In the Past, Everyone Will Be Famous
So you finally get your time machine
working, and decide to visit some out of the way town in a quiet year. You hit the Big Red Button
, step out of the machine, and trip over William Shakespeare
. Cue the Historical In Jokes
. And probably the discovery that Beethoven Was an Alien Spy
It seems that time machines and real life famous people
have a very strong attraction. Even when you manage to avoid everyone in the history books (both real and in-verse
), you'll probably run into an ancestor. And if it's a grandparent, 9 times out of 10 you'll end up killing them.
Or shagging them.
Or they will look just like you
This means that as soon as you step out of your time machine, a well known historical figure will show up
shortly. This can either be someone who was famous in the real world, or, if the series takes place in The Future
, someone who became famous in the Future History.
Shows up in historical fiction too. A good deal of historical fiction is about famous people, but even the stories that aren't tend to spend a lot of time running into celebrities.
Note that this only counts if you're not specifically aiming for the famous person. For example, Bill & Ted
don't count because A: they were actually trying
to find Genghis Khan and Sigmund "Frood," and B: they had the help of a magic phone directory to find them. Though, even then, other well-known personages from the same period may crop up unexpectedly (Napoleon Bonaparte ended up piggybacking with them by mistake, for instance).
If you meet a famous figure before
they did anything to earn said fame, it's a case of Young Future Famous People
. If you don't find out who they are until the end of the story, it's a Historical Person Punchline
. See also Nothing But Hits
for a similar effect with music. When the time traveler themselves take the names of famous persons, it's I'm Mr. Future Pop Culture Reference
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- The Dagger Of Kamui takes place at the end of the 19th century, and has Jiro happening to meet Mark Twain (who calls himself by his pen name) for no reason.
- In Rose of Versailles, Oscar, besides working with Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, randomly bumps into Robespierre and Louis Saint-Juste on many occasions. The manga is even more egregious, and name-drops Napoleon for zero reason, and only a few pages, in a later chapter.
- Subverted in InuYasha: Kagome and company run into a traveling man named Nobunaga, and Kagome immediately busts out her autograph book, thinking she'd found the young Oda Nobunaga, the famous warlord. Turns out it's just someone with the same given name (don't forget, these are Japanese names — Oda is the clan name, not Nobunaga), who doesn't think fondly of the person who will end up making the name (in)famous.
- In The Once and Future Duck by Don Rosa, Donald Duck and Gyro Gearloose are testing a rather temperamental time machine at Stonehenge, because they know that even if the traveller ends up millennia in the past, there will be no buildings or the like inside the ancient structure. They all end up in the past, and immediately run into the brutish real-life King Arthur and his men. Ultimately it's their visit that inspires the legends of the Knights of the Round Table.
- Again by Don Rosa, Scrooge McDuck's life brings him to meet many real life famous people, such as Teddy Roosevelt, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Jesse and Frank James, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Roy Bean, Geronimo, and many others.
- In The Kents, a 12-issue miniseries detailing the lives of Clark Kent's adoptive ancestors, this comes up a lot; In the first page of #1 alone, we get Harriet Tubman! Over the course of the story, we then get Franklin Pierce, Wild Bill Hickok, Charles Quantrill, John Wilkes Booth, Jesse James (and his brother Frank), a young John Wesley Hardin, Susan B. Antony's brother, General Custer... this is more or less justified, given that the family does get involved with both pro-abolitionists and gunslingers.
- One X-Men miniseries had Kitty Pryde and Rachel Summers thrown back in time to 1936, where Kitty befriends a little girl named Lilibet, who turns out to be the future Queen Elizabeth.
- When the Comic Book/Runaways are sent back in time to 1907, Chase and Xavin try and make an arrangement with the local crime bosses to get the parts needed to return home. Said crime bosses turn out to be Dale and Stacey Yorkes, Gert's time-traveling supervillain parents. This is about as awkward as one might expect. On the other hand, the team doesn't encounter any historical figures, aside from passing by a woman who may or may not have been early feminist Emma Goldman.
- In Time Bandits, the titular bandits manage (through completely random time-jumping) to run into Napoleon, Agamemnon, and Robin Hood.
- Although sort of justified in that they all wanted to go to places to get lots of treasure, and kings and conquerors fit the bill. Still doesn't explain how they kept ending up in the general vicinity though.
- Marty of Back to the Future managed to avoid anyone more famous than the cousin of Chuck Berry (although the novelization of BTTF III claims the kid who asks him what a movie is was D.W. Griffith), but he bumped into relatives without trying in both the first and third movies (and let's not even get into the Animated Adaptation). Everything did take place in the same town in California, though.
- He also ran into a black busboy at a diner in 1955 who responds to his boss telling him to get back to work by stating that he's going to be someone. Marty, recognizing him, states that he's going to be mayor. The busboy thinks its merely a motivational suggestion, while his boss laughs off the idea of a black man being mayor.
- He also helped save Clara Clayton from falling into the ravine and having it named after her. Additionally, 'Mad Dog' Tannen was pretty well known for his gunslinging.
- Although we only hear about Tannen's modern day fame in the alternate timeline Biff created, where it's pretty clear his history was embellished or outright fabricated simply because he was Biff's ancestor.
- In Shanghai Knights, the main characters create the personas of Sherlock Holmes and Watson, freely give the idea to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and take on a young Charlie Chaplin as a sidekick.
- And the Action Girl kicks Jack the Ripper off a bridge.
- Also, Shanghai Noon reveals that Roy O'Bannon's true name is "Wyatt Earp" at the end of the first movie. The main character, Chon Wang(pronounced 'win'), remarks that Wyatt Earp is "a bad name for a lawman". Chon's nickname, given by Roy, is John while he pronounces Chon's last name as "Wayne". At the end of Shanghai Knights, Chon and Roy set off back to America, taking the young Charlie Chaplin with them, while Roy proposes that he and Chon go to Hollywood, where "they're setting up a new motion picture project". In reply, Chon thoughtfully says "John Wayne: Movie Star"...
- Rule of Funny was in full effect, as Doyle is inaccurately portrayed as a policeman (in real life, he was a doctor), and the movie takes place two years before Chaplin was even born.
- The Man From Earth has the titular 14,000-year-old character (John Oldman, har har) recall close meetings with Christopher Columbus, Vincent van Gogh, Buddha, in addition to being Jesus, though probably not in Purgatory.
- Not quite a time travel example, though, he'd been around the whole time. Encountering a few famous people over the course of 140 centuries is not especially unlikely.
- Western film American Outlaws does an especially hamfisted job of this. The central characters are Frank and Jesse James, and the film repeatedly has them name famous Civil War era characters, groups, and incidents as the director's way of demonstrating that they really are in the Old West.
- The (animated) film Anastasia had the title character and her entourage going shopping in Paris. Not only do they meet a few historical characters (Maurice Chevalier, Sigmund Freud, Charles Lindbergh, Josephine Baker, Claude Monet, Isadora Duncan, Auguste Rodin, and Gertrude Stein), they're all going shopping on the same night in the same street and all happen to know the words to the song. The movie features a singing Gertrude Stein.
- Incredibly, that might be the most historically correct part of the movie. Both Hemingway and Bennett Cerf wrote of Gertrude's inability to walk by someone playing a piano without sitting down and singing along.
- In Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, Jean Cocteau pulls the time-travelling protagonist into a car and takes him to a party where Cole Porter is sitting at the piano. The first people he meets are Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, who introduce him to Hemingway, who takes him to Gertrude Stein's place where she's arguing with Picasso...
- Given, those people were all in Paris at the same time, and interacting pretty closely, which is one of the main reasons that the protagonist is so in love with that period of time. However, the speed with which he runs into them all is rather hard to believe . . . unless it's all in his head.
- Later in the film he and Adriana travel back to 1890's Moulin Rouge and meet Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin, and Edgar Degas within minutes. Spotting Toulouse-Lautrec in the Moulin Rouge is believable. Two other famous painters of the era somewhat less so. . .unless it's all in Adriana's head.
- Men In Black III featured a time travel plot with an appearance by Bill Hader as Andy Warhol, the very man who predicted that in the future, everyone would be famous.
Live Action TV
- The new series of Doctor Who has done this quite a bit, with Charles Dickens fighting off an alien invasion in "The Unquiet Dead", werewolves trying to infect Queen Victoria in "Tooth and Claw", Madame de Pompadour falling in love with the Doctor in "The Girl in the Fireplace", William Shakespeare battling alien witches "The Shakespeare Code" and Agatha Christie solving a murder mystery with the Doctor along with a giant alien wasp, in "The Unicorn and the Wasp".
- Also, earlier Doctors have done the same thing. The Doctor standing in for Doc Holliday in the OK Corral, meeting Nero and giving him the idea of burning down Rome, riding with Marco Polo, meeting King Richard Lionheart... We don't see him, but Leonardo da Vinci was a good friend of the Doctor, and H.G. Wells got his ides for the term 'Science Fiction' from the Doctor - all in the 'old' series.
- Possibly justified in that the TARDIS is sentient, and purposely takes the Doctor where he needs to go. If the Doctor isn't aiming for an important point in time, chances are the TARDIS is.
- This works not just with people who are famous in our time, but also people who will be famous in the future. When the Doctor decides to go to Mars, he arrives just in time to meet the first humans to establish a colony on the planet.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation visited 19th century San Francisco in "Time's Arrow", and Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) tried to stop their "invasion". (He also gives a spot of writing advice to an ambitious bellhop who just happens to be named Jack London.) Later, in The Movie, they went back in time and ended up protecting the creator of their Applied Phlebotinum. (Justified, in that the time travel was initiated by the Big Bad. Naturally they picked an important place and time to attack, namely the first test flight of a Terran ship warp drive that would attract the attention of the Vulcans to begin open interaction with that planet.)
- This is justified in the Star Trek RPG by saying that spots where history has a chance to change drastically, also called Nexus Points, tend to draw unintentional time travelers, and intentional ones have to take them into account when performing the calculations.
- In "City on the Edge of Forever", Spock gives a similar explanation of why they wound up in the same place that Dr. McCoy would soon arrive.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has done this twice, both times running into famous characters from their own 'Verse. They ran into a martyred civil rights activist in "In Past Tense", and the original crew in "Trials and Tribble-ations".
- Justified in "Tribble-ations" because they were there/then to stop a bad guy who had gone to that place and time specifically because he knew the original Enterprise and Kirk were there.
- "In Past Tense" is more a case of You Will Be Beethoven, as Sisko takes the place of the martyred civil rights activist and makes the demands that lead to reforms of the Sanctuary Districts.
- This is the driving premise behind the Blackadder: Back and Forth special. The time machine used by the characters (which had been invented by accident thanks to Baldrick having a Genius Ditz moment) was somehow "attuned" to the frequencies of Lord Blackadder's ancestors — who just so happened to be big historical players in the eras they visited.
- As the show creators themselves have noticed, Blackadder's intelligence seems to rise as his fortunes fall. The Blackadder in Rome is scarcely above a grunt. However, the trope is affirmed and indeed parodied when you take into account the amount of times those same people are hanging around Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie....
- The "Soldier's Heart" episode of New Amsterdam contains a particularly glaring example of this. Throughout the episode, the 400-year-old main character John Amsterdam flashes back to an incident that happened when he was an army surgeon in the American Civil War, and a patient whose leg he had to amputate took drastic and violent action. The understanding Amsterdam gained of the "soldier's heart", which he discusses with his orderly Walt, helps him understand the current-day mystery he faces concerning psychologically troubled veterans. None of this has anything to do with what happens in the episode's last flashback, where Walt out of nowhere tells John "I want to give you a copy of this book I wrote" and hands him a book whose title page reads Leaves of Grass, revealing "Walt" to be famous poet Walt Whitman.
- Young Indiana Jones did this constantly, because of the show's educational nature. In every episode Indy meets a new historical figure (and sometimes more than one).
- Mostly averted in Quantum Leap, where the majority of the characters Sam becomes are ordinary people — but he does run into Buddy Holly, a young Michael Jackson, Sylvester Stallone, Bill Clinton, and a teenage Stephen King, who decides to become a horror writer thanks to him. He also became Lee Harvey Oswald, Elvis Presley and Dr. Ruth in other episodes.
- And Marilyn Monroe. Most of the celebrity encounters happened in the last season when they were doing everything they could to boost ratings.
- The ancestor variant shows up when Sam leaps into his own great-grandfather, a Union general near the end of the Civil War. At the end of the episode, he talks with a newly freed slave who declares that, since being emancipated has made him feel like royalty, he will be taking the surname King. You can probably guess where this one's headed...
- Played with in an episode of Bewitched, where Endora threatens Samantha that she'll tell Darrin about her relationship with Sir Walter Raleigh if she doesn't comply. Samantha protests that she never even met Sir Walter Raleigh, but Endora reminds her that Darrin wouldn't know that.
- Pretty much the entire premise of Voyagers!.
- Also the entire premise of The Time Tunnel.
- Happens fairly frequently in Forever Knight, mainly because the characters have been around for so long. In one episode, Nick encounters Joan of Arc; in another, Lacroix contemplates turning a young German soldier into a vampire, but decides the man has too much darkness in his soul (you can probably guess who he turns out to be).
- In Day Of The Tentacle, a character gets stranded 200 years in the past. Without even leaving the house, he runs into George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock and Betsy Ross.
- Which is really silly given that Jefferson wasn't even in the same country as the others at the time that this was implied to be occurring in. This is just one of the many historical errors in that game, which the programmers were aware of, They Just Didn't Care.
- The Shadow Hearts series features a degree of the historical fiction version, with the heroes bumping into such famous historical personages as Kawashima Yoshiko (As a note, the little girl in the second game is supposed to be the historical one — the one in the first game is a wholly fictional character, who, according to the series, is the namesake of the real one), Al Capone, H.P. Lovecraft, and the Great Gama (yes, he was a real person - ask The Other Wiki). Party members over the series include Mata Hari (under her actual name, Margarete) and Princess Anastasia Romanov.
- Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader, a game set in an Alternate History version of 1588, manages to have William Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci, Tomas Torquemada, Cervantes, Nicolo Machiavelli, Hernando Cortez, and Jacques de Molay all living within a few blocks of each other in Barcelona. Nostradamus, Queen Elizabeth I, and Joan of Arc also turn up later in the game.
- In Star Control II, a member of the Pkunk alien race (think happy-go-lucky Space Gypsies) explains why psychics always tell you that you were someone famous in a past life—only important people reincarnate. If you weren't important, influential, or otherwise historically notable, "you just kind of... cease. Isn't the universe a wacky place?" Sort of an Everyone's Past Is Someone Famous.
- The Animus is not technically a time machine, but in Assassin's Creed I Altair/Desmond winds up meeting King Richard I. In the interests of remaining historically accurate, he's a bit of an asshole.
- The sequel, set in Renaissance Italy, features Leonardo da Vinci as a frequent ally, repairing your assassin tech and decoding messages from your ancestor. Ezio rubs shoulders with the likes of Lorenzo de Medici, Caterina Sforza and Niccolo Machiavelli! And the final boss is Pope Alexander VI.
- Justified, since, according to the game, just about every famous inventor/artist/mind of the era was either an Assassin or a Templar.
- It's also noted that the reason the plot is happening is that Desmond's specific ancestry works like this. One of the modern assassins (Rebecca) notes that she's had one chance to use the Animus personally but couldn't find anything the least bit exciting available to her.
- The 1980s graphical adventure game Eureka! depicts various historical characters in five different periods of time.
- Totally describes an episode of Jem where the Misfits send the Holograms back in time to keep them from performing at a concert. The girls get sent back to the 1700s, the 40s, then the 60s, where they just happen to meet Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Glenn Miller, and Jimi Hendrix (though for legal reasons, the last two are referred to as "Ben Tiller" and "Johnny Beldrix"). The Agony Booth did a recap of this one.
- Almost every episode of the series Time Warp Trio, on the Kids' Discovery Channel, is based on this trope. Somewhat justified since they time-travel via a magic history book, which a magician uncle gave one of the trio — apparently with the idea that the kid would eventually (1) learn a lot of history and (2) learn how to steer the book.
- This is the same for the series of stories the cartoon was based off of.
- Lampshaded in the Futurama episode "All the President's Heads".
Professor: Where could Farnsworth have minted such a high quality fake?
Benjamin Franklin: Not here, but you know, I have a friend in Boston who's an expert silversmith, they could be connected... there's only, like, 40 people who do anything around here.
- Combine this trope with Reincarnation, and you get Everyone From The Past Was Famous, in which a suspiciously-high proportion of believers in past lives insist that they were once famous people, or closely associated with somebody famous. Cleopatra is a classic one for women to claim as a previous incarnation.
- The number of people who claim to have been passengers aboard the Titanic exceeds the actual passenger manifest of that ship considerably and is a MAJOR subject of contention on Titanic message boards.
- In January 1913, Vienna's Café Central was patronized by Josip Broz Tito, Sigmund Freud, Adolf Hitler, Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky (the last two as regulars). Of these, only Freud had done by then the thing for which he is famous today.