Van in Black

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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"How do you know they're watching us?"

"Because that pool cleaner's van has been parked out on the street for over four hours. No one's pool is that dirty."
Sandra Bennet, Heroes

You've Seen It a Million Times—that large, menacing black van pulling over on the other side of the street the moment you go inside. Or maybe you have dismissed it as paranoid speculation, just as The Man wanted you to. But you should at least know what it means -- They are watching you, at this very moment from that very car. If Lampshaded there will be a honkin' big radar dish on top.

These vehicles provide a sense of foreboding mystery to the characters they follow and the audience. The vans appear in the background, and are viewed only from the outside. Unlike Spies in a Van, it's common that neither the audience nor the protagonist ever find out exactly who is in the vans, or what they are doing. Occasionally, both tropes can occur in the same series, if there are competing vans. Or if the organization operating them determines The Hero is not their enemy and invites them into The Masquerade.

If they're not just watching you, but about to kick your ass, then the black van will be replaced by a black Chevrolet Suburban with tinted windows.

See also Black Helicopter. The title is a pun on The Men in Black.

Examples of Van in Black include:

Anime and Manga

  • Such vans can also be used by protagonists, generally in police/covert military shows. Section 9 in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, for example, regularly uses one for undercover surveillance.
  • The Yamainu's vans in Higurashi no Naku Koro ni.
  • These show up in Digimon Tamers. Amusingly enough in an early episode, Takato comments on how those look amazingly like they'd belong in a Government Conspiracy.
  • Gun X Sword has the main character's swallowtail tuxedo...Oh, wait, wrong Van.

Comic Books

  • The van in Runaways, although it's white and actually is fairly nondescript.

Chase: Remember those two sniper dudes last year? When everyone in Virginia was looking for one white van? The cops couldn't find it 'cause every plumber and electrician and whatever drives one of these things. [..] That's why I asked my parents for one. I get in this bad boy, and I totally drop off The Man's radar.

  • Mooks driving around in a black van sedate Wallace and capture Esther in Sin City.


  • The van used by the bank robbers in Inside Man.
  • The Zap 'Em Pest Control van in Men in Black ironically serves as transportation for a big bad bug.
    • Somewhat Lampshaded because half of his spaceship stuck out of the back and top.
  • A scene in Ocean's Eleven involved the team attempting to purchase a Van in Black. Hilarity Ensues.
  • In ET the Extraterrestrial, the government forces use a van with surveillance equipment to find E.T.
  • Played for laughs in Old School, when the protagonists use one of these to kidnap their fraternity pledges, complete with Metallica soundtrack.
  • Twister. The opposing storm chasers drive black vans, presumably because they're funded by a corporation and are therefore bad.
  • Karl Hallzemoff, the Hugos' transport van from Cars 2.
  • In a deliberate parody (Just like every other trope invoked in the film), the heroes of the first Attack of the Killer Tomatoes movie traveled in a car with the words "F.I.A. Unmarked Car Pool" painted on it.
  • In The President's Analyst, soon after a paranoid Dr. Schaefer flees his job by ingratiating himself to a family of tourists who take him to their home, there's a big service van with a 'TPC' logo on the side parked on their neighborhood street. It doesn't really merit any notice, but toward the movie's end we find out 'TPC' is The Phone Company, which has been tailing and finally abducting him.


Live Action TV

  • The van driven by The A-Team.
  • This is how Sandra Bennet reveals her Hidden Badass in Heroes volume 4, by noticing that The Men in Black have been staking out their house long before her daughter does, and gives us the above page quote.
  • In the third season finale of Burn Notice, Michael tells Simon that he's seen a certain van circling the block and that it's probably an FBI vehicle watching them. When he goes to it it's actually just a regular van transporting alcohol. Michael just needed to get out of Simon's line of sight to use the delivery boy's phone to call Sam and Fiona.
  • Frank's "Rape Van" from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
  • The private investigator in House also used an "ice cream truck" for spying purposes.
  • The conspiracy in Jekyll use a black van full of surveillance equipment to keep track of the protagonist—who makes a point of mentioning how inconspicuous it isn't. (Which may be the point, since—although the van isn't just a decoy—he turns out to also be under surveillance by several more genuinely inconspicuous methods.)
  • The Three Nemeseses in Buffy the Vampire Slayer have a black van, which is rather less stealthy after one has the idea of painting a Star Wars mural on the side.
  • In Little Mosque on the Prairie, when an agent of the Canadian Secret Service came to Mercy on holiday, the Muslim community got paranoid, and Baber noticed a delivery truck outside the Mosque. He claims it's a stakeout, and there are three agents there, one of them called "Sarge", and they're drinking coffee out of paper cups. At the end of the episode, the Secret Service really start surveillance on the Mosque there really are three agents there, drinking coffee out of paper cups, and one of them is called "Sarge"
  • Chuck has these on occasion.
  • Used in some Earth-centric episodes of Stargate SG-1, though it's an unusual example because it's Our Heroes in the black vans, as they work for The Government.
  • The X-Files. Inverted in "Dreamland" where The Men in Black travel in white 4WD's.
  • The SUV in Torchwood.
  • The Actives from Dollhouse were ferried to and from their engagements in black vans. In keeping with the surveillance van motif, the vans would remain nearby during the engagement so that handlers could monitor their assigned Active.

Professional Wrestling

  • This is how Samoa Joe disappeared when he was abducted by ninjas.

Video Games

  • The Cleaners' vans in Max Payne 2.
  • There are some Vans In Black in Mirror's Edge but seeing how you more often take the roofs, they are much less prominent than Black Helicopters.
  • The weird black vans throughout the first levels of The Simpsons Hit & Run. It turns out they're only pizza vans.
  • An absurdly oversized van in Silent Hill Origins (it's just a prop, but somebody forgot to scale it correctly) is treated as this in a Let's Play.
  • The famous Milkman Conspiracy level in Psychonauts doesn't have the classical black vans, but it has the next best thing: huge black limos... with radar dishes on top.
  • Black Vans appear occasionally in Deus Ex, along with Black Helicopters.
  • Get a 5-star wanted level in Grand Theft Auto Vice City and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and the FBI will come after you in black tinted SUV's. Probably the best time to retreat to a safehouse before the army shows up.
  • Agency vans in Syphon Filter 2.
  • After Max becomes president in Sam and Max Season 1, a truck with the label, "Secret Serv-ice Cream" remains parked outside the duo's apartment.


Web Original

Western Animation

  • The page image comes from The Simpsons episode, Bart the Murderer, with a government agency hiding out in a florist van. The florist's name: Flowers By Irene.
    • Earlier, Marge had noticed a pizza van that had been parked outside the Simpsons's house for days. After Marge asks 'How long does it take to deliver a Pizza?' it zooms off to be replaced by the van above.
    • Parodied again with similar vans labeled CIA, FBI, and ATF, which here stand for "Chinese Intelligence Agency", "French Bureau of Investigation", and "A-Team of Finland".
    • In one episode Homer is sent into the Kwik-E-Mart with a hidden camera by the Channel 6 news team, which is monitoring him from a van parked out front, with "Ordinary Van" painted on the outside.
    • The Simpsons: Hit and Run featured black vans as the catalyst for the plot, kicking off the first level with Homer trying to find out what they're doing—and giving up on the matter when he's fooled into thinking the vans he saw were delivery vans for Black Van Pizza.
  • Crocker in The Fairly OddParents used a fairy tracking van disguised as an ice cream truck at least once.
    • Which proved horribly ineffective since he was immediately mobbed by kids. To drive them away, he converted the van into a spinach truck... and was immediately mobbed by sailors instead.
  • Jonny Quest TOS episode "The Quetong Missile Mystery". When the Quests drive away from their ship, we see a van with surveillance equipment inside that was keeping an eye on them. It drives off after them when they leave. It was sent by General Fong to keep watch on them.
  • Superfriends 1973/74 episode "The Balloon People". Dr. Noah Tall uses his spy van the "Snoop Wagon" to perform surveillance before he attempts to kidnap the Balloonians.

Real Life

  • The "voronoks" (black GAZ-M vans) in which Stalin's NKVD agents moved around.
    • Related to the above was the legendary black Volga of Polish urban legends (not a van, though). But then, try to tell me this car doesn't look evil.
      • A 1990s article in a British magazine tested a metallic-tan GAZ-21 Volga; it was remarked that the car had originally been black and had to be repainted due to black Volgas' association with the KGB.
  • More often than not, Real Life surveillance vans are white since that's by far the most common color for commercial vans (being the easiest color for non-surveillance fleet users to put their logo in vinyl tape on dozens/hundreds of).
  • The United States Secret Service uses black Chevrolet Suburbans (or similar vehicles) with tinted windows in the Presidential motorcade.
    • Many other U.S. government agencies, like the FBI, also do so.