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What is Foreshadowing in Screenwriting? How to Master this Crucial Technique in 2024

Foreshadowing is a powerful literary device used by masterful screenwriters to hint at future plot developments in subtle ways.

This technique lays the groundwork for pivotal story events well before they happen on screen. When done well, foreshadowing engages eagle-eyed audience members, rewards repeat viewings and elevates a script from good to great.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll break down exactly what foreshadowing is, look at examples from famous films, explore different types used in scripts, provide best practices to employ it effectively and reveal mistakes to avoid.

Whether you’re writing the next box office smash or just want to get more out of your movie-watching experience, understanding foreshadowing in screenwriting is a must. Let’s dive in.

Examples of Foreshadowing in Famous Movies

Some of the most acclaimed and beloved films of all time employ masterful foreshadowing techniques. Screenwriters sprinkle in clues, hints, and symbolic references that only make complete sense later on when major plot points come to fruition. Let’s look at a few famous examples:

The Sixth Sense (1999)

M. Night Shyamalan’s breakthrough supernatural thriller hinges entirely on the late reveal that Bruce Willis’ character has been dead the whole time. Astute audience members may pick up on a couple subtle clues:

  • Willis only ever interacts with Haley Joel Osment’s character and is “ignored” by other people.
  • Objects seem unaffected by Willis’ presence, like doors he seems to open but latches are actually unmoved.

These understated moments forecast the iconic ending in a way that’s nearly invisible on first viewing but make total sense in retrospect.

Frozen (2013)

Disney’s record-breaking animated film subtly hints at the big twist reveal that Prince Hans is the true villain. During his duet with Princess Anna, the line “We finish each other’s…” is completed with “sandwiches!” B

ut later when he betrays Anna, he finishes the line with “sentences!” The script subverts audience expectations in a clever way foreshadowed through lyrics.

The Usual Suspects (1995)

The famous line-up scene where Verbal Kint first meets his criminal partners for a police lineup contains visual foreshadowing. As the camera pans across the group, each criminal is framed in a way that foretells their eventual fate.

For example, a handcuffed man symbolic of being imprisoned, one holding a cigarette representing death by fire, and Verbal with his walked aided posture hinting at his real identity twist.

Fight Club (1999)

Tyler Durden occasionally flashes rapidly across scenes he’s not supposed to physically be in throughout Fight Club, which strongly hints that his character only exists in the narrator’s mind. It’s confirmed in the big reveal when we learn they are the same person.

These examples demonstrate how foreshadowing comes in a variety of subtle forms. The best filmmakers integrate clues directly into the fabric of their stories in ways that feel natural instead of forced.

Types of Foreshadowing Used in Scripts

Screenwriters employ an array of different techniques to foreshadow events before they transpire. Some of the most common types of foreshadowing include:

Red Herrings

A red herring is a misleading clue meant to predict an outcome that never happens. It keeps the audience guessing incorrectly before the real twist occurs.

For example, in The Sixth Sense other ghosts behaving strangely around Bruce Willis’ character foreshadows that he must be a ghost too. But it turns out the others are reacting to a different ghost character instead.


Omens are symbolic objects, occurrences, words, or actions that warn of events to come. For example, in The Hunger Games, a fireball shooting across the sky after Rue’s death foretells the coming rebellion and uprising. Omens often carry superstitious weight and meaning.

Dialogue Hints

Characters will sometimes mention future events in passing lines that don’t make complete sense until later. In Back to the Future, Marty’s mom says a line about how she would end up married to someone like Marty in the future, which foreshadows her eventual romantic involvement with his father.

Visual Motifs

Repeating visuals like colors, images, camera angles, or editing techniques help build symbolic meaning over time. In Schindler’s List, the color red is used very selectively, often foreshadowing coming tragedy and horror amidst the black and white frames.

These varieties of foreshadowing reward engaged viewers with added layers of meaning and insight into the storytelling craft on display. When layered effectively, they can add quite a punch to pivotal scenes.

Best Practices for Writing Foreshadowing

Masterfully using foreshadowing takes a delicate balance. Lay the clues too bluntly and there’s no surprise for the audience. Bury them too deep and no one will pick up on the hints. Use the following guiding principles when thinking about foreshadowing:

Keep It Subtle

The best foreshadowing blends seamlessly into a scene. It should reward engaged viewers without broadcasting future twists to the point that they see it coming a mile away. Definitely avoid obvious lines like “little did he know, his life would end tomorrow!”

Use Sparingly at Key Moments

Don’t try to cram foreshadowing everywhere. Choose your most important story pivots and place hints strategically. For example, directly before intermission or a commercial break creates anticipation to return.

Make It Integral to the Story

Foreshadowing shouldn’t feel tacked on. Look for ways to weave it directly into important scenes and character development so it flows naturally.

Payoffs Should Feel Inevitable Yet Surprising

When your foreshadowed event finally occurs, audiences should feel shocked yet feel it makes sense looking back. If viewers roll their eyes and think “I saw that coming the whole time,” you overdid the foreshadowing.

Use Motifs and Symbols

Objects, colors, numbers, sounds, metaphors, and hypotheticals can subtly accrue meaning and significance as the story progresses. This builds anticipation and insight.

Mistakes to Avoid with Foreshadowing

Even talented writers can sometimes mishandle foreshadowing and hamper the audience experience. Avoid these common pitfalls:


Being too overt in spelling out exactly what will happen comes across heavy-handed. If there’s no mystery left, the eventual reveal falls flat. Leave room for some uncertainty.

Plot Holes

Make sure any foreshadowed event aligns logically with the actual outcome. Inconsistent or contradictory clues prevent smooth story unfolding. Always track clues to avoid dangling threads.


Hammering the same type of foreshadowing repeatedly gives the audience nothing left to discover. Vary your approach to keep viewers on their toes.


Thanks for taking an in-depth look at foreshadowing, one of the most powerful techniques that takes a screenplay from mediocre to masterful.

Used well, foreshadowing engages audiences in the unfolding narrative, makes story outcomes feel satisfying yet surprising, and creates a desire for repeat viewings to connect the dots.

We explored unforgettable examples from acclaimed films, common forms it takes in scripts, guidelines for utilizing it effectively, and pitfalls that can undermine success. Foreshadowing is tricky to perfect, but every aspiring screenwriter should add this crucial tool to their arsenal.

What other iconic movie foreshadowing examples stand out in your mind? What made them so memorable and effective? Analyze that next critically acclaimed or classic film with a close eye on how the screenwriter subtly sets up pivotal story beats well in advance.

Master filmmakers possess an innate sense for laying the narrative groundwork with strategic foreshadowing while maintaining the delightful unpredictability that keeps us glued to the screen.

Use these insights to level up your own scriptwriting skills in service of crafting screen stories that resonate deeply and surprise unforgettably. Satisfying yet unpredictable — that’s the mark of masterful foreshadowing.

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