Examples of foreshadowing in movies and literature?
February 13, 2016 8:11 PM   Subscribe

I'm thinking if writing something that heavily uses foreshadowing in any/all permutations possible.

I'm thinking of a series of short stories that are interconnected and incidents in one story foreshadowing incidents in others.

For me to do a decent job at this, I feel like I should read and watch every piece of fiction that has ever employed this trope and then go nuts with it.

The problem is I can't exactly recall all I know, and I'd love to be able to be turned onto things I would normally not run into.
posted by prufrock to Writing & Language (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Here you go. See the examples.
posted by Behemoth at 8:19 PM on February 13, 2016

All of Buffy. But you'd need to watch the whole series at least four or five times to catch all of it.
posted by greta simone at 8:33 PM on February 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

My literary introduction to foreshadowing was The Scarlet Letter.
posted by irisclara at 8:44 PM on February 13, 2016

I swear every time I listen to the Harris and the Mare radio play, I hear more foreshadowing. It's just so tight. Everything fits together perfectly. Every scrap of conversation echoes something. This is much less clear in the song, so you do have to listen to the actual play.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:04 PM on February 13, 2016

Harry Potter.
posted by starlybri at 9:23 PM on February 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

In the movie The Edge with Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin, at the beginning of the movie, Hopkins does a "trick" where he wins a bet by guessing what is on the other side of a carved oar. On the front side was a panther, and on the other side was its prey, a rabbit smoking a pipe, who was "unafraid, because he knows he is smarter than the panther." At the end of the movie, Hopkins guesses what is engraved on the other side of Baldwin's watch, which escalates a dangerous confrontation. Hopkins is cool as a cucumber and outwits Baldwin, even though Baldwin is the one who was armed and seemingly more dangerous.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:50 PM on February 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Arrested Development has lots.
posted by backwards guitar at 10:08 PM on February 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

Hichcock's opener that literally has his shadow cast on the wall.

Declaration of Independence, "For score and seven years ago..."
posted by Oyéah at 10:19 PM on February 13, 2016

Pulp Fiction was a knot of interconnected threads, with each individual story fore- (or pre-) shadowing at least one other.
posted by yesster at 10:57 PM on February 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Everything ever written by Guy Gavriel Kay, especially the last several novels. Foreshadowing with a sledgehammer.
posted by suelac at 11:26 PM on February 13, 2016

I'm going to say that as he is an exemplary student of film history, pretty much every Tarantino film does this. Ditto, Orson Welles. Especially Citizen Kane, which is both brilliant and pedestrian these days, since he kinda overdid it.

Obviously, The Birds by Alfred Hitchcock. A master. Also used this foreshadowing to build equal emotions of horror in Psycho.

I'm not sure if it is foreshadowing in Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, but the scene where he introduces the wasteland between Manhattan and the Eggs via the billboard for optometrist T. J. Eckleburg sure speaks to where the main character originates and ends up. Most other characters, too, metaphorically.

The BEST film example of foreshadowing I can think of is Cloud Atlas.

I read the novel. It must be in there, because the 3 directors of this film tweezed it out, but my geezus did they do a better job! If you discount the opening film scene with one of the main charachters talking and then the camera panning to the Milky Way, and instead consider the opening shot of a beach with two rock pillars and then the narrative of, "When I first met..."


There is no better example of foreshadowing, because this film was an entirely new way of telling a story. I know folks hated this film because it throws a lot of personal responsibility into full view, and some of the stunt make-up was awkward, BUT HOLY TOLEDO. It's a tight narrative!

Required viewing to love Cloud Atlas is Run Lola, Run & the first Matrix movie. If you have not seen Run, Lola, Run - shame on you ;))

Frank Herbet's Dune. If you want another novel.

F. Scott Fitzgerald has an anthology of his short stories coming out soon, returned to the "R" rated content the originally published versions lacked. I bet there's a lot in there.

Did you know Ernest Hemingway considered Fitzgerald a better writer? He did! He wrote about this in his diaries, including years and years after Fitzgerald died. Hemingway was still admiringly jealous! That's how great Fitzgerald was as a writer.

Fitzgerald's unfinished novel The Love of the Last Tycoon, A Western is the West Coast bookend, if you will, to Gatsby. It also contains foreshadowing in the opening chapter, if you are reading the direct draft and not an edit of the text by someone other than Fitzgerald ( there was a film starring Robert De Niro as the Irving Thalberg character, how Harold Pinter (screenplay) and Eli Kazan (director) fucked this up so badly, I'll never know. The novel is clear. So annoying.

What else does great foreshadowing?

Probably the novel Mildred Pierce, and the 1940's movie with Joan Crawford (HINT - 1945 version is better!!)

That said, Todd Haynes directed the HBO novel version of Mildred Pierce, which is only great if you liked the source material, but he also directed VELVET GOLDMINE.

Velvet Goldmine is about David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and the dark side of the music industry. Foreshadowing of Bowie's alien influences on Glam Rock in there...

Pretty much any work considered "good" features foreshadowing.

The best rule I ever learned? Never show a gun (weapon) without using later.

This is why James Bond genre GOLDENEYE is almost perfect, but not quite. It's the best of the Bonds. Sadly, they show a BMW that does not loop back into the story. Crap product placement. If not for that element, it would have been a perfect Bond.

I'm done. Hope this helped!
posted by jbenben at 12:18 AM on February 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

George RR Martin's Game of Thrones and its sequels is full of foreshadowing. A number of characters have dreams, visions, or prophesies that cryptically reference future events -- often events that won't occur until thousands of pages later. Martin also uses a technique that you might call aftshadowing, in which he gives hints about a past event but doesn't provide all the details, thereby foreshadowing some future development when the missing details will become revealed.
posted by yankeefog at 1:39 AM on February 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

The best rule I ever learned? Never show a gun (weapon) without using later.

That is called Chekov's gun and while it isn't technically foreshadowing, it resembles it.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:43 AM on February 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

have you read mitchell's cloud atlas? your planned stories sound similar to that.
posted by andrewcooke at 6:47 AM on February 14, 2016

"I feel like I should read and watch every piece of fiction that has ever employed this trope and then go nuts with it."

That... that might take a while.

Seconding Buffy, so much foreshadowing in the series. Also, the "Firefly" episode "The Message" has a lot of foreshadowing.

If you're looking for semi-silly, the Final Destination movies have a lot of foreshadowing of the characters' deaths. (There's usually if not always a number of hints to the methods of the next person's death in the scenes leading up to it.)

There's the foreshadowing in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, with Arthur Dent's house scheduled for demolition just before the Earth is destroyed by the Vogons. (For more or less the same reasons.) (There's more, of course, but that is pretty clear cut.)

You can find many, many examples on TVTropes.com, too.
posted by jzb at 8:04 AM on February 14, 2016

Homestuck is chockful of this; it's all very intricate and sometimes a little hard to track. Andrew Hussie has talked about his process of "retroactive foreshadowing" - he'd throw a zillion random plot elements at one point of the story, and then further down the track, if he needed to make a call back to something, he'd go back and pick out one of those random plot elements from earlier to reference.

Gravity Falls and Steven Universe does really subtle foreshadowing, like tiny details in the background or offhand comments-level foreshadowing.

I kinda feel like every story ever written involves foreshadowing one way or another. Is there a particular sort of foreshadowing you're after? Puzzles, weird references, callbacks, specific effects?
posted by divabat at 8:26 AM on February 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

The reveal of Darth Vader being Luke's father is foreshadowed by 2 other "what you see is not what you get" moments: Lando being a traitor and a Jedi Master being a tiny silly amphibian thingy. This sets up the theme of having your expectations subverted.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:27 AM on February 14, 2016

Trains in Anna Karenina. Children make a toy train in one of the earliest chapters.
posted by colie at 9:41 AM on February 14, 2016

Declaration of Independence, "For score and seven years ago..."

This is from the Gettysburg Address and not an example of foreshadowing (but I liked the out-of-the-box thinking of the Hitchcock opener!).
posted by tyrantkitty at 10:28 AM on February 14, 2016

posted by bergamot and vetiver at 1:20 PM on February 14, 2016

I strongly recommend Gary Saul Morson’s Narrative and Freedom: The Shadows of Time, which focuses on Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Chekhov, as well as Sophocles, George Eliot, and many others, to illustrate ways writers have found to avoid the determinism inherent in the idea of foreshadowing; Morson comes up with the term “sideshadowing” to describe an alternative: “sideshadowing admits, in addition to actualities and impossibilities, a middle realm of real possibilities that could have happened even if they did not.” It will give you all sorts of models and ideas.
posted by languagehat at 5:50 PM on February 14, 2016

Shaun of the Dead notoriously has a line right at the beginning describing a night out on the town that turns out to be a compressed, coded summary of basically the entire plot from that point forward. You could probably also count "ironic echo" usage for this project. See the TVTropes page for the movie, and search for the "Foreshadowing" and "ironic echo"(which appears a few times throughout).
posted by Su at 10:02 PM on February 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

David Mitchell is the king of this. Cloud Atlas has already been mentioned, but I'd recommend his debut collection "Ghostwritten," which I think is a masterpiece of the Interconnected Short Story genre.
posted by jbickers at 1:24 AM on February 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is going to sound super pedestrian after all these great comments, but How I Met Your Mother seems so perfectly planned out by the time you get to the end. Then, if you rewatch, you catch more and more foreshadowing. Here's someone else's take (SPOILERS).
posted by freezer cake at 1:26 PM on February 17, 2016

I just finished reading Peace by Gene Wolfe, and it made me think of this question. So many intertwining stories that I'm still thinking about how to interpret.
posted by Mchelly at 10:52 AM on April 25, 2016

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