Wendy: Stop doing that! The Middleman: What? Wendy: Don't talk until the world is un-doomed! You can't cry until you've reached the international safe house. You have forty seconds to save your friendship! The Middleman: These rules exist for a reason. Wendy: Why? The Middleman: I don't have time to explain now.
This line is often used when the speaker in question has to take immediate action on something and can't explain it immediately.
The real reason it's used is to get the listener to change locations without explanation, as to effect an on-screen reveal. Or because the writer wants to keep a character's motivations secret from the reader (or hasn't thought them up yet) and can't have the character explain himself right now. Or because there'd be no conflict if a character actually bothered to explain something instead of leaving the other characters confused.
The phrase "I'll explain on the way there" can also be used, leading to a "Let Me Get This Straight" moment in the new location where everything's summed up.
The only real justification is that it almost always takes longer to describe a given action than to just perform it — in the words of Grace Hopper, "It's easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission." Explaining the action may waste valuable time that should be spent performing the action — meaning there is no time to perform the action at all. Of course, there's always the possibility that the person asking forgiveness really should have gotten permission — Nice Job Breaking It, Hero.
Use of this trope can stretch credibility when the situation really can be summed up in only a few words. If you need somebody to run away, "No time to explain!" really saves you no time versus "There's a bomb!"
So why do writers use it? There are times when it is useful. If you know the characters in your TV series are going to be at the point A when they learn where the bomb is, and you know the characters will have to be at the bomb at point B - but to add scenes of them traveling from place to place is expensive and adds shooting days to the production. You could have them explain it all at point A, but that scene's been long already. There's very little dialogue at point B, so discussing it at point B would give the characters not actively defusing the bomb something to do. Here, it's okay to make an Acceptable Break from Reality just to get the characters from one place to another without breaking up the pacing of the work.
See also You Didn't Ask, Never Give the Captain a Straight Answer, Unspoken Plan Guarantee, and Don't Ask, Just Run. Contrast Talking Is a Free Action. However, be careful: This is a favorite tactic of a High School Hustler in initiating a Bavarian Fire Drill.
Not to be confused with the video game with the same name.
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Anime and Manga
In The Twelve Kingdoms, Youko Nakajima was an Ordinary High-School Student until a mysterious blond man appeared in her classroom, swore allegiance to her, and urged her to escape as quickly as possible with not time for explanations. Shortly after, the school was attacked by monsters, giving some weight to his argument. Trapped in Another WorldChangeling Fantasy drama ensued, and it was a long time before Youko got an explanation. If he had taken the time to say one more sentence about what was going on, the entire plot would have been very different.
In Fairy Tail, during the Edolas arc, Gajeel says this to Erza and Gray.
Transformers Victory: When Hellbat, Black Shadow, and Blue Bacchus are attacking a plasma energy facility on planet Micro, Greatshot orders them to let him take care of it, specifically saying that there's no time to explain.
A particularly galling comic book example occurred in a plotline in the X-Men books, especially Cable. Bishop, a time-travelling X-Man, was determined to kill an infant being protected by Cable because ... he never said, except that she threatened the future in some way. He constantly insisted that the X-Men would agree that she needed to die if only they knew what a horrible future her survival would lead to. But he just never had time to explain it to them. This made sense (or at least you could see how it made sense to him) when he was in a running gun battle with Cable. Made a little less sense when the X-Men caught him and held him onto him for a few hours before he escaped.
Film — Animated
In Sleeping Beauty the good fairies tell this to Prince Phillip as they break him out of Maleficent's dungeon.
Belle's father says this when trying to hurry her out of the Beast's dungeon.
In 101 Dalmatians, Pongo says this to Danny the Great Dane, after he and Perdita realise that Cruella is behind everything and they need to hurry. Quite a few Disney films seem fond of this line.
Film — Live-Action
In A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Nancy has a dream that she's seeing her friend Rod being killed in the jail cell he's in. She wakes up and gets Glen (Johnny Depp) to accompany her to the police station. They join up at Nancy's house and run to the police station. Nancy waits until they're entering the police station to tell Glen that she doesn't have any time to explain. What could they have been discussing the rest of the way there that was more important than the fact that Rod Lane was being killed?
Parodied in the fourth iteration of the Scary Movie series, when the Tom Cruise/War Of The Worlds character says "We're leaving this house in 30 seconds, there's no time to explain", and a random passerby runs up to the window and screams "Alien Attack!". Tom admits that that pretty much covered it.
Hermione does this offscreen in a way that backfires in Chamber of Secrets. She and Penelope figure out what's petrifying students, and they proceed to run out of the library without bothering to tell anyone, like the librarian or other students, what it is. They manage to get petrified before they can get wherever they're going.
This happens in the Pendragon series, where Bobby, Gunny, and Spader initially think that stopping the Hindenburg explosion would save the future but upon a trip to the future Bobby and Gunny find out that stopping the Hindenburg explosion would allow Hitler to win World War II. Spader refuses to believe this, as he doesn't understand how they know. He might have understood if Bobby or Gunny had taken more time to explain things to him; however, they also had to stop someone else from stopping the explosion, and couldn't take the time to explain things to him.
In The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, Reynie uses this to fend off questions from Joe "Cannonball" Shooter about why he and the other members of the Society aren't accompanied by any adults. It works quite easily, given that Cannonball is the sort of guy who is always on the move anyway.
At the start of Aunt Dimity's Good Deed, Willis Sr. abruptly leaves Lori's cottage after writing note to her that's uncharacteristically short on details, citing this trope. At first, Lori thinks it's a joke Nell played, but Nell points to the absence of the blue journal and Reginald. Dimity has left behind a second note, which has some additional information, but it ends in mid-sentence. This sets up the pursuit of Willis Sr. throughout the rest of the novel. When Nell points this out, Wiilis Sr. pleads "high spirits" at just receiving the news that Lori is pregnant.
It was also used in the early days when the Doctor had more than one companion. For example, the Doctor and Susan would have one adventure, while something else happened to Ian and Barbara. The line was used so the Doctor didn't have to explain events to Ian and Barbara that the audience had already witnessed.
They didn't use the line, but in Highlander: The Series, Richie wouldn't have died if Joe Dawson had spit out one more sentence before dragging Duncan to him.
The Twilight Zone episode "Passage on the Lady Anne" has a pretty egregious example. At one point, the main characters are told "there's no time for lengthy explanations." Unlike some of the other examples and the Trope description, though, there never was an onscreen reveal; the viewer never finds out the Lady Anne's dark secret.
The Star Trek: Voyager two-parter "Future's End" starts with one. A guy shows up in a time machine and immediately starts shooting at Voyager. This goes on long enough for the crew to figure out how to change their shields so his shots won't damage them anymore. The guy contacts them and says he has to destroy them for the greater good. When asked how their deaths would be for the greater good, he says "No time!" and goes back to shooting at them.
Averted in "The Phage" when the Doctor thinks up a procedure to save Neelix's life after his lungs have been removed, but says he doesn't have time to explain what it is. Kes however insists on an explanation. The Doctor replies with his usual Brutal Honesty, making Kes wish she hadn't asked.
Played straight in a lot of other episodes. It's not uncommon for Picard to get a message over the Comm from one of his men that he's found something, then upon asking what is told, "You better come see this."
Count Blah: What are you talking about? It's a forty minute drive to his house, there's plenty of time to explain.
24 was quite fond of this trope. Just do what Jack Bauer says, people. He's always right, anyway.
A variation on LOST: Ben tells Sun and Jack that in thirty minutes, he can take them to a woman who can explain everything to them. Cut to them in the car, and Sun says "You said we'd be there in thirty minutes." He responds, "I didn't account for traffic."
Gorion's use of this trope is pretty much the entire reason Baldur's Gate happens. Which doesn't really make sense, seeing as all he ever had to say was "You're one of the many children of the God of Murder, and there's this guy going around killing them all and starting a pointless war so he can be the God of Murder. Time to leave!"
That's a summary, not an explanation. Consider the amount of follow-up questions. Then again, it also shows how it's not simply about having enough time to list the details but about having the chance to explain things in a way that doesn't cause a severe trauma (and/or to spit out something it's difficult for oneself to say).
In Fahrenheit, at one point Lucas has a vision of the evil Oracle approaching his brother Markus at his church. Lucas immediately calls his brother and tells him to lock himself in. Markus asks why and the player is given the choice to either say No Time to Explain, at which point you gain control of Markus and can lock yourself in; or come up with an alternative.
Later on, when Lucas and Carla meet up and talk, even though there's plenty of time to explain, and Lucas actually gets a fair way into his explanation, he concludes that there simply isn't enough time to explain. and we're off to find the Indigo Child!
'There's No Time To Explain!' is a Fahrenheit meme around these parts.
In Halo: Combat Evolved, Cortana sends Master Chief to warn Keyes not to activate Halo. She tells him she has no time to explain why, and this leads to a horrible mess. When they meet up, it turns out that it was Chief's fault. Women... The reason for Cortana's panic was that Halo was not a weapon that could kill anything, as Keyes thought. It was a weapon that would kill EVERYTHING.
There is a flash game entitledNo Time to Explain in which your player is intruded on in his home by him from the future, who informs the player of the fact and remarks "there's no time to explain!" before getting dragged out by a Giant Enemy Crab, leaving you to pick up a giant laser beam doubling as a jetpack to stop the crab. It turns out that a (mostly, aside from possibly giving you and your past self a T-Rex heads or glasses) Stable Time Loop is in effect, and after being dragged out of the house by the Giant Enemy Crab again (also possibly wearing a T-Rex head or glasses), the original player screams "I should've seen this coming!!" A commercial remake was released later, which proves there's really no time to explain all the crazy stuff before the first attack.
A doppelganger of yours says this literally in ''Simon the Sorcerer 2 after you break out of a cell. He also hands you a strange twig that teleports you outside and as it turns out, your doppelganger was actually your future self helping you escape via a so called timestick.
In Katamari, the Prince from the Bad Future dismisses his past counterpart's questions about what's going to happen by rushing them both off to recruit help. He also doesn't bother to explain during the flight over.
In the episode "Lemon of Troy", Nelson bursts into the classroom and shouts "Everybody come quick! Something's happened. No Time to Explain." Along the way, he stops take a drink at a fountain, and is asked if it wouldn't be simpler to explain the matter. His response is "No! I said there's no time to explain and I stick by that!"
Lampshaded in another episode, where Bart's fat-camp controller takes him home to see his family, and tells him "No talking on the way, it'll spoil the drama!"
Averted in an episode of The Transformers, where a human character does inform the main characters of a plot against them using one of their own as bait before action is taken. However, the leader only bothers to listen to a fraction of it, and only agrees to listen to the rest after he's mobilized his forces to save their friend.
Birdman plays this card in the Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law episode "Avenger for Ransom", as he steals top-secret government documents and flies out the window, when just a few more words might have averted a skirmish with the military. Later, when he reveals that the documents he gave the villain were worthless, the general apologizes to him for doubting his word.
In the first season finale of Ben 10, Grandpa Max's response to Vilgax's attack on Ben is to take the RV and drive away in the direction of Mount Rushmore. Gwen asks why they're going there when Ben's in trouble. Max says there's no time to explain. Despite being on an extended drive, a la the above Greg the Bunny example. To the show's credit, Gwen chews him out for his oversecrecy in the next episode.
Angelina Ballerina: The Next Steps has the titular character saying this when her best friend, Alice, is saying about not liking of going to separate schools. Guess what she tried to her in the end.
Averted in ReBoot, in the season 3 episode "Mouse Trap". Bob tells the crew that they have to lower the shields (which were the only things keeping them safe from the ravages of the Web) in order to pass through the buffer surrounding Mainframe. There's a general outcry at this because it sounds insane, but when AndrAIa asks Bob why, he explains. (Turns out, their shields were made from dead web creatures, which was why Mouse's trap, set up to protect Mainframe from such beings, had activated.)
In "Magical Mystery Cure" from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, after Rainbow Dash's cutie mark is restored to normal, she asks just what happened. Twilight Sparkle tells her that there's no time to explain; they have to go fix Applejack. There isn't literally a time limit, but Twilight probably feels that the time for explanation is after the rest of the cast has been rescued from their misery.
Super Friends 1973/74 episode "The Androids". While Wendy and Marvin are held captive in Dr. Rebos' laboratory she comes up with an idea. After tricking the Wonder Dog android into leaving the room she calls Marvin over and shows him an android assembly kit. When he asks what they'll make she says there's no time to explain and they get to work (they need to hurry because they have to be finished before the Wonder Dog android returns).