Background Halo

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It's just a frond. Lots of those in a jungle.

A Holy Halo has a lot of symbolic value attached to it, chief among them being saintliness, purity, and status as The Chosen One. Sometimes however, it just isn't appropriate to the Genre for a character to sport an actual Holy Halo, even if it's very appropriate for them as a character at a given moment in a story. What's more, it's also very obvious, which is not always a good thing.

What artists and storytellers often resort to is using a Background Halo, a stylistic visual technique where a character's head will be put in front of something shiny or below a circle or oval. It benefits from being fairly subliminal and subtle. Well, provided directors don't turn on the Holy Backlight Up to Eleven. Then it's just silly, and possibly blinding.

Of course, that this can be done with clever object placement and positioning or elaborate costuming means that a character may invoke this trope to give themselves an imposing and messianic aura.

Related to Crucified Hero Shot and Pietà Plagiarism.

Examples of Background Halo include:

Comic Books

  • In issue 27 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer a flashback shows Oz meditating with Bayarmaa. Oz sits inside a cage, and his head is framed by darkness. Opposite him and outside the cage is Bayarmaa, her head framed by artwork on the walls of the monastery in the shape of the sun, with beams radiating out from it.

Films -- Animation

  • Many of the backgrounds in The Secret of Kells, especially the drawings and diagrams on the walls of Abbot Cellach's study, form these for several different characters throughout the movie.
  • In the church meeting scene in Wallace and Gromit Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Lady Tottingham has one. And Victor has Background Devil Horns.
  • Cinderella: When Cinderella is transformed into her iconic ballroom gown by the Fairy Godmother's magic, some of the magic dust used to make that gown actually gets thrown into the air and forms a halo around Cinderella's head.
  • When Esmeralda comforts Quasimodo after he's been ridiculed at the Feast of Fools in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, as she is walking up to the torture wheel the villagers strapped Quasimodo on to make fun of him, the Sun can be seen shining from behind her head, giving her the appearance of wearing a halo.

Films -- Live-Action

  • In History of the World Part One when Jesus has The Last Supper (with Mel Brooks as a waiter), Leonardo da Vinci comes in to paint a commemorative portrait—Brooks holds his silver platter up behind Jesus to look like a halo.
  • This technique was inverted in The Shining, with Jack shown with a black chandelier over his head, an "anti Halo", after he went crazy.
  • Ra's outfit in Stargate invokes a halo behind him. It's a Sun Disk to be exact, and it's probable that at least some Pharaohs actually wore them. It's also a candidate for the origin of the halo in the first place.
  • Deliberate style choice in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Most of Queen Amidala's costumes and background settings create a circular halo around her head.
  • At least once in Metropolis, Frieder gets a Holy Backlight Halo (the light shining/diffused through his hair).
  • Happens very often in The Fifth Element.
  • Glenn Close's Iris character pulls this off with the sun shining through her hat in The Natural.
  • In Miss Congeniality, Cathy Morningside gets a Background Crown.
  • Used in the 3rd sequel of Starship Troopers Marauder, where the devoutly religious assistant of now traitor Omar Anoke Holly begs Johnny Rico's no-nonsense atheist Action Girlfriend Lola Beck to pray in their hopeless situation. As Behemecoatl, a planet-sized "God of bugs", prepares to devour them and assimilate their knowledge, Lola sees seven lights of light appears in the night sky as a halo around Holly's head, which are in fact a unit of advanced robot Marauder mechs who bomb the God Bug and hundreds of Warrior Bugs. This convinces Lola to convert to Christianity, which the Federation then use to better control the masses.
  • In the 1993 movie Naked, Johnny takes a step back in such a way that a gold-colored clock frames his head.
  • In Danny Boyle's Millions, the bad guy is never seen without a black woolly hat on - possibly a balaclava partly rolled up - which forms a dark halo around his head. Entirely deliberate per the commentary track on the DVD.


  • There is a literary political satire in which a US politician with an approval rating lower than Hitler attempts to improve his image by getting visual FX artists to add subliminal haloes to his TV appearances. It backfires when one of the haloes slips and looks like a noose round his neck.

Live-Action TV

  • In The Colbert Report, when the camera is facing Colbert and his desk straight-on, there's a circle of stars around Colbert's head, definitely making a halo. Kind of.
  • A promotional photograph for Supernatural depicts Dean with a full moon shining right behind hishead, creating a halo-like effect. Interestingly, in that same photograph, Sam is shown as having a snake, well... Snaking up his arm.
  • An unusual variant occurs in an episode of Spaced, where Daisy momentarily feels guilty for lying to their landlady, and the camera frames her head in front of a fruit bowl with two bananas poking out, giving her devil-like horns.
  • The establishing shot of the "You win, or you die" scene in Game of Thrones shows Cersei in a Dutch Angle with her head obscuring the sun, which appears to be a deliberate invocation of this trope. Of course, Cersei is anything but a saintly person.
  • The Stargate is sometimes used to this effect in Stargate SG-1. Notably, in the first episode of season 2, "The Serpent's Lair", where General Hammond is shown framed by the gate during his speech, with a timely activation concluding it.


Video Games

  • In the poster for "The Sacrifice" for Left 4 Dead, Bill's head has the rising sun behind it as a halo of sorts. This is because canonically, he sacrifices himself for his friends in the campaign

Web Comics

  • The page image is takes from the first chapter of The Meek.

Western Animation

  • Occurs in Dilbert, episode "The Shroud of Wally", with a disc in a Last Supper parody.
  • Shows up in the My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic episode "The Ticket Master". When a rainstorm pours heavily on everyone but Twilight Sparkle thanks to Rainbow Dash screwing with the weather, Twilight accuses Dash of trying to butter her up for her extra ticket to the Grand Galloping Gala. As Dash plays innocent, the sun behind her head gives her the appearance of a halo.
  • Back-Alley Doctor Nick Riviera gets a ceiling light halo after he successfully completes Homer's bypass operation in The Simpsons episode "Homer's Triple Bypass".