Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Transmit galaxy-wide live 3D? No problem. Use colors other than blue? Not so much.

A staple of both Speculative Fiction and Fantasy. Holograms can be created by technological, magical, or psychic means, but are always intangible illusions meant to fool onlookers into seeing something that isn't there. Holograms are thus the preferred tool of the Trickster Archetype and more specifically the Master of Illusion.

Holograms have a variety of uses, among them being deception, creating a Holographic Terminal, a simulacrum of those long dead or artificial intelligences. The exact nature and properties of holograms vary between works, but for purposes of trope differentiation and practicality, the one unifying trait they share is intangibility. If they do have substance, they're Hard Light.

What media commonly identifies as a hologram is not actually a hologram, it's a volumetric display. Actual holograms are 3D images on 2D surfaces, and not visible from arbitrary angle. While this may seem like picking nits, there are perfectly valid reasons for the practice: "hologram" is easier to say than "volumetric display," and would the BBC allow Rimmer to walk around with "VD" plastered on his forehead?

Among their possible traits are:

  • Opacity: Some are see through, others can actually block light from passing through them like a real object. Oddly, this doesn't necessarily mean they cast shadows.
  • Emitter: Though common, many eschew this entirely. Instead of an emitter all you need is a powerful enough computer or piece of Phlebotinum with a monitor to make a hologram. If they do have an emitter, it will almost invariably be a Data Crystal or Power Crystal.
  • Range: Usually it's unlimited. Only rarely are they limited to a line of sight to their emitter, frequently they act as independent autonomous beings so long as the device is on, no matter how far they go or if there are objects in between.
  • Glamour Failure: Despite often being the photonic equivalent of Deceptively-Human Robots, they will exhibit signs of being artificial because they: don't cast shadows, hair or clothes won't flap in the wind, are "too simple," or are not rendered very realistically.
  • Stuttering and Static: Related to Glamour Failure, holgrams generally fizz, pop, stutter and show other signs of malfunctioning right out of the box, though, for some reason, none of the users ever seems to notice this. For examples see Hologram Projection Imperfection.
  • Clipping: Because they're intangible, people and objects can and will (hilariously) pass through them. Some holograms might have a "rendering failure" while so abused and go static-y, others might simply act annoyed, and some will gleefully stick their heads through walls like ghosts to see what's on the other side. Again, don't expect interposed objects to affect the emitter.
  • Integrated Speakers: One fun aspect of holograms is that they can actually speak or make noise, regardless of being unable to affect air or matter directly. This isn't a big deal for indoor or emitter-bound holograms, since it's not a big stretch to imagine there's also a speaker system hidden nearby. This is usually something that falls into Willing Suspension of Disbelief for unbound holograms though, since a holographic female computer avatar holding up an Etch-a-Sketch with her dialogue would be too funny.
  • Integrated Camera: A hologram AI or projected image of another person can usually see through the hologram's eyes, regardless of if a camera installed near the emitter would be limited in what it can see. It's usually understood that holographic technology can somehow not just project light but "see" everything in its vicinity.

See also Kiss Me, I'm Virtual, Huge Holographic Head and Projected Man. Holograms can be used for a Holographic Disguise or a Virtual Training Simulation. See also Hologram Projection Imperfection.

Examples of Hologram include:

Anime and Manga

  • Used quite often in the later Super Dimension Fortress Macross series, usually in combination with Idol Singers:
    • In Macross Plus, the virtual idol Sharon Apple (whose processor unit is a HAL-like black metal box with an eye) can only "manifest" to her audience as endlessly-customizable holographic avatars. By the end of the OAV, Sharon has taken control of the Macross itself, and she projects thousands and thousands of dreamlike holograms all across Macross City... as well as a titanic version of herself that envelops the titular mecha.
    • In Macross Frontier, Sheryl Nome typically performs her songs wearing a full-body holo-suit onto which a variety of costumes are projected (from the Stripperiffic to the regal ones.) Despite their nature, these holographic costumes have some level of solidity, as they can interact with the environment and vice versa.
      • In a Shout-Out to the Macross Plus example, the climax of the series shows a gigantic hologram of Ranka Lee manifesting above the Vajra homeworld, depleting the NUNS pilots' morale and dropping the Frontier's populace into despair... and also disguising the Battle Galaxy under Grace's command. This hologram is disrupted when the Macross Quarter fires its Heavy Quantuum Cannon at it.


Tom Strong: "The lasers aren't aimed at us. They're creating a criss-cross lattice of beams in the chamber's center. On my world, I've heard rumours of technology like this. Apparently, when two powerful lasers cross beams, it can create a hovering plasma ball... except this is scores of lasers. Properly manipulated, the plasma can emit almost intelligible sounds. They call the technology 'God's voice'..."

  • In one of Yoko Tsuno's stories, "The Prey And The Shadow", a girl named Margaret is forced to become the model for one of these, for reasons that her boss won't disclose. Fearing for her life and that of another girl whom she's impersonated, Margaret decides to latch on the titular Action Girl for help... and she's got good reasons, since the hologram's a part of a cruel Evil Plan to get the other girl killed.
  • Nightcrawler of the X-Men has a device that creates a hologram to let him appear normal, but he rarely uses it.


  • The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension: The black Lectroid leader sends Buckaroo a record player-like device that generates a hologram of herself.
  • Iron Man: Tony Stark has created a holographic drafting table that he uses to design his armor in 3D (aided by his Magical Computer butler). He can even "wear" the hologram by sticking his arms in.
  • The Last Starfighter: The images Zur projected into the Starfighter base.
  • Outland: Naked holographic women dance/copulate? in the bar used by the miners.
  • Resident Evil: the Red Queen's projected "little girl" image.
  • Star Wars: A New Hope: Princess Leia's image projected out of R2-D2, and the chess pieces in the game between R2-D2 and Chewbacca.
    • You can see the evolution of the technology over the course of all six films. In the prequels, holograms are almost exclusively rendered in varying shades of blue. By the time of the original trilogy, they're in color, and much larger (see Vader's massive hologram of the Emperor in The Empire Strikes Back, and R2's larger-than-life hologram of Luke in Return of the Jedi).
  • Superman II: Lex Luthor creates a laser hologram device to project images of himself and Otis playing chess. This fools the guards so they can escape Metropolis Prison.
  • In Flubber the robot Weebo projects a holographic hot girl avatar for herself to fondle the main character in his sleep. It's weirder in context.
  • Futureworld (sequel to Westworld). Two Delos guests play a chess game using holographic pieces.
  • Minority Report includes a scene with a holographic projection of a home movie. The film uses an interesting effect wherein the hologram only has partial depth and is not entirely three dimensional. It is not explained whether this is due to imperfect technology or the fact that the 3D hologram is trying to render from a 2D original.
  • Tank Girl. Kesslee's head after his operation.
  • Total Recall has a device to create a photo realistic hologram that mimics the user. It is used late in the film to trick a bunch of armed guards. There's also a tennis-training hologram that Lori uses to practice her serve.
  • G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. When Duke first meets the Joes they have a device that projects a holographic image of their commander General Hawk.
  • Logan's Run. In the scene where Logan is interrogated about Sanctuary, the main computer creates holograms of his head that express his thoughts.


  • Used to safely simulate monsters, enemy soldiers, weapons and other threats in Dream Park and its sequels.
  • In Neuromancer, the character Riviera is a showman with the ability to project holograms due to having an emitter implanted in his chest. He has a taste for guro-type shows when onstage, and offstage he's no better. For example, he likes to amplify his experiences in drug use by projecting a scorpion over his hypodermic while shooting up-and to create traffic accidents by projecting the scorpion onto the dashboards of passing vehicles and hoping the driver panics. It is also his Chekhov's Gun although firing it doesn't quite get the result he was hoping for. the other characters recognize immediately that a hologram is a controlled laser, and could be used as a laser weapon just strong enough to fry a retina over-easy, as the Finn puts it. Riviera eventually uses it as such against the ninja bodyguard Hideo. Unfortunately for Riviera, ninjas are quite skilled at enduring pain and fighting in the dark, so this serves only to make Hideo want to kill Riviera.
  • Return From the Stars has holographic "photos" (a flat piece of paper which displays a holographic face above when unfolded) as well as holographic theatre. The protagonist blunders into one such a spectacle, thinking it to be a gathering of real people and attempts to ask the actors for directions before realizing what a spectacle he has just done of himself.
  • A commonly used ability of the Chee in Animorphs, both the books and TV series. The Chee are androids who pass in human society with human holograms. They often project holograms to hide conversations with the Animorphs, or in at least one book, hide the kids' escapes with their parents.
  • The central atrium of the Prometheus Corporation’s HQ in The Chronicles of Professor Jack Baling has an enormous hologram of Prometheus as its centerpiece.

Live Action TV

  • Star Trek in all its incarnations. Of special mention are the Holodecks in Star Trek: The Next Generation and The Doctor in Star Trek: Voyager.
    • Ironically with all their Phlebotinum these both of those neatly avoid a few common problems. The holodecks are self-contained (so they have speakers and can "see" everything) and the doctor uses a mobile emitter.
  • Al from Quantum Leap.
  • Rimmer in Red Dwarf.
  • Becoming implausibly common on present-day detective procedurals, including Bones and CSI New York. Most police departments can barely afford toner for copiers, yet the lab rats still get this to play with?
    • Bones did eventually phase out the absurd holographic rendering device (and it's been lampshaded that the Jeffersonian Institute has much nicer equipment than your average police station).
      • There is actually a way to project an image mid air like this, though it requires lasers so powerful they'd start fires. The process also (sometimes) produces gasses that might turn the fluid in your eyes to acid.
  • Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda: One incarnation of Andromeda (the Spaceship's Persona) is a hologram.
  • Stargate SG-1 seems to regard holograms as being pretty high up the technological tree, as full on holograms are the exclusive province of the Ancients and Asgard. Late on Anubis steals the plans, along with some other Asgard goodies. To what use does he put this technology? As an interstellar telephone with which to taunt his enemies, of course!
  • In RoboCop: The Series, Diana, a secretary whose memory was uploaded into the OCP supercomputer after she was killed, could project an image of herself in a hologram.
  • Actual holograms (as in, not volumetric displays) show up a handful of times in Babylon 5 as part of a Minbari fleet commander's standard equipment. Basically the displays fold down around the command staff and then the (flat) screens display fully 3D images of the battle around them.
    • The technomages play the trope straight, creating volumetric displays with no visible emitters, possibly crossing the line into Hard Light.
  • Mission: Impossible has concealed hologram projectors as part of the team's arsenal since the later seasons in the 60s series. The 80s revival uses them even more frequently and even has an episode named after the trope.

Tabletop RPG

  • Call of Cthulhu (tabletop game) supplement The Fungi from Yuggoth. The Yithian Communicator is a device the Yithians of the distant past use to communicate through time. The device has a red jewel that projects an image (presumably using laser light) of the Yithian itself.
  • Dungeons & Dragons. The Judges Guild supplement Wilderlands of the Magic Realm had an high tech artifact in the shape of a boulder that was powered by geothermal energy. It projected a laser hologram of an elven princess.

Video Games

  • Used very often in the Metroid Prime series. Planets are commonly projected for navigation purposes and in the Aurora Units frequently relay messages in this form.
  • Cortana from the Halo franchise is a holographic AI in the image of a woman. The latest game in the franchise also features holograms you can deploy to distract your enemies.
  • In Destroy All Humans!, Crypto's commander, Orthopox, uses a holographic projector called a Holo Pox Unit to communicate with Crypto from the mothership.
  • Sega's Time Traveller notoriously claimed to be a hologram game when it wasn't--it was basically a flat image suspended in midair using mirrors.
  • Holograms in The Crystal Key look and act exactly like the one in the fourth Star Wars movie (fittingly for a game where the villain is obviously meant to be Darth Vader.) They're all Apocalyptic Logs, and they're your primary source of backstory given that what few sentient beings are still alive are all working for the villain and trying to kill you.
  • In Ace Attorney Investigations Kay's 'Little Thief' computer was used to project holographic recreations of crime scenes.
  • Ridiculously common in Dead Space, your characters inventory, access panels, even lift buttons are holograms projected on to thin air. Curiously all videos are 2D and limited to the colour blue.
  • Mass Effect has holograms for VI interfaces and communication. They are usually limited to a single colour at one time.
  • Assassin's Creed II features one in 1499
  • During the Space phase of Spore, players can buy a hologram emitter that will project a representation of the ship's Captain onto a planet's surface. Anything the hologram "grabs" is transported into the ship's hold.
  • After beating Mega Man 2's Alien Wily, the hologram projector broke and it was revealed the real Dr. Wily was controlling it.
  • The Deus Ex series has holograms for communication purposes, oddly the holograms look the best in the Prequel (Deus Ex Human Revolution) even being mistaken for real people on occasions but the worst in the last (canonical) game (Deus Ex Invisible War)where they are tinged blue and strobe slightly.

Web Comics

Web Original

Western Animation

  • Arthur has Binky, a virtual band, whose life performances are basically holographic projections.
  • Synergy projects Holograms from Jerrica's star earrings in Jem and The Holograms
  • Scooby Doo loved these. Villains often used projectors (holographic or otherwise) to make their act seem more genuine.
  • Iron Man: Armored Adventures has holograms, coming in both a blue, full-body, full-size projection that's, and a small, flat, orange head-only projection that is emitted from a villain's communication wristband.
  • On Jimmy Two-Shoes, all Miseryville phones can project holograms.
  • Like his comic counterpart, Nightcrawler in X-Men Evolution has a hologram device so he can appear normal. As the Evolution version of Nightcrawler is a bit more self-conscious, (not to mention for the first two seasons, the existence of mutants is hidden from the public) he uses it more often than the comic version.

Real Life

  • Believe it or not, Vocaloid have been holding concerts where the characters showed up on stage as holograms. It appears to be a projection on a pane of glass, as you can see the glowsticks the audience is holding reflected on the glass, but still! Real life holograms!
  • Whatever the wretched Mega Corp advertisements would like to tell you, the truth is that there are no commercially available (or even technologically viable) volumetric holograms available. The only "true" VH that this troper has seen proof of is this technology press release from 2006. Everything else is either a cheap 3D cinema effect (with or without glasses), a spinning mirror, an image in a glass cube or an image projected in a thick cloud of water vapor (believe it or not those things are actually being sold, water sprinklers and all). Furthermore, the technological principles required to project an image on nothing are unclear at best.
    • Note that the water vapor method still results in a 2D image.
    • A real 3D hologram can show any static object from a limited view angle (behind the glass) with decent quality. These images, however, are not nearly good enough to be widely used as tools, unless a given task requires an element too tricky to mass-produce "for real" and a narrow spectral bandwidth is acceptable; an image e.g. of a big, expensive telescope mirror could work well enough to demonstrate the concept and be cheaper than the real thing, but in every way that matters (especially light losses) would be worse than a smaller real mirror of comparable cost. Thus the main practical use so far is to provide a visual sample of an object when it's risky, expensive or plain impossible to display the original - it's mainly good for museums and some art galleries.