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“Shit just got real” originated from the 2003 movie Bad Boys 2. Martin Lawerence receives a phone call, the camera pans dramatically as he suddenly notices how much danger he is in, and responds “Shit just got real.” The line was also referenced in the 2007 film Hot Fuzz.
In image macros, it is generally shown in a context that is either violent or where the subject has an intense or intimidating expression. It is meant to convey that there has been an escalation in some sort of event that has taken it to a new level.
After the movie was out for while, an Urban Dictionary definition was created. However, Google searches for “Shit Just Got Real” didn’t yield any relevant results until Jan. 2004. By June of ’07, a YTMND and Facebook page were made for the phrase.