When the Big Bad is a monster — especially a large monster — it is imperative to avoid showing us the monster for as long as possible.
It is OK to show small portions of the monster (tails, claws, etc.) earlier; the filmmaker should be toward revealing such a monster as an exotic dancer is toward removing her clothing. But the full reveal of the monster should take a long time — at least several episodes on television; at least twenty or thirty minutes into the film.
The larger and badder the monster, the longer it will take for them to become visible. If it's badder than bad, the monster may not be shown at all.
Conforming to this law often involves extensive use of reaction shots, shadow shots, or shots of the monster that are obscured by smoke, waves, darkness, blood, etc.
Of course, actually showing the monster usually heralds the decline of its earlier invincibility. When the monster is implausibly-good at not being spotted in-Verse, that's Suspiciously Stealthy Predator.
An alternative trope is Slow Transformation: A major character (often the lead) starts as human but slowly begins changing into a monster, leaving both characters and audience in suspense over what the end result will be, and the final form is only revealed in the climax.
- Daemon in the Fanfic Tamers Forever, lampshaded by the author.
Episode five and Daemon hasn't arrived to Shinjuku... *sigh* Oh well, I just hope I actually get him in there before chapter eight, and I expect to finish this story in twenty chapters in the worst-case scenario.
- In The Geeky Zoologist's reimagining of Jurassic World, the Indominus is only fully revealed near the end of the first book. Before that, only her overall shape and some of her body parts are seen by the POV characters.
- Alien, with the added bonus of including only three jump scares in the entire film... and only one of them has anything to do with the eponymous xenomorph.
- Attack of the 50-Foot Woman: Nancy in her giant form doesn't appear in full until the last ten minutes of the movie. Until then, all that is shown is her hand.
- Averted in Clash of the Titans (1981), as the Kraken shows up in one of the first scenes before reappearing during the climax, but played straight in the remake Clash of the Titans (2010), in which the Kraken does not show up until Perseus battles him in order to save Princess Andromeda towards the end.
- Cloverfield. Very closely related to the Godzilla example, you don't get to see the entire thing until nearly half the movie has gone by. Not only is its appearance rather hard to explain without seeing the movie, it's quite ugly too. For both films, the entire strategy behind their marketing campaigns was to avoid showing the monsters so that audiences would go see the movies to find out what they looked like for themselves.
- In The Fly (1958), after his Teleporter Accident Andre initially doesn't allow his wife Helene to see him at all, instead communicating with her through notes and knocks on the door to his lab. When he allows her inside he keeps a hood over his head. She and the audience do see the claw that has replaced one hand, but it's not until the two-thirds mark of the movie that she decides to invoke Dramatic Unmask and the audience sees that his head is now that of a fly's (which also reveals why he couldn't speak to her). (The Fly (1986) by comparison codifies the Slow Transformation trope.)
- The 1998 American Godzilla may well provide the quintessential example. A monster the size of a skyscraper manages to travel halfway around the world while being stalked by the US military, attacks Manhattan, and yet still does not fully appear on-screen for forty-five minutes.
- Godzilla (2014) used this with Godzilla, at least in part. Godzilla didn't fully appear until about halfway through the movie, and he didn't have more than a few seconds of screentime until the final act of the film. Critics loved this approach, fans did not.
- Before either of these, of course, there was Godzilla, where Godzilla's actions are keenly felt in an attack on a fishing ship, and later, a small town, long before we get our first good look at him.
- Smaug doesn't appear in the entire first Hobbit movie except for brief glimpses of his hide and legs, and a close-up of his eye in The Stinger. A lot of people went into the second film mainly to see the full-body reveal, and they were not disappointed.
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: As in the book, Salazar Slytherin's basilisk is only heard as a voice by Harry and moves through Hogwarts' pipes. The giant serpent makes the appearance when it's summoned by the heir of Slytherin, Tom Riddle, the real persona of Lord Voldemort, to fight and kill Harry.
- The Haunting (1999): Hugh Crain's ghost at first appears as an unseen supernatural force that has full control of the house. Until Nell calls for him in the final battle, when Crain makes his appearance as a tall monstrous humanoid spirit.
- Independence Day: While the giant spacecraft are not exactly monsters, they're definitely treated in the same way. The ships are shrouded in mysterious stormy clouds until they actually reach the destinations cities and emerge in their full terrifying majesty. The aliens themselves are kept mostly hidden, too: the first real appearance by one is when Hiller manages to disable its ship and then knock it out, only as a bunch of lashing tentacles and a brief glimpse of it in its biomechanical suit. The alien doesn't fully appear out of its suit until even later, at the end of the second act.
- Jaws. Further justified in that Spielberg didn't like the model of the shark used in the film, so he ensured as little of it was shown on camera as possible. Besides, great whites are ambush predators that perpetually lurk below the ocean surface anyway, and thus have no reason to just go around revealing themselves.
- Jurassic Park:
- It was deliberately done during the film's production. The trailers did not show the animals' full body appearances until the very release of the film causing the Brachiosaurus' appearance to the audience as stunning as the in-universe visitors' reactions.
- The Tyrannosaurus rex doesn't show up until about halfway through Jurassic Park and The Lost World: Jurassic Park. And while it may be easy to forget with how ubiquitous they've become since the film's release, living Velociraptors don't appear on screen until about two-thirds of the way through the same films.
- While a talking dream version of a raptor appears on the plane ride to Isla Sorna in Jurassic Park III, real raptors don't show up until about the midpoint. Uncharacteristically averted with the Spinosaurus and the T. rex, which come pretty abruptly onto the scene in the frantic first act.
- The Indominus rex is briefly seen as a hatchling at the beginning of Jurassic World and can be faintly seen slinking behind foliage when Simon Masrani comes to inspect the new attraction, but it doesn't make a full onscreen appearance until it is ready to break out, and even then doesn't appear in full view until the first attempt at recapture. Taken Up to Eleven with the Tyrannosaurus (the very same animal from the first film, as it happens), whom Zach and Grey only faintly see past a bunch of other tourists at one point but who doesn't make a full onscreen appearance until the last quarter-hour, when Claire lures it out to fight Indominus.
- King Kong (1933). Justified in that the main characters have to travel for a long time in order to see the monster.
- Cheerfully averted in Kong: Skull Island, where we get a good look at Kong's face in the prologue, before the human protagonists have even been introduced.
- The title character in 1957's Night of the Demon. The director, Jacques Tourneur, originally wanted the demon never to appear at all, but the studio were insistent.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest: The Kraken's body is briefly seen when Will is underwater after Davy Jones' pet attacks Bellamy's ship. At the climax, the Kraken shows its large fanged mouth to eat Jack Sparrow. The full body of the creature is not revealed until the third film with its corpse stranded on a beach after Davy Jones is forced to kill it.
- Predator: Only the view of the soldiers from the predator's eye-view, then a view of the cloaked predator, then close-ups of him patching up his wound, a full-body view, and finally the unmasking.
- Averted by Rawhead Rex; it was Clive Barker's intent to make the monster as visible as possible early in the film.
- Super 8 doesn't show the alien at all for the first few attack scenes. During the climax, we briefly see a strobe-lit shot of its face. The alien is fully revealed at the end.
- In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the monster is visible (as Robert Patrick in police blues) from the beginning, but its superpowers (and stunning visual effects) are trickled in as per Monster Delay. The powers are hinted at with first encounter, their lethality is realized with the death of the foster parents, and they're fully exploited to the limits in the double-finale.
- Them! spends most of its first act as a very minimalistic police procedural type story, showing us very little... Though we regularly hear a strange whirring noise coming from over the next hill, we don't see its source... until a giant ant wanders into the shot. From this point on, the movie becomes a lot less shy.
- Van Helsing: Dracula's demon form is only glimpsed through shadows and is seen from the distance. During the film's final battle, the monster is finally seen when he faces Van Helsing's werewolf form.
- Pacific Rim looks at this trope and says "What's that?". There are lots of monsters, they spend a lot of time on screen right from the start and much of their bodies are shown.
- Exaggerated in Stephen King's It, which first introduces Pennywise the Monster Clown as Its avatar, then later reveals Its physical form to be more akin to a giant spider. That is only a partial manifestation of Its interdimensional form, which is even more terrifying to the characters. Just perceiving It risks making you lose your mind.
- Played straight in Harry Potter in the build-up to revealing the appearance of Voldemort's "vessel" that spans a few books.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The Mayor's ascension takes an entire season arc.
- Firefly. The reavers are constantly referred to, but hardly ever appear on-screen. Until the movie, the only 'reaver' that appears is someone who was driven insane by them.
- The smoke monster on Lost was not seen in full until the middle of season 2, and his nature wasn't fully understood until season 6.
- Just about every Doctor Who story that has a monster, right up to the present day. Often, the actual reveal of the monster was rather a let-down.
- In the episode "Folsom Prison Blues" (S02, Ep19) of Supernatural, you only see portions of the ghost, a gray blur, tangled hair, or a pair of eyes, until the ghost attacks Dean and its true form is revealed.
- This is Lost Tapes' bread and butter: the monsters featured in each episode hardly ever fully appear on-screen, and if they do, they're usually obscured by darkness or motion blur. As the series went on, they were shown more and more frequently until, in the third season, you could expect to see them in full view of the camera at the end of every episode. The rare occasions where they appear earlier are usually in the event that the creature has a more mundane appearance, such as (in the third season) zombies as opposed to the yeti.
- Amnesia: The Dark Descent runs on this trope; the first glimpse of a monster is a silhouette hobbling through the fog. It doesn't reappear in that area, but the suspense alone stops you from finding out. Even if you try to get a decent look at the monster later on, the game forces you to stop to keep it as scary as possible. The mere grotesqueness of it causes you character to lose sanity just by looking at it, increasing the likelihood of being found and killed unless you look away. Unfortunately, the marketing department didn't get the memo and put said monster right on the cover.
- In Final Fantasy X, you see bits and pieces of Sin, but not the entire thing until its third appearance. Interestingly, its earlier glimpses make it look much more like an Eldritch Abomination than its full body, which is something like a blind whale with extra designs on it.
- Done in Resident Evil 2 in regards to William Birkin, especially in the A scenario. The game shows what he looked like as a human readily enough, but you only ever see glimpses of him, usually his mutated arm, after he injected himself with the G-virus, until you fight him properly.
- Cold Fear milks this trope for all it's worth in the beginning. You know there's zombies; they're on the cover. The first Jump Scare? It's a wave. The second? A silhouette of a figure through a window that's gone when you go out there. The third? The panicked crew of the whaler shooting at you because they think you're a zombie. The fourth one, the chain dragging toward you? Literally a chain dragging on the ground. It leads you on for so long with fake scares that the eventual real one actually scares you good.
- Metroid Fusion: That One Boss, Nightmare is first rendered as a shadow running rampant throughout one of the subsections. Mission Control tells Samus to ignore it and fix the crises in the other subsections. Finally, it turns out Nightmare's rampage threatens the entire station, prompting Mission Control to give its creepy backstory and dispatch Samus to destroy it. Its lair seems to be in some kind of junkyard/robot graveyard.
- Dragon Age: Origins brings up the Archdemon as the rallying force behind the Darkspawn Horde very early on but it's not until much later in the game that you actually learn what it is and what it looks like (a giant corrupted dragon). Throughout the game, you come in contact with it maybe three times: twice in cutscenes (in a nightmare, which only shows glimpses of it, and down in the Deep Roads, where you first see it in its entirety) and once in the very last Boss Fight.
- In Alien: Isolation, much like the film it's a pseudo-sequel to, it takes a damned long time for the xenomorph to show up. You're a half hour in before you meet your first corpse which was killed by something, about 45 minutes in before you meet your first survivor who's panicked and claiming something is on the ship killing everyone, an hour before that something kills its first on-screen victim, and about an hour and 15 minutes before you get to see that something in all its horrifying glory.
- In contrast to the other spirits in Spirit Hunter: NG, the Screaming Author isn't shown beyond a silhouette right up until the final confrontation with them. This serves a dual purpose; to emphasize the spirit's sound-based powers, and to really hit home how grotesque its appearance is when it finally is shown.
- The Order of the Stick exaggerates this with the Monster in the Darkness. It has been over a thousand strips and twelve real-world years since his first appearance, and he still hasn't stepped out of those shadows, because Xykon wants him Emerging from the Shadows at a dramatically appropriate moment. Even the monster himself does not know what he is.
- Unity of Skin Horse thinks it's just a cheap coverup for unimpressive special effects, as she explained after Tip locked himself in a closet when he started turning into a werewolf, and after a lengthy build-up he turned out to be cute.
- Parodied in the Doug episode "Doug's Nightmare on Jumbo Street". Doug watches a horror movie called The Abnormal, about an evil alien shape-shifter whose true form is always just off-screen. Doug can't bring himself to watch The Reveal near the end of the movie and ends up having nightmares about it. After repeatedly trying and failing to keep his eyes open through the reveal of the Abnormal's true form, Doug finally works up the nerve to watch the film one last time... and discovers the monster is just a guy in a cheap suit with an obvious zipper on the back.
- In the Ed, Edd n Eddy episode "The Day the Ed Stood Still", Ed's friends dress him up like a monster, and Ed proceeds to get a little too into character and go on a rampage. Ed's monster costume isn't seen in full until about two-thirds of the way into the cartoon.