Exact Progress Bar


"The progress bar is moving, but the remaining time is going up!"
Cypher in CollegeHumor's "The Matrix Runs on Windows XP"

In TV and movies, all computer operations take an exact, known amount of time to perform, and all progress bars move smoothly at a constant rate. This will always be 100% accurate. Generally, in Real Life, it's more complicated. Just try copying a large folder in Windows and see for yourself.

When the realistic style of progress bar shows up in fiction, it's an aversion of this trope, which can be played for tension or laughs as the character reacts to every jump or freeze in progress.

In real life, some jobs are predictable and some are not, and this is always highly dependent on actual implementation details that are beyond this article.

See also Beeping Computers, Exact Time to Failure and Magic Countdown.


    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga  

  • Averted in Lucky Star, where Konata is increasingly annoyed by the realistically fluctuating progress bar on her PC.
  • Digimon Tamers, which normally takes a tremendous amount of liberties with how computers and networks work, averts this at least once. Progress on a set of calculations is shown in the normal way a computer would display it...with a heavily chunked progress bar, the end segment blinking, and stuck at a certain percent. No estimated time is shown.


  • In the Iron Man movie, during the final upload to the Mark I suit, the progress bar very visibly speeds up and jumps toward the end.
  • Parodied in Office Space. When Peter tries to leave before Lumbergh catches him, it appears that his progress bar will finish in time. Then it restarts... and restarts again... and again...
  • In the film DOA: Dead or Alive , the Big Bad is uploading the plans for his invention to a bunch of international buyers. Naturally, the progress bar is quickly filling up, despite the fact that these buyers are all, presumably, located in different locations. When Wetherby manages to stop the upload, the bar reverses and quickly goes back to 0. Just to be more ridiculous, Wetherby calls in the government by going to CIA.GOV on an internet browser and... not doing much else. Apparently, that's enough to call in the cavalry, and the Big Bad is immediately warned by a large blinking message on his screen "CIA Notified".
  • Any movie or TV show where an illicit financial transaction is carried out. Instead of a real banking website, which takes just as long to process each money transfer, the computer will show a progress bar - as if the computer is actually moving individual banknotes and counting them as it does so...


  • One of the Alias novels has Sydney trying to upload a virus to a computer while pretending to be one of the spies for the Russian organization. Most of the tension of the scene is caused by the progress bar jumping back and slowing down at random, while the biggest threat to her cover is on her way to check the computer.

     Live-Action TV  

  • in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Willow has to try doing research without magic after her brush with "addiction". When a progress bar stops about halfway, she reaches her hand up to speed it along with magic, but then it suddenly finishes loading.
  • Used and averted on Caprica. Several times characters get frustrated because a progress bar sticks at 95% or so before resuming and completing.
  • Apparently not even Higher-Tech Species are immune: at one point in Stargate SG-1, an Asgard progress bar is shown at around 75% for a few minutes, then abruptly increases to 100% in a couple of seconds.
  • Played straight in Kamen Rider Ex-Aid, when the heroes are developing a Gashat that they hope will let them defeat the seemingly immortal Genm. Hiiro goes out to stall for time while Taiga guards the computer downloading the anti-virus program and waits on the progress bar.

     Video Games  

  • In Progress Quest, each and every progress bar moves straight from 0% to 100%. However, they're not actually representing progress, they are just fixed video effects.
  • Scan progress in the Metroid Prime games is always smooth, most likely because the scan data doesn't actually take quite that long to load. and maybe because its a fixed length animation that will always take that long to run.
  • Used hilariously in Modern Warfare 2. On one mission you're tasked with defending a computer system as it downloads files, but the 'time remaining' jumps all over the place as the transfer rate fluctuates. It flits between seven seconds and nine hours in one extreme example - this is clearly a humorous 'replication' of the Microsoft file transfer progress bar - the worst known example of an actual progress bar.
    • It gets more ridiculous in harder difficulties. In "recruit" (Easy) it's pretty close to the real version. In "Veteran" (Expert) it can reach up to several days note  and work slowly downward from there (just to make fighting off a full army of guys who can kill you in a few shots that much harder).
  • Product Placement in Wipeout went overboard when the commercial videos introduced in a post-release update played during the loading screen...and the loading bar would stop near the end as the video finished, whereas the bar had been perfectly accurate beforehand. The ads were since removed because players noticed this detail and felt anger about it. The game has was later updated to support new advertisements.
  • The first WarioWare had menus modeled on a typical computer interface (the story being that Wario was programming the games, and you were working as a tester). When unlocking things, a progress bar would appear, and slow down and speed up while the new objects "loaded". The one for the title screen (if you don't skip the intro) moved at a constant rate, though.
  • Every single program used in Uplink does this, though just how fast they reach completion depends on the processor speed in your Gateway computer. The only indication of their processes stopping before completion is if the bar fills up and then reads, "Failed".
  • Averted in SOMA. Most, if not all of the computer terminals in Pathos-II have realistic lag when executing or loading programs. This almost prevents Simon Jarret's mind from being copied onto the ARK at the end.
    Simon: I thought you guys would have better bandwidth in the future!
  • In Payday2, every single tool you have has one. Which includes: hacking interfaces for voting machines, computers you let Bain access, and, inexplicably, the drills you use to open doors and safes. drills will jam three times though, and will have to be restarted, and any timer can be stopped by police action (including drills), needing to be restarted, which means the projected time may be slightly lower, or completely out of whack, depending on police action and player reactions, but aside from police action and the three jams, it's accurate to the second.

     Web Comics  

     Web Original  

  • On MSN Games, you see an ad before and sometimes interrupting gameplay. Below the ad is a progress bar that says "x% complete" and progresses at a constant rate. If the ad is not a video, the game will begin exactly when the bar reaches 100%. Of course this is not a real progress bar but a fixed delay disguised as one. (In the case of videos, the game will begin when the video finishes playing.)
    • There is a radio station named Lite 96 whose site has this when loading the radio stream.
  • In Star Harbor Nights, when an alien machine Hive Mind is trying to infiltrate a villainess's Elaborate Underground Base full of Phlebotinum waiting to be assimilated, the download progress bar keeps resetting and jumping around randomly, undermining her attempts to play Enemy of My Enemy with the government.

     Western Animation  

  • Parodied in The Fairly OddParents episode "Information Stupor Highway". While Mr. Crocker is uploading a file with a 1-month-old computer, the progress bar actually drops to -1%, among other tortures.
  • In Futurama, although the fake nose machine that also translates alien documents doesn't have a progress bar, it is stated that the exact process of translating a document could take anywhere from a few moments to a million years. The only indication of progress is the machine dinging. Two dings means it's done. Not like that, slightly more rapid.
    • On the other hand, downloading the entirety of a human being's personality into a robot is measurable with an exact progress bar and apparently only takes about one second, as seen when Fry dates a robot clone of Lucy Liu.

     Real Life  

  • You expected the bar to show you how long a process is going to take? Sorry, they tend to just show the amount of operations the program is going to perform. With no consideration of the order or complexity of those operations. Or how suited your computer is to performing any of them. It's a lot like watching someone build a Lego model: You can see the pieces adding up, and the picture tells you how it's going to look when it's finished, but those things do not give an accurate indication of the time involved.
  • Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger" has a startup progress bar that moves at a constant rate, using information about the duration of the previous system boot to determine how quickly it should move. Though technically it isn't a progress bar at all since it doesn't indicate the progress of the current operation, but rather how long it took last time.
    • 10.5 "Leopard" just tossed out this progress bar entirely, going straight from the gray Apple logo initially visible on boot to (after a couple of seconds) the login window.
  • Some ATMs in Germany ("Postbank") show progress bars which move at a constant rate... And then, when they're full, start from the beginning. What's the purpose of a progress bar, when it doesn't give you any information at all?
    • It does show that the system hasn't crashed. Without additional status text, though, it doesn't show the difference between "meaningful progress" and "stuck in an infinite loop".
  • For the most part, one is more likely to see a hideous inversion. If copying a diverse enough set of files in Windows (XP and earlier in particular), it's not rare at all to see estimates of "5 seconds, 1 hour 34 minutes, 0 seconds, 1 hour 56 minutes", etc, even if the transfer is halfway done.
    • This has carried over into Windows Vista and 7, and there is a reason behind why the estimates fluctuate. The estimated time remaining is based on the size of the file currently being copied, and assumes that all remaining files are the same size, meaning it is constantly changing.Example 
    • Some tools estimate progress based on the total sizes of the files being copied. This is equally inaccurate when file sizes vary, but in the opposite direction, because adding a file to a folder involves some overhead work.
    • Played straight in later versions of Windows with a much improved file copy dialog.
  • Sometimes the progress bar is exact but misleading. Linux has a tendency to aggressively cache files when transferring a large amount of data. When copying from a fast device to a slower device, files will appear to copy extremely quickly (the progress bar fills up quickly), then comes to a halt as the cache fills and becomes bottlenecked by the destination. Bonus points for when the progress bar fills up and disappears (or the cp/mv command you're running finishes), but the transfer isn't actually done (discovered when attempting to unmount the device) thanks to the write cache not being finished with its part.
  • Windows 8 now gives you a "Show Details" button for some operations, which not only shows what jobs are happening, it also turns the bar into a curve graph that tells you how quickly it'll be moving under its jobs.
  • The anti-piracy "You wouldn't steal a car" advert on many DVDs shows a girl downloading a movie. The progress bar is unrealistic, not just because it's completely smooth - but because it only takes about 20 seconds to complete. This may actually be enough to encourage people to use questionable download sites...
  • "Pacifiers" are an intentional aversion due to the difficulty of actually predicting the exact amount of time necessary to complete a given operation. Their primary purpose is to show the user that the computer is doing something, so that they know the system hasn't frozen or crashed. They come in two flavors:
    • When doing something which might take a long time, but where the exact amount of time to complete is unknown, a fake progress bar is often used to show that something is happening. Such progress bars often start out at a slow but noticable speed at the beginning, but will keep slowing down towards the end. They usually stop filling around the 1/2 or 3/4 mark before suddenly filling up quickly when the system actually finishes.
    • Many applications and operating systems have decided to forego the progress bar entirely for a bar that simply fills or scrolls at a constant rate. They may also slowly fade in from one side, then fade out on the other.