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"SIMULATION TERMINATED. SIMULATION TERMINATED. SIMULATION TERMINATED. SIMULATION TERMINATED."

The moment when a scene that we're watching—thinking it's an event that's really happening within the world of the story—is revealed to be a part of a show within the show, or some kind of simulation that the characters are involved in. Examples could be a director calling "Cut!"; a line flub or dialogue prompt; the disappearance of the scenery to reveal an otherwise empty room; the sudden appearance of a camera or sound crew, or a pan, zoom or cut that reveals something (for example, the proscenium, a.k.a. the arch or structure that frames a stage and separates it from the audience, hence the trope name) that shows that the action is occurring in a theatre, on a soundstage, in a classroom or on location.

A Proscenium Reveal may end a Danger Room Cold Open, a Fake Action Prologue or the Unwinnable Training Simulation. In a Music Video, it can indicate that we've been On a Soundstage All Along.

When done accidentally In-Universe, it often means the hero just ruined the shot.

Compare with Nested Story Reveal. Not to be confused with Breaking the Fourth Wall, in which the characters acknowledge their fictional status and/or the existence of the audience (i.e., you). See also All Just a Dream, another trope that leads the events of a story to not be truly real after all.

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.


Examples

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    Anime & Manga 
  • 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 "Snow Yaksha Legend Murder Case" from The Kindaichi Case Files opens with an apparent murder case, which is quickly revealed to be a prank set-up by the TV studio to scare the two actresses on-board.
  • Pokémon: The Original Series: The first episode, "Pokemon, I Choose You!" open with a Pokémon battle as a Gameboy cutscene, which suddenly transitions into a real Pokémon battle in a stadium arena before it's revealed to be a match Ash Ketchum is watching at home.

    Asian Animation 

    Comic Books 
  • Batgirl (Rebirth) #39 opens with Batgirl apparently defeated by the evil-AI version of Oracle, until her friends arrive to help ... except said friends don't match what's going on in their own stories at all (most obviously an un-amnesiac Nightwing). It turns out to all be an internal simulation Oracle is running.
  • In the adaptation of Batman & Robin, 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.
  • One Radioactive Man story opens with a splash panel of Radioactive Man fighting a giant mutated president. Turning the page shows Claude Kane reading that very thing in a comic and wondering where comic writers come up with their ideas — after all, the president didn't grow nearly that big in reality.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: Issue 32 opens with Commander Uvo bombing the Empire State building and laughing maniacally as he flies over New York City, then on the next page the view of his ship zooms out to show that the burning New York city blocks are a scale model rather than the whole city with a chunk of model Paris and London visible while Uvo's second in command talks about what a smart way this is for practicing their attack on the real cities.
  • Zatanna (2010): The series begin with Zatanna being Bound and Gagged while Joker and Dr. Light and seemingly about to execute her with a drill. The very next page reveals it was just a part of her Stage Magician show, and the villains are actually just actors.

    Fan Fiction 
  • The Disney Loops: Loop 10.10, a Disney/MLP Loop (which was not compiled in the actual MLP compilation), appears to be featuring Disney characters against the Conversion Bureau... then the last scene break is followed by "And cut! Print! That's a wrap! Good job everyone!", revealing that it wasn't the real Bureau at all — Mickey and Celestia were just starring in a movie based on that setting.
  • At the beginning of Empath: The Luckiest Smurf story "Grouchy And The Love Doll", Grouchy is seen waking up with a female Smurf beside him in bed, implying that they had sex together. Then after Grouchy gets up, he reveals that the whole thing was an Imaginarium fantasy setting.
  • In Hope on a Distant Mountain, the events of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc all play out within a Unwinnable Training Simulation, with the Prologue consisting of the researchers' commentary on various events throughout the game. Just as Makoto and the other survivors are leaving, we get "All right, cut it," and he's plunged back into reality.

    Film — Animated 
  • 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.
  • 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...
  • Monsters, Inc. starts with a monster, Bile, 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. It turns out the child is actually a robot, and Bile is actually in a training simulator that Monsters, Inc. uses to train new Scarers, being observed by his instructor and several other students. The instructor then proceeds to critique Bile about his mistakes. Sully later uses this training simulator to trick Mr. Waternoose into making an on-camera confession to his crimes.
  • In the reveal teaser for the Ratchet & Clank movie, 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.
  • Shrek the Third starts with Prince Charming riding what appears to be his noble steed through a rainy forest... then the view pans back to reveal he's actually performing in a dinner theater.
  • 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 then changes to show that Rex was playing one of Andy's video games.
    • Similarly,Toy Story 3 begins with an exciting action scene of Woody, Buzz, and Jessie fighting bandits in the Old West, only for it to then cut to Andy's room as he is in the middle of an imaginative playtime session.
  • In Turning Red, it is revealed that the score that accompanies Jin's cooking is actually playing In-Universe on the Lee family's TV and is part of the show within the film called Jade Palace Diaries that Mei and Ming watch.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Ararat 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.
  • Austin Powers in Goldmember begins with the opening credits of a film being made about Austin Powers, but in-universe.
  • In the climax of Blazing Saddles, 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.
  • Lilith addresses the audience directly in being Hands and reveals the film is another in "the temporal series."
  • 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.
  • Body Double: The opening sequence shows a graveyard and a vampire sleeping under a grave. As the camera closes in the vampire, he does a Jump Scare at the viewer, but freezes in place. Then, the director whispering "Action, Jake!" reveals that Jake had a claustrophobic panic attack.
  • The Classic: Right after Ji-hye returns Sang-min's umbrella to him upon realizing he left it at the store so he could join her in the rain, leading to them confessing their feelings to each other in the theater, the next scene is of So-kyeong in a hospital bed and claiming to Sang-min she cut her wrists because she saw him confessing to someone else. It then pans out to show the audience watching them in the theater, revealing it's all part of Sang-min's play.
  • 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!".
  • The opening scene of Demon Knight ends with the Cryptkeeper shouting "Cut!" and calling the actor playing Jack a hack. Then the Cryptkeeper introduces the actual movie.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 opening scene of Galaxy Quest, with the NSEA Protector under attack and Commander Taggart ordering the use of the Omega-13, is revealed to be the final episode of a cancelled TV show being watched by fans at a convention.
  • 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.
  • The Holy Mountain: After Breaking the Fourth Wall at the end, Alejandro Jodorowsky instructs the camera to pull back, which reveals the set and machinery around the last scene.
  • The cry of "That's a wrap!" and the applause after Laura Dern's "death scene" in the David Lynch film Inland Empire.
  • James Bond
    • At the start of The Living Daylights, M is apparently in an office briefing the Double-0 section for a training exercise. We then see the agents are dressed in HALO gear and they're standing in the cargo area of an RAF transport aircraft. The loading ramp lowers so the agents can parachute out and M has to rush to stop the papers on his desk from blowing away.
    • In Die Another Day, MI6 headquarters appear to be under attack until it is revealed that 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.
  • Looney Tunes: Back in Action concludes in the Acme chairman's penthouse office, with Daffy Duck insisting to Bugs Bunny that he's adamant about not returning to the Warner Studio. That moment, a bell rings, and the set is struck, revealing the two had been on a soundstage the whole time.
  • A Man Called Nereus opens with a woman being attacked by zombies. Then the director stops the scene and tells Keith, one of the shambling extras, that he just doesn't have the presence to play a zombie.
  • 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 place]
    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.
  • At the end of Monty Python and the Holy Grail the attack of King Arthur's army on 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
  • When Johnny Cage is introduced in Mortal Kombat: The Movie, 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.
  • Mrs. Doubtfire opens with an animated sequence of a Looney Tunes-esque bird character singing a song from The Barber of Seville. Then we pull back and we see Robin Williams' character in a sound booth, providing the bird's voice.
  • Pain and Glory is about Salvador, a film director. Scattered throughout the movie are flashbacks to when he was a little boy living in poverty with his mom, and when he saw a naked man and had his LGBT Awakening. The very last shot of the film reveals that the flashbacks are not flashbacks, but are actually scenes from a film Salvador is making about his own childhood called "The First Desire".
  • 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.
  • Persona (1966) ends with the camera panning 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Sesión continua: The opening shot is Federico addressing some offscreen person in an extremely emotional manner ("My love...I love you...and I need you.") Then when the camera reveals that he is addressing a second balding, late middle-aged man, the scene seems to become something different. Finally, Jose says "No one talks like that, fuck!". It's soon revealed that they're actually screenwriters running through dialogue.
  • Speed for Thespians: The entire first scene is played out with Elena and Luka, a noblewoman and her servant, sitting on a wooden bench. The camera is tight on the two of them as Elena, dressed in Widow's Weeds, insists that she will wear black and remain in mourning forever, while Luka urges her to stop mourning and go out and live life again. Then there's the "ding" of a requested bus stop, and the camera moves back to show that "Elena" and "Luka" are actors, Street Performers sitting on the back seat of a public transit bus, performing a play. (Specifically, The Bear by Anton Chekhov).
  • 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.
  • UHF begins with George Newman playing out the opening scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark, with George in the adventurer's role. At the end of the scene, the giant boulder chases him all over the world until it runs him over, with the image of his flattened body transitioning to that of a burger patty frying on a grill. Turns out it was all George's daydream while he's flipping burgers at Big Edna's.
  • 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.
  • Wrong is Right
    • The movie opens on scenes in The Big Rotten Apple: an old lady fighting off muggers, an armored car robbery, and a wife murdering her husband. Intrepid Reporter Patrick Hale is then shown interviewing the wife, only to reveal it's actually a therapy center where people pay actors to help them live out their violent fantasies.
    • Hale is driving a sailboat through the desert while acting as a Character Narrator, only for a Reveal Shot to show he's being followed by camera cars filming his live report from Hagreb where he's going to interview King Awad.
  • 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.

    Literature 
  • 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.
  • In Blackbird (1986), 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.
  • 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.
  • The Cat Who... Series: The opening pages of book #15 (The Cat Who Went Into the Closet) start with a radio announcer at his newsdesk, reporting on a major forest fire destroying towns in the area, and finally that the town of Pickax itself, where he is, is in flames, just before getting to his feet and rushing out of the room... and then everything goes dark, just before we hear the audience talking about it — the "radio announcer" was Qwill, doing a one-man stage show based on a massive forest fire that destroyed much of Moose County over a hundred years before.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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 Castle episode "One Life to Lose" opens with a couple 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.
  • 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.
  • Daredevil (2015):
    • 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.
    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.
  • One episode of ER begins with medical student Abby in the midst of a trauma being screamed at by senior physicians and told that she's doing everything wrong and that the patient is dying. The patient eventually does die, and we see that she was actually working on a dummy and that this was a simulated medical emergency.
  • In Flower of Evil, Do Hae-soo is introduced in episode 4 bending over a bloody corpse lying at the bottom of a drained swimming pool. She says "It doesn't hurt anymore, does it?" Then the corpse opens its eyes and says "It smells weird." The "corpse" is an actor and Hae-soo is a makeup artist on a movie set.
  • One episode of Foyle's War ends with a couple of Nazi officers repeatedly shoving a prisoner's head into a bathtub to get information out of him. After returning him to his cell, they head upstairs for a smoke and begin speaking perfect RP English, revealing that they're British officers training undercover agents to endure torture.
  • Once an Episode in F/X: The Series, a scene turns out to be either a scene staged by Rollie's team, or part of a film they're working on.
  • An episode of Heroes has Matt Parkman raid an apartment in an apparent hostage situation. He manages to stop the hostage takers. It's immediately revealed to be a staged training exercise and a part of his detective exam, and he has passed with flying colors. He's even praised on figuring out that a woman was one of the hostage takers, although he has to fake an explanation on how he did it, since he can't very well tell them that he can read minds.
  • 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.
  • Justice: One episode starts with someone seemingly 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.
  • Nikki from Lost is shown in her first flashback 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.
  • NCIS:
    • One episode opens with a woman being pursued by an assailant across a grassy field. She's cornered, screams in terror... cue "Cut!", and the director telling her that her scream wasn't convincing enough. As she walks off to go practice, she suddenly lets out a scream he's much happier with... and then keeps on screaming, because she's just stumbled across the Victim of the Week.
    • The 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Sense8 Lito Rodriguez is introduced striding down the aisle of a church and pulling a gun on the priest. When he announces he's going to "blow your fucking brains out" the "priest" breaks character and turns to the side to ask the director if they're changing the script. Turns out Lito is a telenovela star shooting his newest project.
  • 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.
  • Star Trek:
    • 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.
    • Done with Superdickery 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 that we're 700 years in the future watching a propagandist historical 'reconstruction' of events. 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 episode "Imperfection", The Doctor and Tom Paris are seen working together on replacing Seven of Nine's malfunctioning cortical node with the one that the Voyager crew had salvaged from a dead Borg. Unfortunately, the operation fails, as Seven's mechanical systems refuse to accept the replacement node, and with The Doctor saying "End program," the whole operation was revealed to be a virtual training simulation.
  • Supernatural:
    • "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". Sam and Dean themselves have been pulled into 'our' world by Balthazar's power, to lead 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, "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.
    • In "Goodbye Stranger", a brainwashed Castiel is shown apparently killing Dean Winchester, which doesn't get any less shocking when we see he's in a warehouse full of murdered Dean simulations.
  • "The Window", an experimental episode of the 1950s anthology show Tales of Tomorrow, starts 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.
  • An episode of Thunderbirds titled "Martian Invasion" begins with a scene in which two police officers stumble upon a spaceship in the desert only to be attacked by Martians who blow up their car and corner them in a cave. The episode then fades into a scene in a movie producer's office revealing that the preceding sequence was actually from a movie script that a director is summarising to a pair of producers
  • The Twilight Zone (1959):
    • "The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine" opens with Barbara Jean Trenton bidding farewell to her man, a soldier who is going off to war. It is soon revealed to be a scene from Farewell Without Tears, one of Barbara's old films.
    • In "A World of Difference", the protagonist Arthur Curtis is going about his life, then suddenly finds himself on a set as an actor named Gerald Raigan 'playing' himself. The episode deals 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.
  • Ultraman Max: The 32nd episode "Elly Destruction Directive" begins with Kaito Touma in a dark room, and suddenly ambushed by Gas Mask Mooks which he engages in a shootout (with Guns Akimbo!) that feels absolutely unlike anything from Ultraman. Then he gets shot, before it's revealed he's in a simulated exercise. Cue opening credits and the rest of the show.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Music 
  • 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.
  • Michael Jackson: The full music video for "Thriller" starts with Michael and a girl in the forest, with Michael turning into a monstrous cat-like monster... then it turns out to be a movie playing in a theater, and Michael Jackson is enjoying some popcorn while watching (his girlfriend, on the other hand, finds it too scary).
  • The video for Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn" features scenes of Imbruglia singing the song interspersed with her and an actor engaging in conversation. During the latter scenes, the pair are seen fumbling their lines and positions, with a director coming on set to direct the two; during the last chorus, stagehands come onto set and start dismantling the set around Imbruglia.
  • Stabbing Westward's "Shame" initially seems like a Concept Video about a woman being menaced by her psycho ex-boyfriend, fitting the obsessive tone of the lyrics. The scenes that feature the band miming the song seem to be set in a rehearsal space, and there's an odd Running Gag where members keep sneaking out of the room together, eventually leaving frontman Christopher Hall on his own — the ending reveals that the entire stalker plot was just a movie-within-a-music-video, which the band decided to blow off rehearsal to go watch in the theater.

    Theatre 
  • 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 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
  • Here We Are shatters the Fourth Wall wide open when the Soldier sings about how he dreamt that "We are all actors in a play", causing all of the lights to come up and the actors to forget their lines. This is very akin to the show's inspiration, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Video Games 
  • 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.
  • 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, the wife of Sierra’s president, Ken Williams, who gives Larry a job writing adventure games about his life.
  • In Mortal Kombat 1, Johnny Cage is introduced as an Adventurer Archaeologist making his way through an ancient ruin and fighting monsters. It is then revealed that this is all part of a movie he is filming.
  • In Octopath Traveler II, Temenos's story begins with what appears to be a Distant Prologue in which Aelfric the Flamebringer is the last god standing against the wicked god Vide... then Aelfric flubs his dramatic speech, revealing it's a puppet play performed by Temenos, who didn't memorise Aelfric's speech completely (again!).
  • The first stages of Slaps and Beans suggests the game to be set in the Wild West, with the heroes (Ink Suit Actors of Terence Hill and Bud Spencer) taking on mooks dressed as outlaws in the desert and various saloons before culminating with a Traintop Battle atop an old-timey locomotive. But after defeating the first boss, someone off-screen yells "CUT!" - cue revelation that it's a Western-themed set where Bud and Terence are shooting a movie. The rest of the game takes place in the 1970s.
  • Saints Row: The Third: The final mission of the "Save Shaundi" ends with the Boss and his homies going to Mars to take out Killbane, which turns out to be them filming a Gangstas in Space! movie. Given the utter insanity of the series on top of its existing precedent for referencing the devs' earlier Red Faction, 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.
  • The Space Quest series:
  • Super Mario Bros.:
    • Super Mario Bros. 3: The Book Ends of the game depict the events of the game as taking place on a stage with a curtain. In the original NES version, it's also subtly shown throughout the game by things like the floating platforms being suspended in the air by screws and strings as if they were stage props. It was later confirmed by series creator Shigeru Miyamoto that the game's events are part of a stage play.
    • Mario Party 2: After clearing Bowser Land for the first time, Toad states that the reason Mario and Bowser seem to be getting along now is that the whole story was just an attraction at Mario Land.
    • Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga: The story is shown in-game as a movie everyone was watching.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, it turns out that everything was inside of a reality show, and all of the characters' personalities and backstories were changed to fit their fictional parts.

    Web Animation 
  • Bento Banana: The fact that Bento Banana and Plumpy are within a procedurally generated anime is revealed in the first episode after Plumpy bashes Boclotron in the head where it cuts to the Director in the real world screaming about why Plumpy killed Boclotron..

    Webcomics 
  • Bronze Skin Inc.: The pilot episode begins with a flashback of how the company made a deal with the giantesses three years earlier. This is revealed to be a video shown to new employees.
  • Everyone Is Home: "A Christmas Warol" ends by zooming out to reveal that the whole thing was just a play that the Smash characters were taking part in.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Woody Woodpecker: "Heap Big Hepcat" starts with a fight between a cowboy and a Native American. After the cowboy kills the native, it's revealed they're actors in a studio and the native simply stands up and leaves once the scene is done.

 
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Alternative Title(s): Show Within A Show Reveal

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Buzz Lightyear: Attack on Zurg

What appears to be a failed match between Buzz and Zurg is actually Rex playing a video game.

How well does it match the trope?

4.89 (18 votes)

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