History Repeats

aka: History Repeats Itself
"History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce"

Often a show will have a situation that is repetition of something that happened previously within the show history. Almost always used as either a Running Gag or tragically.

There are some films where they deal with the world repeating over and over, e.g. Groundhog Day, the similar film 12:01, and the Eternal Recurrence phenomenon. But this trope happens when history repeats itself without a "Groundhog Day" Loop.

A common example will be for a show about kids to have the children experience something, and then have the adults in the show respond by reminiscing about when the exact same thing happened to them at that age. Sometimes there is a flashback. If the adults are the main characters and the same thing occurs, this becomes Generation Xerox.

Or it can happen in an adult show where the characters have had flashbacks to show some of the older characters' backstories, and then you have an episode that focuses on the younger characters who experienced the same thing.

Can also be used just with a character repeating the exact same experience as another character did previously (sometimes in an earlier episode). The new victim might have boasted about how much better he would have handled it, expect an Aesop on how we should be less critical of "The Man in The Arena". Or he might just handle it perfectly, making the first victim hate him even more.

Can be used to justify (or subvert) Genre Savvy characters.

When it applies only to a Stock Phrase it's probably an Ironic Echo. See also Here We Go Again.


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  • This Super Bowl Special ad for BMW begins with a vintage clip from Today about Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric getting confused about the Internet (this being 1994). Fast forward to the present day, and Bryant and Katie are experiencing literally the exact same thing, except with BMW's i3 wind-powered car. The tagline: "Big ideas take a little getting used to."

    Anime and Manga 
  • Naruto has this due to the Cycle of Revenge, primarily between the Uchiha and Senju/Uzumaki clans.
  • Love Hina has parallel scenes at the beginning of the series and the beginning of the epilogue.
  • In the past, Chrono of Chrono Crusade (the manga version) was in love with a woman called Mary Magdalene, who was possessed by Pandaemonium, the demon's Hive Queen. This kicked off the events which led to her death. When Rosette is placed in a frighteningly similar situation, Aion feels the need to point out that history is repeating itself.
  • Mahou Sensei Negima! is shaping up to be this, with Negi and his Generation Xerox crew facing more or less the same scenario and villains that the last generation did.
  • The Gundam series, according to Turn A Gundam, is all one timeline with this going on. Mankind keeps making space colonies, having a civil war with them, getting a bit too violent and inventing gundams that are too powerful, and destroying said colonies, forgetting about it, then sending out new colonies, only to have a civil war with them. Then gundams get too powerful... and each time, they progress a little further, with the destruction and casting back of mankind going further each time. By the time of Turn A Gundam, they're at an early-1900s level of technology. And history repeats again anyway, using Lost Technology.
    • This is also specifically the point of the ideological debate in Mobile Suit Gundam Wing's movie, Endless Waltz. The villainess argues that war is an inevitable part of human nature (the titular "endless waltz" of war, peace, and revolution), while the female lead says that lasting peace can happen if people are willing to put forth the effort to end the Vicious Cycle. Needless to say, at least in the Turn A Gundam version of events, she does't succeed in spreading that idea.
    • Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn applies this to the Universal Century in general. Despite all the lofty aspirations made by humanity, from uniting Earth under the Federation to the space colonies and even the Newtype ideal, the same mistakes they've supposedly overcome keep getting repeated...albeit on a much larger scale as shown by the One Year War and subsequent conflicts. Audrey wonders at one point whether an answer to that age-old question even exists.
  • In Code Geass, Lelouch lost his mother to an assassin, which shattered his cozy, comfortable worldview and inspired him to change the world with Well Intentioned Extremism in order to give his beloved sister a better life. His father the Emperor, who is the biggest obstacle on his quest, went through pretty much the exact same thing in his lifetime and is himself trying to change the world — along with his wife, who's Not Quite Dead. You can imagine Lelouch's shock when he learns all this...
  • Maison Ikkoku has an example where Kyoko romantically pursued her teacher, and when Godai gets a teaching job at her old school not only is he also romantically pursed by a student, but the several of the methods used are very similar. (Tagging the teacher with a heart on the back when he's not looking).
  • How about situations where something happens on a Show Within a Show and then something like it happens in the main show? Like in Martian Successor Nadesico, when Joe makes a Heroic Sacrifice in Gekiganger 3 and in the same episode Jun attempts to make a Heroic Sacrifice but survives- then Gai Daigouji gets killed suddenly and pointlessly at the end of the episode.
  • In Ikki Tousen, the fighters (who are reincarnations of the various generals of Romance of the Three Kingdoms) are destined to fight and die in the same battles, in similar ways.
  • In Magic Knight Rayearth, High Priest Zagato fell in love with Emeraude, the Pillar of Cephiro. Zagato's younger (and identical) brother Lantis would also fall in love with the girl who would become the Pillar, Hikaru. The irony is not lost on either.
  • The Moon and Earth Kingdoms from Sailor Moon where originally destroyed by Princess Serenity and Prince Endymion's forbidden love. When they are resurrected (as Usagi and Mamoru respectively), they fall in love again and history is doomed to repeat unless they take actions about it. This is taken further in the live action adaptation.
  • A recurring motif in Legend of Galactic Heroes is how despite thousands of years of supposed progress, the past keeps returning. Indeed, one of the taglines is "In every time, in every place, the deeds of men remain the same."

    Comic Books 
  • Geo-Force tries this gambit against Deathstroke in Final Crisis: Last Will and Testament by luring him to the location where Deathstroke's son had his throat slit. Deathstroke claims that Brion isn't the first one to try this, but Brion is the first to slit his own throat for full effect.
  • Marvel Knights Spider-Man had this with the Green Goblin bringing Mary Jane to the same bridge where Gwen Stacey died.
  • In 2099: Manifest Destiny, we find out Captain America's fate: he once again ended up in a block of ice as the end of the Heroic Age as he'd done at the end of World War II and is revived in the 2099 time period. Amusingly, during the "One Nation Under Doom" event, a clone of Steve Rogers created to be a puppet had this as a cover story.
  • In The Trial Of The Flash, Reverse-Flash invokes this by planning to kill Fiona in the same way he killed Iris.

    Fan Fic 
  • In Mega Man Reawakened, both Protoman and Roll run away because they don't want Dr. Light to fix them at first, though Roll later relents.
    • Robert points this out to Quentin Emerald, who's a terrorist like his father.

  • I Am Legend: Like Little Shop of Horrors, another Warner Bros. film, a Focus Group Ending causes all meaning in the story to be lost, and the editors of both films are so damn lazy they forget to take out the foreshadowing.
  • Back to the Future, anyone? Just one example - the skateboard chase in 1955 in Part I, the Hover Board chase in 2015 in Part II, and the horseback chase in 1885 in Part III. All involving Marty McFly being chased by a Tannen.
    • Notably, though, they all work out entirely differently. The first time, Marty easily beats them because he's the only one with a skateboard. The second time, they've all got hoverboards, in fact, they've got better hoverboards, and he narrowly escapes them. The third time, they're all on horseback, and he's on foot, and they catch him easily.
    • Lampshaded by old Biff in 2015: "There's something very familiar about all this."
  • This is actually one particularly bleak interpretation of the events seen in John Carpenter's The Thing (1982). The theory here is that the alien spaceship that brought the Thing was deliberately crashed in Antarctica in order to keep it from getting out. Fast forward 100,000 years later and a group of Norwegians find it, examine it, and then it gets out and kills all but two who end up dying in the process of trying to keep it from getting further. Then the remainder of an American expedition destroyed by the Thing destroys their camp in an effort to keep the Thing from being found by a rescue team- whether they succeed is left for the viewer to decide, but an alternate ending shown in some TV broadcasts implied that it escaped

  • In A Brother's Price this is used as a source for drama. There was a civil war between two branches of the royal family not so long ago, and the royal family is genre savvy enough not to risk a repetition by splitting the family again. This means that all the princesses have to marry one husband. However, there is the additional problem that their now deceased ex-husband was evil, and they married him against the warning of Princess Trini. They do not want that one to repeat itself either, but Trini, who was hurt most, is understandably reluctant to marry anyone.
  • German philosopher Oswald Spengler claimed in his non-fiction book The Decline of the West that this happens in every major culture: A culture emerges among the barbarian peoples, and fuses them together into nations. The great myths, art styles and religions develop. At the beginning, strong kings rule, but their power soon is weakened by their noble vassals. A great movement reforms the religion. Meanwhile, in the cities a somewhat-privileged middle class has risen, replacing the feudal economy slowly but steadily by capitalism. By cooperating with them, the crown can weaken the nobility and the church, forming an absolutist state. Science and capitalism develop further, and an enlightened philosophy spreads, weakening the hold of religion. Then, the middle class will decide to get rid of the old system, usually in the form of a revolution-which starts civilization. This marks the fall of the culture-wars will get worse and worse (Napoleonic Wars -> American Civil War -> World War One -> World War II), art will become more and more offensive, and capitalism runs rampant (not without provoking counter movements). At the end, one state will conquer/control all other states, and one man will rise to the top of this state-voila, The Empire.
  • Rudyard Kipling in 'The Gods of the Copybook Headings' pointed out how political ploys of the time are less than fresh by mockingly attributing them to prehistoric times-"When the Cambrian measures were forming..."
  • Pretty much the entire moral of Anthony Burgess' The Wanting Seed.
  • In A Canticle for Leibowitz, the readers know the world had had a great nuclear sometime in the past (our present). Then there's The Simplification, which is another world-wide war, and a third war (nuclear again) in the third part. The book ends with what's left of humanity moving on to a new planet, to probably keep the cycle of stupidity going.
  • Cherished by the Mallorean. Due to a mistake in the fabric of the universe, events recur with minor changes throughout history. By the end of the series, the heroes are actively noticing the recursion and using it to their advantage. The ultimate goal of the series is to fix this, so that time can finally move ahead.
  • In The Wave, a High School history teacher is trying to show his class just how easily the Nazis came to power, only to be met with disbelief by students who think that "it can't happen here." So he shows them otherwise by starting a fascist movement in the class.
  • Played with in ''Tomorrow Town"; the story is set in a camp of futurists who are deeply contemptuous of the past and those who they see as trapped within it, but find themselves repeating certain historical patterns about how society develops and people interact within them without even realizing it. Furthermore, their efforts to predict the future are inept at best and doomed to failure. Just as the past will repeat itself, the future can't be forced no matter how hard you try.

     Live Action TV 
  • In Third Watch, Ty's father is murdered years before the series starts. His partner Sully finds out the truth behind the murder (that the murderer was paid by a corrupt cop, CT Finney) but says nothing in order to protect Ty's family's police pension. Fast forward to 2004, where CT Finney is exposed and commits suicide. Ty ends up helping Finney's son to make it look like an accident-so that Mrs. Finney can still get her police pension.
  • Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined) "All of this has happened before. And all of it will happen again." The series ends uncertain whether or not humanity is destined to fight yet another Robot War.
  • The Criminal Minds episode "Birthright" ends with the villain being killed by his pregnant wife, just like his father (also a serial killer) was.
  • In Babylon 5, the various incarnations of the Shadow/Vorlon War up until the point where Sheridan punches History in the face and throws it out of the galaxy.
  • In the series finale of HBO's The Wire, several characters end up in situations that harken back to the pilot episode (in tandem with call backs). Most notably, Detective Leander Sydnor goes to Judge Phelan and asks his help investigating a major case (which Detective Jimmy McNulty did, in a conversation with the exact same character, five seasons prior). The "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue insinuates that Baltimore is a cyclical place, and that characters will always end up in certain roles (e.g. Michael becomes the new Omar, Dukie becomes the new Bubbles, etc).
    • On a more positive note, the formerly irresponsible Carver is implied to be on his way to becoming the new Daniels.
  • LOST starting in the season 5 finale. Its implied that people have been coming to the island only to be wiped out over and over again as part of Jacob and the Man in Black's grand morality test. Taken to an extreme in "Across the Sea" where it's revealed that Jacob isn't even the original protector of the island and that there had probably been many previous protectors before he was born.
  • Obligatory Buffy example: a rather dark example comes from Consequences, where Faith had accidentally killed a human, tries to dispose of the body, then becomes a rapist (damn near enough in Xander's case, then using Buffy's body to seduce Riley.) In Dead Things Buffy has essentially raped Spike, then she thinks she killed a human and Spike tries to dispose of the evidence. The way she's acting bothers her so much she looks into whether she Came Back Wrong, then she finds out she didn't.
  • Doctor Who seems to be going this direction. What's been confirmed for series 8 so far (an elderly Doctor in his fifties, in which his two first companions will be teachers from Coal Hill School, and a new regeneration cycle) were all elements from the very beginning.
  • Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey"
    • "The Clean Room" devotes a lot of time to Clair Patterson's struggle to have Congress act on the dangers of leaded gasoline, while the oil companies try to cut his funding and discredit him with their scientist-for-hire Robert Kehoe. The subtext to the modern day is very clear.
    • A heartening example in "The Electric Boy." Young Michael Faraday got the attention of Humphry Davy by sending a book of notes he'd made on Davy's scientific demonstrations to the Royal Institute. Decades later, Faraday remembers standing in Davy's office, which now belongs to him, as he's about to open a dissertation by his own young fan: James Clerk Maxwell, who's developed mathematical evidence for Faraday's ideas.

  • History Never Repeats by Split Enz sounds like it will be an aversion. It's actually the singer trying to convince himself of the aversion.
  • The recurring theme on The Megas two-part album History Repeating ...yeah.

    Video Games 
  • The Tales of Phantasia and Tales of Symphonia time line has this going on. Periodically, mankind invents magitechnology, culminating in a Mana Cannon, the use of which kills large numbers of people and depletes so much mana as to threaten the life of the Mana Tree. Things progress too far, the Mana Cannon causes too much destruction, and civilization is cast back into the Dark Ages for a while. Then somebody starts exploring ruins, and finding out about this thing called "magitechnology"...
  • Dwarf Fortress being its darkly humorous self, its Video Game Cruelty Potential is very, very high and usually combined with exploits. So here's probably the best fan theory on the origin of the... stuff usually mentioned in spoilers or by Fan Nickname. If you start by raising children in cages with animals driven crazy just to make them tougher, then proceed to make Super Soldier squads by non-lethal fat scorching... where exactly do you think this line eventually ends up?
  • The Ninja Warriors Again: The game's ending explicitly says that because history repeats, the new government you were fighting for will eventually become as bad as the one you overthrew.
  • History Repeats: Massively in Gunstar Superheroes, which is a sequel which covers the events of the original game happening again in the distant future.
  • Seen in Warcraft III and World of Warcraft with Grom and Garrosh Hellscream. Grom was the first orc to drink Mannoroth's blood, cursing nearly his entire race with an endless bloodlust and enslaving them to the Burning Legion, all for the sake of more strength. Faced with defeat at the hands of Cenarius, Grom drank from a fountain that he believed would grant him strength, only to learn it was in fact filled with Mannoroth's blood, completely enslaving him and his clan to the demon. Years later Garrosh tried to use the Sha and then the heart of Y'shaarj to empower himself and his True Horde.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Lorule started to gradually crumble away after they destroyed their Triforce. Ravio kicks Hilda into a Heel Realization after telling her that taking Hyrule's Triforce away from them would simply cause them to go through the same decay that is now affecting Lorule.
  • Somehow, SEGA has this happen to it repeatedly as far as public reception and sales numbers go. At least three points in its history, SEGA found itself in a position of dominance. Then, as time goes by, the people at SEGA grow complacent and their quality slips, but it still gets good sales due to brand recognition. People realizing the company's products are becoming shoddy and broken eventually catch up to the company, ruining its reputation, and SEGA is forced to go through major corporate restructuring, only to return back to dominance some time later. The two cycles most familiar to gamers are the period between the 16-bit era and the Dreamcast, where SEGA had to become a 3rd-party developer; and the period between it becoming 3rd-party and the present. There was also a cycle long before this, between 1971 and 1978, when SEGA suffered this via its pinball division: Because the quality was on par with American and European machines at the time and cost less to buy and to play because they were made domestically, SEGA was the force in Japanese pinball. As time went on though, the machines broke down and no one knew how to repair them with SEGA providing no real support. By 1976, SEGA's pinball sales plummeted and it had to leave the market two years later with thousands of broken, unplayable pinball machines in its wake.
  • In Thunder Force V's bad ending, the Guardian begs Cenes to self-destruct her ship, the Vambrace, which is a Sealed Evil in a Can like its predecessor, the Vasteel, warning her that the Vambrace has the potential to cause the same degree of global catastrophe as Vasteel did and that "the tragedy of Vasteel" will repeat. It is implied that this trope happens, as the Vambrace is too crippled to self-destruct.
  • Meta-Example: in 1983 Atari was supposed to sign a deal with Nintendo to help bring the system to North America, but when they found Donkey Kong running on the Coleco vision and felt Nintendo broke the deal. Nintendo then decided to do their own thing and made the NES, and it was massively successful. A few years later Nintendo then chose not to help Sony make a CD-Rom system and Sony decided to start their own playstation, and it was massively successful.
  • Five Nights at Freddy's and Five Nights at Freddy's 2, But not Five Nights at Freddy's 3. Night guard fends off killer robots, something happens to shut down the pizzeria, then management tries to revive the pizzeria, starting the cycle again. However, FNAF 2 came first.
    • The third game deconstructs this, as by that point everyone knew that the pizzeria was a death trap. But From a Certain Point of View, this trope is still in play, as they reopen it as a horror attraction.
  • For PAYDAY 2, there was a large number of complaints over people kicking others out of the game to deny of them the rewards at the end of a game. The developers tried to appeal to the complaints by adding a kick filter where hosts can either allow themselves to have kicking disabled so they can't kick anyone or keep the kicking on. Not surprisingly, the majority of players preferred to play with kicking enabled. The complaints then continued on for almost a year with the player base demanding that vote kicking should be added. The developers once again tried to remedy the problem with another system in the form of vote kicking (similar to other games that use a kick system where majority rules). Like the kick filter before it, almost nobody ever uses vote kicking and prefer to have kicks be determined by their own volition instead.

    Web Comics 
  • Amazing Super Powers demonstrated how frequently those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it.
  • Used so often in Homestuck that the concept is almost weaponized by the various textual and visual callbacks. Many of these instances, such as stairs, are subject to memery both in-story and out.
  • One of the core concepts of Sire. The Binding is a mystical force which forces characters descended from characters from classic literature into following their Sire/Dam's fate, complete with consequences set up for those who try to run away from their story. The conflict of the comic is not about avoiding the fates handed to their forebears, but learning from their mistakes and being prepared for when history swoops back around again.

    Western Animation 
  • Cartoon Network 's Toonami block. When it first premiered, it had limited animation for its CGI hosts, limited budgets to aquire new shows, and suffered tremendously in the ratings departments. It also started to see this pattern again, but due to the parent network's decision to fill the block with constant reruns and only new episodes of the infamous pre-Shippuden Naruto filler arcs. When it came back, Toonami had the same amount of viewership it did in the beginning, very few new ad bumpers, only two new shows, and most of its block consisting of old [adult swim] anime on a constant repeat.
  • Cartoon Planet was cancelled after 22 episodes in its original run. For Cartoon Network's 20th anniversary, a modern version of Cartoon Planet was brought back, only to once again be removed from the schedule after 22 episodes. However, it came back just in time for the actual month of the anniversary, and has remained on the schedule ever since.
  • In the South Park episode "Fingerbang," Stan gets a nasty reaction from his father Randy when he and his friends decide to start a boy band, and Randy opposes it vehemently throughout the whole episode. It turns out Randy was afraid that this trope would happen—he has previously been in a boy band, and while they enjoyed success at first, his life, and those of his bandmates', spiraled into total despair when the fad for them had passed. Luckily, Stan and the others bailed out before anything bad could happen.
  • Adventure Time: The end of "Lemonhope" implies that the Land of Ooo will eventually destroy itself just like humanity did.
  • Wakfu: When Adamai is horrified by Qilby's plan to drain the World of Twelve of its wakfu to power up the Zinit for another trip to the cosmos, Qilby is not surprised. He claims that Adamai and Yugo have not changed since their previous incarnations. As much as he wishes things would be different this time, his long immortal existence has taught him that history repeats endlessly.

    Real Life 
  • Hitler just never learned from Napoleon's mistakes when he tried to conquer Russia. The Nazis ended up meeting the same outcome of this attempted invasion as did Napoleon's army. In fact, he used Napoleon's exact battle plan, except with tanks. It's no wonder he failed...
    • Before Napoleon, there was Charleus XII of Sweden. Starting a land war in Russia is only a good idea if you can keep the supplies flowing, and every time the Russians defeated the invaders by doing the same thing: Salting the fields, torching the harvest, and retreating until the invading army outran their supply lines, which was invariably hastened by the coming of winter.
    • Mongols demonstrated that the only viable way to conquer Russia is from the East.
  • The Holocaust serves as a staunch reminder that if we don't learn from tragedies like this one, history will be doomed to repeat itself. Unfortunately, nobody seems to have seen fit to tell that to the DPRK...
  • Some historical and philosophical schools follow this line of thought, in contrast to those stating the case for some form of progress. Though the specifics vary, these generally argue that history either is cyclical or has no overarching narrative. This in turn serves as an explanation as to why certain things recur over time or why people seem to make the same mistakes.
  • In a strange way, all six of Henry VIII's wives fall into this category:
    • Divorced: Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves were the only two wives who had titles of their own anyway, and both eventually died of cancer. Also, they lived to the oldest ages out of the six; Catherine was 50, and Anne was 41 when they died.
    • Beheaded: Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard were cousins who both lost their lives on adultery and treason charges.
    • Died/Survived: Jane Seymour and Catherine Parr, respectively. Jane was Queen for over a year before she died from puerperal fever; and Catherine only survived Henry for over a year before she too died from the same fever. It's even stranger when you realise that their children did not live to adulthood; Edward VI died in his teens, and it is generally agreed that Mary Seymour note  did not live past the age of 2.

Alternative Title(s):

History Repeats Itself