Jack: There is no future for you, Aku!
Aku: I disagree... (screeches fives circles and forms white holes above and below Jack)
Jack: What trickery is this? Aku!! (poof)
Aku: Do not worry, samurai. You will see me again. But next time, you will not be so fortunate.
So you want to visit the future? See how things turn out in 20 years? Maybe hang out with your future self? Will you be rich and successful? Will you be happily married with a large family? Or maybe you'll have to Help Your Self In The Future? Of course, there are the warnings about causing a paradox. But you're cool with that. So here you are in the future. Where's the future you?
Apparently "future you" disappeared about 20 years ago. And man, is everyone surprised to see you now!
That's right, Our Time Travel Is Different. Going forward causes time travelers to be absent from the timeline, at the moment they leave the present until the moment they arrive in the future. Which kind of makes sense; why should a second version of you spontaneously materialize and live your life in the present? (On the other hand, if you were planning to return to the present, wouldn't your return form part of the 20 years of history you skipped over?)
Everyone assumed you were dead. Any life you had is gone. If you had a savings account, it's gone (and the fact that "The Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated" doesn't matter). Your true love probably had to marry someone else years ago. Also expect your closest friends, family, and/or party members to be slightly more depressed or cynical than they were before you mysteriously vanished. Because, well, you did technically abandon anyone who ever depended on you (which is exactly how they'll interpret it once they learn you've been alive all this time).
If you were some kind of superhero or other positive force, don't be surprised if your absence led to a Bad Future. There's a good chance your Arch-Enemy has managed to Take Over the World by now. In fact, it's not unheard of for villains to do this on purpose to achieve this result — if, for some reason, you can't kill The Hero, there's nothing stopping you from sending him several years into the future where, with no one to get in your way, you succeeded in all your evil plans, and, by the time you know he'll return, it's too late or you're simply too powerful and your reign too secure for anyone to stop you.
Of course, there's nothing to stop you from visiting yourself in the past. Just be sure to not bring your past self along in the time machine if you don't want to be Ret-Gone, since the "past you" needs to live in the past so that the "present you" can exist.
A sensible time traveler will make it top priority to return to his or her present, thereby undoing this fiasco (and erasing the event from everyone else's minds). That is, of course, unless the time travel is one-way or if the traveler is incapable of returning to the origin time. If a story is narrated by First-Person Peripheral Narrator who stays in the present, and the time traveler never returns (Nay, if First-Person Peripheral Narrator even realizes the time traveler left at all!), then something bad likely happened.
Note that this trope only applies to the kinds of time travel where the traveller pops out of existence in the present and then back into existence in the future. Other forms of "time travel", such as cryonics, Rip Van Winkle, and time dilation, where the "traveller" is still physically present for every second of the 20 years, don't count.
Can be For Want of a Nail, if the absent time traveler is the nail.
- The main cast of Fairy Tail ends up seven years into their future to the stasis effect of a mass-protection spell they cast on themselves. In that time, their guild has gone from one of the region's most powerful to its weakest.
- The Death Junior tie-in manga had this happen to Pandora as part of the time machine's anti-tampering mechanism. While she was away, her friends had drifted apart and a snake goddess had seduced DJ.
- Happened more than once to Magik in the New Mutants comics—depending on who she brought with on a time jump, the future would be different flavors of bad due to the disappearances.
- In Spider-Man, Peter is presented this by a coworker a break room that's twenty four hours in the future. Although it looks intact from the outside, whenever Peter steps through it becomes the ruins of New York. Unknown to his coworker this is because Peter is Spider-Man and he's technically missing for twenty four hours everytime he enters. This leaves the city vulnerable to a terrorist attack by Flag Smasher.
- There's a Donald Duck comic out there based around this. Donald travels 20 years into the future with Gyro Gearloose's time machine. In the future, everyone assumes that Donald left after Daisy married Gladstone Gander. To his satisfaction, he does discover that his old furniture has become valuable antique. However, after traveling back to the present, he discovers that was just all virtual reality.
- One story features a future where Scrooge McDuck and his Number One Dime disappeared after Magica DeSpell's last attempt to steal it. That future is one where the dime has recently reappeared and is being displayed at a museum. A tour guide working there explains that, after Scrooge's disappearance, Donald Duck takes over McDuck Corporation and turns it into a non-profit organization. Right after the tour guide explains that Scrooge is believed to have left Earth to look for the dime in outer space, Scrooge shows up and explains that he figured out Magica sent the dime to the future so he used Gyro Gearloose's Time Machine to reclaim it. After Scrooge returns to his own time, history is altered as evidenced when the tour guide describes the previously mentioned attempted theft as just one of Magica's attempts to steal the Number One Dime instead of her last one.
- The French comic Raghnarok has the titular young dragon, tired of not growing up fast enough (he can't fly despite his mother's literal Fly Or Die training) asks a local witch to send him into the future. When he arrives, the forest is now a wasteland, his grandmother has gone senile and feral, his Barbarian Hero friend is an Action Survivor, his Fairy Companion is now an Obviously Evil witch casting Black Magic in the company of a colossal black dragon who flies around bellowing "RAGHNAROK!!!!". Raghnarok takes steps to talk down his Future Badass self... it's not him but his mother, who went insane with grief from spending a decade looking for her disappeared son, while the fairy delved ever deeper into Black Magic to help her. When Raghnarok returns, it turns out to have been Mental Time Travel: the witch had no intention of letting a dragon ravage the countryside where she lived, so she gave Raghnarok a look at what would happen if he'd gone ahead with his plans.
- The 2002 movie version of The Time Machine resulted in this, with the protagonist stuck in the future. However, this is the place where he finally finds peace, as he gets to rebuild civilization from the ground up, throwing out the old preconceptions. Back in the present, his best friend, who doesn't know where Alexander is, hopes that he never comes back (he was miserable in this time).
- The Time Machine does this. The protagonist whisks away into the future never to be heard from again. This is probably the Ur-Example.
- In Leo Frankowski's Conrad Stargard novels, something like this happening is a very bad sign indeed, because the easy availability and utility of time travel means that no one is ever late for anything, because they can always go back in time in order to arrive when they are supposed to be. When a time traveller "disappears", it means something disastrous has happened to them.
- Doctor Who: Amy Pond leaves with the Doctor on the night before her wedding. In the next episode, a voting booth in the year 3295 successfully identifies her from the UK's voter rolls, but gives her marital status as ... "Unknown".
- In an episode of The Flash (1990), the hero is accidentally warped into the future and finds his absence leads to a royally screwed up future, with the recurring bad-guy becoming a tyrant Mayor-for-life.
- In the Heroes episode "Don't Look Back", when Hiro breaks space-time to travel to a future New York, it is revealed that he has been a missing person in Japan.
- And yet, the rule was forgotten when Hiro went to the future again and saw his future self apparently betrayed by Ando.
- Legends of Tomorrow:
- In "Star City 2046", Rip's team encounters a Star City they left 30 years ago. Sure enough, the city's become a hellhole.
- In "Progeny", on a trip to 2147, Ray discovers that due to his disappearance in 2016, his brother Sidney eventually took over his company and inventions and this eventually resulted in the ATOM suit being used for law enforcement in Per Degaton's totalitarian regime.
- In "Compromised", JSA member Vixen left 1942 with the Legends aboard the Waverider. When she meets her JSA teammate Obsidian in 1987, for him it's been 45 years since he last saw her and he's resentful of the fact that she 'abandoned' the team. Additionally, Amaya being absent during the 1956 mission to Leipzig means that she didn't end up being scattered across time with the rest of the JSA (minus Obsidian), which would negatively affect her destiny, as well as the destiny of her granddaughter.
- Played with in Amaya's case in Season 3. Rip Hunter told her off-screen that the longer she stays in the present-day with Nate and avoids her destiny in 1940's Zambesi, the more likely it is that this trope will apply to her, wiping her granddaughter Vixen from existence.
- In the series finale of Misfits, Jess is transported 1 year in the future by an Abhorrent Admirer. In this future they are married and have a baby. When she goes to the community center, she finds Finn (now a probation worker), who says that she has been missing all this time.
- In the Stargate Atlantis episode "The Last Man", Col. Sheppard ends up stuck 48,000 years in the future during his search for a missing team member. A hologram of one of his teammates, Dr. McKay, briefs him on what went wrong since he went missing and explains what he needs to do to return to the past to set right what once went (will go?) wrong.
- In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Yesterday's Enterprise" a ship from the past did this, changing the present into a war with the Klingons. They sent it back and restored the timeline at the urging of Guinan, who could tell that things had changed. (Which kind of doesn't make sense when you realize the war timeline would be the original and the peaceful "original" timeline would be the altered timeline, but whatever.)
- In Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, this was the last cliffhanger ending before it got Screwed by the Network. John Connor traveled to the future, only to discover that this version of the future didn't even hear about him (since he wasn't there to become his legendary self).
- Super Dimensional Slug 1 of Kaiju Big Battel, a giant Nazi super weapon that escaped its creators and the allies seemingly by vanishing into thin air only to be found by astronauts in 2002, descending towards the Earth on a course to destroy Berlin and possibly the entire planet. (Dr. Cube saves the day!)
- Happened in BlazBlue to both Hakumen and Relius, but in different forms. Hakumen was sealed away for 90 years but due to confusing time, his former self, Jin, was still born and so on and wasn't apart of the story until Kokonoe took him out of the Void. Relius, on the other hand, fell into a Cauldron during the Dark War and reappeared decades later, but eventually just went back to his original, science-filled ways.
- This is what happened to Guehala Dennis at the end of ALLTYNEX Second and was presumed KIA. In reality he was flung forward 200 years. 38 years after that event he is now the head engineer for the Valkyness and responsible for developing the Phoenix MkII. He ends up killed during the opening act for RefleX.
- In Super Robot Wars Alpha Gaiden the heroes get thrown into the distant future, while in the present their absence causes The End of the World as We Know It, meaning the world they land in is After the End. After they return to their time and prevent that disaster, the Bad Future continues to exist as an alternate timeline.
- This is implied, but never directly shown, to be the result of Dr. Wily's time travel in MS Paint Masterpieces. First, the "Too Serious" story arc shows a Bad Future and ends with that timeline getting erased from time-space, presumably because Dr Wily removed himself from history when he traveled to the future. Then the "Greatest Killer" arc shows the near-utopian future that came about in Wily's absence. This timeline also gets erased, presumably because of Wily's return to the comic's present.
- In the Bad Future in Autumn Bay, Johnny specifically mentions that he hadn't seen Marie-Ange and Andrew since before the opening event of the comic (the "fallen star"), implying that they were gone all that time. That future seems to be obliterated when they travel back to the present.
- Samurai Jack: When Jack was forcibly sent centuries into the future by Aku, he is shocked to discover that Aku had conquered the whole world during Jack's long absence. Aku had clearly learned from his last defeat at the hands of Jack's father — sending the hero into the future worked much more successfully than fighting him head on.
- The Mega Man cartoon also had this happen when Mega Man thought he'd accidentally trapped Dr. Light 30 years in the future and went to find him. Naturally, without Mega Man around to stop him all the time, Dr. Wily eventually managed to conquer the world and imprisoned Mega Man's family.
- This trope is the inciting incident for the Darkwing Duck episode "Time and Punishment". Gosalyn accidentally travels into the future, in which her father has become a Knight Templar out of grief over her mysterious disappearance so many years ago. To correct the timeline, she must travel back and simply exist in the present.
- In the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) episode "Same as it Never Was", Donatello travels to a wrecked future. The other turtles are surprised to see him, having assumed he was long dead. (It could be that an Another Dimension Donatello actually was killed in the past, but this possibility is never explored.)
- In The Powerpuff Girls, the girls once accidentally traveled through time into a dystopian society. They learn that they have vanished several years ago which allowed Him to take over and destroy everything. They fix this problem by going back through time and reinserting themselves into the timeline.
- DuckTales (1987): "Duck To The Future". Scrooge is trying to see his own future, resulting instead in this and a Bad Future where Magica de Spell took over his company and the city, if not the world. Magica tricked him into doing this, knowing full well what would happen, which might make her the first villain to do this intentionally. Fortunately, Scrooge succeeds in returning to his own time and thus sets things right.
- In the Teen Titans episode "How Long Is Forever?", Starfire accidentally travels twenty years into the future while fighting a villain. Due to her absence, the Teen Titans have all but split up—Beast Boy's become a circus freak, Cyborg's batteries have run out, Raven's been put in an asylum, having gone insane from loneliness, and Robin's gone solo, becoming Nightwing.
- Omi from Xiaolin Showdown wants to go to the future to meet himself to borrow a time-traveling MacGuffin his future self holds, to accomplish this he decides to freeze himself and set an alarm to wake him up 80 years later. He doesn't find out the flaw in that plan until it's too late.
- In the Captain N: The Game Master part of an issue of the Super Mario Bros. comic, Kevin is knocked into a garbage chute. Samus takes a second-or-more-hand time gadget and tries to go forward just a little bit so she can catch him and take him back. But the device is defective and sends her 20 years forward, where due to the absence of Kevin and Samus, Garbageworld is the last place that Mother Brain hasn't taken over, and it's under attack as well, defended only by Kevin and Kid Icarus (Pit in the game, but Kid Icarus here). She eventually warps back in time and prevents the incident, so he can defend Videoland again.
- Happens in Lilo & Stitch: The Series when Lilo, tired of being just a kid, uses an experiment to jump forward ten years, becoming a teenager. Stitch stands next to her so that he can join her. She soon discovers that she had gone missing during those years, and later, when she uses the experiment to jump another ten years into the future and become a young adult, she discovers that during the time she and Stitch were absent, Dr. Hamsterveil managed to take over the world. Luckily, Jumba's future self manages to inform her of how to reverse the experiment's power and return to her own time and become a kid again.
- Generator Rex features the protagonist sent a mere six months into the future, which turns out to be more than enough time for everything to go to shit in a way like you wouldn't believe. With no means to go back in time, Rex's only option was to defeat the bad guys in the new present.
- Kylie in Extreme Ghostbusters visits a Bad Future in episode "Ghost Apocalyptic Future" discovering that humans were enslaved by ghosts.
- In the Futurama episode "The Late Philip J. Fry," this happens to Fry, Farnsworth and Bender when they get lost in a time machine that can only go forward. Because a party the three of them were thought to have attended ended with a disaster that killed all the guests, nobody wonders where they went.
- A version of this trope is part of the plot of the Gargoyles episode in which Goliath meets the British gargoyles, although it takes a while for him to understand what happened. The two remaining gargoyles in Britain are grieving for their comrade Griff (a griffon), who was lost during World War II... along with Goliath, whom they blame for Griff's disappearance. He, of course, was asleep as a statue during that time and has no idea why they hate him so much. Using the Phoenix Gate, he travels back to the past, where he becomes the one who encourages Griff to fight on the Allies' side in the war. In order to save them both from being killed, he uses the Gate to then pull Griff forward to the present day. Griff reunites with his old friends, who then forgive Goliath, and he attempts to explain to Elisa just what happened. In this case, it wasn't a matter of traveling to the future from the present, but traveling from the past to the present... Elisa admits she has trouble wrapping her head around it.