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Van in Black

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"How do you know they're watching us?"
"Because that pool cleaner's van has been parked out on the street for over four hours. No one's pool is that dirty."
Sandra Bennet, Heroes

That large, menacing black van pulling over on the other side of the street the moment you go inside. Maybe you dismissed it as paranoid speculation, just as "The Man" wanted you to but you should know what it means — They are watching you at this very moment from that very car. If Lampshaded there will be a honkin' big radar dish on top.

These vehicles provide a sense of foreboding mystery to the characters they follow and the audience. The vans appear in the background, and are viewed only from the outside. Unlike Spies In a Van, it's common that neither the audience nor The Protagonist ever find out who is in the vans, or what they are doing. Occasionally, both tropes can occur in the same series, if there are competing vans or if the organization operating them determines the heroes are not their enemy and invites them into The Masquerade.

If they're not only watching you but about to kick your ass, then the black van will be replaced by a black sedan or SUV with tinted windows - the GAZ-13 or 14 Chaika and the Chevrolet Suburban, depending on the setting. An important distinction was that in Soviet times and places, black vehicles were entirely reserved for official government fleets while when a black Suburban is seen on American streets in real life, it is assumed to be in soccer-mom use.

See also Black Helicopter. The Cleanup Crew might come in one. Commonly used in Vehicular Kidnapping, and every parent's worst fear is that one of these might be a Creepy Stalker Van. Despite the trope name, any van of any color can qualify, for that matter it doesn't even have to be a van, just a non-descript nebulous organisation monitering someone in a vehicle. For the curious, the trope title is simply a pun on The Men in Black. Compare Sinister Car.


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  • The "Definitely Flowers: A totally normal flower delivery service" van featured in this Johnsonville hot dogs commercial.
  • One credit card commercial stars a woman lamenting how her father and his "associates" would find things that Fell Off the Back of a Truck, and as a result, she gets stalked when she's out on her own. Thanks to her new card, and that everything comes with a receipt, she likes to hold the invoice up in plain view of the not-so-inconspicuous van and shout at them, "You've got nothing!"
  • In this commercial for Energizer batteries, a Mad Scientist working for the Supervolt battery company uses a van for "Ed's Diaper Service" as a cover for his laboratory. He creates a robotic female rabbit with a bomb inside to chase and blow up the Energizer Bunny, and tracks them from inside his van. Thanks to the short life of the Supervolt battery the bombshell bunny runs on, his van ends up in ruins.

    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • The van in Runaways, although it's white and actually is fairly nondescript. Invoked by Chase, who went with it precisely because of vans' reputations for blending in:
    Chase: Remember those two sniper dudes last year? When everyone in Virginia was looking for one white van? The cops couldn't find it 'cause every plumber and electrician and whatever drives one of these things. [..] That's why I asked my parents for one. I get in this bad boy, and I totally drop off The Man's radar.
  • Mooks driving around in a black van sedate Wallace and capture Esther in Sin City.
  • Clint Barton thinks he sees one outside his apartment window:
    Hawkeye: Is it just me, or does that van look like a van.
    Mockingbird: Even for you that makes no... Oh, wait yeah, that's definitely a van.

    Fan Works 
  • In The End Is Near, Matt and Mello make a bet whether there's one involved in Near's kidnapping. There's not.
  • In Archie Comics story Maybe the Last Archie Story, Betty is sunbathing in a secluded, empty area of the beach, unaware that a window-tinted, black car has pulled over on a high cliff overlooking her position, and she is being watched by its owner, an old enemy of the gang.

    Films — Animated 
  • Subverted in Big Hero 6. While Hiro and Baymax explore a pier at night where Yokai kept the microbots. They are being tailed by a slow-moving SUV, with no clue who's driving. Turns out the driver of the SUV was Wasabi, with GoGo, Honey and Fred riding along, all wanting to help Hiro.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Best Seller (1987) opens with a long sequence of the robbers driving through the streets of Los Angeles in a black van. However they're not trying to be inconspicuous at all, as the van is fitted with loudspeakers broadcasting political slogans.
  • In The Game (1997), Nicholas finds himself being terrorized by various cars marked "CRS." One's a cabbie (Crown Royal Sedans), another a maintenance van (Cable Repair Services), etc.
  • A scene in Ocean's Eleven involved the team attempting to purchase one of these. Hilarity Ensues.
  • In E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, the government forces use a black van with surveillance equipment to find E.T.
  • Twister. The opposing storm chasers drive black vans/trucks, fitting their role in the story as the "bad guy" corporate sell-outs.
  • Karl Hallzemoff, the Hugos' transport van from Cars 2.
  • In The President's Analyst, soon after a paranoid Dr. Schaefer flees his job by ingratiating himself to a family of tourists who take him to their home, there's a big service van with a 'TPC' logo on the side parked on their neighborhood street. It doesn't really merit any notice, but toward the movie's end we find out 'TPC' is The Phone Company, which has been tailing and finally abducting him.
  • Shoot 'Em Up. After a Car Chase Smith's car is suddenly hit by a black van at the crossroads. Any belief that this might be an accident is dispelled when mooks stick their guns out the side doors. Then three more gunmen pop up in the sun roof.
  • In V for Vendetta, Norsefire has vans with listening devices on their roofs, patrolling the streets and listening to everyones conversations.
  • A Van of Undercover Cops appears in several scenes in Lucky Number Slevin. They even (briefly) abduct the main character.
  • In Matilda, the title character notices a car is always parked on the street outside their house. The car turns out to belong to cops who are trying to arrest Matilda's father for selling cars with faulty car parts.
  • Combined with Paper-Thin Disguise & Fun with Acronyms in the British parody The Hooligan Factory, involving a white van marked Copper Installation Delivery, with a huge 'satellite' dish pointing directly at the protagonists.
  • Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Martha Clark is kidnapped by Lex Luthor's men in a black van. Shortly after, his men also kidnap Lois Lane this time using a white van (though in that case they were posing as cleaners).
  • Inferno. The WHO team is driving one of these, giving them a villainous appearance that causes Langdon to flee. They turn out to be Good All Along.
  • In the finale of A Most Wanted Man, German intelligence has successfully gained evidence that the head of a charity organisation is funneling money to terrorists. They do a Not My Driver ploy to take him off somewhere quiet where he can be coerced into becoming an informant, only for several black SUV's to ram the car off the road and abduct their target for extraordinary rendition.
  • A pre-automobile version opens Sherlock Holmes (2009) with horse-drawn black carriages (the original 'Black Maria') carrying Watson, Inspector Lestrade and his men, racing to the scene of an impending Human Sacrifice. Holmes gets there first on foot (then again, the reason they were nicknamed Black Marias was a sardonic pun on how long it took them to arrive at a crime scene — Maria was a famous racehorse).

  • One Animorphs story has Tobias under surveillance by Controllers due to him being Elfangor's son, although they don't know he's human. He sees a rust-eaten van that's clearly been there for years... except the next day it's moved across the street.
  • Also used in The Handmaid's Tale; usually the Eyes drive in black vans only notable by the insignia they have on the side.
  • One appeared in Johnny and the Bomb, though it was more of a limousine.
  • The short story "The Van on Atlantic Street" by Desmond Warzel. Though the van is white, it is in other respects an example of this trope.
  • In Anne Fine's Old Bones the main character is followed around by a van, and is receiving numerous hate calls. As his secretary is very bad at writing messages and as he is quite distracted, he doesn't really connect the dots until after his house is burnt down.
  • Parodied by Dave Barry in "The Columnist's Caper":
    Some 2,347 miles away in East Berlin, a man and a woman, walked briskly eastward on Volkswagenkindergarten-pumpernikelstrasse. Talking intently, they did not notice the sleek black Mercedes sedan, its windows tinted almost black, as it turned off Hamburgerfrankfurterwienerschnitzelstrasse and came toward them from behind, picking up speed until, traveling at 130 kilometers per microgram, it roared into a parked garbage truck.
    "Too much window tint," the woman said.
  • In The Fourth Bear, the Men in Green, a mysterious, government affiliated organization, are always seen shortly after the mysterious, explosion-related deaths of famous cucumber growers.

    Live Action TV 
  • The van driven by The A-Team.
  • This is how Sandra Bennet reveals her Hidden Badass in Heroes volume 4, by noticing that The Men in Black have been staking out their house long before her daughter does, and gives us the above page quote.
  • In the third season finale of Burn Notice, Michael tells Simon that he's seen a certain van circling the block and that it's probably an FBI vehicle watching them. When he goes to it it's actually just a regular van transporting alcohol. Michael just needed to get out of Simon's line of sight to use the delivery boy's phone to call Sam and Fiona.
  • Lampshaded with a vengeance in an early Castle episode:
    Castle, to an FBI Agent: I like your van. Very nondescript.
  • Frank's "Rape Van" from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
  • The private investigator in House also used an "ice cream truck" for spying purposes.
  • The conspiracy in Jekyll use a black van full of surveillance equipment to keep track of the protagonist — who makes a point of mentioning how inconspicuous it isn't. (Which may be the point, since — although the van isn't just a decoy — he turns out to also be under surveillance by several more genuinely inconspicuous methods.)
  • The Three Nemeseses in Buffy the Vampire Slayer have a black van, which is rather less stealthy after one has the idea of painting a Star Wars mural on the side.
  • Lampshaded in Leverage, where the heroic team of con-men are amused and astounded to find the FBI performing surveillance on a prominent mobster's home in a black van marked "Plumber." This is only the first sign of said FBI agents' affable incompetence.
  • Reddington and Keen frequently have backup in the form of the unmarked FBI van in The Blacklist but on one occasion Raymond points out the van to a bad guy in order to put him on the spot for not noticing it himself.
  • In Little Mosque on the Prairie, when an agent of the Canadian Secret Service came to Mercy on holiday, the Muslim community got paranoid, and Baber noticed a delivery truck outside the Mosque. He claims it's a stakeout, and there are three agents there, one of them called "Sarge", and they're drinking coffee out of paper cups. At the end of the episode, the Secret Service really start surveillance on the Mosque there really are three agents there, drinking coffee out of paper cups, and one of them is called "Sarge"
  • Chuck has these on occasion.
    Casey: What is it with bad guys and vans?
  • Used in some Earth-centric episodes of Stargate SG-1, though it's an unusual example because it's Our Heroes in the black vans, as they work for The Government.
  • The X-Files. Inverted in "Dreamland" where The Men in Black travel in white 4WD's.
  • The SUV in Torchwood. In "Children of Earth" the bad guys have these; lampshaded when Ianto thinks a mysterious dark van is tailing him — it turns out to be delivering newspapers.
  • The Actives from Dollhouse were ferried to and from their engagements in black vans. In keeping with the surveillance van motif, the vans would remain nearby during the engagement so that handlers could monitor their assigned Active. And the sinister connotations of black vans are repeatedly lampshaded or discussed by characters, or even invoked as a motive for their actions.
    • In "Echoes" a team of Actives programmed into believing they're NSA investigators are sent to a college campus. They pull up in a line of three black vans, no doubt to play into this trope for anyone watching.
    • Backfires in "Instinct" when Echo (programmed to believe she is a mother with child) notices the black van parked outside her house for the past week and assumes something sinister — her handler is unable to bring her in because Echo flees whenever she sees one.
  • Community - in Intro To Political Science, a female Secret Service agent investigates Abed as a potential threat during an upcoming vice-presidential visit, and the two hit it off. Duty prevents her from getting involved, but the end tag shows them on a date of sorts, as he watches a movie on tv, and she monitors and talks with him from a surveillance van outside his window.
  • The rumored "TV Detector" vans supposedly used by the Real Life BBC note  were invoked and parodied in ''Monty Python's Flying Circus',' by the man applying for a pet fish license, describing his experience with the "cat detector van from the Ministry of 'Owzinje'note ".
    • The "TV Detector" vans were Played With in the Doctor Who story "Remembrance of the Daleks, in which they actually held alien-detecting equipment (specifically, its occupants were looking for UFOs. They ended up finding the Imperial Dalek mothership flying above Earth's atmosphere).
  • In Arrested Development, surveillance vans have "Blendin" commercial markings; Blendin Moving and Storage, Blendin Catering, Blendin Electric, and Blendin Pet Grooming are all seen (the latter two apparently on left and right sides of the same van).
  • In Stranger Things, The Men in Black operate out of white vans, while pretending to be checking the power lines and street lights. However, the effect is ruined when four of them show up at once in convoy and speed around chasing children on bikes.
  • The Handmaid's Tale: These are everywhere, and anyone is liable to be suddenly pulled off the street and taken away.
  • Person of Interest. Trigger teams working for Samaritan drive black SUV's.
  • In Twin Peaks: The Return, Hutch and Chantal are professional hitmen and drive around in an unmarked, white van on their way to kill Dougie. They use the van to store guns and dead bodies.
  • In the Australian mini-series Day of the Roses, a woman widowed by the 1977 Granville train disaster comments bitterly on the white Fords that keep parking outside her house. They're investigators sent by the government to find out if she's taken a lover after her husband's death, whereupon her (already miniscule) compensation can be legally cut in half.
  • The Boys (2019). In "Get Some", Billy Butcher hires a cheap Pack-N-Go truck for their surveillance, commenting that a black van with 'Flowers' on the side would be far more conspicuous. This becomes a Brick Joke in the season final when Butcher sees a black florists van parked outside the hotel they're staying at, and drives past without stopping because he realises the rest of the Boys have been captured.
  • The Professionals. In "Look after Annie", a black van pulls up at the rear of the building where a female politician is due to speak, and a gang of thugs in black leather jump out. They've been hired to kill the politician, who of course is dressed in white.
  • Obliterated. Maya Lerner, The Squad's "Tech Chick" is introduced sitting in one of these, but as they're in Las Vegas the entire side of the black van is covered in an advertisement for magician Mat Franco.

  • One of these shows up on Jess and JT's street the morning after they find Mooney in the Cool Kids Table game Bloody Mooney episode two.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • A white van with tented windows was the vehicle the ninjas who abducted Samoa Joe on February 8th of 2010 disappeared in.
  • During 2010 former AAA luchadors Cuije, El Alebrije, Psicosis II, Histeria and Maniaco began trailing CMLL luchadors on the road in a black SUV and attacked La Sombra, El Hijo del Fantasma and La Máscara during the April 12th 2010 Puebla show to send the message that even though they had ended up on the independent circuit they were still better than CMLL's roster.

    Video Games 
  • The Cleaners' vans in Max Payne 2.
  • There are some Vans In Black in Mirror's Edge but seeing how you more often take the roofs, they are much less prominent than Black Helicopters.
  • In The Simpsons Hit & Run, Homer gets paranoid about strange black vans around Springfield. While expecting them to be under the control of Mr. Burns, they later turn out to be pizza delivery vans. The mission where you follow them is called "Flowers By Irene", in reference to a similar van named as such that pop up in Bart the Murderer.
  • An absurdly oversized van in Silent Hill: Origins (it's just a prop, but somebody forgot to scale it correctly) is treated as this in a Let's Play.
  • The famous Milkman Conspiracy level in Psychonauts doesn't have the classical black vans, but it has the next best thing: huge black limos... with radar dishes on top.
  • Black Vans appear occasionally in Deus Ex, along with Black Helicopters.
  • Get a 5-star wanted level in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and the FBI will come after you in black tinted SUV's. Probably the best time to retreat to a safehouse before the army shows up.
    • At a couple points in the San Andreas mission "Wear Flowers in Your Hair", The Truth will tell CJ to drive to an out-of-the-way location, then order him to think about some random object until a strange van passes by. When asked for an explanation, The Truth will only mention that "sub-dermal neurophones" are involved.
  • Agency vans in Syphon Filter 2.
  • After Max becomes president in Sam & Max Save the World, a truck with the label, "Secret Serv-ice Cream" remains parked outside the duo's apartment.


    Web Original 
  • In KateModern, a black van is the preferred mode of transport of the sinister Watcher.
  • In LG15: the resistance, black vans are used by villain groups LifesBlood Labs and the Order, mainly for the purpose of kidnapping.
  • 4chan calls it a party van. Sounds fun!
  • In the second episode of X-Ray & Vav, Rusty Bonjour gives the main characters instructions from an unmarked van. Except the van isn't really unmarked: the words "Unmarked Van" are painted on it.

    Western Animation 
  • Archer: In the Season 13 finale, the business Slater uses as a front in the Central American country of Manatina is named The Confectionary Institute of Americas. When everyone else points out how unsubtle this is, Slater proclaims that he "doesn't do subtle."
  • The Simpsons love this one:
    • In the episode Bart the Murderer, Marge had noticed a pizza van that had been parked outside the Simpsons's house for days, which a government agency surveillance team was hiding out in. After Marge asks 'How long does it take to deliver a Pizza?' it zooms off to be replaced immediately with a "florist" van. The florist's name: Flowers By Irene.
    • Parodied again with similar vans labeled CIA, FBI, and ATF, which here stand for "Chinese Intelligence Agency", "French Bureau of Investigation", and "A-Team of Finland".
    • In one episode Homer is sent into the Kwik-E-Mart with a hidden camera by the Channel 6 news team, which is monitoring him from a van parked out front, with "Ordinary Van" painted on the outside.
    • In episode "The Trouble With Trillions", the 'Two Guys from Quantico Pizza' van comes into play when Homer is press-ganged into helping an investigation of Mr Burns.
    • Another episode has an otherwise nondescript van, with "ORDINARY VAN" on the side.
  • Jonny Quest TOS episode "The Quetong Missile Mystery". When the Quests drive away from their ship, we see a van with surveillance equipment inside that was keeping an eye on them. It drives off after them when they leave. It was sent by General Fong to keep watch on them.
  • Superfriends. In the 1973-74 episode "The Balloon People", Dr. Noah Tall and Twisty use a van called the "Snoop Wagon" to spy on the title characters. Bonus points for having an exterior radar dish and extendable telescope.
  • In King of the Hill, this is invoked and subverted in "Dale to the Chief". Dale falsely accuses Hank of terrorist conspiracy and reports him to the FBI. Dale expected the agent to arrive in a Black Suburban but he instead had a green Ford Taurus.
    Dale: Wow, a black Suburban... the newer models are much smaller and greener.
  • In an early episode of Super Jail, the Warden sends Jared undercover among the prison inmates, and monitors Jared's activities from inside the back of a van parked in the middle of the Warden's office.
  • The animated series of The Littles has Canon Foreigner Agent Mulder Dr. Hunter's van. It is black, high-tech, and it's the only one of its kind in the entire area of Grand Valley, it seems. Metallicar Syndrome is fully averted — every time the heroes see it, they know it's Dr. Hunter looking for them.
  • G.H.O.S.T. employs these in Transformers: EarthSpark. Hashtag accidentally scans one for her alt mode, and the built-in surveillance tech that was installed in it gives her Hollywood Hacking abilities.

    Real Life 
  • The "Black Ravens" (GAZ M vans) in which Stalin's NKVD agents moved around.
  • The legendary black Volga of Polish urban legends (not a van but a sedan) serve the same purpose.
    • A 1990s article in a British magazine tested a metallic-tan GAZ-21 Volga; it was remarked that the car had originally been black and had to be repainted due to black Volgas' association with the KGB.
  • The Chaika was a car that looked like a sinister black Checker cab and was reserved for important operations. However, the Chaika was more often used as a limousine for the Party top brass, which is something you don't mess with but not immediately dangerous.
    • Not vans, but black cars (latest model, mostly Mercedes and BMW) with tinted windows were the hallmarks of The Mafiya in The '90s.
  • More often than not, Real Life surveillance vans are white since that's by far the most common color for commercial vans (being the easiest color for non-surveillance fleet users to put their logo in vinyl tape on dozens/hundreds of). Oddly, a different meme has spawned where white vans are used by child abductors/pedophiles to kidnap children (especially if "Free Candy" is scrawled on the side).
  • There are persistent rumours that The BBC once operated -and perhaps still does operate- a fleet of these equipped with sophisticated electronic equipment that could detect an active cathode ray tube in order to catch people who hadn't paid their television license. Evidence gathered by this technology has never been produced in court, and nobody seems to know how these devices could actually work, so the whole story is widely believed to be a complete fabrication to encourage compliance. Magical telly-detectors or not, TV license vans parked outside houses are a common scare tactic.
  • The United States Secret Service uses black Chevrolet Suburbans (or similar vehicles) with tinted windows in the Presidential motorcade, as do many other U.S. government agencies like the FBI.
    • Lampshaded by Stephen Colbert during a White House Correspondent's Dinner.
      "Would the owner of the 10 black unmarked SUVs please move them? You're blocking the other 10 unmarked SUVs in the driveway."
  • There is a real-life company called the "Van in Black" that provides passenger van service. It is located in Western North Carolina and uses a black Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van.
  • When you're joining your home wi-fi on your device, it will often display the names of all available wi-fi networks in the vicinity. In other words, your neighbors. In the spirit of this trope, some people will often name their home wi-fi something like "FBI Surveillance Van" to have fun with their neighbors.