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Exact Time to Failure
"You know what I hate? When you're at the doctor's office and he says, 'You have exactly ten minutes to live.'"'
Slowbeef of Retsupurae on Arise 3

Whenever a technological device is about to fail, the Magical Computer knows exactly how long it will take to fail and displays a timer counting down (often with the use of a Viewer-Friendly Interface). Very useful to create a suspenseful situation, in a similar manner to a Time Bomb.

Naturally, there will be no lasting consequences if the failure is stopped in time, even if there's just a millisecond left. Sometimes, the timer is polite enough to wait for the dramatic scene to finish, in which case it's a Magic Countdown. In Video Games, these are very handy for setting up Timed Missions. Related to Ludicrous Precision. See also Race Against the Clock.

Justified in the case of an actual Time Bomb, since defusing it half a second before it would've exploded has the same result as defusing it 5 hours earlier. In just about any other case? Not so much.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Eureka Seven: the antibody coralians can only remain alive for 1246 seconds (20 minutes 46 seconds).
  • Last Exile: When the Guild first attacks the Silvana, it's stated they can operate for 20 minutes at full power. After exactly twenty minutes, they all break off and leave (including Dio and Luciola, who entered the battle later on). Fridge Logic ensues because they were thrashing the Silvana — since they still had enough fuel to fly back home, they couldn't have stayed the few extra minutes to finish? Or refueled and headed back out?
  • A similar virus attack in Neon Genesis Evangelion.
    • Said virus attack triggered the base's self-destruct mechanism, which is what the countdown was, thus making it an actual Time Bomb and not really an example of this trope.
      • Actually, the virus/angel was hacking into the three magi supercomputers, which must unanimously agree in order to activate the self-destruct. Since the battle is going on in clock-cycles, it's relatively easy for the techs to predict how long (plus or minus a few nanoseconds) before the last of the magi gets taken over.
    • The huge countdown display for EVA-01's auxiliary power batteries that plastered itself all over every screen in NERV during Episode 3. Especially considering it reached zero just as the What-Do-You-Mean-It's-Not-Symbolic-of-the-Week sputtered out.
    • On the other hand, the What-Do-You-Mean-It's-Not-Symbolic shield that EVA-00 uses in Episode 6 lasts longer than it needs to.
      • To be fair, Ritsuko said would last AT LEAST 17 seconds, which meant after those 17 seconds pass there was no guarantee that the shield would maintain its structural strength for longer.
    • And the JA's countdown for meltdown
  • The crew of the Uchuu Senkan Yamato always knew the exact number of days remaining before the extinction of humanity from gradually increasing radiation levels beneath the surface.
    • The English version would always change those dates around. To make one up, the narrator would say "There are only 118 days left!" but the (Japanese) text on the bottom would have a number like 134 which was the number of days left originally.
    • The English version ("Star Blazers") theme song took it further, claiming that if they weren't back with the CosmoDNA in one year, "mother Earth will disappear." Not "life on Earth will disappear," which would have scanned just fine and would have been a little more plausible, but apparently the planet itself. Naturally they got back at the last moment and there was no mention of the slightest damage or harm beyond what we'd seen at the beginning of the series.
  • Planet Namek during the Frieza Saga of Dragon Ball Z; the planet was about to be destroyed, with "five minutes" mentioned at least once, for ten episodes. Indeed, one episode had "two minutes" mentioned at the beginning, and "one minute" mentioned at the end.
  • Subverted in Mai-HiME: the time until Artemis the Kill Sat is ready to fire is announced, then it gets prepared earlier than expected, catching the protagonists (and the viewers) off guard. It is explained that "just because it's a satellite doesn't mean it moves at a constant rate".
  • In later episodes of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS, the exact time for the Cradle to orbit Mid-Childa is shown at the end of the episode. A bit of a plot point considering that the Dimensional Fleet will be six minutes too late unless the Cradle's ascension is somehow slowed...
  • In Saint Seiya, some manner of contrived Heroic Sacrifice (or enemy deathtrap) will kill Saori Kido, reincarnation of the Goddess Athena, When the Clock Strikes Twelve. And it's always exactly twelve hours. To the second.
  • In Naruto Shippuden, in the battle between Sakura and Sasori, Sakura takes an antidote that blocks Sasori's poison-based attacks for exactly three minutes, Sakura can tell exactly how much time has gone by, she even counts down the final seconds before the antidote wears off
  • In Sky Girls, each pilot's nanoskin gel — which shields the girls' skin from extreme conditions — expires in exactly twenty-one minutes and thirty-two seconds. After the gel expires, operating the Sonic Diver is equivalent to suicide: nothing protects their bodies when flying at hundreds of kilometres per hour at high altitude.
  • Subverted in the Read or Die OVA, where, even though the hero's stop the launch countdown with one second to spare, the Ijun launch anyways. In fact, the countdown ending display even ticks from 0 to -1 just to illustrate the point.
  • In Summer Wars, this is a double subversion with the counter stopping with a bit less than 14 minutes on the clock, but then it starts again.
  • In the last couple of episodes of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, Leader X attempts to destroy Earth by dropping nuclear bombs into the mantle. The result is supposed to be equivalent to a black hole. Suffice it to say that every bomb EXCEPT ONE drops into the mantle — and because the last one doesn't drop, the reaction doesn't come off.
  • In the second Digimon Adventure movie, Our War Game (and the second part of Digimon The Movie), Diablomon has launched a nuke at Japan from the United States and a five-minute countdown starts up, letting the Chosen Children know that they only have that long before they're wiped off the map. When Omegamon stabs Diablomon in the head, he stops the countdown with one second remaining and the nuke flops harmlessly into the water.
  • Played realistically in Planetes: when a ship is going to crash into a lunar colony, the countdown isn't until the collision, it's to when it will be too late to stop it. By that point, the ship is still a very good distance away.
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie, Sonic and company are racing to stop Eggmanland's main reactor from going critical. They're given a couple of hours and despite the troubles getting there, as well as a fight with Dark Eggman, Sonic's able to pull the switch with one second left to spare. Of course, it's actually a trap to gain Sonic's life data to get Hyper Metal Sonic functioning.
  • In Martian Successor Nadesico, the Aestivalis run on a special power system that grants them infinite energy as long as they're in range of the Nadesico. Once they're out of that range, they have eight minutes before the unit shuts down completely.
  • An entire episode of Suite Pretty Cure ♪ runs on this: the Hojo and Minamono families are set to go on a hiking trip and they are supposed to gather at 9 AM. At the same time, at 8:30 AM: Hibiki wakes up late, Kanade prepares cupcakes and Trio the Minor set out to unleash the Melody of Sorrow. Thanks to a comedy of errors, Ellen finds out about the Trio's plans, Hibiki and Kanade catch up to them, stop the latest Negatone and make it back with three seconds left to spare. Note that this was a 30 minute countdown in a 22 minute cartoon.
  • DokiDoki! Precure has Cure Ace's transformation, which only lasts 300 seconds.

    Comics 
  • In a biological variant, Aquaman (and all other Atlanteans in the DCU) originally could survive exactly one hour out of water; after that point they fell down dead. This has been quietly done away with in recent years.
    • The belief still lasts, which allowed Aquaman, in one of his annuals, to put one over on the bad guys.
  • In another biological variant, a Golden Age Batman story featured Hugo Strange. Strange had invented a serum that turned a normal person into a giant Monster Man, strong enough to rip out a support for an elevated train, which one of them actually did. Strange injected Batman with this serum, saying it takes 18 hours to work. And then a Monster Man punched Batman, leaving him knocked out for 17 hours and 45 minutes. He cures himself, obviously.
  • Hourman's drug-based powers would wear off in exactly an hour, regardless of his metabolism at the time he took the drug or thereafter.
  • It used to be the case that a Green Lantern ring needed recharging every twenty-four hours. Nowadays it needs recharging based on how much it's been used.
  • The final storyline of The Amazing Spider-Man, "Dying Wish", when a bunch of villains break Doc Ock/Peter Parker from jail, it's revealed that his body only has 700 minutes left before it fails completely. The issue number with that revelation? 699.

    Films — Animated 
  • Subverted in Monsters vs. Aliens. "3... 2... 1... (pause, nothing happens) Maybe my count was wBOOM"
  • Parodied in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, with Flint outlining their plan of attack, ending with:
    Flint: ...and rendezvous here, at the western blowhole in... how long before the world is destroyed?
    Sam: About twenty minutes.
    Flint: Just before then!
  • B.E.N. calculates this trope during the escape from Treasure Planet. They avoid failure by seconds.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Alien:
    • Used in the first movie, where a very precise time period is given for both the failure of the cooling system and the (spectacular) explosion of the Nostromo. When Ripley attempts to turn the cooling system back on and literally misses the countdown by seconds, she's unable to do so, likely because Mother (the computer) doesn't like anyone messing with her schedule except for itself. Mother's two 30 second countdowns take 36 and 37 seconds respectively.
    • In Aliens, Ripley searches for Newt inside the colony's atmospheric processing reactor while a computerized voice gives a minute-by-minute countdown as the reactor ticks its way towards becoming a "cloud of vapor the size of Nebraska." Probably justified in that the reactor's control systems, having real-time information on the temperature, pressure, etc. would be able to predict quite accurately the point at which it would go critical.
      • However, due to Rule of Cool, large parts of the reactor are blowing up and collapsing spectacularly prior to the main explosion. This makes the predictability of the countdown highly unlikely.
  • When Johnny 5 is worked over by the goons in Short Circuit 2, a countdown timer on his control panel shows how much time he has left before his ruptured battery drains and shuts him down. As can be expected, he stops the baddies in time and is repaired with only a few seconds of "life" remaining.
  • Dr. Strangelove gives us an aversion that shows why this trope is silly. A B-52 is hit by a missile and begins to leak fuel. One of the crew members works out the loss rate and predicts that they will have just enough to make it to the target and get to ditch by a weather ship. Then, in mid-flight, the fuel loss rate increases and they have to change target. Kudos, Kubrick.
    • Of course this is necessary to the plot: the plane's change of course means that the Russian fighters tracking it to its original target won't be able to intercept it (it's flying so low it can't be tracked by radar).
    • Also, when the Doomsday Machine is activated, they mention that they have enough time to flee to a deep mine shaft, and make the necessary modifications to make it inhabitable, rather than saying something like "If we don't get underground in 72 hours, we're doomed!" Fitting, since a full nuclear winter wouldn't cover the entire earth in lethal radiation for a while after detonation.
  • In Escape from New York, Snake is injected with microscopic explosives that will blow open his carotid arteries in 24 hours — to the second. However, this can be justified if microprocessors are used to time them.
    • In the sequel, Escape from L.A., however, he is infected with the man-made Plutoxin 7 virus, which seems rather unlikely to be something that can be timed with any exactness. Later, the Plutoxin 7 virus is revealed to be nothing more than a fast, hard hitting case of the flu, not in the least bit lethal to Snake.
  • Darkman's synthetic skin, when exposed to light, decays in exactly 99 minutes.
  • In Flash Gordon the countdown is stopped mere seconds before the Moon crashes into the Earth!
  • In 2012, the computers installed on the arks are somehow capable of calculating the exact second the tsunamis will strike the ships, despite the very limited predictability we in reality have of them.
  • In a variant using location rather than time, an on-screen graphic in Asteroid shows the calculated probability that a fragment of Eros will strike particular areas of Texas. The potential zones of impact form an implausibly-tidy pattern of concentric rings, and the fragment strikes dead center, even though the characters had admitted it was only a rough estimate.
    • This is the same movie where they decide to shoot the asteroid with fighter-mounted lasers aimed manually at a fast-moving object ridiculously far away. It works somehow.
  • In Danger: Diabolik, the protagonist takes a capsule that puts him in a death-like trance for 12 hours, allowing him to escape capture. As he wakes, he tells the coroner (who literally had the scalpel pressed to Diabolik's forehead) that if the antidote isn't administered within 12 hours the fake death becomes real. Then his Dark Mistress (disguised as a nurse) reveals that he was out for 11 hours and 57 minutes.
  • In 2001: A Space Odyssey:
    HAL: I've just picked up a fault in the AE35 unit. It's going to go 100% failure in 72 hours.
    • Of course, this is a subverted trope, as the unit isn't going to fail, HAL is malfunctioning.
    • Furthermore, the AE-35 unit fails in less than 72 hours, though HAL breaks it because Earth is in the process of telling the crew that HAL is malfunctioning
  • Parodied in Galaxy Quest, which of course was parody of a Star Trek type series, when they think they've stopped the countdown with several seconds to spare but it keeps on going. It finally stops at 1, and they remember that it always stopped at 1 in the actual series.
  • Happens a few times in Star Trek: Generations
    • While the Enterprise-B is inside the energy ribbon, a bridge officer says "45 seconds to structural collapse."
    • After the Enterprise-D is damaged by the Klingon attack, Geordie tells the bridge that "We're five minutes from a warp core breach."
      • Justified in that (for the D at least) a) the computers of that era are more than able to simulate such, and b) that is someting that one would want simulated, especially on a ship with civilians on board.
  • Abused in The Dark Knight Rises. The fusion reactor is converted into a bomb in a matter of minutes, then Bane removes the radioactive core from the reactor itself. Without the containment provided by the reactor, the core is said to be gradually becoming more unstable until it will finally explode. Yet despite this detailed explanation, the core has both a pretty ring of green lights that gradually turn red and a digital countdown timer so we can see exactly when the thing will detonate. And it takes months, yet the device can predict down to the second when it gets unstable enough to explode.
  • Used in The Matrix Reloaded. According to The Keymaker, in order to get access to the door Neo must go through without triggering "the bomb", his support crews must destroy a power plant and sabotage a backup substation within 314 seconds of each other for no adequately explored reason. Due to a machine attack, the backup substation crew dies moments before they can sabotage the substation - meaning Trinity must break her promise not to enter the Matrix to sabotage it instead in less than five minutes. Despite having to drive a motorcycle off a roof, fight off a squad of security guards, and go from ground level to the sixty-fifth floor, she completes the task in time. During the run, Link calls out "Two minutes left." and "One minute!" within ten seconds of screentime.
    Ghost: "How long will that take?"
    Keymaker: "Exactly 314 seconds."
    Keymaker: "That is the length and breadth of the window. Only The One can open the door, and only during that window can the door be opened."
    Niobe: "How do you know all this?"
    Keymaker: "I know because I must know. It's my purpose. It's the reason I'm here. Same reason we're all here."
  • Double subverted near the end of The Manhattan Project - the homemade atomic bomb is accidentally armed and its display is turned on. It starts counting at 999 hours, so at first no one's worried about disarming it in time...until Paul realizes his timing mechanism isn't perfect and will speed up the clock as it goes on. The double subversion comes into play when he and Dr. Mathewson eventually remember that the degredation will result in exponential growth, so they can calculate how long it will take the timer to reach zero.
  • Justified and parodied in Spaceballs. As the timer is for a self-destruct sequence, this trope is basically a given. At one point, however, during the final countdown, the timer skips from 8 to 6, then when the remaining crew point it out, the computer says "just kidding", and returns to 7.

    Jokes 
  • A man hasn't been feeling well, so he goes to his doctor for a physical. Afterward, the doctor comes out with the results. "I'm afraid I've got some very bad news," the doctor says. "You're dying, and you don't have much time left." "That's terrible!" says the man. "How long have I got?" "Ten," the doctor says sadly. "Ten?" the man asks. "Ten what? Months? Weeks? What?" The doctor interrupts, looking at his watch. "Nine... Eight..."

    Literature 
  • In Dan Brown's Angels & Demons (predecessor to The Da Vinci Code), the plot revolves around the search for a bit of antimatter contained in a magnetic bottle powered by a battery that will last exactly 24 hours, complete with a countdown timer displaying the time left to the second.
    • Made slightly better in the film, where the countdown is replaced by a fairly realistic charge bar, not unlike one found on a cell phone.
  • Exploited as the entire point of the story "The Cold Equations" by Tom Godwin. A small ship is launched towards a planet, carrying a lifesaving vaccine and just enough fuel for the computed weight of the ship, its pilot, food, air, and cargo for cost reasons. A young girl stows away on the ship to go see her brother, who happens to be on the planet the ship's heading to. Problem is, her mass wasn't figured into the calculations of the fuel needed — so her very presence on the ship has doomed it to crash when it runs out of fuel and has no way to slow down once it reaches destination and the fuel runs out early.
    • Fully justified in this case, since such calculations are relatively straightforward (and in fact done by organizations such as NASA all the time).
  • The poem "The Deacon's Masterpiece" (a.k.a. "The Wonderful One-Hoss Shay") by Oliver Wendell Holmes describes a one-hoss shay built to have its weakest part just as strong as the rest. The contraption lasts for a hundred years, and then disintegrates all at once. (Randall Garrett had a homage to this with the "Von Horst-Shea" process in one of the Lord Darcy stories.)
  • Justified in Dune by Frank Herbert. The Big Bad knows exactly when the Action Mom will wake up from the sleep drug she was given. When he tells her this, she immediately realizes that he must have had access to secret and detailed medical information about her.
  • Subverted in Showdown At Centerpoint, the third book of Roger McBride Allen's The Corellian Trilogy, set in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Han and a couple Allies of the Week are falling towards a planet's surface on a ship (which is battle-damaged, and even at its best made the Millennium Falcon look cutting-edge and ultra-strong) with a none-too-reliable altimeter. When they reach three hundred meters, Han wonders how accurate it is. When they hit neg ten, he decides "not all that accurate." They finally hit the ground at about negative fifty meters.
    • Later, the cavalry's ship's computer was counting down how long their Phlebotinum-aided hyperdrive could continue functioning in a hyperspace-negation field. The timer hit zero, but the ships remained in hyperspace, prompting the technician in charge of the Phlebotinum-drive to point out, a little ruefully, "it was just a guess."
  • In the Animorphs series, there is supposedly a hard two hour time limit on remaining in morph. It's a good thing Ax can keep perfect time in his head because they invariable demorph with seconds to go. Usually with comments about how hard it was to demorph that time or how they almost ran out of time.
    • It does vary, since it's occasionally mentioned that the two hours can vary by as much as several minutes (though it coincidentally is never less than 6 seconds from the two hour mark when a morpher's up against the deadline).
    • In one book they are able to demorph (with great difficulty) even when they appear to be seven minutes over the time limit. Though Tobias does wonder if the clock was just set to the wrong time.
    • "Self-destruct sequence activated. T-minus-15 minutes to self-destruct. Thank you and have a nice day!"
    • It's even stranger when you take into account that Ax constantly refers to them as "two of your hours," implying that Andalites have a different system of keeping time. This just raises even more questions as to why the time limit would be easily measurable in (what is, to them) an alien time measurement system.
    • Also, Yeerks have to feed on kadrona rays every three days, or they die. It's suggested though, that it might not necessarily be exactly 72 hours, but just somewhere around that time limit. When Jake is infested, and the yeerk in his head is starving, the yeerk becomes delerious for the last few hours of his life, and Jake is along for the ride, so it's hard to judge exactly how much time has passed.
      • It's also possible, when Kandrona starvation is being used as a particularly sadistic method of execution, to extend the process. Apparently Visser Three can make a Kandrona starvation last weeks.
  • In Nevil Shute's novel No Highway, Theodore Honey has determined, almost down to the hour, how long the Reindeer airliner will last before the tailplane experiences metal fatigue and breaks, dooming the aircraft.
  • Averted in Joe Haldeman's The Forever War, all failure times are given in half-lives (ie, after said period there's a 50% chance it hasn't blown up yet).

    Live Action TV 
  • Star Trek does this one all the time.
    • Star Trek: The Original Series. In "That Which Survives" the Enterprise' engines are sabotaged and the ship accelerates to extremely high speeds. Spock estimates that the engines will overload and detonate in 14.87 minutes, and continues giving a precise countdown as time passes (12 minutes 21 seconds, 10 minutes 19 seconds, and 8 minutes 41 seconds).
    • Happens constantly with the Vulcans. Made more logical when they made an android a crewmember in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
    • Star Trek: Voyager played with this when Janeway decided to take a bunch of her worst crewmembers out on a mission to get them to shape up. One of them, a woman who can't do 24th century math to save her life, gets put in charge of the one thing you need math for: calculating time to impact.
      "Shockwave impact in three, two, one. [pause] More or less."
    • Spoofed in an episode where the holographic Doctor is daydreaming that he's the captain of Voyager. The computer voiced by Majel Barret is saying lines like "Warning: Warp core breach a lot sooner than you think" and "Warning: Last chance to be a hero, Doctor. Get going!"
    • The quote from Dinosaur Comics on the quote page refers to the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Booby Trap". The ship is being subjected to severe radiation. The computer reports the exact time, down to the second, when the accumulated dosage will become lethal. The implication is that this time is meant to be uniform for all crew members. But even if it were, say, the time when radiation would be lethal to the lowest common denominator (the Littlest Cancer Patient, for example), it's still a long stretch to believe that any time before that, the damage would be perfectly fine to recover from, but the instant you hit that deadline, it becomes lethal with no hope of recovery. And presumably any damage before that point could be cured with a complete recovery, otherwise Dr. Crusher et al would be working a lot faster before those radiation burns, mutations, and sterility become downright miserable.
  • The Cylon virus attack in the new Battlestar Galactica. A second-season episode involving the virus was partially subverted when Lt. Gaeta, in charge of watching to make sure the virus doesn't make it through the network firewalls he installed, ducks under the table to disconnect the network, and fails to notice that the VIRUS INFILTRATED THE SYSTEM.
    • This one is particularly stupid because if your computer knows enough about the virus and its activities to know how far along it is in compromising the computer's systems, it should be able to freaking fraking stop the virus!
    • Far more ridiculous is the fact that connecting some computers together in a closed, wired network immediately makes them vulnerable to attack by the Cylons.
      • The virus was already in one of the computers. Wiring them together just allowed it to spread to critical systems.
  • Mocked in Stargate Atlantis episode "Progeny", wherein Sheppard demands to know how long Rodney's interference will keep the Replicators at bay. Rodney has no idea, and, without trying to hide it, just makes up an answer — and is yelled at when they reactivate early.
    • A Running Gag on Atlantis is for Sheppard to ask Rodney or the team doctor for Exact Time to Failure or success, despite the latter's protests that often such things can't be predicted or that they just plain don't know.
    • And yet, in "Critical Mass", McKay gives a ballpark of estimate of "we maybe have half an hour", but subsequently gives exact timings, finishing with the Just in Time ending.
  • And its parent show, Stargate SG-1, played around with it a couple times. The gate itself has a 38 minutes limit for how long it can stay open, and whenever it stays on for longer, it's because of outside interference and usually means that the base is screwed. On one occasion, this time limit is counted down to, and passes, with the gate staying online. As the characters start talking about how they have to alert the proper people that the world's about to end, the gate shuts down on its own.
    • There's an episode where Teal'c is basically trapped in the gate before he could come through, and if it gets reactivated again, he'll die. This trope is averted at first when Carter's given a 48-hour deadline to find a solution, explicitly because the whole Stargate program can't be shut down indefinitely for the sake of one man. Then it's played straight when she learns the Air Force got the "48 hour" idea from Dr. McKay, who told them that Teal'c would be dead by then anyway. Then it's subverted when it turns out he was just making a ballpark estimate and didn't really know for sure. This contributor suspects the writers were deliberately taking a jab at this trope with the whole episode.
    • ... and then they played it completely straight again in the Atlantis episode "38 minutes" - a small shuttle gets mechanically jammed inside a gate in outer space, so when the event horizon opens it is cut in half. Everything's under control for the 38 minutes the gate stays open, but after that time there might have been half a shuttle floating in space.
    • Subverted in the episode "Exodus." Carter uses a stargate to connect to planet where they found a black hole. The gate would suck in enough mass from the star to cause it to supernova. Carter estimated an exact time, but it turned out to be several minutes earlier.
  • LOST, besides featuring a prominently displayed countdown for much of the second series, contains a rare non-technological example of this trope: in an episode of the third series, Jack, performing surgery on Ben, intentionally makes a small incision in his kidney and announces that if he doesn't sew it back up in an hour, he'll die. This is shown to mean that he will die in precisely 60 minutes and no earlier, and the other characters repeatedly make reference to how long is left on the "countdown"; in reality, a person in such a condition might die at any time within the hour, or might live longer, but an exact estimation like that would be impossible to make.
    • Being that he's only there because he's a spinal surgeon, the other Others have no damned idea if he's spewing bullshit or not.
    • The fourth season episode "The Other Woman" also features a computer which knows, to the second, how long one can mess with lethal gases before contamination occurs.
  • In an episode of CSI, while trying to locate a person buried alive, the team calculates how much power is in the battery that's being used to vent him oxygen. One of them then starts a watch timer, and despite the obviously rounded figure (also the fact that they have only a vague idea of when he was actually buried), the oxygen flow is cut off within seconds of the timer running out.
    • And of course, they fail to take into account that, in such situations, it's not lack of oxygen that kills you, but buildup of carbon dioxide...
  • Subverted in an episode of the educational series Read All About It: a Cliff Hanger shows our heroes trapped on a doomed planet as the countdown to its destruction reaches zero. In the next episode, the planet remains intact for several more minutes as the countdown was "only an estimate."
  • Occurs in the Mash episode "Life Time", wherein a wounded soldier is said to have only twenty minutes before damage to his aorta and a consequent lack of blood flow will cause permanent brain damage and/or paralysis. The episode unfolds in Real Time, complete with a ticking clock icon in the corner of the screen. Subverted slightly in that the staff decides to immerse him in ice to buy more time. Therefore, the deadline is slightly missed but the patient wakes up seemingly unharmed, although he may have still have had damage that wasn't immediately evident.
  • In the MacGyver episode "Nightmares", an interrogator gives MacGyver a slow-acting poison, and tells him that if he doesn't get the antidote within six hours, his death will be inevitable. There is a prominently-displayed countdown timer. MacGyver gets the antidote with two and a half minutes to spare, and makes a full recovery. It's never explained how they were able to state the time limit so exactly — the interrogator says that the poison was calibrated specially for MacGyver, but that just changes the question to how they got the medical information about MacGyver they'd need for the calibration.
  • Played with in one episode of Monk, the title character is buried alive in a coffin. Upon learning this, Stottlemeyer says that there are 44 minutes of air in a coffin...unless the occupant panics. There's a brief pause, then everyone starts rushing.
    • Made even worse by Monk refusing to put out his candle, despite it eating up the oxygen.
    • Even worse is an episode where we're supposed to buy that there's an exact countdown to the point where a crucial piece of evidence in someone's stomach will be too digested to be of any use. They get it out with literally one second to spare, and apparently it's perfectly fine.
  • The Doctor Who episode "Journey's End" had the current companion, Donna, and the TARDIS itself, tossed into a big vat of TARDIS-eating energy. Much things exploded, there was lots of anguish and then one second before it was supposed to be destroyed, Donna and Plot save the day. All the observers think the TARDIS was destroyed on schedule.
    • The episode "42" revolves around a countdown of, er, 42 minutes until a spaceship crashes into the sun.
    • "Time Crash" has "Two minutes to Belgium!"
    • The 2010 Christmas Special has a person in cryogenic statis who only has a fixed number of days to live, thanks to a really specific (and incurable) disease.
    • In "Let's Kill Hitler" the Doctor is poisoned and will die in thirty-two minutes.
  • On 24, people make exact time estimates ("It'll take me 13 minutes to get to the airport!") a lot, due to the Race Against the Clock nature of the show.
  • In one episode of Bones, a serial killer demanded ransom, giving a time limit of twenty-four hours, I believe. The kidnappees were buried alive with exactly that much air available. Subverted in that when there were two boys trapped together, the Gravedigger forgot to amend the time given or space they were trapped in, and they died much sooner.
  • Justified several times in House, when a risky procedure (such as stopping a patient's heart) is allowed to go on for a very specific time, watched carefully by the team. Subverted in that, when they run out of time, House invariably argues that the time limit is a rough guideline and they should keep going. Of course, the patient almost always makes a full recovery either way.
  • The Animorphs example is worse in the TV show. In the books, morphing is possible but extremely difficult as you near the limit, and there are times when they could've been a few minutes over the oft-repeated two hour mark. In the show, however, there's an instance of Ax (of the perfect timekeeping sense) counting down his morph time limit to the second. He demorphs at the last second as easily as anyone with plenty of time left, with the implication that one second later, it would have been completely impossible to demorph at all.
  • GARO: Makai Knights have 99.9 seconds of enhanced armor time before it goes berserk and drives the wearer violently feral. Bad news: when the main character hits the mark for the first time in the series, he slaughters the enemy that he is dueling, while said enemy's mother is watching. Good news: the mother is evil.
  • In the Warehouse13 episode "Breakdown", a malfunction in the Neutralizer Processing Center (AKA "the gooery") triggers an automated countdown (in Mrs. Frederic's voice, no less) to the exact moment the Warehouse will explode if it isn't fixed. It's even discussed afterward.
    Artie: How long did you have before the warehouse was gonna explode?
    Pete: Under a minute.
    Claudia: More like thirty seconds.
    Artie: That's lucky. I once got there with 17, and Mrs. Frederic's voice gets really annoying when she's counting down the seconds one at time.
  • In Ninpuu Sentai Hurricaneger and its American counterpart Power Rangers Ninja Storm, the heroes' mecha has a mode which sheds its armor for increased speed, but it can only stay that way for 60 seconds lest its internal components are damaged.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • In one strip, the main character buys a TV despite being told by the salesman that it's programmed to blow up the moment the warranty runs out... unless she buys the Extended Warranty first. At the last minute of the standard warranty, a pitchman interrupts the show to remind her.

    Video Games 
  • Many early games, such as Super Mario Bros., Castlevania, and Final Fight have timers on each level. When the timer expires, your character will typically drop dead for no reason. These timers are often there because the games were designed around arcade games, which have timers to keep the quarter-munching at a fast clip.
  • The Dead Rising series. It's more seen as Time Management Game, though in the second game the player character is set up as the guy who started the outbreak, so if the player fails to complete the game, he's arrested. if the player does complete the cases until the military arrives, the clock still ticking down, only now, the whole city will be fire-bombed if the player doesn't complete the lasting cases and escape by then.
  • Aside from the end-of-game self-destruct runs, the Metroid series has done this more than once. One example: in Metroid: Fusion, the space station's computers predict that the overloading core will melt down in six minutes. Since it's a Timed Mission, you have precisely six minutes before it does just that.
  • In Final Fantasy VI, everyone's favorite purple octopus Ultros is trying to drop a four-ton weight on a character (bear with me). He says "N'ghaaa! This is heavier than I thought! It'll take me five minutes to drop it!" Yes, this means that you have exactly five minutes to stop him.
    • Then there's the Disc One Final Dungeon, The Floating Continent. Six minutes, two irritating bosses and the urge to try to collect all the treasures scattered throughout the exit route. And then there's the wait for Shadow...
  • The Resident Evil franchise features several timed sequences due to Self Destruct Mechanisms, which conveniently include boss fights. Yes, the timer ticks down while you're fighting the boss. Yes, if it goes to zero, you go all the way back to a save point before the countdown, at least.
    • The self destruct timers in this series are completely ridiculous because there's always a cut scene that occurs directly after the end of the boss fight that takes place in the facility that will be blowing up. So you could kill the boss with 1 second to spare, then watch a several minute long cutscene, THEN the place blows up just as you run away minutes after the timer said it would.
  • The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay has a level where you're trapped in the sewers with a shotgun with a built-in flashlight. Only problem is, the flashlight was damaged and is now flickering, and a computerized voice (in the shotgun, remember) helpfully informs you that it will break entirely in six minutes.
  • Kingdom Hearts II's Timed Missions really had no reason to play this trope to a T, especially seeing as the moment time runs out the screen simply fades to black and no actual "death scene" is given. This becomes especially ridiculous when you have to fight Demyx's water clones, which like cause nuclear meltdown or something or other when time runs out.
    • Sonic Adventure 2 did this with its timed missions as well. The fading to black thing.
  • Done as part of a cinema in Final Fantasy VII. When Cid grapples with the decision to blast off in a rocket, incinerating a woman, Shera, who stayed behind to fix the oxygen tanks, a timer, normally reserved for gameplay purposes, pops up and counts down as dialogue rolls. Cid hits the button to abort at the last second. This ends up subverting the trope somewhat since, even though Shera was spared, cutting the engines damaged the rocket and caused the space program to lose all credibility, making it several years before another attempt into space is made. Before then, a town formed around the damaged rocket which Cid and Shera took residence in.
    • And, in a later gameplay sequence, it's played straight with escaping the rocket with or without the Huge Materia before it crashes into Meteor.
    • Another gameplay sequence involves trying to stop a train from crashing into a settlement. Normally this would be a subversion, since the train moves with constant speed, but even when you start fiddling with the controls and changing the train's speed, the timer is not affected.
    • Final Fantasy VII loved this trope and has timed escapes pop up every so often. You're even subjected to one shortly after starting a new game!
  • Done oddly in Advance Wars: Dual Strike. Even though the turns progress in days, some missions have a timer that operates in real time. So even if it takes twelve "days" to complete the mission, the fifteen-minute timer could only have advanced by a single minute. This is compounded by the fact that the characters discuss the timer and stress how time is of the essence. It's better not to think about it.
    • Done straight in Advance Wars 2 where on the missions to capture enemy laboratory before they destroy their weapons data, you are given a specific amount of days to invade before the data is destroyed. I always found it odd that getting there on the final day didn't result in getting a large amount of half deleted plans...
  • Subverted in Metal Gear Solid 2: In the Tanker chapter, you are given a varying time limit based on difficulty level before the US Marine Commandant finishes his speech. But throughout the speech he interrupts it with a joke or two, pointing out his repeating himself due to old age and even outright gives his marines a slight break for a while by conducting reactionary and neck-stretching exercises. Even if you let the timer run out once, he'll decide he's on a roll and adds an extra bit onto his speech, adding more time to the clock.
  • In Fallout 2, you can wind up contaminating the Sierra Army Depot by removing one of the virus samples from storage, which will promptly break. You then have a few minutes to leave before the base is fully contaminated. Even if you loiter around in the very room you broke the sample in, you'll be perfectly fine as long as long as the timer doesn't run out completely. Fail to leave, or leave in time and then walk back, and your character will melt. (I.e. the 'killed by plasma' death animation.)
  • Assassins Creed II has a few timed side-missions which give you a countdown timer for you to complete the task. While this is understandable for the racing minigame (this is the time set by the previous racer, try to beat it), some of the other missions are predicated on a guard running away after exactly one minute of combat.
    • Just for the record, that mission involves Ezio having to carve his way through ten Brute guards...in one minute. That's six seconds per guard...and they don't die easily unless you poison about half of them first.
  • The Space Quest series features a couple of these timers.
    • In the first game, you set the Star Generator to explode. Justified as the Star Generator detonation sequence is exactly five minutes long by design.
    • In the second game, after killing Vohaul, he sets his asteroid base on a decaying orbit. Failure to leave before time is up means you die with the base. Somewhat inverted in that, although the Time To Failure is always the same (ten minutes, give or take a few seconds), you never actually see it. It's also plenty of time to escape, even if you take the long way to doing it.
      • In the Fan Remake, Vohaul specifically sets the base to self-destruct. Not only do you see the timer, but a computer voice counts down. In a Shout-Out to Spaceballs, the voice first mentions a self-destruct cancellation button, then the countdown skips from 8 to 6 before saying "just kidding" and returning to 7.
    • In the third game, you have a set amount of time to escape the volcanic planet Ortega after setting off a chain reaction explosion. The timer is once again very generous (ten minutes), but once again, you don't actually see it.
    • In the fourth game, after setting up the evil supercomputer to do a full system format, you have a limited amount of time before the format actually begins. Because formatting the computer without dealing with the virus will not save the day, you have until the formatting begins to, well, save the day. Played with in that you have 5000 "somethings" to deal with the problem. This translates into about six minutes.
      • This leads to a Game-Breaking Bug when playing the game on a modern computer - the 5000 "somethings" are tied to the PC's processor speed. While fine for 386 computers, today's machines can tick off all 5000 units in less than a second. (A workaround is to play the game in an emulator simulating a slow processor speed.)
      • The 5000 units also go faster if you delete the King's Quest XIII program on the supercomputer, as it presumably is using resources that would otherwise go toward the formatting instead.
    • In the fifth game, you set off the Exact Time To Failure by activating the self-destruct sequence. It's exactly ten minutes, which again is about five minutes more than you need if you're slow.
  • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is mostly a game where you can take years (game time) to get things done but one mission features a fifteen minute countdown before a giant city destroying war machine marches though a portal and splats the new emperor.
  • Descent subverts this trope. It seems to have a reactor explode countdown, but it's actually a self destruction countdown. According to the briefing, the revolting robots would stop working then the reactor fails, so they start the selfdestruction (which can be assumed to be accurate). It's also a case of Shown Their Work, beacause a nuclear meltdown and an atombomb-explosion are two different things in real life.
    • Doubly subverted in that it appears as if you have a few moments of the screen fading to white after the countdown completes to enter the evacuation tunnel, but the effect is unchanged, right down to the tunnel exploding behind you no matter if you make it by one white frame or one whole minute.
  • Used, though played with a bit, in Crisis Zone. After beating the final boss, you manage to stop the nuclear reactor from going critical with seconds to spare. Despite this, the control room still explodes soon after. It's not clear if it's just the control room blowing up due to all the bullets and grenades being tossed around, or the reactor still causing some damage due to how close it was to exploding.
    • Games in the Time Crisis series always have an Exact Time To Failure in every segment. If you fail to kill all the targets and move on from your current spot within 40 seconds, you'll lose a life (presumably from being flanked). If it wasn't your last life, the timer is reset to 40 and you can continue. The intent is obviously to force the player not to abuse the hiding mechanics and be more aggressive.
    • The original Time Crisis is far less forgiving - instead of being reset to 40 seconds after every segment, time is instead added to the timer after each segment. The problem is that the timer keeps counting down even while the character is running to the next segment in cutscenes. Not only that, but running out of time is an instant Game Over instead of a life lost.
  • Star Fox 64: Fortuna has a countdown till the bomb in the base goes off. With correct timing you can have Fox go in to defuse the bomb a few seconds after ROB says that the bomb is exploding.
    • Even then, you will win the mission if you kill Star Wolf with as little as 1 second remaining; despite the fact that Fox flying into the base and defusing the bomb must take several seconds.
  • In FreeSpace 2, the last mission has a countdown until a star system is destroyed by a supernova. But you die about 10 seconds before time runs out, which is frustrating.
  • X-COM Interceptor averts the trope rather spectacularly: any mission in which time is a factor (defending a base, attacking an enemy ship about to go into hyperspace, or trying to get back to normal space after firing a Nova Bomb at a star, for example), you're given periodic updates as to how close you are to running out of time ("Enemy hyperdrive at 75% charge"), but the time can vary based on a number of factors, most obviously how long it took you to respond to the particular emergency.
  • Le MU from Ever17 even has audio announcement of last seconds countdown before the whole building will collapse. Which is kinda strange, because earlier was said, that calculations of this time has 6 hours margin of error.
    • Might it be possible that the margin of error shrinks as the time to collapse approaches? In other words, the margin of error itself is a percentage based on the estimate.
  • Averted in the opening of MadWorld. The Big Bad unleashes a deadly virus across the city. He warns the citizens that everyone will be dead in 24 hours and that anyone can get an antidote as long as they kill someone. Seems like a pretty straight example of the trope so far, but then a member of the crowd collapses bleeding. The Big Bad then suggests they hurry up as the virus' incubation time varries from person to person.
  • Starcraft has a few missions in the brood war campaign where a character manages to estimate the exact amount of time until an important event will happen. These estimates are used as setups for timed missions.
  • The Subspace Emissary story mode in Brawl has a boss fight with Meta-Ridley while a bunch of characters are escaping a self-destructing ROB factory on Captain Falcon's Blue Falcon. The fight itself gives you two minutes to defeat Ridley before the factory explodes while you're still inside (and subsequently lose the battle).
  • In Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, the participants of the Nonary Game have 9 hours to escape before the ship sinks.
    • Subverted in the true ending, when you discover that it seemed like you'd spent more than your ninety minutes remaining after going through Door 9. It turns out that, as the Gigantic had sunk nine years before, the entire Nonary Game had taken place in the identical facility Building Q which is in the middle of a desert in Arizona. Played straight with being trapped in the incinerator though.
    • In the sequel Virtue's Last Reward, the players' watch timers (coincidentally) correspond with the exact time to detonation of Dio's bombs.
  • Mass Effect has a few of these. Some missions, assignments and tasks must be completed within certain time limits. Otherwise, the ship crashes, or the missiles launch, or the tech specialist gets fried, or the colony explodes, or the asteroid wipes out the colony, or something else bad happens that will really ruin Shepard's day.
    • Mass Effect 2 does this with the Arrival DLC. Shepard has just over an hour to stop a Reaper invasion that will wipe out all sentient life in the galaxy.
  • Portal uses this in both games. In the first, it's "Exact Time to Death by Neurotoxin". Portal 2 plays with it like you wouldn't believe. The first timer is the same as above. When that fails, it switches to a timer for the reactor meltdown. Then the meltdown timer is blown up, so the facility activates a Self-Destruct Mechanism to remove the uncertainty of not having a timer.
    Announcer: Reactor explosion timer destroyed. Reactor Explosion Uncertainty Emergency Preemption Protocol initiated. This facility will self-destruct in two minutes.
    Wheatley: Let me just flag something up: according to the control panel light up there, the entire building is going to self-destruct in about six minutes. I'm pretty sure it's a problem with the light — I think the light's on the blink, but just in case it isn't, I am actually going to have to kill you, as discussed earlier. So let's call that three minutes, with a minute break afterwards, which gives me a leisurely two minutes to figure out how to shut down whatever's starting all the fires.
  • The oxygen timer in Dead Space and Dead Space 2, Isaac will die when it hits zero, even if logically you could stagger on for a few seconds.
    • Justifiably, as the last ten seconds or so, he's already choking for air. Presumably, the timer isn't indicating how long his oxygen supply will last, but rather how long he has until he's unable to continue due to asphyxiation.
  • Golgo13: Top Secret Episode features "Exact Time to Nuclear Missile Launch" in its final battle. Noteworthy in that you actually lose not at zero, but when the timer hits 0:13.
  • In the last level of Halo, Cortana is able to tell you just how long you have before the reactor you threw explosives in blows up, despite noting that it must have been more damaged than she thought it had been.
  • Humorously averted in Bastion, combined with the Unreliable Narrator. While waiting for a slowly rising cage to release a shard, the narrator starts in near the end:
    Narrator: "It's not too long now. Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven...give or take a few seconds."
  • Final Fantasy IX: Relatively early on in Disc 2, when Zidane and co. arrive back in Alexandria to save Garnet/Dagger, you have exactly 30 minutes until Brahne arrives at the dock, and she intends to have Garnet beheaded. As soon as the 30 minutes is up, it's a game over.
  • Final Fantasy XIII: All Eidolon battles are this; the Doom spell is cast on your leader as soon as the battle begins, manifesting as a big red clock over their head, which counts down the seconds they have left. Later boss battles are also hidden timed missions; after 20 minutes, they will get bored and cast Doom, leaving you with 3 minutes or so to defeat them.

    Web Comics 
  • This comic from The Order of the Stick has the magical version of this. Justified because Vaarsuvius is just that intelligent.
    • It also should be pointed out that in Dungeons & Dragons, on which the comic is based, one round is six seconds. This would simply mean that Vaarsuvius knows that the spell will end in two rounds.
      • ... and then spends one round explaining things, so verbosely that it's no longer a free action. The next two rounds are spent disintegrating the dragon (presumably s/he won initiative).
      • The Wizard ALWAYS wins initiative.
  • Lampshaded, naturally, in Adventurers!; to Karn's obvious surprise, the bomb goes off earlier than expected. The guy who gave him the exact time admits he's not a bomb expert, as well.

    Western Animation 
  • Camp Lazlo: In "The Big Cheese", anyone who eats the acidic cheese will disintegrate in exactly 13 minutes.
  • A particularly absurd version in The Simpsons, where Homer slacks off on his job and then has to race to the power plant's manual override to prevent a meltdown. Mr. Burns is leading excercises outside the plant, which is played up as a countdown to the meltdown, despite having nothing to do with it.
  • In the Phineas and Ferb episode "Bad Hair Day", Dr. Doofenshmirtz ends up being mistaken for a rare orangutan and shot in the butt with a tranquilizer dart. The episode ends with him singing a song about it, which includes the lyrics "I'm blurry and drowsy, but balladry beckons / though I'll probably lose consciousness in seventeen seconds." Sure enough, approximately seventeen seconds later, Doofenshmirtz passes out in the middle of his song.

    Real Life 
  • With sufficiently powerful computers able to access the right data, a fairly accurate prediction of time of failure is possible, especially when the failure process occurs at a constant or predicatable rate. A good example today is electronic devices which can give a fairly good estimate of remaining battery time, based on the current state of charge and the rate of discharge, although the fact that the discharge is rarely constant affects the accuracy. With the right sensors, the time of failure of a mechanical system should be predictable, based on wear level and rate of wear. In other cases, a failure may occur rapidly at a specific point, for example when a particular load or temperature is reached, and again it can be possible to get a good estimate of failure time based on the rate of increase.
    • It should be noted, however, that such systems tend to update the estimate every now and then, taking into account the most recent rate of progress. For example, if your laptop computer tells you that you have 55 minutes until the battery dies, and you spend the next 20 minutes doing something more energy-intensive than the 55 minute estimate had assumed, then the battery monitoring program might say that you have only 28 minutes remaining.
    • SMART is a system to predict hard drive failure by measuring the rate at which the mechanical components deteriorate.
    • Solid state disks and most flash memory have an easy estimation of time to failure: they're actually limited by how many writes to the cell are allowed before they can no longer hold data. This is around 10,000 for most flash devices. Assuming all things equal (the controller can write to every cell evenly), you have its capacity times 10,000, give or take -5%, before the device is no longer useable.
  • There's an easy-to-remember phrase describing how long a person is likely to survive, if deprived of basic bodily needs, known as the Survival Rule of Threes: "Three seconds without blood (circulation), three minutes without air, three hours without shelter, three days without water, three weeks without food, three months without love (other people to interact with)". While handy, it fails to take into account issues such as activity levels, a body's initial state of oxygenation or hydration, or how large the person's nutrient reserve is when they begin starving.
    • As well as gender, age, weight, amount of body fat, general health, other medical conditions than could be worsened by the deprivations, external conditions (heat, humidity...), etc., etc.
  • "You are moving 30 MB over a 100MB connection. Calculated time remaining 2,457,494 minutes."
    • There's also torrent download timers, where, depending on the number of peers you have, which take time for the computer to locate, estimated download times for a 100 MB item can vary from 2 minutes, 36 seconds, to 4 days, to 5 weeks, to ∞.
  • Expiration dates on items such as food and medicine are estimates of how long they will remain consumable; actual results vary according to factors such as storage conditions. With the exception of infant formula, said food estimates don't even have any regulations for what they're based on.
    • As a small note, expiration date is not the same as "best by" date. Expiration date means that food and medication becomes unsafe to consume or ineffective past a certain date. Best by only means that the foodnote  will begin to lose flavor or texture (in most cases it will eventually become unsafe to eat even if the seal is unbroken).
  • For any petrol or fuel vehicle, you can reasonably estimate how much you can travel before you absolutely run out of fuel.
  • Give or take, the length of a product's warranty can be used as an estimate for how long it's expected to last. It doesn't mean it'll last that long, but it means the chance of failing before then is a percentage the manufacturer figures it will be able to afford to replace... if it's still in business by then.

Evil Lawyer JokeThis Index Is A JokeFalse Dichotomy
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