Time Travel for Fun and Profit
Time is money. Therefore, if you control time, you control money. The easiest and most popular way of using Time Travel for mercantile purposes is the Compound Interest Time Travel Gambit, but there are a lot of other ways.
- You can make a time tour agency.
- You can trade through time.
- You can use your knowledge of the future to make money in the past. Example: go to the future and find out what horse is going to win, stock is going to rise, lottery number is going to be picked, etc. Note that you just must have the information, you don't have to actually time-travel.
open/close all folders
- The basic premise of Booster Gold in which a man from the future uses gadgets from his time and his knowledge of the past to become a superhero and make money through endorsements (and other less ethical means).
- In Thorgal in the independent episode "Three Ancients of the Realm of Aran", the three old men, rulers of the country, often defy a brave candidate to go through a perilous way in order to find a huge treasure, that they could keep. Along the way they are to take a potion that makes them travel to the past, where they meet the three men then in their twenties. They then explain they use fools arriving from the future with a phial containing the Water of the Dawn of Times, in order to increase their own richess, and they kill the now useless fool. Thorgal breaks the cycle by pouring the water on the ground.
- In The Flash, Barry Allen's Evil Counterpart Professor Zoom is addicted to abusing the Speed Force's time travel capabilities to benefit himself and punish those he doesn't like, often in astoundingly petty ways. For example, he not only murders his crush's husband before they were married, but also erases every man she had ever dated from the timeline.
- Averted in Austin Powers when Number 2 suggests that rather than going back in time to threaten the world with nukes, that Dr. Evil use his knowledge of the future to make money in the stock market.
Number 2: We could make trillions.Dr. Evil: Why make trillions when you can make... Billions?
- A Sound of Thunder has a tour agency that takes its clients to the past to shoot dinosaurs.
- In the first scene of Time Cop, criminals make money by going back to the 19th century and robbing a carriage full of gold... with laser-aimed machine guns.
- And the baddies' second scheme is to coerce someone into going back to the Great Depression and buy stock.
- Primer. Abe and Aaron never got around to publicizing their time machine, because they were too busy using hourly time travel to make money day-trading stocks.
- Groundhog Day: Phil uses his knowledge gained from the "Groundhog Day" Loop to just walk up to an armored car and steal a bag of money at the exact moment neither guard will be looking. This is done more for the thrill of it than anything else, because he won't have time to spend much of the money before the next iteration of the loop.
- In Paycheck, Michael uses his machine to see the next day's winning lottery numbers, giving him and the girl a Happily Ever After. This is also the Big Bad's plan, only on a much bigger scale.
- Back to the Future Part II has Biff borrow the time machine for this, giving himself an almanac with sports scores in the past. (Although Marty had actually bought the almanac for himself.) The funny thing about the almanac is that in Part I, Doc Brown told Marty he was going to learn the winners of the next 25 World Series, then objected strongly to Marty buying the sports almanac in Part II.
- Although not the main focus of the film, the protagonist of Frequency drops a hint to his perenially unlucky friend to invest in Yahoo when the company gets created. The epilogue shows that he did just that.
- Thrill Seekers featured an agency which used time travel for tourists who wanted to witness various disasters from the past, such as the Titanic and Hindenburg. The plot kicks off when a TV reporter notices the same man in photographic records of these events set decades apart but looking exactly the same, and subsequently steals his technology to avert upcoming disasters.
- Spider Robinson's Callahans Crosstime Saloon story "Have You Heard The One...?" A time traveler from the future arrives, offering to sell miraculous devices for all the pennies in the bar. He plans to bury the pennies in the present and dig them up again in his own time, where copper is extremely valuable due to resource depletion. He does it this way so the Time Cops don't realize he arranged for their finding through time travel (which is illegal in the future).
- In Johnny And The Bomb, when Kirsty thinks that she and Johnny have traveled to the future, the first thing she wants to do is to find out what horses have won so she and Johnny can become rich.
- Later, after Wobbler has been trapped in the 1940's, he uses his knowledge of upcoming trends in the fast food industry to open his own chain of hamburger restaurants and become a millionaire.
- Whenever Mrs. Tachyon comes into any cash, she time-travels to the date on the coin or note to get the most value from the money.
- In the science fiction novella The Plagiarist, a time-traveller supports herself by passing off science fiction stories from other authors (stories that wouldn't be published in the original timeline for decades) as her own writing.
- The Thursday Next series, where Time Travel is an integral and recurring aspect of the story's universe, has time tourists, and at one point we even see a group capturing footage of the actual Battle of Waterloo for a historical documentary.
- The entire point of The Company Novels is to find ways to make time travel profitable, such as salvaging artifacts at that particular time period and having them be rediscovered in the 24th century.
- H. L. Gold's story "The Old Die Rich" is built around the Compound Interest Time Travel Gambit, but with an unpleasant twist for the travellers.
- In the novel Replay by Ken Grimwood, the protagonist has a heart attack at 43, and wakes up in the body of his 18-year-old self. He uses his knowledge of the future to get rich, but gets bored with it.
- In that same novel, the protagonist meets a young woman who also found herself looping through time in much the same way(essentially a 20-plus year long "Groundhog Day" Loop). During one loop, she went to film school, became a movie producer and recruited Steven Spielberg and George Lucas to collaborate on a science-fiction blockbuster called "Starsea" in 1976, one year before they created Jaws and Star Wars respectively. Starsea ends up becoming the most successful movie of all time, and she becomes a power player in Hollywood. The protagonist identifies himself as a fellow time-traveler when he meets her by mentioning some of her possible future projects; he asked if she would be producing Star Wars, advised that Close Encounters of the Third Kind' may be a bit redundant after "Starsea"(which covered similar themes), but E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial should be fine, as well as Raiders of the Lost Ark, but she should talk to Spielberg about that first sequel. Years later, she takes another unusual gamble by hiring Rob Reiner(years before he became a filmmaker) to direct a comedy about a mis-timed mismatched couple.
- In the novel The Man Who Folded Himself, the protagonist uses his time-travel belt to get rich, but gets bored with money and decides to mostly use time-travel for sightseeing and screwing himself.
- Many people try this in Time Scout. Usually they try to smuggle artwork to the present, or gamble downtime. And time tourism is booming.
- In Up the Line, by Robert Silverberg, most of the major characters work for the Time Service. The protagonist and several other characters are Couriers, who take parties of tourists to sightsee historical events. One use for the hefty fees charged to the tourists is financing scholarly research via time travel.
- Conrad's Time Machine by Leo Frankowski uses this in multiple forms. First of all, the characters start out planning to use their new scientific discoveries for things like railroad tunnelling rather than time travel; and they do have many non-time-travel uses for the technology that is also useful for making a time machine. At one point, during the process of figuring out how to invent a really workable means of time travel, they seriously consider using time travel to steal from a bank vault, and get as far as figuring out the plan for how to do this. Fortunately, Jim Hasenpfeffer points out that it would make more sense just to use stock tips from future newspapers, and the characters get the money they need that way. And then, about halfway through the book, the characters are whisked away to a fabulously wealthy Mary Sue Topia island paradise which was built by their own future selves, in which all of this wealth was generated by the practical applications of time travel.
- Robert Sheckley has a story where a couple running an electrical appliance store have a few of those stolen. Turns out it was a genie from the past who got a job at the royal palace solely through having influential relatives, and, when the queen demanded spells to clean her clothes or cool her chambers, he found the spells to be too complex and could do nothing but steal some tech from our time. At first, they try to banish him (doesn't work because a genie is immune to all spells except from his own country, which they don't know). Then, they sabotage the devices and refuse to do maintenance on the ones already taken. So the genie attempts to start trading. At first, they are afraid it will cause a Temporal Paradox, but change their mind after the genie says "Don't worry, I'm from Atlantis. A couple of years and nothing will remain of it or your tech". Then they decide to trade as much as possible.
- In Tom Holt's Overtime, one firm guarantees investors a profit by sending their money back in time to invest in the Crusades! (It's complicated.)
- In one of Harry Harrison's Bill the Galactic Hero novels, the titular hero ends up traveling through time to an alternate past where Nazis have occupied New York. One of them captures Bill and his partner and asks them who they are. When Bill explains that they're from the future, the Nazi starts demanding lottery numbers, despite Bill explaining that they're from thousands of years in the future and, thus, have no idea what "lottery" even is.
- In The Green Futures of Tycho, Tycho becomes hugely rich by paradoxically selling off future copies of his own time machine.
- In the YA novel Locksmith's Closet, Lock and Gary use a time portal to: (1) Hide five quarters under the porch. (2) Go to the future, get the quarters and bring them back to the present. (3) Take the quarters from the future and hide them next to the "original" quarters. (4) Repeat this process until they have 5,120 quarters, then call it a day.
- Unfortunately, they forgot to do (5): Come up with a plausible, parent-satisfying explanation for why they both have $640 in quarters stashed under the bed.
- In Wikihistory, "SneakyPete" changes history by getting Hitler admitted to Vienna's Academy of Fine Arts, and brings back some genuine Hitler paintings to sell. He forgot that the paint on these supposedly 200-year old paintings wasn't completely dry yet...
- A similar foul-up happens in the 1952 Isaac Asimov short story "Button, Button", where a scientist brings a piece of parchment with the valuable, genuine signature of Button Gwinnett to the present day...that is, a piece of new parchment with the valuable, genuine, very fresh signature of Button Gwinnett.
- Deconstructed in 11/22/63: the protagonist funds his attempts to fix the past by betting on sports, but gets the attention of bookmarkers who try to beat his secret out of him. His mentor, in addition to the sports-betting thing, ran a diner incredibly cheaply by buying all his meat in 1958 and selling it in the twenty-first century.
- In The Impossible Stairwell, Etsugoya wins a bet with information obtained from his future self (although he is not aware of this at the time). Later he and Tsubakihara briefly discuss the ethics of doing this.
- In "A Sound of Thunder" by Ray Bradbury, Travis' agency runs safaris into the past for big game hunters, who pay handsomely for the privilege.
- Doctor Who:
- It's implied the Doctor did this with a lottery ticket which he gave to Donna in "The End of Time". For an added dose of heartwarming, he got the coin to buy the ticket from the bride's dead father in the past, so that he could get her a wedding present.
- A similar trick was apparently done in "School Reunion". It was just plain weird how the school teacher the Doctor replaced won the lottery — she didn't even play. The winning ticket was pushed under her door at midnight.
- It also happened in "City of Death", when the Monster of the Week was splintered throughout time. His 17th Century persona made Da Vinci whip up 6 more copies of the Mona Lisa with the intent of having his 20th century persona steal the one in the Louvre and then sell off all seven and make a huge profit.
- Gets lampshaded in "The Unicorn and the Wasp", when Donna accidentally mentions Miss Marple and Murder on the Orient Express to Agatha Christie years before she wrote them, and then adds, "Tell you what, copyright, Donna Noble, okay?"
- The Eleventh Doctor increasingly likes to get rid of minor interfering characters by arranging for them to win the lottery, even on planets where there is no lottery.
- Attempted in the early seasons of Goodnight Sweetheart but due to Status Quo Is God it doesn't work. A later attempt is more successful.
- Attempted in the series Crime Traveller where it is foiled by the Timey-Wimey Ball.
- An episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation concerns a traveller from the 25th century who came back to see what the 24th century was like...except he was really from the 22nd century and had stolen the Time Machine he was using, so he could steal futuristic technology and bring it to the past (his present) where he would "invent" it.
17822 was a very interesting year on Ferenginar. In that year alone, over twenty thousand Grand Nagi held office; the Ferengi Financial Exchange crashed 3152 times, while setting 12322 record highs; there were 41098 civil wars; an unknown number of Ferengi-incited interstellar wars (estimates are in the millions); and the Ferengi sun went nova at least once a week.In other words, 17822 was the year Ferenginar discovered time travel.
- The Deep Space Nine book "Legends of the Ferengi" has a brief summary of what happens when a race of CMOT Dibblers discovers Time Travel:
- Lampshaded/subverted on Lost, in which Hurley goes back to the '70s and attempts to rewrite (or rather, write in the first place) Return of the Jedi when he goes back in time — not to make money, but to improve it, because "Ewoks sucked, dude." He apparently has every intention of sending it to George Lucas.
- In Early Edition, Gary supports himself by using tomorrow's newspaper to bet on the ponies.
- Gary only did that in the first episode and quickly realized that the money didn't bring him happiness. Afterwards, he was always against using the paper for personal gain.
- Blackadder Back & Forth involves an unscrupulous man with a time machine. By the end he's King, his buddy is PM, he's married to the hottest woman in history, he has 98% approval, and had disbanded parliament.
- In Life On Mars, Sam participates in sweepstakes for the 1973 Grand National. He uses his knowledge to make sure he can profit from Red Rum's win.
- The Stargate SG-1 episode Moebius involves SG-1 traveling back to 3000 B.C. to retrieve a ZPM. Additionally, when Daniel suggests this at the beginning of the episode, Jack complains that he wouldn't let him use their time machine to go back and watch the Cubs win the World Series.
- In the Stargate Atlantis episode "The Last Man", Sheppard tries to do this; while he's temporarily in the future, he asks hologram-Rodney if he remembers any Super Bowl winners from the 25 years after Sheppard left and before Rodney made the hologram. Unfortunately for him, Rodney "never was much of a sports fan"...
- Also, Rodney is Canadian.
- On Eureka, the Season 1 finale involves a time-travel paradox that, when resolved, leaves Carter and Henry the only people who remember it. In the second season premire, Carter points to out Henry that they now know all the sports results for the next four years, as well as what movie wil be good.
- In Family Matters, Carl gives his past self information on the stock market and in the present day becomes fabulously wealthy. However in this time he and his wife never had kids, Carl has been just money hungry, and just before they go back to fix it his wife wanted a divorce.
- An episode of The Twilight Zone involved a camera that could take pictures of the future (you take a picture, but when it develops it shows the subject five minutes in the future). The people in the episode go to the racetrack and take pictures of the tote board, which would show the winners and who they should bet on.
- In Odyssey 5, five astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Odyssey are sent back in time by a Sufficiently Advanced Alien to prevent Earth's destruction that they have just witnessed. After the Mental Time Travel, two of the crewmembers refuse to spend the next several years trying to figure out what will happen. One of them, a cynical geneticist named Kurt Mendel, decides to use his knowledge of the future to make some money and live it up. He bets all his savings on the outcome of a close football game, whose result depends on a single field goal kick that almost missed in the previous timeline. To Kurt's surprise, the kicker misses this time. He finds out that his unusually large bet has caused more people to bet on the kick. When the kicker found out, the pressure caused him to miss.
- Calvin and Hobbes: The second time Calvin uses his time machine, he goes to the Jurassic to take pictures of real dinosaurs and sell them in the present.
- And the first time he used it he planned on swiping something from the future and patenting it, but he accidentally went the opposite direction in the time stream.
- In the Time Travel based RTS game Achron this is known as 'Retconomy'. One of the playable species creates harvesters by morphing one of their basic units. These basic units can be built and paid for in the future and then sent into the past where they become harvesters and begin gathering resources. The end result is that the player will have gathered more resources in a shorter amount of... er... time than a player that had not used time travel.
- The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask has an interesting take on this. You can "fix" the lottery by simply doing the exact same thing as before. This works because the Random Number Gods only wake up when you do something different, so you can buy a lotto ticket on the first day, >> to the last day to find the number, then go back in time. Once you've gone back in time, you can buy the next/last (see time paradox for explanation of that comment) winning number, >> to the third day, and by golly, you have the winning number. Rinse and Repeat until you max out the money.
- The aliens in Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders have a machine aboard their mothership that predicts winning lottery numbers. Once you get aboard, all your financial troubles are over.
- The trope is used very loosely in Rampage Through Time.
- In The Sims 3 expansion pack Into the Future, you can travel to the future and go to Oasis Gardens' city hall to obtain knowledge of winning lottery numbers, and then travel back to the present to use that knowledge to obtain a large sum of Simoleons. Doing this is one of the steps necessary to have the Philanthropist statue made in your honor.
- In Bioshock Infinite, musician Albert Fink has made a bundle by taking advantage of a portal to the future in his studio to plagiarize songs.
- In Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time, this is Big Bad Cyrille La Paradox's plan. By altering the past, including making false genealogical trees, he intends to establish his present organization as an N.G.O. Superpower, with himself being allegedly descended from royalty.
- His lackey, Grizz, has a similar usage of time travel: make elaborate cave paintings in the Ice Age, dig them up in the present, then sell them for an obscene fortune.
- Agent 5, Gage Blackwood, is framed for stealing items from his mission time periods in The Journeyman Project 2: Buried in Time, and he enlists his past self to fix the problem. From the news articles, everyone is aware of what the dangers of time travel are about, and from how celebrated Gage was from his efforts in the previous game, his peers refuse to believe that Gage would never do this for personal gain, he was only arrested because that's where the evidence pointed. Turns out that he really was framed. His colleague Agent 3, Michelle Visard, tampered items in those mission time periods to spread time travel technology to an alien race, since she, having had to research several time periods of war, believed humans should not be trusted with time travel technology. Because the items she was modifying would not only coincide with Gage's mission locations, they were also to be sold in an auction at the Louvre in the present day, Agent 3 could get away with it without the Temporal Security Agency knowing. She almost succeeded, if not for future Gage's intervention in the first place.
- Dave Strider of Homestuck uses his time travel powers to create several copies of himself from the future. They get dressed in various disguises and cooperate in a stock exchange, thus allowing Dave to make a killing. There is one downside, though: Dave always has to make sure he's going to be his future selves, or else he will spawn an alternate timeline, and one of the rules of time travel in Homestuck is that if an alternate timeline self ever crosses into the alpha timeline, they're doomed to die.
- In the "Instant Replay" arc of Schlock Mercenary Kevyn uses stock market information from the future to get several million credits and hire the mercenary company that was going to kill captain Tagon.
- Similarly, his future self buys a lottery ticket once he's done saving the galaxy, and cheats on some races which gets the mob angry at him.
- Doctor Cook from S.S.D.D got on the Maytec board of directors after finding a PDA with stock quotes that fell through a time portal. In addition when he and the other "S.S.D.F." cast get stranded in the 21st century he starts a tech company (even Tessa admits to making a few quid via future knowledge).
- This is how Cassie Wells of Times Like This funds many of her time travels, and her time machine in the first place.
- Jin of Wapsi Square uses her memory of previous times through a "Groundhog Day" Loop to make a killing in stocks.
- Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal proposes an alternate version of A Christmas Carol where Scrooge does this.
- On American Dad!, Stan goes back in time to the 70s and drops a "Best of the 1970s" cassette there. The Roger of the past finds it and becomes a wealthy songwriter by "writing" the songs on the tape.
- He then loses it all thanks to heavy spending on parties and luxuries when disco goes out of style.
- In one episode of The Tick, people from the far future have set up a hotel in prehistoric times, using Australopithecus as staff.
- David Xanatos of Gargoyles made his fortune in this fashion with a Stable Time Loop.
- On The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Jimmy goes back in time to make his father invest in a successful business that he originally decided not to invest it. When Jimmy goes back to the present, he has everything he ever wanted, but his parents are cold and distant.
- In the Kim Possible "A Sitch In Time" mini-arc, Shego lays the groundwork for world domination by using time travel to make a fortune.
- In the Popeye cartoon featuring "Brutus" instead of "Bluto", there was a story where Wimpy used a crystal ball to become wealthy through the stock market.
- In the Ruby-Spears Superman cartoon, there was one episode where Lex Luthor stole a machine that can see one hour into the future. He considered using it to bet on horses.
- On Code Lyoko, Ulrich uses a Return to the Past to buy a winning lottery ticket for Yumi's family, so they won't have to relocate. This gets everyone mad at Ulrich because each Return to the Past makes Xana stronger.
- An episode of the Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels segment of The Flintstone Comedy Show sees this as the 20th century villain Futuro's plan: using a time machine to go back in time to Bedrock and steal random worthless stuff (a coat rack, benches, a cash register, etc.) and sell it in the present as valuable "antiques."