Stopped Clock

I wonder when that happened?

A useful method of telling when a certain disaster/event happened is that all of the clocks have stopped at the same time. This can also happen to individual time pieces that have been damaged. May be a cause of Clock Discrepancy.

Power cuts can be neatly illustrated with a digital clock flashing '12:00' or '00:00'.

Stopped clocks are, surprisingly, often correct. Twice a day, in fact. For a related trope, see Dumbass Has a Point.

See also Race Against the Clock, Right on the Tick, and 24-Hour Trope Clock.


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  • In Pan's Labyrinth, at one point it is implied that Captain Vidal's pocketwatch originally belonged to his father, which the latter broke at the time of his death so it would freeze at that time in order to show his son "How a brave man dies" and later Vidal had it repaired out of spite. As Vidal is about to be killed by the rebels he takes out his watch presumably to break it again and asks that his son be told the time of his death only for Mercedes to cut him off to say "He won't even know [his] name" followed by her brother shooting him.
  • The War Of The Worlds 1953. After the Martians use their heat ray for the first time, all the watches of the people in the nearest time stop. When this happens, the people notice that all of the watches stopped at the same time.
  • In Chinatown, Jack places a watch under the car of the person he's tailing. That way he could know at what time he left by the time the watch was run over.
  • In Triangle, the clocks on board the Ghost Ship are stuck at 8:17 a.m. signifying the time of the car accident that set everything in motion. Same goes for the heroine's wrist watch.
  • Back to the Future uses this with a strong justification: in order to generate the power necessary to send the Delorean back to the future, Doc and Marty use the latter's knowledge of the future to get the car to the exact spot needed: the clock tower, which was struck by lightning at a very specific time, which everyone knows of because the clock stopped working at that exact moment.
  • In Godzilla (2014), Serizawa carries a pocket watch stopped at 8:15 AM, August 6th, 1945. It belonged to his father, implying he experienced the Hiroshima bombing.

  • The Quiet Earth. When John Hobson wakes up he finds that his watch has stopped at 6:12. As he explores the deserted world he finds that all watches and clocks have also stopped at 6:12.
  • Agatha Christie used it, of course.
  • In Great Expectations, Miss Havisham's clocks are all stopped at 8:40 — the exact moment her groom-to-be jilted her.
  • The Hatter's pocket watch in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland doesn't tell the time, but does tell the date. (Unfortunately, it's two days slow.) This may have something to do with the fact that, according to him, Time is angry at him for "murdering the time" while singing at a concert, causing the clock to never change for him and his friends.
  • The time of Big Bad's escape from the authorities in Never Send Flowers is determined by the broken wristwatch on one of the policemen set to guard him.

    Live-Action TV 
  • A stopped watch used to be a common method of discerning time of death when the cause of death was a fall from a great height. This was abused in at least one episode of Midsomer Murders to make a murder look like a suicide.
  • As with Midsomer Murders, this was also used in Murder, She Wrote where a broken clock in a struggle indicates when the murder took place. The struggle was actually manufactured, and the clock set forward several hours before being smashed in order to give the murderer an alibi.
  • A minor plot point in Ashes to Ashes. Whenever Drake asks Keats for the time, he gives her the same time: the minute Drake died.
  • One episode of Columbo involved the time of death being established by a broken watch. Columbo figured the watch must have been planted on the victim's body with the time pre-set, because he was a tough sportsman who wouldn't have wanted to be seen dead wearing such a wimpy, fragile timepiece.
  • At the end of the multi-part episode of Lois and Clark that involved Clark being lost in time, the exact time of his departure is needed to save him. Good thing said departure involved an explosion that damaged the Big Bad's watch.
  • The Twilight Zone episode "Where is Everybody?" depicts a man wandering in an empty town. In one building, he finds a broken clock. The implication is that the clock must have stopped at whatever time disaster struck, scattering the inhabitants. We later learn that he broke the clock himself in his attempt to escape a space simulation chamber.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "The Wedding of River Song", every single clock on earth is stopped at 5:02pm on April 22, 2011, because time itself is broken by River refusing to kill the Doctor, which was a fixed point in time.
  • In Once Upon a Time, the clock in Storybrooke is not working, which is to indicate that time is frozen. When Emma arrives in Storybrooke, the clock starts working again.
  • On 30 Rock, Jack accidentally hits his elderly mother with his car and sits there in the driveway for a full eight minutes before calling 911. She chews him out at the end of the episode after noticing the discrepancy between the time on her watch, which broke when she fell, and the time of his cell-phone call. "Numbers, unlike children, don't lie!"
  • Star Trek: Voyager. In "Time and Again" when the crew investigate a planetwide explosion, Tom Paris finds a stopped clock in a wrecked shop window. Unfortunately the explosion has created fragments in time, so Tom is suddenly sent back to before the disaster happened. Looking at the now-working clock and talking to the shopkeeper regarding their units of measure, he works out the disaster will happen tomorrow.
    • A different take in "Macrocosm". Janeway and Neelix return to Voyager to find the crew infected by a virus, and work out the approximate time of events because a recorded program has been running for eleven hours.
  • Castle has used a broken watch to establish time of death more than once.
    Lanie: He was killed at 11:15.
    Castle: So specific. I'm impressed.
    Lanie: His watch broke when he fell.
    Castle: Ah, you shouldn't have told me. Less impressed.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • There's a The Far Side cartoon where police are investigating a shooting at a clock store. The place has been shot to pieces, all clocks are reading the same time as each other, and the detective is wondering "Now if only we could determine the time of death...."

    Video Games 
  • In FEAR 2 all clocks have stopped after the events in FEAR.(Bonus points if you can tell me the time)
  • In Dead Space 2 all the clocks have stopped (permanently) at 12:00, odd, considering they are powered L.E.D clocks that would normally keep going, or at least flash.
  • Fallout 3 has every single clock you see stopped at the exact time the Chinese attack occurred. Seems like some of them would have been wind-up or something...
  • The Ace Attorney series use this idea many times - twice in the first game alone.
  • In Silent Hill: Homecoming, all the clocks in town are stopped at 2:06. 2:06 AM being the time of Josh's death. In a more meta-sense, 206 is the number of Alex's room in the Bedlam House ending.
  • In the Agatha Christie pastiche Interactive Fiction game Death Off the Cuff, the victim's watch stopped at the time that he was stabbed. Except that, much like in the actual Christie example, it was faked to draw suspicion away from the perpetrator of said stabbing.
  • In the adventure game Gray Matter, strange and seemingly supernatural events happen around the Oxford University campus, and each time the clock stops at the time of the event.
  • In MySims Agents, a thief had broken into Evelyn Gray's home and also broken her clock. This is a vital clue determining the time of the break-in, as it proves that it happened well after Skip had his pizza.

    Web Animation 
  • Homestar Runner: In the Strong Bad Email "vacation", Strong Bad sends a postcard from (among several other places) "It's that CLOCK (Look at it go!)". Of course, the clock isn't going at all.
    Strong Bad: Okay, the best thing about this postcard is if you look at the clock, that's the exact same time that I first laid eyes on the clock! 2:55, man. And like, iddi—oh, wait, it still says... 2:55. Okay, well, the clock is broken, but still! It's about the best thing I've ever seen [sings] in my whole liiiiiife!


    Western Animation 
  • Johnny Bravo: Subverted in the episode "The Day the World Didn't Move Around Very Much". A jet cutting a power line stops Johnny's clock at 12:00, and after seeing similar events, he's convinced that time has stopped for everyone but him when in fact he runs into various instances of things intentionally standing still for other reasons.
  • Gravity Falls: When Dipper interrogates Manly Dan about the murder of Grunkle Stan's wax replica, Manly Dan's alibi is that he was punching the clock at the time.
    Dipper: You were at work, then.
    Manly Dan: No, I was punching that clock! (Points to a broken clock)
  • Attempted by Bloo in one episode of Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends. He's annoyed a giant friend known only as "The New Guy" by asking him "How's the weather up there?", and said friend threatened to "give him something to laugh about" at 4 in the afternoon. Bloo, not understanding how time works, attempts to prevent this by breaking every clock in the house. Madame Foster counters by having Coco bring in a large countdown clock. Naturally, Bloo tries to smash it, only to bounce off.
    Madame Foster: That's plexiglass, dear boy. There's no breaking that!

    Real Life 
  • The Hiroshima Peace Memorial features a clock whose hands have stopped at the time the A-bomb was dropped, 8:15.
    • A similar monument in Japan actually depicts what time the Kobe earthquake struck.
    • Ditto for a clock at the Chernobyl power plant. It can still be found at a museum.
  • Mormons refer to Joseph Smith's time of death by what was on his watch when he hit the ground after being shot out of a prison window.
  • Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, died in the Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul at 9:05 AM on November 10, 1938. For many years all the clocks in the palace were set to 9:05 (the clock in the room he died still is), and every November 10 most Turks hold a minute of silence at that time, even if they are driving (they will pull over first).
  • Kinetic energy watches require no batteries but are powered by movement and can keep working for 12 to 36 hours after the last movement. In criminal investigations, this can help determine an exact time of death.
  • When the pirate city of Port Royal, Jamaica was leveled by natural disaster in 1692, watches were found in the rubble stopped at 11:43 a.m., the time the disaster struck.