Race Against the Clock
aka: Race Against Time

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"Whatever was due to happen at 00:00:00 was unlikely to be good."

In many cases, for whatever reason — be it the alignment of planets, a scheduled public event to sabotage, a "you have one hour to comply or..." threat, or just a plain old Time Bomb — the villain's plot is time sensitive: It will succeed at a given moment and not one second sooner. The hero has until that moment to stop the villain.

Naturally, things will go down to the wire and the hero will foil the evil scheme at the last possible second. It's especially powerful when combined with Real Time... even if it takes a Magic Countdown to line things up properly. This is a frequently used but still effective method of adding more tension to the story. Compare When the Clock Strikes Twelve and Right on the Tick.

One variant is that a specific time isn't the point of success; the villain must instead be stopped before he collects all the Plot Coupons or kills all of his intended victims. In this case, the hero will stop the last, and only the last, step in the evil plan. This sucks in the case of victims, since all but the last victim are still dead, but hey, at least the villain didn't win...

In other cases, time itself is the foe with the help of some random coincidences that impede the hero's progress. Interestingly, the audience will probably buy these coincidences since they come off, if done well, as an application of Finagle's Law. Usually, such a sequence will serve as a dramatic finale.

The video game equivalent is the Timed Mission. The video game subversion is Take Your Time, where they TELL you that it's a Race Against The Clock, but you're not penalized for going at your own pace.


Examples

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    Anime and Manga 
  • The whole Saint Seiya series is based on this for every single one of its arcs. In the first one the heroes have to reach the Pope after having to go through 12 temples protected by fierce warriors in less than 12 hours or else their Goddess would die. In the second arc of the anime, the heroes have to gather 7 saphirs to break the spell on the filler's baddy before dusk or else their Goddess would die. In the third arc, they need to break the pillars of the 7 seas before the world gets completely flooded and before their Goddess turned human pillar drowns or else their Goddess would die (and the world would drown). In the final arc, they need to defeat Hades and rescue their Goddess before the alignment of the planets or else their Goddess would die. Notice a regular pattern? Finally, in the new manga Next Dimension, they have 3 days to go to the past and break Hades' sword or else... the hero would die (but their Goddess too just for good measure).
  • A subplot in Captain Tsubasa has Ken "Karate Keeper" Wakashimazu defying his parents because he wants to play soccer and not become the Heir to the Dojo. In the original manga and old series, his father gives him one year to reach the championship with the Toho team; if not, he'll have to come back home and inherit the dojo. When Ken fulfills his word, Mr. Wakashimazu gives him his blessings.
  • In Glass Mask, Tsukikage gives her pupil Maya Kitajima two years to win an award as prestigious as one that her rival Ayumi Himekawa has just won, or else Ayumi gets the ''Crimson Goddess role without further contest.
  • In the Digimon Movie Our War Game, a virus called Diablomon has caused a nuclear missile to launch, somewhere in the world. Diablomon sends a menacing but childish email to them, asking, "which one has the clock?". They then have ten minutes to destroy the various copies he's making of himself, finding the one with the clock that controls the missile. Could be considered a Time Bomb.
  • In Future War 198X Wataru has only one hour of oxygen left up in outer space and must find some way to stop the Communists from pressing the Big Red Button and destroying the world with nukes.
  • In Oto x Maho, Kanata imposes a race against the clock on HIMSELF, transforming to start fighting, then telling the student council president on the other side of the door to the roof to count to 10, then open the door. If he does not kill the enemy in 10 seconds, then transform back to his normal form, his job as a Magical Girl will be exposed.
  • Yugi, Judai and Yusei in Yu-Gi-Oh!: Bonds Beyond Time need to defeat Paradox before Pegasus arrives at Domino City for his event after the Crimson Dragon gave them another chance to stop Paradox from destroying Domino City and killing Pegasus and everyone else in the city. Not to mention stopping Paradox from destroying reality as they know it.
  • The second half of Steins;Gate features Okabe trying to get enough clues as to how to undo the changes he previously did to the past before Mayuri dies, always at 8 PM. Every time he succeeds, the deadline gets delayed for 24 more hours.
  • There's a few in One Piece:
    • In the Alabasta Arc, Crocodile hid a huge Time Bomb somewhere in Alabasta, prompting the Straw Hats and Vivi to search for it. The Marines even helped them out because the situation was that bad.
    • In the Thriller Bark Arc, some of the Straw Hats' shadows, as well as their allies', were stolen by Gekko Moriah, and as a result will die should they get hit by direct sunlight. This means they have to kick Moriah and Oars' asses before the sun rises.
    • In the final act of the Punk Hazard arc, the Straw Hats (and Law) have to team up with the Marines once again to defeat Caesar Clown, round up the children he kidnapped, and get the hell out of the laboratory before the Deadly Gas Shinokuni floods the whole place.
    • In the final act of the Dressrosa arc, Doflamingo causes the Birdcage he has set over the country to shrink, leaving Luffy only one hour to kick his ass, or else the entire country will be slaughtered.
  • In the third part of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, the villain, while empowering himself, accidentally gives the same power to the Joestar family, since he has the body of their deceased ancestor from the neck down. While both the protagonist and his grandpa got pretty decent power ups out of that, the mother of the protagonist doesn't have enough willpower to control her ability. Because of that, her new found power slowly starts killing her, and the only way to save her - find and kill the villain before she dies (around fifty days to be precise). Thus, the entirety of the third part is a race against time.
  • As stated by the Conductor of Galaxy Express 999, the train sticks to a strict schedule. It stays at each stop for exactly one local day and then departs for the next stop whether you're on the train or not, so always keep an eye on the time if you don't want to be left behind.
  • "Fairy Tail". In the Tartaros Arc, the Fairies have to stop Face, a magic pulse bomb from erasing all magic from the continent, which will render them powerless, but will let the dark guild Tartaros, comprised of demons, to use their curses. 1 attempt from Wendy didn't work, as it was 1 down, 2,999 more to go, leaving the fairies 1 hour for them to stop Face before the magic gets erased.
  • The time limit of the Emergency Escape Program in The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya was two days. Complicated by the fact that the message didn't state whether the 48 hour count started from when the note was first written, or from the time when Kyon later discovered it. And that was probably the least of the temporal complications involved, too.
  • The Saints of Athena in Saint Seiya have 12 hours to save Saori/Athena from...
    • ...the Golden Arrow making her way to her heart (Sanctuary Saga.) They need to reach the top of Sanctuary, retrieve the Shield of Athena, and shine its holy light upon her. The Clock of Flames on a hill of Sanctuary keeps precise track of this schedule.
    • ...dying of exhaustion and exposure at the North Pole, due to her keeping the eternal ice from melting and flooding the Earth (Asgard Saga, anime-only.) The Saints need to de-brainwash Queen Hilda, the true caretaker, and release her from Poseidon's thrall so Saori passes the task back to her.
    • ...drowning within the Main Breadwinner (a gigantic pillar that holds up the ocean above Poseidon's temple) before it floods completely (Poseidon Saga.) They need to defeat the Seven Marine Shoguns and destroy their pillars before getting to the Main, which is guarded by Poseidon himself.
    • ...getting killed by Hades' Specters invading Sanctuary (Hades Saga, Sanctuary Chapter.) In an inversion, the Specters themselves only have 12 hours to accomplish their task, because that's all the time they have allowed back on the world of the living before their bodies disintegrate. So, the Saints only need to hold them back for so long.
    • ...having all her blood drained out by Hades' jar deep in the Underworld, in the heavenly land of Elysium (Hades Saga, Underworld Chapter.) The Saints need to remove her from the jar and give her the Divine Cloth of Athena so she can defeat Hades and end the war.
  • In one episode of Code Geass, Lelouch is given five hours to find his sister Nunnally who has been kidnapped by a Geass-using psychopath, who may or may not have stuck to the assigned limit.
  • This is one of the central plot points of Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit - a Chosen receives the titular document 24 hours before they are killed by the nanocapsule imbedded in their heart rupturing. Each Episode revolves around what that particular Chosen chooses to do with that time.
  • In Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Hitomi gives Sayaka 24 hours to confess her love to Kyosuke before she confesses her own instead. Unfortunately, because Sayaka believes she's no longer human, she does not think she can ever confess, and knowing that Hitomi will leads her to despair.

    Card Games 
  • In the Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG, there is a card called Final Countdown that will end the game making the user the winner in 20 turns after being used, it can even be sped up by 1 turn by using the Pyro Clock of Destiny Trap Card. So it turns out to be a Race Against the Clock to defeat the opponent before the 20th turn is reached.
    • The Magic: The Gathering card Darksteel Reactor has the exact same effect. Since it uses charge counters to mark how many turns have passed and comes from a block in which charge counters are a major mechanic, there are many ways to speed it up. (For example, Energy Chamber puts a charge counter on any of your artifacts once each turn, thus functionally cutting the Reactor's "clock" in half.)

    Comic Books 
  • In Final Crisis, the Guardians of the Universe tell Hal Jordan and his fellow Green Lanterns that: "You have 24 hours to save the universe."
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (IDW) The Mane 6 have to find and rescue the CMC in three days, and it will apparently take three days just to reach the Changeling Kingdom. Secretariat Comet will also be flying over Equestria in three days, which Twilight believes is connected to Queen Chrysalis's plot.
  • Shakara: In the climax Shakara has to stop the Big Bad from activating his universe-destroying Doomsday Device before it's too late. At the same time, he's also dying of the same disease that wiped out its creators.
  • White Sand: Kenton is given two weeks to convince all members of the Taishin (Kezare parliament of sorts) that Sand Mastery should be preserved rather than abolished. So far, they're all for abolishment.
  • The first book of Gorsky and Butch starts when it turns out that their comic makes no sense. So Da Chief tasks the two heroes with finding it. And they have 48 pages to do it.
  • An early issue of the Sonic the Hedgehog comics has Sonic being told by Princess Sally to find Nack the Weasel or be exiled for disobeying a royal order. Because really, giving a super speedster 48 hours is like telling them "take your time".
  • In Final Crisis, the human Green Lanterns are given 24 hours to save the universe. So, no pressure...
  • In Bookhunter, the Oakland Library Police are investigating the theft of an irreplaceable book which was on loan from the Library of Congress. The book was scheduled to be returned in three days, so our protagonists have that long to solve the case before the feds learn of the theft and take over the investigation.

    Fan Fic 
  • Calvin and Hobbes: The Series has a non-lethal variation in "Eggs for Calvin": the titular protagonist has to find five eggs hidden throughout town or else Hobbes and resident prankster Socrates will prank him. He manages to unwittingly jail two crooks in the process.
    • A more serious example would be much later, in "Our Solemn Hour"; Holographic Retro sets up an extremely hazardous maze that Calvin and Hobbes must escape from within an hour, or else they'll be crushed by the ceiling. They just barely make it, and then Calvin and Retro have their showdown...
  • The Powers Of Harmony: Right from the beginning of the story, it's made clear that the Guards only have three months to guide the Mane Six in coming into their new powers and recharging the Elements of Harmony before something happens. We gets hints and bits of information about this, until we find out that it's referring to how long until the barrier spell over the Gates of Tartarus collapses, unleashing the armies of Nightmare Moon.
  • The Final Battle of The Immortal Game becomes one of these as the heroes have to rush to defeat Titan before his free will-removing spell is finished and unleashed. Twilight Sparkle manages to disrupt the spell at the last minute by jumping into, inadvertently giving herself the power to defeat Titan in the process.
  • Happens a number of times in Seeing the Pattern, due to Pinkamina only receiving her final clue to the victim's identity on the day they are fated to die.
  • In the Star Trek fanfic Memories Born Of Fire, McCoy has to make an antidote to the poison Kirk consumed in 6 hours or he will die. A second race begins when Kirk has an allergic reaction to something in the first antidote.
  • Misunderstandings: Due to a sabotage of one of Twilight's experiments, Peter's connection to Earth has been cut off, and the magic he has been draining will build up in that broken tube to the critical point after which Peter will explode, in at least three weeks time. Soon ponies start assembling in the Golden Oaks Library, and Twilight's own team of scientist are racing to find a solution.
  • In Origins, a Mass Effect/Star Wars/Borderlands/Halo Massive Multiplayer Crossover, Shepard & Co. face two after boarding Farsight. The super-dreadnaught gets placed under remote lockdown which is defeated by rebooting the ship—leaving only a small window before everything comes back online. Then, Cortana is able to place a "hold" in the ship's memory to prevent an Explosive Leash of sorts from killing helpful clone soldiers created by Jakobs—meaning that the hackers and crackers have to figure out how to block the killswitch in exactly fifteen minutes. They succeed, but not due to Cortana.
  • Every scene of Halkegenia Online Zero Hour contains a countdown to (Or time since) the titular Zero Hour, the moment when Asada Shino became Death Gun.
  • Sort of inverted in The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World. When the four finally find out why they've been returned to C'hou, they're told that the world will effectively end in a year unless the Black Tower falls. Everyone estimates that it will take six months to that full year to accomplish the task. This doesn't sit well with the four, as they were hoping to take no more than a month to do whatever it was they were supposed to do (because the timeflow of C'hou is 30 times faster than that of Earth, so they would only be gone a day if they took a month).

    Films - Animation 
  • The Disney version of Cinderella adds an actual chase for good measure.
  • Frozen: The second half of the movie becomes this after Elsa strikes Anna's heart with ice magic. The countdown timer isn't a clock; it's Anna's hair.
  • Rather, Roger Rabbit Effect film, but mostly animated, Thrax in Osmosis Jones has a Self-Imposed Challenge to be the deadliest disease ever recorded in medical history. He's killed dozens of people in the past, each one faster than the previous, and by the time he gets to Frank, the protagonist of the live-action segment and whose body it takes place in, he plans on taking him down in less than 48 hours. He gloats to Jones near the end that his next target, Frank's daughter, Shane, will die even faster. His plans are cut short after Jones knocks him into a bottle of rubbing alcohol, killing him.
  • In the Hanna-Barbera Superstars 10 movie Top Cat and the Beverly Hills Cats, Benny must wait for 48 hours before he can inherit a fortune. Should anything happen to him during that time, the evil butler and his dog would get it. Subverted in that the urgency doesn't start until 24 hours have passed.
    • Also that the original heiress returned and the benefactress faked her death to trick the butler into revealing his true colors.
  • Millionaire Dogs: If the pets leave the house, they must return within 48 hours or their late owner's nephew and niece get the inheritance.
  • In Help! I'm a Fish, a potion has turned the three main characters into fish, and if they don't take the antidote within 48 hours, they'll be stuck as fish forever.
  • Zootopia: Judy Hopps is given 48 hours to find the missing Mr. Otterton or she'll have to resign — despite the entire police force having little success with any of their own missing mammal cases over the past two weeks.
  • Brave: Merida must break a beastly curse she has accidentally released on her mother by "mending the bond torn by pride" before the second sunrise.

    Films - Live-Action 
  • In Aliens the "Big Computer That Controls Everything" announces that the coolant system has shut down and the reactors will overheat and explode. Bishop estimates that they have approximately four hours before that, and later on the computer inside the reactor starts giving them a precise countdown.
  • Back to the Future franchise:
    • Back to the Future has Doc Brown and Marty racing in spite of setbacks to implement their plan to cross a certain point at the right speed at the very moment a lightning bolt hits.
    • Back to the Future Part III has a race against distance, in which the protagonists much reach a certain speed before their train topples off of a bridge.
  • Most versions of "Cinderella".
  • Lampshaded in Galaxy Quest when Tim Allen and Sigourney Weaver fight their way through numerous obstacles to the "Big Red Button" which stops the explosion and press it with 17 seconds left ... only to see it continue to count down, eventually to stop with one second left ... because that was a requirement of this trope.
  • The ending of Ferris Bueller's Day Off involves Ferris running through a series of obstacles as he tries to beat his family back to his house.
  • Outland. In the space-mining colony on Io, a large digital clock is in the bar showing the exact time-till-arrival of the weekly supply shuttle. When word gets out that two hitmen are arriving on the 12:00 shuttle to kill the protagonist, the clock takes on the role of the Ticking Countdown of Doom. The protagonist has actually completed his preparations hours before; the deadline only serves to rack up his (and the audience's) tension.
  • Moon has the imminent arrival of a maintenance crew that our hero knows is just a couple of hitmen.
  • "You have thirteen hours in which to solve the Labyrinth before your baby brother...becomes one of us forever. Such a pity..."
  • A variation is used in the film Godzilla vs. Destoroyah. In the film, Godzilla himself becomes something of a ticking nuclear time bomb as he's quickly going to explode/meltdown as soon as his heart reaches critical mass. The human characters even measure how high his body temperature is before he goes critical.
  • Run, Lola, Run. Lola's boyfriend Manny has a meeting with some mobsters, and he just lost the money he was supposed to hand off to them. The meeting's in twenty minutes, so Lola and Manny have that long to get the money back.
  • Used in numerous James Bond films - the Connery films often had the counter finishing at 0-0-7; by the Moore era the producers pushed it to the limit by having Bond disable the weapon right on 0-0-0.
  • Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure: Rufus explains that the clock in San Dimas is always running, so Bill and Ted have only one day of their subjective time to travel back in time to get various historical figures for their history report, or Ted will be shipped off to military school in Alaska.
  • In Midnight Run, bounty hunter Robert De Niro has to get fugitive Charles Grodin back to Los Angeles by midnight on Friday or bondsman Joe Pantoliano loses the bond.
  • In a twist it is the heroes' unfortunate actions in L: change the WorLd that are time sensitive. Maki is the one who injected herself with a lethal virus to begin with, and it has to be cured before it becomes active or she could kill innocent bystanders. L likewise has one more week to live after writing his own name in the Death Note to catch Kira and has to get the new problem solved before he dies.
  • The X-Files: Fight the Future: Agent Mulder has 96 hours to reach specific coordinates in Antarctica, find Agent Scully in a giant spacecraft and administer her with a weak vaccine against the virus she's been infected with.
  • Flash Gordon. Flash only has a limited amount to time to stop Emperor Ming before the Moon crashes into the Earth. This is mentioned periodically throughout the movie and has a timed countdown at the end.
  • The Crossing: George Washington has until December 31 to win some kind of victory so that his troops will have any motivation to re-enlist and continue The American Revolution.
  • The premise of Fermat's Room. The Walls Are Closing In on the group of scientists. The only way to suspend the deadly trap is by solving mathematical riddles.
  • Something similar happens in The Killing Room (2009). The protagonists are locked in a room and told that only one of them will get out alive. They're given a test question that requires a numerical answer, and the person whose answer is furthest from the correct one will be killed. A digital clock counts down the time until they have to give the answer. There's actually plenty of time to think up the answer (several hours), as the point is to put as much psychological pressure on the occupants as possible and seeing the clock adds to this.
  • In the 1948 film adaptation of On the Town, the three protagonists have 24 hours of liberty (6 AM to 6 AM) to see all of New York City. Occasionally, the time scrolls across the bottom of the screen in the manner of the original 1928 news "zipper" mounted on One Times Square.
  • Happens literally in the climax of Sherlock Holmes. Lord Blackwood announces that when Big Ben chimes twelve, everyone in Parliament who's not part of his cult will die. In the sewers below, Holmes and Watson are struggling with a Giant Mook while Irene Adler tries to defuse a Steam Punk Deadly Gas device.
  • The climax of Dark Star revolves around three astronauts trying to stop the detonation sequence of a bomb after it wouldn't drop out of the space ship's bomb bay. They succeed to stop the timer at 00:00:00, but later it goes off anyway.
  • Eve of Destruction: After getting into a car crash, EVE's internal nuclear device is activated and set to go off within 24 hours. Col. Jim McQuade is pissed that his superiors didn't inform him of this before sending him out to catch her.
  • In The Shallows, Nancy gets stranded on a rock far from shore with a Threatening Shark circling her. To make matters worse, the rock is low enough in the water that it's submerged during high tide. If she can't get off before then, she'll be fair game for the shark.
  • Subverted in Matrimony's Speed Limit. Fraunie receives a telegram informing him that he will receive a large inheritance, but only if he gets married by 12 noon that very day. He goes on a frantic search for a woman, any woman, who will marry him by noon. What he doesn't know is that the telegram was a fake, sent by his girlfriend in a Zany Scheme to get him to marry her.
  • The Cell: a serial killer has locked his latest victim in a timed death trap, so our heroes have a limited amount of time to find her before she drowns. The film occasionally cuts to her in the death trap, with the water level always rising.
  • Watch Men: Averted by Ozymandius at the climax: ""Do it? Dan, I'm not a Republic Serial villain. Do you seriously think I'd explain my master-stroke if there remained the slightest chance of you affecting its outcome? I did it thirty-five minutes ago."
  • 48 Hrs. and Another 48 Hrs.. Obviously.
  • In The Naked Gun, Frank Drebin has 48 hours to prove that Nordberg is innocent.
  • In Tomorrow Never Dies, James Bond has 48 hours to stop a global war from starting.
  • In The Fifth Element, they had 48 hours before the Big Bad Ultimate Evil could attack. Zorg also gives such an ultimatum to one of his underlings, and the President is even stricter, often stating a firm "You have twenty seconds to" explain/complete/whatever it is he's telling you to do.
    Cornelius: You have 48 hours. That's the length of time it needs to adapt itself to our living conditions.
    President: And then?
    Cornelius: And then it will be too late.
  • In Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005), Mr. and Mrs. Smith had orders from their respective assassin contracting firms to kill the other Smith in forty-eight hours before said companies kill them both.
  • Lampshaded thoroughly in the 1978 science film Capricorn One. Elliot Gould's heroic journalist is on the verge of being pulled away from the scoop of the century by his editor. Bargaining for time, he argues that "the assignment editor is supposed to say "you've got 48 hours, kids, and you'd better come up with something good or it's going to be your neck!" That's what he's supposed to say, I saw it in a movie." The editor then gives him 24 hours, "Not forty eight. I saw the movie too; it was twenty four."
  • The hero of Taken is told, based on prior experience, that he has 96 hours to find his kidnapped daughter before the trail runs cold.
  • 88 Minutes takes this a few steps further.
  • Snake in Escape from New York had 24 hours to save the President, or the tiny explosives they injected him with would detonate, open up his jugular veins, and kill him.
  • In Stardust, Tristan has a week to travel into a neighboring magical universe and bring back a fallen star to Victoria before her birthday, or she'll marry Humphrey instead of him. Ironically, he eventually leaves the heroine, his actual true love, after making love to her so he can let Victoria down within that time frame—leading to the heroine's instant near-suicidal depression, as she doesn't realize he's going to (literally) dump his former crush and come back to her the same day.
  • Sheriff Will Kane has roughly one hour to raise a posse to confront notorious villain Frank Miller before Miller's train arrives at High Noon. He doesn't.
  • Man of Steel: General Zod delivers an ominous message when his spaceship arrives in Earth's orbit. Then he addresses the lone Kryptonian on the planet.
    Zod: To Kal-El I say this: Surrender within 24 hours, or watch this world suffer the consequences.
  • Subverted in Donnie Darko when the titular protagonist learns of the countdown very early in the movie, but does very little to stop it, only morosely goes through life waiting for it to happen.
    Frank: 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, 12 seconds. That is when the world will end.
  • In Captain America: Civil War, Ross gives Tony 36 hours to bring in Cap.
  • Among the many Idiot Plot moments in Space Mutiny, the mutineers give The Captain 12 hours to surrender after seizing his daughter as a hostage. One would think 12 minutes would be enough — how long does it take to surrender? The extra time only encourages our hero to launch a rescue mission.

    Literature 
  • Older Than Radio: Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days. The original novel, the multiple film adaptations, the Michael Palin travelogue in which Palin attempts to duplicate Phileas Fogg's trip.
  • Brewster's Millions, a novel twice adapted into films, in which the protagonist will inherit a large sum of money, but only if he can completely waste a smaller amount of money in thirty days (spend thirty million to inherit three hundred million in the later Richard Pryor film adaptation).
  • In the Harry Potter books:
    • In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Voldemort gives Harry an hour to turn himself in so as to stop the fighting, during the Final Battle at Hogwarts.
    • Whereas in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry is told he only has an hour to complete the Second Task of the tournament—and afterward, everyone laughs at him for having taken that part of the instructions seriously.
  • In Gone , Sam and Caine have eleven days to figure out how to not disappear when they turn fifteen.
  • During Galaxy of Fear: The Doomsday Ship the computer announces that the engines will overload in fifteen minutes. While our heroes reach an Escape Pod, they leave it to help a Crying Little Kid, and then a Jerkass locks them in a closet for trying to get in front of him - when they get out there are seconds left and the escape pods have all left. Fortunately, the ship's engines don't overload.
  • A recurring theme in the various mythological novels by Rick Riordan. Often justified, as various times (solstices, equinoxes, sunrise, sunset, birthdays) have supernatural power.
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians:
    • The Lightning Thief: they must find the Master Bolt before the summer solstice (this particular deadline was set by Zeus).
    • Sea of Monsters: Variant - they must find the Golden Fleece before the camp's barriers fail completely, and it is overrun by monsters.
    • The Titan's Curse: they must free Artemis in time for her to attend the annual conference of the gods (held on the winter solstice), so she can push for the gods to prepare for war against the Titans.
    • Battle of the Labyrinth: Variant - they must find Daedalus before Luke's army can find Ariadne's String and use it to attack camp via the Labyrinth. They fail, and the camp is attacked. However, Grover uses the power of Pan to help win the battle.
    • Subverted in The Last Olympian: the final battle does go down on Percy's Dangerous Sixteenth Birthday, as per the prophecy, but that's fate itself at work.
  • The Heroes of Olympus:
    • The Lost Hero: Two that nearly coincide. Piper has until noon on the winter solstice to rescue her dad, and they all have until sundown on the same day to free Hera.
    • Before the Feast of Fortuna! Before Nico suffocates! Before Percy and Annabeth die to thousands of the worst monsters in history!
  • The Kane Chronicles:
    • The Red Pyramid: They must stop Set before dawn on his birthday.
    • In the same novel, they can't use portals during the Demon Days. As Set is in Phoenix, Arizona, and they start off in Egypt, they are in a bit of a hurry. They make it to America just in time, and get to Phoenix by other means.
    • The Throne of Fire: Apophis will rise on the spring equinox, as will Ra.
  • Seven Days in May. The US President believes the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is plotting a military coup under cover of a mobilisation exercise to be held in seven days. Because the general is highly popular, the President can't dismiss him without proof, so his staff have that long to find evidence of the conspiracy.
  • The last phase of Aucasis’ rescue in Murderess, when their Invisibility Potion is about to wear off.
  • Wet Desert: Tracking Down a Terrorist on the Colorado River:
    • The sandbag dike on top of Hoover Dam needs to be finished before the floodwaters from Lake Powell reach it.
    • And Davis Dam must be repaired after the explosion before it fails or waters that are being dumped from Hoover Dam overtop it.
  • In The Emperor's Soul, Shai must complete her task to Forge a new soul for the Emperor before the 99 day mourning period for his wife is over, because his advisers don't want anybody else to find out that he was rendered comatose.
  • The title of the James Bond novel Zero Minus Ten comes from tha fact that Bond has only ten days to investigate the truth behind the assasinations in Hong Kong before it handed back to China after decades of British rule.
  • In Michael Connelly's books, the 48-hour rule is frequently cited by LAPD Detective Harry Bosch.
    Bosch: The chances of clearing a homicide diminish by almost half each day if you don't solve it in the first forty-eight hours.
  • In Apparatus Infernum, the murder mystery of the first book involves a daughter of a noble House, meaning that there is very strong political pressure on the Criminal Investigation Division to produce a result immediately. Da Chief, Gunwood, tells Mikani and Ritsuko that if they can't solve the case by a certain deadline, he'll have to replace them, even though he knows it isn't really their fault.
  • In the Dramatic Audio version of the Left Behind book Glorious Appearing, a Global Community agent threatens the network broadcast crew to cut the signal of Chaim Rosenzweig's message by giving each member, starting from the top brass down, sixty seconds to get the signal cut before they are murdered.
  • The central gimmick of the old novel series Race Against Time, obviously, although the actual reason for the title is a bit lame: a kid and his retired super spy-ish uncle are called to help some old friend of the uncle's who's gotten in trouble, and they have to solve the mystery/defeat the villain and then get home again before the kid's parents get home from a business trip and find out what they've been up to.

    Live Action TV 
  • 24. Always.
  • Inverted in Star Trek: TOS where the good guys essentially gave the bad guys an ultimatum; "Back off or we blow ourselves — and you — to smithereens" and then start the clock ticking.
    • This returns in every Star Trek series. Threatening to self-destruct seems to be a fairly common tactic among Starfleet captains.
  • Lampshaded in an episode on NCIS where a group of marines in a training exercise find an armed bomb with about 3 minutes left on the clock. 10 seconds later the bomb goes off and the Gunnery Sgt. reminds them of Evil Overlord Rule #15: Never assume a bomb's timer is accurate.
  • Robin Hood features an episode where the Sheriff goes missing, and must be found by sunset or Nottingham will be destroyed.
  • The Real Time episode of Mash, "Life Time": the surgeons have to perform a critical operation in the time frame of the episode. This is further dramatized by a ticking clock counter superposed on the lower right corner of the screen.
  • In Lost, according to Ms. Hawking, Ben has only 70 hours to reunite the Oceanic 6 and (presumably) return to the island or "God help us all."
  • Happens in an episode of the original Battlestar Galactica. Strangely, the writers got confused and the meaning of the timer changed mid-plot.
    • The first episode (post-miniseries-pilot) of the new series featured a recurring countdown of exactly 33 minutes between Cylon attacks on the colonial fleet.
  • In the episode "Endgame" of Babylon 5 the liberation fleet must destroy the Earth orbital defense system redirected at the planet's surface by the insane governor before it opens fire.
  • This is a key aspect of the premise of Stargate Universe - the main cast does not have full control of the Destiny, and it only stops at a given location for a few hours at a time before jumping back into FTL. Anyone not on board the ship at this time is left behind.
  • On Prison Break, they're usually racing against a season-long clock and a tinier clock in a number of episodes.
  • Fringe:
    • In the season 1 episode "Ability", Olivia disarms a timed bomb on the top of a skyscraper by turning out a set of small lights only by staring at them, succeeding with two seconds left on the timer.
    • The season 4 episode "Worlds Apart" is a bit of an unusual example in two respects. First, the heroes still have roughly 8 minutes left on the clock when they sever the connection between the universes to stop an Earth-Shattering Kaboom. Second, they could have done that at any time — they just weren't thrilled about the side effects, so they wait on doing it until it becomes clear that it's the only viable option.
  • Lampshaded in the troperiffic 200th episode of Stargate SG-1 when the Cloud Cuckoo Lander movie producer takes a sarcastic comment about having a ticking clock on the screen seriously.
  • Game Shows: Although game shows don't have actual villains — unless you count the producers who may deny a contestant a prize — many give contestants very short time limits (usually 30 seconds or less) to complete a task. Other game shows require a contestant to complete a task in less time than the shortest time posted by a previous contestant. Some examples:
    • Whew! actually did have a Gauntlet of Villains for its end game against the clock.
    • Beat the Clock (duh!)
    • Jeopardy! (The light bars above the contestants' podiums, and that annoying music they play during Final Jeopardy)
    • The Price Is Right has several games with actual ticking clocks.
    • Truth or Consequences also had many ticking clock games and contests.
    • The Crystal Maze: If you solve the puzzle in the allotted time, you get a crystal. If you don't, you won't. If you're still in the cell when time expires, you will be locked in it.
    • Countdown, as the name suggests, revolves around a time limit for the contestants to find their words or work out their sums.
  • Reality TV (aka, game shows on steroids): A few reality TV shows have contestants (or teams of contestants) race against the times of their competitors:
  • In Sherlock, almost the entirety of The Great Game is one big Race Against The Clock.
  • The X-Files
    • Episode "731": Mulder doesn't have much time to separate a boxcar with an alien-human hybrid (or was it?) and a time bomb from the rest of the train. He also needs to find out the code to open the sealed door of the aforementioned boxcar.
    • In "S.R.819" Mulder and Scully have one day to find out who poisoned Skinner and they need to find a cure as well.
    • "Beyond the Sea": The FBI and police have five days to find a pair of kidnapped teenagers who are tortured and will be found dead if the offender is not caught.
      Scully: That's a grim deadline.
  • MacGyver: In "Nightmares", an interrogator gives MacGyver a slow-acting poison, and tells him that if he doesn't get the antidote within six hours, his death will be inevitable. There is a prominently-displayed countdown timer. MacGyver gets the antidote with two and a half minutes to spare, and makes a full recovery. It's never explained how they were able to state the time limit so exactly — the interrogator says that the poison was calibrated specially for MacGyver, but that just changes the question to how they got the medical information about MacGyver they'd need for the calibration.
  • The Doctor Blake Mysteries: In "Brotherly Love", Blake is trying to unravel a case before the suspect is hanged...
  • Father Brown: In "The Shadow of the Scaffold", Father Brown has three days (as authorities wait for the results of her pregnancy test to come back) to solve a murder before the woman convicted of the crime hangs.
  • Stitchers: "Stitching" (inserting a living person's consciousness into the memories of a deceased person) is inherently one of these, since there's only a short time before the deceased brain loses viability.
    • An episode towards the end of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine played on the same premise: only in this case the subject of this mind trip was dying and Bashir and O'Brien had to extract vital information on an antidote before he died.
  • One episode of Night Court manages to use the trope. Harry and the court have been rushing to finish 200 cases in a single six-hour shift (because of a federal order to dismiss any cases not arraigned by midnight), but his last case proves a problem. While it's a felony case he can just send to a grand jury, the suspect is refusing to waive his right to have his charges read, hoping the clock runs out and he gets off. But then Dan saves the day by going Motor Mouth and reading off the entire rap sheet with 20 seconds to spare. Everyone's so stunned that Dan has to yell to Harry, "MY GOD, MAN! GAVEL!" to make him officially adjourn the court before midnight hit.
  • CSI: In "Invisible Evidence", a judge throws out all of the evidence against an accused rapist-murderer because a search warrant was not obtained to search the car where the evidence was found. Gil gets a 24 hour continuance for the team to gather new evidence.
  • Mission: Impossible used this quite a bit, though one writer took it a bit too far by writing no fewer than three different episodes where the team had to prevent something that was going to happen "in two days at 4:00."
    • Happens in the third movie as well: Ethan Hunt gets 48 hours to complete a Hostage for MacGuffin scheme.
  • Law & Order uses the final "can only be held so long" variant frequently, along with the statute of limitations.
  • The First 48 on A&E is a living and breathing example, following homicide detectives attempting to get a suspect booked and charged in that time frame.
  • The CBS newsmagazine 48 Hours was titled in that manner as the stories covered by the show literally took place over a two day period. The show kept the title even though it now covers long-term True Crime stories.
  • Heroes plays with the trope in season two - Matt Parkman is given this limit, but only because he mind-commanded Da Chief into doing so.
  • An episode of Supernatural features "ghost sickness," which kills its victims in 48 hours after causing them to fear everything. Like cats.
  • Parodied on "The Office," kind of, when Michael apparently misunderstands the threat:
    Michael: (being blamed for an obscene watermark on a paper order; making a video) If I could leave you with one thought, remember... it wasn't me. They're trying to make me an escape goat. If I am fired, I swear to God, that every single piece of copier paper in this town is going to have the F-word on it. The F-word. You have one day.
    Pam: One day for what?
    Pam: ...OK.
  • On Scrubs, Laverne is annoyed when Colin Farrell's character is ousted from the hospital:
    Laverne: You have one day to get us another gorgeous Irishman.
    The Todd: One day. (off JD's and Turk's looks) What? The Todd appreciates hot, regardless of gender.
  • The Collector has standardized deals with the Devil: For a period of ten years the client gets what he asked for. In the last 48 hours, the benefits of the deal (and sometimes other effects) will gradually disappear, and at their end his soul would be taken. Typically that's when the local debt collector would find him and give him a chance to go early. Almost every episode, the protagonist Morgan is allowed to help a client in his last 48 hours find redemption and be freed of his deal; once he makes contact with him, the countdown starts in his collector's cellphone, which zeroes on success. In "The Yogi," the title character lampshades how artificial the round numbers seem.
  • Doctor Who starring David Tennant had an episode titled "42", which of course gave the Doctor exactly 42-minutes to solve the present crisis with the story playing out in real-time. Similarly, in Matt Smith's debut story "The Eleventh Hour" the Doctor is given 20-minutes to prevent the destruction of the earth, again with that portion of the story occurring more or less in real-time.
  • Happens a lot on The Shield, but notably in season 7, when almost all of Vic's arc is trying to secure himself a job and immunity deal before a scheduled review board fires him from the LAPD.
  • 24 repeatedly, but it is usually more like two hours.
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • The episode "48 Hours", wherein a member of SG-1 gets trapped in the Stargate's data buffer and Stargate Command shuts down operations to avoid overwriting that buffer. The rest of the team is given 48 hours to investigate the matter before normal Stargate operations resume.
    • On another occasion, Ba'al demands that Stargate Command hand over a prisoner within one day. O'Neill mocks the trope by asking if Ba'al means one Earth day. Ba'al just rolls his eyes and terminates the transmission.
  • Married... with Children: A radio game offered Peggy a prize if she got Al to return home that day for a nooner (sex anytime within the first hour after noon).
  • On Quincy, Quincy once promised to get back to a committee within 36 hours. Queried by an assistant, he declared himself tired of the usual 48.
  • In the Cases of the 1st Department episode "48 Hours", Capt. Martin Prazak arrests a suspect even though he was instructed only to follow him and find out his identity. However, Prazak knew that he was about to attack his next victim, a frail old guy who has just collected his monthly pension from the post office. The suspect has no ID and refuses to speak. His fingerprints are not in the Czech database. They can hold him only for two days without telling him the charges and they have in fact less than 48 hours because they lost some time in transporting him to the station and they have to prepare his release with a public prosecutor in advance. Their only lead is a train ticket from Kladno to Prague and the fact that he might be a foreigner from eastern Europe as he "might have hissed something in Russian or Slovak" when he was being arrested.
  • In the NCIS episode "Defiance," the daughter of a foreign diplomat is kidnapped from NCIS custody, and Vance gives Gibbs' team 48 hours to find her before demanding DiNozzo's and McGee's badges.
  • The Equalizer.
    • As part of his usual Mind Screw tactics, Robert McCall gives a crime boss 24 hours to shut down his organisation or die. The man laughs this off, but finds himself subject to various other harassment tactics, including McCall ringing up to remind him how many hours he has left.
    • In "No Conscience", an innocent bystander is Mistaken For A Spy and tortured for the MacGuffin. Realising he's going to be killed if he doesn't think of something, he comes up with the 48 hour trope himself. The villains give him 24 hours, but eventually agree to 36. Then he has to hire McCall (who points out that 12 hours have already passed by the time they interview their first witness) to find out what they wanted in the first place.
  • In the Brooklyn Nine-Nine episode "48 Hours", after making an arrest with too little proof, Detective Jake Peralta has 48 hours to get the evidence or the perp goes free, forcing the Nine-nine to work over the weekend.
    Captain Holt: Detective Peralta has made a collar in the jewelry store heist. He didn't get sufficient evidence to make it stick, so we the next have 48 hours to fix his mistake.

    Music 
  • A rare music example - Madonna's hit "4 Minutes", and its accompanying video, both center around having "4 minutes to save the world"— with the video even having a countdown clock as a backdrop. (Never mind, of course, that the song lasts four seconds too long...)

    Tabletop Games 
  • Talisman: The "Lightbearers" Alternate Ending introduced in the Blood Moon expansion uses the Day/Night game mechanic to incorporate this trope. The players have a number of in-game days (varying according to the number of players) to cooperate in order to ensure that a player reaches the Crown of Command. If they manage to do so before time runs out, every player wins. However if no one has reached the Crown before night falls on the final day, everyone loses.

    Theatre 
  • In the first act of Into the Woods, the witch gives the Baker and his wife three midnights' time to get the materials required to make a potion that will undo the curse the witch laid upon their family that prevents any children from being born.

    Video Games 
  • A number of video games, particularly the Grand Theft Auto games or Wide Open Sandbox Racing games, feature missions that are little more than pretty decorations for "get from Point A to Point B fast".
  • The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask: You have three days to save the world! At least you have the ability to go back in time, but at expense of some of your achievements. It also has a race against the clock beginning, where you have to get to the Ocarina of Time (atop a clock tower no less) in order to reset time before the moon falls. Afterwards you can reset time as much as you want. Each in-game hour is 45 seconds, though with the Ocarino you can also slow down time (to 90 seconds per hour).
  • Dead Rising - Although it's self-imposed by the main character, who requests his pilot to come for him in 72 hours.
  • In Portal, when you go to defeat the Big Bad, you have 5 minutes to do it before the Big Bad releases deadly neurotoxin.
  • The final part of Portal 2 plays it for laughs: turns out that not only the whole Aperture Science complex is about to collapse in five minutes, but once the countdown clock malfunctions, it turns out that in case the Exact Time to Failure was impossible to determine, a back-up self destruction system would blow everything up in 60 seconds.
  • Metroid: Almost every game. Prime starts out with a seven minute evacuation deadline after the first boss is killed (and falls into the power generator, which goes KABOOM!). Zero Mission has two, after killing Mother Brain and Mecha Ridley. Fusion has 3 (a lot for a game that can be completed in 4 hours or less), when the Core-X holding the Wide Beam appears (you only have to get there and kill it PLUS stop an overheat in the boiler room... in 6 minutes. Later, when you send a section of the station plummeting to the planet, you have a minute or so to escape... through a rather long path and finally, when you throw the station to the ground, you have approximately 3 minutes to get to the hangar, kill the final boss, wait for your ship, board it and fly away... which can easily take more time than given (killing the final boss can take a long time...)
  • In Touhou Imperishable Night, the heroines all, by some unique means, stop the sun from rising, and race to find the cause of the corrupted moon before 5:00 AM.
  • In the Mass Effect 2 DLC mission "The Arrival", you have only 2 days, and later 2 hours, to destroy a gateway that will let the Eldritch Abomination / Starfish Aliens known as the Reapers reach the galaxy. Unlike a lot of time sensitive video game plots, you have a live timer for this, and you get a special game over if it reaches zero. Given how it should only take the player roughly 20 minutes to complete the whole section meaning there'll be over an hour left, the only real way to let this happen is if they're specifically trying to let the timer run out, so it's also an example of Earn Your Bad Ending.
  • Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors:
    • The Gigantic, the ship the characters are trapped on, will sink after the nominal 9 hours expire. Except it turns out that the characters weren't on the Gigantic at all.
    • Played straight for the Incinerator, unlike the fake detonator bracelet countdowns.
  • A lot of video games from the golden and silver ages in general had a countdown timer. It was seen as strange in 1995 when Yoshi's Island came out that there was no timer counting down from 400 or 300, which gamers were used to by this point. This was likely due to their historical origins in the arcades, where Race Against the Clock and Timed Mission was employed as an anti-hogging measure. The later games (made for home audiences) wanted to encourage exploration so did away with the timer except in specific circumstances.
  • Automated Simulations' Rescue at Rigel. "Sudden" Smith has 60 minutes to rescue 10 captives from an asteroid. The current time (counting up from 1) is always on the screen. Then, after it became Epyx, it released the hit Impossible Mission, which was both this and Timed Mission.
  • You carry a watch throughout Assault on Vampire Island and aim to finish the game before the night finishes.
  • Prince of Persia was one of the first games to use this trope: Prince has only 60 minutes to save the princess. There is no count of lives, but every death results in respawning on the start of the level without restarting the timer.
  • Most levels in Pause Ahead have a time limit, but fortunately the player keeps moving at their current velocity and clips through everything except walls while paused, allowing the player to technically finish stages in only a second or less. Which is good, because eventually the game introduces stages with 1 second time limits and scatter hourglasses around that add only 10 seconds to the timer.
  • In XCOM2, if the alien complete the Avatar Project, it's Game Over for humanity. La Résistance is trying to prevent that. The alien make slow but steady progress on the Avatar Project... But they can be delayed by blowing up their facilities or accomplishing objectives.
  • Dead Rising gives you three days (six hours real-life) before your helicopter comes back to pick Frank up, as per the latter's demand. Whether you're actually there for the rendezvous is but one of the deciding factors of what ending you get.
  • Ghost Trick has the time limit imposed on Sissel by Ray to find his killer by sunrise the following day (about twelve hours after he was shot) before his soul disappears. Subverted by the fact that the time limit was a trick to drive Sissel's actions forward before a certain event in the endgame occured that would permanently screw up the timeline.
  • A relatively obscure FMV murder mystery game gave you six hours to examine the crime scene, analyze the evidence and interview suspects. This was actually more like five hours, as the last hour was split between a press conference and confronting a suspect. The justification is that after six hours, either the trail will go cold, or the murderer will get away.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog:
    • Sonic Adventure 2 features Dr. Eggman giving the entire world 24 hours to surrender before he fires the Eclipse Cannon. Later on, his grandfather's program is set into action, destroying everything in 27 minutes, 53 seconds.
    • In Sonic Heroes, Dr. Eggman threatens to unleash his new weapon in 3 days. It's really Metal Sonic.
  • In The World Ends with You, the Reaper's Game gives Players 7 days. They have to survive each day's challenge and the onslaught of Noise for that long. Each day, they're given a challenge, and a time limit in the form of a Timer printed on the palm of their hand in which to complete it. If nobody completes the challenge for that day, then everyone is erased. Megumi Kitaniji is also cursed with a Timer. His limit was one month, in which to attempt to win his Game with the Composer.
  • In Professor Layton and the Last Specter, Police Chief Jakes gives Layton 24 hours to leave Misthallery when he starts getting close to uncovering the truth. He doesn't wait that long before sending goons after Layton and later, framing him for the specter attack.
  • The Infocom game Deadline uses the tagline: "A locked door. A dead man. And 12 hours to solve the mystery"
  • I Have 1 Day, where you have 24 hours to regain your body.
  • The protagonists of Elemental Gearbolt have 48 hours of functionality. The time limit is due to the fact that they are corpses animated by Magitek.
  • Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII: The end of the known universe is coming in six days when Lightning begins her adventure, although Lightning can extend that deadline via gathering souls and feeding them to the World Tree, up to as much as letting the world run for an extra seven days after the world would have ordinarily ended.
  • Bill Nye the Science Guy: Stop the Rock! gives you 5 days to stop the rock — that is, solve seven science riddles to convince a rogue AI that humanity is worth saving from an oncoming asteroid.
  • The Fairly Oddparents: Breakin' Da Rules gets a little more specific with this; Timmy, Cosmo, and Wanda have 49 and a half hours to get all the pages of Da Rules back together.
  • In Lost Dimension, the main antagonist gives the world thirteen days before he plans to blow up the world's major cities with nuclear warheads.
  • Life is Strange: Max has a vision of a giant storm destroying Arcadia Bay at the start of Episode 1. Episode 1 ends with her having the same vision- but this time finding a newspaper that dates the storm as only 4 days away.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles X: The big number at the top of BLADE Tower isn't arbitrary: it's a countdown indicating how much energy the Lifehold Core has. If the heroes don't reach the Core and activate its secondary energy generator before it reaches zero, the mimeosomes (Robotic bodies housing the humans' souls) will shut down, and bye-bye humanity. While the residents of New LA do know they have a time limit, only a select few know the meaning behind the number, to prevent widespread panic.
  • The plot of Nancy Drew game The Final Scene focuses on Nancy Drew having to find and save her missing friend, Maya, before the theatre is demolished in three days. You're forced to stay in the theatre until you've found all of the clues for the day.
  • The plot of The Three Stooges is The stooges must earn at least $5,000 or more to say the orphanage in 30 days, or it will be foreclosed by the nasty banker: I. Fleecum.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, nine abducted people (including the Player Character) have 9 hours to escape a ship that looks a lot like the Titanic before it sinks. Ultimately subverted: the place you all were in wasn't even a ship and there was no life-endangering situation to begin with. It was just a lie made up by the kidnapper, Zero, so you would end up at the right place at the right time to save her life in the past (it's confusing even in context).

    Webcomics 
  • Homestuck: Nearly every time you see a countdown clock, you can be sure that a meteor is heading towards that clock, which is a pretty big impetus to get the hell out of wherever you are by whatever means necessary. The game seems to like throwing meteors at things. Oh, and there's that one countdown to the destruction of an entire universe and the creation of a sun the size of two of them.
  • In Sailor Moon Cosmos Arc the Sailor Senshi have to fly to reach the portal to Elysian before sundown, or the curse Servant Chaos put on them will take effect and they'll turn human, drowning in the ocean. They can't just Sailor Teleport because their powers had stagnated from lack of use.
  • In the Girl Genius side-story "Ivo Sharktooth, Private Jager", the winners' trophy for a prestigious race is found to be missing just after the racers set off, and bad things will happen if it's not found in time to be presented at the end of the race. Fortunately, it's the annual Mechanicsburg Harvest Festival Snail Race, and the snails take four days to complete the course.

    Web Original 
  • In Worm, Coil gives Skitter a time limit to defeat Dragon's suits, agreeing to release Dinah if she can accomplish it.

    Western Animation 
  • South Park:
    • Identified explicitly as "the ticking clock" by the candy store owner, who notes that it "works great in the movies". Another Trey Parker / Matt Stone production, Team America: World Police uses and calls attention to it (by Kim Jong Il, the Genre Savvy Big Bad of the film).
    • Lampshaded in the South Park movie when the Mole looks at his watch when they arrive at the USO show. Under the time is the label "Act Three: The Ticking Clock."
  • Freakshow in Danny Phantom gives the Power Trio three days to get all the gems for his Infinity Gauntlet or their family dies. Why three days? Because it's dramatic.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Played with. Fat Tony gives Marge twenty-four hours to get the money she owes him. To prove that he's serious, she only has 12 hours.
    • This little exchange:
      Mr. Burns [after having a conversation about something totally different]: Oh, and Simpson? You must find the Jade Monkey before the next full moon.
      Smithers: Uh, sir, we found the Jade Monkey. It was in your glove compartment.
    • In The Simpsons Movie, a bomb is lowered into the giant glass dome, which will blow up in exactly 15 minutes. Then Homer kicks the bomb on the ground, making it fall over and causing the remaining time to halve.
  • Parodied on Futurama, in "Roswell That Ends Well":
    Leela: No problem. The ship's fixed except for the cup holder and I think I can have that operational within 10 hours.
    Farnsworth: You've got 8!
  • The Justice League episode "Wild Cards," takes place in Real Time as the League attempts to defuse several bombs that the Joker has placed throughout Las Vegas. The whole thing is being televised and there is even a countdown clock in the corner of the screen.
  • Jonny Quest: The Real Adventures:
    • In the episode "Escape to Questworld," Jonny, Jessie and Hadji have to get Surd to deactivate the release of his nerve gas, because their parents' protective suits will lose their effectiveness in exactly 22 hours.
    • Jonny and Jessie enter a virtual reality game and it turns out Surd infected it with a virus and they cannot leave it alive without a password set by Surd. And, sure, there's a chronometer.
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, we see an example of one of the longer races against time. There's a comet coming at the end of the summer- that will give the Fire Benders incredible powers, enough to completely burn down the Earth Kingdom. So, yeah, Aang, you got till then to defeat the Fire Nation. Good luck! He loses the race, though he and his friends end up defeating the Fire Nation at the zenith of their power anyway.
  • In an unfinished episode of Invader Zim, appropriately named "Ten Minutes 'Till Doom", Dib manages to knock Zim's PAK off of him. This triggers a ten minute countdown which would have appeared in the top left corner of the screen for the rest of the episode. What's it for? Well, apparently Zim can't live for longer than ten minutes without his PAK.
  • Wunschpunsch: Once the evil wizards cast the spell of the week, the heroes have seven hours to decipher and trigger the Curse Escape Clause or the spell's effects will be permanent.
  • Wheel Squad:
    • In "Souab's Deadline", Mr. Souab's business (he's a grocer) were slow and his supplier gave him one week to pay his debt. Meanwhile, Enzo, the manager of World Mart, was given one week to bring 100% of its potential customers like he promised his plan would.
    • "Close Call": Mr. Rotter, the owner of World Mart, gave the beauty parlor's owner three days to do the needed repairs or he'd not renew the rental contract. Being friends with the owner's daughter, his stepdaughter persuaded him to extend the deadline.
  • The Powerpuff Girls:
    • The girls had to solve a series of riddles set by "Him" within the time limit set for each riddle. They had to succeed or, otherwise, the Professor would have to pay... for the pancakes he ate at "Him"'s restaurant "Otto Time". It was all a bet between "Him" and the Professor.
    • The 2016 series has the min-short "Run, Blossom, Run", in which Blossom trying to make it to school on time to protect her perfect attendance when she oversleeps, but is hindered by her need to help the citizens of Townsville.. She makes it at the last second, but it turns out to be Sunday.
  • Millionaire Dogs: If the pets leave the house, they must return within 48 hours or their late owner's nephew and niece get the inheritance.
  • Phineas and Ferb:
    • In "Mind Share", after alien criminals swap minds with the kids in order to escape from jail, Phineas and friends have one hour to swap minds back before the device used to do so self-destructs. The aliens lampshade this trope when setting up the timer, pointing out that it increases the drama.
    • The Grand Finale is a race against a breaking clock, as the kids, Candace, Perry Doofenshmirtz and Vanessa try to put an end to the effects of the Do-Overinator before the time loops shorten into nothing.
  • In the Batman: The Animated Series episode "The Clock King": the Time Bomb that will suck all the air from the vault Batman is trapped has a countdown of 15:00:00. Batman escapes with 00:03:00 left.
  • In the Detentionaire episode “Welcome to Factory Island”, the amount of time the characters have before the factory explodes is cheerfully announced by a chipper computer system. “Quick update: no rush, but it is ten minutes 'till meltdown. Just saying!”
  • The Amazing World of Gumball episode "The Countdown" starts off as this: Gumball and Darwin race against time to arrive at school or they will be expelled; but then Gumball accidentally breaks the clock on-screen, causing time to stand still. The rest goes downhill from there.
  • The Simpsons, when Homer got Marge indebted to the mob, Fat Tony gave Marge an ultimatum.
    You have 24 hours to give us our money. And to show you we're serious... you have 12 hours. See you at 6am.
    • "Homer at the Bat" has Mr. Burns telling Smithers he has 24 hours to recruit Major League baseball players for his softball team.
  • Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers: You could almost make a Drinking Game out of the times Commander Walsh used "you have twenty-four hours" to the Galaxy Rangers.
  • Hey Arnold!, the episode "24 Hours to Live", that's how much time Arnold is given before the ultimate fight with the class bully Harold.
  • Wunschpunsch: Once the evil wizards cast the spell of the week, the heroes have seven hours to decipher and trigger the Curse Escape Clause or the spell's effects will be permanent.
  • Wheel Squad:
    • In "Souab's Deadline", Mr. Souab's business (he's a grocer) were slow and his supplier gave him one week to pay his debt. Meanwhile, Enzo, the manager of World Mart, was given one week to bring 100% of its potential customers like he promised his plan would.
    • "Close Call": Mr. Rotter, the owner of World Mart, gave the beauty parlor's owner three days to do the needed repairs or he'd not renew the rental contract. Being friends with the owner's daughter, his stepdaughter persuaded him to extend the deadline.
  • The Powerpuff Girls had to solve a series of riddles set by "Him" within the time limit set for each riddle. They had to suxceed or, otherwise, the Professor would have to pay... for the pancakes he ate at "Him"'s restaurant "Otto Time" (which is a pun on Out of Time, which also counts as an Unfortunate Name). It was all a bet between "Him" and the Professor.

     Real Life  
  • Real crimes have a much lower chance of being solved if a major break in the case is not made within the first 48 hours.
    • That said, 48 hours is an arbitrary point that is used because it is a convenient amount of time (and close to the 50% mark). The odds of a case being solved start going down immediately if a major break isn't found. Think about it this way: what are the odds of a case being solved if they get some solid evidence in 30 seconds? Now what if that takes 5 years?
  • Places that have an Honor Code (and by extension Honor Boards/Committees). If Alice catches Bob lying, cheating, stealing, or tolerating, Alice will say verbatim "You have 48 hours," after which if Bob hasn't self-reported whatever he did to the Honor Board, Alice does it for him. If he was guilty, this usually results in a stricter punishment.
  • As mentioned in the page header, most western police forces have a limited amount of time that they can hold a suspect before they must either formally charge them with a crime or release them, in an effort to curb abuses of power and stop the "Round up the usual suspects" approach. The moment a suspect is arrested, the clock starts ticking... so Police working where these laws exist usually hold off the arrest to the last possible moment, in order to give themselves more time. Similarly, some jurisdictions protect the right of a defendant to a speedy trial once the charge has been formally laid, to prevent people languishing in prison for months or years while the prosecutors drag their feet; if the defendant wants to, they can put the prosecutors on a clock to present their case. Of course, doing so also puts the defence on the same clock...


Alternative Title(s): Race Against Time, Countdown Sequence, Clock Tower Finale, Ticking Clock

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/RaceAgainstTheClock?from=Main.RaceAgainstTime