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Imagine realizing that woman wasn't crazy, that you've kept an innocent woman drugged and detained for 10 years, that the machines that woman was terrified of are real, and that the post-apocalypse is REAL and probably inevitable.... all in the same 2 minute period of time.
Talk about a mind fuck.
Pinned comment on this video of the Pescadero Hospital Escape from Terminator 2: Judgment Day

If an episode revolves around a haunting/alien visitation/lake monster sighting/whatever that turns out to be a hoax, the episode will end with a shot of a real ghost/alien visitor/lake monster/whatever.

A variation is for the episode to end with the investigators remarking on one detail of the hoax they found particularly impressive, only for the hoaxer to say, "But... that wasn't me." Or, in haunting cases, for the investigators to remark how helpful Bob was, only for one of the locals to say, "Bob? But he's been dead for five years." Sometimes, the characters won't be around to see it, especially if a real sighting would bring an end to a long-running mystery. Many times, a "Scooby-Doo" Hoax about a lake monster will end with the real one coming out of the water to watch the heroes leave.

A niche variant: Christmas Episodes of children's series often feature the adults setting up the various elements of the Santa Claus pretense, and then end with a shot of the real Santa flying away in his sleigh (often while the children open wonderful presents that none of the adults could obtain, afford, or remember buying). If the budget doesn't allow for it, they may just play a sound of jingling sleighbells as a hearty "HO HO HO!" echoes in the distance. See Santa's Existence Clause.

Tends to happen in series where paranormal situations are not only uncommon, but usually unconsidered, like Sitcoms or Action-Adventure series making viewers and at times characters to muse about How Unscientific! it is. Usually avoided in series that are about investigating and debunking the paranormal.

A variant of Skepticism Failure. Compare Or Was It a Dream?. Frequently overlaps with Accidental Truth. Sometimes a case of And You Thought It Was a Game. Occasionally, the characters do see the creature, but it's Mistaken for an Imposter. Often occurs at the end of a Cryptid Episode. When a creature thought to be fictional is discovered in Real Life, that's Accidentally Correct Zoology. Similar to Not-So-Imaginary Friend when it's someone that a person claims exists but nobody ever sees except him.

Contrast Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane (where it remains up in the air to the very end) and "They're Not Real" Reveal (where the person or thing never existed). Sometimes, technically, that trope and this one combine when it is established that the hoaxer could not have done one thing, but it is never established that no other mundane cause could have done it.

May result in a character being Horror Struck. A subversion could be a Shock-and-Switch Ending if the creature is evil.


Examples:

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    Advertising 
  • Played for Laughs in one of M&M's Christmas commercials where Red and Yellow are leaving holiday M&Ms out for Santa, and run smack-dab into him:
    Red: GYAAAHH! He does exist!
    Santa: They do exist!
    (Red and Santa both faint)
    Yellow: Uhhh... Santa...?

    Anime and Manga 
  • In the Batman manga story "The Monster of Gore Bay", a gang of criminals use a mechanical fake sea monster to cause chaos so that they can commit crimes, only for their machine to finally be attacked by a real sea monster.
  • In Battle Girls: Time Paradox, everybody gets trapped by samurai ghosts. After managing to appease them, the ghosts tell Nobunaga that she is the one destined to rule the land before departing. Later, Ieyasu meets her minion Hanzo and thanks her for the great special effects and using the fake samurai ghosts to stoke Nobunaga's ego so she will fall into her plan. Hanzo replies that she just arrived and didn't have time to set up the fake samurai ghosts. Though a little unnerved, Ieyasu shrugs it off, since the real ghosts helped her manipulate Nobunaga anyway.
  • Occurs in a Crayon Shin-chan short, where Shin-Chan and friends mistook Bu-chan for an alien after Masao thought he saw Bu-chan teleporting away in their local park in front of a UFO (in actuality, Bu slipped off a low drop just as a thrown frisbee flies past). The gang goes through a bunch of antics trying to expose Bu as the "alien", to no avail, eventually deciding "even if Bu is an alien, he's still our friend". But just then a legit UFO flies past, with only Shin-Chan (who did a quick Double Take) noticing.
  • One episode of Dinosaur King features the Loch Ness Monster, sightings of which are initially thought to be the work of the Alpha Gang's submarine. The Alpha Gang themselves are only there because they believe that Nessie is really one of the dinosaurs that escaped from its card. Sure enough, the characters do face a dinosaur on the loch... but in the very last scene, after the dinosaur has been safely captured and returned to its card, the shadow of the real Nessie appears menacingly in the mist.
  • Inverted in Doraemon: Nobita's Dorabian Nights, when Doraemon and friends are nearly killed after falling into the Arabian Seas. They regain consciousness at a beach, and Suneo claimed he saw a "weird glowing fireball" dragging them out the ocean, while Nobita and Gian said Suneo's hallucinating. The glowing fireball turns out to be their robot genie ally Mikujin in his Ball of Light Transformation form, pulling Changed My Mind, Kid and saving the gang after supposedly abandoning everyone.
  • The Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu episode "The Patient of Darkness" uses the "hoaxer goes 'but that wasn't me'" version—subverted when it turns out that the last "ghost" really was a living person the hoaxers just didn't know about.
  • This is part of the big reveal concerning the world of Eldora in Gundam Build Divers Re:RISE. When the heroes were first brought in, everyone thought it was a mission within GBN. As the game went on, things just didn't add up, ultimately leading to the heroes failing to stop a Kill Sat from nuking a city out of existence and they're not dragged out of the mission. After speaking to other people, one of the heroes, May, comes to the conclusion that they were never in a mission - they were actually transported to an alien world, and all this time had been fighting real battles in real Mobile Suits. The revelation leaves the whole team shaken, but they decide to see the mission through, though now cognizant of the stakes around them.
  • Kagewani has each episode ending with the revelation that the claims of a cryptid attack were actually real.
  • In Kiss Him, Not Me, the group gets stranded and separated on an island, and experience supernatural phenomenon. Among them, Serinuma and Mutsumi get attacked by a vengeful samurai's ghost, but manage to fend him off and then banish him using talismans they had bought earlier. When the group is rescued, they are informed that they had mistakenly eaten hallucinogenic mushrooms earlier. Everyone dismisses their experiences due to this, but Mutsumi reaches into his pocket and finds his talisman has the same damage it took from blocking the samurai's sword strikes.
  • The Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid spin-off manga Kanna's Daily Life has a chapter where Kanna and her friends visit their school during the evening to investigate various occult tales that are usually associated with The Seven Mysteries. While investigating the final story, Kanna notices that Saikawa has disappeared, and, concerned about her location, she and her friends call her. As Saikawa answers the phone, it’s then revealed that she has been sick all this time and had never left her home, causing Kanna and her friends to realize that the "Saikawa" that was with them that night was really a spirit haunting the school.
  • The Florian Triangle in One Piece is a place where nearly a hundred ships go missing every year. In the course of the Thriller Bark arc, we learn that the arc's Big Bad Gecko Moria has been assaulting ships that pass through and stealing their crews' shadows to give rise to an army of zombies. At the arc's very end however, a huge shadow watches the crew leave and the narration reveals that something has been destroying ships long before Gecko Moria ever set up shop.
  • Oni Ai has an episode that begins with Arisa spotting green lights from inside forest. This leads the student council dorm members to look around the surrounding forest before returning to the dorm. When these 'green lights' appear in front of them, they conclude that those were just fireflies.. before they realize these are Will-o'-the-Wisp. The light novel or anime never explain what their true nature is.
  • Pokémon: The Series: The 20th episode of the first season, The Ghost of Maiden's Peak, concerned a hoax haunting. The spirit of a young bride-to-be who died waiting for her deceased fiancee's return supposedly caused trouble for the protagonists, until the troubles were revealed to be caused by the spirit-like Pokemon Gastly. At the end of the episode, however, it’s revealed that Gastly is actually a friend of the real ghostly maiden, who Gastly merely posed as in order to keep her legend alive.
  • Ranma ½: One episode of the anime deals with the whole tendo household trying to figure out who ate all the takoyaki with seaweed that Kasumi bought. When Happosai is shown with pieces of seaweed on his mouth he tells the story about the "Seaweed child" which is a mysterious child-like monster that eats anything with seaweed in it and then puts pieces of seaweed on sleeping peoples' mouths so they will be blamed instead. Then Genma is shown to ALSO have seaweed in his mouth, to which he tells of the story of the "Seaweed monster", which is the exact same story, but with a big monster instead of a child. At the end, it was revealed that each member of the Tendo household had actually eaten a takoyaki each, making all of them decide to just ignore what happened and leave... then we see a final shot of the house and both the Seaweed Child and Seaweed Monster are on the roof, lamenting that all the takoyaki is already gone.
  • Samurai Pizza Cats, "Unidentified Flying Oddballs": Princess Vi is abducted by a UFO, but it turns out to be a hoax/kidnapping by the usual bad guys. At the end of the episode, as the narrator comments that aliens don't really exist, its shown that the events are being watched by some real aliens in a real flying saucer.
  • Squid Girl:
    • Goro spends most of chapter 232 freaking out over a ghost story Eiko told him, involving a girl who disappeared while looking for her red sandal. After Eiko tells him the story was made up, he finally starts to calm down, but then we see a suspicious lone red sandal drifting ashore.
    • In one chapter, the gang freaks out over a supposed ghost picture, which turns out to just be Takeru's hand as he waved to try and be in the picture in time before it was taken. But the end shows that there's also a suspicious, disembodied grinning face in there too...
  • Two episodes in Sword Art Online deal with an apparently impossible murder in a safe zone, and players believe that it was committed by Griselda's ghost. The murders turn out to be a hoax, but at the end, the ghost briefly makes an appearance.
  • In To Love Ru, everyone goes to investigate the old school building, which is rumored to be haunted by a ghost. It's eventually revealed that it's actually just a group of stray aliens who played up the ghost rumors in order to squat on the property. However, in the end, it's revealed that there actually is a ghost haunting the place. Said ghost, Oshizu, ends up eventually becoming part of the main cast.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! GX: Princess Rose uses a Frog deck because she is completely obsessed with the story The Frog Prince and believes her Frog monsters have Duel Spirits in the form of handsome princes. Nobody believes her, so she duels Judai Yuki, believing that since he can see Duel Spirits that he will see the princes as well. However, Judai gets confused because he only sees them as giant frogs. Jun Manjoume and others dismiss her as delusional. When Judai wins, Rose angrily walks off, but Judai suddenly sees the spirit of an actual frog prince (as in a tiny humanoid frog resembling Kermit wearing a prince costume) watching over her. He admits her prince was real, but she ironically cannot see the spirit.

    Asian Animation 
  • In episode 28 of Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf, Wolffy uses the fake friendship peace negotiation in attempt to eat the goats. note  However, several years later in real life, when Mighty Little Defenders season were aired, the peace between the goat tribe and wolf tribe were coming real but subverted this when it happened without Wolffy's old favor or there's still a few wolf characters who didn't get this note.

    Comic Books 
  • And Then Emily Was Gone is about a Private Investigator names Greg Hellinger investigating a missing girl in a town in the Orkneys of Scotland, which the girl's friend, Greg's client, says may have been taken by Bonnie Shaw, a local Bogeyman who's known for making deals with people in times of need, and asking to have their children in exchange. Near the end, it's revealed that Bonnie Shaw is indeed real, and that if he gives Emily back, the universe will collapse.
  • In an Archie Comics comic, Archie and the gang are in a living room on Christmas Eve discussing how Santa Claus is an outdated concept, that it's wrong to teach children you can get something for nothing, and so forth. Suddenly they hear jingling bells out the window. When they go outside to check, they find several gift-wrapped packages with their names on them. The contents were items they all needed yet they hadn't told anyone as much. Further investigation revealed hoof-prints and an inexplicable sled-runner trail in the snow.
  • There's a Donald Duck story where Donald and Daisy have to seek shelter at a spooky castle whose owner turns out to be a vampire. This is revealed to be part of an elaborate commercial that was being shot at the castle, but when Donald asks him how he managed all those crazy "tricks" for the camera like floating in mid-air, the count states that they weren't tricks. Donald takes this to be a joke, but the last panel shows that he really wasn't kidding.
  • In House of Mystery #190, a man who wants to join a dueling fraternity accepts their challenge to spend the night in a haunted house but loses his mind when they reveal to him that he spent the night in the wrong house and all the supernatural experiences that he had were not tricks but real.
  • In an issue of Grant Morrison's Justice League of America run, Plastic Man tells his sidekick's nephew a story about the Justice League saving Christmas and fighting alongside Santa (who has heat vision in Plastic Man's telling), and after he's done with the story, his sidekick's nephew expresses disbelief—only to look out the window and see Santa flying by on his sleigh, blasting "Merry Christmas" into the snow in the yard. But then it turns out to be Martian Manhunter playing along. After Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter fly away, we see the real Santa scoffing at the heat vision idea.
  • In Supergirl (1972), the heroine thinks the villain Orgox pretends to be a demon-sorcerer in order to deceive a bunch of superstitious, insular villagers, but it turns out that Orgox is really a demonic sorcerer.
  • With the Scarlet Witch, Powers That Be have forever been going back and forth on whether she's a literal witch or not. It's mutant probability-altering power! It's "Chaos Magic!" It's both! No, it's not! And on and on and on.
  • In The Ultimates, the Ultimate Marvel version of Thor is presented as a lunatic who believes himself a god. Eventually it's revealed he really is a god, and Asgard is real as well.

    Comic Strips 
  • In Peanuts, the Great Pumpkin is usually portrayed as Linus simply confusing Christmas with Halloween; however, some strips show that the Great Pumpkin is apparently real, or at least believed by other people across the country.
  • A Christmas installment of Stone Soup shows pre-teen sisters Holly and Alix in bed, listening to a voice crying "Ho! Ho! Ho!" outside the window, and remarking that they know perfectly well it's their stepfather and uncle "messing with us". Meanwhile, outside the other window, Santa's sleigh flies past unnoticed.
  • One Christmas strip in Garfield has Garfield scoffing at Jon writing a letter to Santa. He then steps outside only for something to fall from the sky and hit him on the head. When he picks it up, he realizes it's a sleigh bell. He rushes back inside to have Jon add a few items for him in the letter.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Hobbit fanfiction Heart of Fire, the protagonist Kathryn has a vision of the War of the Last Alliance, and the vision's version of Sauron seems to be aware of her presence. Smaug is able to convince her that it wasn't real. Unfortunately, it's revealed sixty years later that Sauron himself was summoned to this vision, even though he was bound by its rules. It was through this incident that he became aware of Kathryn's existence and her status as a Seer.
  • One of the plots of the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fic "Hearth Warming Chaos" involves Discord accidentally telling Pinkie Pie's daughter Raspberry there's no such thing as Santa Hooves and he makes it up to her by building a version of the sleigh she and her sisters wanted. Much to his surprise, Hearth's Warming morning, among the presents is a flying reindeer and the toy Discord lost when he was a young draconequus.
  • A Kim Possible fanfic parodying The Legend of Sleepy Hollow has Eric (taking the place of Brom Bones) telling Ron (filling the role of Ichabod Crane) about the legend of the Headless Horseman. One expects the story to continue as usual: Ron encounters a figure that could either be the Headless Horseman or Eric in disguise and is never seen again instead, it's Eric who encounters the figure, and at first he thinks it is one of the pranksters from the village...until he accidentally pulls its arm out of its socket and then it magically reattaches itself.
  • In Parents of Ponyville, Scootaloo's version of what happened at the parent-teacher conference seems like nonsensical blatant wish fulfillment, including stuff like her flying through space on her scooter, going on quests around the galaxy, defeating an enemy alien armada, fighting a space T.Rex, etc. Then one of the sequels implies that it was all true.
  • The Sixth Doctor in a Doctor Who/The Real Ghostbusters crossover, Who Ya Gonna Call?, firmly refuses to believe ghosts are at work as he and Peri land in Arkham, Massachusetts and the populace are haunted. When the Doctor encounters Revolutionary War ghosts and their master Miles Standoff, he chalks it up to advanced technology. Likewise, he questions the professional integrity of the Ghostbusters.

    Film — Animated 
  • At the end of Fun and Fancy Free, Mortimer Snerd is crying over Willie the Giant's Disney Villain Death. Edgar Bergen assures him that Willie didn't die because Willie wasn't real to begin with, that he was just a figment of Snerd's imagination. Then Willie lifts the roof of the house to peek in, looking for Mickey. Bergen faints dead away.
    Willie: What's the matter with him? Something he ate?
    Mortimer: Oh, uh, just a fig-a-ma-tation of his imagination.
    Willie: No!
  • Puss in Boots: The Last Wish: For most of the film, Puss only ever interacts with the Wolf whenever he is alone, or when the others are distracted (for instance, during the river scene, where the Wolf publicly shows himself, but everyone except Puss are busy fighting to notice). It is thus easy to dismiss him as an imagination conjured by Puss, since he is revealed to be Death. Then in the climax, the Wolf shows up in the Wishing Star to fight Puss. This time, everyone, from Kitty to Perrito to Goldie and the bears, can and do see him, making it clear that he truly exists, something that is lampshaded by Kitty.
    Kitty: You know, when you said that Death was after you, I thought you were just being melodramatic.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • All Hail the King, an epilogue to Iron Man 3, shows that the Mandarin really does exist and wasn't just an invention by Aldrich Killian. What's more, he's pretty peeved at his name being disgraced. This gets followed up on in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
  • After the Ghost Shaman in Bodycount is revealed to be one of the characters in a mask, the ending shows another character getting the axe from the real Ghost Shaman.
  • Curse of the Headless Horseman: After the Headless Horseman has been exposed as a "Scooby-Doo" Hoax, the real Horseman appears on the top of the ridge laughing manically (despite lacking a head).
  • The Dark Tower (2017): Jake's mother was very concerned that Jake's drawings were the sign of a mental health issue, but when Walter shows up in their home she immediately recognizes him as "the man from Jake's drawings."
  • After Holly's doppelgänger is revealed to be a combination of her Split Personality and Big Bad using disguises to frame her in the climax of Doppelganger, she, under a great deal of stress, manifests an actual doppelgänger.
  • In the "indie short film" Eagles Are Turning People Into Horses: The Movie, a man named Lyle sets up an elaborate hoax about how eagles are turning people into horses as his way of ending the relationship with his girlfriend, Hannah, without hurting her feelings. After he promises to his friends that he'll change his ways and stop ending his relationships like this, we learn that Hannah was working for the eagles all along as part of a plan to turn Lyle into a horse.
  • The original Friday the 13th (1980) film ends with Jason's decomposing body going after Alice, but this later appears to just be a Dream Sequence. Friday the 13th Part 2 opens with Alice really being killed by Jason. Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning also features a guy impersonating Jason making it seem like he came back from the dead. In Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, he really does come back. It's an Ambiguous Situation whether or not he was undead by the time of the first movie.
  • Grave Encounters is about the crew of a staged Paranormal Investigation Reality TV show finally encountering real ghosts. The first act revolves around showcasing all the tricks and Manipulative Editing that go into the show's production, with the host Lance Preston, who actually does believe in ghosts (unlike the Phony Psychic Houston Gray), expressing disappointment that they've had to resort to this to create an interesting show. When the ghosts at the Abandoned Hospital they're shooting the latest episode at turn out to be real, Lance is initially overjoyed, at least before it turns out that the ghosts want to kill them.
  • In Griff the Invisible, at least one of Melody's crazy theories turns out to be true. Maybe.
  • An interesting case in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Luna Lovegood mentions Nargles, which Hermione and Harry consider to be a fictional creature, even in the wizarding world...until we see the Daily Prophet mentioning it.
  • In the Polish horror movie Hellhole, set at an isolated monastery that performs exorcisms, undercover cop Marek learns pretty quickly that the "exorcisms" are no such thing. The monks use various tricks to fake demonic possessions so the Vatican will keep giving them money, and the mysterious disappearances he's investigating are the result of the monks kidnapping people to be "possession" victims and then disposing of them. They've also got some pretty out-there beliefs about how the Devil should be summoned into the world to punish the evils of humanity, through the medium of a Chosen One born under an eclipse, who they believe to be Marek himself. The monks perform the ritual to summon the Devil into Marek...and nothing happens. Their faith shaken, they cover up their crimes by stabbing Marek and dumping him in the well they believed to be a hellgate, and attempt to return to business as usual. And then we cut to Marek resurrecting. The last ten or so minutes of the movie are the beginning of the apocalypse the monks so desired—starting with them.
  • In Hellraiser: Hellworld, the bad guy uses drugs and hypnotic suggestions to make people think they are being stalked and tortured by Pinhead and the Cenobites. At the end, as he gloats over his victory, the real Pinhead shows up and gives him his Karmic Death.
  • The Invincible Dragon has the protagonist encountering a nine-headed dragon as a child, which inspires him to become a fighter and martial artist with a tattoo depicting the beast on his chest. While most other characters scoff at his claims or assume it's just him mistaking a childhood dream for reality, at the end of the movie the dragon turns out to be real, where it devours the Big Bad of the film.
  • Labyrinth has Sarah returning from Jareth's castle and reappearing in her own room, and finding everything just as she left it before she wished for Toby to be taken away—and then her friends (and several former enemies!) from the Goblin City appear in her bedroom. (There is some speculation on whether that means it really happened or if she's just lost her mind, however.)
  • Lake of the Dead: This Norwegian thriller revolves around a group of friends trying to solve an ancient mystery that involves an immortal crow leaving its feathers as calling cards. In the end a natural explanation has been found, but there is some disagreement about its feasibility. The protagonist insists that the solution is acceptable and nothing supernatural is involved, and to punctuate his words he picks up something from the table and waves it around...
    Bernhard: Hey, where did this come from? It''s a crow's feather...
  • Live and Let Die, in what's probably the only appearance of the occult in the James Bond series, ends with Baron Samedi appearing at the front of the train Bond is in, laughing as usual, even though he was subjected to a coffin full of (presumably) venomous snakes earlier in the film.
  • A subplot in Look Who's Talking Now involves 7-year-old Mikey losing his belief in Santa after his mother gets a job as Mall Santa's elf. The end of the film has a guy hearing Santa... on a CB radio.
  • Miracle on 34th Street (1947) revolves around the question of whether a Mall Santa is actually the real thing, with most of the main characters not believing that Santa is real at all. It has the scene at the end where the little girl gets exactly the present she wanted, but notably avoids an explicit sleigh shot.
  • In the film Nightmare Man, there is a major twist: a husband aims to have his wife killed by a man dressed up as the evil monster haunting her dreams and she believes to be inside of her. The plan involves her going crazy by not taking her pills to go along with it. Except that the monster is real and seems to have a problem combating the pills' effects, meaning when she's off her medication the monster is able to kill people for real, including the hitman dressed up as him too.
  • The Rapture: At first it seems like Sharon's beliefs are destructive and misplaced, causing a terrible tragedy. Then they get confirmed at the end of the film.
  • In Ready or Not (2019), the Le Domas family believes that their ancestor made a Deal with the Devil for their fortune and tabletop gaming empire, and that they must conduct a Human Sacrifice every so often to appease Mr. Le Bail or else he will come to claim all of their souls. The younger members of the family are skeptical, but go along with it anyway because they don't want to take any chances, while the protagonist Grace thinks they're insane. When Grace survives to daybreak, Mr. Le Bail reveals that he is indeed very real by exploding the entire Le Domas family in Ludicrous Gibs (either for failing to complete the sacrifice or for still trying to kill Grace after she won fair and square), then briefly revealing himself to Grace, nodding his head seemingly in approval of how she managed to beat them. Grace can't help but laugh.
  • In The Screaming Skull, a man attempts to gaslight his second wife into killing herself by faking the haunting of their house by his first wife's ghost. It turns out that her ghost really is haunting the place, apparently seeking revenge for her own murder.
  • The supernatural and bizarre events that occurred throughout the Korean film A Tale of Two Sisters by The Reveal that the protagonist was insane, but then the real stepmother is later attacked by the ghost that was earlier dismissed as a delusion.
  • Tales of Halloween: In "The Weak and the Wicked", Alice and her gang of bullies discover too late that the Demon of All Hallows Eve the stranger claimed to have summoned is actually real.
  • The Wasteland (2021): The beast that Lucia has been trying to protect herself Diego from is revealed at the end to be real, when it appears to Diego.
  • This is Played for Laughs during The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep. Unable to find the real creature to photograph, some journalists make and photograph a fake... with the real one watching the whole thing curiously.

    Literature 
  • Accidental Detectives: In Creature of the Mists, the hunt for the Ogopogo seems to be a dud (and was conducted in the first place merely as a trap to find out which member of the science team was stealing important equipment), but then at the end of the book there's a mysterious wake in a picture that Joel took at a time when there where no boats in the area that could have made it.
  • Benny Rose, the Cannibal King: The teenage protagonists of the book think that the Serial Killer Benny Rose is a make believe fairy tale meant to scare kids. Benny turns out to be a living and very dangerous monster who is killing kids.
  • The Brothers Lionheart: Let's count the myths initially presented skeptically in the book:
    • Nangijala is presented as a myth but turns out to be true. Even stranger was how it was combined with a song their mother used to sing, and the myth was still true.
    • Long after Katla's introduction, we were informed that Katla was a myth herself. The myth also told about the serpent Karm. And by the end of the book Karm was a myth made true too.
    • Nangilima, the life after death in Nangijala, is proven true by Word of God. However Astrid Lindgren also once said that most of the book is Skorpan's escapist fantasies from his sickbed, until he dies in the real world when they go to Nangilima (and then she said, "But if any of you ever tell this to your children, I will kill you.").
  • Bruce Coville's Book of... Spine Tinglers II: The Ragmore Beast revolves around a boy named Ricky who is tricked into going into Ragmore Woods, supposedly home to a ferocious beast. As Ricky's running away from the supposed beast, he hears the other two boys laughing to themselves about the prank they just pulled on him (they don't realize he's still in hearing range)... except then, before Ricky can leave in disgust, the real Ragmore Beast shows up and tears the two pranksters to pieces.
  • William Hope Hodgson's "Carnacki the Ghost-Finder" is an Occult Detective whose stories sometimes feature real supernatural events and sometimes hoaxes. In the story "The Horse of the Invisible" a murderous ghost turns out to be a hoax by a human would-be killer. Until... "It's not me! My God! It's not me! My God! It's not me."
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: In The Last Battle, the villains attempt to exploit the legend of Tash, the God of Evil, for their own benefit, only to be shocked and horrified when he actually shows up.
  • Detective Joe Sandilands: In Ragtime in Simla, Sandilands visits a medium as part of his investigation, assuming that she's a scam artist. She claims she meant it as one initially, but found that she really can speak to the dead. He's unconvinced, until during the séance she speaks to him in the voice of a dead comrade from WWI.
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: In No Brainer:Tall-tale teller Albert Sandy actually gets something right for once when the construction crew renovating the school finds a bunch of money that Albert had previously claimed embezzling former Principal Larry Mack hid on school grounds.
  • Don Quixote. Sancho Panza is fooled by the Duke to assume a governorship (really a complicated series of scams just to prank Sancho). When Sancho patrols his Insula, he is the victim of various pranksters, except for the last one, a Sweet Polly Oliver that no one knows, who is a girl that has escaped his Gilded Cage, to all the pranksters confusion.
  • The Dragon Business: Sir Dalbry and his allies initially think that dragons are nothing more than stories for their Monster Protection Racket, but eventually, they have to fight a real one that is just as dangerous as the ones in their tales.
  • In Fortunately, the Milk, a man pops out to the shops to buy a carton of milk for his children's breakfasts, and returns after an exceptionally long absence with the milk and a wild tale about having been abducted by aliens and going on a time-traveling adventure accompanied by a talking dinosaur. The text of the book ends with the children dismissing their father's story as an obvious fiction — then there's one final illustration in which they discover that it might not be entirely fabricated.
  • Goblins in the Castle: When William was younger, the castle housekeeper terrified him with stories of "Granny Pinchbottom", who punishes naughty children and whom she claims bit off part of one of her fingers. William was terrified of the same thing happening to him, until the castle librarian Karl saw his nervous behavior and told William that his father had long ago told him that Granny Pinchbottom was just a story the old ladies in the area used to terrify kids into behaving. After he lets the goblins out though, William learns from Igor that Granny Pinchbottom is very much real, and soon meets her himself.
  • In the Goosebumps book Phantom of the Auditorium, the threatening messages left behind by the "phantom" turn out to be the work of a homeless person who didn't want them to find his secret living quarters beneath the school. However, the real phantom eventually does show up and even leaves behind evidence of his real identity for the two protagonists to find.
  • The Gruffalo: The mouse protagonist makes up a story about being friends with the titular creature in order to scare off hungry predators. The Gruffalo later turns out to be real and also wants to eat the mouse, but ends up being outsmarted as well.
  • How to Lead a Life of Crime: Protagonist Flick occasionally sees the ghost of his dead younger brother, which he assumes is just his imagination and/or a hallucination. At the end of the book, he and his girlfriend go see his mother in the care home she's in, and she says she's just spoken to his dad, who had killed himself by walking into the path of a fire truck recently. Flick and his girlfriend had come to inform his mom of his dad's death. Oh, and the girlfriend is implied to be a witch.
  • In the Judge Dee novel The Chinese Gold Murders the ghost of Dee's murdered predecessor as district magistrate is supposed to be haunting the tribunal but it turns out to be the dead man's twin brother looking for clues. All explained rationally. Until the judge asks how the 'ghost' managed to look transparent when Dee saw him at the temple - only to find the faux ghost was never at the temple.
  • In The Vampire Affair, a Man From U.N.C.L.E. novel by David McDaniel, Solo and Kuryakin spend most of the book in an Eastern European country battling what seems to be a vampire. At the end it all turns out to have been a hoax by a THRUSH agent ... except for the coffin, which he denies using. And then when Solo and Kuryakin go back to the car, they find a message written in the snow on the windshield— "Thank you. I return to my rest."
  • The Convenient Monster, a Leslie Charteris short story featuring The Saint involves a villain faking attacks by the Loch Ness Monster. The villain is then eaten by the Loch Ness Monster. Really. This was also done in the TV series episode of the same name.
  • In the Stephen King story Secret Window, Secret Garden (collected in Four Past Midnight) after Mort dies and Amy digs through his belongings, she finds Shooter's hat. When she returns there's a note inside from Shooter telling her that he's gone back to Mississippi. She wonders whether Shooter came to life in some form.
  • In the Shivers (M. D. Spenser) book, "Night of the Goat-Boy", the Goat-Boy haunting Camp Spotlight was supposedly a true story that happens once every few years, with protagonist Nathaniel stalked by a ghostly entity with a goat's head. It turns out to be a "Scooby-Doo" Hoax perpetrated by two senior campers to scare the juniors, to the point of bringing a taxidermized goat head to scare the juniors, and the rest of the story goes on as normal... up to the ending where the Goat-Boy turns out to be a real creature. And has escaped again.
  • In the Tairen Soul series' last book, Lillis is trapped in an elaborate Lotus-Eater Machine, where all her loved ones are safe and happy. She talks with many of them, finding that they're all a little bit off... except her dead mother, who asks her to give a message to Ellysetta as "it will mean more [from you]". She also tells Lillis about Bess (something she would never have done while alive) and subtly encourages her to return to reality.
    Lillis: [to Bess] Hello. Mama loved you very much, and so will I. I'm so glad you've come.
    Ellysetta:...How did you know that?
    Lillis: Mama told me.
  • The Invisible Dog brings The Three Investigators to an old church rumored to be haunted by a "phantom priest" who carries a candle. No sooner are they in the church when they encounter a ghostly figure walking forward menacingly, holding a candle. The boys book it out of there, but come on, this is The Three Investigators! It will turn out to be some old man faking it, right? Nope; come the end of the book, the only part of the mystery left unsolved is...who is the phantom priest? After bringing up and discarding every possibility they can think of, they finally conclude that there very well may be a phantom priest!
  • "Prologue to an Analogue" by Leigh Richmond has a beloved TV newscaster reporting on a biological warfare attack in Egypt. Cut to a commercial for Witch Soap, featuring hot witches who sing "Witches of the world, unite — to make it clean, clean, clean, Witch clean NOW!" By morning it's as if the biological attack never happened. The Witch Soap company contributes $$ to "clean up" a slum as a publicity stunt, and the tenements instantly remodel themselves after the commercial. Various stunts are tried to prove it's all just coincidence, but after a disabled girl walks before her surgery, an unmanned moon shot succeeds when it should have misfired, and some drug addicts are instantly cured, the newscaster realizes something is real. He never finds out exactly how it works, it's only clear that it works — and anyone can do it. note  Discontinuing the ad doesn't stop him — he starts reciting the incantation himself, live on the air, after the next horrific disaster. And it works.
  • Teen Power Inc.: In the first book, the characters think they see a ghost but later realize that it was just Pearl, a pale-skinned old woman dressed in white who was friends with Ruby, the alleged ghost, before her death. However, Liz secretly believes there is a real ghost, as something seemed to keep everyone but Liz from finding Pearl and Liz felt an odd chill in the wind and smelled perfume that Pearl never wears but Ruby did.

    Music 
  • Kids Praise: The series' only villain is a con-artist called Risky Rat. He first appears in a dream where he offers Charity Churchmouse a contract allegedly to make her a star, but that actually makes her a slave, but then later he appears as a real character outside of anyone's dream. No one really comments on the fact that he first appeared in a dream, though.

    Radio 
  • In the Hamish and Dougal episode "The Monster in the Loch", everyone in the Glen knows that the titular monster is just a log that brings in gullible tourists. When Hamish and Dougal accidentally burn the log, the Laird replaces it with another one, only to see his log get eaten by a loch monster. He's so angry, he shoots it.
  • Spoofed in I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again, when Tim has been telling the others a ghost story, and towards the end exaggerates it severely to give them a fright. After they've all left, fed up, Tim finishes the story, chuckling slightly...only for the lights to turn off as he's confronted with an ethereal voice. After he's run off, this exchange occurs:
    Bill: Hah-hah! Ah, you certainly frightened him off with that spooky voice, David.
    David: It wasn't me, it was Graeme.
    Graeme: I thought it was Bill.
    Bill: ...No, it wasn't me.
    Jo: Or me.
    David: ...Well, if it wasn't any of us...it must have been... [dramatic music] ...somebody else!

    Theatre 
  • This happens in some versions of Ruby Moon. Two actors play all the characters throughout, then it's gradually revealed they are doing this in-universe, and are (at least partially) aware of it; the script implies their missing daughter never existed in the first place, and the dolls of her simply made them convince themselves she was real. Lights down, curtain... and then she is heard singing her ditty one last time.
  • The play The Woman in Black plays with this. The premise of the play is that two men are acting out the events, aware that they are doing so (but unaware of the audience). In fact, there are three actors, one of whom plays the Woman in Black herself. Both 'actors' believe the other to have hired her as a surprise for the other, until the end. The pretense extends as far as not crediting the Woman in Black in the programme.

    Video Games 
  • In Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura, there's the Stillwater Giant. One main quest involving you tracking this thing down to get it to a person who can mark your next destination. It's normally hide in form of a blue rabbit, but when you captured one that's marked and sent for examination, it turns out to be a fake, but the guy still gives you the location to Qintarra. After finishing the quest and leaving the town, you will be pulled into an encounter with...a blue rabbit. Attacking it and it turns into the Stillwater Giant. It looks very much like the fake Stillwater Giant skin that the player can steal or purchase from a museum display.
  • In Captain Morgane and the Golden Turtle, Morgane, on learning that Dinsdale thinks he's seen a ghost, successfully tricks him and his brother with a fake Bedsheet Ghost. However, she then finds out that Dinsdale's original ghost wasn't his imagination.
  • Mobile game Chimera Recollect sets up a Bonus Dungeon called "Dream World" right at the beginning of the game you can visit for extra items, a grim world that mirrors reality but is devoid of NPCs and filled with powerful enemies. It's later revealed that the world you've been exploring the whole game is an alternative reality wished into existence by a dying mother for her daughter, and the game ends with said daughter being returned to the real world... which then takes a hard turn for the worse at the postgame as trying to visit the "Dream World" changes the usual prompt of "Enter the Dream World?" to "Do you want to wake up?".
  • Deadly Premonition does it twice.
    • At first, it's unclear whether York/Zach is just a split personality who hallucinates the otherworld while using more mundane investigation methods. However, one quest has York find clues in the real world ( a basket of evidence thrown in a river that he fishes out by going to a precise spot) with zero mundane evidence.
    • Then, in the second game, Zach's fairy opens his handcuffs, and in the climax York manifests as a physical, separate being from Zach, able to interact with Patricia and seemingly-magically cure Zach's cancer.
  • Disco Elysium has Morrell the Cryptozoologist looking for the Insulindian Phasmid, a rare insect, that his wife saw as a child. Due to his poor health, he asks the Detective and Liutenant Kim to check and adjust the traps he scattered around the area multiple times. Practically, all this does is give the player more chances to attempt the "We've searched everywhere" skill check for finding their missing suspect, and unlock a substory about Morrel's wife, Lena, not being sure she didn't invent the whole encounter to appeal to him. However, using the stinky pheromone that Morrell provides will make the Phasmid appear days later by the ruined army base, and show it was far too large to fit inside Morrell's traps. Kim even takes a photograph if you can pass the check to avoid scaring it off.
  • A Wings of The Goddess quest in Final Fantasy XI has you investigate a soldier's father and whereabouts. In the end, you find out someone you meet in the quest wasn't really alive. Turns out to be that Galka who helped you relay that message to the soldier about his father. At the end, though, it all seems to be a hoax, but then again, who, or what was talking to one of the soldiers in on it at the end?
  • Five Nights at Freddy's 3: The Phantom Animatronics are the player's hallucinations from the terrible and oft-malfunctioning ventilation, with the real animatronics being long gone (Springtrap is quite real, but he's another story). There's only two inconsistencies: Phantom Mangle, who unlike the others does not crash the ventilation, and the Puppet. You trigger the Phantom Puppet by viewing this image on Cam #08. Look closely at the floor tiles and ask yourself the following: Since when do hallucinations have reflections?
  • Frogsong: A monster known as the Snnikt is initially believed to be fake, having been made up by warriors during a past war in order scare their enemies, and the villagers think that Lord Lithos is using the story to scare people into joining him so he can expand his empire. But then Chorus has a dream where they see the Snnikt and realise that it's actually real, and it's later revealed that Lithos wants to use it to destroy anyone who doesn't follow him. The Snnikt ends up being the final boss of the game.
  • Kingdom Hearts:
  • Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery: The event "The Tale of Pumpkin Johnny" centers around mysterious events seemingly caused by a Bloody Mary-esque character called Pumpkin Johnny, who destroys Hagrid's pumpkin patch and starts cursing students to have pumpkin heads, jeopardizing the school's pumpkin party. Merula eventually admits to being responsible for the latter, but not the former... and then the player actually meets Pumpkin Johnny, who asks them if they've learned their lesson, and vanishes. The player character assumes it was just Ben wearing a disguise, but Ben walks in from another direction afterwards. Confused, they decide to simply move on and enjoy the pumpkin party while it lasts.
  • Mass Effect. In the first game, the Reapers were considered Saren's fiction by the Council; In the second part they look more like a fringe conspiracy theory (like UFO conspiracy theories in real life). Then, in the beginning of Mass Effect 3 the Reapers literally fall around everyone's head. Also the Leviathans. They appeared in ME1 as characters of a small spy story, that can be read on info screen of a distant planet, but in ME3 they appear to be real and moreover - they created the Reapers aeons ago.
  • Mass Effect 2 specifically. During Samara recruitment mission in ME2 you can encounter a young Asari mercenary named Elnora actually, she committed the murder, that started all the trouble around, but Shepard doesn't know it yet. She tells nothing useful, but shares her horror: the Ardat-Yakshi, who were used to scare her in her childhood, DO really exist. She saw Morinth while taking part in sending her offworld from Illium.
  • Played for Laughs in Metal Gear Solid if you hide under the cardboard box and then contact Meryl. She'll be left in sheer disbelief as she assumed her uncle was joking when he talked about covert agents using cardboard boxes to slip past guards... and promptly hang up on you.
    Meryl: A cardboard box? I heard stories from my uncle, but I always though he was pulling my leg...I...I've got no comment.
  • The whole plot of Odin Sphere: essentially, all events in the game are a collection of overarching storybooks read by a girl named Alice in the attic of her house. If players manage to unlock the path leading to the best ending of the game, Alice states how tragic the story ended until she notices one of the book's cover ornament resembling a Valentine coin. She takes it off and prays that the Pooka will find the coin, but reminds herself that it's just a story. Upon leaving the attic, a portal opens up and two Pooka come out to retrieve the coin, implied to be the last Valentine coin they are looking for that will undo the curse of the Pooka transformation, and leave a final book in its place. This indicates the current world is actually The Future set sometime after the events of Armageddon, which the last book details.
  • In Professor Layton and the Unwound Future, time travel turns out to be real. "Celeste" is actually a time-displaced Claire, who was sent forward in time moments before the accident that claimed her life. The nature of the time travel means she gets forced back to the time and place she was sent from at some point.
  • In the horror adventure game Scratches: Was everything that happened to James Blackwood the product of a curse? Or was it simply a misfortune that Blackwood in madness blamed to a cursed mask? If the curse was not real, then how to explain the first dream? The coda on the alternate ending describes a rational explanation for everything, however it mentions at the end that there is still something that doesn't fit while panning to the cursed mask.
  • Star Control repeatedly hits this trope. The nutty Pkunk who believe they're psychic and set out on suicidally-bad ideas as a result of it turn out to actually be psychic. The Druuge conned the Utwig into buying a piece of Precursor junk called the 'Ultron' on the story that it could give them immense powers, which it turns out to actually do. The paranoid Spathi, who imagine fictional threats in every shadow, turn out to actually have Spathi-eating monsters on their homeworld. Little Green Men visiting Earth? Yep, they're real and they're the Arilou. On and on.
  • Super Mario Bros. 2 ends by revealing that the events of the game were nothing more than a dream Mario had. However, its Japan-only sequel BS Super Mario USA shows that Subcon, the world of Mario's dream, is a Dream Land with its own independent existence, and Mario's adventure really did happen.
  • Yakuza 0: Majima finds some Bathroom Stall Graffiti that appears to have been written by a lonely young woman, and writes a reply. The two have a conversation through their graffiti until the woman asks to meet him in person, signing her name as Rina and saying she'll be wearing a rose in her lapel so that Majima can recognize her. Majima arrives at the appointed location only to be jumped by a gang of thugs who mock him for falling for such an obvious trick and try to rob him. After he beats the crap out of them, Majima berates himself for being stupid enough to believe a woman named Rina actually wrote the graffiti he found in the men's bathroom. The thugs ask him what the hell he's talking about, since they didn't write any bathroom graffiti, they were using the bulletin board at the train station and used the name Mayuri. Either way, Majima is fed up with the whole ordeal and storms off... right past a young woman wearing a rose in her lapel who soon after decides that her mystery man isn't going to show up.

    Webcomics 
  • Fate/type Redline: Kanata Akagi reads a light novel that claims the explosion that devastated his hometown 75 years ago was caused by a series of battles between supernatural beings. Akagi somewhat appreciates the story, but dismisses it as just a story. Akagi then somehow gets sent 75 years into the past and is shocked to find events reflecting the light novel happening when he gets caught up in a Holy Grail War.
  • Irregular Webcomic!: A storyline in the "Steve and Terry" theme had Steve discovering that the monster in Loch Ness was actually Lovecraft's Cthulhu; after they leave, the story ends with a shot of a reptilian head emerging from the loch (and a Lampshade Hanging narration). A parody example, since the "it's not really a plesiosaur" explanation is actually considerably weirder than the standard Nessie.
  • At the end of the "Big Haunted Battleship" storyline of Schlock Mercenary, it's pointed out by several characters that the "rational" explanation of the ghostly voices on the PDCL is so contrived that it's more rational just to accept it was haunted. This isn't a throwaway gag, either; Petey's inability either to accept or to deny the existence of ghosts is responsible for both his introduction and the PDCL's eventual destruction.

    Web Original 
  • The British Railway Stories: In episode 7, "Fowler's Ghost", Stephen tells the Coplay Hill engines the story of the titular ghost, a failed steam engine intended for use in the London Undergound that now haunts the railways. Later, he leaves the shed to begin his early morning shift, and has a conversation with the titular ghost (kind of one-sided, as the ghost isn't that much of a talker).
  • SCP Foundation: The story "Bees" seems like paranoid ramblings of a man being driven insane by a diary, but the end reveals the whole thing was real and is recorded by the Foundation.
  • This happens every now and then in stories from the Slender Man Mythos. Usually in the middle of it, as demonstrated in Seeking Truth/The Mystic.
    • The three guys behind Everyman HYBRID thought they'd get in on the Slender Man craze and make a series of their own. They did a really bad job of it. So bad, in fact, that the real one felt the need to drop by and show them how it's done.
  • Slimecicle Cinematic Universe: Wizzly the LARPer from "We Spent 100 Days in a Hardcore Minecraft Apocalypse" is revealed to be an actual wizard who can cast spells.
  • A video by Smosh titled "Bigfoot Is Gay" has the two main characters looking for Bigfoot after they are shown a video on the news showing footage of him. They are captured by someone who has captured Bigfoot but it turns out to be someone in a costume and it is stated they made up the video shown on the news. Shortly after that, a real Bigfoot comes by.

    Real Life 
  • On the streets of Liverpool there was told a legend of a man called "Purple Aki", this man would be described as an incredibly tall, muscle-bound black man who would appear from seemingly nowhere or perhaps from around objects that are impossible to hide behind before demanding to squeeze your muscles, or getting you to squat lift him. The stories were so ridiculous, over the top and downright strange that the majority of people simply once thought he was some kind of urban legend used to scare children, key word being once.
  • The Green Man was a cryptid said to be a man with most of his face missing who roamed a certain town in Western Pennsylvania for reasons unknown. While he was not a malevolent monster at all, The Green Man was real, Raymond Robinson was disfigured as a child and took long walks at night to avoid being seen. Teenagers in the region found him anyway, and he ultimately embraced his odd reputation. He died in 1985, but the legend lives on.
  • African stories of "dwarf tribes" living in the forests were once considered mere "native superstition" by Europeans. Then in the 1860s, two Western explorers became the first white people to publish accounts of encounters with African pygmies.
  • The legends of the Yeti in Tibet describe oddly benevolent creatures with strange spiritual powers. While the spiritual aspect is debatable, the gentle Himalayan Brown Bear fits the bill in appearance and behavior, and every "Yeti" relic to have been tested for DNA has come back as a Himalayan Brown Bear.

 
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"He's...real...!!!"

After finishing his last lie over how he got his black eye from Jack M. Crazyfish, SpongeBob is suspicious when one of the customers describes Jack spot-on. SpongeBob is horrified to discover seconds after that Jack M. Crazyfish is real, and is forced to beg for mercy.

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