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Bad Present

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—"bad time to be looking outside, dammit."
"I went under, the world was at war. I wake up, they say we won. They didn't say what we lost."

A time-traveler from the past arrives in our present reality, and is dismayed by how the world has changed.

Imagine, for instance, a Japanese Samurai that arrives in the present from 200 years in the past. He'd probably be shocked to learn that Japanese culture has largely been replaced by Westernization, and that Japan surrendered to the United States after World War II. Modern citizens of Japan have largely moved on, but the Samurai might see this as their Bad Future.

In another example, a time-traveler from the present visits his younger self in the past. While there, he lets slip the fact that his wife has died at a young age of a terminal illness. As such, his younger self views present events as his Bad Future.

Such is this trope; the Bad Future trope with its focal point shifted into the past. It is distinct from stories set in a Bad Future because the status quo is Like Reality, Unless Noted. The story does not take place in an Alternate Timeline or Alternate Universe outside of the usual setting; those are separate tropes. Alternate Histories can be compatible, though.

Could be the result of Values Dissonance or when stories turn Darker and Edgier. For some reason, bad guys never seem bothered by this.

Usually, to prevent changes to the status quo, there'll be a lesson on how You Can't Fight Fate and actions to the contrary will result in Setting Wrong What Once Went Right, possibly resulting in a Terminator Twosome.

Not to be confused with horrible gifts.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • Noein has time-travelers from two future societies fighting each-other in the present to prevent the other from happening. It is revealed in last few episodes that the present is considered bad by both future timelines.

    Comic Books 
Since comic book characters tend to remain publicized for decades, writers ADORE this trope.
  • The 1940s Marvel Comics heroes in Avengers/Invaders arrive in the aftermath of Civil War and briefly think that the Germans won World War II as a result.
  • Captain America: Every incarnation uses this trope to some degree or another, but Ultimate Cap is probably the most apparent. At the same time, however, Steve will be the first to admit if something's improved.
    • Each time Cap's origin is retold, the level of 'bad' present gets worse. When he was first unfrozen in 1964's Avengers #4, only twenty years had passed. All his friends and loved ones were middle aged and had moved on with their lives. Also there were hippies and peace movements. Since major events in the Marvel Universe remain at fixed points X number of years ago, retellings of his unfreezing now include all his friends and loved ones being either old or dead, and the technology of the world nigh-unrecognizable.
    • William Burnside, the 1950s Captain America turned Evil Reactionary super-villain, has this as his motivation; a conservative in his native 1950s who was brought to the 2000s and 2010s through cryogenic suspension, he's appalled by the modern culture to the extent he's willing to work with anybody who promises to bring back "the true America and its values". Including everything from neo-fascists like the Watchdogs to the freaking Red Skull. The problem is only exacerbated by the Psycho Serum elements of his reverse-engineered Captain America formula.
  • In Convergence: The Adventures of Superman, Superman and Supergirl are (like several other groups from different eras) trapped in a domed city and trying to escape. However, the two of them learn that even if they do escape, Supergirl is fated to die in Crisis on Infinite Earths.
  • DC 2000 does this twice over; the horror experienced by the 1940s era Justice Society of America members at seeing how time is supposed to progress from the 40s, whipped on by The Spectre, results in them opposing the efforts of the Justice League to make sure that time continues down that past. Ironically, it just leads to an entirely different Bad Present that is being ruled over by the true villain of the comic.
  • Green Lantern: In one arc, Hal Jordan is brought to the present era and learns that not only has Coast City been destroyed, not only is the Corps dead, but the latter was his own doing as part of a massive Face–Heel Turn.
  • In the Intercontinuity Crossover JLA/Avengers when they discover their Silver Agey joined universe isn't "real" they get a glimpse of the real two universes, and Hal Jordan & Barry Allen are especially disappointed about being dead, and in Jordan's case learning that he destroyed the Corps. Both still want to fix things though, because that's what they think is the right thing to do.
  • Nova: In Nova (2007) #32, Nova meets his ex-lover Namorita, who is dead in the present, while the two of them are ripped through time. Namorita is blissfully unaware of anything that happens in the future, including the fact that she and Nova were no long a couple long before her death, and that she is one of the parties blamed for the deaths of hundreds of innocents.
  • In The Twelve, a bunch of World War II superheroes get put in stasis as they're trying to prevent a Nazi operation. When they wake up (in 2009), they're very disoriented to say the least: one guy can't understand the concept of mixed-race marriages, another tries a career as a humorist relying on offensive stereotypes seventy years out of date, one tries to get to his old job as a journalist (and has never heard of the Internet), one who has Super Hearing now has to deal with all the wireless broadcasts (phones, TV, radio...), etc.
  • In Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, when the Legion of Super-Heroes visits Superman just before what is likely to be his last battle, they bring Supergirl with them. Since the story is set post-Crisis (but before the new continuity kicked in), Supergirl is dead in the "present", and Superman tells this version of Supergirl that his Supergirl "is in the past," without specifying that it's not on a mission as the visitor thinks.
  • X-Men:
    • The central point of Brian Michael Bendis's All-New X-Men is that the original X-Men team are taken to a nightmarish future where mutant relations are at an all time low, Jean's dead, Beast's dying and Scott is a villain. It's the present day, post Avengers vs. X-Men Marvel Universe.
    • Magik discovered that she would die from the Legacy Virus when she and her team time-traveled to the present. Sadly, if she hadn't time-traveled in the first place, she wouldn't have died, as it was in the present that she was infected with the Virus by her brother, who mistakenly thought her sorcery (which she'd later lose when de-aged into a baby) would be able to protect her from the disease and thus she'd develop immunity to it.

    Fan Works 
  • Born of the Same Impulse has Tony and Stephen travel back in time to prevent the Bad Future. While Tony is eager to capitalize upon this second chance, Stephen is being forced to relive the worst period of his life: the immediate aftermath of his car accident.
  • The beginning of the Empath: The Luckiest Smurf story "Days Of Future Smurfed" takes place in a Bad Present circa 2005 — a thousand years after Empath had left Psychelia for good. The Smurf Forest is nearly devastated due to development and pollution; the only home that Empath and his great-grandson have left is a tree stump which Empath makes into his personal telepathically-powered Imaginarium so he could relive his glory years and teach his great-grandson about everything he and his fellow Smurfs once held dear in their lives.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Despite his feelings in The Avengers, Steve Rogers does admit in Captain America: The Winter Soldier that there are a few good things about the future, such as better food, no polio, and the Internet. However, this is later overshadowed by the revelation that the future in which he woke up was essentially railroaded by his old enemy HYDRA from within S.H.I.E.L.D.. A good chunk of the misery in the world was deliberately engineered by them to make people more amenable to surrendering their freedom for the illusion of security within a fascist regime.
  • Back to the Future:
    • In Back to the Future, Marty McFly figures out he's returned to his own time when he notices a filthy bum sleeping on the park bench. On the other hand, he also finds that he's changed the history of his family for the better, making the original timeline the Bad Present and defying the usual You Can't Fight Fate trope!
    • A straighter example, and perhaps the most well known example on film, is the horrific 1985-A in Back to the Future Part II, caused by 2015!Biff Tannen stealing the time machine. Marty's hometown becomes the armpit of the West Coast filled with pollution, crime and biker gangs, and Biff's political clout kept Nixon in office for fifteen years and still fighting the Vietnam War. Doc Brown says that Hell couldn't be much worse.
  • In Pleasantville, this is done in stark contrast to the idyllic past-set TV show.
    • Deconstructed here. The idea being the idyllic past is not so idyllic and we changed for a reason. Everybody "past" and present eventually accepts this.
  • Star Trek: First Contact: Borgified Earth. The atmosphere is copper brown, the landscape is metallic grey, and transport links stretch like cobwebs over the oceans.
  • Terminator Genisys: When Sarah and Kyle time travel to the future (Twenty Minutes Into Our Future), they are shocked to find that now everyone is completely connected to machines and computers all the time. Just like real life, no one sees anything wrong with revolving your entire life around machines for social media, streaming, mobile gaming, or Tv Tropes.
  • The movie Time After Time has H. G. Wells and Jack the Ripper time travel to the modern world of 1979. Wells expects the "future" to be utopia while Jack explains that he gets along in it quite well and the world is a great place for people like him and an awful one for people like Wells.
  • In Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen, Jetfire wakes up from a long hibernation and asks Sam Witwicky which side is winning the war. He is not happy with Sam's answer.
  • This is the premise of X-Men: Days of Future Past. Unlike the original comic book story, the "Bad Future" is actually the present day timeline and Wolverine is sent into the past to avert it.

  • Callahan's Crosstime Saloon short story "The Time Traveler" (1973): An American is imprisoned by a South American dictatorship in 1963 and released in 1973. When he gets back to the United States, he finds society radically changed due to events in the 1960s and suffers from "transplant shock" so severe that he tries to commit suicide.
  • The Forever War: The protagonist is stuck fighting a war far, far away from Earth. Since all travel is done at relativistic speeds, time dilation means everytime he arrives back on Earth, it's far into the future. The world progressively becomes more and more crapsack, mostly because he barely understands the new way of things. So he repeatedly re-enlists, and repeatedly returns to a world he understands less and less. Done as a metaphor for returning Vietnam War vets (and returning soldiers of any time).
  • Soon I Will Be Invincible has a throw-away reference to a group of villains from the 1950s who traveled forward in time to the present to learn from their future selves or successors how they conquered the world. Instead, they found a good present where superheroes still prevailed, and became so demoralized they returned to their own time and gave up trying.
  • In Time Scout, The Accident has devastated the present. The past is available for tourism, but the present is eating itself with gun control and political correctness and organized crime all running rampant.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Primeval: A medieval knight slides into 21st century London while chasing a dragon through a time anomaly (actually a dinosaur brought by yet another time anomaly). The knight's first thought is that he has just fallen into Hell.
  • A mundane example: In The Sopranos, a large number of Mafiosi are released from long prison sentences throughout the series; Season 4 sees the release of "the class of 2004", a group of New Jersey and New York wiseguys convicted and given 20-year sentences in the big Mob prosecutions of the early 1980s. Many of these guys have some issues with the way the Mob works in the 21st century — including its increasing suburbanization (both the Jersey boss and New York City underboss live in North Caldwell), its increasing cooperation with other criminal organizations, and the laxity of certain Mob traditions.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "Once Upon a Time" (1960) contains both a straight example and an inversion. A janitor from 1890 is sent to 1960 via a time helmet. He finds it much noisier and hectic, with higher prices and ruder people. Eventually he escapes back to the past, which he finds much better. Meanwhile, another character is displaced from 1960 to 1890 and finds it equally miserable. The explicit message is that the present isn't necessarily better or worse, but that people are best suited for their own time.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Given the Time Travel shenanigans that Feng Shui characters get involved in, it's entirely possible to come back to a present that is completely unlike what it was like when you left it, particularly if a Critical Shift went down while you were gone.

  • Downplayed in J. B. Priestley’s Time and the Conways. When the play returns to 1919 for the third act, Kay still has some vague memory of the bad present (1937) of the second act. But she doesn’t remember it clearly enough to avert it, even if such a thing is possible.

    Video Games 
  • Brütal Legend: A demon named Succoria travels from an ancient past full of magic where humans and demons are fighting to an industrialized present where demons are gone and humanity thrives on technology. From this demon's perspective, this human-run present is a very depressingly bad present.
  • Dragon Age: Inquisition:
    • Corypheus, one of the original Tevinter magisters, is a villainous example. After escaping his ancient prison in the second game's Legacy mission, he finds that the Old Gods no longer answer his prayers and the Imperium is a Vestigial Empire.
    • Solas, aka the Dread Wolf, woke up from his own slumber to find that sealing away the other elven gods didn't exactly go as planned.
  • The age 1000 of Dragon Ball Online is a bad present for the Future Trunks from the main series due to the Earth being overrun by monsters, two separate factions trying to Take Over the World and an ever present threat of invasion by remnants of Freeza's planet trade federation and King Kold's empire. On the other hand, the future isn't any better due to it being inhabited by the Time Breakers who want to make everything worse by making wrong what once went right.
  • Javik from Mass Effect 3 might consider himself in one, despite coming from a time when things were arguably just as bad, if not even worse. He wakes up in the present day to find that the galaxy is still threatened by the same enemy his people fought 50,000 years ago, only now he is quite literally The Last of His Kind, and surrounded by primitives.

    Visual Novels 
  • Fate/stay night: Gilgamesh came from an era where the humans of Uruk were part of a precursor race that had greater magic and technology compared to modern humans. After spending ten years in the modern era, he has come to see the present world as corrupt and weak, and wants to use the Holy Grail to create a disaster that would leave only the strongest humans left, with himself to guide them.

  • The world of 2005 from Sparky (and to some extent Lillian's) point of view in The Last Mechanical Monster. The local neighborhood is poor and run down, and there's no magic or incredible inventions anymore.
  • Played with in Nodwick, where a time traveler from the heavily Magitek past arrives in the current feudal world only to find out it was bringing his date-minder through the time portal that hosed his "future".

    Web Video 
  • Karolina Żebrowska: In "adventures of a dissatisfied Victorian time traveller", a lady from the Victorian era travels to 2020. She finds everything—from the architecture to the fact people seem to be in their underwear—disappointing.

    Western Animation 
  • The Adventures of Sam & Max: Freelance Police: A Howdy Doody Expy named Dangly Deever ends up being pulled out of his old TV show and into the present by Sam and Max and is depressed how abysmal the world has become.
    Dangly Deever: Has everyone forgotten about niceness and caring?
    Sam: I'm afraid they went out of fashion, right along poodle skirts and funding for the arts.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Avatar Aang's hibernation delivers him to a global dystopia: his people have been exterminated in a systematic genocide, the few remaining (friendly) governments are either powerless or isolationist, and incalculable death and suffering have been inflicted on the world during a century-long war. Plus, all his friends are dead bar one. Aside from some mild survivor's guilt, Aang takes everything in stride.
  • The Loud House: In "Time Trap!", the Loud kids go time-traveling, accidentally ruin their parents' wedding, and go back to the present to find a Royal Woods that is essentially this. Their parents are now Child Haters who don't have any kids (or pets), Chandler is now the leader of Lincoln's friend group, and Chunk now works at a dumpster. That being said, it's somewhat zigzagged: Flip now sells healthy foods and goes by his real name, Phillip, and Mr. Grouse now looks younger and healthier.
  • Lampshaded on one of the many "future" episodes of The Simpsons where Homer is bemoaning what a terrible future they live in before Marge reminds him it is the present.