwegian coastal town mad. The team eventually discover a mundane explanation involving the burning down of a local church and resonance around local rock formations which caused sensory overload — but then, after they've identified this explanation, one of them floats the possibility that the appearance of a real angel might have similar effects involving similar probabilities.
- JMS' Spider-Man introduces a character named Ezekiel that claims that Peter's powers aren't a mutation caused by an irradiated spider bite, but are in fact "totemic" powers carried by the spider which it felt compelled to pass on after being hit by the lethal radiation beam. It was written in a way letting it be totally ambiguous if either this version or his classic origin is the real one, and even suggesting that both might be true to some extent. When Spider-Man asks an ally of Ezekiel which explanation is true, he simply responds that one explanation didn't necessarily contradict the other.
- When the original Mysterio came Back from the Dead, he appeared to have supernatural abilities, supposedly gained in Hell. Given that he was already a Master of Illusion, it's impossible to be sure how real these powers were, and in the post-One More Day timeline they haven't come up.
- The antagonist of the Blake and Mortimer book The Sarcofagi of the Sixth Continent claims to be the ancient Indian emperor Ashoka the Great, who first "resurrected" while Mortimer was a young adult to help free India from British rule and later during the "present" to torment the 1958 World's Fair. While it turns out that there is some Legacy Immortality at play since the present Ashoka is actually the daughter of the one Mortimer met in his youth, the identity of the latter is never revealed. Also, they never explain his albino monkey guardians that can be summoned via a puff of smoke.
- Alan Moore's Providence deals with this trope and hangs a lampshade on it. The approach to Lovecraftian horror in the books is to present it this way to Robert Black, while the reader knows the truth. Robert Black, being an aspiring writer, lampshades the trope by describing it in his commonplace book at the end of Issue 4:
Robert Black: Now, if something supernatural were to actually occur to someone in real life, anyone normal would just run a mile. They wouldn't have the author and reader's interest in unraveling the mystery and getting to the story's end. They'd simply flee. I know I would, and I like to think that I'm a normal person underneath it all. I suppose the only way to handle it realistically is to rely on people's tendency not to believe that anything out of the ordinary is going on, even if evidence is mounting to the contrary.
- Punk Rock Jesus reveals towards the end that Rebekah, secretly the protagonist's sister was given a massive dose of drugs and appeared to be drowned as an infant. The characters of Thomas and Sarah briefly debate if her survival was a scientific anomaly or a religious miracle. The readers are left to decide for themselves.
- Ultimate Marvel:
- The Ultimates began with an unclear origin for the powers of The Mighty Thor. Is he a real God from Asgard, attacked by a rival god with reality-warping powers? Or just a madman with delusions of grandeur, who stole high-tech weapons produced in Europe? In the first two story arcs, both options seemed plausible to the reader. The final answer only came at the end of the second arc: he's the real deal.
- Ultimate Galactus Trilogy: Sam is explaining that the captured Heather Douglas is a clone, and she suddenly says "I'm a priestess" inside her cell. Does she have mind reading powers, as mainstream Moondragon? Or are the cells not as soundproof as they should be?
- Until one particular infamous story (regarded as non-canon by much of the readership), this is how the supernatural was handled in The Phantom (the one who lives in the Skull Cave in the Deep Woods surrounded by the Bandar pygmy poison folk). Any time something supernatural was depicted, there was always an alternative "natural" explanation such as magic tricks, illusions or hallucinations caused by fever or gas.
- The Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye and the rest of IDW's Transformers comics do this quite a bit:
- The Annual issue. Did the ground in Theophany give way by chance, or was it in response to Drift's plea? Was everyone teleported to safety because the Metrotitan's faith in the Cybertronian race restored after Rodimus' selfless act, or was it because he got the energy to do so after some of his mass was displaced? Did Ore disappear because Primus sent him to the Afterspark, or, as an extension of the Metrotitan (having been temporarily resuscitated by him), did he teleport along it? Was it something else? We'll never know.
- Scoop mentions an old prophecy that seems to describe Starscream and a threat Cybertron's facing. The prophecy seems to genuinely play out, but Galvatron later claims Alchemist Prime made the prophecy while drunk and a flashback confirms that. So was Alchemist a genuine seer who predicted the future or a drunk who made some vague and lucky guesses?
- Six-Of-Twelve and Tyrest both claim to have visions of Primus telling them what to do. The former is a fundamentalist carrying a fake Matrix and the latter suffered brain damage that could easily explain the visions as mere hallucinations. And yet they both seem extremely certain of what they're seeing and the "visions" supposedly gave them information that most people don't know, like how Titan organs can be used to make a space bridge.
- A lot of the ancient technology seen blurs the line between magic and science. The Enigma of Combination has a source code and can be downloaded like a mundane program, but it does things that no other program in existence can, like influencing people's minds. Titans could be divine beings or simply extremely old and large Transformers. The Matrix might just be a glorified flash drive used to store data and interface with Vector Sigma or it could be a genuinely magic talisman. Alpha Trion is one of the First Thirteen Primes and claims they weren't really mystical in any real way, but a lot of their technology is amazingly advanced for the feudal society they were born in and Trion himself seems to be practically immortal, even by Transformer standards.
- It's eventually revealed in Optimus Prime that it's all mundane. Everything about Cybertronian mythology was actually deliberately done by Shockwave, who was sent into Cybertron's distant past instead of dying at the end of Transformers: Dark Cybertron as everyone had believed. He took on the guise of Onyx Prime, created the 13 Primes, and spent millions of years secretly manipulating everyone for his own ends.
- In Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, it's never entirely clear whether Johnny's house is home to an Eldritch Abomination and a set of demonic dolls, or if he's a schizophrenic psychopath. Word of God seems to support both at once
Johnny: It's possible I'm quite horrendously insane.
- Thanos Rising: It's made deliberately vague whether Thanos is insane or not and whether his visions of Death are real. No one except him can see her so others just see him talking to empty air or corpses. According to his father's scanners, there's nothing to prove that someone is really talking to him. However, Death is a Cosmic Entity with powers far beyond any mortal, so that wouldn't really be a surprise. At the end, Thanos ignores her.
- In The King of the Klondike, the villains have the young Scrooge McDuck chained up in their riverboat. Eventually it seems as though their Evil Gloating hits his Berserk Button so hard that he effectively gains Super Strength and wrecks the whole ship by pulling on his chains and bringing down the smokestacks they're attached to. The narration says that no-one knows what happened that day and that there are some possible mundane explanations.
Though originally left ambiguous (and, if anything, looking a whole lot like it really was Super Strength), the question is apparently solved in another story, where Scrooge remarks the ship's boiler happened to explode.
- Calvin and Hobbes:
- Is Hobbes a real person, or (as most people around Calvin think) just a stuffed animal subjected to Calvin's vivid imagination? Careful attention reveals that instead of both being possible, neither is: Calvin could hardly tie himself to a chair, for instance, which Hobbes has done to him (on request).note On the other hand, photos of Hobbes in action show only a stuffed tiger. The best we're likely to get is the author's comment that "Calvin sees Hobbes one way, and everyone else sees Hobbes another way. I show two versions of reality, and each makes complete sense to the participant who sees it."
- This comes up with some of Calvin's other apparent fantasies, too. In one series, he creates several duplicates of himself; no one besides him and Hobbes sees more than one Calvin at a time, but his mother seems a bit perplexed at how she keeps finding Calvin in unexpected places. On the opposite side there are also fantasies that have very mundane solutions that are pointed out, such as when Calvin imagines a baseball coming to life and chewing up his bat, Calvin's father points out the mundane idea that Calvin had been hitting rocks with it, despite Calvin clearly being scared...
- In Peanuts, does Snoopy's dog house really fly, or is it just his imagination? There's also the question of how it can be Bigger on the Inside, and how he got all the stuff that is supposedly inside it; claims have been made by him and other characters that it contains a television, a pool table, a book collection, and even a Van Gogh (which he replaced with an Andrew Wyeth after the dog house was destroyed in a fire).
- In the Heroes of the Storm fanfic Heroes of the Desk it's not quite clear what items in the Strategic Prevention, Extraction, and Ablation Regiment's arsenal are actually Magic by Any Other Name versus simply being too advanced for "outsider" science to comprehend. There are some items which fall under Aluminum Christmas Trees and would presumably be more advanced versions of actual concepts, and then there are other 0-10-4s where despite best efforts the best SPEAR can come up with is A Wizard Did It.
- Happens in the Our Miss Brooks fan fic The Reunion Assembly, Chapter 13, "Connie Dreams." Connie dreams that the long-deceased Mrs. Davis and Mr. Conklin pay her a visit. All Just a Dream Or Was It a Dream??
- Done 'masterfully' in Reflections. The fate of the dead are left intentionally vague with enough to support either viewpoint.
- Hobbes' revised backstory in Calvin and Hobbes: The Series is as ambiguous as can be - Calvin's mom put him in the trap, but she found him laying on their property, looking brand new.
- In My Little Mission: Sneaking is Magic, it's left ambiguous throughout the entire story as to whether Snake really was transported to Equestria or whether the entire thing is an illusion happening in his head. It's implied that Ocelot traveled to Equestria too which would mean that Snake really did go there, but it's never confirmed.
- Explicitly how Gnome magic functions in Strike Witches Quest. this is doubly hilarious due to the explicit Magitech and Magic A Is Magic A of witches.
- Loneliness, the first Big Bad of Season 1 of the Pony POV Series could potentially be a supernatural parasite, a Split Personality of Trixie's, a manifestation of Discord's magic, an Eldritch Abomination, Trixie's potential unawakened Nightmare, a Shadow Of Existence attempting to steal Trixie's Light to reconstitute itself, or simply a figment of Trixie's imagination. Support is given for all possibilities and which if any is the actual origin is never explained, either in universe or by Word of God, who intentionally left it ambiguous to make her that much scarier, and she's thoroughly destroyed at the end of the fight with her, so there's no chance for the characters to find out.
- A Brief History of Histories: Usagi and Luna discuss this after Sailor Moon saves her father, Chairman Tsukino, and he fails to recognize her. Usagi's convinced he did recognize her, but didn't want to acknowledge her because he thought she wasn't brave enough during the fight. Luna reassures her that her transformation includes magic to protect her Secret Identity. However, she's uncertain whether or not that's actually the case.
- Eric the Hedgehog in Sonic X: Dark Chaos. Is he simply an eccentric and lucky Idiot Savant, or is he a Humanoid Abomination with the power of Clap Your Hands If You Believe? Both explanations are implied in the story.
- Angel Of The Bat is kind of all over the place. Aliens (e.g. Superman, Supergirl...) definitely exist, magic (via Zatanna) definitely exists, God in some form or another definitely exists (as The Spectre is mentioned) and Deacon Blackfire was indeed immortal, as is his servant and Big Bad The Seraphim. The ambiguous part is whether God is a kind figure, caring for his servants such as Cassandra or if she just imagined God caring for her and overcame her adversities herself. After overcoming her Crisis of Faith she admits everything she believes may just be a beautiful dream, but chooses to believe it isn't.
- In Batman: Grudge Match, it is never explicitly confirmed whether or not Bruce Wayne is the reincarnation of Michel Dumas, nor if Selina is Michel's lover Hermione. According to Nyssa, Ra's believed he was, and wanted to make Batman his heir to the League of Assassins for his strength and much as to spit in the face of his rival's legacy.
- Discussed in Return of the Primarchs when Fulgrim crashes into a planet that remembers his murderous, demonic future version. Seeing that this Fulgrim is heroic, the leader of civilians says that either a miracle happened and past Fulgrim returned, or the man in front of him is a crazy Space Marine who convinced himself that he's the Primarch from Great Crusade times.
- Partly why Metroid 2 Secret Worlds is so haunting. Is it all an elaborate hoax and the protagonist merely a sucker? Or was Palm really visited by the ghost of Gunpei Yokoi?
- In the Outlaw Star fanfic A Fistful of Dragonite Aishas skinchanging ability, if any, is showcased off-screen, and any witnesses killed quickly after seeing it. Whether or not she truly has supernatural powers is left to interpretation. Word of God is that this was set-up deliberately from the start..
- In Mass Effect's fanfic Resurgence, part 3 of the Parable series, Jane/Shepard often had Silent Hill-esque nightmares that can all be explained as the symbolism of her various fears and regrets from the suicide mission. But in the last dream she had in that in that part where Jane was chased after by something with unnatural screams and infant-liked wailings, she was saved by two invisible beings whom she described as warm, protective, easy to pleased, and innocent. When she woke up, she just has been puked out from the Baby Reaper after her husband Garrus killed it and later, they discovered that she's been pregnant, with twins. The author never explain more about it other than the fact that the whole thing was inspired by Silent Hill.
- Concerning Us, Janine's encounters with the supernatural. Did John and James really speak to her or was it her damaged brain's attempt to function after the loss of the psychic links? Did she really see something else or was it just an illusion? She even admits her own Unreliable Narrator status, but chooses to believe in it anyway, because the other alternative feels unbearable... which again can be the product of her revived (and certifiably insane) status or just good old human nature.
- In A Night In The Sculpture Garden, Molly Hooper finds her encounter with Irene Adler so bizarre that she's not sure whether it was real or she imagined the whole thing.
- In Warriors Redux, it's ambiguous if StarClan is real or not and whether seers actually have supernatural powers. The Clan cats believe in their afterlives and believe seers are mystical but, unlike in the original series, there's no concrete proof in either.
- The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad deliberately leaves it ambiguous as to whether or not the Headless Horseman exists, unlike the book, which very strongly hints that the horseman was Brom Bones in disguise. Notably, the Horseman's horse is the same color as that of Brom Bones, and he also carries a sword identical to that Bones previously wielded. However, Ichabod does at one point look down the Horseman's coat and doesn't see anything, implying what he encountered was the real deal. In another scene the Horseman's horse jumps from a hill to another who was quite far from the former like it was flying. A thing that a normal horse wouldn't have done it.
- In Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, it's ambiguous as to whether or not the gargoyles are sentient and capable of movement. It's possible they're just imaginary friends Quasimodo created to deal with his isolation. In the climax, another gargoyle appears to come alive, scares Frollo, and breaks. While it's possible that this was a supernatural occurrence, the gargoyle may have just broken off from Frollo's weight (especially considering he'd accidentally cracked its base with his sword earlier), and it making a face could be explained as Frollo just seeing things, especially since he wasn't exactly in the best mental health at the time. The sequel, made by different people, apparently reveals they were Real After All, but that last part may have been an unrelated hallucination.
- The LEGO Movie has an example that goes beyond the others; late in the film, it's implied that the whole adventure is just real-life human Finn's playing with his dad's Lego sets... but our hero Emmet is fully conscious and — with some difficulty — capable of moving a little while in the "real world".
- The ending of Disney's version of Peter Pan leaves it ambiguous whether the adventures in Neverland were real or All Just a Dream of Wendy's. Unlike in the original play and novel, where Wendy and her brothers spend many days in Neverland and come home to find their parents grieving their absence, here the trip lasts just one night, the children are already back home by the time the parents come back from their dinner party, and while they see what looks like the pirate ship sailing in the distant sky, it's purposefully drawn so we can't quite tell if it really is the ship or just a cloud formation. The sequel more or less confirms it to have been Real After All, though.
- In The Prince of Egypt, the Egyptian priests' magic is presented this way—they change their staffs into snakes in the middle of a huge Villain Song, with a bright flash that keeps the audience from seeing what actually happens. They also move impossibly far in parts of the song when the screen goes dark for an instant, but that could just be musical convention instead of in-universe magic, or they could have employed body doubles. They also apparently summon floating glyphs and control flames with gestures during the same number. Earlier on, their presentation of Tzipporah in tribute to Rameses wouldn't be out of place in a modern magic show, apart from how "the Midian girl" is tied up for real. Them turning water into blood looks more obviously fake, though: they just add some powder that gives it a reddish tint. Of course, the point of the demonstration was to make Moses look like a deceiver. Overall the simplest explanation is that they are pure fakers, but it leaves open the possibility that they have some actual powers as well.
- Ratatouille: Is Remy really imagining Gusteau so he has someone to talk to when he's alone, or is Gusteau really speaking to him as a spirit? While the movie leans to the former, the fact that Gusteau knows things Remy doesn't and can physically touch him suggest the latter. Interestingly enough, the script doesn't refer to him as a ghost or as a figment of Remy's imagination, only a "sprite". Thus it is up to the viewer what exactly he is.
- In Tangled — Flynn and Rapunzel argue.
Rapunzel: Something brought you here, Flynn Rider... Call it what you will. Fate, destiny...
Flynn: A horse.
- In 13 Assassins, one of the characters is stabbed through the throat and has his stomach sliced open. He falls down, seemingly dead. At the end of the movie, he returns, only slightly bloodied, and explains that samurai swords are child's play compared to wrestling bears. In an interview, the director says it's up to the viewer to decide whether he was just a really tough guy, or if something supernatural had happened.
- In The Abominable Snowman, while it's pretty much certain that the yeti have a Psychic Link, it's not clear whether the climbing team's Hearing Voices and whatnot is due to psychic meddling or to the fact that they're on a River of Insanity voyage (or both).
- In Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Vision lifts Mjolnir, a weapon that Only the Chosen May Wield. It's unclear whether this is because Vision is worthy to wield the hammer (magic), or because he's an android and lifting the hammer is purely mechanical action (mundane). Thor believes the first, Tony thinks the second, comparing it to dropping the hammer in an elevator. Part of what makes it complicated is that Asgardians have both actual magic with the reliability of technology and advanced technology with the trappings of magic, and don't really bother to differentiate between the two.
- Being a psychological horror film, The Babadook leaves a lot open to interpretation. It's more than possible that the Rule of Symbolism is at play here, and that the entire story is allegorical with the Babadook representing the power of grief, resentment and the strain of single parenthood and how the denial of these problems can consume you.
- The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: The mysterious and quasi-supernatural overtones of "The Mortal Remains" could just be a normal stagecoach ride but are implied to be a voyage into the afterlife.
- The visible book text at the beginning states that the Trapper can't remember planning the trip or getting onto the stagecoach, but he knows that it's where he's "supposed to be."
- The Englishman looks a bit like Mephistopheles, with a narrow mustache and Van Dyke. He describes himself and the Scotsman as "reapers" and "harvesters of souls," saying that he never takes in his quarry alive. With the other passengers' complete attention, he states that his job is to distract their quarry. He adds that as a storyteller, he "lives forever." While staring fixedly at the other passengers, he also says that he likes to watch his quarry as they "negotiate the passage."
- The Scotsman sings a song about a man who is about it die, which chokes up the Englishman. He sings this song on every trip.
- The coachmen, who the Englishman says never stops as "policy," never reveals his face, wears black and drives four black horses.
- The Lady says she's meeting her estranged husband, who has been ill. She also mentions Jacob's Ladder. In the end, the Englishman and the Scotsman carry a body up a flight of stairs with a white light emanating above it.
- The passengers are all reluctant to exit the stagecoach. After the Trapper and the Lady enter the hotel, the camera lingers on the Frenchman, who hesitates. When he goes into the hotel, the Trapper and the Lady have vanished.
- The ambiance is very supernatural, with green fog and lightning. Fort Morgan looks eerie and foreboding.
- In the book page visible at the end, the narrator states that the Trapper has nothing left to say and prepares for a "long quiet."
- Selina Kyle's 'powers' in Batman Returns. The supernatural would definitely explain how a mousy assistant could gain the ability to actually hold her own against Batman and survive fatal falls and several gunshots. Then again maybe her brush with near-death simply pushed her over the edge and turned her into a combination of the Determinator and The Unfettered, making her run on sheer will power.
- Below: Were the strange apparitions the result of high CO2 levels or vengeful spirits? On the one hand they clearly weren't Dead All Along, on the other something other than guilt brought them back to the site of the hospital ship they accidentally torpedoed and deliberately covered up...
- Bedtime Stories: It's never clear whether the kids control what happens to the main character, or it's just a series of bizarre coincidences and self-fulfilling prophecies.
- In Big Fish, most of the things Edward Bloom says in his stories turn out to be exaggerations based on things that actually happened (for example, Karl was indeed a giant, but not nearly as big as Will imagined him). However, we never learn whether seeing his own death in the witch's eye was real or not, as we never hear him say what happens.
- Big Fish is an interesting case as it intentionally plays with this trope a bit. The stories in the beginning of the film are rather outlandish, but the further into Edward's life they are the more down-to-earth and less magical things get until his final stories are more likely. This is supported with Jenny's version of Edward's second arrival in Specter, where she also seems to remember Karl as rather more giant than he actually is, though it does keep the magical element of the giant flood where Edward sees a mermaid.
- Birdman ultimately leaves it ambiguous as to whether Riggan's telekinetic powers were real, although some parts heavily imply that he was imagining them, or at the very least exaggerating them.
- Black Death ends like this, with the witch taunting the protagonist that her "black magic" was really tricks and misdirection she used to control the villagers. This is particularly stinging because the protagonist had earlier killed his love interest after she had been "raised from the dead" as a mindless abomination... the witch implies she was merely heavily drugged and was never dead in the first place. It's left ambiguous as to whether this is the truth, or if the witch was simply lying to the protagonist to get him to lose his faith in God.
- Blind Chance has no real explanation of WHY Witek lives through the story three times - if he really does. The events simply restart on their own accord, each time with minor changes at the train station, which are also left unexplained. There is also his wife sensing something wrong about the flight and asking him not to go.
- Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice puts the supernatural stuff in the series in question by revealing that the current setting, along with the previous one, has been exposed to contaminated corn that causes hallucinations for years.
- In Curse of the Crimson Altar, just before Morley perishes falling through the roof of the burning Craxted Lodge, and image of Lavinia Morley appears laughing above him. It vanishes as he falls, leaving the three characters who saw it wondering if it was real.
- In The Dark Knight Rises, Ra's Al Ghul drops in to have a chat with Bruce, despite having died at the end of Batman Begins. It could easily be a hallucination, but Bruce gets relevant information from it that he didn't know. It would be easy to argue whether it was a hallucination or if Ra's actually is immortal. Though it does turn out that the information is false, so if Ra's was indeed around for that conversation, he's quite good at bullshitting.
- In Dark Mirror, has the ghost of Elenor been possessing Deborah to kill these people, or is Deborah just going crazy? The disappearing bodies and the blood trail ending at the wall is suggestive, but not conclusive.
- Descendants: The villain kids make a Love Potion and wonder if the human tear to be used as one of the ingredients really needs to be generated by sadness. When Jay suggests using onions to force someone to shed tears, Evie offers a scientific explanation to believe it won't be the same thing.
- In The Devil's Candy, it is fairly ambiguous whether Satan is actually speaking to Ray, or if he's just Ax-Crazy
- Les Diaboliques ends with a kid claiming to have talked to Christina, who died of a heart attack. The boy has a reputation of being a liar, so is he lying now? He did say the truth about seeing Michel, so did he actually see a ghost? Or did Christina survived her attack, just like Michel faked his death earlier?
- In Don't Go in the House the Villain Protagonist hears voices that we assume are just auditory hallucinations, though as he's dying they call him a failure and say they'll find someone else. Before the credits role, another abused little boy is shown hearing similar voices.
- Dracula's Daughter, despite being advertised as a sequel to the famous Bela Lugosi Dracula film, remains maddeningly vague on whether the title character actually is Dracula's daughter. She's never seen doing anything overtly supernatural like Dracula in the first film, and ultimately dies from a stake in the heart, something equally lethal to both humans and vampires.
- In Eve's Bayou, the main character uses voodoo to try and kill her father for hurting her sister. He does die at the end, as a direct result of Eve's actions, but it is never explained whether or not the voodoo had a hand in what happened.
- The Exorcism of Emily Rose: Was she possessed or insane? Only in the movie, however. The case it was based on is much less ambiguous, and far more depressing.
- The Facts in the Case of Mister Hollow has as its subject a Spooky Photograph of a Secret Circle of Secrets, as observed by an Occult Detective looking for evidence. Over the course of the film, it's left rather ambiguous as to whether the elements of the photo that visibly change or manifest detail beyond what the eye could see are symbolic of the investigator's gradual epiphany as they tie events together and notice new details, a Glamour Failure on the part of the paranormal cultists, indicators of a potentially lethal Portal Picture, or some combination of all three.
- Friday the 13th leaves it ambiguous as to how exactly Jason Voorhees survived drowning in Crystal Lake as a child. While Part 2 simply presents it as a case of Never Found the Body, Jason Lives presents the theory that Jason did indeed drown in the lake and has always been some sort of supernatural entity.
- In the Don Knotts classic The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, the invisible piano player who haunts the mansion is later revealed to be a parlor trick by the Gardener, who is organizing a plan to unveil the murderer who killed the house's owners - their son. However, certain other things in the house are more difficult to explain, such as the front door, and at the very ending, when the protagonist and his love interest are being wed, someone starts to play the Piano in the tune of the ghostly theme - someone who isn't there . . .
- Goldstone: It is unclear if the two appearances of Jimmy's 'ghost' were supernatural or not. The two witnesses both had good reason to hallucinate the vision, with Jay being drunk and Tommy suffering from a guilty conscience.
- Cassandra Nightingale in Hallmark Hall of Fame's The Good Witch and its sequels. Usually, it's made clear that her "magic" is really Granny Weatherwax-style "headology" ...but each film has at least one or two little moments (e.g., brooms appearing just when she needs to sweep up, doors opening of their own accord, plants in her garden seeming to shift to trip up trespassers, Cassie being able to greet someone by name before seeing them, Cassie being able to detect someone in pain while being on the other side of the house, etc.) that hint that she could have real powers.
- Halloween (1978) makes it ambiguous whether Michael Myers is just a really tough serial killer or whether he is, in fact, an indestructible Boogeyman. The film allows for either interpretation, though the last scene leans towards the latter. Some of the sequels avert this by making Michael an explicitly supernatural entity.
- Lillith of Hansel and Gretel (2013) claims to be hundreds of years old, and repeatedly makes characters hallucinate. However, there's no real proof to her claim of longevity other than a few photographs she claims depict her, and all of her tricks seem to be done via drugs. The sequel, Hansel vs. Gretel, makes the magic unambiguously real.
- Hot Tub Time Machine repeatedly draws attention to this trope and straddles a strange line between playing it straight and parodying it in the character of the Hot Tub repair man, who may just be a cloudcuckoolander repair man, or may be some sort of Time Police setting the time travelers on their way. Jacob even lampshades it, by noting that the repairman's words perfectly support either theory, and asks if it would kill the repairman to just give him a straight answer.
- The opening of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: Shiva sent you! Indiana attempts to convince them that it really was a string of wild coincidences that brought him there, alive, despite many, many things that could have killed him if they had shifted by a hair's breadth. Oddly enough, they continue to find the divine intervention plausible. (Later events are clearly supernatural; it's only Indiana's presence that is ambiguous.)
- It's possible "La Femme" from Inside is some kind of ghost.
- The titular highway of Interstate 60. When Neal asks how he can be driving down a highway that doesn't exist, he's literally offered several possibilities.
Grant: Maybe it's another dimension, maybe you're in a coma, maybe you're hallucinating, or maybe, just maybe, you're dead.
Neal: So, which is it?
Grant: What do you want from me, kid? I just gave you a bunch of answers, all of them reasonable. You want an answer? Pick one!
- I, Robot: Sentient robot Sonny has a constantly recurring "dream" of sorts, in which he sees a man on a hill in front of a crowd of robots, there to free them from slavery. Since robots can't have dreams, Spooner infers that Dr. Lanning programmed a video in Sonny as a clue prior to his murder. This assumption is seemingly proven correct, but then during the epilogue, Spooner directs Sonny to the hill in his "dream"; when Sonny gets there, he finds himself looking down on the exiled NS-5 robots, in exactly the same way as the man in his dream. A coincidence? Or something more?
- It Comes at Night: There might be some kind of monster or malevolent spirit in the woods stalking the characters, or they might just be imagining things because of the stress. Something fatally wounds Stanley after he runs into the forest and both of the kids draw pictures of menacing, faceless beings standing amongst the trees after having weird dreams, amongst other weird incidents. But there are plausible alternate explanations for all the strange events, and the movie never gives a solid answer. Also, the nature of the plague the characters are hiding from is never really explained, leaving one to wonder if its connected somehow.
- Fantastically done in K-PAX, where the film never truly answers the question of whether the main character, prot, is an alien or just a very convincing delusional man named Robert Porter who suffered a psychotic break after his family's murder. The audience is left to wonder, and the possible consequences of either answer end up surprisingly heartwarming. Though the fact that he can apparently see infrared light makes the delusion pretty convincing.
- Kundun takes this stance towards Buddhist beliefs about reincarnation. It's never made clear if the Dalai Lama reincarnates into a young boy, or a young boy seems to be just the right kind of candidate who could be raised into becoming the Dalai Lama. Or if there was nothing special about this boy in particular, but his upbringing by the monks was good enough for him to become the Dalai Lama. The film's final lines hangs a lampshade:
Indian Soldier: May I ask, are you the Lord Buddha?
The Dalai Lama: I think that I am a reflection, like the moon on water. When you see me, and I try to be a good man, you see yourself.
- The Lone Ranger:
- The Lone Ranger somehow survives the attack on his team. The horse tells Tonto that the Ranger died and came back to life. Tonto tries to convince the 'spirit horse' to bring his brother back instead.
- Tonto also believes Cavendish isn't an ordinary criminal, but a Wendigo. This is the explanation for why the Lone Ranger uses silver bullets. Cavendish being a cannibal doesn't help things...
- The Lone Ranger not only gets a psychic vision from picking up a piece of Cavendish's silver, but despite not having fired a gun in eight years prior to his "death", he manages to repeatedly pull off ridiculous trick shots. He finally just goes with it.
- And that crazy, crazy horse.
- This also falls under Unreliable Narrator thanks to the framing device of Tonto telling the story.
- In Lovely Molly, is Molly possessed or just going crazy? Only at the very beginning and the very ending of the film does anyone but her seem to perceive what is happening.
- In Mad Max: Fury Road, Max's flashbacks to Glory the Child seem like simple traumatised hallucinations, but the one that inspires him to suggest that Furiosa and the wives take the Citadel contains a split-second precognitive vision that ultimately saves his life when it triggers an instinctive reaction to slap his hand over his face, blocking a fatal headshot. Overall, he receives painful and distracting visions admonishing him to "stop running" when he's fleeing but helpful ones when he decides to help people, further suggesting a benevolent force guiding him to reconnect with his fellow humans.
- In A Matter of Life and Death: did his head injuries cause his visions? Or are the angels really discussing the proper thing to do with him?
- The Men Who Stare at Goats: The film never answers if there's real psychic powers or not. The main character does run through a wall at the end. However, a second after he's shown doing so, a picture frame falls off the wall, implying that he could have actually slammed into it but imagined himself going through. Like every other "paranormal" incident in the movie, it's up to the viewer to decide.
- Mermaid: It's left ambiguous whether Alice actually causes things to happen by wishing for them.
- The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc: The film suggests the possibility Jeanne didn't really see signs from God, but is just a mentally ill girl who saw what she wanted. On the other hand, some things here (such as somehow picking out Charles from a room full of nobles) don't get explained.
- Discussed in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Jim Williams consults a voudoun priestess for aid in his upcoming trial for killing his lover Billy Hanson (he claims a Crime of Self-Defense), asking her to both sabotage the prosecution and stop Billy's spirit from causing him trouble. For the latter, Minerva advises him to beg Billy's forgiveness every day. Jim comments to the viewpoint character, Intrepid Reporter John Kelso, in the car afterwards that "I don't believe in the hocus-pocus of it, but the spiritual force behind it." However, he flatly refuses to beg Billy's forgiveness. He dies of a Hollywood Heart Attack in the office where he shot Billy after his acquittal, and briefly sees Billy lying across the carpet from him as he goes.
- In Miracle on 34th Street, the old guy who claims to be Santa Claus never does anything unambiguously supernatural. Even his piece de resistance, finding exactly the thing Susan wants for Christmas even though nobody was sure it existed, might just be a stroke of good luck.
- Done ineffectually by the infamous finale of the B-Movie Monster a-Go Go. After about an hour of the monster killing people and scientists trying to figure out what's going on, the cops and military are finally chasing the monster down and seem to have it cornered in the sewers. And than suddenly the monster is gone. No, it doesn't die, it just inexplicably disappears, and the astronaut who became the monster at the start of the movie is found safe and unharmed. The following absurd narration is the only explanation given:
"As if a switch had been turned, as if an eye had been blinked, as if some phantom force in the universe had made a move eons beyond our comprehension, suddenly, there was no trail! There was no giant, no monster, no thing called "Douglas" to be followed. There was nothing in the tunnel but the puzzled men of courage, who suddenly found themselves alone with shadows and darkness! With the telegram, one cloud lifts, and another descends. Astronaut Frank Douglas, rescued, alive, well, and of normal size, some 8,000 miles away in a lifeboat, with no memory of where he has been, or how he was separated from his capsule! Then who, or what, has landed here? Is it here yet? Or has the cosmic switch been pulled? Case in point: The line between science fiction and science fact is microscopically thin! You have witnessed the line being shaved even thinner! But is the menace with us? Or is the monster gone?"
- Depending on how you interpret the eye protecting "true magic" in Now You See Me.
- Nymphomaniac: Joe is possessed by The Whore Of Babylon (but maybe it was only an epileptic seizure after all). She later grows to lead a gang to fight against Love, because love only leads to jealousy... (or maybe this gang was an actual Satanic Cult after all). Having personally encountered demonic forces and been deeply involved with them, Joe has grown into an atheist who do not believe that the supernatural exist... but does this make her a Flat-Earth Atheist or someone who has Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions by acknowledging her own mental illness?
- Pan's Labyrinth has two different audience interpretations according to whether the fairy world is real, or made by Ofelia's imagination. Guillermo del Toro says that he deliberately leaves at least one thing in his movies that can only be explained through supernatural means. In Pan's Labyrinth, it's Ofelia using the magic chalk to get in the Captain's room and retrieve her brother. In The Devil's Backbone, it's the teacher's ghost freeing the children from the room they have been locked in.
- The Princess Bride: Inigo and Fezzik are looking for someone with no time to lose. Inigo invokes his father's spirit and attempts to use his Cool Sword like a dowsing rod. He runs into a tree, but the knot he accidentally prodded is the switch that opens the secret entrance leading to precisely who they're searching for.
- Father Jonas in Prom Night IV: Deliver Us From Evil is either psychotic or possessed (or something).
- Pulp Fiction:
Marvin: Man, I don't even have an opinion.
- Vincent and Jules being miraculously saved from several gunshots at point-blank range. Jules is convinced it's a miracle, while Vincent recounts hearing a similar story. The gunman could've just been a bad shot, but Jules notes that there are bullet holes in the wall behind him and Vincent; by all rights at least one of them should've been grazed if nothing else.
- The contents of Marcellus Wallace's briefcase. Yeah the yellow glow could just be for dramatic effect, but Vincent and Pumpkin both seem utterly shocked by what they're seeing and we never learn why Marcellus is so hellbent on getting it back or why Brett stole it in the first place. And then there's that weird band-aid Marcellus is wearing on the back of his head the entire movie; could that have something to do with it (Ving Rhames cut himself while shaving and Tarantino didn't bother filming around it, but that doesn't stop fans from speculating)? When asked what was in it, Tarantino said that the answer was "anything you want it to be".
- Real Steel leaves it up in the air if the robot Atom has a level of sentience, or is merely acting on its Shadow Function (that makes it mimic what it sees). The Commentary explains that there would have been a scene showing that it was indeed sentient, but it was later cut out to leave the question up in the air.
- At the end of Salvation Boulevard, Carl is walking away from Pastor Dan's stabbed body when a bolt of lightning strikes right behind him and he reveals that it severed the handcuffs behind his back without harming him.
- This is the whole point of A Serious Man, which is extremely stubborn when it comes to answering Larry's questions (and ours) as to whether the hand of God is at work in his life, or if there is a purely rational explanation for everything (as he wants to think).
- Wonderfully played in the climactic final confrontation between Holmes and Lord Blackwood in Sherlock Holmes (2009) starring Robert Downey Junior, where after dissecting every one of Blackwood's "magic tricks" as fakery, he comments that if Blackwood actually believed in his own sorcerous rites and the dark things he'd invoked, then he'd know what waited for him after death. Cue Blackwood accidentally falling to a hanging death, just as a crow flies past.
- In The Shining film adaptation, it is unclear whether The Overlook Hotel is haunted or not. Stanley Kubrick wanted to suggest that the characters seeing ghosts and other terrors might have been caused by cabin fever and things like Jack being let out of the food supply closet was just because of a badly locked door opening at the right moment. There are still elements that can only be explained supernaturally, such as Danny using his clairvoyance to warn Halloran and a ghost later telling Jack about this, or Jack appearing in a framed photograph in the Overlook lobby dating back to 1921. Notably, this is one of the reasons Stephen King disliked the movie, as in his original book the ghosts are very much real.
- The Skeptic has Beckett seeing his mother's ghost throughout the film while staying in his aunt's house. He has severe repressed memories from when he was five and suffers from insomnia. He may be hallucinating his mother's ghost or she may exist. He's the only person who ever sees her, but the psychic is able to come up with a surprising amount of detail.
- Many a Slasher Movie will ask whether a character murdered, accidentally or otherwise, at the start of the show has come back for revenge à la The Crow, or if it's just someone imitating (or avenging) them; e.g. Sorority Row or My Bloody Valentine.
- In Stalker, it's never made clear how much power, if any, the Zone actually has.
- Star Wars: In Rogue One, Chirrut has a religious belief in the Force but does not have Jedi training. Despite this, it seems possible the Force truly is guiding him, as he calmly walks through a firefight and is never even grazed - and it looks improbable enough that even standard Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy seems insufficient to explain it.
- Super: Whether Frank is actually having visions or if he is just hallucinating is never revealed. If he is actually having visions, then it would mean that the Holy Avenger is more than some TV actor playing a role, that he's real, and some sort of actual emissary from God.
- Take Shelter is about a family man who begins having mysterious dreams about some kind of apocalyptic storm, causing him to start obsessively building a shelter behind his house. It's never clear if the dreams are magical/prophetic or not; on one hand, they seem far too vivid and comprehensive to be normal dreams, but on the other, the protagonist eventually admits that his mother had paranoid schizophrenia that he may or may not have inherited. The ending seems to fall on the "magic" side when the storm actually comes, but there's hints that Through the Eyes of Madness may be at play when this happens...
- In Das Testament des Doktor Mabuse, it is left deliberately unclear whether the imprisoned and dying Diabolical Mastermind Dr. Mabuse managed to use evil psionic powers to take over the body of his psychiatrist Dr. Baum, or whether Baum went insane and developed the delusion of being his former patient.
- In The Iliad, Achilles' mother is a sea goddess. In Troy, she's a woman of questionable sanity who believes she's a river goddess. We're never quite sure whether she really is a goddess or not.
- The Wailing strongly hinges on the "magic" side, but it is still perfectly possible to interpret the supernatural elements of the movie as toxic mushrooms-induced hallucinations and madness.
- The Wizard of Oz ends with Dorothy lying on her bed and her family claim that she'd fallen asleep and had a nightmare but Dorothy insists that Oz is a real place and she enjoyed it. We never find out the truth unless you count Oz: The Great and Powerful as canon, which confirms Oz's existence.
- In the 2000 movie Waking The Dead, Fielding's girlfriend Sarah is killed in a car bombing, but he keeps seeing her in crowds and hearing her voice. She eventually comes to his office late at night to say goodbye and Fielding doesn't see her again afterwards. Either she was a ghost, she faked her death and went into hiding, or Fielding's grief made him mentally unbalanced. None of these scenarios are proved or disproved.
- Werewolf horror film Wer does this in-universe. The first part of the film suggests that 'werewolfism' is a combination of a unique strain of porphyria (which, among other things, causes excessive hair growth and water retention) and the moon acting on the excessive water retention (in the same way it affects the tides) causes something akin to a psychomotor epileptic seizure in the disease-sufferers, causing them to go into blackout fugue-rages where a body's natural 'restraints' are turned off, resulting in seemingly superhuman strength and savagery. Then the 'werewolf', his condition triggered by flashing lights, is shown to literally have his body WARPING under the skin... at which point he survives a multi-story fall without any injury, is shot numerous times and either ignores it or recovers impossibly fast, and is able to run on all fours at speeds that let him OUTRUN A CAR. So while he doesn't actually turn into a wolf man...
- In The VVitch, the titular witch's misdeeds ultimately amount to a handful of murders that could have been carried out without magic. And considering the circumstances, they easily could have been committed by Thomasin, the family's eldest daughter. Note that the witch also isn't seen or heard again after Thomasin ends up as the last character alive, possibly hinting that she was the witch all along and the witch's appearances were hallucinations seen from her perspective.
- Cloud Atlas: Two examples in Zachry's story, the only one to feature any fantastical/supernatural elements:
- When Zachry meets the demonic Old Georgie, is it a supernatural encounter, or a common-or-garden hallucination? The film never explains or comments on it either way.
- The Abbess has a trance and makes three statements, all of which come to pass. Were they actual prophecy, or merely open-ended enough that Zachry would eventually be able to apply them to something, given enough time?
- The old folk song "Scarlet Ribbons". The narrator overhears his/her young daughter praying for scarlet ribbons for her hair before bedtime. Unfortunately it is very late, and all the shops are closed, making it impossible to obtain them. When the narrator checks on his/her daughter again before dawn, the wished-for ribbons are lying on her bed. The song ends with the lines "If I live to be one hundred / I will never know from where / Came those lovely scarlet ribbons / Scarlet ribbons for her hair."
- The Presence, in the Nine Inch Nails Year Zero ARG. In a dystopian future, suddenly a giant glowing blue human arm is periodically seen reaching down from the sky, in locations all over the world. No clear explanation is ever given for what the hell the Presence actually is, but what is known is that it will never appear on video or photographs intentionally taken of it, while those that accidentally capture it can, and that anyone who witnesses it is unnaturally stunned by the sight of it. In-universe theories range from the Presence being God, aliens, or a government weapon, but none of these are ever confirmed before it destroys the world.
- "Rosetta Stoned" from Tool. The narrator is clearly having a full-scale breakdown, but the cause is what's open to interpretation. Did he really have a sanity-destroying encounter with aliens who informed him that he had some greater cosmic purpose, or did he just have a really bad trip? Given Maynard's attitude towards giving a straight answer about a song's meaning, either interpretation could be correct.
- In "Creepy Doll" by Jonathan Coulton, it's not entirely clear whether the titular doll is magical or merely the focus of your growing insanity.
- Job for a Cowboy's Sun Eater is either chronicling a psychedelic trip (based on the nature of the visions and the album's musical flow, probably ayahuasca) or a wisdom-granting seance. "Worming Nightfall" is either where the trip goes very wrong and destroys the protagonist's mind or where the seance goes wrong and leaves her trapped in a dream world. The wording is ambiguous enough that both explanations are equally plausible.
- The two most popular interpretations of the song Werewolves of London by Warren Zevon are that it's either about a Handsome Lech type character being compared to a werewolf or about an actual werewolf.
- There's every indication at first that season 1 of Palimpsest is a ghost story. There's the appearances of Thomas and Ms. Aikmann, the bloody footprints that keep appearing, the increasingly odd hints to Anneliese's sister Claire, and numerous odd occurrences. But then, as the podcast goes on, there's increasing amounts of parallels between Anneliese past and the hauntings, the reveal that Anneliese was either visited by Claire's ghost or deluded herself into believing she was there, the reveal that regardless of the events of the story Anneliese is suffering from staggering amounts of mental trauma. The last of which throws all events of the podcast into question, and could very well mean it was all in her head. In the end, it could all be magic, mundane, or both.
- In Alfred Noyes's "Forty Singing Seamen", it concludes with the narrator's observation that might all be Pink Elephants. To be sure, that included drinking the grog.
Across the seas of Wonderland to London-town we blundered,
Forty singing seamen as was puzzled for to know
If the visions that we saw was caused by—here again we pondered—
A tipple in a vision forty thousand years ago.
Could the grog we dreamt we swallowed
Make us dream of all that followed?
We were only simple seamen, so of course we didn't know!
Chorus—We were simple singing seamen, so of course we could not know
- In the ballad "The Erl-King" by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a sick boy claims he is being pursued by the Erl-King who wants to take him away; shortly after claiming that the Erl-King is touching and hurting him, he dies. The poem does not answer the question whether the Erl-King was real or only the dying boy's fever dream.
- In "Lore Lay" by Clemens Brentano, Lore Lay is called a sorceress, and is charged with using magic to make all men fall in love with her. However, the fact that Lore Lay is not actually interested in the attention she receives suggests that she may not be a witch at all, merely a very attractive (but non-magical) single woman.
- One Christmas Episode of The Men from the Ministry ends this way; the episode features One upsetting Santa and the main duo travelling to Christmas Land and escaping eventually on an magic carpet. The episode ends with Two awakening One from a sleep, but a new red carpet has appeared on Two's room...
- Warhammer 40,000 loves this trope as a cornerstone of its setting, especially when the Adeptus Mechanicus come into play. Is that ancient relic so powerful because it was created with long-lost technology of astounding power, or is it truly blessed by the Emperor to protect his children? Do the Necrons invoke some strange techno-sorcery in their weapons and vehicles, or is their understanding of the material world so absolute that we can't even begin to understand how they work? Are the Legion of the Damned mystical undead, or just regular marines suffering from some ungodly mixture of the Black Rage and Nurgle Rot? Did the Techpriest's chanting and ritual application of holy oils appease the machine spirit of the Land Raider, or does the Land Raider just have a voice-activated diagnostic program installed? The answer is very, very rarely made clear in any given case. This is made worse because it has to be on a case-by-case basis since magic and super-tech both exist in the setting, and some tech (especially that used by Orks) is explicitly a mix of real mechanical systems and Clap Your Hands If You Believe.
- Mage: The Ascension had some fun with this too. Any smart mage makes their spells look like coincidences, hypertech, or something else that the general population believes will work (and a fair number actually believe that this is what is happening). With the heavy levels of Clap Your Hands If You Believe used, the odds are very good that there's a bit of both magic and coincidence/super-science/whatever going on.
- The New World of Darkness sourcebook Asylum presents a suite of odd happenings and disturbed individuals in the ill-starred Bishopsgate Mental Hospital in one chapter. The book gives each of them one or more supernatural explanations... and also gives a mundane one for each, with the "real" answer in the Storyteller's hands. (For example, one of the patients is a woman with foggy memories and terribly-kept medical records. The book gives two possibilities: she's being used as a storage conduit by the Seers of the Throne, who alter her records to hide their activities... or she's just an ill woman with an aneurysm on the verge of bursting, and the hospital's just really screwed up keeping their books straight.)
- Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 edition has a Prestige Class that pretends to be a spellcaster, stretching sleight of hand and really good bluff skills right to the edge of the supernatural.
- Pathfinder ups the ante on this a bit by giving rogues (the "tricky" non-magical Character Class) access to actual spells as class "tricks". Because they're so good at faking it, sometimes even the universe just gives up and believes them.
- The "Phantom 'Mech" ability, which was displayed in the BattleTech Expanded Universe but also given rules in the tabletop during three different scenario sets. In combat, Morgan Kell's, Patrick Kell's and Yorinaga Kurita's battlemechs became completely invisible to sensors, and targeting systems were completely unable to detect them. Attempting to fire upon them resulted in the weapon missing entirely, unless they engaged each other, or someone got both fancy and dumb. (Daniel Allard successfully hit Morgan Kell by having his 'Mech's computer fire at the flashes of Morgan's lasers; he said himself this was low-probability to work if Morgan had been moving.) It's never explained what exactly it is; whether it be destiny, or a LosTech stealth system. The fact Morgan was apparently able to do it against the Clans again during the Battle of Luthien argues against it having been lostech, though.
- The visions that Clan Nova Cat warriors experience fall under this as well. Are they really glimpsing the future, or is it simply hallucinations that are sufficiently vague as to be easy to find an explanation for them? The fact that they're only ever interpreted after events that fulfill them have happened points to the latter, as does the Nova Cats winding up as a Client State for the Draconis Combine that choked them of resources and used them as cannon fodder before ultimately wiping them out during a succession crisis.
- The Fate systems such as Dresden RPG and Strands of Fate have the Aspect system where all characters have a set of "Aspects" which basically causes PCs and other important characters to have a serious case of Plot Happens in their general vicinity. Leaving you to wonder in some settings whether there is something special about these people.
- Remnants goes so far as to quote both Clarke's Third Law and the misattribution to Larry Niven that gave us Sufficiently Analyzed Magic, and offers both magical and technological explanations for the disaster that broke the Broken Lands and left only ruins and self-repairing mechs.
- Dark Matter (1999) advised the Game Master to take this tack occasionally, as having every plot hook turn into a Monster of the Week or a lead-in to a grand conspiracy would make things predictable. Sometimes, just savor the mystery.
- Elisabeth: Some productions, especially the original 1992 version, make it ambiguous if Death is a real character or a hallucination. He's only visible to Elisabeth, Rudolf and Lucheni, none of whom are particularly sane, and Lucheni is an Unreliable Narrator anyway. In other productions he's more obviously a real character.
- Harvey: The play and movie chronicle several characters' attempt to "cure" Elwood of his psychosis regarding his hallucinating the titular, gigantic, anthropomorphic rabbit. However, there are many clues that indicate "Harvey" may actually be a Not-So-Imaginary Friend.
- The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare: At the end, Queen Hermione's statue seems to come to life. It could be that the statue of Hermione really does come to life, or it could be that her servant, Paulina, kept her hidden for years and she only claimed she had died.
- Next to Normal: In the end, although the family does begin to heal and move on, it's left a bit unclear whether Gabriel was just a hallucination or actually was a ghost desperately holding onto Diane to keep "living". The reprise of "I Am the One" could easily support either conclusion.
- In The Phantom of the Opera, it's deliberately left ambiguous as to whether the Phantom actually does have supernatural abilities. Some of the things he does, like the mirror, are understandable, but a lot more - causing the piano to play itself during the rehearsal of Don Juan Triumphant, creating fire in the graveyard, making the gates in his lair rise with merely a gesture, disappearing from under his cloak at the end of the show - while obviously stage effects in real life, have no practical explanation in the context of the story. However, the film version makes it very clear that all the stunts he pulls are merely clever tricks, leaving the more supernatural stuff out altogether and explaining other things away by showing the Phantom pulling a lever to raise the gates, or messing with Carlotta's throat spray in order to make her croak.
- In the musical version of Heathers, Veronica sees (and talks to) the ghosts of her boyfriend's victims multiple times throughout the show. But since only Veronica sees them, and she gradually grows more and more unstable, it's left up to the audience to decide if the ghosts are really there or just a hallucination. At one point, the ghosts warn her of danger, but that could also be chalked up to Veronica's gut feeling, especially considering she was Properly Paranoid already. Essentially, it's up to you whether the ghosts caused Veronica's Sanity Slippage, or if it was the other way around.
- Yes Virginia: The Musical: The Santas who come alive for "Santa by the Book" might just be a child's imagination. The Jolly Gentleman might just be a kindly old gentleman who resembles Santa Claus.
- In Scratches you are constantly bombarded with a mix of "magic" and "mundane" arguments up until the very end, and it's still not entirely clear which one was at work: Was there ever a curse in the mansion, or was it all just the result of a series of terrifying misunderstandings? Made even scarier when you consider that the mundane explanation behind the mystery is, arguably, at least as terrifying as the supernatural one.
- Metal Gear:
- Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Among many, many other examples, there is Fortune. Is she Immune to Bullets due to luck-based powers, or a prototype force field? If it's the force field, then why can she deflect missiles after the force field has been proven to be deactivated? Also, she managed to survive a gunshot wound due to her being one of a very few number of people with their hearts on the opposite side of their chests...
- Another example that is frequently debated by the fans is the nature of Ocelot's "Liquid Ocelot" persona. While Big Boss explains it in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots as solely the product of nanomachines and Ocelot's self-induced psychotherapy techniques, it's less clear about the Liquid persona in Metal Gear Solid 2, when he still has Liquid Snake's right arm grafted to him. Even though Big Boss says that "an arm can't do that" in regards to Liquid's supposed possession of Ocelot, there is the fact that Ocelot's father is a spirit medium in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (something Big Boss may be unaware of), and he seems to be far less in control of "Liquid" in MGS2 than he is in MGS4 after Liquid's arm is replaced by a cybernetic one.
- Dragon Age uses a variant on this trope with Andraste, the backstory's expy of Joan of Arc and Jesus. The church's doctrine is that she genuinely enjoyed the favor of the otherwise absent Maker and through her, the Maker wrought miracles - and that Andraste's ashes in Origins have genuine miraculous power. It's suggested, however, by non-church characters, that Andraste may simply have been a powerful sorceress who fooled the world and that her ashes have power as a result of being stored near a massive deposit of incredibly pure lyrium. As with all things related to the Chantry's doctrine in-game, the writers leave the truth intentionally ambiguous.
- In addition, there's the Old Gods, at least 7 (including the 5 slain by the Grey Wardens) massive dragons hibernating underground that were worshipped by the ancient Tevinters as gods and emit a call that lures Darkspawn to them, resulting in them being turned into Archdemons and starting a new Blight. The Chantry teaches that the Old Gods were demons that tricked humanity into worshipping them and were imprisoned underground by the Maker as a result, while scholars assumed that they're an endangered species of ancient dragon that humanity worshipped out of fear and that they're simply hibernating. Like everything relating to religion in the series it's left unclear which is true, but their link to the Darkspawn implies heavily that they're not just normal dragons.
- A variation in Dragon Age II: why there are constant problems in Kirkwall? Is it because the city's layout was set down to create powerful sigils for some unknown purpose? Something the Tevinter Mages did when they controlled the City or some curse bestowed when they lost it during the slave uprising? Is it because the Veil between the Fade is particularly weak there? Maybe its proximity to the Primeval Thaig and vast amounts of Red Lyrium that drive people crazy? Maybe its proximity to the Ancient Darkspawn Corypheus slumbering in his Grey Warden Prison? Or maybe its because the people who live there just make it a Crapsack World?
- Just what the hell is up with Sandal and why does he keep being found surrounded by countless dead Darkspawn, Demons, etc?
Hawke: I'd really like to know how you killed all those darkspawn?!
Sandal: *Hands them a Runestone* Boom!
Hawke: And how did you do that?! *Gestures to a Ogre frozen-solid and in mid-charge*
Sandal: Not Enchantment!
- There are a number of fan theories surrounding Sandal. Dwarf who has somehow learned to use magic? note Old God manifested in the form of a Dwarven boy? note And what's with this weird line he spouts in Dragon Age II?
- Dragon Age: Inquisition gives the whole "Is it really The Maker acting In Mysterious Ways?" question another spin with the story of the Inquisitor, a.k.a. the Herald of Andraste (a.k.a. the Player Character). Are they really guided by some divine providence, or is it just sheer, blind luck that saves them again and again where anyone else would have died horribly? Either way, it is pretty obvious how history will remember them (hint: take a good long look at Andraste).
- Friday the 13th: The Game has Pamela Voorhees acting as a sort of Mission Control for Jason as The Voice, but it's not entirely clear if Jason is just hearing his mother's voice as a delusion or if her spirit is actually talking her. There's evidence for both, for example, Pamela warning Jason that a counselor has taken her sweater after entering the shack as well as Jason hearing both the counselor and Pamela's voice when a female counselor uses the sweater on him.
- The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind:
- The game is very ambiguous on whether the Player Character really is the Nerevarine prophesied hero and reincarnation of the long-dead Dunmer Folk Hero. It's also possible that you're a particularly clever and lucky impostor who tricked everyone with the help of The Empire and Azura, a Daedric Prince who was the original Nerevar's patron in ages past. The game never answers it definitively (and it even throws in the third possibility of you becoming the Nerevarine by doing what the Nerevarine is prophesied to do), and the most knowledgeable (sane) beings in the setting prefer not to jump to any conclusions about you.
- The original Nerevar in the Backstory was said to possess "supernatural powers of persuasion'', which were further enhanced by his enchanted Moon-and-Star ring. Whether these powers were an inborn or learned magical ability, the magic of the Moon-and-Star was that powerful, or Indoril Nerevar was just naturally charismatic is never really explored (the Moon-and-Star does boost persuasive abilities by a decent but not excessive amount, so the smart money is on "a little of all of them").
- The Moon-And-Star was supposedly cursed to instantly kill anyone who was not Nerevar who dared to wear it. You can wear it without problems. Whether this is because you are the Nerevarine or the curse is just another later add-on to the Nerevar myth is never revealed, though both possibilities are floated.
- The Half-Life 2 Game Mod Black Snow plays with this trope a lot. It's revealed the eponymous black snow is a heavily parasitic and aggressive form of spore-based fungus that is immune to most environmental hazards but regular light and above, but that doesn't explain the strange whispering and noises it emits, the ghastly groan it makes when it attacks, the mysterious presence of a Slenderman-like figure in drawings made by the research staff who shows up on a laptop's wallpaper while you're searching it for files and in a sensory deprivation chamber's induced hallucination, the bizarre fossil core that it seems to emanate from when it was dug up, that it seems to be actively screwing with the player character's camera in the ending by plastering what appears to be the faces of the researchers of the center it attacked and images of a cave...
- Takane Shijou of The iDOLM@STER is implied to be from either the Moon... or Germany.
- Silent Hill: Shattered Memories leaves players on a note of ambiguity regarding whether Harry was a physical manifestation of Cheryl's memories wandering through the real (or alternate-dimension) Silent Hill, or purely a figment of her imagination navigating an equally imaginary world. The creators are vehement that players should come up with their own answers, and ample evidence exists for both interpretations.
- Pretty much every entry in the Silent Hill franchise plays this trope. In each one, it's intentionally unknown if all of the monsters, characters, Otherworld transformations, weapon/item placements, and strange scenery pieces that Harry/James/Heather/Henry/Travis/Alex/Murphy encounter are either legitimately happening and being fought with, or are all merely drug-induced hallucinations or bad nightmares; the first game alone demonstrates as much evidence of the cult's White Claudia drug smuggling operations as there is talk of the town's still-mysterious past, Alessa's "strange powers", and the cult's creepy rituals. One of the endings for that game even suggests it was all a dying dream, but is considered non-canon. Perhaps most bizarre of all, however, is that a cutscene towards the end of Silent Hill 3 has Vincent remarking "They looked like monsters to you?", suggesting both the hallucinations-possibility again...and that our protagonists may actually be killing innocent people or cult members instead! Of course, he says he was joking afterwards, but nobody knows even to this day...
- Also from Silent Hill 3 is the true nature of Leonard Wolf. When Heather encounters him, he appears as a large, aquatic beast. Despite this, Leonard's daughter is completely human, and no character ever mentions anything unusual about Leonard's appearance. It is possible that Heather was instead seeing Through the Eyes of Madness? Or did he become a monster due to his connections to the cult?
- In Fallout 2, there is a town wherein you can meet a translucent woman who claims to be a ghost, but in dialogue you simply ask her to turn off her Stealth Boy, an item which, well, makes the user translucent and thus harder to see (hence the name). So is this just a mentally disturbed woman with Stealth Boy, or an actual ghost? Fallout: New Vegas shows that prolonged usage of Stealth Boys among Nightkin has made them schizophrenic, giving evidence to the former. However the effect has never been observed among humans
- Hakunin is a shaman like member of the Arroyo tribe who can speak to the Chosen One through his dreams. In universe, people with these powers are known as Psykers. Whether his powers are supernatural or the result of some radiation induced mutation are not explained.
- Sulik frequently communes with "Grampy Bone", one of his grandfather's bones that Sulik uses for a nose ornament. You can ask Grampy Bone for advice, which while never easy to understand, is always valid. It is never established how much is genuine spirituality, how much is Sulik being slightly nuts and deeply superstitious, and how much is just Sulik figuring things out way ahead of you and messing with your head.
- There's a lot of fucked-up stuff that goes on in the Dunwich Building in Fallout 3 that can be rationalized as, say, hallucinogenic gases, or maybe an odd variant of radiation, but that explanation still doesn't cover everything. It's entirely possible that the Dunwich Building is perfectly normal- well, as far as 'normal' goes in Fallout. But it's also entirely possible something dark and eldritch lurks there. We'll never know for sure.
This goes even further and yet also stays precisely the same in a mission in the Point Lookout DLC. You're asked by a somewhat creepy old man to retrieve a book - supposedly, a tome of eldritch lore. You're asked by an old Christian missionary to destroy it by pressing it against the monolith in the basement of the Dunwich Building, which will destroy the book. It's entirely possible the book is made out of some strange radioactive substance that reacts poorly to whatever the monolith is made of - or it might actually have genuine arcane power.
The Point Lookout DLC had some Dummied Out plot points regarding the book according to The Other Wiki. Apparently Obadiah Blackhall was specifically asking for the help of the Christian Missionary to help him destroy the book, when she receives the notification of this she proclaims that Obadiah is a good man but comes from a bad family. When the book is brought to him Obadiah was supposed to tell you that the book was used by his family for occult purposes in ancient times and that it has demonic origins, he explains that there are two ways to destroy the evil magic contained in the book; either sacrifice himself or destroy the book in the Dunwich Building. This cut content makes it far more explicit that the book is magic.
- Across the whole series, the function of the Luck Stat and the (related) nature of the Mysterious Stranger fall under this heading. The Luck Stat supposedly only governs the player character's ability to calculate probabilities, but in practice allows people to make uncanny predictions, such as (with a 24 hour margin of error) the exact date of a surprise nuclear attack, how to perform literal brain surgery, or what random passwords might be. Likewise, the Mysterious Stranger perk relies on a decent Luck Stat, and the Stranger himself is a very mysterious fellow, seemingly able to appear anywhere in the world (or beyond) at the drop of a hat. Your companion Nick Valentine in Fallout 4 is investigating the Stranger, and theorizes that it's possibly multiple people or a Ghoul with minimal scarring using Stealth Boys. The Stranger's appearance changes across the series (and the fact that you could get a female one in Video Game/Fallout) lends some credence to the "multiple people" theory.
- In Fallout 2, there is a town wherein you can meet a translucent woman who claims to be a ghost, but in dialogue you simply ask her to turn off her Stealth Boy, an item which, well, makes the user translucent and thus harder to see (hence the name). So is this just a mentally disturbed woman with Stealth Boy, or an actual ghost? Fallout: New Vegas shows that prolonged usage of Stealth Boys among Nightkin has made them schizophrenic, giving evidence to the former. However the effect has never been observed among humans
- It's unclear how much is real and how much imaginary in Rule of Rose, but a pretty standard interpretation is that all the supernatural events are in the protagonist's badly muddled head, and it was All Just a Dream, albeit of real events.
- Five Nights at Freddy's:
- The killer animatronics zigzag this throughout the series. While the stated reason for their behavior in the original game is that an error in their programming that causes them to perceive the player as an endoskeleton sans costume, an Easter Egg notes that after five children were lured into a room and disappeared, the animatronics began to smell and leak blood and mucus, suggesting a more paranormal cause. The sequel makes it obvious that there is something more than human going on with them, and ultimately Five Nights at Freddy's 3 directly confirms that the animatronics are possessed/haunted by the ghosts of the dead children.
- Five Nights at Freddy's 3 has phantoms of the animatronics who, while not lethal, pose an indirect threat. It's never clear if they're hallucinations brought on by fear/shoddy ventilation, or if they are indeed "phantoms" of some kind.
- In Five Nights at Freddy's 4, are the Nightmare animatronics just the hallucinations/PTSD-induced flashbacks of the Bite of 87's victim, or actual entities that can kill him? Is the child's Fredbear just a plush toy, or a Not-So-Imaginary Friend responsible for the Nightmares in the first place?
- In Five Nights at Freddy's: Sister Location, what's up with Baby? Is she just an advanced animatronic who somehow became sapient? Or is she also possessed? To say nothing of the other animatronics...
- The FNAF fangame Fazbear and Friends purports to be in the canon, but it's never made entirely clear whether there are actual supernatural goings-on at the restaurant, or if it's the murderer turning the malfunctioning animatronics on and off to screw with Thomas.
- In Michigan: Report From Hell, it is heavily implied that the monsters in the game are a result of experiments, with plenty of evidence to back it up, however, at the same time, you can find strange things, such as bed-sheets floating as if someone is laying down in them, an oven being on even though the place is abandoned (though whether or not it was left on recently is another unanswered question), and a few other things, these possibly implying that there are unnatural forces at work.
- Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened: The various Cthulhu-related elements are treated this way. It could be the Great God himself causing storms and the end of days, or simply a very large number of crazy people. The best example is when Sherlock uses an incantation said to exorcise demons to subdue a gunman. It may have worked, or it might have just his own beliefs working against him.
- Pokémon: In Pokémon Red and Blue, did that girl in Lavender Town really see a white hand or was she just teasing?
- Bully has various clues, hints, sightings, and sounds that there is a werewolf loose in town, leading to lots of online controversy in the gaming world, making some gamers wonder who that werewolf is, and making other gamers claim that there is no werewolf at all.
- Far Cry:
- Far Cry 3 has this all over it. So many things on the island, like the animal's ultra-aggressive, almost Hive Mind-like behaviour, Jason's prophetic hallucinations, the alleged "demon" Jason fights about halfway through the game, an NPC who is heavily implied at the end to have been a ghost, the way the local natives seem to be slowly going mad, old letters from WW2 Japanese soldiers reporting crazy shit going on... The list just goes on, and the worst thing is, in true trope form, we're just left to wonder if it's all real, or the protagonist simply going insane. And there's plenty of evidence for both. It's border-line terrifying.
- Far Cry 4 continues this. Ajay has several visions of an ancient Kyrati warrior questing for Shangri-La who he may well be a reincarnation of, but he's mostly tripping balls on drugs when this happens to him. The Valley of the Yetis DLC also does this with the eponymous Yetis, the insane religion of Yalung, and the Relic.
- In Attack Of The Friday Monsters A Tokyo Tale, while some of the strange goings-on are given definite natural explanations (the monsters that had been appearing are just stagecraft made by the local TV station), other aspects of the plot tend to be more ambiguous about whether they're real events or fantasies of the game's child characters, particularly as the adults act like it's all real while the kids are around. And some of the stranger happenings don't get any naturalistic explanations at all (such as Sohta's abduction by the UFO and transportation to the diner).
- In Medieval II: Total War, priests (of all types, Christian, Muslim, Pagan, doesn't matter) with a higher Piety rating have a greater survival rate against assassins. Why is this? Is it merely because a higher-ranking priest would have more competent bodyguards in greater numbers, or is it that the priest is viewed so highly by the community that Assassins dare not attack him for fear of reprisal? Or does his piety actually give him divine protection?
- Likewise, in Total War: Shogun 2, geisha can develop a trait called "Fox Lady" and it's not defined whether this is a metaphorical thing or it's meant literally. For the Shirabyoshi in Rise of the Samurai, there's no ambiguity: they're Kitsune all right.
- A number of events in the Crusader Kings games are seen by the characters as explicitly supernatural or miraculous, but could have more plausible explanations. To give but one possibility: Is your king genuinely suffering from Demonic Possession, or are the voices in his head simply the result of a mental disorder medieval medicine knows nothing about? After a number of DLCs, the second game has options for an explicitly mundane world or undeniable Magic Realism, though there remain plenty of events believed to be magic by the denizens of the world in the first case, and a number of ambiguous events in the second.
- In the first section of Mass Effect 3, Shepard runs across a young boy in a half-ruined building, has a few lines of conversation with him, and then has to leave. Later, the same boy is spotted climbing into a shuttle which is promptly shot down. End of story? Maybe... but between his seemingly impossible Stealth Hi/Bye (Shepard turns away for a few seconds, and he climbs out of sight — in an air vent), his vague, panicky dialogue that is totally correct, the fact that no one else seems to see him or ever interacts with him — not Anderson, not anyone on the shuttle he's climbing aboard — and not least the Catalyst at the end of the game coincidentally (?) basing its avatar on him, well, things seem a little fishy. Naturally, fan theories hopped the first train out of Rational Town and never looked back. Well, theories of indoctrination are technically mundane in this sci-fi setting...
- A more obvious example is the Citadel DLC's culmination to Thane Krios' Romance Sidequest: is the ghost of him that Shepard sees an actual spirit of the dead, or her going mad from stress?
- Night in the Woods lives and breathes this tropes constantly, to the point it's impossible to be sure about what happened in the end of the game.
- The Janitor is a recurring figure that appears and gives Mae cryptic sentences that seem like either warnings or helpful advice. The end reveals that he knew Mae's name all along. There is a lot of ways to explain what he does, several simply being that he is an old and wise man that has taken a liking on a girl who really look like she needs help, but it's left ambiguous whether he is or not a supernatural entity, with hints that he might actually be God himself.
- The latter part of the game is focused on a ghost hunt, but the characters themselves lampshade the possibility that it's actually just a normal person that has done everything.
- Mae has recurring nightmares of a astral band in strange places that always end with she meeting a gigantic and bizarre creature. It's hinted at the possibility that Mae has some sort of connection to the supernatural and that those entities are some sort of Cosmic Horror, but the nature of these dreams and things are ultimately left unexplained. There is genuinely a possibility that Mae is sick and is hallucinating in her nightmares, not helped that the end of the game confirms she has some sort of psychosis, with symptoms of dissociation and sleep paralysis and one of the newspaper in the library reveals that there was some sort of gas leak in town that makes people hallucinate.
- The gigantic creature has apparently attracted its own cult, demanding sacrifices in exchange for not wrecking the town. Of course, all of the troubles attributed to it can be explained as the causes and symptoms of a Dying Town, leaving the possibility that they're a group of political extremists trying to justify their actions. Mae (possibly unintentionally) lampshades this when she calls them a "death cult of conservative uncles."
- When Wardog pull a Let's Get Dangerous! moment mid way through Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War the enemy freaks and believe the Demons of Razgriz (a mythical tale part of the game revolves around) took over the pilot's bodies. The squadron runs with the idea later on and renames themselves Razgriz, but whether or not the myth is true is left up in the air.
- Red Dead series:
- In Red Dead Redemption, a side quest has Marston meeting up with a mysterious stranger who seems to know an awful lot about him while also remaining impervious to bullets. Is this man some sort of supernatural entity? Is he all in Marston's mind? The game isn't really clear on that one.
- Some of the bosses in the previous game, Red Dead Revolver count. One can teleport, one can move at extreme speeds, one has an army of zombies...
- Zero Summer has bat-things that fly through the sky each night. Are they demons? Aliens? Actual bats? Nobody knows.
- Assassin's Creed: Syndicate has a few side missions featuring Spring-Heeled Jack, and it is left ambiguous if he's a truly supernatural being or simply using theatrics to fake it.
- Rise of the Tomb Raider has DLC centered around Baba Yaga, which calls some of the events into question. While a majority of it can be explained by hallucinogenic pollen, there's a particular sequence when Lara gets lost in a wooded area; when you return to it later, it is a much smaller area, and impossible to get lost in.
- Genji and Hanzo's Ultimates involve summoning ethereal dragon-shaped energy constructs, and it's mentioned only their family is able to control them. Are they some form of advanced hard-light technology (which is established in the world of Overwatch) or actual magical dragon spirits (which aren't)? The Dragons video suggests the latter.
- We also have Reaper, an undying, life-draining phantasm created by a botched attempt at resurrecting someone with nanotechnology, whose abilities could be due to either the nano-superscience that made him or something more supernatural.
- Zenyatta travels by levitating in the lotus position and sends out energy-based orbs of destruction, harmony (which slowly heals allies through bolstering resolve and peace), and discord (which debuffs enemies by bringing out their darkest fears), and is capable of reaching a state of tranquil transcendence that rapidly heals surrounding allies. A few things are plausible through technology (Artificial Gravity is shown to exist in Overwatch's world), but others are completely out of left field.
- Batman: Arkham Knight: Throughout the game, Batman is haunted by visions of the Joker, who died at the end of Arkham City, but it's uncertain if the Joker's appearances are just brief flashbacks/hallucinations caused by the combination of TITAN-infected blood and the new fear toxin, the ghost of the Joker inside of Batman's body, or a Split Personality Batman unknowingly created to suppress the negative emotions that he built up over his hero careernote While a lot points to the first, he shows Batman things he did not witness (but knew second-hand) such as Barbara's crippling. In the case of Jason Todd, Batman knows the events from a video tape Joker mailed him but the extensive detail we see it in seems to come less from his fevered imaginations and suggestive of Joker's memories. Joker even confesses to Batman that he lied about Jason being killed by him. He also tells Batman that Jason chose the Arkham Knight moniker himself, which if true is something Batman couldn't have known. The tie in comics do reveal that Harley inadvertently created the name though.
- Star Fox 64: Is Fox just seeing things or was he really being guided by his father when he escapes Venom? The fact that no one else saw James leave the same opening Fox exited a moment later suggest that James was either a ghost, or not really there. Star Fox Zero, which is a retelling of the same plot, suggests otherwise, as Andross seemed to be aware of James's presence.
- Life Is Strange has plenty of confirmed supernatural goings-on, but there's also the case of the mysterious old homeless woman who lives behind the local diner, who among other things claims to be over a thousand years old and immediately believes Max when told about her powers. It's never made clear why she would say these things, if she's simply delusional or if there is something genuinely mystical about her. Many fans speculate she may be a time traveler herself, or even a future version of Max.
- Ensemble Stars! has a number of characters whose status as ordinary humans is... vague at best. The Sakuma brothers officially have a case of vampire-centric chuunibyou, but aspects of their physical health and bits Rei has revealed about their family leave the "chuunibyou" part up in the air. Wataru and the members of Switch, who are all some variety of magician, have each pulled off something that seems to unlikely to be an ordinary magic trick. And Kanata claims to be a sea god and has a cult following. It's unclear if that's just something his parents raised him to believe or not.
- The Witcher is a fantasy setting, magic and elves and all, so there's little room for ambiguity for most things. In The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt though, there's one character you can't quite work out: Gaunter O'Dimm, aka. "Master Mirror", a mysterious man with phenomenal powers who seems to know Geralt and offers him information on Yennifer's location in exchange for helping him with a job. Is he a djinn or demon, or merely a really powerful (and insane) mage? The "Heart of Stone" DLC expands on him by making him a Satanic Archetype.
- There's also the curious case of Ulle the Unlucky, a ghostly Skelligan arena fighter who never won a single fight and stabbed a jarl in the neck after being provoked by his Unsportsmanlike Gloating, cursing him to "lose for all eternity". After breaking the curse on him by sheathing your sword and letting him win a fight against you, he claims to hear "laughter and joyous cheers, and the clanking off chalices" and disappears. Ghosts are pretty established fact in The Witcher, but what isn't is what happens to you when you die: heavily implied to be The Nothing After Death. Was Ulle being poetic with his last words, or was he hinting at something real?
- At the start of South Park: The Stick of Truth, the only enemies you encounter are the Drow Elves, who are just other kids playing the same LARP you are. So you can do stuff like summon lightning or eat snacks and recover HP and it makes sense within that context. However, over the course of the game you start encountering homeless people, hall monitors, and Nazi zombies; people who aren't actually participating in the game. However, everything still applies (so you can inflict status ailments and use simple snacks to recover energy) so it's unclear at that point what, if any, power the kids actually possess. The only thing that is not in dispute is the eponymous Stick of Truth, as it is only a simple twig and nothing else, which comes into play towards the end of the game.
- In AIR, Kano may or may not be able to talk to animals.
- The entire premise of Umineko: When They Cry is based on this, so much that the creators have established two distinct camps where the fans can take sides. There's Fantasy, for those who favor the idea that everything was done by witches and magic, and Mystery, which believes that everything was done by human hands, and that witches were no way involved. This becomes increasingly difficult, as more than a few Epileptic Trees are bound to pop up in order to explain everything done by human means. Now, that's the simple part, but with Anti-Mystery and Anti-Fantasy mixed in, everything gets a whole lot weirder. While it's never outright stated whether everything is magic or mundane, there are hints in the second half of the series that make it lean more towards the mundane side. This includes the fact that three characters are actually the same person, and how it's implied that this person created many of the magical beings as Imaginary Friends. There's also the fact that, while Beatrice spent the first half of the series trying to get Battler to submit to her and be convinced that the murders were done by magic, EP5 reveals that she doesn't want to win at all, but to make Battler win.
- Higurashi does this too; the "Wrap Party" at the end of the first novel has all the characters arguing about whether the events were due to humans or a curse. Amusingly, Ooishi takes the side opposite what he does in the novel, and Keiichi doesn't care, since they're all trying to get him anyway. However, it's resolved eventually: It's mostly mundane, with the weirdness being a combination of a Government Conspiracy and Hate Plague; however, the repeated arcs are due to magic, and Rika remembers all of them. In other words, there is "magic" at work, but the murder mystery is 100% mundane and magic is only used to "explore" it.
- Hatoful Boyfriend has Anghel, who is always off in his own bizarre fantasy world and claims to be the reincarnation of a fallen angel. Time spent around others tends to draw them into it and they speak in the same overwrought, Purple Prose-y way he does, about gods and demons and fantastic things. The end of his route in the first game involves confronting the Obviously Evil Shuu, who there refers to himself as Dark Sorcerer Wallenstein and summons Himnesia, Bringer of Death. When Himnesia is defeated Shuu retreats and is never seen at the school again. Bad Boys' Love has a report saying that he secretes hallucinatory pheromones, which he's not immune to, and acts as a neurotransmitter, so he's kind of sucking other characters into his own constant trips... This is an odd sort of mundane, but it seems semi-plausible. Except that Anghel often knows things he should have no way of knowing about - the weird names he uses for people, if translated, often tie in to secrets they hold, and he seems to have a sense for diseases.
- In Holiday Star a villain draws blood from him and uses it to take the power of otaku fantasies and convert it into a from which powers a Death Ray - and the ray is countered by Anghel and some others taking on a fantasy that they are Magical Girls and using their magic powers to shield. He may be a Reality Warper.
- Whether the events in Along the Edge are supernatural in origin is deliberately left ambiguous so you can develop Daphne's character in either direction. Do the Malterres practice black magic or do they do their dirty work in perfectly ordinary ways? No one knows...
- Fans! is certainly not "mundane" in all respects, but in a sequence where Guth visits his cousin in the afterlife, one of the first things he does is explain why it can't be a dream (arguing that it's a Lotus-Eater Machine), but when he wakes up in his chair, he promptly takes it as one rather than accept the idea of life after death.
- Bob and George: So to speak.
George: But you were a ghost! And you yelled at me!Mega Man: I assure you there's a rational explanation for all of that. I just don't have it.
- In Something*Positive, Word of God says he doesn't know for himself whether Fluffmodeus is real or not. Nobody but Kharisma can see him, but someone put that other inmate into a coma...
- Parodied at the end of the Avatar episode of Monster of the Week. Mulder and Scully argue about old lady that was haunting Skinner in this episode:
Mulder: I think she was the ghosts of Vietnam.Scully: I think she was Mulder's mum.
- Peter, the enemy of the Affably Evil title character in Niels, is regularly visited by and engages in not-always-consensual-on-Peter's-part relations with a demon only he can see. No proof as of yet whether it's real or a product of all the drugs Peter's on.
- Questionable Content managed to pull this off in strip 546, "Arbitrarily Named Comic Strip." Did Hannelore's little voodoo doll of Marten actually work? Or did Dora just grab Marten's butt? We shall never know.
- Mary/Christina from The Adventures of Dr. McNinja had the ability to perform spells at random to help save the world, but every one of her miracle spells left open the possibility that they had happened by chance.
- Word of God is that Dissonance will go this route—there will be a "scientific" interpretation and a "religious" interpretation, and both will be equally valid.
- In Faux Pas, the rabbit Stu belonged to a stage magician. How much of it is stage magic is up in the air.
- While the existence of magic is an established part of the setting in El Goonish Shive, the existence of the divine is kept far more ambiguous. In particular, a certain type of spell, known as a "guardian form" is speculated in-universe to be divine in origin. On the one hand, Nanase was praying at the moment she acquired hers, and it does turn her into an angel, making the possibility of divine intervention sound more likely. On the other, it was well within the established rules of the setting for her to gain that spell at that moment, so it may have just been perfectly ordinary magic.
- Magic users in the comic fall into two categories: "dreaming", where they have limited spells and won't naturally get new ones, and "Awakened", where they Personality Powers spells as long as they keep using magic (Muggles being "sleeping"). Gregg's "Anime Style Martial Arts" blurs the line a bit though. He could be dreaming and using his unique martial arts to access more abilities than a dreaming person could normally, or he could have awakened and started gaining more spells.
- In The Order of the Stick, the deceased Lord Shojo appears to Belkar when the halfling falls into a coma, as a result of triggering his Mark of Justice. Shojo says he could be either the real deal's spirit, appearing to Belkar from beyond the grave, a personification of the Mark of Justice (which makes sense since when it was first activated it also produced an image of Shojo), or simply a fever-induced hallucination.
- The Toughs from Schlock Mercenary get the deal they do on the PDCL due to strange voices convincing Petey the ship is haunted, driving him insane. Fixing the ship's plumbing fixes the issue, but due to the specificity of the utterances, Petey finds this explanation so untenable that only enforced cognitive dissonance can keep him from committing suicide.
- Much of the mystery in Freakwatch is built around this trope. If Uncle Ted only died of a heart attack, why was he holding a gun when he died? And why does the mayor want the investigation into his death closed? And if Jessica's dreams are only dreams, why does she start seeing them in the daytime?
- Discussed in Blindsprings. After the Academists' rebellion, the population suffered a plague that Orphics took as a sign of the spirit's wrath, but the Academists dismissed as poor hygiene conditions.
- In Shortpacked!, the historical Jesus Christ begins working at the store after Galasso resurrects him. Mike tries to ask him what he really thought about himself and his relationship to God, pointing out that no matter the answer, it will piss off somebody. Before Jesus can answer, he's tackled by Mike's wife.
Amber: Ohmygod, I just tackled Jesus.
- Wilfreda The Wanna Be Witch: The title character claims to be a witch but many of her classmates just think going overboard playing make believe. That is until they find out her mother owns a candy shop and her birthday is on Oct 31. Then some doubt starts to creep in. Summed up nicely when Victor, one of Wilfreda's more skeptical classmates, asks her mom about that.
Victor: This is all coincidence right? I mean...Wilfreda is not a real witch...is she?Wilfreda's Mother: (Smiling wryly) I'll have the delight of leaving you guessing. Happy Halloween!
- Stand Still, Stay Silent went through a period of this while introducing its most fantastical elements. The story starts out as a fairly standard Just Before the End plot with a quickly spreading disease, set in modern-day northern Europe. Then, at the very end of the prologue, an Encyclopedia Exposita page from After the End casually mentions Finland having many mages. Chapter 1 introduces a couple of characters as mages, but doesn't show them do anything special. It takes Chapter 3 to see something that may be magical happen, with the following chapters showing stuff that becomes less and less likely to happen by mundane means, eventually lifting all doubt about the fact that The Magic Comes Back actually did happen. And once that is settled, the nature of the disease that caused The End of the World as We Know It and its horribly mutated victims starts falling into this trope. It is also unclear whether The Old Gods have something to do with The Magic Comes Back or the disease, or if it is just the best explanation people could come up with. All we know is that the two surviving nations that haven't gone back to worshipping them are completely devoid of mages (and Word of God points to gods being involved at least for Icelandic mages).
- In the Choice of the Vampire web game, a priest brandishes a crucifix at the main character, who is weakened and repelled — unless they're an atheist. Whether a religious vampire is defeated by the placebo effect or a skeptical vampire's own convictions let them Fight Off the Kryptonite is ambiguous, and the vampire community treats the matter with some caution as a result.
- Vox and King Beau starts off this way, with Vox not sure if anything she's seeing and hearing (strange stifling silences, whispered voices in her ear, and her childhood best friend standing over her bed at night) is actually happening or if she's just hallucinating it. The end of the story seems to support the "magic" theory, as Vox continues to see and hear things even after the removal of her brain tumor and people around her begin to notice the mysterious events, too.
- Pacific Northwest Stories and the Public Radio Alliance:
- This is the core premise behind The Black Tapes, in which broadcaster Alex Regan and professional skeptic Richard Strand investigate the unsolved mysteries of Strand's career. Alex is more inclined to consider the supernatural side while Strand has a possible explanation for nearly everything. Alex has noted that Strand's attempts at a logical explanation sometimes leaves too much room for coincidence or are as out there as the supernatural angle might be, but he also just as often has a perfectly reasonable explanation for what seems mystical.
- In the epilogue of the first season of RABBITS Carly Parker is left wondering if her experiences in tracking down her lost friend were truly her participation in Rabbits, a multi-dimensional game played in reality, or an elaborate setup she was led through by someone she considered a friend and ally. Her friend has no memory of the time she was missing, and several little things Carly encountered end up with mundane explanations. The only clear cut sign it all really happened is an arcade game whose high score list contains the aliases of the previous winners of Rabbits, includes "Parker Carlson" in the ninth rank, and a blank tenth place.
- SCP Foundation: Sometimes lampshaded. It is not known whether the effects of certain SCPs on humans are natural reactions or anomalous phenomena. Part of the Foundation's mission is to find out.
- In this short story entitled Robin's Bedwetting Trouble and the Wake-Up-All-Dry Fairy, a young girl named Robin is having trouble with wetting the bed and, after waking up in the middle of the night having wet the bed, prays not to wet the bed again. She then dreams that she's having a tea party and a fairy named Eureka, also known as the Wake-Up-All-Dry Fairy, comes, claiming that she answered Robin's prayer, and instructs Robin on what to do. However, we never find out if Eureka really exists and is a Dream Walker fairy who can respond to prayers, or if she was just dreamed up by Robin.
- In Hector's World, Kui is described as a "spirit" and there are surreal visual effects around her entrances, but there's no hard evidence that she's not just a normal whale.
- Bedtime Stories (YouTube Channel) has a lot of this, given its focus on supernatural and paranormal stuff.
- The Mothman: some extraterrestrial and/or paranormal creature, or just an unusually large bird misidentified by terrified eyewitnesses?
- Did Christopher Case die of a curse? Or did he somehow scare himself to death?
- The SS Ourang Medan. Was it supernatural phenomena that killed her crew and sunk her, or just poorly secured hazardous materials?
- Flight 19. Human and technical error or something more fantastic?
- Was Michael Taylor a victim of Demonic Possession? Or was he driven insane by a religious group alleged to use brainwashing techniques?
- The Lead Masks of Vintem Hill: did the two men transcend their corporeal bodies and transport their minds into a "realm of infinite knowledge and consciousness" after making contact with aliens, or were they tricked into killing themselves by criminals?
- There is evidence for either interpretation, but the possibility that the adventures Jason and Michelle have in 3-2-1 Penguins! with their four penguin buddies Zidgel, Midgel, Fidgel, and Kevin could either be real adventures or just in their imagination was lampshaded from day one:
Jason: (to the penguins) I can't believe you guys are alive!
Midgel: Either that or you're daydreaming.
- In the All Grown Up! episode "It's Cupid, Stupid" it was left ambiguous whether Lil' Q was really Cupid or it was just a coincidence that people were falling in love after getting hit by his hackysack. The last person to be hit by the hackysack, right at the end, didn't seem affected by it. Though Lil' Q had passed it on to Dil at that point, so it might not have been magic anymore, if it ever was.
- Arthur: In the episode "Prunella Gets It Twice", Prunella gets two of the same type of doll for her ninth birthday and so acts ungrateful when she receives the second from her school friend Francine who acts sad for the rest of the party. That night, Prunella dreams that two wacky ghosts visit her: the Ghost of Presents Past who tells her about how Prunella should apologize because Francine did chores she disliked just to save up for the doll and the Ghost of Lunch Tomorrow who's just a joke character who predicts the next day's lunches. It serves as an Opinion-Changing Dream because Prunella does apologize, however, despite this averting Or Was It a Dream? (we know for sure it was a dream), it is never explained if it was a regular dream that happened to reflect reality or if the ghosts actually existed and manipulated Prunella's dream.
- Batman: The Animated Series:
- In the episode "Zatanna", it's clear, even to the point of being outright stated, that Zatanna's tricks are just stage magic. If you read the comics however, you know that Zatanna is capable of real magic, and it's later confirmed on Justice League. There are a couple of incidentsnote that raise the question of whether or not real magic was involved.
- The episode "Read My Lips" has Batman analyzing the Ventriloquist and Scarface's voices in the Batcomputer. The result shows that those voices belong to two different persons. Batman also says to Alfred that he studied with the world greatest ventriloquist, Zatara (Zatanna's father) and that the Ventriloquist could give him lessons. So, In-Universe, they aren't sure if the Ventriloquist is just a way better artist than the world's greatest magician, or if Scarface is truly a Demonic Dummy. For what it's worth, the two actually were voiced by the same actor, so maybe the Batcomputer just wasn't up to snuff.
- In The New Batman Adventures, Scarecrow went through a major design overhaul because the crew felt that he didn't look scary enough. The redesign is far more undead, featuring the character looking more like a priest in a wide-brimmed hat with a noose around his neck, long hair, and the face looks along the lines of a skeleton. The creators indicated that they weren't even sure if the character was human anymore, and whether or not it's just a costume.
- Also Mask of the Phantasm, wherein it's left ambiguous as to whether the Phantasm has supernatural abilities or simply uses smoke grenades and other tricks.
- Craig of the Creek: Deltron, the titular boy from "The Kid from 3030", claims to be a time-traveling cyborg who needs audio cassette tapes to help win a war from his era. Given how he has a tape player, and later a CD player, strapped to his chest and appears to be wearing a costume, he's likely just a kid playing pretend. He also a deep, adult-like voice despite apparently being the same age as Craig and friends (something they themselves comment on), but that's just a meta gag. Less explainable is that after the kids look way for a moment when he says his mission is finished, Deltron completely vanishes, with scorch marks and electric sparks on the ground where he was standing.
- Used in a few episodes of Doug:
- In "Doug's Lucky Hat", the title object lands at Doug's feet on a windy day, and when he puts it on, he becomes a good luck magnet. He wonders aloud to Porkchop if the hat really is lucky, as Skeeter believes, or if it just seems to be lucky because he thinks it is, but he is evidently slightly embarrassed by his belief in the hat's power, as he tries to avoid admitting the truth to Patti when she asks him why he never removes the hat. When Roger "borrows" the hat to improve his chances of passing his biology test (which he does), leaving Doug feeling lost, Patti convinces him he is a winner with or without the hat. Whether or not the hat really brings its wearer luck is left to the viewer to decide.
- In the Halloween episode, Doug and Skeeter are helped by a mysterious cloaked figure who seems to just be a costumed amusement park employee. However, at the end of the episode he claims to be "Baron Von Hecklehonker", a character in the framing story about Bloodstone Manor, right before disappearing into thin air.
- Plank from Ed, Edd n Eddy is either a board with a face drawn on it that Johnny goes through extreme lengths to support his imaginary friend, or an actual separate entity that really can talk only to Johnny.
- However, it seems that Plank might actually be its own entity after all, since in the Ed, Edd n Eddy's Big Picture Show we can see him driving a bus.
- One episode has Ed concocting off a very bizarre scam, which turns out to be a curse from one of his comic books. Edd tells him curses aren't real...then an awful amount of crows appear. When they swoop in on the Eds, Ed merrily cries out: "EVIL TIM HAS BECKONED THEM!" This statement is never proven true or false as the episode ends there.
- The Enchanted Square is a short starring Raggedy Ann, who shows a blind girl named Billie how to see the world through her imagination. Unlike most media depictions of her, there is no clarification if Raggedy Ann is alive or just a doll when Billie is given her as a gift. While most of the story can be explained as how Billie is perceiving the world, even doings that shouldn't be physically possible in the town square, Raggedy Ann herself is the one who encouraged her to do so and is able to react to things around her on her own. In fact, Billie herself is surprised when she first hears Raggedy Ann speak.
- Succinctly summarized by the God-entity in Futurama (who is in himself an example - the most description given was that being "the remains of a space probe that collided with God" "seems probable"):
"When you do things right, people won't be sure you've done anything at all."
- Gravity Falls has Robbie convince Wendy to give him a second chance by giving her a CD of a song he wrote for her and having her listen to it. In truth, it has a subliminal message on it. When confronted with this fact, Robbie admits he didn't write the song, trying to get out of the blame. Wendy says she doesn't care about the message, she's upset he lied to her about writing a song for her. It's never addressed where he even found the mysterious-looking CD, much less if the subliminal message actually affected Wendy or if she was just flattered that Robbie supposedly wrote her a song.
- Very common in the episodes of Hey Arnold! where the kids investigate the city's urban legends; usually, the episode will end with them discovering what seems to be a logical explanation for the myth (for example, the mysterious train that supposedly delivers people to the Underworld was actually just going to a steel mill), only for... something... to happen in the last few seconds, visible only to the viewer and not to any characters in-universe, that casts doubt on a purely mundane interpretation.
- King of the Hill: Peggy seemingly used a TV remote to fake Divine Intervention so Hank would help with Luane's Manger Babies show instead of watching the Super Bowl. Afterward, Bobby tells Peggy he took the batteries out of the remote, and she declares it a real miracle. Then Bobby backpedals and says he might have taken the batteries out of the remote, or gotten them from somewhere else.
- In Book 4 of The Legend of Korra, after Zaheer and the Red Lotus nearly killed her at the end of Book 3, Korra starts having hallucinations of herself as she was during her fight with Zaheer in the Avatar state. At first it seems that Dark Avatar Korra is only a symptom of Korra's trauma, with one fight seen through both Korra's POV, where the vision is attacking her and a normal POV, which shows that Korra's opponent is actually a female earthbender. But Korra later comes across a small spirit (in the form of a dog at the time), which reacts to Dark Avatar Korra and apparently scares her off, while Korra is sent flying by her attacks during their battle in the swamp. In the end Dark Avatar Korra's nature is Left Hanging, though one could possibly assume she was a manifestation of Korra's confidence issues that she needed to overcome.
- Madeline's Christmas never outright states, but very strongly implies that kindly old Madame Marie is a disguised angel, who uses her powers to clean the kitchen, cure the girls and Miss Clavel of their colds with her special homemade porridge, and bring the girls' families to visit them on Christmas Day despite the heavy snow that should have kept them away. This is a change from the original book, where the character is a (male) Middle Eastern magician who sends the girls home to their families on flying carpets!
- In the Martha Speaks episode "The Puppy Tooth Fairy", Martha and Skits the dogs try to be "puppy tooth fairies" (giving rewards to puppies who lost teeth) but they give it up when it starts to interfere with their sleep schedules. Martha falls asleep and wakes up with a dog treat next to her and thinks this means that a real puppy tooth fairy has shown up. However, Martha hasn't lost any teeth and we never see a fairy or other evidence of a fairy, so maybe it's just that one of Martha and Skits's owners gave the treat to Martha.
- The end of every episode of Mona the Vampire would end with both a logical explanation for what happened, but also hinting that something magical did occur. For example, an episode where a T-Rex came to life ended with Mona revealing a fresh dinosaur footprint in the soil.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
- The episode "Hearth's Warming Eve" features creatures known as Windigos—horses that spread ice and wind and snow wherever there's hatred. At the very end, the Mane Six get in a brief argument while a snowstorm rages on outside. They stop upon hearing the sound of wind, which is eerily similar to the sound of the Windigos. Considering the state of the universe the show is set in, the Magic part is very well an option, but a straight answer is never given.
- The Windigos make a second appearance in "A Hearths Warming Tale" but only in the show's equivalent to A Christmas Carol, a story that very well might just be fiction, which still leaves them open to debate.
- Zecora plays this trope straight in Magic Duel where she refills a mug of tea by waving her hoof over it. Was it sleight of hand (er, hoof) and a subtle foreshadowing of Twilight's use of stage-magic to take down Trixie, or was it genuine magic which, according to the show's Magic A Is Magic A principle shouldn't be possible?
- Season 5 has the Friendship Map, which has a knack for calling just the right members of the Mane 6 for each friendship crisis it detects...which is all well and good, but when it calls Rarity and Applejack to handle a crisis in Manehattan, it sets up an unusual opportunity for Big Macintosh to bond with Apple Bloom at the Sisterhooves Social. Whether this was just convenient timing or carefully orchestrated by the Tree of Harmony (which is connected to the map) is anypony's guess.
- On The Simpsons, after a Coincidental Broadcast:
Homer: Good thing you turned on that TV, Lisa.
Lisa: I didn't turn it on, I thought you turned it on.
Homer: Oh, well, turn it off anyway.
Lisa: ...It is off.
- South Park:
- In the episode "Cartman's Incredible Gift" the police believe Cartman is a psychic. Kyle points out at the end that no one is psychic and there is a logical explanation for everything that is supposedly supernatural. However, when Cartman and a group of other psychics engage in a psychic battle, with a lot of wild hand gestures and odd vocalizations, Kyle gets extremely fed up and screams at them to stop. As he yells, the lightbulbs shatter and the shelf above his bed breaks. After a beat, Kyle says there is a logical explanation for that, too.
- Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo is this. He initially looks like an ordinary piece of poo to most people, which gets the boys in a lot of trouble at first, but he moves and talks to the boys in private. The ending confirmed him as definitely magic when he showed up in front of everyone for a speech.
- Is Mr. Hat a living and sentient being or is he just a mere hand puppet?
- Mitch Connor. Is he a separate sentient entity, or is it just Cartman screwing around. Whenever they give a straight answer it either never sticks, or the "straight answer" somehow proves the opposite is true. Whew.
- Spider-Man: The Animated Series: Did Tombstone's fall into a vat of chemicals turn him into a monstrously strong and durable human mutate whose apparent lack of need to breathe can be explained as part of his mutation, or did he die and reanimate as an undead fiend powered by his hatred for Robbie Robertson? The show does lean heavily towards the latter, but an unambiguous official confirmation is never made.
- The Spectacular Spider-Man: In episode 12, Peter almost succumbs to the symbiote, but Uncle Ben appears and helps him. Was this just Peter's conscience helping him in the form of someone he cared for, or did Uncle Ben really come from beyond the grave to help him? The fact that Uncle Ben was able to interact with not only Peter but the symbiote itself suggests he may have been more complex than a simple product of Peter's mind.
- Gems in Steven Universe at first seemed completely magical, but later developments (such as the revelation that gems are aliens) makes their apparent Magitek seem more like very-advanced technology—technology that Homeworld has even more advanced versions of. That said, most of gems' personal abilities and some of their machines (such as the Injectors, which drain planets of Life Energy, not simple mass) still seem magical. It seems likely gems have both magic and advanced technology (including technology derived from magic), which neither the show nor the characters care to distinguish between.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012): In the episode "Darkest Plight", a wounded Splinter is confronted by the Rat King, who seemingly survived his Disney Villain Death in "Of Rats and Men". After fighting him off, Splinter discovers the Rat King's decayed corpse, proving that he didn't survive. While Splinter believes that he merely hallucinated the Rat King, there are hints that it was actually his ghost, especially since the Rat King was able to stomp on Splinter's injured foot.
- What's New, Scooby-Doo?: The episode "Big Appetite in Little Tokyo" starts with a man called the Ancient One warning the owner of a technology factory to move someplace else unless he wishes to be cursed. When the owner, Akira Onodera, refused to believe he is real, the Ancient One visits him again, vowing to curse him. Shaggy ends up taking the curse by accident, seemingly turning into a giant monster when he falls asleep. Although the giant monster attacks prove to be another "Scooby-Doo" Hoax perpetrated by another person, who or what the Ancient One was, namely whether someone was pulling a hoax on Onodera or he really was a spirit, never gets resolved.
- Used in Young Justice with Holling Longshadow. When talking with Jaime about his grandson Tye's disappearance, he gives Jaime some advice that sounds like nonsense at first. As the show unfolds, however, it turns out to be Foreshadowing. Here's the conversation, with the double meanings in asterisks.
Longshadow: He won't be back for a few weeksnote . He's begun a quest of awakeningnote that will link him to his heritage note and show him the path to his destiny note . Maurice is just a distraction note . He plays no part in Tye's vision quest, or in yours.
Longshadow: You search for answers, but the answers you seek will find you note . Only then will you make peace with the one inside you note .
- The exact nature of ghosts and paranormal happenings in The Real Ghostbusters is left up to the audience to decide. Being scientists the busters often propose entirely valid (at least within the realms of fiction) scientific reasoning for the nature of ghosts (such as suggesting a Headless Horseman can't cross a bridge because of the ionization of the water molecules), but none of this is ever actually confirmed and they also accept the possibility of genuine magic every step of the way. One episode even suggests it's entirely possible for a "good fridge to go bad" (that is, one that's not affected by the paranormal in any way).