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"I've been having these dreams lately. Like is any of this real, or not?"
—Sora, Kingdom Hearts
Around fifty minutes into the program, really weird stuff starts happening, like little people juggling while riding a tricycle around a bewildered protagonist. Then the protagonist realizes, just as you do, that this has all been a dream, a really bad hallucination, or some other escape from reality.
Sometimes, the character awakes after the dream, realises it was all "just a dream" (often actually saying this to himself, which rarely happens in real life), sighs with relief, and then sees an artifact lying next to him that was in the dream. This usually will leave protagonist and audience wondering "Or Was It a Dream?", however it may also be an opening gambit in a Dream Within a Dream sequence. Sometimes the dream lasts longer than one episode—entire seasons have been known to turn out to be dreams. Often, when the dreamer awakens, the really epic events (death of a major character, etc.) from the "dream season" will be reversed. Or maybe the "waking up" is the dream?
If other characters start acting out of character or otherwise just don't seem to be quite themselves during the dream sequence, expect lots of finger-pointing and exclamations of "And You Were There!" when the dreaming character awakens.
Normally, this really grates on the audience, but if done properly it can be humorous and, for an individual episode, it can undo damage done if during that episode there was a Writer on Board. An especially useful device in horror movies, where it can be used to subject the characters (and audience) to all manner of fit-inducing terrors without really affecting the narrative. However, if done badly, expect some audience members to be seriously annoyed.
Variant form of the Reset Button. See also Crashing Dreams, Or Was It a Dream?, Pinch Me, Dying Dream, and Catapult Nightmare. Compare with Nested Story Reveal, a similar trope that lacks the dream aspect. Often Deconstructed with the Dream Apocalypse. If the dream is a quick-hit gag instead of a major element of the narrative, you have a Daydream Surprise. Not to be confused with Cuckoo Nest.
Needless to say, the following examples are very spoiler-heavy. Beware.
- 1 Advertising
- 2 Anime & Manga
- 3 Comics
- 4 Fan Works
- 5 Films — Animation
- 6 Films — Live-Action
- 7 Literature
- 8 Live-Action TV
- 9 Music
- 10 Myths & Religion
- 11 Puppet Shows
- 12 Radio
- 13 Stand-Up Comedy
- 14 Trading Card Games
- 15 Theater
- 16 Video Games
- 17 Web Comics
- 18 Web Original
- 19 Western Animation
- 20 Real Life
- The delightful Kia Sorento commercial "Joyride Dream.
- Don't forget the Pepsi Twist commercial when Ozzy Osbourne notices his kids drinking Pepsis, only for them to actually be Pepsi Twists, and that his kids are actually the Osmonds in full rubber bodysuits. Ozzy starts screaming, only to wake up and realize that it was just a nightmare, though the Pepsi Twists are still real...
Anime & Manga
- One of the DVD specials for Durarara cleverly inverts this trope. The opening scenes show downright absurd scenes, like UFO sightings. As these are shown, Walter muses that most people would call his fantasies a pipe dream. The rest of the episode is narrated chronologically backwards, revealing that the strange occurrences at the beginning of the episode are not part of Walter's fantasy.
- The Season 2 opening of Genshiken starts with Sasahara opening a book... and then goes into an opening for a Mobile Suit Gundam-like series starring the Genshiken characters, including a helmeted Madarame as the antagonist. Then Sasahara wakes up and we see that he was looking at a sketch of the club members.
- The second season of Shakugan no Shana starts with Yuji trapped inside a dream (created by the real first villain of the season). Yuji picks up on some deja vu, but when complete scenes and defeated villains from the first season start showing up, then he knows something's wrong. No one will listen to him or tell him anything he—the one the dream is based on—doesn't already know. The dream falls apart once he pieces everything together, and he wakes up in the middle of a battle with that villain.
- Repeatedly used in several episodes of the anime series Ergo Proxy, due to the proxies, god-like beings who can shape-shift and invade human minds with horrifying ease. Several characters are subjected to this trope, but none more so than the main character, Vincent Law, to the point that when unexpected things happen in reality he assumes it's yet another dream. Half the time he's correct. Other times he's outright told he's being subjected to a dream, or is it a dream within a dream, or has it been reality all along? It's a wonder this show made any sense at all.
- One episode of Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch was a very, very strange New Year's dream in which Lucia uses her Idol Singer powers to become famous.
- The idea is poked fun at in the 6th episode of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei's second season.
- Inverted Trope in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, in the sixth episode (chronologically). Kyon falls asleep, complete with explanations of REM- and Non-REM sleep and colorful visuals. Just at the climax of the episode, with Haruhi and him kissing, it abruptly cuts off and he falls off his bed. He then rants "What kind of dream was that? Sigmund Freud is gonna be laughing at me!" The next day, he meets Haruhi wearing a ponytail which he told her in the dream, looks good on her. After she also claimed to have had a bad dream, it is entirely obvious that it wasn't a dream.
- Koizumi suggests this trope as an ending to Haruhi's movie that will subconsciously convince her that the events of the movie are fictional. This suggestion is met with blank stares from the rest of the Brigade.
- One of the great many interpretations of episodes 25-26 of Neon Genesis Evangelion. The episode 26 AU started with this... then it turned out that the AU was the dream, created to see if Shinji has a future without piloting his Eva.
- Done humorously in the form of episode one of The Tower of Druaga.
- A manga chapter of Mahoraba went from mild out-of-character moments for the other characters to intensely bizarre rooftop battles against a giant monster. At the end of the chapter, there is a chart which grades the reader based on when they figured out that the chapter was in fact a dream.
- Alien Nine has main character Yuri doing this Once an Episode, each dream focusing on her fear of aliens, and getting more and more horrific until the Mind Rape sequence in the final episode.
- The Dice-Killing Chapter of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Rei.
- The first Detective Conan OVA has the main character work out that he is in a dream while he is still in it. Used more gratingly in the 13th movie where a scene used prominently in early promotions turns out to be a dream at the start of the movie.
- Ban Mido from GetBackers uses his Jagan to produce hallucinations for exactly one minute. At many points, the audience also sees what the person is dreaming. Typically, this happens each time the audience is led to believe that the heroes have been killed. Once the minute ends, the dream "shatters," and all is well.
- The entire series turns out to be just a virtual dream in the end.
- Frequently subverted in Nightmare Inspector, though grandly played straight in the end when the characters learn that not only is Mizuki's brother Azusa, vessel for the Baku Hiruko before Chitose took over, still alive, he's been concocting the biggest, darkest, and most twisted nightmare ever, hoping that it will consume him and he can finally rest in relative peace. Turns out? Chitose was a figment of his imagination. Everything that happened since Chitose took over was all just Azusa's nightmare, that Mizuki and Hifumi were trapped in.
- In Ranma One Half, Ranma dreams that Jusenkyō dried up and wakes up terrified that he won't be able to lift the curse. He, Saotome, and Happōsai then use a Magic Mirror to Time Travel. They first visit a future where Ryōga and Akane are married with children, then visit Jusenkyō to prevent their past selves from falling in the spring in the first place, but Happōsai sabotages it after he's left behind. Then Ranma wakes up again—the entire episode was just a dream, and the intro was a dream within a dream. He's understandably paranoid that he hasn't really woken up yet.
- Baki the Grappler has a humorous example: the fight between Oliva and Guevara ends with Guevara the winner, then being introduced to the president of the United States, who begs him for forgiveness, and Yujiro, who tells him he's the strongest warrior in the world. He marvels, at this, saying it all seems like a dream...which, of course, it is. A dream he had after Oliva knocked him out with a punch that embedded him in the ground.
- Episode 287 of Bleach, but with a twist. We're initially led to think that it's Ichigo's dream but it turns out to be a Dream Within a Dream of Isane Kotetsu's.
- Done again with episode 304, although this time, it's Komamura's.
- Happened straight in the comic that came with UNMASKED. Ulquiorra dreams up the memories of his past.
- Nastily inverted in Berserk. In the midst of the massacre under the Eclipse, Corkus becomes convinced that the entire plot of the series was just a dream. After all, (present horror excluded) it was much too good to be true. His absolute certainty did not prevent his brutal death.
- The episode "Haruhi in Wonderland" of Ouran High School Host Club is all Haruhi's dream, but though the ending of the episode treats it as "All Just a Dream", it's obvious from the beginning that it is either a dream or at least a nonsense episode based on Alice in Wonderland. What makes the episode really neat is its use of dream logic and the way she wakes up by slowly realizing that people and places are not exactly as they are in real life. The final realization that causes her to awaken is trying to hug her mother who was already dead when the series began.
- Tomoya of Clannad's first season has a dream that can only be described as trippy, of course to him it all seemed fairly natural. Makes one wonder what it was that Kotori put in the pie he ate before he passed out.
- In the fourth arc of Umineko no Naku Koro ni, there is a very memorable scene in which Maria kills her mother Rosa repeatedly and grotesquely. From the context, it is to be inferred that the entire scene is a dream. However, it's never stated explicitly, just like a lot in this series.
- In Axis Powers Hetalia, Japan tries to convince himself that the "Private Lesson" with close friend Greece was All Just A Dream. Even when he woke up naked—or at least shirtless—next to him...
- The third-to-last episode of Gun X Sword implies the series so far was a dream of The Rival Ray, with him waking up back home Actually THAT is a dream he's having as he dies.
- The One Piece short "Jiginai Time" (or "No Respect Time") apparently takes place entirely within the dream of an incredibly bored, talking moai, much to the main characters' chagrin.
- The last Daily Lives of High School Boys skit in the anime, High School Boys and ..., was pretty much Tadakuni's dream which contained much of the fandom's desires. Interestingly enough, this has generated a fair bit of discussion , as the punchline to the skit as presented in the anime (incredibly similar to the start of a skit way back in episode 4) makes it seem that 9 of the 12 episodes of the anime never happened, invalidating all of the characters introduced since then.
- In the un-animated skit High School Girls are Funky — Tolerance, Yanagin again dared NAGO to test how long can they stay in the sauna. While most of the skit showed Yanagin won over NAGO... it turned out Yanagin fell unconscious earlier than NAGO, Ikushima and Habara; what we saw for the previous pages were just her dream while she was unscious.
- The last issue of Gen 13, vol. 1 combined this with a Downer Ending: The team—along with various other gen-active teens they'd met along the course of the series—has one last hedonistic, live-like-there's-no-tomorrow-cuz-there-ain't good time before "The End". Turns out this was all in Caitlin Fairchild's head, an extended hallucination brought on by the effects of another gen-active's powers in the split-second before a Death Trap disintegrated them all (they got better).
- This has happened innumerable times in Superhero comics as an "out" for a wacky story that doesn't fit into canon. So much so that it was common to include the blurb "Not a dream! Not an imaginary story!" on covers to reassure readers that no such cop-out would be used. Of course, since Covers Always Lie, they'd usually find some other cop-out that meant the events still weren't what they seemed.
- The current high-profile Batman: RIP storyline is (among other things) an attempt to bring the wackier Silver Age adventures of the Dark Knight in-canon by explaining them as hallucinations caused by sensory deprivation experiments. An original quote from one of those Silver-Age tales is a prominent part of the storyline (and very typical of the trope): "It would be far easier to consider this a dream... but how can I? For in my hand, I hold the Bat-Radia!"
Noteworthy in that the sensory deprivation experiment was not a Retcon, but was itself a framing device in an actual Silver Age story. An alternative explanation provided for some of these episodes is the insinuation that they were hallucinations brought about by exposure to Joker toxin, Scarecrow's fear gas, etc.
- Tom Strong issues 29 & 30 had the eponymous hero awaken from his superheroic life into a gray world with no wonder or adventure where he was just a factory worker with a case of bad self-esteem. Then the clues mount that he really is a superhero - only to discover that he was a failed military experiment and all of his memories of a heroic life were delusions. But at the last moment, he breaks out of the hallucination - back into the superheroic world where the Big Bad of the story had been forcing him to hallucinate. He said later that he knew the world he had been in wasn't real because it was all gray, with no sense of hope or wonder in it. (Of course, a cynical person might just say that he was unable to cope with the truth and retreated into his dream-world ... à la that much-referenced episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.)
- A two-week storyline in FoxTrot, parodying The Metamorphosis, has Jason waking up one morning to find he's turned into a miniature version of his sister, Paige. Midway through the story, he lampshades this trope by saying he's figured out that he's dreaming, because he thinks that if this were real, Mulder and Scully would've come to investigate. (Dream-Peter then points out that Mulder and Scully are TV characters—and therefore only investigate incidents appropriate for primetime shows. Turning into a teenage girl is too horrific.)
- The Sandman. Quite a bit of it really is just a dream, but that doesn't make it any less real. "I give you - eternal waking..." Brrrrr...
- Two Spawn issues written by Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison has Spawn dying accidentally after a fight with an angel warrior, and goes to a special level of Hell, where he finds all Marvel Comics and DC Comics superheroes imprisoned, and with help of Superman, who gave him his power, he sets them all free. Next issue happens back on Earth, with the narrator saying "Let's come back to reality. Spawn has a bad dream last days."
- From Bloom County, after a long-awaited wedding, Opus is knocked out when his nose collided with Lola's when they kiss. While unconscious, Opus dreams about Lola leaving him twenty years later with twenty-three tube-grown kids.
At another point, Opus ends up wandering lost in the desert. Suddenly, he's back home in Bloom County. He announces how happy he is it was all just a dream. Milo then says "No. This is the dream. You're still in the desert." And sure enough..
- Little Nemo in Slumberland ends every strip with Nemo waking up in bed. There were continuous storylines despite this. And when Nemo gets into trouble it does not feel as safe as a dream. No no no.
- Drabble pulled this twice, then subverted it hilariously. The first time, Ralph dreams that his job as a mall cop is more like Batman. The second time, Norman goes to a piercing salon with Wendy and ends up with multiple ear, nose, and other rings. The third time, Norman and Wendy run off to Vegas and get married on a dare. Norman is about to invoke this trope when the next panel reveals the cartoonist has already used up his chances to use it. The plot gets resolved another way.
- Sometimes used as a Cold Opening in Quantum and Woody. For example, issue #5 starts with Woody, Quantum, and Amy working together as a tightly-coordinated counter-terrorism team to stop a criminal called Othello. In reality, it's a dream induced after Quantum was accidentally blasted off of a building in the previous issue.
- A story of The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers from the early '70s has the trio staging a violent assault on a prison to free an incarcerated friend. Fat Freddy ends up cut off and bludgeoned to death by a horde of cops - but it's all just a dream, and Franklin is beating him with a rolled-up newspaper for eating a whole batch of hash cookies. Then, some seven years later, an extended story where they take a cross-country trip in a vintage RV ends in a full-scale riot at a Greenwich Village Halloween parade - but it's all just a dream, and Franklin is beating Freddy with a rolled-up newspaper...implying everything that happened between the two stories was Fat Freddy dreaming!
- There's a Punisher story where Frank goes back in time to the 30s thanks to Reed Richards and Nick Fury. He quickly infiltrates Al Capone's gang and kills every last mobster in Chicago along with Al, the idea being that by breaking the mafia's hold early on, there'll be no gang shooting in Central Park in the late twentieth century, saving Frank's family and preventing his Start of Darkness. Then he wakes up.
- In Nobody Dies, much of chapter 66 is Shinji having a dream (really more of a nightmare) about Zeruel slaughtering everyone.
- Forget about that, the ENTIRE 4th season is just a dream, made by Arael.
- Inverted Trope in Kyon: Big Damn Hero, where Kanae was having a recurrent dream with parts... off. It was until after she kissed Kyon that she realized she was awake.
- In a parody fanfiction about Dragon Ball GT, right after Goku's Heroic BSOD and Big No when learning that after his 100 years with Shenron, his family and friends are dead., we return to Goku and Chichi's bedroom and he explains to her the entire events of GT as a nightmare!! Then, it becomes a Dream Within a Dream as Goku has a run in with Dragon Ball Evolution's Goku!!! The short story is on deviantART.
- The Star Trek New Voyages episode "To Serve All My Days", involving a delayed effect of Rapid Aging that afflicts Chekov to the point where he may have died, in the final scene following the closing credits suggests that most of the whole episode was just a dream he had.
- Equestria is a My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic fan fiction that suggests that the eponymous world is actually the elaborate fantasy world that was to be the setting of a series of stories planned by a woman who was emotionally abused by her mother. She never got around to writing it and the emotional abuse that she suffered drove her into her dream world..
- Chapter 7 of Dalton starts out like this.
- One "episode" of Calvin at Camp features Calvin falling asleep and dreaming that he is in an Affectionate Parody of Lost. The readers are aware the entire time that it is a dream.
Films — Animation
- Some have suggested that the events of The Polar Express were all just a dream, though others feel that the presence of the bell from Santa's sleigh as a present for the Hero Boy signifies that they were really real.
- Poor poor Fievel Goes West, written off as a dream Fievel had in the third An American Tail movie. Which is a headbanger Retcon as there was an entire TV series with the Wild West theme that aired prior to the third movie. What, was Fievel in a coma or something? The dream lasted a whole TV series!
Films — Live-Action
- The Wizard of Oz is the most famous film example, of course, though there is a wee bit of room for alternate interpretation. It should be noted that in the book it is definite that Oz was real and Dorothy returns there several times in other books; Oz was changed to an elaborate dream in the film because producers felt that the 1930s audience was too sophisticated to accept a straight on fantasy like that.
- Two of Laurel and Hardy's short films used this example: The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case and Oliver the Eighth.
- Hilariously played with in the Enter the Dragon parody "A Fistful of Yen" in The Kentucky Fried Movie.
- American Psycho effectively repackages this into "And it was all a psychotic hallucination". Or was it?
- In Total Recall we are Left Hanging as to whether or not the entire film after the point he goes to Rekall is real or a hallucination.
- Subverted in Fourteen Oh Eight, where the protagonist "wakes up" from his harrowing ordeal in room 1408 to be told it was only a dream, only to find his surroundings literally demolished and stripped away to reveal that he is still in fact stuck in the hotel room.
- Bonus points for the film having run long enough to make you think it might be ending.
- Reality and dreams are blurred in The Science of Sleep.
- Stay (1996)
- Throughout Pans Labyrinth, there are strong suggestions that certain aspects of the plot may be All Just a Dream. Word of God debunks that possibility, though that same god also explicitly tells you not to listen to him so in the end it looks like nobody's happy.
- In The Shining, it sometimes got difficult to tell what was real and what were projections of the family's minds. Roger Ebert's review talks at length on the subject.
- Subverted in The Butterfly Effect. At one point near the end of the film it looks like the story is gonna go out with a Twist Ending. As Evan's doctor explains that there are no journals, he asserts that everything that we've apparantly seen so far is a delusion that Evan created to cope with the guilt of killing Kayleigh, describing alternate universes with colleges, prisons, and paraplegia. Then it turns out that the mental time travel was real when Evan goes back one last time.
- The Descent. Did the crawlers exist, or was Sarah unable to handle the claustrophobia and stress of the already bad situation, causing her to imagine them and kill all her friends? All that can actually be said is that there was dreaming going on; where it started or ended is never made clear. (Their existence is confirmed in the sequel.)
- It's also more likely they exist (although not a certainty) in the original cut, where the ending of the US cut turns out to be All Just A Dream and the film ends with Sarah about to be killed by a horde of the crawlers while she's too wrapped up in hallucinations to even realize they're there. For obvious reasons, the sequel is based on the Revised Ending instead.
- Related to this is the film Atonement in which the entire conclusion of the plot (involving Briony taking back her evidence and Keira Knightley getting back together with her boyfriend) from the wedding of the rape victim and her rapist onwards is from the imagination of Briony. She reveals that James McAvoy's character in fact died while at Dunkirk and Cecilia was killed in the (real-life) flooding of Balham tube station by a German bomb.
- Vanilla Sky (2001), directed by Cameron Crowe and starring Tom Cruise. Remake of 1997 Spanish film Abre los Ojos, a.k.a. Open Your Eyes. After a car accident that kills his girlfriend and disfigures his face, the protagonist is haunted by increasingly bizarre occurrences. The ending explains that everything that has occurred after the car accident has been a dream. In real life, after the car accident, he signed a contract with a company that preserves its clients' bodies after death and keeps their brain waves active in lifelike virtual reality dreams, and then committed suicide. The bizarre occurrences are explained as glitches in the program. In the end, he decides to wake up from the dream program.
- Ripley's nightmare of having an alien rip out of her chest near the beginning of Aliens. This is especially misleading since some of the marketing material played-up that the aliens would be attacking Earth... well, a space station around Earth... well, a dream sequence on a space station near a planet which could maybe possibly be Earth.
- In Hackers, the two main characters (played by Jonny Lee Miller and Angelina Jolie) each have erotic dreams about the other at the same time.
- In Brazil, a dystopian sci-fi film, the entire, increasingly weird, ending of the film is revealed to be a fantasy in the mind of protagonist to "escape" from being tortured in a scene near the end of the film.
- This was edited out in the "Love Conquers All" edition; the "reveal" is removed, moving the events from fantasy to reality.
- Played very non-comedically in Happiness, where one of the characters apparently goes on a rampage through his neighbourhood with a machine gun, only to wake up. He's a... troubled guy. We later find out he's a paedophile.
- Give My Regards to Broad Street. All portions of this film with plot are a dream, so it's a good thing this is a McCartney musical. This dream even has a Dream Within a Dream inside it.
- Phantasm...or was it?
- Lampshaded/parodied in Top Secret: Nick Rivers passes out under torture by the East German secret police and dreams he's back in high school about to take a test for which he hasn't studied. He wakes up back in the torture dungeon and smiles with relief, while being whipped: "Oh, thank God."
- A Nightmare on Elm Street toys with the boundaries between dreams and the real world throughout the film. At the end, the Final Girl wakes up and thinks her entire ordeal has been a dream. Then Freddy takes control of the car she's in...
- Dead End. Early in the film, the characters are all weary and very nearly get involved in a car crash, startling them awake. From here, things start to get weird. By the end, it transpires that nobody woke up in time to prevent the crash.
- A similar ending closes the movie Reeker.
- Most of North is the title character's dream. Unlike in the original book, where the events did actually happen to the title character.
- The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari gives a particularly jarring version. Notably this was because of the Executive Meddling, which the creators despised, as the whole point was to show an evil, monstrous authority figure, but the censors of Weimar's Germany didn't like it. They apparently even made an extra twist for an alternative version where it wasn't dream after all, despite of all the attempts to convince otherwise.
- In Mirror Mask, (boy, Neil Gaiman sure loves dreams) Helena figures out pretty early on that the entire Magical Land is all a dream, populated by characters based on people she knows. However, the possibility is certainly left open that it isn't just a dream, when she meets someone who was in her dream, but she'd never met before in her day-to-day life.
- Happily subverted in The Forbidden Kingdom. He's back in his own world, but has mysteriously gained self-confidence, and is a better fighter. Was it all a dream?... oh, wait, the old shop-keeper is actually the now-immortal Jackie Chan character!
They didn't even try to play it straight. When he wakes up on the pavement, the cut he received in his "dream" is still there.
- Time Bandits seems to use this at first, with Kevin returning from being enveloped by smoke from one of the remnants of Evil by seemingly waking up in his room during a house fire... but it doesn't just settle for an Or Was It a Dream? and goes for a full-on subversion. The film ends with Kevin finding the photos he took on his journey, and discovering that the fire was started by the final fragment of Evil getting lodged in the toaster oven — which his parents promptly touch despite his warning and explode. Also, it's implied that the fireman that rescued him actually is King Agamemnon, not just another case of the film using the same actors for multiple characters.
- One of the few relatively certain things about the plot of Mulholland Drive is that it includes some element of this. One interpretation is the whole movie is a sinister creeping inversion: it is a dream where the dream gradually wakes up and walks away, rendering the original dreamer fictional.
- Inverted in Rosemarys Baby. The title character undergoes a series of increasingly bizarre dreams, culminating in her rape by a demon which, as she realizes partway through, isn't a dream at all.
- Open to interpretation in Click. Just as the main character is about to die, he wakes up at the Bed, Bath, and Beyond he laid down for a short while at the beginning. However, Morty and the magical remote turn out to be real. It could be that this was more of his imagination. Given the prevalence of time travel in this film, it could also be that Morty simply reversed time to the exact point at which he laid down in the bed.
- Tacked on at the end of 2002 Hong Kong flick Undiscovered Tomb.
- The Matrix. The entire world the film starts in is All Just a Dream, albeit an artificially constructed one induced by an empire of evil computers.
- Some have suggested that even Zion is just another level of the Matrix, satisfying many beyond the official interpretation as it explains the liberties taken in the third movie.
- Labyrinth. Invoked and then subverted: Sarah, after hours of weirdness, finds herself in a place that looks exactly like her room. She cries out in delight, jumps on the bed and wraps the pillow around her head... then looks up in wonder and realizes the whole thing was just a big dream! She goes to open the door to the hallway... and is greeted by a goblin, while the other side of the door is a junk heap at night-time.
Played straighter by the end, where you could interpret the entire thing as a dream, then subverted again when the creatures show up in her room and everyone has a dance party while Jareth watches in owl form outside the window.
- At the ending of Jacobs Ladder, we discover that the lead character is experiencing the entire events of the movie as a hallucination as he lies on a cot dying in a military action.
- Some have argued that an alternate interpretation of The Sixth Sense is that the entire movie is a dream, from the time of the shooting to the end where we "rewind" back to the shooting, and thus the little boy who "sees dead people" doesn't even exist.
- Each sequence of Living In Oblivion is revealed to be All Just a Dream, a dream which is referenced in the following sequence. In the final sequence is about trying to film a dream sequence important to the production, and lampshades tropes typical of filmed dream sequences.
- Lunatics: A Love Story uses a lot of this for humor. "You're having a nervous meltdown!"
- Subverted and then unsubverted in The 13th Floor.
- Both the original and remade version of Invaders From Mars have the whole thing turn out to be a young boy's nightmare only to have the invasion start all over again at the end. The first version in particular emphasizes this, with off-kilter sets and camera shots throughout.
- In the movie Next, most of the second half of the film is actually the protagonist looking into a future, which he then changes.
- Fritz Lang's 1944 noir The Woman in the Window, complete with recognizing the people from his dream after waking up.
- The entirety of The Wizard of Gore is implied to be a brief dream of Montag's as he's starting his routine.
- Taken to the extreme with Inception. The whole plot revolves around making sure they wake up from the layers of dreams at the right time. In Cobb's backstory we learn that his wife became convinced she needed to wake up from reality. And finally the ending and beginning both suggest that the whole movie was a dream. Maybe.
- Several interpretations of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World explain the Video Game Physics and in-universe Flanderization of the characters as signs that the entire film is just a distorted version of reality from Scott's point of view. A planned (but never filmed) Alternate Ending removes the Video Game Physics and has Scott convicted as a serial killer for seven counts of murder.
- The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T, with one or two hints that it wasn't.
- I Married an Angel
- Happens three times in 13 Seconds. First, the main character is attacked by demons, and wakes up in bed. Later, a demon grabs his groin and drags him under the bed; he wakes up again. As for the third time,
- Everything but the last couple of minutes in Nightmare City is in the main character's dream, and the movie ends with the beginning of his dream playing out in real life, with an end card reading "The nightmare becomes reality..."
- At the end of the Italian Horror movie Shadow, we learn that the main character has never left Iraq, and was under anesthesia as the camp doctor (the evil creature in the dream) and nurse (who is the girl he met in the dream) worked on him. He survives, but loses his legs and his left eye. The two hicks who the evil creature tortured and killed are revealed to be fellow wounded soldiers who died of their wounds.
- The first twenty minutes of the Halloween II remake ends up being nothing more than a nightmare that the main character was having.
- The last third of Repo Men - in the last two minutes or so, it's revealed that Remy suffered brain damage from getting hit in the face by a hook, and Jake then had Remy hooked up to the M5 Neural Net to live the rest of his life in happiness - everything that happens between the hook to the face and the reveal is part of the happy illusion Remy is living because of the neural net.
- "Film/Robot Monster -1953 - Ultimately the youngest member of the family, a boy, apparently wakes up after suffering a mild concussion, revealing that the bulk of the film had presumably been a dream..
- Many scholars interpret The Aeneid, the epic latin poem/propaganda piece comissioned by Octavian to Virgil, as the earliest example of a story being "all just a dream". Halfway into the poem, Aeneas visits the underworld to be instructed by his dead father in the foundation of Rome, after which he is confronted with two possible gates to exit back up, "one said to be of horn, whereby the true shades pass with ease, the other all white ivory agleam without a flaw, and yet false dreams are sent through". His father then sends him up through the ivory gate. This would imply that all of Aeneas' subsequent adventures leading up to and including the foundation of glorious Rome are all but a "false dream", contrary to Octavian's wish. Possibly Virgil's subtle way of Getting Crap Past the Radar.
- One of the classic uses of All Just a Dream in children's literature is Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. In its sequel Through the Looking Glass though, she is assured that she is just the Red King's dream.
- The most famous anecdote by Chinese Daoist philosopher Zhuangzi has him relating how he had a dream that he was a butterfly, and upon waking up was unsure whether or not he was a man who dreamed he was a butterfly, or a butterfly who dreamed it was a man. Since he lived around the 3rd century BC, this trope is Older Than Feudalism.
- Polish author Stanislaw Lem:
- The Futurological Congress features its narrator accosted by powerful mood-altering drugs that cause powerful hallucinations while he sleeps (perhaps they could just be called dreams?). He awakens from hallucination within hallucination, sometimes by degrees and sometimes suddenly, with such frequency that less than halfway through the book it becomes virtually impossible to tell whether he is really awake (one of the major themes of the book).
- In Observation on the Spot Lem references The Futurological Congress and lampshades the trope. The protagonist tries to wake from the dream - explicitly mentioning his wakings up during the Congress. He fails, because his observation on the spot was not his dream.
- Also, in Tales of Pirx the Pilot, the first story features this. Pirx's first spaceflight was just a simulation, he didn't know that though.
- Towards the end, Neil Gaiman's Coraline very briefly appears to pull this... however, it's almost instantly subverted; not only was it not just a dream, but Coraline's adventure isn't quite over, after all.
- In The Queen and I by Sue Townsend, the election of the British People's Republican Party and subsequent banishing of the Royal family to a council estate turns out to be an election night nightmare by the Queen.
- Subverted Trope in the original Chronicles of Thomas Covenant; Covenant starts out by believing that everything happening to him is a dream, and is then made to doubt this over the course of the trilogy. The question is deliberately left unresolved, although the Creator's intervention to save Covenant's life at the end strongly implies that the Land was real, as do the passages from the points of view of Hile Troy and Lord Mhoram.
Unless, of course, it was all just a dream, and Covenant merely hallucinated the Creator offering to help save him. In that, his "miraculous recovery" in the hospital would simply have been due to the fact that he had essentially regained his will to live (as established in his conversation with the Creator). This is even more implicit when you realize that Covenant is a writer (and thus, is a Creator himself), so both the Creator and the Despiser may simply be embodiments of his own personality. The Hile Troy and Mhoram POVs don't necessarily negate this, since Covenant never manages to prove that Troy was "real", and it's possible to passively dream things happening that the dreamer wouldn't necessarily be aware of. But as Covenant himself suggests, it doesn't matter whether it's a dream or not, because either way, it's important. The later books tend to make a much better argument for everything being real, but the original trilogy does a very good job, even right up to the very end, of keeping the paradox.
- Subverted Trope in Maximum Ride. A group of scientists unsuccessfully attempt to convince the protagonist that the events of the entire past three books were all a dream.
- In the short story An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, the protagonist (a Confederate sympathizer) makes a daring escape from inevitable death by hanging when the rope breaks! He evades pursuit from Union soldiers, runs 30-odd miles to his home, finally embraces his beloved family — and the story ends abruptly when his neck snaps. It wasn't technically a dream because he wasn't asleep, but it is an excellent example of a Dying Dream nonetheless.
- O. Henry's short story The Roads We Take is about a Wild West Train Job gone awry: one robber murders his friend and accomplice, justifying that their only horse "cannot carry double". It turns out to have been a stockbroker's dream. He wakes up and promptly betrays a friend of his for financial gain, repeating the phrase "Bolivar cannot carry double".
- The sequel to Rosemarys Baby, Son of Rosemary, makes both books All Just a Dream.
- Jacob Two Two Meets The Hooded Fang by Mordecai Richler.
- One of Charles Dickens's less well-known Christmas stories, The Chimes uses this. The main character, Toby Veck, discovers he's fallen from a bell tower to his death, and spends the next two chapters watching all kinds of disasters befall his loved ones because of their poverty. Just as his daughter is about to drown herself and her baby, and you think the only way to fix the situation is for it all to have been a dream, it turns out that it was all a dream. After a short happy scene, Dickens brings the mood down again by pointing out that even though he'd made his story turn out to be a dream, for many people the miserable parts were real life.
- Speaking of Dickens, this is also one interpretation of A Christmas Carol, though Scrooge doesn't think so.
- An in-story example occurs in one of the Henry Huggins books where Henry has to play the lead in the school Christmas program about a boy going to the North Pole to visit Santa. He hates the role- a six-year-old boy, the costume- footy pajamas, and the ending- where it turns out he dreamed the whole thing. Beverly Cleary didn't seem to like this trope, either.
- GK Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare. You can't say he didn't warn you—and he woke very oddly.
- Mark Twain's The Mysterious Stranger plays with this.
- Chris van Allsburg's Just a Dream, obviously. Although whether or not the author intended the dreams to be actual premonitions of potential futures is debatable.
- In CS Lewis' The Great Divorce, the narrator meets with George MacDonald—who solemnly warns him that it is All Just a Dream and he must make it clear when he tells the story in Real Life.
- In Julio Cortazar's "La noche boca arriba", this trope is played with. The narrative switches between two characters, one of which is a boy in a hospital, and the other a man about to be sacrificed by Aztecs. The ending reveals that the boy's life is actually a dream of the man, who keeps falling unconscious.
- Happens in-story in The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya. They're making a movie, and events have unfolded that require the title character to in some way admit that the film is fictional. Koizumi suggests to end the movie with an All Just a Dream ending, thus forcing Haruhi to admit that the movie is impossible.
- Deliberately invoked in John Varley's Steel Beach and Justin Lieber's Beyond Rejection when both protagonists discover they've been subjected to artificially induced "All Just A Dream" scenarios for therapeutic purposes. Lieber's protagonist is grateful for the intervention but Varley's is not.
- Subverted Trope in the Discworld story The Wee Free Men:
Tiffany sighed. "And then she woke up and it was all a dream."
- Godel Escher Bach has a dialogue in which the protagonists win a raffle. The prize is a "Subjunc-TV", which has the ability to show them what would happen under various hypothetical circumstances. In the end, it turns out that they never actually won the raffle; the entire dialogue was itself a Subjunc-TV broadcast of what would have happened if they had.
- Chapter 39 of Atlanta Nights reveals that the rest of the book was all a dream, and the main character is on death row. Please note that there are 41 chapters, and the last two follow the same plotline as the first 38 chapters.
- The Pilgrims Progress by John Bunyan subverts this: The very first sentence is: "As I walk'd through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place, where was a Denn; And I laid me down in that place to sleep: And as I slept I dreamed a Dream." That this is All Just a Dream is reinforced throughout, to the very last sentence, which is: "So I awoke, and behold it was a dream." The book was written in 1675. Dream frames were a common medieval trope to explain that "I made this all up."
- In Robert E. Howard's The Tower of the Elephant, Conan the Barbarian briefly wonders about this:
He turned back uncertainly, to stare at the cryptic tower he had just left. Was he bewitched and enchanted? Had he dreamed all that had seemed to have passed? As he looked he saw the gleaming tower sway against the crimson dawn, its jewel-crusted rim sparkling in the growing light, and crash into shining shards.
- In book four of Tales from the House of Bunnicula, Howie attempts to end the story this way after he inadvertently writes the protagonists into a situation they can't get out of. However, Harold tells Howie that ending the story like that is a cop-out, and tells him to try again. So Howie lets Delilah write the final chapter, ending the story on a much happier note.
- Reversed in The Lathe Of Heaven. George Orr has “effective” dreams, meaning, when he wakes up, something that was in his dream is now part of reality. His psychiatrist tries to use this ability to improve life on earth, but when he suggests that George dream of an end to international strife, George dreams of an alien invasion!
- In Metro 2033, Artyom is put on trial to be hanged by the Fourth Reich but is saved by Hunter, when the latter literally massacres everyone in the station. Aaand then Artyom wakes up only to find himself leaning against a door in one of the Fourth Reich's cells.
- An Elegy for the Still-living implies that this is the case without ever openly stating it, and the ending is left rather open ended on the subject.
- Justified in Frederick Pohl's short story "The Hated", in which the protagonist plots to murder a former co-worker, but before he can, he's awakened by a psychiatrist from an induced dream. The protagonist and his co-workers were astronauts on a lengthy voyage during which they developed a profound, murderous hatred for each other. The psychiatrist was working with all of them to enable them to control their rage. It's made clear at the end that at least in the protagonist's case, it wasn't working.
- In Goosebumps, this is played with in the TV ending to "Awesome Ants". The protagonist’s experience turns suspiciously nightmarish as the town is suddenly abandoned, there is a storm outside, and the ants are growing to enormous proportions. Just before he gets killed by one, he wakes up at home and all seems fine. Then he gradually remembers the reality of the situation: in the real world ants are actually mountain-sized, and keep humans secluded in the human equivalent of ant farms and force them to live on small pellets of blue food. In the book the ants just grew that big rather than always having been so.
- For a true Mind Screw, count how many times this happens in "I Live In Your Basement".
- Alexander Pushkin's short story The Undertaker is an Older Than Radio example.
- The Box of Delights ends this way. The action supposedly takes place during Kay Harker's school holidays, but at the end he wakes up still on the train.
- The X-Files is fond of doing this.
- In one episode, Mulder and Scully have fungus-inspired hallucinations.
- In "Triangle" Mulder wakes up in hospital after apparently going back in time and meeting his friends and enemies as heroes or villains on a World War II liner. Naturally no-one believes him, but Mulder can't help smiling when he feels the bruise on his cheek where past-Scully gave him a Megaton Punch after he stole a kiss from her.
- Dallas infamously undid an entire season this way. To explain what happened: the actor that played Bobby left the show, and they had Bobby hit by a car and died. After the ratings started to sink, and the actor came back, the writers retcon the entire season as a dream by Pam, causing several continuity snarls and messing up the Spin-Off, Knots Landing, where it referenced Bobby's death in the story line.
- There's even more to this: Producer Leonard Katzman was kicked off the show at the same time Patrick Duffy left, only to be brought back at the cast's demand. Katzman hated a lot of stuff that was done to the show in his absence (primarily making the women much stronger characters), and so thought of a way to ensure they never happened.
- Day By Day had an interesting variation: Ross after getting an F on a history paper, as a result from watching a The Brady Bunch marathon, falls asleep while writing a new paper, and dreams he was Chuck Brady their long lost son. soon he gets advice from Mike and Carol repeat their dialog, this causes him to wake up, upon waking up he hears his parents come down, he finds that they are Carol and Mike Brady he wakes up again, only to find that his parents are back to normal. making this a case of a dream within a dream.
- There are quite a few in Married... with Children.
- One season was made "just a dream", though justified as a case of Real Life Writes the Plot. The entire season had been built around Katey Sagal's pregnancy. She had a late and unexpected miscarriage and couldn't deal with having a newborn baby on the set.
- Another One involves Al taking a job as a janitor for a Private Eye only to become one himself and solve a diamond case, getting a big fat check as reward. Of course, Status Quo Is God and it was just a dream of his (this one was the season-erasing resolution).
- Another has Al making a deal with the Devil (Robert Englund) to lead a football team to the Super Bowl. He gets his wish but is killed in a tackle and taken to Hell where his family and friends also end up (as a result of improbable accidents after his death, oddly enough). After three hundred years in Hell, Al can't take it anymore and challenges the Devil to a football match. The Devil picks some of the world's worst historical figures for his team. Al manages to win (even though given an offer to go back with beautiful women and loads of cash which, in a rare moment selflessness, he passes up). Al then wakes up back where he was before the Devil appeared and it appears to be a dream to him... least until he pulls out some Red Hots candy the Devil had given him.
- Sent up by Robert Rankin in Armageddon, The Musical. A planet of aliens have been controlling Earth so they can watch us as a soap opera. Meddling executives decide that allowing World War III was a mistake and try to Re Boot the series by having Elvis wake up and discover it was all a dream of what would happen if he joined the army instead of lending his voice to the anti-war movement. In minutes, the whole story turns into an Anachronism Stew.
- The last episode of St Elsewhere reveals that the entire series has taken place in the mind of an autistic child. If you accept that crossovers between shows imply that they occupy the same fictional universe, an argument can be made that no fewer than 282 shows were figments of Tommy Westphall's imagination, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The aforementioned site seems to have a very low threshold for calling a show a cross-over, however; it includes minor shout outs as linkage. Another crossover database site gives a more conservative estimate, setting fewer than a hundred shows within young Tommy's mind.
- This trope's application in the Newhart episode "The Last Newhart" resulted in what is widely considered one of the best series finales, ever. In the end it was revealed that the entire show was a nightmare of Robert Hartley, the star of The Bob Newhart Show, also played by Bob Newhart. Interestingly, The Bob Newhart Show received a crossover from St Elsewhere, which combined with the previous entry could make Newhart a Dream Within a Dream.
- In season 4 of Angel, an entire episode takes places in Angel's head, in which the events of the dream actually solve all the problems of the season's arc, right down to a soapy heroic happy ending. When the episode reveals to the viewers that it was all "just a dream", it's when the dream climaxes with Angel experiencing a moment of perfect happiness, causing him to lose his soul, waking up as the evil Angelus.
- The second failed resurrection of Crossroads, a British Soap Opera, ended by revealing the entire series had been the dream of a supermarket worker. Whether the first resurrection was just a dream as well is up to viewer interpretation.
- The closing scenes show a number of characters who made their debut in the first resurrection also working in the supermarket... except the character having the dream didn't appear until the second resurrection. (Maybe the first resurrection was one of the other workers' dreams, explaining why none of the cliffhangers were resolved?) And just as you're getting your head around that, a customer at the supermarket, who looks like another character who's been around since the first resurrection, is identified as "Tracey from Crossroads" by the staff. Um... huh?
- The season 1 finale of Reno 911 ended on a Cliff Hanger, which was revealed in the season 2 premiere to be a dream, in what turned out to be a dream sequence itself Dangle wakes up from the dream, to discover himself in bed with Kenny Rogers. This turns out to be a dream Garcia is having in the meeting room at the sheriff's station.
- The Cosby Show did a number of these, normally precipitated by Cliff's consumption of a large sandwich near bedtime.
- Smallville: The episode "Slumber" both uses and subverts this trope, as a girl with dream-walking powers can only contacts Clark through dreams. Although occurrences in the episode were fantasy, the dreams do serve a purpose to the plot.
- Used as a bit of a fake-out in season 6's Lana/Lex wedding. The episode begins with a ridiculously melodramatic wedding/murder/suicide scene, which is immediately revealed to be a dream. The rest of the episode tells the story out of order chronologically, with many of the scenes using the same lurid gothic style, faking the viewers out into thinking these scenes are also just a dream; unfortunately, none of them are. Instead, when the episode is over and no-one wakes up from the terrible dream, the viewer is left with the slow, horrible realization that the gothic awfulness actually happened.
- An episode of MacGyver in which the title character dreams of his lookalike ancestor ends with an Or Was It a Dream? moment when he woke to find he now possessed his ancestor's distinctive pocketknife.
- Happy Days somehow managed to Spin-Off Mork and Mindy from an All Just a Dream episode. Though That Was Not a Dream as shown by Mork's presence at the end of the episode, where he told his contact on Ork that he tricked "the human (Richie Cunningham)" to think he had been dreaming. Mork also visited in a subsequent episode during the run of Mork and Mindy to tell Richie that he was living on Earth in "the future" (i.e. The Seventies when Mork and Mindy took place, and when both Happy Days and Mork and Mindy were made and first aired).
- The episode "They Call It Potsie Love" had Joanie—who had developed a crush on Potsie—falling asleep and dreaming she marries him.
- The Dick Van Dyke Show's classic The Twilight Zone parody "It May Look Like a Walnut."
- British surreal comedy series The Brittas Empire concluded with the revelation that the entirety of the programme, all 53 episodes, had been a dream. The title character had fallen asleep while on the train to the interview for the job that he'd had throughout the series. The other people in the dream (apart from his wife, who was the same in the dream and in real life) were actually people on the train with him, and he projected them into the dream.
- Star Trek as a whole has the "All Just a Holodeck Simulation" version.
- Star Trek Deep Space Nine
- Interestingly used when Chief O'Brien is arrested by aliens and serves out a 20-year prison sentence within a dream that lasts only hours. The rest of the episode shows him dealing with this experience and how it has changed him.
- "Far Beyond the Stars" and "Shadows and Symbols", where a science fiction writer in the 50's dreams about Deep Space Nine. It's also lampshaded in the dream when someone suggests making Benny's story turn out to be a dream to get around complaints about the hero being black. In fact, the producers toyed with the idea of making the entire series a figment of Benny Russel's imagination
- In "Inquisition", the investigator creates an elaborate holo-simulation that tries to trick Bashir into believing that he was a spy for the Dominion. Most of the episode occurs in the simulation
- Similarly, in an episode of Star Trek the Next Generation, an alien artifact which turns out to be a monument to a long-dead race gives Picard the experience of living the life of one of its makers in less than an hour. In an unusual twist, Picard leaves the dream with at least one skill he didn't have before entering it—that of playing a recorder-like instrument his dream-self was fond of. Slightly different from most examples in that Picard starts off knowing that the experience isn't real, but it lasts so long for him that he forgets.
- Unlike most of the examples on this page, this is usually considered one of the series' best episodes. Quite probably because we were shown Picard lying on the floor of the bridge dreaming from the start of the episode while the crew struggles to wake him up.
- A slight variation of this happens to Commander Riker in the Star Trek the Next Generation episode "Frame of Mind".
- Star Trek Voyager plays with this trope a lot in "Barge of the Dead". B'Elanna Torres survives a shuttle accident, only to find it's all a dream and that she's actually on a barge taking dishonored souls to the Klingon afterlife.
B'Elanna: But I was on Voyager with my crew!
- After being rejected in favour of her mother, B'Elanna wakes up in Voyager's sickbay with the same hand injury she received on the Barge. She then has to convince her shipmates she didn't imagine the whole thing, and that she has to return to the Barge (i.e. recreate her near-death experience) in order to save her mother.
B'Elanna: Look at this — The eleventh tome of Klavek. It's a story about Kahless returning from the dead still bearing a wound from the afterlife. A warning that what he experienced wasn't a dream. The same thing happened to me!
- Life On Mars makes use of this, both as (seemingly) the circumstances of the main character (in a coma, dreaming the entire thing), and side instances where Sam wakes up in bed after being harangued by the Evil Test Card Girl. Not to mention the fact that... in the end Sam's adventures in the past turn out to be just a dream. One Sam commits suicide to get back to... if you believe that interpretation of the ending instead of one of the dozens of others.
- House: There's nearly always a quick way to tell that House is dreaming. If he limps, then it's sad reality. If he doesn't, then it's a dream or an hallucination.
- In Season One there's a scene where House told Vogler, whose whole role was making House miserable, that he had cancer and was going to die soon. The fact that Vogler calmly and gratefully accepted the news, even when House made a crack about jumbo-sized coffins, as well as the fact that House was walking without a limp, quickly revealed the scene to be a dream.
- An episode (the season two finale "No Reason") was "All Just A Hallucination", and the episode ends minutes after its beginning. Still, the fact that it was a hallucination meant that it served as an exploration of House's mental state (rather than an excuse to kick the audience in the teeth at the end), which may be why this episode is not derided in the way that so many All Just a Dream episodes are. Also, House discovering it was a hallucination was an important part of the plot and set up literally moments into the hallucination, so it was in accordance with the rules of fair play. Furthermore, House uses an idea from his hallucination in real life that shows its effects throughout the next few episodes.
- Similarly, the end of the season five finale "Both Sides Now" reveals that the sequence in the previous episode where Cuddy helped House detox and then has sex with him was also just a hallucination.
- Another episode has House trying to kill a mosquito, but accidentally knocks off the valve to a propane tank and lights the stove. Cue explosion, cut to House waking up.
- The Sopranos has a lot of these as a way to get into Tony's head, although it was made apparent to the audience what they were.
- In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 6 episode "Normal Again," it is suggested that the entire series is a hallucination of the main character, who is living in a mental institution and has power fantasies of saving the world with her imaginary friends. The episode's end leaves room for interpretation as to which existence (Buffy's life as a vampire slayer, or her life as a mental patient) is really All Just a Dream. Joss Whedon has outright stated that either one is a definite possibility.
- The first episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles starts out this way. Just so you know. Also, in the second season episode "Some Must Watch, While Some Must Sleep", Sarah is taken captive and interrogated by a man she had killed in an earlier episode. It is then revealed that this was in fact a dream, and that Sarah was admitted to a sleep clinic, because of her insomnia. She keeps having this dream, while she suspects something bad is going on at the sleep clinic. Eventually, we find out the sleep clinic was in fact the dream, induced by the drugs given to her by the man who abducted her, for real - him having survived the earlier episode against the odds.
- In the Monty Python's Flying Circus "Cycling Tour" sketch, a bicyclist (Mr. Pither) ends up in a Soviet prison cell about to be executed. He is suddenly woken up by his mother and says "So, it was all a dream!" His mother says "No dear, this is the dream, you're still in the cell." He then wakes up for real, still in the cell.
- Likewise at the end of The Young Ones episode "Interesting" where Neil experiences something similar as he is about to be kicked in the head by skinheads.
- The Twilight Zone
- In TOS episode "Death Ship", an astronaut stranded on another planet dreams that he has returned to Earth and everything's all right. His commanding officer bodily enters his dream and literally drags him back to wakefulness. The Karmic Twist Ending? He and his commander are actually dead, and his dream was actually the afterlife he should have gone to.
- In another episode, "Shadow Play", a man on Death Row tells everyone they are all figments of his dream based on people from his life, and that when he's killed, he'll dream the same dream again, with everyone in different roles. As it turns out, he's right.
- An even more sadistic episode — "The Midnight Sun"—turns out to be just a dream in the end. However, reality does not turn out to be much better than the dream. The protagonist dreams about a world in which the Earth is burning up as it's falling into the sun, and wakes up in a world that's freezing to death as the Earth is falling away from the sun.
- In Blackadder (3rd season, 2nd episode) Blackadder dreams that he overslept and Dr. Johnson is arriving, whose dictionary has been burned. Then, Dr. Johnson suddenly confesses that he never liked the dictionary anyways, then things get really surreal... and then he really wakes up. Of course, he has overslept, the book is still burned, and Dr. Johnson is arriving.
- In one episode of Lost, Locke causes Boone to hallucinate that his step-sister/lover is being mutilated and killed by smearing goop on his head. Allegedly to teach Boone a lesson.
- Doctor Who
- Inverted in the 2008 episode "Silence in the Library". A little girl on what looks like present-day Earth dreams of a futuristic library in which several people (including the Doctor and Donna) are in danger. Her psychiatrist tells her confidentially (in a complete reversal of expectations) that her dream is real and that the people in danger need her help.
- On the other hand, the entirety of Season 23 is revealed in "The Ultimate Foe" to have been an inaccurate reconstruction of what really happened. Of particular note, it turns out that the death of the Doctor's companion Peri in "Mindwarp" never really happened and instead she is happily living with King Yrcanos (despite the fact that he seems to be violently insane).
- Also used in Series 5's "Amy's Choice". While it's obvious from the very beginning that at least one of the worlds is a dream, both turn out to be dreams and the last scene is the only one that actually happens. However, Amy realising that she does, in fact, love Rory is NOT Reset Button-ed, so it's all okay.
- The Red Dwarf episode Back to Reality had the whole show as a computer game played by the main characters. This turned out to be a group hallucination.
- Walker, Texas Ranger had an entire dream episode, where Partner Trivette was revealed to have gotten killed at the beginning, and Walker died at the very end, but not before foiling the villains' plans anyway. When Walker's wife wakes up at the end of the episode, you find out that it may end up coming to pass anyway.
- Not even Hispanic Soap Opera escapes from this trope. There has been at least two soapies who ended with the implication that all the chapters we've seen has been just a Dream: Los Amores de Anita Pe? and Pecados Ajenos. However, the results were very different:
- In Los Amores..., which was a comedic soap that swung between the Affectionate Parody and the Deconstruction, the whole thing was played for laughs, with the ghost characters of the people who died during the story lampshading the Twist Ending and openly decrying it in a full rupture of the Fourth Wall. However, the series gives not only a whole chapter after the reveal to close the few loose plots and point out the parallelisms between the "dream story" and the "real life", but also gives a happy ending for the heroine and the story: maybe her life isn't as exciting as it was in her "dream", but she is now truly happy with her son and her beloved husband.
- In contrast, in Pecados Ajenos (who was non-comedic and pretty gloomy for a traditional soap) not content with using this trope to reset the whole story, also used the reset to put the heroine in a worse condition than the one she began with. It also left unpunished some of the worst villains of the story (a big no-no in traditional Hispanic soaps), and leaves the unsavory feeling that all the grisly, tragic and creepy things that happened during the soap are going to happen in the same way. Naturally, none of the viewers were happy with this.
- Or US Soap Operas. The soap Sunset Beach concluded with its two supercouples getting married in a double wedding, only to have the heroine wake up and have it revealed that the last two years (the duration of the soap) were a dream. . .only to have the trope played twice when she wakes up again to learn that this was a dream and that she and the hero are happily married rather than the turbulence of the past two years.
- Used rather drastically on Seinfeld when, after Kramer persuades him to get an illegal cable hookup, Jerry dreams that he is graphically gunned down by the FBI. Then he wakes up and discovers the plane he's on is about to crash, which is real.
"What have you done to my little cable boy?!?"
- A Saturday Night Live Digital Short parodied this. A woman has a frightening dream about a zombie, and then wakes up and sees it, which then turns out to be All Just a Dream for the ZOMBIE. This then happens numerous times, ending with a woman waking up from a horrible dream sleeping next to Dracula.
- Also done on Mad TV. It begins with the children of an elderly couple shocked by their parents' dirty dancing and ends with Stephnie Weir waking up from a dream "about a skit that has no ending".
- In Hannah Montana Jackson and Lilly end up dating after Miley tries to sabotage it. At the very end, despite it being a fairly normal story line and not all that much changing, it still turns out to be a dream.
- Stargate SG-1
- The episode "Absolute Power" uses a dream that last most of the episode to show Daniel Jackson why getting access to the sum total of Goa'uld memory and technology would be a bad idea.
- Another episode uses this to much greater effect with Teal'c switching between reality and a world that is obviously (to the viewer) a dream. The real, ascended Daniel Jackson appears to Teal'c in the dream world as a psychiatrist, and points him toward the solution. Both worlds are hallucinations brought on by Teal'c's mind in an attempt to help him survive a serious injury until rescue comes.
- There's also the episode Forever in a Day, in which Amaunet (the Goa'uld controlling Daniel's wife, Sha're)attempts to kill Daniel with a Ribbon Device. But Sha're manages to send Daniel a message through it, resulting in him switching back-and-forth between realities; one in which Teal'c saved his life by killing her, the other where she's freed of Amaunet's control and living with Daniel on Earth, trying to convince him to return to Stargate Command (which he leaves in both message-realities). She tells him the importance of him finding the Harcesis (human child born of two Goa'uld-controlled human parents, containing the genetic memory of both) and where he can find him. The episode eventually ends with Teal'c saving Daniel's life by killing Sha're/Amaunet.
- Subverted in the Regenesis episode "Unbottled", where after the episode's shocking turn of events, the scene skips to David waking up at home and talking about his "crazy nightmare" with Rachel, who in the dream was killed by the terrorists who had taken over their lab and forced them at gunpoint to help them make a biological weapon. But then she reminds him that it really did happen, and disappears, and the next shot shows that he was in bed alone.
- UFO. The episode "Ordeal" has a lengthy sequence where Colonel Foster is violently abducted by aliens and taken to their UFO which is later (after various Shoot the Dog arguments between his superiors) shot down by SHADO. Foster is recovered inside an alien spacesuit and is nearly killed having it removed. The whole thing turns out to be a dream experienced when he passed out in a sauna after over-indulging at a party. A more imaginative use of this trope occurs in "Mindbender", when a crystal found at a UFO crash site causes Commander Straker to hallucinate that he is an actor in a science-fiction TV series.
- The Spanish comedy Los Serrano finished this way, with the main character waking up to discover the entire series has been all just a dream. Fans were not pleased.
- A segment on The Daily Show featured Steve Carell's greatest fears (including Stephen Colbert taking over the show), leading to him waking up in terror—next to Jon Stewart.
- The Wild Wild West episode "The Night of the Man-Eating House". Near the beginning, the characters discover and approach the title house. After a series of terrifying events, at the end the characters wake up and discover that the horrific events in the house were All Just a Nightmare. In the last scene, they find themselves approaching the house again.
- The Halloween Episode of Dark Angel started fairly normal, then became progressively more wacky until the end revealed it was All Just a Dream.
- In the season 1 finale, Max dreams that her and Logan finally get-it-on. But in the middle of it all, a crow caws and blood appears on Logan's hand. Max asks desperately what's happening, then it's revealed The young clone of her who shot at her earlier Didn't Miss and instead shot her in the heart, leading her to die, until Zack shoots his own brains out to donate a heart for her
- Bones. The The Season 4 finale seemed to take place in an alternate universe where everyone worked in a nightclub called "The Lab" and Booth and Bones were married. Then, at the end of the episode, it turns out that it was just a dream Booth was having while he was in a coma. And this was after weeks of promotions that they were actually going to have sex. "We promise this time it's for real, not a dream sequence or anything." Right...
- In the final episode of Sunset Beach, Meg wakes up back in Kansas and discovers that the entire show was just a dream, complete with And You Were There. In the very last scene she wakes up in her bed in Sunset Beach, and it turns out that the "it was just a dream" scene was... just a dream.
- In the ABC Afterschool Special My Mother was Never a Kid, Victoria Martin gets into an argument with her mother, and runs away from home. While she is on the subway train, she hits her head and seemingly travels back in time to 1944, while she was there, she learns that she and her mother are very much alike in many ways, while still in the dream state she hits her head again, and wakes up back in the present with the relationship with her mother repaired. Considering Victoria clearly had no knowledge of the 1940s, this raises the question of how she could have dreamed up the period so accurately.
- The special is adapted by Francine Pascal from her own Young Adult novel, 'Hanging Out With Ci Ci.
- This happened in the final episode of I Dream of Jeannie. Dr. Bellows (finally!) finds out the truth about Jeannie, and then her bottle gets broken and Major Nelson resigns from NASA. Luckily, it's all a dream.
- In-universe example: Phoebe gets pissed off at one of her friends for something that is eventually revealed to have happened in her dream.
- Also on Friends, there's a sequence of Rachel asking Joey to kiss her, which turns out to be just a dream (to the surprise [and in some cases relief] of both the character and the audience). Curiously, that marked the beginning of her crush on him, which would be a key plot in the late 9th and early 10th seasons.
- Everwood's first season ends with a cliffhanger: Andy operates on Colin, and the very last scene is him entering the waiting room and everybody standing up to learn if the surgery was successful or not. Season two begins with everybody having fun at the pool (including Colin), giving the impression things had been fine. Suddenly, we realise it was only Amy's day-dreaming during Colin's funeral.
- A similar case happened with Gilmore Girls: Luke and Lorelai had a lot of UST but nothing had happened between them during the first years of the show. One season (can't remember which one right now) begins with them already in a relationship and expecting a child; then she wakes up. Throughout the season, nothing happens between them, until at the very end when he's packing to go on a trip with his girlfriend and Lorelai comes in and asks him not to go. Then he wakes up.
- Played twice in one episode of Frasier. The first one has Frasier return to his radio show after an illness where Niles filled in for him. The dream ends when he's killed by an exploding control panel. The second one has him trying to take over the show while dazed on cold medication and making a fool of himself. After he wakes up, Martin and Daphne comfort him by invoking the trope. On their way out, they subvert the trope when Martin whispers to Daphne "When are we going to tell him it actually happened?"
- Roseanne essentially ended the series with a version of this.
- Battlestar Galactica. At the beginning of "Collaborators" Adama, Tigh and Roslin are telling Dr. Baltar that they forgive his actions on New Caprica. It's only when Roslin adds that she finds him desirable that a suddenly terrified Baltar realises he's still in deep s** t. Sure enough, he then wakes up on a Cylon baseship.
- At the end of the fourth season of Oz, Tobias Beecher is up for parole. His lawyer enters the room and tells Beecher the Parole Board have approved his release. Everyone cheers as he returns to Em City, and a last minute assassination attempt by the Aryans is barely averted. Beecher is then shown walking out into the sunshine (showing the exterior of Oswald Prison for the first time) then playing with his daughter and new girlfriend in the park. Then he wakes up in his cell, and we flashback to his lawyer telling him that the Parole Board did not approve his release.
- One episode of the Charlie Drake Britcom The Worker has the title character experiencing an increasingly surreal series of events which culminate in his arrival at a TV studio, where it turns out that he's the leading actor in a TV Sitcom called The Worker... Drake liked this plot so much he reused it in a later episode. A more conventional use of the trope occurs when the Worker gets hit on the head by a boomerang and has a surreal dream about Aborigines (possibly inspired by Drake's earlier comic song "My Boomerang Won't Come Back". Except this time it did).
- One episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch ends with this ending, negating the revocation of her witch's license. A flying banana, witnessed in an earlier dream sequence, tipped her off.
- Most events of the China Beach season 3 finale episode "Strange Brew" may have been a shared dream (after Colleen McMurphy and KC Koloski fall asleep on the helipad), a dream within a dream (as Colleen wakes up on the helipad at the end... only to then seem to wake up AGAIN in her bunk) or just a long, strange trip, since much of the show WAS set in The Sixties.
- In an episode of The 4400, main character Tom dreams of a world where the 4400 abductions never happened. As it turns out at the end, the "dream" was actually a power of one of the 4400, whose alternate reality powers allowed him to have an eight year relationship with her in an extremely short time, allowing them to know everything about each other despite only meeting once.
- Freddys Nightmares overused this to the point of inverting it. All Just a Dream was so ridiculously commonplace that the real twist was when an episode didn't turn out to be just some random character's dream/hallucination/daydream/DyingDream.
- Several Round the Twist episodes ended this way, as a result of being adapted into a continuing series from standalone stories. A particularly odd example is "Santa Claws," which not only has Pete falling asleep in the first scene, thus establishing All Just a Dream right away, but features a Framing Device within the dream - Pete telling the story of how his mouth was shrunk.
- Spoofed in the final episode of Ace of Cakes after building a giant cake replica of the BTTF Delorean the final scene has Duff noticing the lights in the flux capacitor are on the fritz so he opens it up and messes with the wires, next scene he wakes up at his job at a factory, turns to Geoff and tells him about the wierd dream he had 'where you and I worked at a cake shop making all sorts of wierd cakes"
- In Dollhouse, the events in the Attic are All Just a Dream. That does not make it any better. You'll forever be trapped in an endless loop of your worst fear, unlikely to ever wake up. All the while the Rossum Corporation is using your mind as a giant computer for their own ends. Even worst; one of the co-founders of Rossum dreams of an oncoming apocalypse, and he knows it almost 100% certain to become reality.
- "For Whom The Bell Trolls" in Season 1 of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. It's left ambiguous as to whether "The Wild Wipeout" in Power Rangers Ninja Storm was this or not.
- Growing Pains had two episodes featuring this. In "This is Your Life" (season 3, episode 10), Ben is afraid to get a tonsillectomy. So, he sneaks out after getting anesthesia, only to find that he's been replaced, since he didn't get the procedure done. Luckily, this was an anesthesia induced dream. In "Meet the Seavers" (season 6, episode 21), Ben gets in trouble, and wishes that he lived in a TV show, because then he wouldn't be in trouble. He wakes up the next morning to find that he is Jeremy Miller on a show called Meet the Seavers. This is a nightmare for him, as his family isn't a family anymore, and his house isn't his home. He wakes up to find that it was all just a dream.
- In The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Season 2, Episode 15, "The Suite Smell of Excess", Zack and Cody travel to an alternate universe. When they get back, they are told it was just a dream, and couldn't have been real. When they protest that they could not have shared the dream, their mother, Carey, says that it is possible, and such experiences are called folie à deux. Subverted when the twins go to bed, and she finds a quarter with the image of George Clooney on it, instead of George Washington.
- The entire premise of Choukou Senshi Changerion is this trope, which sparked a number of angry letters to Toei!
- The Boy Meets World episode where the characters get trapped in a slasher movie scenario is actually a dream Shawn has while sleeping through detention.
- The last episode, "Home", of The Legend of Dick and Dom starts with All Just a Dream- the heroes return home in triumph from their quest, to acclaim and cheering crowds... and then it all turns a bit odd... and then they wake up, to find the Big Bad has stolen the MacGuffin and put them to sleep (and apparently given them a communal dream) to delay their pursuit.
- The series Awake mixes this with Or Was It a Dream?, and dual realities as its main premise.
- The pentultimate episode of Without a Trace's third season does this, as Jack Malone is trying to deal with his demons.
- Kamen Rider Ryuki's Hyper Battle Video ends with this. For good reason too, since the Kamen Riders were acting like a Sentai team and Ryuki wound up crossing over with Kamen Rider Agito to fight an Evil Twin. With those outlandish concepts, how could it not be a dream?
- Aaron Carter's upbeat song "That's How I Beat Shaq" relates the singer's adventures as he beats Shaquille O'Neal in a one-on-one basketball match, and ends with him waking up in bed. ("But if it was a dream, and it wasn't real... how'd I get a jersey with the name O'Neal?")
- Mesozoic Mind, by the Charmers.
Last night I had a crazy dream, I fell out of my bed! I missed the floor entirely, I fell through time instead!
- Britney Spears, "Baby One More Time". What?
- Josh Turner, "Loretta Lynn's Lincoln" begins with the singer buying Loretta Lynn's Lincoln, ends with the singer being woken up from a nap in his pickup truck.
I heard a tappin' on the window as I woke up
- REM , "Losing My Religion":
I thought that I heard you laughing
- Porter Wagoner/Tom Jones's song "Green Green Grass of Home" has the subject of the song seemingly returning home after being away for a long time, enjoying his return, only to wake up in prison awaiting his execution, only to return home dead and buried there.
- The Billie Holiday version, and most subsequent English-language versions, of "Gloomy Sunday".
- Metallica: "Enter Sandman" and "Ride the Lightning".
- "One More Red Nightmare" by King Crimson, where a guy dreams he's on a plane that's about to crash. He wakes up to find that's he's on a road trip on a Greyhound Bus.
- All the video of the song "Thriller" of Michael Jackson is this, or a subversion?
- The video to The Scorpions song "Someone Like You".
- The music video for Gorillaz's "Dare" is a Dream Within a Dream.
- Converge's music video for "Eagles Become Vultures" probably applies, though it's more of a waking fantasy than a dream.
- The video for Three Days Grace's "Animal I Have Become".
- The music video for Evanescence's "Bring Me To Life" suggests this—the main action is interspersed with shots of Amy asleep and apparently dreaming, and the video ends with her asleep.
- The music video for Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl" ends with her on the bed next to someone whom we are to assume is her boyfriend.
- The same thing happens in "Hot & Cold", though that was a daydream.
- Airbourne's "Blonde, Bad and Beautiful" turns out to be this, in a video that was filled with alcohol, stripping and a bit of pole-dancing.
- The Barenaked Ladies' video for "Shoebox" is a dream of the girl who sneaks out on her date.
- Dokken's video for Dream Warriors winds up being a nightmare that Freddy Krueger is having.
- The video for Live's "Run To The Water" turns out to be Ed Kowalczyk's dream.
- The video for Miley Cyrus' "Start All Over" is established as being a dream in the very beginning; it starts with her going to sleep and waking up in the dream world, and ends with her going to sleep in the dream world and waking up in the real world. Then pictures she took while in the dream world start coming out of the printer.
- The video for Maroon 5's "Makes Me Wonder" features this. With gratuitous Fan Service
Myths & Religion
- Certain branches of Hindu philosophy hold that because truth is unchanging, and the world is constantly changing, then the world is not real. Hence, Real Life is just a sort of dream state.
- Captain Scarlet has an episode where The Mysterons actually come to Cloudbase to attack it, leading to Captain Scarlet's death and the destruction of Cloudbase. We then find out this was all a dream one of the Angels was having after she'd been shot down over the desert earlier in the episode. When repackaged in a Compilation Movie for the American market, the episode ended up with the Reset Button treatment.
- Gerry Anderson is all over this one (he was once quoted as saying "I wish somebody would make a film of my dreams"). There are at least two episodes of Stingray, one of Joe90, two of UFO as noted under Live-Action TV, and one of Space1999 where the events of the episode turn out to be dreams, hallucinations or implanted visions. The Thunderbirds episode "Security Hazard" manages to invert this by having International Rescue convince a boy that his real-life trip to Tracy Island has only been a dream.
- There's an episode of Adventures in Odyssey in which one of the children characters goes on an adventure in the Imagination Station (a virtual reality machine) that seems to be the same story over and over again, just set in different genres. At the end of the episode it's revealed the character is actually in a coma, reliving the events that put him in a coma, with the "bad guy" being Death coming for him and the friendly helper in his dream actually being a guardian angel trying to prevent an early death for him.
- Comedian Emo Phillips inverts this trope when he talks about a dream he had. He describes a long series of really bizarre, Emo-Phillipian events, that ends with him getting knocked unconscious. "And that's when I had my dream...."
Trading Card Games
- Hecatomb had a literal "It Was Only A Dream" card which can eliminate practically any card your opponent has out, essentially making them have never happened.
- Played with in Angels in America, with regards to Prior's visions and Harper's hallucinations. The work as a whole, for what it's worth, is not.
- The famous ballet The Nutcracker usually ends with the curtain closing on Clara awakening in her home with the eponymous Nutcracker in her arms, and realizing that all of her adventures were a dream. Some productions stick a little closer to the source material and subvert this trope instead when the Prince turns out to be Drosselmeyer's nephew, whose father had orchestrated the entire series of events in order to break the curse on him.
- Toyed with in the Red Shift: Interplanetry Do-Gooder radioplay episode "Havoc Over Holowood" (available here), where the entire episode turns out to have been a story Lumpy wrote about his friends and was reading to them.
- Done well in Erich Wolfgang Korngold's opera Die tote Stadt ("The Dead City"). At the finale, it is revealed that much of the story is the dream of the protagonist Paul. However, this experience allows Paul to realize how destructive his obsession over his dead wife can be, thus compelling him to let go of his past, leaving the eponymous "Dead City" and starting anew.
- In Avenue Q, Rod overhears Nicky talking in his sleep, but at the end of the song "Fantasies come true" we find out that Rod was talking in his sleep.
- Shakespeare played with this. Most of the main characters in A Midsummer Nights Dream believe this to be the case (or they just decide to pretend it is). Then, in the final lines, Puck advises the audience to do the same if they disliked the play.
If we shadows have offended,
- Alan Ayckbourn's 1985 play Woman in Mind. The entire play. From start to finish. Really.
- In The Legend of Zelda Links Awakening, the whole game is a dream of the Wind Fish. In this case, it is actually learned about three-quarters of the way through the game, rather than right at the end, and the bosses of the last few dungeons constantly remind the player of it. This adds more emotion, as Link knows that the island and its inhabitants will disappear once the Wind Fish wakes up. And it gets REALLY weird if the player beats the game without ever dying; if that's pulled off, after the credits Marin is seen in the form of a seagull, reflecting a wish she had told Link about earlier. Word of God confirmed that the events of the game DID acually happen. Basically, the events were a dream, but the real world and the dream world were colliding at the time. Therefore, the events of the game erase themselves once Link saves the day and the events become a dream but said events but have happened otherwise existence would have collapsed. So in other words, this is a rare example in which the events were a dream, yet the dream itself was real.
- Phantom Hourglass looks like it pulls this in the ending cutscene, only to have Link pull out one of the artifacts he found... and then see one of the characters he met. Judging from the dialogue near the end of the game, it's more likely an alternate universe.
- In Super Mario Bros 2, upon completing the game, the characters celebrate... and then we see that Mario has been dreaming the entire game. Seems hokey today, but at the time (1988) having ANY sort of twist ending in a game was pretty revolutionary. Most of the enemies themselves and other elements do exist in the Mario universe, though, indicating that the dream is based on what the titular character has seen through his life. Wart was most likely an actual creation from Mario's imagination, though.
- The ending of The Magical Quest reveals that Mickey Mouse has been dreaming the entire adventure all along. Oddly enough one of the bosses in the sequel is a painting of Emperor Pete, the final boss from the first game, with music and all.
- Mass Effect 3 turns out to be the conclusion of a three-game long bedtime story being told to a kid by his grandpa about "The Shepard that saved the galaxy," though this doesn't necessarily mean it didn't happen, just that it might not have happened the way he said. Interesting note: If Shepard chose the "synthesis" option and merged organic and synthetic life, thus ending the cycle, the pair have slightly more robotic tones to their voice.
- Taken very, very seriously and sadly in Final Fantasy X, where Tidus, his father Jecht and their home Zanarkand are all the dream of a place that Spira, the country the game is set in, destroyed millennia ago. More interestingly, the dream is being dreamed by dead people. Also (according to FFX-2 which retcons some things) it turns out that by the end of the game, Jecht and Tidus's actions have made them real.
- The SNES game Porky Pig's Haunted Holiday centers around Porky Pig having nightmares, and you having to guide him out of them.
- Twisted Metal: Black seems like an Alternate Continuity to the main Twisted Metal series. In fact, various in-game hints reveal that the whole game occurs inside Sweet Tooth's head.
- Roadkill's ending in Twisted Metal: Head On adds more Mind Screw. It's suggested that the regular Twisted Metal continuity takes place inside the head of Sweet Tooth's alternate personality, Marcus Kane.
- In Twisted Metal 2, Marcus Kane (driver of Roadkill) can see through the Fourth Wall and is convinced the world is fake. His wish is to get out, and when Calypso grants it, he wakes up in a hospital bed, surrounded by the other characters - the game was a dream he had in a coma. But then Calypso's eyes appear, hinting that the Twisted Metal world is real and he's sent Kane into a dream.
- Hong Meiling's storyline in Touhou Hisoutensoku starts pretty much normally... and then characters start acting out of character (Reimu apparently oozes evil) and the background goes progressively from Scenery Porn to colorful doodles. After the final showdown with a giant catfish, it cuts to Sakuya and Patchouli finding her sleeping in the library.
- The fan-made game Concealed the Conclusion implies that everything in all the games is a coma dream Reimu and Marisa shared. It works surprisingly well, given the general tone of the games, even if CtC itself is very, very dark. The Extra and Phantasm stages confirm that at least something of Gensoukyou survives after they wake up.
- At the very least, the manga version, and most likely, the visual novel version of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni's Onikakushi-hen subverts this trope nicely.
- Possibly the most shocking AND depressing ending in a children's video game, the ending to Drawn to Life: The Next Chapter for the DS... Basically, all of the adorable animal characters in the village are killed, G-Rated style (they fade away). One of the characters, a boy named Mike, fades away last. The voice of Mike's older sister Heather is heard asking the Creator, the god-like figure in the game to bring her brother back, which at first seems like a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming. Then, her message changes and she was really trying to say, "God, just bring back my little brother to me." God? Like the god that people in real life pray to? That doesn't sound right at all does it? It is now revealed that Mike and Heather are actually humans, and the whole story with the village of cute animal things was all just a dream that Mike was having. It wasn't a regular dream either: it turns out that Mike and his family were in a car crash, which killed his parents and injured Heather. As Mike awakes from his coma, he is tearfully hugged by Heather, who has bandages over half her face. This is parallel to the Heather in his dream who had a half-shadowy face. Mari and Jowee, two other animal characters who were actually more important to the game's story, are shown to have been two plush toys that Mike won at a fair before the crash.
- One of the Multiple Endings to Wario Land II has Wario, about to reclaim his treasure, falling into a pit trap before waking up back in his bed from the beginning of the game. The ending credits feature the invasion of the castle from the beginning happening for real.
- Chrono Trigger plays with this. After a boss battle, a time warp fills the room, sucking in all the characters. The screen turns black, and we're treated to a modified version of the game's opening, suggesting that the portion of the game you had just been playing through was a dream. It then turns out that's what was just a dream, and Chrono wakes up in 65,000,000 BC.
- In one of the endings of Silent Hill Homecoming, Alex is revealed to be a mental patient and the whole game was just a delusion, similar the Bad+ ending (Dying Dream) in Silent Hill 1.
- Ditto for Shattered Memories, where the plot is just a fantasy conjured up by Harry's daughter, and Harry died in a car accident 18 years earlier.
- Even Samurai Warriors 2 does this. At the beginning of Nagamasa Azai's last stage in his story mode, the Battle of Kanegasaki, the story up to that point is revealed to be a dream he was having right before the battle. The entire thing being brought on due to how torn he was between helping his friends, the Asakura, and potentially betraying Oichi's love by attacking her brother, Nobunaga. Of course most of 'final chapters' of story mode are events that never happened due to the historical character dying, captured, or otherwise defeated. Or are nostalgic "best times" events that happen earlier in the chronology. This same game also features an entire sequence in Magoichi Sakais story mode in which he 'dreams' (or Fuma's ninja trickery) of bandits and chaos overwhelming the country after Nabounaga Oda's death.
- Strong Bads Cool Game for Attractive People sort of pulls this in the final episode. Having slain Trogdor, whose very existence was causing the entire Homestar Runner world to fuse with the Videlectrix video game world, Strong Bad wakes up outside the Trogdor! arcade cabinet with everyone standing by him. He starts telling them about this wild dream he had pointing out how everyone standing there was part of it—until he notices that Trogdor is standing right there. Trogdor immediately proceeds to run amok while the credits roll.
- The whole point to Kagetsu Tohya. Shiki figures out more and more often than he's living in a dream right now where days repeat instantly. Yesterday is the same as today and today is the same as tomorrow. Of course, everyone inside is actually apparently the same people he knows and even have their own versions of a nightmare ie. Dark Elesia for Ciel. Also, Len, who is making the dream. It's just a dream, but Shiki can't leave until Len dies (he doesn't want that) or he can make a contract with her so she doesn't feel the need to maintain the dream. In the original game, Shiki has dreams of himself killing people yet wakes up in the morning right where he was without having left his bed. Only the people he saw die are really dead. Even worse, the one time he doesn't remember his "dream" he wakes up with his hands and arms absolutely covered with blood, because he really did go out and kill people that night.
- There's also the first Eroge scene in the original game, which turns out to be All Just A Wet Dream.
- In the Freedom Ending of Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne after Kagutsuchi is defeated and the energy of creation is released, the hero wakes up in his own bed. Although considering the letter from the teacher regretting what she did and thanking him, and the message presumably from Lucifer warning that in time, there'll be another adversary and to stay strong when it happens, it might also be Or Was It a Dream?.
- Mission Critical does a very interesting version of this trope. The events that took place during the vast majority of the game were all a dream, but also really happened. Near the end, you discover that time travel into the past is impossible, but that information can be sent back. As a result, you basically trigger a dream in your past self that outlines everything that has happened in the game, giving you the chance to Set Right What Once Went Wrong.
- The Linear RPG has a dose of this as a component of its overall Stylistic Suck.
- The Japanese version of Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere (of the Ace Combat series) featured a branching storyline with five separate endings; unlocking all five would show a short cutscene where it's revealed the player character is an AI that has been put through a series of simulations by a questionably-sane professor as preparation for carrying out his plan to avenge his late wife.
- American McGee's Alice, being the Darker and Edgier unofficial sequel to Alice in Wonderland that it is, presents its twisted version of Wonderland as a view of Alice's traumatized psyche, into which Alice has retreated after her parents' death in a house fire. The game then centers around Alice trying to overcome her guilt and leave Wonderland safe and sane.
- Subverted in Visions and Voices; no one (except maybe Marlowe) can remember or understand what happened, but it really did happen.
- The Forgotten Dream endings of Yo Jin Bo have Sayori waking up at home, alone, in her own bed, and barely able to remember the guy she fell in love with, assuming the entire adventure to have been a dream.
- Ling Xiaoyu's ending in 6 looks like a Squee moment for Xiaoyu and Jin shippers, with Xiaoyu succesfully talking Jin out of throwing himself off a skyscraper and going as far as to Cooldown Hug him... cut to her in bed in her underwear hugging Panda, who knocks her awake.
- In Tag Tournament 2, Lars Alexandersson's ending is a dream of himself, the Mishimas (Heihachi, Kazuya, Jin) and the Kazamas (Jun and Asuka) in a... very unusual family dinner where he ends up as a borderline Butt Monkey. Then he wakes up in an helicopter, heading to a mission.
- In A Witchs Tale, the entire first playthrough is this, brought on by Queen Alice to test Liddell. The New Game+ is the real adventure, and contains story elements not seen in the first one.
- In SpongeBob SquarePants: Creature from the Krusty Krab, the entire story is found to be just a dream of SpongeBob's, then just a dream of Patrick's, and then just a dream of Plankton's, and it goes on and on after that. Until it turns out it was just Gary dreaming. .
- Occasionally, this is the case in the 1999 PS 1 game The Adventures of Alundra or just Alundra among fans. The twist, however, is that the dream is not the protagonist's. Instead, he enters other people's dreams and slay whatever monsters may be invading their dreams, trying to kill them. Most of the unnecessarily complicated dungeons are actually dreams. Stupid villagers not being able to dream of some puzzles that don't necessarily require the player to consult a walkthrough.
- And even crazier: Whatever amounts of money or items Alundra finds inside other people's dreams, he gets to keep when he leaves them.
- A common fan interpretation of Rule of Rose; the events were real, but messed by the protagonist's subconsciousness: Jennifer was a young child, not a 19-year old teenager during the actual events, the events did not take place on a giant airship and the imps were just creepy dolls and doodles and/or other children wearing masks, not inhuman monsters. Unfortunately the Stray Dog was real.
- In the Konami arcade game Devastators, the entire events of the game were actually parts of a movie somebody was watching.
- The chapter Sleepless Night from Heavy Rain turns out to be a Dream Within a Dream when Madison wakes up after having her throat slashed.
- The opening to Dragon Quest VI starts off as this... until you learn that what happened in the Hero's dream actually happened, and the world the Hero awakens in is actually a Dream Land.
- Acceleration of Suguri has the "Pudding Deity" storyline, which is a dream of Saki's, revolving around a war over the "ultimate weapon": Pudding.
- Fate/hollow ataraxia ...Maybe. What's dream and what is real can be difficult to separate.
- Corpse Party has this as one of its Wrong Ends. It turns out to be a case of Or Was It a Dream? and Groundhog Day Loop.
- Conversed in Escape From St Marys. Two teachers disagree on whether it's an acceptable ending for a story, and the wo turn to blows.
- Happens in SNK Gals Fighters for the Neo-Geo Pocket Color, specifically in Mai Shiranui's ending. Winning the tournament and the K' Talisman, means somehow that she can now marry Andy, who appears just in time... to "reveal" that he has been secretly a woman all of these years. Shocked, Mai awakes to reality.
- SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy uses this for some endings. Actually, almost all of them.
- This episode of Dinosaur Comics satirizes the trope quite nicely.
- As does this Narbonic strip.
- The brief "Magic Flap" arc from Sluggy Freelance ends like this.
- The Perry Bible Fellowship sets this up, then subverts it.
- Eight Bit Theater had one of these as a fake final episode, since its author loves jokes that are on the reader. Except that what was intended to cause Internet Backdraft instead resulted in numerous fans genuinely pleased with the horrible ending, as it fit the comic perfectly, and thanking the author for years of free entertainment.
- YU+ME: dream has a Wham! Episode (and Broken Base inducer) in the middle when this happens, leading to a Coming Out Story having a Genre Shift; instead of the usual dream revelation being at the end and nothing in the real world having changed, the dream is the turning point of the story and the main character is greatly affected by what happened. The comic was conceived after its author experienced this trope for real: she met a girl and fell in love, only to wake up after what felt like months of being with her.
- Silent Hill Promise uses this in the beginning, before getting to the real horror.
- This Cyanide and Happiness comic plays with this trope.
- TRU-Life Adventures is currently suggesting everything that happened since the first time travel story has been Bob's dream.
- This Touhou Nekokayou comic turns Concealed the Conclusion's All Just a Dream into a Mind Screw, simply by switching the "all" and the "dream."
- Featherlike, from the man who brought you this popular 4chan comic.
- Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures manages to make this actually downright chilling. The character dreaming is explicitly unable to dream.
- In Bittersweet Candy Bowl, The chapter "Wonderland". Lucy "wakes up" at the beginning of the chapter and the chapter before it was an April Fool's comic, making it all just a dream as well.
- Chapter 59 was All Just A Daydream. Paulo's. Best. Daydream. Ever.
- Questionable Content #1169 is a good example of this, and also a good example of a Dream Within a Dream.
- Used and then subverted in this strip of Dark Legacy Comic.
- In Soul Symphony the protagonist purposely makes another character believe that his experience of using magic to fight evil demons was this. It really wasn't.
- Grace of El Goonish Shive, goes through her first day of highschool then wakes up disappointed that it was a dream but still hopeful the experience would be close.
- This happens twice in My Milk Toof with the episode of "villainous ickle" who goes around breaking everything and when they go fishing they fall asleep and dream of catching a fish.
- Evil Diva: Victorious and popular, as she isn't. Apparently you should Be Careful What You Wish For.
- Happens every year in Rhapsodies with Kevin getting shanghaied into helping with Santa's Christmas rush. This always ends with him waking up... Though occasionally there's a few details lying around to make the audience wonder.
- In Nip and Tuck, hoping things turned out well.
- In Minion Comics, there's a short dream sequence involving Dingus's fantasies about predators, aliens, and the holy grail.
- In Greg, Greg dreams he's a swashbuckling slayer of beasts and a suave ladies man, too bad the reality is so different, here.
- In Ls Empire, the Zombie Apocalypse during the April Fools Day special was actually a movie directed by M. Night Shyamalan.
- More than once this has been used for Survival of the Fittest characters, usually in imagining a rescue. However, on one occasion it was used to make it appear as if a particular character had died, only for it to be revealed that it had been a dream.
- Most of the second half of The Third Night takes places during Gaven's hallucinagen-fueled Mushroom Samba. It's an open question what events actually happen to him and what's all just in his head.
- The Nostalgia Critic's review of Surf Ninjas, in which every stupid scene (but one) was greeted with increasingly fervent cries of "Genius!", was eventually revealed to be a dream.
- This concept is an enemy in Improbable Island.
- Project Million is revealed to be a variant of this; the events that we watched were just a video made by the people starring in it.
- Parodied in the Homestar Runner short "HREMAIL 2000". Homestar puts on a regular puppet show for Marzipan using his shoes, which "gets cancelled after the third season":
"You mean the whole last season was a dream?! Gimme a break! They shoulda just had babies, and then the babies shoulda gotten married."
- Red vs. Blue has this in episode 28.5, "The Last Episode Ever". In it, Simmons comes back as a ghost, but is really Old Man Caboose, Tucker and Doc are running away to get married and Lopez is speaking French. The end reveals the whole thing was a dream by Church...
Church: Huh? Oh, thank God. It was all a dream. All a dream. All a dreamiemiemiemiemiemiemie...
- This was also used for a non-canon alternate ending on the Season Five DVD, where Church had been knocked out instead of killed from Sheila's attack in episode eight and had dreamed up the other ninety-two episodes, except he forgot all about his green-armoured teammate, Jacobs.
- Another of the alternate endings did something very similar except, instead of being a dream, the whole series was an X Box Live game played by the characters.
- The Onion episode Today Now!: Save Money By Taking A Vacation Entirely In Your Mind deals with using this trope to your advantage.
- An episode of Ranma Abridged features Akane sleepwalking and causing chaos as she goes through several dreams. After waking her up, they discuss how ridiculous the episode was, until it turns out to be Ranma's dream.
- At the end of some cutscenes in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 Special Edition, people are seen waking up. This has no bearing on gameplay whatsoever.
- Things Mr. Welch Is No Longer Allowed to Do In An RPG
598. Any adventure that ends up with my character being worshiped as an orc god was just a dream. Retroactively if need be.
- Naturally, The Simpsons has parodied this numerous times.
- In the season six episode entitled "Lisa's Rival", Lisa is competing against a new student, Allison, for the first chair saxophone position when she faints in the middle of it. After "regaining consciousness", she's told that Allison got the chair and Lisa screams. The screen then blacks out and she really wakes up... only to be told the exact same thing with the added disclaimer, "And believe me, this is not a dream!"
- In the episode after Mr. Burns is shot, Smithers wakes up in his apartment to find Mr. Burns in the shower, perfectly fine, and concludes with relief that it was all a dream. Burns then informs Smithers that they are the stars of a 60s detective show called Speedway Squad, at which point Smithers wakes up again and realises, "Wait, that was all a dream!"—Mr. Burns really has been shot. Smithers then remarks, "Hey, then maybe I haven't become a hideous drunken wreck, and --" only to realise that he's in the exact same state he started the episode in, and his mouth still tastes like an ashtray.
- Even the specific tendency of soap operas to rely on this trope is parodied. In one episode, Moe lands a role on a soap called It Never Ends, only to stumble upon a future script in which his character is killed off. He angrily confronts the producer.
Producer: (holds up script) You idiot! Pink pages always mean a dream!
- Happens in "Treehouse of Horror" episodes which are already A Day At the Bizarro. In TOH II, Homer has a nightmare that ends with Mr. Burns' body being crushed by a robot. He awakes to find his boss' head stitched to his shoulder. In TOH V, Bart finds the events of "Nightmare Cafeteria" were just a dream. Marge assures him he has nothing to fear except the fog that turns people inside out. In TOH XVI, "Bartificial Intelligence" is a dream of Homer's while possessed by the devil. He's just happy that gets him out of work.
- In the Little Lulu cartoon "Musica-Lulu", Lulu sneaks out to play baseball instead of practicing her violin, and when knocked out by a foul ball, she wakes up in a land of musical instruments, who arrest, try and imprison her for her misdeed. When she breaks out of the jail, she is chased and terrorized by the musical instruments. It turns out to be a dream.
- "The Sting": Fry dives in front of a space bee about to sting Leela, gets impaled and injected with venom, and dies. Leela who comes out of the incident with only a "boo-boo", tops, begins feeling horribly guilty for the loss of Fry, and slowly descends into insanity, going through one Dream Within a Dream after another. At the climax, the walls are talking to her, bees are materializing out of nowhere, and Leela tries to steal Fry's corpse to remind herself that he's really dead. There's also a musical number in which the other characters serenade her with the song "Don't Worry, Be(e) Happy." It turns out it was all a coma-induced dream; Fry had come out of the incident relatively unscathed, save for the gaping hole in his chest, which was easily repaired by future-medicine, while Leela got all the venom from the bee and nearly died.
- In another episode, Bender is forced to get an upgrade to make him more compatible with Planet Express' advanced new robot. He breaks free and ends up on a deserted island populated by outdated robots, then returns to wage war on technology. The whole storyline was actually an artificially induced Aesop caused by the upgrade, resulting in the following exchange:
Bender: But I destroyed the technology of the world! I ran on the beach and felt the sand between my foot-cups!
- In the first "Anthology of Interest" episode it is revealed at the end that the entire episode, consisting of three scenarios generated by the professor's What-If machine, was, in fact, a scenario generated by the professor's What-If machine. Strangely enough, the What-If machine seems to know things that no one else does, like the fact Fry not coming to the future would cause a universe-destroying paradox, because he is his own grandpa. And the second Anthology of Interest featured a segment that really was a dream, instead of a What-If, as the writers didn't wish to reveal Leela's true heritage at that point of the series. Also, the Professor eventually invents the "Finglonger" in real life. This all seems to imply that the What-Ifs are 'canonical hypotheticals' that would have actually happened that way if the setup was true, making them more For Want of a Nail than All Just a Dream.
- Family Guy
- The absurd (even for them) Y2K episode, "Da Boom", ends in live-action with Pam Ewing of Dallas waking to Bobby in the shower and relating the episode. Bobby has no idea what Family Guy is. (This sequence features the real live Victoria Principal and Patrick Duffy.)
- A variation occurred in the episode "Lois kills Stewie." When Peter kills Stewie before he could act on his chance to kill Lois, the ending reveals that it was all just a computer simulation designed by Stewie of what would happen had he successfully conquered the world.
- In Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy, "Take This Ed and Shove It", the finale of the fourth season (and originally of the series) ended with the elderly Eddy discovering that the whole show has been apparently a series of dreams about his childhood. The canonical implications of this are dubious at best, as the show has been renewed for two more seasons; though it explains things such as Flanderization, the cast never leaving the cul-de-sac, how we never see any characters but the main cast even at school, and just the general vagueness of setting throughout the show.
- In a season episode, Ed has a nightmare about Jonny. But then the episode ends with Jonny waking up in horror. So Ed had a dream that he was scared of Jonny, but then it's really Jonny having a dream that Ed had a dream that...he's scared of Jonny...uhm.
- South Park
- First appeared in the episode "Flashbacks", which twisted the conventional Clip Show by having each clip end with a completely different situation from its original episode, ending every time with a reference to ice cream among other things. This was all framed with the kids telling stories while the bus lies on the edge of a cliff. At separate points, they flash back on a Fonzie stunt they witnessed (which never happened on the show) and an earlier moment in the framing device itself. When the bus finally falls into the chasm, it inexplictibly lands on a giant tub of ice cream. All of this, including an unrelated subplot surrounding Ms. Crabtree, were all part of a dream by Eric Cartman which ended with him eating beetles and ice cream once again being brought up, thus revealing that the entire episode was a dream within a dream conjured by Stan. ("Dude. That's a pretty fucked up dream." "Yeah, I must be having some real emotional problems.") After that was established, however, the episode returns one last time to Ms. Crabtree's subplot, where her love interest Marcus — or was it Mitch?—tells her that he can't stay, as everything on her side of the story was just a kid's dream. Her response? "I know, but let me just pretend as long as I can." (Aha! So Miss Crabtree was imagining that Stan was imagining that Cartman was imagining that the bus was teetering on the edge of a cliff! Clear as mud.)
- Subverted at the end of the "Imaginationland" series of episodes. Butters wakes up and starts telling his parents about the dream he had that he saved Imaginationland. His parents tell him that it really happened and they read all about it in the morning paper.
- Also subverted earlier on, in the first chapter. Kyle wakes up and assumes that the Muslim terrorist attack on Imaginationland and Butters being left there was all a crazy dream, but when he calls up Stan, he finds out that he had the exact same dream. Then Butters's parents come into Stan's house worrying about Butters. Finally, the Pentagon reports that our imagination was taken over by terrorists, complete with a videotape showing proof. And Cartman still wants his balls sucked by Kyle.
- Also subverted in the season 3 episode "Spontaneous Combustion". Cartman was tied to a cross for a crucifixion re-enactment, but his friends forgot about him and left him up there. A couple of days later, Chef finds him and takes him off the cross. The following conversation is from the car ride home.
Chef: Eric, I have to tell you something and it's really gonna bum you out.
- An episode of Batman the Animated Series has Bruce Wayne waking up in a world where he isn't Batman. He eventually realizes that it is a dream (because some people's dreams work in such a way that they can't read anything in a dream) and ends it by jumping off the clock tower. Apart from the reading issue, wish fulfillment dreams don't work on Batman; a world where Bruce Wayne is happy? His subconscious knows that's impossible.
- Another episode has Batgirl getting hit by Scarecrow's fear gas and hallucinating a scenario where she dies, and Gordon goes to war against Batman. The dream ends when Bane, who had just been electrocuted to near-death, uses his last breath to toss the Bat-signal at Batman and Gordon, knocking them both off the top of Police Headquarters.
- The Rugrats episode "Pickles Vs. Pickles" was about Drew dreaming about Angelica suing him for making her eat broccoli.
- The episode "In the Dreamtime" begins with Chuckie waking up from a dream, ending like this. His father explains that there is nothing to fear as nothing can hurt you in a dream. In the next scene Chuckie explains his dream to the babies only for that to be revealed to be a dream. When he next talks to them, he decides that he is still in a dream. Yet when he gets hurt, he realizes it isn't a dream. Chaz then puts his son to bed leading to the final scene of the episode.
- Subverted in the Looney Tunes cartoon Water, Water Every Hare. At the end of the cartoon, Bugs Bunny wakes up in his bed and thinks the events of the cartoon were all just a dream. Then Gossamer, who Bugs had made small earlier, comes in on a boat his size and says, "Oh yeah? That's what you think!"
- Played straight in the early Merrie Melody Smile, Darn ya, Smile.
- In A Waggily Tale, a boy who mistreats his dog is sent to his room by his mother, and he falls asleep dreaming he's a dog; in the end he learns what a dog's life can be like, and learns to be nice to him.
- In a final twist, the boy's dog remarks, "In truth, I'm just another little boy having a dream."
- Scrap Happy Daffy (1943) is a cartoon-short-length dream Daffy Duck has that he's defending his scrap drive pile against Nazis and proceeds to throttle them with superhuman powers. Or was it a dream?
Nazis: (in their sub, on top of Daffy's scrap pile) Hey! Next time you dream, leave us out of it!
- Brutally subverted in The Venture Brothers When Billy Quizboy wakes from having a dream, he's all ready to launch into a And You Were There scene when he suddenly realizes the events from the dream were true, screaming you bastards! while assaulting his so-called "friends."
- But played straight several times in the Christmas special episode.
- Hank Venture also tries to believe that a mystery involving his missing father and bodyguard and an impending nuclear holocaust is all "just a dream". It's not.
- The Phineas and Ferb episode "Phineas and Ferb Get Busted" revolves around Candace actually managing to bust Phineas and Ferb, resulting in them being sent to an extremely strict reform school where they are brainwashed. She soon realizes how much she misses them and, along with Jeremy, ventures to break them out. At the end of the escapade, it's revealed that it was a dream Candace was having. She discusses it with the family, which results in them guessing that Perry is a secret agent, causing government agents to bust in and take them away while Perry is told he'll have to be relocated... and this turns out to be just a bad dream that Perry is having.
- The actual moment she realises what's going (the first time), is hilarious.
Candace: Oh, I get it. This is all a dream!
- SpongeBob SquarePants has an episode where Mrs. Puff goes to jail. At the end, it's revealed that it was all a dream, and Spongebob is going to jail. Except that was all a dream, and she's in the boat with a random person from prison. After that, she just gives up, and the episode ends.
- In the Invader Zim episode "Dib's Wonderful Life of Doom", Dib receives supernatural powers from the alien race of the Meekrob, to help him stop Zim and the Irken invasion. The episode portrays Dib's following life being a celebrated Hero and the most successful paranormal investigator in the world, until old age, where in a TV interview he confesses having tossed a muffin at Zim in the school cantine once, upon which the moderator pulls of a mask revealing Zim's face laughing at him. Dib wakes up in Zim's laboratory realizing all of this was just a dream, programmed and simulated by Zim.
- Tom and Jerry has one too. In "Heavenly Puss," Tom wangs his head and kills himself where he ends up in train station in Heaven. The boarder however won't let him through due to his chasing Jerry all the time but give Tom a change to redeem himself by getting Jerry to sign a forgiveness certificate, otherwise Tom will end up in Hell tormented by a devil looking Spike. Tom is then sent back and tries everything he can to get Jerry to sign the thing. In the end though he doesn't make the deadline and it looks like he's doomed...till he wakes up and more than glad to find it was a dream. Even kissing his worst enemy to show his gratefulness.
- An episode of Rocko's Modern Life deals with Heffer choking to death on a chicken ribcage and ends up going to Cow Heck for his punishment for being a glutton; the entire episode turns out to be a dream.
- One episode of Kim Possible, "Rewriting History", repeatedly lampshaded the increasingly unlikely coincidence that all the cast's grandparents were involved in a plot at the start of the century, with a last minute solution that "seemed like something from a dream" - because that's what it all was. Which is sad, because Generation Xerox plot seemed pretty cool. Though, oddly, the episode did end with a rather absurd Generation Xerox being canon.
- Squidbillies plays with this trope in the first episode. It first portrays Rusty spending his childhood being raised and repeatedly mauled by wolves, and then blowing them up along with him when he just had enough. That was revealed to be all just a dream, and then shows him as a party-hardy drinker who goes to rock concerts. That is also just a dream, and then shows him still living with Early's sister Lil (which was before all the dreams), who calls him out on his lack of manhood. That, too, was just a dream. Rusty raping some small creature... that really happened.
- Eek the Cat has an episode called "Rocketship to Jupiter", in which Eek gets a large box dropped onto him by Sharky, and ends up in the Squishy Bears World, where the Squishy Bears leave their rocketship and house. He saves the Squishy Bears, but is met by the Giant Who Thinks Bears Might Taste Good, so he tricks the Giant when it's raining (by Professor Wiggly). After that, Eek and the Squishy Bears try to fly to Jupiter on their rocketship, but the lever was mistakenly switched to the sun by one of the bears, so they fly to the sun instead, where Eek is about to burn. But then, Eek was suddenly waken up by JB, who serves him a bowl of cat food. He realizes it was all a dream.
- In "Eek Goes to the Hot Spot", while being chased by Sharky, Eek is run over by an oncoming truck and gets killed, and thus he mistakenly gets sent to hell (instead of heaven). There, Eek confronts its ruler, Fido, for a long time, who forces him to clean out an infinitely large litterbox for three seconds. Then Eek finishes this task, and happily goes to heaven (with two angels flying down and carrying him away), waving goodbye to Fido. But just then, Eek wakes up from all this lying in the backyard, and gets chased by Sharky once again.
- Lampshaded in an episode of Sheep in The Big City where two scenes turns out to be dream sequences—much to the annoyance of the Narrator, who complains about this being "lazy writing!"
- In the "Leave it to Munchy" story of PB and J Otter, Munchy Beaver prevents all of Lake Hoohaw from being flooded, but it turns out to be just a dream. This becomes very obvious when the characters are shown freely swimming about, talking to each other and even doing the iconic "Noodle Dance" underwater without any special gear.
- In the episode "On the Run" of Sagwa the Chinese Siamese Cat, the protagonist and her friend accidentally wondered into a town where cats are illegal by getting on a traveling puppet show cart. After various scary scenes that would've blown several fuses on the brain of toddler-aged viewers to which the show is targeted, the entire prior happenings are revealed to be a dream. The owner of the puppet show noticed them halfway through the journey and had turned around to return the protagonists to their own town.
- Every single episode of the French animated short Ernest le vampire ends with the title vampire waking up from a Catapult Nightmare.
- Danger Mouse: In the episode "Danger Mouse Saves The World...Again," things kept getting worse until DM was stuck in a room full of bombs and explosives—then his alarm woke him up.
- The end of Disney Wartime Cartoon Der Fuehrer's Face.
- This happens a couple of times on Pinky and The Brain: first in a surreal episode where Brain creates numerous black-and-white duplicates of himself to form a Celtic dance troupe, and later in "You'll Never Eat Food Pellets in This Town Again," which portrays the two mice as actors playing in their own show, which then slides downhill due to Executive Meddling. (The latter, though, ends in an Or Was It? moment.)
- Happens in an episode of Cat Dog, where Cat plans to make Dog and Shriek fall for each other, hoping that the Greaser Dogs will thereby leave him alone. The rest of the episode is Cat's dream of what the consequences are: Dog marries Shriek, which causes the Greaser Dogs to move into their house and generally making Cat's life a living hell.
- The better part of episode 20 in Wakfu, which thoroughly confused the non-French-speaking people watching it without subtitles, though it could only have been one other trope if not this one.
- Re Boot episode "Number 7". A Mind Screw episode which directly parodies The Prisoner, including a version of that shows opening sequence. Given what happens during the Mind Screw, this trope is a welcome sight.
- American Dad has one when Stan accidentally crapped himself in a pool party and concocts a scheme to get Barack Obama to do the same. It was a dream moments before he actually jumps... and craps himself. It's implied that this was not the first time he's done it too.
- The Jimmy Two-Shoes episode "Panda-Monium".
- In The Smurfs, Lazy, Brainy, and Greedy enter a paradise world behind a waterfall in the episode "Paradise Smurfed", where its master eventually tries to imprison them for his own purposes. Brainy and Greedy escape, but Lazy doesn't. Fortunately, Lazy finds out that it was all just a dream.
- Parodied by G.I. Joe: Renegades: The Stinger of the final episode cuts to the original 1980s G.I. Joe cartoon and reveals that Renegades was just 80s!Duke's dream.
- One episode of Young Justice had the entire cast killed off one-by-one by an unstoppable Alien Invasion. It's revealed at the end that the whole thing was a psychic-induced Unwinnable Training Simulation. There was some actual danger to the cast, however: Miss Martian accidentally used her Psychic Powers to turn off the safety features, forcing Martian Manhunter to enter the dream and free the cast.
- Unlike many instances of this trope, the events have long lasting effects, as it not only tips other characters off to the strength of Megen's abilities, but the cast are shown to be traumatised by the events, as it still feels as they watched all their family and friends die.
- Subverted in The Looney Tunes Show, "Parade Float". A series of events involving Daffy using all of Porky's money to buy a yacht ends with him falling off and about to drown. He wakes up and remarks "It was all a dream. That's why I was such a horrible person." Bugs then reminds him that "it wasn't a dream. You really are a horrible person." In fact, Daffy was in a hospital bed, recovering from his near-drowning.
- The events of the 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2003 episode "Bad Day" are simply a form of Mind Rape conjured by the Foot Mystics.
- The 1988 Ninja Turtles episode "Shredderville" had the Turtles supposedly taken to an alternate world where they never existed and thus Shredder conquered the world, only for it to have been a dream that all four of them had at the same time.
- The episode "The Binky Show" of Garfield and Friends is this. It ends with Binky actually showing up. The announcer tells that Binky was going to do a number of things, including embarrassing Jon by singing to him in a restaurant.
- Some people believe that "real life" is really all just a simulation using technology that doesn't yet exist in real life/this simulation. This is based on the belief that technology is likely to get to the point of being able to perfectly simulate real life while making the subject forget real life while in the simulation and that since once this technology exists it will result in more virtual worlds than the one real one the odds are that this is a simulation and not real life.
- The Simulation Argument postulates that: it is overwhelmingly likely that either 1) we are living in an "ancestor simulation" created by our descendants or 2) humanity can never be technologically advanced enough to stage ancestor simulations. Neither conclusion is very palatable.
- "Perfectly simulate real life while making the subject forget real life"? Why are we talking about The Sims?
- An interesting counterpoint is the idea that "real life" is a meaningless term, since any reality must be absolute from the perspective of its inhabitants (if we are indeed simulated beings, this is still the highest level of nested realities we can exist in).
- The trope may have arisen from a dream those grieving a deceased loved one often experience. In the dream, the griever learns that the loved one is not dead and that the "death" was nothing but a very bad dream. The griever then wakes up, only to realize that the death really took place and the "miraculous survival" was in fact the dream. Although not every griever experiences this dream, it's common enough to be considered a normal part of the grieving process. Children who experience the dream may not be able to differentiate the dream from reality and therefore may suspect that the deceased person didn't really die (a common fallacy among bereaved children). Books by reputable scientists have been written on this phenomenon.
- Interestingly, it's possible to have an inversion of that—someone dreams of losing a loved one (or ones), only to wake up and realize it was All Just a Dream. Heartwarming moments may follow along with a LOT of relief.
- A Subversion: After Daniel Radcliffe learned that he had gotten the part of Harry Potter, he woke up in the middle of the following night. He woke up his parents to ask them if he'd really gotten the part or if it was a dream.
- The philosophy of existentialism holds that how one views the world is subjective to one's experiences. Existentialists believe that truth is in the eye of the beholder, as is even the existence of the world around us. It's the basis for the scene in The Matrix in which the boy in the Oracle's apartment tells Neo, "There is no spoon."
- Confabulation, or false memory syndrome, applies to this trope, as well. Also see this Cracked article: 5 Mind Blowing Ways Your Memory Plays Tricks On You.
- How many times have you been sure what's happening be real, only to wake up? This can be a disappointment or a relief depending on the nature of the dream.
- during the movie, he shoots up on heroin. The entire rest of the movie turns out to be a hallucination he experiences in the 13 seconds it takes him to die of an overdose.
- Buried, as it were, at the crossroads.