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Magic Countdown

"If I ever MUST put a digital timer on my doomsday device, I will buy one free from quantum mechanical anomalies. So many brands on the market keep perfectly good time while you're looking at them, but whenever you turn away for a couple minutes then turn back, you find that the countdown has progressed by only a few seconds.
Rule #216 of The Evil Overlord List

Any kind of stated time limit or countdown in fiction seems to know when it's Being Watched, and will cheat accordingly for maximum drama. This phenomenon tends to occur especially as a countdown starts approaching zero.

For instance, the large digital readout on a Time Bomb may show thirty seconds to detonation, but after cutting to and from a climactic two-minute fight between The Hero and the Big Bad, the clock somehow has ten seconds left for The Hero to defuse it before it goes off.

This can be done subtly, to stretch things out a bit without the audience really noticing, but in most cases it's pretty obvious — there have been times, in fact, when literally no time passes at all while the countdown's out of shot.

Sometimes the reverse effect takes place — the character has a good forty seconds to stop or get out of the way of the destruction, then six seconds later the timer starts counting down from ten, which is a fairly cheap way of ratcheting up the suspense. This version, at least, can occasionally be explained by the Law of Conservation of Detail — the action we saw isn't necessarily all the action that took place.

This doesn't have to involve an actually displayed timer. Sometimes a character will just yell that "There's only ten seconds left!" and the heroes will prevent the calamity 25 seconds later.

A variation is a fuse or Powder Trail which burns slower or faster when the camera's not on it. Another common visual equivalent is the falling object or descending gate which is accelerating down at something. The shot cuts just before it hits to people trying to stop it or get out the way. When the camera goes back, the thing will mysteriously have farther to fall than it did before the cut, just enough to allow the characters to make a narrow escape.

This can be handwaved by arguing that part of the fight scene (since rarely are there splitscreens showing the fight and the timer) started when or before the last shot of the timer was shown, thus, the fight and the countdown are happening at the same time chronologically but are shown separately to build tension and suspense (an editing technique known as "cross-cutting").

When applied to a Timed Mission in Video Games, it becomes Always Close (and when applied to non-timed missions in video games, Take Your Time). See also Exact Time to Failure, which may give us the countdown in the first place, and Instant Cooldown or Magic Antidote for the miraculous events that occur when it is stopped. May be also applied to a Descending Ceiling or when The Walls Are Closing In - the crusher keeps conveniently moving back between shots. Compare Clock Discrepancy.

In instances where it's not a timer that's out of proportion, but rather the speed at which off-screen travel is conducted, see Traveling at the Speed of Plot.

Often occurs because Talking Is a Free Action.

Contrast Real Time. Compare On Three.
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Examples

    Anime and Manga 
  • In the Naruto OVA Battle at Hidden Falls. I Am the Hero!, Shibuki is told he has 10 seconds to reveal his location before Suien kills a villager. Naruto's short speech about bravery takes considerably longer. During her fight with Sasori in Naruto Shippuden, Sakura counts down the time left before her antidote wears off. Apparently one entire episode is just under two minutes.
  • On Dragon Ball Z, during the final fight between Goku and Freeza during the Namek saga, the planet Namek was minutes away from collapse for 10 episodes. Ridiculously, one episode actually says "two minutes" at the beginning and "one minute" at the end.
    • Lampshaded later by the fact that Freiza flat-out admits he screwed up the whole "destroying Namek" thing, and it was supposed to explode instantly... he just made up the "five minutes left" thing to not look like an idiot.
    • Lampshaded further in Dragon Ball Z Abridged when Goku implies that Freeza has no clue what a "minute" is.
      • In Kai, he was stated to have messed up because he held back too much for fear of killing himself in the blast right after he did it, and the "five minutes" clearly is just him making up a number. This also nicely explains why the flashback showing his destruction of planet Vegeta has it instantly exploding despite being a planet of similar size and density to Namek: Freeza normally destroys planets from the safety of orbit, not when he's standing on the surface.
    • A lot of this sort of thing on the show is implicitly explained as the fight being slowed down so that the audience can actually follow it. As early as the battles with the Saibamen, the already superhuman Gohan expresses trouble following the action, implying that every major fight that happens afterwards would be too fast for the human eye.
      • Some fans have taken this explanation and ran with it, creating videos which show how the SSJ-Goku vs Freeza fight might look like in "real time."
    • In a later episode, they even comment on this when Goku needs time to regather his energy and asks Vegeta to stall Kid-Buu for one minute. Vegeta comments that this is a really long time for a fight against Buu and the minute does last at least an episode.
  • In episode 139 of Bleach (which was titled "Ichigo vs Grimmjow, the 11 Second Battle"), Ichigo can remain a Hollow for 11 seconds. Just the scenes with Ichigo as a Hollow already take up about a minute, so even assuming everything's simultaneous doesn't explain it. The concept of events happening at extremely high speed is rather stretched.
  • Factoring in all ecstatic collapses, dramatic slow-motion door-opening, and lengthy yet vital inner expository monologues, the forty seconds in the Death Note finale are inflated by approximately 850%. In the anime at least the inner expository of Light is justified, as every other movement is shown to stop. So his thoughts actually happen "instantly". Although I don't care how smart Light is, you'd have to be on all kinds of crap to be thinking that fast.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion lives by this trope. Whenever an Eva gets disconnected from it's "umbilical cable", huge digital timers show up to indicate how much internal power is left. The amount varies with the activity: at full-blown battle, it only lasts one minute - in theory. In practice, battles always last longer than one minute - especially if the Eva goes berserk. For example, in episode 19 Shinji topped the minute with a good 14 seconds and he was fighting like a madman. Once he ran out of power, the Eva had gone berserk, curbstomped and ate the Angel in another three minutes.
    • Partially justified - Berserk is stated multiple times to allow an EVA to act on it's own without any power supply. Don't ask how does that work, we're talking about pilotable giant cyborg alien clones here, that's not the weirdest thing EVAs can do.
    • A theory is that the power is what's stopping the armor from locking down the Eva. However, when an Eva goes berserk no amount of restraints are going to hinder it.
  • In One Piece, during the Alabasta arc, there's a bomb. Not just any bomb, but one to destroy the entire town and everyone inside of it. The countdown read 5 minutes... For two episodes.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds episode 3, Yusei is trying to escape through the maintenance shaft before trash from Neo Domino City comes rushing into Satellite like a tsunami. On the way, he duels Ushio, which in itself takes roughly 15 minutes. Yusei only has three minutes from entering the tunnel 'till the maintenance hatch closes. 10 minutes of the duel are spent in said tunnel. Furthermore, at one point, the timer says 1:40. 2 minutes later, it says 1:30.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!:
  • An entire episode of Slam Dunk not only takes place during a single shot, from release to entering the basket, but during the last few seconds of a game. While the flashbacks can be attributed to moving at the speed of though, the internal monologue shouldn't.
  • In the last episodes of Season 1 of Fairy Tail, The Thunder Castle spell is said to have 1:30 til it goes off. After 5 minutes of telepathic discussion, there is still time to stop the spell from destroying everything.

    Comics 
  • DC Challenge #2 (1985). The bomb, which is far away, is about to detonate in 8 seconds. Batman is confronting the villain at a power plant. The following exchange takes place:
    Villain: Now do you believe me, Batman? You can't radio for help because I'm jamming all the channels — and all the phones are dead as well, so you cannot contact your butler!
    Batman: You lousy little maniac!! You're going to tell me how to stop that bomb, or I swear I'll—!
    Villain: Really, Batman — wasting what precious little time you have left on empty threats? Frankly, I had thought you above such childish displays!
    Batman: (thoughts) He's right... can't afford to lose control now... have to focus... have to think... there has to be some way to disarm that device...
At this point we see the bomb again, and it's down to 5 seconds left. (Batman does disarm the faraway bomb, by cutting the power at the power plant.)

    Fan Fic 

    Film 
  • The inverse variety occurs in Apollo 13. The loss of communications during re-entry is said to last 4-1/2 minutes, but actually takes about 3 minutes of movie. Given how tense that scene is watching the movie, knowing how it comes out, one can imagine how tense it was in real life, taking half again as long. But the 14 second manual course correction burn of the LM engine was changed to 39 seconds, which still took 63 seconds of screen time in the movie.
  • James Bond
    • Goldfinger: During the countdown to the detonation of the nuclear bomb in Fort Knox. It manages to get stopped at 007, too. Imagine that.
    • Octopussy uses it on a detonator instead of an entire bomb (and since Science Marches On, the counter is digital). Bond disarms it right as the timer reaches zero.
    • On Her Majesty's Secret Service features a detonator set for 5 minutes. Then the camera cuts to other characters talking for 10 seconds. When we cut back to the detonator, only 10 seconds have passed. Cut to a fight scene for 10 more seconds. OK, now 2 minutes have passed on the detonator. Cut to another 10 second scene. Now the detonator has 10 seconds left before detonating. Cut to a character counting down 5,4,3,2,1. Cut to both Bond and Blofeld jumping out of the building scheduled to blow up. Only a good 20 seconds after the countdown is supposed to be over does the explosion actually happen.
  • Independence Day: "Can you get us out of here in 30 seconds?" More like two minutes. Yet cut back to the bomb, which still has five seconds on it.
  • Stargate (the original one). When O'Neil sets the timer on the nuke, it also beeps constantly in all the scenes. In most scenes, counting the beeps is pretty accurate between timer shots, but the time between beeps varies widely between shots. In one scene, it counts down normally, in another it's almost rapid fire. And the last 45 seconds on the timer? Takes about 4 minutes. Not due to dramatic cross-cutting either, it's played straight.
  • Star Trek
    • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan features the title character counting down 60 seconds to the Enterprise crew before he does something really nasty. Naturally, this takes a good deal longer than 60 seconds, giving the heroes enough time to come up with a bluff. Possibly invoked: Khan was counting down similar to a parent counting down for a child on a time limit they KNOW is too short - "I'm going to count to three and it better be done - one, two, two and a half, pause - task finishes - good you just made it." Khan is basically saying, "You have until I feel like blowing you up to get me what I want" - since he really wanted the Genesis data so he could use it as a weapon, as long as they (so he thought) were giving him what he wanted, Khan was willing to stretch his countdown.
    • In Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Kirk et al. activate the Enterprise's 60-second auto-destruct sequence and then go down to the transporter room where they beam off the ship. The Klingons then beam onto the ship and cautiously make their way to the bridge, where they find the countdown nearly complete and promptly get blown up real good. But of course, roughly 100 seconds of film have elapsed between the beginning and the end of the 60-second countdown, and even at that, the trips to and from the transporter room have obviously been compressed.
  • In the first Star Wars movie (A New Hope), Death Star's going around the planet to be able to target the moon with the rebel base was represented onboard by an odd graphic that, when shown, most certainly wasn't moving slowly enough for the time it took, either on-screen or in-universe.
  • The opening credits of G.I. Joe: The Movie have Cobra attempting to blow up the Statue of Liberty. Duke moves the bomb from the statue to their airship, taking about 20 seconds longer than the clock should have allowed.
  • Happens in Van Helsing: it sure takes that clock a long time to strike twelve.
  • The Mask: the countdown to the detonation of the conventional explosives in the club.
  • The 30 seconds that Grandpa Seth freezes time for in Troll 2 must be some of the slowest seconds in the history of the world.
  • The "one minute" it takes for the DeLorean in Back to the Future to reappear is actually about one minute and twenty seconds. Also, in the third movie time runs very slowly after the engine and time machine crash through the sign marking the last half mile of track. Covering the remaining distance at 88 mph should not take more than 20 seconds, but the engine takes the plunge much later. A possible in-universe example towards the end of the first part: The Doc sets a timer to indicate the precise moment Marty should begin his run at the cable so he'll hit it at the same time as the lightning strike. Although the Delorean cuts out causing Marty to leave late, he hits the cable at the right time anyway.
  • Indiana Jones:
    • In Raiders of the Lost Ark, during the opening scene in the dungeon when the stone door is about to close down in front of Indy, time seems to stand still until Indy manages to sneak through under the door.
    • Played both ways in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: when the nuclear bomb is about to go off, an announcement says "one minute to zero time." The first 45 seconds take 30 seconds, and then the last 15 seconds take another 30 seconds.
  • Flash Gordon (1980). The countdown timer to the destruction of the Earth that Flash sets in War Rocket Ajax. Flash originally set the clock for 3 minutes 20 seconds. It finally counts down to zero more than 7 minutes of screen time later. It's blatantly clear at the very end. Just before Flash jumps out of the ship it shows 19 seconds left. After Ming is destroyed (?) it shows 2 seconds left, but it took 52 seconds of screen time for Flash to kill Ming.
  • In The Manhattan Project, a nuclear bomb's timer is damaged by radiation, causing it to start the timer... With 999 hours until detonation. It seems the army have more than a month to deal with it, until they discover that the timer counts down exponentially, to the point that it eventually counts down several hours per second. Might be a justification or outright parody.
  • The second Mission: Impossible movie has one of these when a bomb is planted on Luther's van.
  • Future War is probably the only example where the countdown goes faster than reality on screen.
  • Superman II. The H-bomb is supposed to have a 1 minute timer. It takes at least 1 minute 24 seconds to detonate after the timer starts.
  • Averted purposefully for Nick of Time [1995] starring Johnny Depp. The entire movie unfolds in real-time.
  • In Minority Report, an officer says they have 51 minutes and 28 seconds to stop Tom Cruise from committing a murder. Since the murder occurs much sooner in the movie, this appears to be a reversal of this trope, until one realizes that the time period mentioned was the exact amount of running time left in the movie.
  • Inverted in Space Camp. The accidentally launched shuttle is low on air, so the cadets fly to the partially assembled space station, where there is a cache of oxygen tanks. Ignoring the fact that the movie compresses the transit time to a few minutes, if you take the estimated amount of air left when they start the trip, and subtract the estimated transit time, the answer is considerably larger than the estimated amount of air left in the shuttle when they arrive. What were they doing to use up all that extra air?
  • Lampshaded but not explained, except just as being magic, in The Polar Express.
  • Demonstrated brilliantly in the MST rendition of Time Chasers:
    (Nick activates the Time Transport countdown)
    Servo: "Ten... Nine... Eight... Seven..."
    (Cut away to Nick and J.K. fighting over a gun)
    Servo: "S-Seven... Six... Five... Four..."
    (Computer warns of low altitude)
    Servo: "Three... Two... One... Zero... F-Four... Three... Two... One... Th-Three... Two... One... Two..."
    (Plane crashes)
    Servo: "One."
    • Related, in the episode Soultaker, they mock the movie for continuing to show the clock after the midnight deadline has passed:
    Mike: "Stop showing the clock! You spent that nickel!"
  • In Timecop, there's a bomb in the protagonist's house with a mere 10 seconds left on the clock. Even though the scene is going in slow motion, he somehow manages to make it from the second story to the outside the house while carrying his wife in both arms. He isn't even running down the steps, either.
  • The Dark Knight Rises has a timer that obligingly slows down to let people to hear one character's Famous Last Words and for another to have a brief farewell conversation, while still having time left to fly a nuclear bomb far enough from the city to leave it untouched.
  • Fight Club: It takes about five minutes from the point where Tyler says "60 seconds", before the bombs actually go off. No countdown is shown or mentioned during that time, though.
  • The bakery mini-game in Wreck-It Ralph is supposed to take precisely "one minute to win it", yet it lasts about thirteen seconds longer. Most of the extra time comes from the Mixing stage, where the clock starts to count down about half as fast as it should to hide that it takes a majority of the time. Toward the end of the Baking stage, the timer jumps down so that it's at 0:15 by the time Vanellope announces "Fifteen seconds!", but then it actually stops for a few seconds during the Decorating stage to leave enough time for the kart to finish.
  • In Gravity, the time it takes for Stone's oxygen supply to drop from 5% to 1% is roughly the same time it takes it to drop from 1% to 0%.

    Literature 

    Live Action TV 
  • Funnily enough, 24 has some examples of this: sometimes an episode ends with something important (like an explosion) and the next episode begins with the timer exactly following, but the events ahead — the emergency units have already arrived, etc. The title screen, Previously On segments, and "The following takes place..." take about 2 minutes. Only once in Season 1 (1:00am-2:00am aka episode 2) does it show the clock immediately after "The following takes place...". So there's a small amount of unseen time between episodes. Also the credits for the previous episode as well, which take about 30 seconds
  • Power Rangers
    • In the first episode of Power Rangers in Space, Dark Specter has captured Zordon in a jar, which gradually fills up with a lava-like substance. When it is full, Dark Specter will have drained all of Zordon's power. At the rate that jar is filling up, Zordon ought to be history before that episode was up, yet somehow he held out until the end of the season. In the last episode, Zordon's tube goes from half-full at the beginning to empty at the end. That was a plot point, Dark Specter had been killed by Darkonda and it apparently reversed the energy drain.
    • In Power Rangers Ninja Storm, the Rangers have a more agile alternate mode for their Humongous Mecha which can only be maintained for sixty seconds. The first time it's used, it stays transformed for precisely sixty seconds in the end, though Cam's countdown is often wildly off. Almost every use after that, though, had battles carry on for much longer than one minute.
    • In Power Rangers RPM, one Monster of the Week throws bombs as his whole schtick. The bombs have no visible timer but beep faster and faster leading up to kaboom. At one point, when the monster throws a bomb, the beeping accelerates... and then stops when a Ranger catches the bomb. It starts over when the Ranger throws it back.
  • The Makai Knights in GARO can only remain in armour for 99.9 seconds. This is enforced in most episodes, but once in a while it is blatantly broken with no explanation.
  • In the LOST episode "The Other Woman", Daniel is attempting to neutralize poison gas. "Forty seconds to contamination," the computer says. Forty seconds later, it says, "Twenty seconds to contamination."
  • Doctor Who, episode "Destiny of the Daleks". The countdown runs at normal speed when demoed, but too slowly when Romana is actually in peril from the bomb.
    • Also, in "The Daleks", a Dalek suddenly stops counting down when it became clear to the director that the action sequence would take much longer than the countdown.
    • Despite being averted in 42 (see below), this was played straight in Last of the Time Lords, which is ironic, as the countdown was critical to the Doctor's plan.
  • On the children's TV show The Big Comfy Couch, one of the usual devices employed in every episode was that Loonette would look around for items inside the couch while making a mess, and then at the end of the episode she would clean the mess up in a "ten-second tidy". Usually these would last over a minute. Very likely this was done under the assumption that children can't count.
  • Nearly every episode of FETCH! with Ruff Ruffman has a "Half-Time Quiz Show" where any Fetchers not doing a challenge are asked questions involving the challenges in the first half of the show. They are given 10 questions and have to answer as many as possible within a time limit (90 seconds in Seasons 1-2, 60 seconds in Seasons 3-5). In many episodes, Ruff announces "Time's up" either before or after the 60/90 seconds have elapsed.
  • Knight Rider (2008) "Knight Fever": Trying to abort the destruction of a recently nanovirus-infected command center, Carrie and Alex find that the security device has malfunctioned and won't read their handprints. It repairs itself just in time to stop when the countdown reaches 1 second.
  • In the Scrubs episode "My 15 Seconds", the timer which displays during the "15-second visits" with Nicole Sullivan sometimes visibly slows to half speed.
  • In the Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide episode "Dismissal", an 11-minute countdown clock is displayed in the corner throughout the episode to represent the time everyone has to get on the bus before it departs. While it does count down in real time at some points, the clock "cheats" by slightly speeding up and slowing down throughout the rest of the episode, especially near the end when it's very slow, likely for dramatic effect.
  • Sci Fi Channel once ran a marathon of RoboCop: The Series with humorous running commentary. One episode had a bomb set for five minutes. The running commentary points out that it takes 7:04 for the bomb to eventually be shut off.
  • Occurs during the autodestruct sequence in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "11001001".
  • An odd inversion: The Japanese Game Show Dasshutsu Game DERO! and its Spiritual Successor TORE! both have rounds where a team of contestants are given a series of puzzles to solve via Linked List Clue Methodology within a total time limit. Whenever a stumped team spent a long time making no progress, the footage is edited out, but the show often briefly cuts away to something else to make the edit less obvious. This leads to situations where the show cuts away for about 15 seconds, but over a minute ticks away on the countdown while it's not onscreen.
  • Batman episode "While Gotham City Burns". Batman and Chief O'Hara have only a minute to drive to a church and save Robin from being killed in the Bookworm's Death Trap. The minute is shown on a clock dial on the screen, with a series of scenes showing their progress. There's no way that they could have done it within a minute. Batman even takes time out to explain something unimportant to Chief O'Hara.
  • The time limit for the entire game on Fort Boyard doesn't really exist, and is only there so the editors can add some drama to the show. One example on the UK version where the team had about 2:00 left on the clock when a woman attempted a challenge at some height. After about 4 minutes of faffing about, she gave up, and only about 1:00 had gone off the clock.
  • In Friends when Joey makes a Game Show Appearance on Pyramid. During the game, the team is given 20 seconds per round to give a set of clues. But here when Joey plays, the clock only displays when there's only 5 seconds left and you clearly know the round went longer than 20 seconds. Opposite is true in the bonus round when the countdown ended sooner than the intended 60 seconds.

    Theater 
  • In the Met performance of Doctor Atomic, about Dr. Oppenheimer and the Trinity nuclear test, a voice announces five minutes to the test firing. Eight minutes later, the two minute buzzer sounds. Eight minutes later, the bomb goes off.

    Video Games 
  • Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty has a truly bizarre example. All the gameplay countdowns do this, but during one of them, there's a codec conversation in which a bomb is announced to have less than thirty seconds left on the clock. Twenty-odd seconds later, it blows up, averting the trope while the other countdown is frozen until you reach the next area.
  • In the first mission of Final Fantasy VII, the bomb timer is set at 10 minutes. Now, the timer keeps perfect time through battles, menus, and passages from one area to the next. The magic countdown effect becomes present right as your party reaches the exit. No matter how much time is left on the timer when it's last displayed, the bomb explodes right as your party leaves the reactor. It is possible that the timer was simply a failsafe, and Avalanche had a trigger switch they set off as they escape. That's just Fan Wank, though...
  • The final battle in Time Crisis 2 pits you against the fanatical Ernesto Diaz and the prototype of his nuclear satellite, with the real one just seconds from being launched into space. How many there are supposed to be is unclear, because no matter how long this battle takes, Diaz always goes down just as the rocket is about to launch, whereupon the ruined prototype smashes a hole in the rocket, causing it and the entire launch pad to dramatically get blown up real good. Presumably the Namco staff wanted to maintain a semblance of the every-second-counts tension of the first game but didn't feel like making three endings.
  • The 5th and 6th levels of House of the Dead 4 have the AMS agents racing to reach Goldman's computer to deactivate his nuclear missiles before they launch. At three points, they note how much time is left, none of the three figures even remotely corresponding to how much time has passed in-game.
  • Zig-zagged in Sonic Adventure 2. Eggman explicitly instructs that a bomb be set to blow in fifteen minutes. After the five minutes of the Security Hall stage go by, we see that Rouge is in a holding cell with the bomb counting down past 10 minutes. The following stage has the time limit of 10 minutes, so not counting the duration of the boss battles and cutscenes it's accurate… then there's a stage with an eight-minute timer. A more traditional example occurs when Shadow reaches the bomb. The bomb bleeps to indicate when a second passes, even when the camera isn't facing it. There are more bleeps than there are seconds on the clock.
  • Occurs in the Final Boss fight of Portal 2. The first stage timer is the amount of time before you succumb to the neurotoxin the final boss is pumping into the room. After you finish the first stage (which knocks out the neurotoxin emitters...somehow), the second stage gives you four minutes before the entire Enrichment Center explodes in an atomic fireball due to a reactor meltdown. You can beat that stage with as little as one second left, but the third stage starts over at precisely two minutes, and even after you finish that, the conclusion is a Take Your Time. You could go eat lunch and the place will still be about to explode. There is a subtle Lampshade Hanging of this when the automated announcer declares after the second stage that the reactor explosion timer has been destroyed. Not the explosion itself, mind you, the timer for the explosion. Of course, this being Aperture, the third timernote  is a self-destruction timer to prevent the uncertainty that would result if they didn't know exactly when they were going to die.
  • The timer until the ship's engines explode in Halo: Combat Evolved seems precise… but when it disappears for a scripted event, the timer actually pauses and doesn't restart until it appears on screen again. This is probably to let the player watch the scripted event without feeling the need to just drive straight past it (since driving past the event triggers the timer to restart earlier), but it's still a case of this trope.

    Western Animation 
  • A variant of the fast burning fuse is seen in Batman: The Animated Series. In "Dreams in Darkness", the Scarecrow has a huge machine mixing fear inducing chemicals to dump in Gotham's water supply. Batman shuts it off, stopping the big clock at 01:45. Scarecrow starts it up with the backup controls and the clock begins counting down again, from 20 seconds. And furthermore, the timer beeped with every passing second, even when it was offscreen, but the beeps didn't correspond to how much time had passed. At the 20-seconds mark, it plainly beeped more times than there were seconds remaining.
  • In the episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold, "Invasion of the Secret Santas!", where, after noticing a doll is a bomb with a 10 second timer, Batman exclaims, "It's a Bomb!" for 5 seconds, before cutting to a commercial break.
  • The Fairly OddParents
    • Happens in an episode where roaches have taken over and are going to destroy the world. Cosmo and Timmy plead with Wanda to help save them as the clock ticks down ten seconds, which takes more like thirty.
    • Happens again in another episode while Mark contemplates whether or not to destroy the Earth with a Time Bomb. He's clearly taking more than a few seconds to do this, while the timer counts down about 5 seconds. Of course, being The Fairly OddParents and all, the timer in question might have actually been magic.
  • This happens all the time in Code Lyoko Season 2 and 3 with the countdown before hitting the key to avoid the reconfiguration of Sector 5. It is supposed to be 3 minutes, but it jumps forward, and sometimes backward, quite haphazardly. And in episode "The Secret", where a detonator for a series of charges set to destroy the Factory has a digital clock. Once, it advanced only 15 seconds while almost 2 minutes went by. Afterward, it seemed to have hurried back and caught up exactly with the lapsed time... but then it jumped forward 45 seconds while William and Ulrich were speaking, that is with no jump-scene in-between, only a change of focus.
  • In the Captain N: The Game Master episode where Simon is marrying Mother Brain, Mega Man and Kid Icarus have 30 seconds to shoot Simon with an antidote arrow before the spell becomes permanent. It takes them one minute and 17 seconds to hit him. In this fanfiction parody of the episode, Samus Aran (who wasn't in the series) lampshades this by telling Mega Man that he needs to get his chronometer fixed.
  • An episode of Total Drama has the contestants being given the task of escaping a building set to blow up in 30 seconds. After 1 minute and 13 seconds, the timer is at 15 seconds. When the countdown ends, a total of 2 minutes and 10 seconds has passed. Some possible Fridge Brilliance : since that season's challenges were based on movies, of course it would follow this.
  • Played for Laughs in a Tiny Toon Adventures short, "One Minute Till Three", which has a ten minute running time. There's one minute left in the school day, and Granny is asking all the students impossible questions and assigning increasingly large amounts of homework as punishment for wrong answers. The focus is on Plucky Duck, as he desperately hopes that the clock will reach 3:00 before Granny calls on him. Highlights include Plucky saying "This must be the longest sixty seconds in the history of Acme Acres" and the clock (which has no second hand) moving backwards while Plucky watches.
  • In the "Our Neighborhood Festival" episode of Blues Clues, Periwinkle states that there's five seconds till the fireworks start. Joe and guest star Marlee Matlin then step forward so that Joe can address the viewers and he suggests that everyone count down together from five. Only after the countdown (which itself takes a fair bit longer than five seconds) is complete do the fireworks actually start.
  • In the opening of Sonic Sat AM, the timer Sally sets actually counts down faster when it's not on-screen. Potentially justified in that a few seconds could have been skipped between some of the camera changes (though that would be odd).
  • In The Simpsons, when Homer is waiting to deliberately take a cannonball to the stomach that he knows will kill him, the fuse on the cannon is shown burning most of the way from beginning to end several times between shots of something else.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • In the first episode, a Sealed Evil in a Can is due to be released When the Planets Align — specifically, the stars are supposed to aid in her escape from the moon that very night. As Twilight Sparkle reflects on this, she looks at the moon, and four nearby stars can clearly be seen approaching it at a visible rate. Then the viewpoint shifts, the scene switches to another place and the events there go on for a moment. And then Twilight looks at the sky again, and the stars continue practically from where they were when last seen and merge with the moon.
    • In "Stare Master", Fluttershy is staring down a cockatrice even while its gaze is turning her to stone, the petrification starting from the tail and advancing towards her head. As the perspective shifts during the scene, the layer of stone never gets past midway over her body but is shown reaching the middle point more than once, as if it receded when the camera was not looking.

    Real Life 
  • Temporal perception and memory formation in the brain are regulated by stress hormones; the more intensely we feel a sense of impending doom (i.e. the amount the adrenaline in our systems) the more events around us which are perceived by our senses get marked for remembering. This causes us to remember 'time slowing down' during stressful events. On the opposite end, rote behavior is never marked for memory, so habitual things become completely forgotten, like driving home from work every day, or walking up the stairs (you suddenly find yourself where you intended to be with no recollection of the journey.)
  • The more of your attention you focus on any process the more of it gets marked for analysis and memory, causing your brain to perceive it as taking more time to accomplish; ignoring something will cause it not get marked. Thus a watched pot seems to take longer to boil than an unwatched pot. In other words, the Law of Conservation of Detail and Travelling at the Speed of Plot are both neurological imperatives.
  • Attempt any file transfer in any version of Windows and watch the time remaining jump about like a nervous salmon in a particularly fast river.
    • Lucky Star poked at this.
    • Also parodied by this xkcd strip.
    • The same principle applies to file downloading, especially a torrent, since the estimate for time remaining assumes that the current speeds will remain constant, which is almost never true.
    • And the windows install which seems to take a very long time between 39 and 38 minutes left for no good reason. The "less than a minute" at the very end of the installation usually takes a couple of minutes.
    • It seems to take longer to go from 99% to 100% than it took to get to 99% in the first place.
    • While Windows is pretty much a poster-child case, almost any OS can be guilty of this because predicting a transfer time is, for the most part, nondeterministic. The initial guess the OS gives you may just be how fast the files are transferring now with how big the total transfer is. However, file transfer times are not based on how fast the hard drive can actually work, but how many files it has to write. It's actually much faster to transfer a 4GB file than 10,000 files that equal 4GB. Coupled with the fact that the hard drive you're using is probably the only one and it's constantly in use because of things like swap file and caching etc., it's basically a good idea to never trust any file transfer timer regardless of the OS, file system, etc.
  • While not technically possible in real life, that last hour of work before punch out time can feel like this. Even Albert Einstein pointed it out.
  • The time remaining clock in an American football game. The closer it gets to zero, the more the losing team will call time-outs in order to plan out strategy. The final two minutes of the game can take a half an hour to play.
  • Basketball games often see something similar, especially if the game is close, as the team that is behind will commit fouls to prevent the team ahead from wasting time.
  • The quantum Zeno effect. If a particle is continuously observed, it will never decay.

Exceptions

    Anime & Manga 
  • Averted in one Hokuto no Ken episode, in which Kenshiro used the Zan Kai Ken on the King Mook of the Week. After explaining the Mook he would die seven seconds after being released (3 in the manga ITTRC), he removes his thumbs from the mook's temples. A counter appears on the bottom on the screen, and the mook suffers a painful and gruesome death at the near-exact moment the counter reaches zero. Badass indeed.
  • On Neon Genesis Evangelion, in the episode "Both of You, Dance Like You Want To Win!", the timer that counts down until the EVA units run out of power is actually shown on screen as the action sequence is played out.
    • The timer counts down starting from 30 milliseconds, though.
    • Averted again in the Ramiel fight in Rebuild: they say there's 20 seconds remaining until the BFG is ready to fire again, and Shinji pulls the trigger almost exactly 21 seconds later.
  • In the Digimon (a kids' show!) movie "Our War Game", a virus called Diaboromon has launched a missile somewhere in the world. Diaboromon sends a menacing but childish email to them, asking, "which one has the clock?". They then have ten minutes to destroy him and the million copies he's made of himself. Despite not actually showing the clock constantly, it keeps counting with near-perfect accuracy. When the missile crashes in full view of their window, they find that they prevented the detonation of a nuclear warhead by 1/100 of a second. Justified because it took ten minutes for the missile to reach Odaiba, Tokyo from the US.
    • In the Japanese version, the entire countdown took 9 minutes and 51 seconds of screen time, with everything before the last minute being slightly fast. The last half-minute took 45 seconds to elapse. (The half-minute before that took exactly 30 seconds, though.) You could hear the one-second beeps in the background.
    • The English version is slightly faster, at 9 minutes and 7 seconds. Mostly it's because they edited lots of stuff out.

    Films 
  • Notably averted in Aliens. When the computer announces how much time there is until the place goes up, that's exactly how much in-movie time it takes for the place to blow up.
  • Somewhat averted in Virtuosity, because Sid's last bomb speeds up the countdown whenever it detects countermeasures... and then breaks down.
  • Its averted in Fight Club although it does not seem to be at first. In the final sequence waiting for the bombs to go off Tyler states "Two minutes" but its two minutes later that he shoots himself (non fatally) in the head.
  • In Kick-Ass, D'Amico's goons are torturing someone with a large microwave and sets it on for five minutes. 30 seconds later, his head explodes at 4 minutes 30 seconds.
  • The last hour before the train arrives in High Noon is done in real time, there being a number of clocks visible to confirm this.
  • In Star Trek: First Contact Picard sets the auto destruct for a fifteen minute, silent countdown. It is deactivated by Data after about 11 minutes.
  • Averted in Battle Beyond the Stars by having Sapient Ship Nell malfunctioning due to battle damage, so she keeps messing up the Self-Destruct Mechanism's countdown.
  • The shrink ray in Fantastic Voyage lasts for 60 minutes, accompanied by a real-time clock in the operating room.
  • In the climax of The Avengers, two minutes and thirty seconds of screen time actually pass between the deployment and explosion of the nuke intended for Manhattan.

    Live Action TV 
  • Averted in the Doctor Who episode "Forest of the Dead." River Song takes The Doctor's place when he intends to use his brain for storage to restore the "saved" humans in the Library's memory core. During a 2 minute countdown (that actually takes 2 minutes) she says a tearful farewell to him. Great scene... and exactly on time.
    • Mostly averted in the episode "42" of the new series. After the initial setup scenes, the counter and the depicted events happen in real time, as much as possible.
  • Played with in an episode of Stargate SG-1, where the bomb does this, but it's because of a time dilation field.
    • Also mentioned in the 200th episode ("200") in which a movie writer proposes a scene in which SG-1 has to escape a situation in ten seconds and debates on how long the time should be.
    Daniel: What difference does it make, I mean it's not like you have an actual ticking clock on the screen.
    Marty: That's brilliant!
    Daniel: That's ridiculous...
  • Also averted in the Stargate Atlantis episode "Thirty-Eight Minutes". It really is 38 minutes from the Gate opening to it closing, and the countdown towards the resolution is accurate.
    • The whole "38 minutes to Gate shutdown" thing is lampshaded in "200" as well, where they go on to discuss how the countdown timer can be set to something completely arbitrary.
  • Averted in the Chuck episode "Chuck vs the Third Dimension", which kept a digital timer in the corner of the screen throughout the (hilarious) disposal sequence.
  • In the Babylon 5 1st season episode "Survivors", the climactic 30 second countdown lasts 29 seconds, ending with 1 second to spare.
  • In The Suite Life of Zack and Cody episode "Risk it All", the twins appear on a game show involving stunts. During these stunts, an onscreen timer is used that counts down in actual seconds, and even though it occasionally disappears during cutaways to the game show's audience cheering them on, the timer remains consistent.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Nicely averted in the Thunderbirds episode "The Perils of Penelope". Near the end, it is said that 3 minutes are left until Penelope is hit by the monorail. It takes exactly 3 minutes for the train to come (they save her at the last second).

    Theater 
  • Very subtly averted in Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods. If you check the complete vocal score, you'll discover that there are actually twelve chimes that lead up to each midnight, and that they're timed and written into the underscore.

    Video Games 
  • Averted in Super Smash Bros.: Brawl with the first Subspace bomb. When the picture cuts away from the bomb, it has 7 seconds to go. Exactly 5 seconds later, the timer is at 2 seconds. On the other hand, there are several situations where, within moments, it will jump from almost 3 minutes to less than 5 seconds.
  • Averted in Resident Evil 4: during the final escape scene, the three minutes countdown takes cinematics into account. Skipping said cinematics will NOT give you three full minutes.
  • Averted in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. After Snake plants the C3 to blow up the Shagohod, a timer starts which can be checked in the following cut-scene by looking at a hidden countdown. It's promptly played straight, though for the mid- and post-Volgin battle cutscenes.
  • Mostly averted in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. After Crump sets the timer to destroy the tree, it's possible for the timer to expire during a dialogue scene.
  • Many sports games will have a clock that starts with the same amount of time as a real life game, but the clock will run at very fast speed except at the beginning of each play, and for the last minute or so. This results in oddities in some games, such as EA's line of NHL games that, on top of the above examples, also slows down during penalties (so the speed of the penalty clock matches that of the game clock); a game with more penalties will actually last longer.
  • Played with in Spy Party, where the spy has a limited amount of time to complete their objectives, and both the spy and the sniper have a timer on top of the screen - however, the spy can check their watch to add time. This will always add time, but both a normal success and a failure have the clock graphically change its time (a failure adds a loud noise as well) causing the sniper to zero in on whoever is checking their watch. A critical success will add time by having the clock seemingly remain unchanged, but tick down more slowly.

    Web Animation 
  • The Homestar Runner short "79 Seconds Left", which indeed takes almost exactly 79 seconds from start to finish.
  • In Charlie The Unicorn 4, the time bomb the other two unicorns set up to blow up the moon stays consistent. Made obvious since there's a beep every time a second ticks down, even when the bomb is offscreen.

    Web Comics 
  • In Homestuck, in the famous "[S] Cascade" flash, The Tumor displays a countdown to its detonation as the flash goes on. This countdown is fully accurate, and even remains on screen for some events that are happening elsewhere.

    Western Animation 
  • Played with heavily in Justice League: In "Wild Cards" the Joker has 25 bombs hidden throughout Las Vegas and he's televising the Justice League's attempts to stop it. He even has the timer in the lower right corner that stays consistent throughout the episode. Subverted when Batman disables the first bomb. The timer stops, then drops to 3 seconds and starts again (it was a fake bomb).
  • Averted in the Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode "Mayhem of the Music Meister!" when Batman and Black Canary are in a death trap which includes a time bomb. The timer counts down in real time. It better be accurate. The timer runs on a metronome!
  • In the Space Ghost Coast to Coast episode "Waiting For Edward", Moltar pulls a lever to initiate the destruction of the planet, mostly because he just feels like it (and he's holding a sale!). The timer appears on his viewscreen and is visible any time the action cuts back to him. This being Space Ghost, it's all but forgotten until the end of the episode when the planet blows up exactly when the timer said it would, in real time.
  • A segment of Garfield and Friends, named appropriately "Five Minute Warning," has Garfield needing to avoid eating for five minutes to receive a cake. When the countdown starts, a timer appears in the corner of the screen and counts down in real time.
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Rainbow Dash says she can clear out the clouds over Ponyville in "ten seconds flat." It indeed takes exactly ten seconds in real time.

Parodies

    Anime & Manga 

    Films 
  • Spoofed in Spaceballs, with the countdown on Mega-Maid's Self-Destruct Mechanism:
    Computer: Ten... nine... eight... six...
    President Skroob: Six? What happened to seven?!
    Computer: Just kidding!
    • Also averted, since the actual three-minute self-destruct countdown only runs ten seconds too long, even with the argument over "seven".
  • Invoked in Galaxy Quest, where the self-destruct bomb is disarmed well before it goes off, but the timer continues counting down until it reaches one second. This happened because the alien race that made the bomb was imitating a sci-fi TV show.
  • Parodied in Monsters vs. Aliens when the countdown ends with nothing happening. The computer starts saying that it must have made a mistake... then the spaceship blows up anyway.
  • In Citizen Toxie: Toxic Avenger IV, a bomb is set off with only four seconds on it. Those four seconds are just long enough for Toxie to go home and impregnate his wife, have a heart to heart with young drug addict, and then get the survivors out before his sidekick eats the bomb.
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail:
    • There's a scene where two lazy guards standing at a gate see Sir Lancelot running towards them from a distance. The scene shifts between them and him repeatedly, and he's always just emerging into view at about the same distance. Then he's suddenly right upon them.
    • It is explained at length that when the Holy Hand Grenade is primed one should hold it for a count of absolutely no more than three. King Arhur proceeds to count 1, 2, 5. Then when someone corrects him says three. Then he throws it. It blows up at the right time anyway.
  • The second Austin Powers film has Dr. Evil stopping Frau from the usual ten second countdown to his rocket blasting off, as he won't be able to get inside in time. He has her start over at thirty, but this leaves quite some time to go after everything's ready. Finally he tells her to just say "Go" when the doors close.

    Literature 
  • Parodied in the book and game Starship Titanic, wherein a nuclear bomb (voiced by John Cleese) can be made to forget its place during the countdown, at which point it starts counting down from one thousand again. It will explode however, if you finish the game before defusing it.
  • Subverted in the Freehold novel. A trainee is trying to disarm a bomb with a timer. He takes a moment of respite, as there's plenty of time left... then the (fake) bomb goes off. An Aesop on how bad guys in the Freehold future have read the Evil Overlord List.
  • In one of The Destroyer novels, since there's no time to get anyone remotely qualified, Chiun ends up making an attempt to disarm a nuclear bomb and the timer just keeps on ticking down to zero (causing everyone else to become rightly worried) and then nothing happens...
    Chiun: Of course it's still ticking. I destroyed the bomb, not the clock.

    Live Action TV 
  • Subtly spoofed in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where Xander is having a Circling Monologue with the bad guy as a nearby bomb timer is counting down. It switches between them and the bomb, and the timer seems to jump around at random, gaining and losing time, until it is of course stopped at 1 second left.
  • Each installment of the Saturday Night Live sketch MacGruber, a parody of MacGyver, involves a countdown (usually of twenty seconds) before a bomb goes off. The twenty seconds tend to last about a minute.
  • In the Red Dwarf episode "Bodyswap", the self-destruct is accidentally set off. Kryten's plan to stop the countdown fails, and everyone braces themselves for the explosion...which never comes. Turns out Holly threw out the bomb months ago.
  • Parodied on The Ben Stiller Show, where Andy Dick seems to find plenty to do while trying to defuse a bomb.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Sesame Street's parody of 24 was supposedly a program that took place in 24 seconds per episode, but the counter which appeared on-screen throughout clearly counted down at a rather slower rate than one per second.
  • Wonder Showzen parodied this when everyone was counting down for a rocket launch:
    "Ten! Nine! Ei-"
    A FEW SECONDS LATER
    "-wo! One!"

    Theater 
  • At the beginning of Act 1, part 4 of Starship the computer announces three minutes to drop down. 30 seconds later, the computer correctly announces two minutes, thirty seconds. About three minutes later, the drop down is in two minutes, and two more minutes progress to get to one minute left. Two more minutes later, there are five seconds on the clock, then to one second (30 seconds later), before jumping to twenty seconds. It takes about ten more minutes for them to land.

    Video Games 
  • Spoofed in Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal:
    Biobliterator CPU: 60 seconds untill core implosion.
    Dr. Nefarious: Lawrence, engage the teleporter.
    Lawrence: Would you care to specify a destination sir?
    Dr. Nefarious: Who cares? Just get us out of here!
    Biobliterator CPU: Time's up!
    Dr. Nefarious: What? That wasn't even close to 60 seconds!
    Biobliterator CPU: Bye-bye! (explodes)
  • In the timed bonus levels of Gauntlet (the original), the narrator's voice (you know, the Wizard Needs Food Badly guy) would count down the last ten seconds before you failed to clear the level and get the bonus. Sometimes he'd mix up the numbers as a joke.
  • Starship Titanic had a bomb that, once armed, would audibly count down, get distracted, and have to start over repeatedly. The player could also distract it, annoy it, and even make it break down in tears. It did have to be defused before the game was over.

    Web Original 
  • Considering how infamous it is in the fandom, Dragon Ball Z Abridged naturally parodied the entire exploding Namek sequence, with Goku of all people calling out Freeza's way off estimates.
    Freeza: You're scared, aren't you? Afraid knowing this planet has one minute left before it explodes!
    Goku: Question.
    Freeza: Huh?
    Goku: Do you have a watch?
    Freeza: No, why?
    Goku: Do you know what a minute is?
    Freeza: What? Of course I do!
    Goku: I don't think you do...
    Freeza: Bu—I—uh—

    Western Animation 
  • Futurama
    • Spoofed in the episode "A Tale of Two Santas". Bender is arrested for being Robot Santa Claus and sentenced to death by electromagnets. Instead of a countdown timer, they use a random number generator to turn the magnets on. And the generator also gives negative numbers, and repeats numbers, leading to the possibility that they could wait a ridiculous length of time before ever getting to zero.
    • In the episode "A Big Piece of Garbage":
      • The crew is sent to destroy a giant ball of garbage heading directly towards the Earth along with an explosive set to detonate after 25 minutes. Once they activate it, the digital timer counts down "25:00...15:00...05:00...6h:00" to the crew's surprise. The reason? The timer was upside down and thus set to 52 seconds. Way to go, Farnsworth.
      • The same episode featured a count down for a rocket launch:
    Professor Farnsworth: Five, four, three, two, three, four, five, six...
    Leela: Just fire the damn thing.
    • Spoofed yet again in Nibbler's introduction episode. Leela tells the team they have to hurry, because the planet they're on will implode "in exactly two hours ago."
  • Parodied on South Park in the episode "The Snuke": In a parody of 24, a bomb is set to go off when a digital clock with the requisite seven-segment display reaches 1:00. With just minutes to go, the authorities cut the power... and when it comes back, the digital clock controlling the detonator is flashing 12:00.
  • Subverted in an early episode of SpongeBob SquarePants, as Squidward counts down to what he thinks is an explosion that will kill Spongebob.
    Spongebob: Five! You do the rest, buddy!
    Sqidward: Four... Three... Two... ONE!
    Spongebob: I guess we started too early. Let's go again!
    Squidward: 5... 4... 3...
    * kaboom!*
    Squidward: Twooooooo!
  • The Simpsons:
    • "FIVE-hy-ay-ay, FOUR-hy-ay-ay...
    • In the beginning of the episode "The Trouble with Trillions", the new year's ball malfunctions when it gets to 8. Chief Wiggum shoots the ball and it falls down immediately, causing everybody counting down to say "sevensixfivefourthreetwoone!"
  • Averted in one Kim Possible episode, when Dr. Drakken wises up enough to dispense with a countdown because of this trope.
    Drakken: During the time it takes the computer voice to count backwards from ten, you always manage to defeat me. Not anymore!
  • Lampshaded in an episode of the Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! cartoon (much like every trope used in the cartoon—it was that kind of show) when the heroes have to escape an exploding enemy base before a bomb's timer runs out.

Just in TimePlot TimePlot Detour
Mad BomberTropes That Go BOOM!Matchlight Danger Revelation
Let's Get DangerousJust in TimeMemory Gambit
Magical ComputerImageSource/InternetMemetic Molester

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