Foreshadowing is often used in TV shows, movies, and plays in order to create suspense or hint to the audience about what they should pay attention to later. These examples are also sometimes placed in a show, movie, or play for the audience to notice on multiple viewings of the show, film, or play, especially if they missed it the first time. Understanding the importance of the foreshadowing on a second or third viewing adds to the audience’s enjoyment and appreciation of the story. The following are examples of foreshadowing from TV shows, movies, and plays that create suspense or highlight important events, characters, and themes that the audience will understand the importance of later on.
10 Examples of Foreshadowing in TV Shows, Movies, and Plays
In James Cameron’s blockbuster hit Avatar, exobiologist Dr. Grace Augustine remarks that she would “die to get a sample” from the Tree of Souls. This foreshadows her death, because later on in the movie, she is finally able to be brought to the tree, but only because she is wounded and dying. She brings this line back from the beginning of the movie when she remarks, “I should get a sample.”
The Sixth Sense
In one of the most well-known movies with a surprise ending, M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense tells the story of a psychiatrist named Malcolm Crowe who is treating a child named Cole Sear. Cole remarks that he sees dead people “walking around like regular people. They don’t see each other. They only see what they want to see. They don’t know they’re dead.” This foreshadows the movie’s surprise twist ending because Malcolm is one of those people who doesn’t know that he’s dead, and Cole can see him.
One of the most well-written and mysterious TV series to ever air, Lost is known for its use of foreshadowing to hint at important back stories and future fates for its characters and the island on which they have been stranded. It is also one of the most re-watched series, as audiences seem to notice more hints and clues in each episode which they may have missed during the first viewing. In season one, John Locke helps Walt learn how to play backgammon. He tells Walt, “Backgammon’s the oldest game in the world. Archeologists found sets when they excavated the ruins of ancient Mesopotamia. Five thousand years old…. Two players, two sides, one is light, and one is dark.” This foreshadows the very reason why people are brought to the island in the first place, and the later revelation of a supernatural war between brothers Jacob and The Man in Black.
Clint Eastwood’s character Walt Kowalski reads his horoscope to his dog Daisy on his birthday, which says, “This year you have to make a choice between two life paths. Second chances come your way. Extraordinary events culminate in what might seem to be an anti-climax.” Shortly after this scene and laughing off the accuracy of horoscopes to Daisy, Walt is invited by Sue Vang Lor over to the Vang Lor’s for a family barbeque, which introduces Walt to the family and in particular, Thao, whom he forms a special bond with. This leads to a series of extraordinary events which lead to a rather anti-climactic death for Walt, as he uses his death to help Thao escape the clutches of the gang. The horoscope which Walt was so quick to laugh away ended up foreshadowing the events of the movie and eventually, his own death.
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
Lorraine Hansberry’s play of an African American family living in a small Chicago apartment, each with dreams of bigger and better things for their lives, uses a tomato plant to foreshadow the hope of Mama’s dreams for a better life for her family. She says, “‘They spirited all right, my children. Got to admit they got spirit–Bennie and Walter. Like this little old plant that ain’t never had enough sunshine or nothing–and look at it.'” Mama tends to the tomato plant religiously, while wishing for a full garden of her own in the backyard of a house of her own one day. Her husband, Big Walter, recently passed away, and she will be receiving a $10,000 life insurance check. Her son, Walter, wants to invest his share of the money in a liquor store, while her daughter, Beneatha, wants to go to medical school and become a doctor. Her daughter-in-law Ruth wants a future for her son Travis, and a better marriage with Walter, especially because she is pregnant. The tomato plant becomes a symbol for those dreams, as Mama foresees their dreams being realized once they have a house to call their own. The plant foreshadows her hope, because it continues to thrive even on the little sunlight it’s able to get through the small kitchen window, just like the Younger family’s dreams continue to thrive even in the small apartment.
The Tragedy of Macbeth by William Shakespeare
In Shakespeare’s play about the traitorous Scottish king Macbeth, Shakespeare utilizes several kinds of foreshadowing to hint at Macbeth’s downfall and destruction. In particular, he uses three witches, or “Weird Sisters”, in Acts I and IV to foreshadow Macbeth’s fate and that Banquo will father a line of kings. After their first prediction, Macbeth says to them, “Stay, you imperfect speakers, tell me more: by Sinel’s death I know I am thane of Glamis; but how of Cawdor? the thane of Cawdor lives, a prosperous gentleman; and to be king stands not within the prospect of belief… Say from whence you owe this strange intelligence? or why upon this blasted heath you stop our way with such prophetic greeting?” Each time, Macbeth does not fully understand what they mean and misinterprets their predictions to mean fate approves of his killing of King Duncan in order to become king himself. However, the true meanings of the witches’ predictions are later revealed, and while they are true, they are not what Macbeth expected to happen.
Game of Thrones
In season four of the hit HBO series Game of Thrones, Petyr Baelish, also known as “Littlefinger”, counsels Robin Arryn, his stepson who has just become Lord of the Vale. He tells him not to be afraid of leaving the Eyrie and possibly facing his own death because, “People die at their dinner tables. They die in their beds. They die squatting over their chamber pots. Everybody dies sooner or later. And don’t worry about your death; worry about your life. Take charge of your life for as long as it lasts. That is what it means to be Lord of the Vale.” The manners of death Littlefinger lists in this dialogue foreshadows the deaths of Joffrey, Tyrion Lannister’s lover Shae after her betrayal, and Tywin Lannister at the hands of Tyrion.
Oedipus Rex by Sophocles
Greek playwrights were the first to experiment with foreshadowing in omens, riddles, and prophecies. In his play Oedipus Rex, or Oedipus the King, Sophocles uses prophecies to propel characters to take actions to avoid their own fates, thus making their prophesized fates come true. In Oedipus Rex, Oedipus was ordered to be killed shortly after his birth, after his father, the King Laius of Thebes, received a prophecy that his son would kill him. When Oedipus was a young man, he left his father King Polybus and mother Queen Merope of Corinth after the oracle at Delphi prophesized that he would kill his father and marry his mother. He tells Jocasta, “And so I went in secret off to Delphi… it was my fate to defile my mother’s bed, to bring forth to men a human family that people could not bear to look upon, to murder the father who engendered me.” Oedipus does not realize that he was adopted by the king and queen of Corinth, and that they are not his birth parents. On the road away from Corinth, Oedipus kills another traveler in a fit of road rage. He then arrives at Thebes, which is under siege by a sphinx who will not release the city until someone can solve his riddle. Oedipus solves the riddle and is rewarded with the throne of Thebes and Queen Jocasta– who is actually his mother. In this way, all of the events the prophecies foreshadowed have come true, despite the characters’ best efforts to avoid them.
In this captivating and twisted thriller, Edward Norton’s unnamed character blackmails his boss Richard Chesler into allowing him to be an “outside consultant” and work from home. When Chesler tries to call security on the narrator, the narrator begins to punch himself in the face and throw himself into glass shelving in the office, making it look like Chesler is beating him up. At one point, the narrator tells the audience, “For some reason, I thought of my first fight… with Tyler.” This foreshadows the surprise ending that Tyler and the narrator are the same person, and harkens back to the narrator’s first fight with Tyler alone outside a diner; however, because they are the same person, the narrator was beating himself up, just like in Chesler’s office.
The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
Laura’s fixation on her prized, yet fragile, glass menagerie of tiny animals mirrors her own fragile state of mind and her overwhelming social anxiety. While her mother, Amanda Wingfield, wants to set her up with a gentleman before she becomes an “old maid”, Laura is too shy and introverted to actively pursue or date anyone. When her brother Tom brings home a friend from work named Jim, whom Laura had previously had a crush on in school, the two get on well and Laura begins to raise her hopes. They dance, and Jim accidentally breaks the unicorn from the menagerie. He tells Laura, “You’ll never forgive me. I be that was your favorite piece of glass.” This foreshadows that Jim will also break Laura’s fragile heart, especially since he is already engaged to another woman.