The device which makes it clear that the scene we're watching is a part of a show within the show or simulation. Examples could be a director calling "Cut!"; a line flub or dialogue prompt; the sudden appearance of a camera or sound crew, or a pan, zoom or cut that reveals that the action is occurring in a theatre, on a soundstage, in a classroom or on location.
Note: Proscenium reveals can be Mind Screws for the audience, especially if they occur late in the proceedings. (David Lynch, we're looking at you.) When citing such cases, consider tagging for spoilers.
- In episode 65 of Cardcaptor Sakura, the title character discovers her brother making what appears to be a dramatic reveal to Yukito and intervenes, only for Nakuru to shout "Cut!" in the role of director.
- The Pokémon pilot episode "Pokemon, I Choose You!" open with a Pokemon battle in an arena before it's revealed to be a match Ash Ketchum is watching at home.
- Directly invoked in the adaptation of Batman & Robin, where a director with a gray ponytail shouts "And...Action!" to actors playing Batman and Robin on a soundstage as it segues into the first action scene. This conceit is never brought up again.
- The first time we see Wonder Man in West Coast Avengers, he is chasing a thief, and his car is blown to pieces by a grenade. He was actually working as a stunt double for a film. But the grenade and the explosion were real, he can simply take the damage with no problem.
- Ultimate X-Men: Wolverine, who has been hired to kill Xavier, is suddenly killing all the X-Men in the garden, and left Xavier for the end. But, as it turns out, he was just taking the new Danger Room too far.
- Bolt opens with an extended action sequence in which Penny and Bolt battle a horde of mooks. After Bolt vanquishes the last of them with his Super Bark, Penny picks up Bolt and walks away — to a trailer with Bolt's name on the door. As they step inside, a bell rings, and the film crew wander into shot and start striking the set, while the "dead" bodies get up and walk off.
- Monsters, Inc. starts with a monster walking into a child's bedroom. He is freaked out when the child starts screaming and starts knocking things over— and then suddenly the lights turn on, the pre-recorded message "Simulation Terminated" is heard, and one wall of the room goes up, revealing that the child is actually a robot, and the monster is actually in Monsters, Incorporated's state-of-the-art children's room simulator, being observed by a supervisor, who starts asking him about his mistakes. This is later used to set up the Big Bad for an Engineered Public Confession.
- Toy Story 2 starts with an elaborate Buzz Lightyear adventure which culminates in Buzz confronting Zurg, only for Zurg to suddenly disintegrate his entire upper torso with a single shot. The scene changes to show that it's actually Rex playing one of Andy's video games.
- Gundam 00: A Wakening of the Trailblazer starts off with a Show Within a Show retelling of the TV series' events; however, anyone at least passingly familiar with the show should instantly know something is up. Seeing as Lockon isn't a pink-haired loli, Tieria isn't a Scary Black Man, and the Season 1 Big Bad certainly didn't look like a rejected Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann design...
- The reveal teaser for the Ratchet & Clank movie does this, revealing that Qwark's speech in front of a starscape is part of an in-universe teaser for the film. It's further revealed a few seconds later that the starscape itself is fake. It then gets a third reveal showing that it's within a program making the film, and the animators are none too happy that Qwark called them lazy for not putting more effort into the teaser.
- Shark Tale: Oscar introduces himself to the viewer in what appears to be a penthouse apartment, until the camera zooms out to reveal it's a billboard ad.
- Funeral Parade of Roses: Eddie goes home with Tony the GI, and they make love. There are shots of the two of them intertwined in bed, we hear Eddie moaning, there are shots of his face contorted in ecstasy. Then a voice from offscreen yells "Cut!" The shots pull back and we see the film crew, filming the actors playing Eddie and Tony in a scene. The rest of the film has Medium Awareness sprinkled throughout.
- The dismantling of Buster Keaton's "bedroom" in "The Playhouse".
- In the original Fame, one of the main characters is monologuing about his mother. It looks like an interview, until he flubs a line and we realize it's an audition.
- Zig-zagged in the climax of Blazing Saddles, where the action is somehow "real" even though it's shown to be happening on a Hollywood soundstage and eventually most of the backlot during the climactic Final Battle.
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit begins with a Maroon Cartoon called "Something's Cookin'," starring Roger Rabbit and Baby Herman. Just after a refrigerator is dropped on Roger's head, the door opens and Roger is shown with birds circling his head, prompting a human director to shout "Cut!" and chew out Roger because he's supposed to see stars, not birds. This establishes that Roger and Baby Herman are Animated Actors and are working on a live-action soundstage, thus setting up the concept of humans and toons living in the same world.
- The entrance of Admiral Kirk in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan ends the Kobayashi Maru.
- Meryl Streep flubbing a line during The Oner that opens Postcards From The Edge.
- The cry of "That's a wrap!" and the applause after Laura Dern's "death scene" in the David Lynch film Inland Empire.
- Alexander's Ragtime Band: What appears to be Davey waking up at reveille at boot camp, is revealed to be the "Oh, How I Hate to Wake up in the Morning" number that Alec's army unit is staging, when the camera pulls back and shows that Davey is on a stage.
- X-Men: The Last Stand opens with an action-packed scene in burning city ruins, but it is revealed to be just a Danger Room simulation after the Fastball Special.
- The ending of Murder 101 is this. It turns the thing from merely being a bad movie into a bad movie about a bad movie.
- Ararat does this fairly often. It lets the audience watch the movie-within-a-movie just long enough to momentarily forget that's what they're watching, until the camera pans to show the director in his chair, or someone walks on the set to correct one of the actors.
- Moulin Rouge! begins with the 20th Century Fox logo shown on a stage (with the Fanfare performed by the pit orchestra below), and ends with the credits scrolling by on that same stage.
- Sucker Punch opens in a theater that becomes the movie (only it never returns). And also has a weird example: Baby Doll getting lobotomized... followed by a play in which Sweet Pea in a blonde wig complains about it ending with the heroine ending that way. And Baby Doll is still lobotomized later on the picture.
- At the beginning of Team America: World Police, a very crude puppet is jerked around in front of a laughably-bad background. This was done by the creators to troll their investors, as the film is itself done with puppets; after a few seconds (long enough that, the story goes, one of the investors yelled, "My God, they fucked us!"), the camera pulls back to reveal that the crude puppet is part of a puppet show on the streets of Paris, being worked by a much better puppet.
- Scream 4 begins with a typical Slasher Movie opening, with two teenage girls called by a mysterious and threatening stranger... until we see the Stab title screen and realize that it was actually just an opening to the movie within a movie. Then we see two more teenage girls watching that movie, and it turns out that this is actually the opening to the sequel to that movie... yeah. It's that kind of movie.
- Alejandro Jodorowsky does this in The Holy Mountain. After Breaking the Fourth Wall at the end, he instructs the camera to pull back, which reveals the set and machinery around the last scene.
- Austin Powers in Goldmember begins with the opening credits of a film being made about Austin Powers, but in-universe.
- Persona (1966) does this a couple of times, most notably at the very end when the camera pans away from the actors to show the crew who have been there all along, filming what's supposed to be two women isolated on an island.
- From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money opens with two people being attacked by a swarm of bats, which turns out to be a film watched by the main character.
- At the end of Monty Python and the Holy Grail the attack of King Arthur's army on the castle Aaargh is interrupted by the police arresting everyone for the murder of the history professor from earlier in the movie. Also counts as Gainax Ending
- In The Matrix, there's the "Red Dress woman" scene. Neo and Morpheus are apparently walking down a street inside the Matrix:
Morpheus: The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you're inside, you look around, what do you see? Business men, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system, and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it. [Neo's attention is suddenly drawn to a passing attractive woman wearing a red dress] Were you listening to me, Neo, or were you looking at the woman in the red dress?
Neo: I was... [Morpheus waves his hand]
Morpheus: Look again. [Neo does. The woman has instantly turned into Agent Smith, who draws his gun on Neo] Freeze it. [Immediately, everything on the screen except for Neo and Morpheus freezes in time]
Neo: This... this isn't the Matrix?
Morpheus: No. It's another training program designed to teach you one thing: if you are not one of us, you are one of them.
- One of the film adaptations of the Spanish ballet El Amor Brujo opens with the camera panning from the ceiling of the studio down to the set. At the end, the camera pans up to the ceiling again. (Other than that, the movie never acknowledges its fictionality.)
- Charlie's Angels does this twice with Alex's boyfriend - once when he is rehearsing a scene from his latest movie with her, and once when he is actually filming it.
- The Party opens with a desert battle scene, and then reveals that the horn-blower played by Peter Sellers is an actor who just ruined a take, presumably for refusing to die after being shot.
- RoboCop 2 starts with a car thief running into a parking garage and breaking into a car. As soon as he gets in, an alarm goes off, restraints pop up around him and the seat fries him like he's being executed in an electric chair. Cut to a salesman standing outside the car, revealing that we are actually watching a MagnaVolt ("lethal response!") commercial.
- The opening scene of Day for Night is revealed to be a scene being shot for the in-universe movie, when the director shouts "Cut!".
- In Blackbird, after Marshall offers to take Randy to the theatre audition, the scene cuts to him menacing and sexually assaulting Randy. A moment later it is revealed that this is a scene they are acting out on the stage.
- In Die Another Day, MI-6 headquarters appear to be under attack until it is revealed that James Bond is in a virtual reality training simulation. Toward the end of the film, Bond appears to be getting intimate with Moneypenny until R interrupts, revealing that Moneypenny is using the device to simulate the scenario.
- Used as Book-Ends in Gene Wilder's Haunted Honeymoon: once to reveal that its Batman Cold Open is actually a radio mystery-theater show which the film's main characters are performing live, and again to reveal that the entire movie was one.
- Blow Out begins with a first-person view of a Serial Killer prowling a co-ed dorm filled with all sorts of sleaze worthy of an Exploitation Film. Then he pulls the curtain on a victim in the shower who lets out a completely unconvincing scream. Cut to the B-Movie sound technician protagonist and his producer in their recording studio laughing at, and then arguing over the scream in the Slasher Film whose rough cut they have just been watching.
- When Johnny Cage is introduced in Mortal Kombat, he's seen entering a warehouse, is approached by several sinister looking men, and they engage in a fight. He downs all of them and while fighting the last one, punches him several times. After being hit, the other man reacts as though nothing has happened. An irritated Cage looks at him and says "This is where you fall down." The man then falls back very unconvincingly. Cage turns around and yells "Where do you get these guys?" It's then revealed that he's on a movie set, and the fight was a scene being filmed.
- Fright Night (1985): As the camera floats toward a house, we hear the conversation of a vampire putting the moves on a woman. When we fly through the window, we see that the conversation is actually a movie on a television set.
- A scene in April Showers where Sean says "I love you" to April is interrupted by him yelling "Cut!", revealing it to be a part of their stageplay.
- Used in the short tongue-in-cheek IF game Conan Kill Everything. If Conan dies — or for that matter when the player eventually completes the game — the action will be revealed to all have happened on a small movie set and the director will either complain about or compliment 'Conan's' performance.
- War Game by Anthony Price opens with a battle in the English Civil War, which goes on for a couple of pages before one of the dead bodies leans over to make a snarky comment to his neighbour, and it turns out to be a modern-day re-enactment.
- Cat-a-lyst by Alan Dean Foster opens with a battle in the American Civil War, before the protagonist flubs his line and it's revealed to be a film shoot.
- Bride of the Rat God opens with a young woman fleeing desperately, and ultimately futilely, from her doom. It then cuts to a film premiere, revealing these events to be the climax of a movie.
- Galaxy of Fear actually starts out with a highly cryptic Villain Opening Scene, and the next scene is a heated dogfight between an X-Wing and a TIE fighter -
Suddenly a metallic hand as large as the red moon descended from the heavens to block the X-wing's path. But the starfighter passed right through it.
The owner of the hand looked down at the holotable where the starfighter combat had taken place. Since his head and face were made of durasteel, the droid couldn't frown, but it gave the definite impression of doing just that. "Tash. Zak. Stop this ridiculous game."
- Young Adult Novel by Daniel Pinkwater begins with a chapter of "Kevin Shapiro, Boy Orphan" a lugubrious parody of troubled-teen fiction. The second chapter begins with the real story's narrator introducing himself and explaining that Kevin Shapiro is the invention of his Dadaist high-school club.
- Inverted in Ender's Game, where both the characters and the audience (or at least, those who hadn't yet figured it out), are led to believe that the climax is a battle simulation serving as the young students' final exam. Once they "pass", dialog from other characters makes it clear that it wasn't a simulation at all, they in fact just won the very real war.
- The Culture novel Surface Detail opens with three scenes ending in someone's death. One is immediately revealed to be an Unwinnable Training Simulation, one is eventually revealed to be a simulation, but one with real consequences (part of a war being fought in VR), and one is genuine (but, the Culture being what it is, not permanent).
- "Hollywood Babylon" opens with two terrified 20-somethings, Wendy and Brody, in the woods. Brody runs away; Wendy calls for her friends, hears a noise, turns toward the camera and screams unconvincingly, at a tennis ball stuck on top of a movie camera. "Cut!" calls the director. "Wendy" is actually Tara Benchley, the lead actress of Hell Hazers 2.
- Another Supernatural example is the episode "The French Mistake". This is less a reveal than a transition though, as Sam and Dean themselves have been pulled into 'our' world by Balthazar's power, to
escape Virgillead Virgil on a merry wild goose chase after a key that supposedly opens the door to a room containing all the weapons Balthazar stole. The episode's title is a Shout-Out to Blazing Saddles (mentioned above), "The French Mistake" being the musical number that gets interrupted by the climactic fight scene.
- In "Changing Channels" a scene taking place in a hospital turns out to be a medical soap opera Dean is watching on TV. He later becomes trapped in the same soap opera himself.
- "Goodbye Stranger" has a nasty one where a brainwashed Castiel is shown apparently killing Dean Winchester, which doesn't get any less shocking after the Proscenium Reveal when we see he's in a warehouse full of murdered Dean simulations.
- On more than one occasion in Quantum Leap, Sam leaps into a strange situation, only to discover that he's an actor in a play or on a soundstage.
- Two interesting variants in Columbo.
- In "Fade In To Murder," we open with Detective Lucerne accusing a man of murder. Then the accused's twin comes in to the room, aims a gun at Lucerne and says it will be a treasure to "pill" him, which causes a director to call, "Cut!" revealing that in fact Lucerne is Ward Fowler (William Shatner), the star of the hit weekly detective show Lucerne.
- In "Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous To Your Health", the scene opens in a rundown apartment, where two lovers, Barbara and Duke, are plotting to kill the former's husband, who is waiting outside for Barbara to give him a signal to come in. When the husband comes in, Duke chokes him into unconsciousness and injects him with a vial of poison. As the two exchange a look, the image turns grainy and is revealed to be playing on a monitor in the studio where Wade Anders (George Hamilton) is taping his weekly Dateline-type show CrimeAlert.
- This happens Once an Episode in F/X: The Series, usually in the cold opening.
- Nikki's first flashback on Lost features a proscenium reveal. Nikki is shown pole dancing in a club, then having a confrontation with her boss. The boss shoots her, and the director yells, "Cut!", revealing that Nikki an actress working on a show about strippers who fight crime. The original plan was to have the entire episode revolve around this Show Within a Show, with the proscenium reveal coming at the end. This plan was scrapped when Nikki and Paulo proved wildly unpopular.
- Without a Trace: A security guard sees a suspicious car. He looks inside and sees a bomb, which explodes, setting him on fire. Turns out this security guard is actually a stuntman, participating in the shooting of a B-Movie. Then he walks away from the set and never comes back.
- The Six Feet Under episode "In the Game" opens with a young girl home alone when a slasher-killer breaks into her house. The girl screams...then cut to inside a movie theater where we realize it's only from a horror movie that is playing.
- The Castle episode "One Life to Lose" opens with this. A couple is having an affair when the women's husband returns. The man goes to hide in the closet and a dead body falls out prompting a camera pan to show the shocked cast and crew of the soap opera that is being filmed.
- The Twilight Zone (1959) had an episode, "A World of Difference", in which the Proscenium Reveal came as a surprise to the protagonist—he'd been going about his life, then suddenly found himself on a set, 'playing' himself. The episode dealt with his attempts to first understand what had happened to him, then to get back to a life he found preferable to the one he'd been thrust into.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation, usually revealed with the words, "Computer, end program.". e.g. Reg Barclay at the end of "Hollow Pursuits".
- Done in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's fourth season opener, "The Way of the Warrior". The previous season had ended with an episode in which the crew chase a Changeling saboteur across the Defiant and ends with the dying Changeling revealing that his kind 'are everywhere'. This episode opens with Sisko and Kira chasing a Changeling across the station, only for it to be revealed that it's actually Odo and is just a security training exercise.
- Justice: One episode started with what seemed someone murdering somebody else but then it's revealed it was the prosecution recording a dramatization of what they claim to have happened to a Victim of the Week.
- "The Window", an experimental episode of the 1950s anthology show Tales of Tomorrow, started out identically to the same show's episode "The Lost Planet". Then the program is interrupted by a rogue broadcast, after which the camera pans from the dumbfounded "Lost Planet" actors to the actual Tales of Tomorrow production crew, who spend the rest of the story trying to deal with the mysterious signal and its content.
- Done with Super Dickery on Star Trek: Voyager.
- In "Meld", while suffering the results of a Mind Meld with a murderer, Tuvok is being hassled by Neelix in the messhall. He becomes so annoying that Tuvok throttles him to death. And There Was Much Rejoicing amongst fans until Tuvok says says, "Computer, end program." Either way, it's a clear sign Tuvok is Not Himself.
- In "Worse Case Scenario", B'Elanna Torres is recruited by Chakotay to take part in a mutiny. Things get more and more strange with dead crewmembers from the first couple of seasons appearing, until Tom Paris freezes the program, revealing that it's a holodeck simulation.
- In the pre-title sequence of "Living Witness" Voyager's crew have turned evil, wearing black gloves and raining down destruction on helpless planets, before everything freezes and it's revealed we're watching a historical 'reconstruction' of events from 700 years in the future. This is Book Ended with another Proscenium Reveal showing that the events of the entire episode were being simulated by another group of historians even further in the future.
- In the iZombie episode "Method Head", Blaine comments that they'll "hear soon if all zombie hell breaks loose," and we cut to a scene of zombie hell breaking loose in a high school. It turns out to be the set of Show Within a Show Zombie High.
- Daredevil (2015):
Foggy Nelson: This much spotlight concern anyone else? I mean, we're about to step onto a big proscenium stage here. And how do I know what proscenium means? Because I did theater in summer camp! Which is exactly the kind of thing that these reporters will find out if they start digging into me!Matt Murdock: Come on, jazz hands.
- Discussed by Foggy Nelson in "Regrets Only," when he, Matt and Karen are on the elevator while heading to Frank Castle's room at the hospital.
- A variant in "Penny and Dime" without the stage: we see Father Lantom on the pulpit at his church, delivering a eulogy for Grotto. The camera then cuts to him from behind, and he steps off his pulpit...revealing the church to be empty aside from Matt, Karen, and Foggy sitting in a pew near the front.
- In The Orville episode "Firestorm", weird things are happening aboard the ship, and Alara finds herself all alone, racing through the ship's hallways. The view then pulls back to reveal that she's in the simulator, with Ed, Kelly, Claire, and Isaac watching over from the control room. They try to end the simulation, but Alara has invoked a security override that even The Captain can't countermand, meaning she has to play out the simulation to the end... except she doesn't know it's a simulation, as she asked Claire to wipe her short-term memory of setting up the whole thing. She even gets real injuries from fighting evil Isaac in the simulation.
- Westworld. Teddy saves Dolores from the Man in Black, but she's been stabbed fatally. He carries her to a moonlit beach where she dies in his arms, only for floodlights to come on and the hosts to freeze in position, showing they've just played out the final scene in Ford's new narrative.
- A Blue Bloods episode opens with two cops in the middle of a robbery/hostage situation. To his horror, one of the cops shoots an innocent civilian in the course of trying to shot the robber. At this point, a bell rings, revealing that the whole thing is a training exercise.
- The NCIS episode "The San Dominick" opens with Naïve Newcomer Bishop searching through a ship for an escaped suspect. She corners him, but then another bad guy grabs her and puts a knife to her throat. . .at which point, the first one removes his mask to reveal that he's Gibbs, and that this has been a training session.
Gibbs: (shakes his head) You're dead, Bishop.
- Daniel Amos's short, strange song "Props" (from ¡Alarma!) ends with stagehands rolling up the sky and putting it away, then all the bystanders (revealed to be cardboard cutouts) fall over.
- "Have a Cigar" and "Wish You Were Here" by Pink Floyd blend together with the first song shifting to sound like it's being played on the radio, before David Gilmore changes the station and starts playing along with the second song.
- Shiina Ringo's video for Honnō In the end it is revealed that in-universe it is not a hospital but a set and Shiina is just playing a nurse.
- In Kiss Me Kate, just before the overture reaches its final chords, the conductor cuts it off and asks, "Is that all right, Mr. Graham?" Fred enters and says, "Yes, the cut's good, leave it in."
- Noises Off opens with a housekeeper walking on stage and nattering into the phone. Then as she's walking off, she says, "I take the sardines... I leave the sardines..." and an off-stage director's voice says, "You take the sardines, and you leave the newspaper." This reveals that what you're actually watching is a rehearsal of a Play Within a Play.
- City of Angels opens in the Show Within a Show, and gets most of the way through the expository scene before revealing Stine at his typewriter pressing the backspace key, causing the action to rewind.
- The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard begins with Max discovering his wife Charlotte has been having an affair. Then it is revealed that Max and Charlotte are actors and this prologue was a play written by Charlotte's real-life husband, Henry. And Henry is the one having an affair... with Max's real-life wife, Annie.
- The Cripple of Inishmaan by Martin McDonagh has the terminally ill title character deliver a dying monologue in a boarding house far from home. Partway through the next scene he reappears, alive and well; the death scene was a Hollywood screen test, and the illness a ruse to escape to America
- The second act of Legally Blonde begins with the fitness queen Brooke Wyndham leading the number "Whipped Into Shape." In the middle of the song, the action freezes and we see that the number is actually a video that the other characters are watching.
- The Book-Ends of Super Mario Bros. 3.
- And Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, shown in-game as a movie everyone was watching.
- Saints Row: The Third: The final mission of the "Save Shaundi" ending has this happen, with the Boss and his homies going to Mars to take out Killbane turning out to be them filming a Gangstas in Space! movie. Given the utter insanity of the series, the fact the last mission takes place on Mars seems like it would have been completely possible, if everyone's Bad Bad Acting didn't give it away.
- Sierra went through a phase in the late '80s where they did this.
- At the end of Leisure Suit Larry 3: Passionate Patti in Pursuit of the Pulsating Pectorals, Larry and Patti fall out of the game world and into the Sierra studios, where other Sierra games are literally being filmed like movies. They meet Roberta Williams, who gives Larry a job writing adventure games about his life.
- At the end of Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon, Roger Wilco rescues two video game programmers from an evil intergalactic game company, then drops them off at Sierra headquarters so they can write adventure games about their lives.
- The opening sequence of Space Quest V: The Next Mutation has the hero engaged in a space battle, until his supervisor appears on screen and we realize it was all an Unwinnable Training Simulation.
- Prey (2017) does this twice: once at the start of the game, where the tutorial ends with Morgan Yu breaking out and into a testing lab, and once at the very end, when The Stinger reveals the whole game was actually a Typhon agent playing as Morgan Yu.
- The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot is shown at the end to be a film that Peter Davison et al. are making, rather than a real event.