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Subliminal messages in movies and media

Filed under: — paco on October 13th, 2004 01:10:31 am

Subliminal messages have always been a uncanny phenomenon and often subject to scientific and public debate. A subliminal message is a signal in the form of a picture or sound that is designed to pass the normal limits of perception. That means that people perceive it with their subconscious while not perceiving it consciously. This technique is sometimes used in movies and advertising to influence the subconscious of the viewer. The latest stir around this controversial technique has come up around the campaign of the Bush administration. Allegedly, a promotional video that was aired recently, would contain subliminal messages meant to convey a hidden message.

It would not be the first time that a political party would be accused of using subliminal imagery. A similar accusation was made against a promotional film of the Liberal party of Canada, where after dissecting their ad, one could clearly see a gun being fired at the viewer. The Bush promo is rumoured to be filled to the brim with subliminal images of a disturbing nature: fire, explosions, terrified children, mutilation, ghost-like figures and several acts of violence. The problem with this technique is that it is not an exact science; there is no solid scientific proof of it causing the effects it should evoke. Then again, the human mind is still a mystery to science.

The most famous story about subliminal manipulation is that of the infamous experiment held in 1957 at a movie theatre in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Here it was believed that ultra-fast editing of images of popcorn and Coke throughout the movie would lead to a significant increase in refreshment sales during the intermission. This experiment caused such a stir, that subliminal messages were outlawed and deemed unethical. However, it soon appeared to be a hoax and the experimenter James Vicary admitted that he had been tampering with the results. Still, subliminal techniques were applied on a broad scale thereafter, especially in advertising. It apparently still proved to be an effective way to send mixed messages and hidden meanings.

In cinema it has been used a lot. One of the most famous examples were the gruesome images used in The Exorcist; subliminal images were edited in to increase the fear of the audience. This could explain why this movie induced such strong reactions of terror with so many people. The subliminal images were cut out of the movie only to be reinstated in the 2000 Director’s Cut. Also Oliver Stone’s award winning movie JFK is ridden with subliminal messages, sending out a message that the Kennedy slaying was tied to Masonic or secret societies. Subliminal messages again were openly used in David Fincher’s Fight Club, turning the spotting of Tyler Durden almost into a game.

It’s difficult to prove whether images are meant to be subliminal and whether they trigger the sought-after effect. Simultaneously, they also give good way for nice conspiracy theories and spooky stories. However, the deliberate use of suggestive images meant to evoke a secondary hidden effect could be at least considered dubious and unethical. The mere idea that politicians would resort to such tactics does not ask for a big leap of mind :)

* Site where the alleged subliminal Bush movie is described and dissected.

* More on the promotional ad of the Canadian Liberal party and subliminal messages.

* Example of subliminal message in a movie poster.

* Subliminal images in Oliver Stone’s movie JFK.

* A list of movies containing subliminal messages.

author picture paco (89 posts)
Certified movie phreak and conspiracy theorist.


  • hmmm…..

    Comment by marisa — Wed October 13, 2004 @ 2:50
  • Yeah, that’s what I thought too :)

    Comment by Paco — Wed October 13, 2004 @ 11:46
  • The Young Ones used to do this a lot. Every now and then in certain episodes there’ll be a rather strange shot of a dove or a frog or something else rather silly and insignificant.

    The sublimianl cuts in Fight Club are superbly done, the ones in the Exorcist are a little too over the top.

    There’s alos a flash cut in Rosemary’s Baby at the end that some people pick up on.

    It was used a lot in advertising and seems to be making a bit of a comeback. I really like the technique, if used creatively.

    There are some good flash cuts in From Dusk Till Dawn, when George Clooney returns to the hotel room and finds out what his brother has done to the hostage.

    I’ll try to think of some more.

    Comment by damian — Wed October 13, 2004 @ 12:37
  • If you are interested in reading a great novel about this, try Theodore Roszak’s “Flicker”. A gripping read and major conspiracy theory background to subliminal images. Also a must for movie-buffs.

    Comment by suzero — Wed October 13, 2004 @ 18:16
  • An other example is Fincher’s ‘Fight Club’ where you get to see very swift images of the Brad Pitt character, before the character played by Edward Norton has actually met him. There is also the ‘porn shot’ near the end; but that is explained in the movie.

    I can hardly think of ‘The Exorcist’ without these images. The demon images are very strong and placed very subtlely throughout the movie (e.g.in the bedroom and the kitchen scene). I am more than positive that there are more subliminal pictures in movies and commercial than we can imagine…

    Comment by arjan — Wed October 13, 2004 @ 19:30
  • Uhm, did you read the article, Arjan? I mentionned Fight Club…

    Comment by Paco — Wed October 13, 2004 @ 19:49
  • oh um ok: I read it very quickly and must have overlooked that last paragraph… I have the flu I think, hence the misreading

    nice pic by the way :p

    Comment by arjan — Wed October 13, 2004 @ 21:09
  • BTW, what is Kramer vs. Kramer doing in there?

    Comment by suzero — Wed October 13, 2004 @ 21:46
  • Kramer vs. Kramer (if you follow the link) is about the subliminal message in the movie poster. But what subliminal message is it trying to give? Divorce sucks? Hardly subliminal for that movie don’t you think?

    Comment by marisa — Wed October 13, 2004 @ 22:10
  • The Kramer vs. Kramer poster seems to paint a picture of a happy family but shows subliminal hints that there are not as happy as the picture appears to be, e.g. the stressed-out look on the kid and the clawed hand of Hoffman.

    Comment by Paco — Thu October 14, 2004 @ 2:07
  • But Paco, is that actually “subliminal.” It seems very straightforward that the family is outwardly happy but not. I mean a smile that could be percived different ways isn’t such a hidden message.

    Comment by marisa — Fri October 15, 2004 @ 15:36
  • I don’t know if it could be deemed as 100% subliminal, but one should consider that these hints (subliminal or not) usually don’t show upon first viewing. If you quickly glance at it without any knowledge of the movie’s story, chances are you think you’re looking at a happy family with some grumpy kid.

    I compare it with an illusionist: when he’s doing his magic in front of you, you scrutinise every move of him and try to find the trick, because you know it’s there. But what when a trick is pulled on you when you don’t expect a trick and you don’t know that the one who’s pulling the trick is an illusionist? You’d expect nothing an would be less scrutinising.

    Comment by Paco — Fri October 15, 2004 @ 18:08
  • I can’t tell any messges in movies…can anyone poin them out exaclty?

    Comment by crystal — Mon October 25, 2004 @ 16:42
  • can someone tell me if subliminal cuts are meant to be visible as of those in The Exorcist (1973) or are they subconsciously embedded. i am doing a research so please email me if possible

    Comment by ray — Wed January 5, 2005 @ 15:31
  • Hello Ray,

    Not being an expert on this field, I can only give you my point of view. Subliminal messages are initially not meant to be seen at first sight (athough that could be accidentally the case) but are meant to work the subconscious. The fact that one singles out the things that are meant to be subliminal, has more to do with a keen mind or sense of observation.

    I think there are also several degrees of subliminals. Moreover, even if you have spotted the subliminal message you’re still left with interpreting the meaning behind it. Like I stated in my article it is not an exact science and the effects this technique has on different people is hardly subject to cold scientific fact. I think it’s the same thing with hypnosis: some people are greatly affected by it and firmly believe in it, others are sceptics and say it has to do with one’s own imagination.

    Comment by Paco — Wed January 5, 2005 @ 23:50
  • thanks paco, that was really helpful. so how many subliminal cuts or messages were there actually in The Exorcist and what do you think their purpose was? to enhance the effects of fear and horror? do you think it is right to use such effects in movies widely available to children?

    Comment by ray — Sat January 8, 2005 @ 7:47
  • I wrote about their purpose: heightening the fear of the audience. I don’t know how many messages there were in the movie, you should check the director’s cut for that.

    On its effects there is a lot of debate, but it has been deemed unethical to use. But I think that children should always be protected from material that is too disturbing for their age – be it graphical or subliminal. Nowadays you have the disclaimers that come with the movies, so people can decide for themselves.

    Comment by Paco — Sat January 8, 2005 @ 12:47
  • I think that Harry potter, contains mensaje Subliminal messages to the use of name POT and the relation of this name with drugs

    Comment by subliminal — Fri March 24, 2006 @ 15:37
  • I think that “Subliminal” they has reason, in fact is not explained as a teacher of school now is multimillionaire. itsn it!

    Comment by you are right — Fri March 24, 2006 @ 15:45
  • POT is marijuana, harry POTter is a subliminal name, is drugs, as it is explained that the children are reading stuck books of more than 300 pages like a video game FEVER.

    Comment by conspiracy theorist — Fri March 24, 2006 @ 16:12
  • J. K. Rowling is the name of the writer of POTTER books does not call the attention and the relation to them with ROLLING PAPER

    Comment by Tamara McCormick — Fri March 24, 2006 @ 16:18
  • I would like to know more about the Harry Potter instances. The mere fact that pot is in his name, and the authors last name resembles the word ‘ rolling’ s not quite convincing for me to dub as subliminal. Coincidence, maybe. Manipulitive joke by the author, more likely. Convince me otherwise please….

    Comment by EastSideGhettoGirl — Thu June 22, 2006 @ 20:45
  • Dont for get the 1995 movie Assasins, there was tons of anti-NRA and Pro-choice propaganda on the buses and shirts in the background. pretty funny considering all the machine gun fire throughout.

    Comment by Rob — Mon July 24, 2006 @ 18:23
  • There is one in Jurrassic Park, which I noticed yesterday when I was watching it. Near the end, (just after the kids are getting chased around that large kitchen) they log into a computer to do something or other. Just as something finishes loading, the picture of a naked woman appears on the computer screen for a split second, then goes off again.

    I’ve briefly searched the internet to see if anyone else has noticed it, but havent found anything.


    Comment by notrub — Thu December 28, 2006 @ 15:35
  • A recent film with several submerged images is Gladiator. When Maximus is taken to be killed at the beginning the word Kennedy flashes on the screen. At the end when he is stabbed by Commodus, the word Kennedy appears again. You will need a top rate cd player to slow it down and catch the word; it is written in white on a red background.

    Comment by TITOL — Sat January 13, 2007 @ 20:05
  • The new series of “24” with Kiefer Sutherland. The subliminal message wasn’t on the screen, maybe there still is but I didnt see it. I heard background sound. A voice saying a lot of words, couldnt really tell what what said. One distinct moment I clearly heard the word “hallucination” several times repeated. Call me crazy but the subject of the new show reminds me of the story of jesus as I know it. He sacrefices his life and comes a new messiah to save the world. In combination with the sounds it brings our subconscious mind to some state of mind I am guessing to understand (if there is one).

    I would like to analyse the new 2007 episodes. A friend downloaded the 4 episodes so I have seen them a day before the premier. Maybe people can watch for subliminal messages during the show? Imagery and sounds!

    I find this very interesting, especially if you think of the implications it can have if we find out if there are subliminal messages.

    Subliminal messages are being used to speak or influence to the subcouncious mind. This is why our conscious mind does not persieve it. Hold into account that most living people dont understand that esotoric knowledge is meant for the subconscious mind and uses manipulation and hypnosis to convey messages. Sounds far fetched? A mystery is never closed to an open mind.

    Hope to find out what other people think of the subliminal messages in “24”. Then again if I am right about this…


    Comment by Daniel — Sun January 14, 2007 @ 12:29
  • i agree but i think ur wrong

    Comment by ,jhggggggk — Wed February 7, 2007 @ 21:23
  • couldn’t subliminal messaging be used for brainwashing or something? i mean, if images are just flashing rapidly in front of someone’s eyes, isn’t that just the same thing? who organizes this kind of thing? producers? editors? sound editors? production designers? and does the directors know everything that is put into the film subliminally? couldn’t this be used in a negative sense (ex: sending out a message to assassinate someone or riot something)

    Comment by Lizabeth — Tue March 6, 2007 @ 19:41
  • Well, there are a lot of interesting theories about that. You could google on the MK-Ultra project of the CIA where they used brainwashing techniques. If subliminal images were to be used to trigger some event in an individual, the “commands” would already have to be imprinted in a previous session and the image would just be the trigger.

    And good or bad? Well, if it has to be done so secretively than it would suggest not a lot of good. In a less harmful way it would be to induce a creepy feeling (Exorcist) or to entice people to buy stuff. Who really knows what the power of these things can be.

    Comment by paco — Wed March 7, 2007 @ 19:42
  • Politicians have lost a lot of credibility, therefore when they want to send a message they consider important to preserve the interests of the groups they represent, is clear that this message has to be sent to the vast majority of the uneducated people, that at the end are the supporters of the elite decisions. The mass media and entertainment industry is the always the best resource. Patriotism is a word over used by the politicians all over the world. But patriotic messages can also be released trough movies. Just watch the movie 300. Although is based in historic events, when you watch the movie you have the impression that you are watching an army`s motivational movie. There is a scene when the narrator mentions that when the force (of the persians) was not enough, then they used magic. And then you see a group of masked men with large metalic beards (Bin Laden?) throwing some kind of hand grenades against the espartans. (Powder was a chinese invention that was known by the rest of the world a long time after the Thermopilae battle took place).

    Comment by operaexcelsa — Tue April 17, 2007 @ 19:40
  • We just finished watching Number 23 with Jim Carrey. There were sentences popping up on the black bar (it was shot as wide screen) and then throughout the picture of the movie. But we could not get them to pop up when we slowed the movie down. Has anyone else seen this?

    Comment by Cindy — Sat July 28, 2007 @ 7:28
  • oh, we saw those messages in the number 23. it’s some kind of digital trick. when you rewind, it won’t show, then you play it, and it wont show if you just saw it. it won’t show up in slow-mo.

    basically, it shows up every other time you rewind it. it works in a sequence. you just have to have different people focusing on the seperate parts of the screen. we caught “The Filmakers…”(didn’t catch all of that one), “Although Jim Carrey”, and “Foam Peanuts Were”.

    Comment by jinx — Mon July 30, 2007 @ 9:29
  • I watched the movie “number 23” as well and cant seem to find much on the sentences that popped up. I guess I am obssesing on it a bit. I did what jinx did several times and still not much sucess. Has anyone got all the sentences??

    Comment by HEATHER — Thu August 9, 2007 @ 0:45
  • no it is not that it only does it every other time you have to rewind it so far. like the first message if you go back to where he is sittin in the truck and is teasin the dog it should play the message every time. and it seems to work better if you are on a big flat screen tv, cause i watched it at a buddies house and we couldnt even get it to show with his tv which is a little smaller than mine. but when i get all the messages i will post them.

    Comment by kyle — Thu August 9, 2007 @ 8:07
  • Although, Jim Carey—the filmmakers hid—on the basis, topsy kreet appears—the foam peanuts were

    If I can remember correctly, this is what the messages say. Do not know what they mean. If you rewind the movie far enough back, then pause it just before the message appears, then slow mode from that piont, you can easly see all the messages. Like stated above, if you do not go far enough back, or you try to see it when you are rewinding you cannot see the sentences. Took about 7 or 8 times for the first sentence, then as we figured out how to see them, it only took 1 or 2 times. If anyone figures out what this means, please post…

    Comment by whatever — Sat August 11, 2007 @ 5:48
  • Ok, I hate my life! My crazy wife made me watch each of those scenes again to get exact wording…took all of five minutes.

    Although Jim Carrey
    the filmmakers hid
    on that basis topsy kretts appears
    foam peanuts were

    ahhh thank you…

    Comment by whatever — Sat August 11, 2007 @ 6:06
  • speaking 23. If you go through and add up all the totals of each nuber mentioned in the movie film and then divide by 23 it equals out to 666…. ……i had a lot of time on my hands. FREAKY!

    Comment by from concentrate — Sat August 11, 2007 @ 6:28
  • thankyou so much for figuring that out for me. i watched the movie last week, and was wondering if i could find that out somewhere on-line. it made me uneasy and i wanted to know what someone was trying to embed in my subconscience.! thank you

    Comment by jenny — Fri August 24, 2007 @ 19:10
  • i think disney have a lot of this

    Comment by anonimatum — Thu November 15, 2007 @ 3:06
  • i thin disney had a lot of them

    Comment by anonimatum — Thu November 15, 2007 @ 3:07
  • OMG I’m a loser also and stopped at all those scenes….Seriously though, I did. Yes. I am Gay.

    Comment by We are gay also — Fri November 23, 2007 @ 11:40
  • ouch my ass hurts

    Comment by Bob Marley — Mon December 3, 2007 @ 18:40
  • that thing about harry potter is a bit ridiculous, the names Harry AND Potter are very common english names and j.k. rowling can’t help that her name is vaguely connected to rolling papers! i think the only message that could possibly be construed from Rowling giving the character the name Harry Potter instead of a more fantastical, magical name was that she was trying to convey that harry was just a normal boy to allow readers to relate to him.

    Comment by tfe — Tue March 25, 2008 @ 5:52
  • Subliminal messages are intended NOT to be seen conciously. This is a term that is constantly misused, especially when referring to the quick scary flashes in the Exorcist. There are no subliminal edits in that movie, just some scary flashes.

    Comment by Jay — Wed March 26, 2008 @ 1:55
  • Harry Potter’s name has nothing to do with POT. One of her good friends growing up was named Ian Potter, so she used the last name Potter.

    Comment by Kacey — Mon April 21, 2008 @ 20:23
  • Not to be gross or anything, but I can distinctly remember at a young age, watching disney cartoons, and getting aroused for no reason. In fact it happened in most movies I watched, and there was usually nothing on the screen that really seemed sexual in any way. Not blatantly at least. But this is part of what makes me believe in subliminal messages. I think children espeacially are more apt to reacting to these things, because they’re are less rational at that age. And in my honest opinion, the fight club messages are more obvious, the more interesting ones are those that are discreet, in terms of slight facial or body gestures, to signal or stimulate someone’s thinking. The cigarette adds subliminally advertising death by smoking in a contradictory way is amazing.

    Comment by garry — Sat May 31, 2008 @ 21:44
  • Maybe it’s been too long since anyone posted a message here, but still I’d like to share the following video with you guys. It’s Derren Brown’s trick with two guys that create advertisements. Enjoy!


    Comment by mikey — Mon August 4, 2008 @ 23:35
  • i was wondering if anyone could help…. im about to start writing my dissertation for my 3rd year at uni on subliminal messages in cinema…. can anyone advise any good books for examples of films, why subliminals were used etc… would be a MASSIVE help. thanks.

    Comment by kelly — Fri August 8, 2008 @ 18:54
  • Hey, yall a bunch of rednecks… relax… subliminal messages are almost everywhere… just look at something, turn it upside down and you’re bound to see something perverted like a pussy or something… w/e

    Comment by susan mcully — Fri October 31, 2008 @ 20:13
  • in the little mermaid, there’s a scene where disney made it look like he has an erection, it’s near the end.

    Comment by alexia(: — Sat December 27, 2008 @ 20:21
  • Fight Club inserts were not subliminal as Pitt’s character reveals the fact within the film. I would call them Bliminal Messages.
    I’m a graphic designer, and while studying the subject in school, I put subliminals in many design assignments. I would hide repeated phrases in large, bold letters throughout my work by setting the text to print at 1 to 2 % transparency. The phrases were all in first person so that the viewer associated themselves with what was said, i.e. “HE IS MY BEST STUDENT”; “THIS IS PERFECT WORK”;
    “I’M GIVING HIM AN A”; etc. I got high grades on everything, even the mediocre work. I started using it in non-design classes like Art History and English. I put the transparent text in essays and reports, and it worked every time I did it. I was a good student, but not THAT good. I almost got caught when a professor asked the class to turn in all their original files at the end of the quarter. I turned them in a day late because I had to go through everything and delete all the messages.
    Since then I have considered putting them in resumes. It really works.

    Comment by CoAzPoTnAeIN — Wed December 31, 2008 @ 17:28
  • That’s an interesting theory. I’m going to test this.

    Comment by paco — Wed December 31, 2008 @ 18:19
  • The Harry Potter thing is a joke, there’s NO way there’s a hidden message there, beside, ain’t called ‘pot’ in England, Some people are looking way too deeply into this.

    Comment by Jake — Tue June 2, 2009 @ 19:53
  • Subliminal messages REALLY scare me. Is that normal?

    Comment by Luke — Tue July 14, 2009 @ 8:59
  • For subliminal messages in Harry Potter’s films (NOT books), see this:
    Deconstructing Harry Potter

    Another, even better example of subliminal messages in music videos, an analysis of Rhyanna’s ‘umbrella’:

    scary stuff

    Comment by supercalifra... — Mon July 20, 2009 @ 11:33
  • Apologies, use this link instead for rhyanna’s stuff. A quick note, ignore the beginning of the piece and stick with it till you reach the factual analysis of rhyanna’s video.

    The Workings of Evil

    Comment by supercalifra... — Mon July 20, 2009 @ 11:37
  • They’re everywhere that’s for sure! Check out the flick “They Live” for instance–a cult classic now! There’s also some *&^% bizarre 9/11 “subliminals” or synchronicities (or whatever you want to call em) in films and other stuff too (see http://www.imagining911.blogspot.com for one site). If it’s not deliberately embedded and thus comes under “coincidence” it then begs a lot of questions like how powerful is the subconscious? what is the relationship between the subconscious and conscious? how do we tap into the subconscious and use it to really “see” what is for the most part hiding in plain sight to better our future? are all of us connected on a different level? is this evidence of Jung’s collective unconscious at work? etc etc

    Comment by open your eyes — Wed October 14, 2009 @ 2:09
  • you guys really need to get lives

    Comment by justin watkins — Wed March 24, 2010 @ 19:26
  • As for the people that are attempting (poorly, I might add) to attack the Harry Potter series, may I point out that potter is a very common English name, descended from the time at which surnames were taken from the trade practiced by the family. The name comes from having ancestors that made pottery. ACTUAL pots. NOT marijuana. By the way, the slang is also different in England. Marijuana is not called pot.
    To you in particular, conspiracy theorist: Why precisely is it a problem for children to be reading books? Isn’t that actually BETTER than watching television or playing video games?

    Comment by athena — Thu April 1, 2010 @ 9:48
  • I am puzzled as to why people are not sure if subliminal messaging works or not. The US army have a psycological warfare division that routinely use it.
    I have been a Hypnotherapist for over 25 years and all hypnosis does is to bypass the concious mind and work with the subconcious so why the confusion.
    Subliminal messaging in audio or visual simply bypass the concious mind.
    The powers that be feed missinformation so the masses dont catch on to its awsome power to impress the mind

    Comment by phil — Thu May 20, 2010 @ 17:59
  • i saw that 911 stuff before. Its really creepy but i dont believe in conspieracy

    Comment by wow — Tue August 24, 2010 @ 16:54

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