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Death's Hourglass

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"I told her I knew when I was going to die because my birth certificate had an expiration date on it."

It's one of mankind's oldest and most useless musings... "which will be the day I die, how much time do I still have?" In real life no one knows until it's too late. In fiction, some characters only need to check their clock.

The lifetime of a character has a physical manifestation, an object from which it's ticking, flowing or trickling ominously away. What discerns a Death's Hourglass from other "impending doom in 5, 4, 3" devices is that it is long-term and personal: It's a part of the character's life for more than a few action-filled hours, long enough to have an impact on the whole mood, usually by making it more tragic. Maybe everybody has one, maybe only one character has, but one Death's Hourglass only measures one person's time.

There are two distinct varieties of this:

Modern objects that can fill this function are clocks and watches. Classic, more poetically symbolic designs are a burning candle, a withering flower, and a running hourglass. The latter frequently appears as an attribute of the Grim Reaper, the personification of Death as a scythe-wielding skeleton. Such symbols are known as "Memento Mori," often used as artistic metaphors to symbolize how We All Die Someday.

May overlap with When the Clock Strikes Twelve if the hourglass or bell is also counting down to midnight. Compare with Doomsday Clock, which is the fatalistic version of this on a global scale and Clock of Power, where the superpower is more general.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Alice 19th: Frey's mentor Eric dies after literal bells ring twelve times.
  • Rosette's watch in Chrono Crusade shows how much of her soul she has left from her Deal with the Devil. The more Chrono uses her soul to power himself, the less the watch's face glows. (It looks almost like a glow-y pie chart.)
  • Death Note,
    • Everyone has a time at which they are destined to die. It's only visible to those with a Shinigami's eyes... and even in that case, such a person cannot see their own numbers. note  However, using a death note allows you to kill people before their time and indirectly extend lives.
    • Shinigami are encouraged to kill people before their time expires because that's how they extend their own lives. At the same time, however, they cannot kill someone for the purpose of saving another, as saving lives goes against being a Shinigami: doing so will kill the Shinigami, and whatever is left of their lifespan will be granted to whomever they were trying to save.
  • Fate/Zero:
    • The On the Next preview shows how much time is left before the Holy Grail appears. Since Irisviel is the conduit for the grail and the manifestation will obliterate her personality, this effectively acts as her Death's Hourglass.
    • Subverted in the end. It turns out this is the count to Kiritsugu finding Shirou, as revealed in episode 25. Therefore the countdown is actually to the point zero of Fate. "The story reaching to zero", indeed.
  • In Fist of the North Star, Rei was pierced in the Shinketsushuu power point by Raoh. When he was struck, Rei was given 72 hours to live. During his final days of life, Rei and his allies would fight Yuda. As the 3-day limit was about to take effect, Toki briefly counters it by giving Rei one more day by touching the Shinreidai power point.
  • At one point during the story of Gantz, the titular black sphere starts displaying a countdown clock that warns the heroes of an upcoming apocalyptic event called the Katastrophe. This is later revealed to be an invasion by a highly advanced race
  • In Hell Girl, all clients of Hell Correspondence are condemned to Hell from the moment they use it to send someone else there. Their remaining lifespan is represented by a candle with the client's name written on it and a death of old age is represented by the candle burning all the way down. If the client dies through other means or is sent to Hell by someone else, their candle goes out then and there. In both cases, Ai boats them off to Hell just as she did with the person that they used the Hell Correspondence to banish. Ai keeps all of her clients' candles in a Pocket Dimension inside a large vase in her hut, since it's probably the only place where she could keep so many.
  • The infected survivors in King of Thorn are all given thick bracelets with a small bar/screen on them before becoming Human Popsicles. The bar is normally white, but as the Medusa Virus inside them gets worse, it steadily turns black. Once the bar is totally black, the infectee doesn't have much longer before they petrify.
  • Mahoromatic: How many days before Mahoro completely shuts down is shown at the end of each episode. (Parodied in He Is My Master.)
  • Illegal contractors in PandoraHearts have a clock face on their chest, measuring how many times the can use their chain's power before they are pulled down into the abyss.
  • During the Final Battle of the Kyoto Arc in Rurouni Kenshin, Yumi keeps looking at her pocketwatch, and worrying about the time it will take Shishio to finish Kenshin off. This is because more than 15 minutes of strenuous activity will cause Shishio to overheat, seeing as he has lost the ability to control his own body temperature thanks to being doused with oil and set on fire. He does last a little bit longer than that, but not by much.

    Comic Strips 
  • One of Garfield's birthday nightmares is being visited by an hourglass telling him to wish for more sand.

    Films — Animated 
  • All Dogs Go to Heaven: Every dog has a clock representing their lives (in heaven): it's suggested these are countdown clocks, though it's never actually said. When Charlie returns to life, he is immortal as long as his clock keeps working, which is similar but not identical to the trope. There's also the fact that interfering with the natural progression of his life in such a manner gets him banned from returning to Heaven when he finally dies.
  • Hercules had the Fate sisters, and their threads of life, which they cut when a person's time to die comes. However, even they couldn't foresee Hercules sacrificing his own life to rescue Meg's soul would give him his godhood back, thereby making his thread impossible to cut.
  • In Shrek Forever After, the time remaining before Shrek's "ogre day" is up and he fades away is measured by a giant hourglass in Rumpelstiltskin's throne room.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Fritz Lang's 1921 silent film Der müde Tod (literally "Weary Death", but officially called Destiny in English), Death has a candle representing each person and when the candle burns out the person dies. Whether this is an example of the fatalistic variety is ambiguous; Death gives the main character - a woman who has lost her lover and asks Death to return him to her - a chance to save three lives whose candles are about to go out, but in every case the protagonist fails, suggesting that perhaps it's impossible to defeat Death or Fate. An interesting aspect of Fritz Lang's movie is that the length of the candle indicates life expectancy, not the the foreordained length of life; people may die before their candle is burned down entirely. In one of the earlier scenes a candle over a yard long suddenly goes out. As it does, a baby (i. e. the soul of the recently deceased baby) materializes in Death's hands.
  • Some DVD menus for the first Final Destination use this theme, showing a clock ticking by the hours with an eerie, deterministic theme in the background, visualizing the survivors' limited time until Death catches up with them.
  • The main selling point of In Time is a mixture of both types of this trope. Everyone is given a year to live after they reach 25, but you can add or subtract time from your clock. Also, it's used for currency, so your year can be up sooner than you think.
  • Looper: In 2044, when a mob hitman's contract runs out, his future self (from the year 2074) is sent back to him to be killed. The hitman doesn't find out about this until he retrieves his payment from the body - gold bars instead of the usual silver. He now knows that he has exactly 30 years left to live.
  • This is a major theme in Star Trek: Generations: Soran, the villain, who lost his family to the Borg, strongly believes that "time is the fire in which we burn", and seeks to escape from its confines by entering the Nexus, while Picard comes to the conclusion that time is instead a friend that guides us along through our lives.
  • In Waxworks, Ivan the Terrible likes to poison his victims and use an hourglass to count down the last moments of their lives. Shortly before he's executed, the poison-mixer writes Ivan's name on an hourglass. When this hourglass is found, it creates the impression that Ivan has been poisoned. Ivan tries to thwart it by flipping the hourglass over because that's how that works. But since he wasn't actually poisoned, this does seem to work, and he goes mad flipping the hourglass over and over again for the rest of his life.
  • The Wizard of Oz: The Wicked Witch does this with a literal hourglass to denote the time left until she plans to kill Dorothy.
  • The terrorist Renard, the main villain in The World Is Not Enough has a bullet lodged in his brain from a previous encounter with an MI6 operative, but survived the assasination attempt. The bullet is still moving and will eventually kill him, giving him a perpetual reminder that his death is imminent.

  • From the Children of the Lamp series by P.B. Kerr, in one of the books titled The Blue Djinn of Babylon, the titular Blue Djinn measures her remaining lifespan by means of an extremely large hour glass.
  • The Death of the Discworld has shelves and shelves of most different hourglasses.
    • The Discworld's "lifetimers" aren't just clocks. If a person's hourglass is broken, they immediately die or go catatonic, and Death doesn't normally control the flow of timers. He is merely supposed to help a timer's owner pass on when the sand runs out. Fiddling with timers is usually a bad idea, as several characters discover the hard way. The only being who can fiddle with these hourglasses without dire consequences is Azrael, the Death of Universes, who only appears in Reaper Man. Even Death has an hourglass, but it has no sand and cannot be damaged.
    • Rincewind's hourglass is a particularly interesting one. It has a very odd shape and the sand within sometimes flows slower or even in reverse. Even Death himself doesn't know when Rincewind's life is going to end. Death doesn't know when a lot of Discworld characters are going to die, but this effect is more pronounced in the case of Rincewind.
    • In Thud!, Vimes is having a near-Death experience, which means of course Death is having a near-Vimes experience. Fortunately, Death is quite casual about the meeting and lets Vimes continue uninterrupted.
    • As the Hogfather, Death was able to reverse the flow of sand in the Match Girl's hourglass.
      "The Hogfather gives presents. There's no greater present than a future."
    • He does something similar for a young girl in Reaper Man by sacrificing the sand in his own glass (not the one above; he's been given a new one as a "retirement present", making him human). It is explicitly stated that this is a mortal ability - many do it all the time, without even realizing. Death, under normal circumstances, cannot truly extend someone's life. Miss Flitworth does the same for Death near the end, giving him enough time to take down the new Death.
    • In Mort, he doesn't give Mort more time, he turns the hourglass over. He doubles his lifespan, at the cost that now Mort knows exactly how long he has to live, although Death specifically noted that he's not a fan of math and that Mort doesn't know how much longer he has to live. However, in Soul Music the text says "He'd turned over the hourglass. After that it was all a matter of maths. And the Duty."
    • Elsewhere in Discworld, the witch Miss Treason from the Tiffany Aching subseries cultivates a rumor that she only stays alive because she keeps a clunky iron clock wound up and ticking. Because witches can predict their exact times of death, she sets the clock to run out at the exact right moment, fueling the myth.
    • Reaper Man also mentions that Death has a superior, Azrael, the Death of Universes. He watches over a single clock, and on that clock, the really big hand only goes around once.
    • Witches and wizards in general get some advance warning of when they are going to die. Witches generally take the opportunity to tidy up and prepare things for their successor, wizards tend to throw a party.
    • And in someplace called Muntab:
    The calendar of the Theocracy of Muntab counts down, not up. No-one knows why, but it might not be a good idea to hang around and find out.
  • Thomas Mann's version of Doctor Faustus has the Devil (probably) taunt the damned character with this concept. In their conversation an earlier book Melancholia is credited as the trope codifier.
  • In the fairy tale "Godfather Death", Death shows his godson a cave full of candles which measure the lives of all mortals. The taller the candle, the longer the person lives, and when the candle has burnt down and goes out, they die. The godson then asks for his own candle, and to his terror Death shows him a tiny stump that is just about to go out.
  • In Kenneth B. Andersen's Great Devil War series Death, whose name is Mortimer, has a basement in his house filled with hourglasses, one for every human being, that is both a person's life and indicate how long someone has to live and when they die. In the upper half of the hourglasses, one can see the most important memories that has shaped a certain person, and in the lower half, how that person is going to die, however someone's destiny can be altered. The hourglasses exist in many different sizes, some as small as a thimbles, others the size of a wardrobe. In some of them, the sand is a regular golden color, in others it is red, blue, purple, or a colorful blend. The color of the sand can indicate whether someone is sick and also indicate a person's emotional condition. Yellow indicate sickness, while dark and light indicate the amount of evil and goodness in a person. All of the hourglasses glow with a faint sheen taking on the color of the sand. If an hourglass laid on its side, the corresponding person is able to travel between the world of the dead and the world of the living. If an hourglass is placed upside down, they will receive more lives to live in. In an hourglass belong to an immortal person, the sand run both up and down.
  • In Stephen King's Insomnia, when a person's aura turns black, it's time for the Reapers to come.
  • The short story The Last Leaf by O. Henry: a seriously-ill girl believes that her life will end as the ivy outside her window sheds its last leaf. She gets better, of course.
  • Dragons in Raymond Feist's Midkemia novels instinctively know the exact moment of their death for their entire lives.
  • Played with in Momo. Momo visits the house of Master Hora, whose task is to see that every human gets their allotted span of time — which may or may not be a euphemism for him being an avatar of Death — and finds it full of clocks, each different and each displaying a different time. She asks if each clock represents an individual human, and he says no, he just has a hobby of collecting clocks.
  • Robert Bloch's short story "That Hell-Bound Train" features a main character who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for a watch that can stop time. He figures there's no way he can lose because he can stop his life at any moment, and thus will never have to die. But he can't figure out when to stop the watch. During good moments of his life, he thinks things will get even better, so he doesn't stop it, while he of course does not want to stop it during bad moments. Finally his life ends without him having stopped the watch, and he is put on the train to Hell of the title. The train is full of doomed souls who are taking the opportunity of the train ride to have one last party. Our hero thinks about how he was scammed by the devil's bargain, and then he realizes that he still has the watch. So he stops it and ends up riding the Hell-Bound Train for all eternity, which is certainly a lot better than ending up in Hell.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5:
    • From the first season we know that Centauri have prophetic dreams about their own deaths, that they know where and when they are going to die. In Londo Molari's case his dream has him as an old man, twenty years from now (2258) with his hands at G'Kar's throat and vice-versa. He is very fatalistic about it. Said dream is a recurring sequence through the years. He indeed dies in 2278, although the subtext is slightly different than he'd originally expected, as he wanted G'Kar to kill him to end his life under the control of the Drakh and to give Sheridan time to escape.
    • John Sheridan, after dying in Z'ha'dum and gaining a limited amount of life-force from Lorien, knows exactly how long he is going to live, barring accidents or violence.
  • On Dead Like Me, the Grim Reapers had post-its showing a person's exact location and time of death. Also serves as an Or Else example, as they had to 'reap' the person's 'soul' before the stated time or else said soul became trapped in the corpse, and the soul has to experience whatever the corpse experiences between death and reaping.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "The End of Time": "He will knock four times." (Carmen the psychic lady), "I think your song is ending." (Ood Sigma). The prophecies from previous episodes marking the ticking of the Doctor's Doomsday Clock are finally fulfilled.
    • "A Christmas Carol" has a woman with a week left to live who was kept in suspended animation. The Doctor and a boy keep reviving her for one day every Christmas for years, resulting in her time slipping away, ultimately resulting in her having only one day left in the episode's present day. Oddly, apart from the numbers counting down how many days she has left, there's no evidence that she's suffering from any health problems whatsoever.
    • As for Eleven "Tick tock, goes the clock ...", the Doctor spends all of series 6 running from this. And, ultimately, manages to trick-out time to avoid it.
  • How I Met Your Mother: A countdown of numbers starting at 50 is hidden throughout the episode Bad News. When it gets to zero, Lily tells Marshall that his father has died.
  • Spoofed in The IT Crowd. Moss finds a similar website and calculates Roy's death. He tries not to see it, but accidentally does and reads that it's in the next few days. Hilarity ensues as Roy starts freaking out. Then when the specified time finally comes, Roy watches the clock, and as it reaches the exact second, he starts feeling extreme pain. Turns out it was actually his extremely vibrant cell phone; Richmond was just trying to call him to find out how the funeral was going, leading him to burst into laughter in the middle of a funeral. It is implied that the website simply wasn't as reliable as Moss thought.
  • Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger has the candle representing Burai's remaining lifespan. In Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, this instead becomes a magic candle that will take Tommy's powers away when it burns out.
  • An old Lost in Space episode featured an alien merchant who owned "time tapes" - big reel to reel tapes that measured out a person's time. When the tape ran out, bye bye.
  • In an episode of Medium, Allison finds a pair of sunglasses which allows her to see a digital number above people's heads. The number indicates how many days the person has left to live.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017): After Count Olaf locks the Baudelaire children in his tower, he sets an hourglass, telling them their doom will come when the sand runs out. However, the little hourglass is too small and cheap so the sand runs out almost immediately. He then resets it and apologizes, claiming he bought it online.
  • Although it's a clock instead of an hourglass, there is an episode of The Twilight Zone which revolves around the premise of a man who thinks his grandfather clock will expire when he dies and vice versa.
  • An episode of the Weird Science series has the boys ask Lisa to tell them how long it's going to take before a certain event occurs. In Gary's case, he wants to know when he'll lose his virginity. In Wyatt's, when he will die. Lisa conjures them watches with countdowns. Both are overjoyed. Gary will lose his virginity in a matter of days, while Wyatt has 80 years to live. In anticipation, Gary pulls out the yearbook and starts trying to hit on all the girls in his class. Wyatt starts doing reckless things, knowing he can't die. Then Lisa realizes she made a mistake and accidentally switched their watches. Gary won't lose his virginity until he's an old man, and Wyatt has only a day left to live. Fortunately, Wyatt manages to change his fate, giving Gary hope.

  • Nickelback's video for "Savin' Me" is a mixed example. The protagonist is saved from stepping in front of a bus and gets a weird form of Stat-O-Vision, seeing timers counting down over the heads of people around him. At one point, he sees an old woman being wheeled into an ambulance; when the number reaches 0, she dies. There is also a timer above a pregnant woman and her unborn child. At the end, he spots a woman whose timer is dwindling much faster that it should, dropping from the millions to the single digits in a matter of seconds. He saves her from a falling statue in a crate; he walks away, task completed, while she experiences the Stat-O-Vision, just like the second man when the first person saved him earlier in the video.
  • UNKLE's clip for "Burn My Shadow" has one that starts off as a Jump to Action type, but becomes Fatalistic when he realises he can't get it off.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • The Grim Reaper is sometimes depicted with an hourglass, representing the inevitability of one's time running out.
  • Older Than Feudalism:
    • From Greek myth, there are the Moirai, the Fate sisters, who measure out people's lifespans on their threads.
    • The same is also the case with the three Norns - Urd, Verdandi and Skuld - from Germanic mythology.
  • There's a Greek myth about Meleager, who was prophesied to live only until a log in the fire had burned down. His mother promptly snatched it out and extinguished it, and he kept on living until years later... when he murdered his two uncles in a fight, and his mother threw that log back in the fire. (Nobody does dysfunctional families like Greek mythology.)
  • The Fates as a whole are depicted as an hourglass; Clotho spins the threads of everyone's fate, Lachesis measures the length of each one, and Atropos cuts them at the measured length.

    Video Games 
  • At the end of each chapter in Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice, there's a brief moment where Mao announces how long it'll be before Almaz completes his transformation into a demon.
  • Guitar Hero has the Grim Ripper wearing an hourglass pendant while rocking out on his steel-stringed scythe.
  • The Sims 2 had the Grim Reaper, who has an hourglass only if your sim died of old age. If a sim dies of old age with a low aspiration meter they try to pull the hourglass out of Death's hands to get more time, only to fail and the Reaper orders an elderly sim to go to the afterlife. If they die of old age with a high aspiration meter they go peacefully, with dancing hula girls accompanying.
  • An unusual example comes up in Star Control II. One of the Melnorme you encounter possesses a device called MetaChron, which predicts its own destruction. It extends to its owner, though, considering that he keeps it in his spaceship (to be more precise, under his pillow). While having no relation to the plot by itself, the conversation about it hints that you are on a Timed Mission.
  • Wonder Boy in Monster Land has an hourglass timer that subtracts a heart from your Life Meter each time it runs down.

  • Death in Death and the Maiden has one so he can travel in time. It becomes the MacGuffin in the sequel when it gets stolen, prompting Death to get a replacement: a wrist watch.
  • The trope itself does not appear in Girl Genius but it is referenced by a large statue depicting Death holding a scythe and hourglass graces the Paris black market.
  • Grim Tales from Down Below,
    • The hourglasses mentioned in The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy reappear, with Mandy's playing a pivotal role in the backstory. All the strange happenings in the show occurred because Mandy's hourglass had emptied, and therefore was supposed to have been reaped long ago, but Grim couldn't bring himself to do it. This rendered her effectively immortal, since the only thing that could kill her now was Grim himself. All that became moot when Mandy grew up and married Grim.
    • Billy's hourglass... is just strange. He does eventually die, gets into Heaven on a technicality, gets kicked out of Heaven for his stupidity, managed to scare everyone in Heck with his stupidity, and tends to either stay in Purgatory or escape for some fun.
  • The villain Condor in Hero Killer has the ability to draw his opponents into a pocket dimension with one of these. And once it has run out, one of his opponents will die, no matter how powerful they are. After Ihwa kills him, she gains this ability as well.
  • In Jack, while he frequently asserts to have no say in the matter, everyone has a set appointment with Jack. However, if something (always supernatural) stops one from dying at the appointed time their biological clock stops and they just "persist".
  • The Perry Bible Fellowship has the Grim Reaper respond to a birthday declaration by sliding a bead on a series representing the person's age over to the other side.
  • The Grim Reaper in Sinfest has an augmented vision that displays an hourglass near people in his field of view to show the time they have left to live. Unlike most examples, the Reaper has to deliver the last blow himself when someone's time has come.

    Western Animation 
  • In Futurama, the professor builds a death clock, then he forgot he invented it, and invented it a second time. The death clock says how long it will be before the person who sticks their finger in it will die. It's fairly accurate but can be off by a few seconds "due to free will and all that nonsense".
  • The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy has a room of life hourglasses. And if you flip it upside down, it de-ages you to child, then fetus, then nothing. If it's broken, the person immediately disappears. Even the Grim Reaper himself has one, albeit much, much larger and filled with black sand, but we get to see him as a kid in some episodes so it makes more sense than one would think. Grim also seems to possess secondary control over the hourglasses as well, adding more "sand" to Jeff the Spider's hourglass which he apparently summoned to his hand.

    Real Life 
  • In a biological sense, the telomeres at the end of your chromosomes, which grow shorter as you age and they are at their shortest when one dies of old age or close to it.
  • Capital punishment. Unless you receive a pardon or stay, have your sentence commuted, or escape from prison, you will be executed at the day and time set for you by the criminal justice system.
  • Jolly Rogers sometimes featured an hourglass, a common symbol for death in 17th-18th century Europe.
  • Based on their well-documented tendency to wander off for it, house cats seem to be able to sense when their final days are approaching.

Jump to Action:

    Anime and Manga 
  • D.Gray-Man:
    • Yu Kanda possesses a similar glassed flower. Nothing is known about it, not how he acquired it, if it's reversible, what happens when all the petals have fallen nor who's time it even counts. It's almost Fanon though, that it counts down Kanda's lifetime and belongs to a curse.
    • Later chapters show that Kanda has had hallucinations of lotus flowers for many years, and that they have been a red herring all along. The thing that actually shows his lifespan appears to be a tattoo.
  • Ranma ½
    • One story has Shampoo slowly being turned into a cat while a bell slowly tolls. She must get Ranma to kiss her before it finishes or she'll be stuck as a cat forever.
    • In another story, Akane's body is reduced to a living, but motionless doll by the power of the Kinjakan. If they can't restore her with pure Jusenkyo water before her eyes close completely, she dies. They do, but Ranma was just barely able to get the water up to her through equal amounts of skill and miracles.
  • Saint Seiya,
    • There is a clock tower in Athena's Sanctuary that measures time with bright blue flames blazing over the symbols of the Twelve Zodiac Houses. It is ignited twice. The first time is when the Bronze Saints invade the Sanctuary and must save Athena's life before all the flames wink out. The second time is when the Gold and Bronze Saints must prevent Hades' Specters from invading Athena's Sanctuary for twelve hours, which is the maximum time on Earth allotted to the newly-risen dead.
    • Also, Shaka keeps a Buddhist rosary with 108 beads. Each time a Specter is killed, a bead turns dark. He uses this to thoroughly freak out the Specters that arrive at the House of Virgo.
  • Umineko: When They Cry has a clock that appears in between scenes that serves both this purpose and allowing the audience to figure out the time orientation of different scenes (sometimes, the clock goes a tiny bit backwards).
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!: After losing to Yami Malik in the Battle City Finals, Mai is trapped in an hourglass by the former where she will die if her captor isn't defeated in a duel within the next 24 hours. (In the manga is was worse. The hourglass didn't have sand, but "brain-spiders" which were slowly consuming her mind bit by bit, the threatened end result not only her death, but her soul being devoured.)

  • In The 24th Pegasus's Numbers, Fluttershy starts seeing numbers ticking down over various ponies' heads after having her life saved in the nick of time by another pony. She quickly figures out that they indicate how much time they have left to live - and Rainbow Dash's number is very low, only a few hours away, meaning she will have to work fast to figure out what is going to kill her friend and stop it from happening.
  • In the Empath: The Luckiest Smurf story "Polaris' Smurfy New Life", it is revealed that Psyches go through what is called "degeneration" a year after they have been released from the collective consciousness of the Psyches, and the only cure for them is to return to the collective. Which means in Polaris Psyche's case is that either he has to return to Psychelia to live or remain in the Smurf Village and die. That is, until Empath presents Polaris with the alternative, the Long Life Elixir, which has the possibility of extending Polaris' life, though at the risk of turning him into a Smurf.

    Films — Animated 
  • In Aladdin, Jafar uses the "Sands of Time" to discover the one person (Aladdin) who can retrieve the lamp from the Cave of Wonders. Later, he imprisons Jasmine in the lower half of a giant hourglass, where she is in danger of suffocation due to the sand falling on her.
  • The flower in the glass with its dropping petals from Disney's Beauty and the Beast shows how long the Beast has before the curse becomes unbreakable, blooming until his 21st year.
  • Steven Universe: The Movie: The enormous injector Spinel uses resembles an hourglass, and Peridot eventually reveals that they've got less than 48 hours to disable it before the damage it does becomes irreversible and all life on Earth is destroyed.
  • The VeggieTales film The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything has a scene where the Big Bad starts an hourglass running, telling his nephew that if he doesn't tell him when the King's returning within two hours he'll go ahead and kill him and his sister.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In In Time, everyone has a personal death clock. However, time is used as currency, and thus can be extended. The poor race against the clock every day, while the world's richest people are effectively immortal.
  • Labyrinth had one in the form of the clock with 13 numbers. Sarah had 13 hours in order to get through the labyrinth, get to the castle, and get her baby brother or else he'd be turned into a goblin. (Jareth wasn't above cheating - he fast-forwarded it in one scene.) Understandably if she failed she'd probably be sent home to try to explain what happened to her brother...
  • Logan's Run had a "life clock" crystal embedded in the palm of each citizens in the dystopian domed city. The crystal blinks ominously when the wearer reaches the age at which (s)he will be terminated (21 in the book, 30 in the movie).
  • Minority Report has the PreCrime officers' watches, which count the time remaining until a murder predicted by the Precogs will occur if the officers do not act to stop it. Additionally, the ball system is a more abstract version: red balls (murder born of passion) mean the victim is going to be dead no later than 30 minutes, while brown balls (premeditated murder) can take as long as four days to come true.
  • The Wizard of Oz: "Do you see that? That's how much longer you've got to be alive! And it isn't long, my pretty — it isn't long!"
    Klytus: You have until the up.
  • The World Is Not Enough also has a jump to action version next to Renard's fatalistic one. To get revenge on M he assures her that he'll kill her the next day after she's been captured, and puts a clock in front of her cell so she can see the hours ticking by to make her experience what he feels like.

  • In Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality series, the Incarnation of Death carries an hourglass that shows how long he has to collect his next client's soul. (Make that a snazzy black watch; even an Anthropomorphic Personification has to keep up with the times.) Subverted in that Death can actually postpone a given death briefly if his schedule demands it, although Fate will intercede if he delays things too long.
  • In the Left Behind book Kingdom Come: While lacking the actual timepiece, citizens of the Millennial Kingdom know that "naturals" who stay unbelievers by the time they reach 100 will instantly die and go to Hell. This appears to based on a literal interpretation of Isaiah 65:20note , when a more accurate reading of that verse is that living to be 100 will be considered normal in God's kingdom instead of something extraordinary. The only way for "naturals" to avoid this fate is to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. The Other Light faction sees God Is Evil because of this and has prepared for that contingency by having their teachings passed down to the next generation of its converts so that the generation that gets to confront God and Jesus by the end of the Millennium will be "assured victory" when Satan is released. Unfortunately for them, it didn't go as they hoped.
  • Discworld: in Reaper Man Death is laid off by the Auditors of Reality and is given a small hourglass with a few weeks of life in the world. He demonstrates that people can "live on borrowed time" by sharing his hourglass with a little girl whose life was at risk, and later someone else repays the favor at just the right moment.
  • Suspicion: There is a clock in Inspector Bärlach’s room at the hospital, counting down the time he has left until Dr. Emmenberger plans to kill, uh "operate" on him. He is saved by Gulliver.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Burai, the Dragon Ranger from Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger, was killed and brought back with a limited lifespan; the spirit who revived him gave him a green candle to show how much time he had left. When the series was adapted into Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, the candle instead represented the time until Tommy's powers burned out. In both cases, the other heroes attempted to save their ally before time ran out. And in both cases, they failed; Burai indeed died, passing on his powers to his brother, while Tommy was forced to give his powers to Jason to prevent Rita from sapping them, though he fortunately managed to return a handful of episodes later.

    Music Videos 
  • The video for Nickelback's "Savin' Me" begins with a twitchy-looking man saving a well-dressed man from walking in front of a car. Soon, the well-dressed man sees what the twitchy man saw—numbers over everyone's heads, counting down (and, in one case, winking out.) The end of the video confirms that those whose lives have been saved get their numbers reset, though they can't see their own numbers.
  • UNKLE's video for "Burn My Shadow" has the main character inexplicably gain one of these on his chest. He does try to pull it out himself first, but gets shocked in the process, so he tries to get help, even calling the emergency number; problem is, how can you tell someone you have a death timer on your chest? Eventually, he's resigned to his fate, which is quite...explosive.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! there is the Spell Card Final Countdown, one way to achieve an Automatic Win Condition. When played, the player pays 2,000 Life Points, and in 20 turns, they win automatically - unless their opponent wins first. (Because Final Countdown is a Normal Spell that does not remain on the field, the effect cannot be reversed once played, but it can be countered or negated.)

    Video Games 
  • If you get killed in AdventureQuest, Death shows up and explains he's already filled his quota for the day. If you click the hourglass next to him, he'll send you on a quest to recover a bunch of them.
  • Devil Survivor gives you the Death Clock. It's a number that appears above a person's head and shows how many more days they are destined to live. Thwart a significant event involving some demons, and the number on the death clock goes up, or at least changes. It only actually shows single-digit numbers; anyone with longer than 10 days has no number at all. And much to the main characters' concern, nobody in the lockdown has longer than 6 days left...
  • Devil Survivor 2 has the Nicaea site and its death videos, which is an inversion of the prequel's Death Clock — it shows the manner of death and their location, but when it happens is not revealed, leaving the most accurate estimate to be "any time today". The subject of the death video also doesn't get to see their own death, leaving the player and their companions to try and avert it themselves.
  • Final Fantasy games often include enemies that cast a Death Countdown spell which will instantly kill a cursed character if the battle is not over before the counter reaches zero. Failing any other option, this can often be delayed if the character is re-cursed, so the countdown is reset.
    • Also appears in the story of Final Fantasy XIII, where the cursed l'Cie are branded with a mark that not only identifies them as having been chosen by the fal'Cie, but also indicates how long they have to fulfill their Focus before transforming into horrifying Cie'th monsters.
    • Similar to the Kingdom Hearts example below, Eidolons and bosses will cast Doom on the party leader either immediately, or if the battle drags on for a long time. Only difference; the Doom Counter cannot be stopped with magic - the only way to extend it is to change the battle settings.
  • Ghost Trick has this when you go back in time to prevent a person's death. Unique in that it only applies when Sissel goes back in time, and it only lasts four minutes, though you can increase the time left through actions that delay the death or eliminate it altogether (the ultimate goal) by preventing the death. In game it serves as a time limit to solve the puzzle.
  • Hitman: Contracts has a subtle one. In the manor level, if you look closely at any of the clocks they are counting down.
  • Kingdom Hearts
    • The Phantom, who casts 'doom' on each on your party members one at a time, which consists of a glowing number appearing over their head and Big Ben itself counting down. When it reaches 0 they are KO'd. Permanently. Fortunately you can use any stop spell to delay the countdown.
    • Marluxia also makes use of Doom. In the third Final Boss battle he can cast this, and you have to break all the cards he draws before it goes out or game over. He also casts Doom in Final Mix +, giving a number equal to your current level. Every time he hits you with his scythe, the number goes down. You have to beat him before it hits zero.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass has the titular hourglass, protecting Link from the temple's curse. But only as long as its sun-ray-charged sands keep falling. Once the hourglass runs out, Link's life force is drained, which usually results in a Game Over when you're stuck too deep in the temple. Also, in The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, there's the on-screen clock, aided by the fact that the Moon is coming down slowly and it's visible from almost everywhere in the game's world. The on-screen clock eventually changes into a countdown in the game's last six minutes.
  • Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors and its sequel are pretty much built on this trope. "Players" have to solve puzzles and escape before their 9 hour time limit is up. To make matters worse, there are also smaller time limits imposed in the various "games" that they must play and win in order to survive.
  • In Ori and the Will of the Wisps, after Ku is near-mortally wounded in an encounter with Shriek, the Voice of the Forest wisp summons a field of white flowers, similar to those that revived Ori in the first game, as a temporary life support measure while Ori fetches the other wisps to reform Seir, the light of the Spirit Willow. Over the course of the story's final act, the flowers slowly disappear, representing the time remaining before the Decay completely consumes Niwen, though the player is not timed against it. Just as the last of the flowers fade, Ori merges with Seir to become a new Spirit Tree seedling, restoring the light to Niwen and reviving Ku.
  • In Pokémon, this is the idea behind Perish Song. Once the move is used, all Pokémon present in the battle get a countdown that starts at 3 and goes down by 1 at the end of each turn, including the user. (It does not count down on the turn Perish Song is used.) Any Pokémon that lets its countdown reach 0 is KOed. Generation VIII introduced Cursola, who has the Ability called Perish Body, which causes a Perish Song effect to begin any time another Pokémon comes in contact with it. That being said, stopping it is pretty easy—switching one Pokémon for another stops it, as is the admittedly much tougher condition of winning the battle before the countdown ends. The ease of which it can be stopped, that the user is affected too, and that you're more likely to KO opposing Pokémon in fewer turns than that render the Perish effect Awesome, but Impractical, at least without a lot of support from other Pokémon on the team.
  • In the first two games of Prince of Persia, the player is constantly racing the clock to complete the game before time runs out. Since dying will simply put you back at the beginning of the level (but it won't restore the timer), these time limits are the only thing that can truly spell Game Over:
    • In the intro to Prince of Persia, Jaffar approaches the Princess, raises his arms, and suddenly an hourglass appears.
      "Marry Jaffar... or die within the hour."
    • Prince of Persia 2 has a tree whose falling leaves symbolize the time the same princess has left to live, which translates to 75 minutes in real time.
  • When characters (well, the ones called "Players") in The World Ends with You receive a mission, they get numerical timers superimposed on their hands. If one pair doesn't complete the mission in time, they all get erased. (You, on the other hand, can Take Your Time.) At the end of the game, you find out that the Conductor also has a timer on his hand, albeit a longer one, and it runs out before he can finish.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 1 has the Monado's ability to show its wielder the future, typically presenting Shulk with dire visions of himself or his friends dying. As a form of Gameplay and Story Integration, this is also a key feature in battle, where the Monado can show the player that an enemy is about to inflict catastrophic damage. From there, the player is given a few moments to change the future by redirecting the enemy's aggro, buffing an ally, debuffing the enemy, or killing the enemy and screwing destiny outright.


Mixed Examples:

    Tabletop Games 
  • The free horror movie RPG It Came From Somewhere Else! has this as one of its character stats: Life Expectancy. Each time a character is put in danger from the Monster and fails a Fight, Shoot, Survive, or SCIENCE! check, they must make a Life Expectancy check, or instantly die-and LE is permanently reduced by -1 each time it's tested! This ensures that the characters will die from the Monster, it's only a matter of when, encouraging them to fight back (players are encouraged to have a few expendable characters). However, each player has a goal that incentivizes dying under a specific set of circumstances, rewarding Cool Points. Cool Points pull double-duty as currency and how one "wins" the game.

    Web Original 
  • Life SMP: In the fourth season, Limited Life, every player has a timer on their screen showing how much life-time they have left, which is also Colour-Coded for Your Convenience — green for 16 hours and up, red for under 8 hours, and yellow for the time in-between; regulations on which players can legitimately kill whom depends on what colour grade(s) the parties are on. It is technically of the Fatalistic variety, since it's impossible to stop the timer, but most if not all players interpret it as a Jump to Action to regain life-time by any means possible so they can delay the inevitable enough to win the season. Fan interpretation on how the timer manifests in-universe may vary from physical clocks and watches, to an Explosive Leash that detonates when the player's life-time runs out, to many other forms.


Video Example(s):


Savin' Me

He has gained the ability to see a countdown over people's heads, which he realizes is a countdown to their death when he sees an old woman with eleven seconds left on her clock being wheeled into an ambulance.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / DeathsHourglass

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