Follow TV Tropes



Go To

A poltergeist (from the German polter, meaning "to rumble", "to make a noise" and geist, meaning "ghost" or "spirit") is a type of ghost or other supernatural entity that manifests by creating noise or moving objects.

While the term itself comes from German, poltergeist activity has been reported in nearly every culture, becoming part of the folklore in India, the United States, Japan, Brazil, and other countries. Several scientific theories regarding poltergeist activity have been proposed, including tremors, air currents, ultra-infra sound waves or unexplained losses of gravity, though true believers maintain that there is no stable scientific explanation for poltergeists. The, uh, not so scientific theories vary between ghosts and nonconscious, uncontrolled telekinesis.

For the movies of the same name, go to the disambiguation page.



    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Ghost Hunt, one character's desire to be noticed ends up manifesting a poltergeist that injures several characters.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Poltergeist movies feature (naturally) a manifestation of poltergeists that seem fixated on Carol Anne Freeling. The first movie posited that the haunting was caused by an improperly relocated cemetery, while the second suggested that a dark ritual opened a gateway between the afterlife and the living world.
  • In The Sixth Sense, Cole Sear is often the target of poltergeist-like activity from the ghosts who are trying to get his attention.
  • The title character of Beetlejuice, most likely.
  • The initial premise of Paranormal Activity centers around a haunting by one of these. This theory turns out to be slightly inaccurate.
  • Ghostwatch follows a fictional reality program documenting poltergeist activity surrounding a woman's two daughters while the hosts debate the actual cause. At one point it appears that one of the girls is actually causing the banging and crashing because that's what people expect, but then the spirit gets mad...
  • Seeding of a Ghost has the demon fetus being summoned by a witch doctor, who manifests itself in the form of various poltergeist activity. For starters, cupboards and chairs vibrating, doors opening and closing on its own, a stove cooking milk suddenly explodes, cups of liquid began overflowing for no reason, and a toilet expels sewage liquid to the ceiling.
  • "The Bell Witch" from An American Haunting at first appears to be a poltergeist, though one violently obsessed with the teenage daughter of the house it's haunting.
  • In Ghost, most dead spirits can't touch things by default, but with enough practice, a sufficiently determined (or angry) spectre can beat the crap out of you with ordinary household objects.
  • In Ghostbusters (1984), naturally the team's first cases are basically catching ghosts that act in a typical poltergeist manner.
  • Nightwish: A professor and some graduate students go looking for poltergeists in a deserted mansion. During several sessions looking for paranormal activity, the ghosts knock on the doors, walls, or mess with the machinery.
  • The title creature in The Babadook likes to make its presence known with ominous rumbles and knocking sounds.
  • The gothic drama The Little Stranger, based on the novel by the same name, centers on strange occurrences at a dilapidated mansion — doors slamming shut, bells ringing by themselves, scratches appearing on surfaces — all theorized to be the work of a poltergeist.

  • In Dragon Bones castle Hurog is haunted by one of those ... or so it seems. When Ward encounters said entity he finds out that Oreg can take the form of a human being, but is the soul of all the castle. This is the result of dark magic that was done to him, and he is not too happy with the situation. It is hinted that, if he doesn't like someone, he can act like a regular poltergeist. However, if he does like someone, he's more the opposite, protecting Ward's younger sister from bullies and her abusive father by showing her secret doors and the like.
  • In the Harry Potter series, a poltergeist named Peeves inhabits Hogwarts Castle. Unlike the other ghosts, he's a spirit of chaos rather than the echo of a person — it's All There in the Manual that he "came with the building". The Crusty Caretaker considers him a mortal enemy, while everyone else just thinks he's a bit of a nuisance. The only people who can control him to any extent are Dumbledore and the Bloody Baron (Slytherin House's ghost). Peeves is fairly unique among poltergeists in that he has a physical form. Rowling states that Peeves is an extremely powerful and ancient poltergeist, since a poltergeist is born from adolescent angst and uncontrolled magic and Hogwarts is a thousand-year-old school containing young wizards.
  • In the Odd Thomas series, a very few particularly strong ghosts have been observed to cause poltergeist activity when they get riled up enough. One notable example is Frank Sinatra.
  • Discworld:
    • In Wyrd Sisters, the ghost of King Verence the First discovers that he can, with immense effort, interact with physical objects. He starts out with a few grains of dust, and spends some time amusing himself by oversalting his cousin Duke Felmet's porridge a pinch at a time to mess with his head, but after a while he reaches the point where he can pick up a dagger. Granny Weatherwax stops him from using it to settle the score, on the quite reasonable grounds that the dead attacking the living with intent to kill is rather unsporting.
    • In Reaper Man Death is forced into retirement, causing a whole lot of spirit activity to start manifesting through out Ankh-Morpork (and probably elsewhere as well) as the excess of life energy caused by no-one ending lives properly starts grounding itself by randomly animating objects.
    • A Hat Full of Sky features Oswald, Miss Level's resident ghost. Rather than make a ruckus, however, Oswald makes sure that everything is tidy (an easy way to keep him occupied for a day is to spill a bowl of sugar; he'll carefully put it back grain by grain), leading Miss Level to declare him an ondageist.
  • Poltergeists are classified under Type Two (aka the more violent, dangerous type) ghosts in Lockwood & Co.. And they're bad news because unlike a conventional ghost, they can't be fought the normal way by slicing them with a sword or chucking salt or iron at them because they have no physical manifestation other than the chaos they cause. They are said to be literally everywhere and nowhere and about the only bright side of them compared to other Type Two ghosts is that their having no ectoplasm means that they can't ghost-touch you, causing you to swell up and die.
  • In Nyctophobia, the agency's Winchester office has a poltergeist for a caretaker. No one knows whose ghost it is, and they're even invisible to a medium like Selwyn. Mycroft explains messes started tidying themselves one day, so he named the entity "Porter" and let them be to save on hiring maintenance staff. Just don't disrespect Porter's system; Victor got assaulted by books for not alphabetizing them.
  • In Sarah Waters's The Little Stranger, a dilapidated mansion becomes the site of odd occurrences, such as bells ringing by themselves, doors slamming shut, etc. — possibly caused by a poltergeist.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Many "ghost hunting" programs request such behavior in their living-impaired quarry, in an effort to record proof of their presence.
  • Cordelia's place is haunted by a friendly poltergeist in Angel.
  • In one episode of The Waltons, a poltergeist invades the family home, for no damn reason whatsoever.
  • In episode "Los espíritus chocarreros" of El Chavo del ocho: Doña Clotilde blames the strange appearance and disappearance of objects in Vecindad to "Espíritus Chocarreros" (roughly translated as "mischievous spirits" i.e. Poltergeists). It was actually Don Ramon's during sleep walking, but no one knew that. The spiritualist session that follows in order to communicate with the spirits made this one of the funniest and fan-favorite episodes of the show.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer had these in episodes like "Where the Wild Things Are". They were born out of raw emotion of the orphans who were traumatized by Genevieve Holt and were unleashed when Buffy and Riley have sex.
  • Supernatural: In episodes like "Home" and "Swap Meat", they are not ghosts of humans, they were separate beings of their own. They are violent huge attention seekers who scratch on walls, throw things and violently attack people.
    • In "Home", when Azazel kills Mary, her wound causes the house she used to live in to become a magnet for paranormal energy, which attracts a violent, attention-seeking poltergeist.
    • Maggie Briggs from "Swap Meat" is also a ghost of a human who is also a poltergeist. She makes noises in the walls, breaks things and attacked and carved Katie's skin with "MURDERED CHYLDE".
  • Charmed had a episode about a poltergeist haunting a place.
  • The Twilight Zone (1985): In "There Was an Old Woman", the children's author Hallie Parker notices her drapes and a rocking chair moving on their own. As she had heard the sound of children giggling, she concludes that the neighborhood kids were playing a prank on her. Several days later, her living room window is broken by a baseball and she again assumes that it was the local kids. That night, Hallie finds the copy of her book Creatures of the Closet that she signed for Brian Harris in her house. She calls his parents to tell them that someone has stolen his book, only to discover that Brian is dead and the book was buried with him. Hallie eventually realizes that all of this was caused by ghosts when apparitions of Brian and about a dozen other children appear to her.


    Tabletop Games 
  • Wraith: The Oblivion gives us poltergeist powers in the form of the Outrage Arcanos, which allows a wraith to affect physical objects, often through brute force, and the Pandemonium Arcanos, which produces creepy reality-warping effects ranging from cold spots to blood on the walls to altered perception of time. The semi-sequel, Orpheus, gives us the Poltergeist, a Shade (or class of ghost/projector) with a talent for throwing about objects with telekinetic force and boosting the physical capacities of their ectoplasmic bodies. The spiritual successor gameline,Geist: The Sin-Eaters, has a number of ways for the Bound to do this as well, not to mention the actual ghosts the Sin-Eaters interact with.
  • Dungeons & Dragons has had several versions of poltergeists as monsters, including in the AD&D Fiend Folio and the Basic D&D Companion rules.
  • GURPS's Horror supplement features a Poltergeist template that can be applied to the Haunt meta-trait.
  • In Warhammer 40,000, the Crimson Slaughter are a warband of Chaos Space Marines who are haunted by disembodied voices. During battle these voices manifest as malevolent poltergeist activity amongst the enemy ranks, filling vox-channels with ominous whispers and causing inanimate objects to ooze blood or float around as if manipulated by invisible hands.

    Video Games 
  • In Beyond: Two Souls, protagonist Jodie has been connected her entire life to an "entity" called Aiden. Aiden can move objects, short out electronics, protect Jodie with a magical shield, possess people and more. Jodie can exercise some degree of control over him - thankfully - though doing this for too long will give her a Psychic Nosebleed.
  • In the first Splatterhouse game, a poltergeist boss attempts to drop a chandelier on your head.
  • In Mega Man Battle Network, you can get a chip called "Poltergeist" that replicates a poltergeist's common traits by picking every item on the battlefield and flinging them at enemies. It's very deadly if you have enough items on field at once.
  • The Prismriver sisters of Touhou are poltergeists. Something of a cross between the 'ghost' and 'uncontrolled psychokinesis' theories; they're artificial ghosts created by an unstable girl, Layla, from memories of her passed away older sisters.
    • From the PC-98 era, we have Kana Anaberal and, like the abovementioned Prismriver sisters, she was also created by a mentally unstable girl.
  • Castlevania: Symphony of the Night has the Spectral Sword causing this, as well as the Ouija board. Once you get the perk that lets you see the enemy's name, you'll occasionally find an actual Poltergeist in the game.
  • In Geist, you play as a poltergeist. You can cause objects to bang around and break in order to scare guards and animals, and once they're scared enough you can possess them and use them to accomplish physical tasks.
  • Many of the early manifestations in Paranormal consist of poltergeist activity.
  • The Dark Presence in Alan Wake sometimes uses possessed items against you that you must defend against with your flashlight. This can range from barrels or wheel to entire vehicles, the latter serving as a boss battle.
  • Shiver: Poltergeist features a female poltergeist who uses pyrokinesis in addition to throwing stuff around.
  • Haunting Starring Polterguy is a comedy-horror game where you play as a poltergeist named Polterguy. You're actually the ghost of a punk teen killed by a defective skateboard and your objective is to terrify the negligent CEO (and his family) until he learns his lesson, mostly by possessing objects in the house and making them do grotesque things, or sometimes simply making them fly around.
  • Haunt The House is an indie computer/mobile title which has the players take on the role of a cute little ghost, whose objective is to scare noisy partygoers out of his house so he can get some rest, which he does by possessing objects and making them move or perform a 'scary' action such as belching black ichor or popping skeletons out of drawers.
  • In Earthbound Beginnings, one of these attacks Ninten's house at the very start of the game. Except that it's actually Giegue's psychic influence that makes inanimate objects come to life, and making people and animals hostile.
  • Pokémon: The Ghost-type move Poltergeist is a physical attack that manipulates the opponent's Held Item and hits them with it. It's surprisingly powerful, being the strongest Ghost-type move that isn't a signature or Z-Move.

    Web Comics 
  • Champions of Far'aus has Poltergimes. A type of trickster spirit which is the combined form of a ghost, a Mischevie (another trickster spirit) and a slime. Like the component mischevie, they like to mess with people, (although unlike mischivies who mainly cause mischief, Poltergimes might also feel like causing someone to die if the mood hits them right) and are able to possess and haunt objects, as well as being able to create blue fire. The Poltergime that haunts the house in Yorken that Daryl buys is seen doing things like making chandeliers fall, making objects bleed, and fliping furniture around.
  • In Girl Genius, the Queen's Society Dome is rumoured to be haunted by a spirit called the "boilerghast", who causes mysterious accidents. Lord Snackleford insists the rumours are just that, and there are explanations for all the mysterious accidents that require him to fill in much less paperwork. When the boilerghast starts dropping clues to why Tobber was killed in people's laps, Snackleford is forced to admit there might be something here that bears investigation.

    Western Animation 
  • In one episode of Beetlejuice, BJ meets his match in a poultrygeist (manifesting as a spectral chicken) who is preventing him from sleeping. The Neitherworld medium (just roll with it) he and Lydia recruit to get rid of it gets really excited, because poultrygeists can answer any question. They ultimately get rid of it by asking questions that have no answer... and then 400 more show up..
  • Most of the ghost and spirits hunted in The Real Ghostbusters are the typical poltergeist.
  • What's seems to be a Poltergeist (and mentioned as such by name) affects the MIB headquarters in the Halloween Episode of Men in Black. As the show is sci-fi it turns out the Poltergeist was caused by an interdimensional alien life form.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: