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In the Past, Everyone Will Be Famous

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So you finally get your time machine working, and decide to visit some out of the way town in a quiet year. You hit the Big Red Button, step out of the machine, and trip over William Shakespeare. Cue the Historical In Jokes. And probably the discovery that Beethoven Was an Alien Spy.

It seems that time machines and real life famous people have a very strong attraction. Even when you manage to avoid everyone in the history books (both real and in-verse), you'll probably run into an ancestor. And if it's a grandparent, 9 times out of 10 you'll end up killing them. Or shagging them. Or they will look just like you.

This means that as soon as you step out of your time machine, a well known historical figure will show up shortly. This can either be someone who was famous in the real world, or, if the series takes place in The Future, someone who became famous in the Future History.

Shows up in historical fiction too. A good deal of historical fiction is about famous people, but even the stories that aren't tend to spend a lot of time running into celebrities.

Note that this only counts if you're not specifically aiming for the famous person. For example, Bill & Ted don't count because A: they were actually trying to find Genghis Khan and Sigmund "Frood", and B: they had the help of a magic phone directory to find them. Though, even then, other well-known personages from the same period may crop up unexpectedly (Napoléon Bonaparte ended up piggybacking with them by mistake, for instance).

If you meet a famous figure before they did anything to earn said fame, it's a case of Young Future Famous People. If you don't find out who they are until the end of the story, it's a Historical Person Punchline. See also Nothing but Hits for a similar effect with music. When the time traveler themselves takes the name of a famous person, it's I'm Mr. [Future Pop Culture Reference].


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Astro Boy, 1980 series: The plot of the crossover episode "The Time Machine" kicks off when the operator of the time machine travels back to the 15th century and the first person he encounters, entirely coincidentally, is the protagonist of Princess Knight. (The episode also guest stars the protagonist of Black Jack, but in his case the time traveler seeks him out on purpose.)
  • Cesare - Il Creatore che ha distrutto features 16-year-old student Cesare Borgia and his school rival Giovanni de'Medici (the future Pope Leo X), who he's attempting to win over for a political alliance. It's a historical fact that they were in school together, but did Giovanni's father Lorenzo the Magnificent introduce Cesare to Leonardo from the town of Vinci that same year? Did Cesare and his friends meet a monk named Niccolo who was actually not a monk but a spy, or run into Angelo's childhood friend Michelangelo, who's studying sculpture, just in time to ask him to fix the intimate bits of a statue they broke? Did Christopher Columbus deliver some packages to Cesare (and comment on how much the young lord has grown up, remembering when he was just a little kid) before sailing west in search of Zipang? Maybe not, but you never know!
  • The Dagger of Kamui takes place at the end of the 19th century, and has Jiro happening to meet Mark Twain (who calls himself by his pen name) for no reason.
  • In The Rose of Versailles, Oscar, besides working with Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, randomly bumps into Maximilien Robespierre and Louis Saint-Juste on many occasions. The manga is even more egregious, and name-drops Napoleon for zero reason, and only a few pages, in a later chapter.
  • Subverted in Inuyasha: Kagome and company run into a traveling man named Nobunaga, and Kagome immediately busts out her autograph book, thinking she'd found the young Oda Nobunaga, the famous warlord. Turns out it's just someone with the same given name (don't forget, these are Japanese names — Oda is the clan name, not Nobunaga), who doesn't think fondly of the person who will end up making the name (in)famous, which is another accurate nod to history: Nobunaga was not very highly regarded in his youth, and was sometimes referred to as "The Fool of Owari".

    Comic Books 
  • In The Once and Future Duck by Don Rosa, Donald Duck and Gyro Gearloose are testing a rather temperamental time machine at Stonehenge, because they know that even if the traveller ends up millennia in the past, there will be no buildings or the like inside the ancient structure. They all end up in the past, and immediately run into the brutish real-life King Arthur and his men. Ultimately it's their visit that inspires the legends of the Knights of the Round Table.
  • Again by Don Rosa, Scrooge McDuck's life brings him to meet many real life famous people, such as Theodore Roosevelt, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Jesse and Frank James, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Roy Bean, Geronimo, and many others.
  • In The Kents, a 12-issue miniseries detailing the lives of Clark Kent's adoptive ancestors, this comes up a lot; In the first page of #1 alone, we get Harriet Tubman! Over the course of the story, we then get Franklin Pierce, Wild Bill Hickok, Charles Quantrill, John Wilkes Booth, Jesse James (and his brother Frank), a young John Wesley Hardin, Susan B. Antony's brother, General Custer... this is more or less justified, given that the family does get involved with both pro-abolitionists and gunslingers.
  • X-Men: True Friends, a miniseries in 1999, had Kitty Pryde and Rachel Summers thrown back in time to 1936, where Kitty befriends a little girl named Lilibet, who turns out to be the future Queen Elizabeth.
  • When the Runaways are sent back in time to 1907, Chase and Xavin try and make an arrangement with the local crime bosses to get the parts needed to return home. Said crime bosses turn out to be Dale and Stacey Yorkes, Gert's time-traveling supervillain parents. This is about as awkward as one might expect. On the other hand, the team doesn't encounter any historical figures, aside from passing by a woman who may or may not have been early feminist Emma Goldman.
  • Suske en Wiske: This happens to Suske, Wiske, Lambik, Sidonia and Jerom all the time whenever they time travel.
  • Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber: When Bert Bibber is sent back in time in 1302 he accidentally meets Jan Breydel, the iconic resistance fighter of Flemish history.
  • Lucky Luke: Lucky Luke has met virtually every legendary figure of the Wild West in his adventures.
  • Asterix: Asterix and his friends have managed to meet Julius Caesar, Cleopatra VII and Brutus over the course of this series. One time all three together!
  • Fantastic Four: During their very first encounter with Doctor Doom, Doom sent the FF into the past to retrieve the treasure of the legendary pirate Blackbeard. Ben Grimm wore a bulky jacket and false beard to cover his rocky exterior, and the crew of the pirate ship that carried the treasure Doom sent them to acquire started calling him Blackbeard. Reed Richards realized that, by disguising Ben as a pirate, they ended up creating the legend of Blackbeard.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: There was a Golden Age time travel story in which almost everyone Wonder Woman, Steve Trevor, and the Holliday Girls interacted with was either another time traveler or Julius Caesar.
  • Addressed in a roundabout way in Tharg's Future Shocks. In one story, the people of the 23rd century are so desperate to find an identity that they pay the company "Amalgamated Ancestors" to search their genetic history for a famous person, who they then emulate as much as they can. AA is so sure of their success rate that they promise a billion megabucks to anyone they can't match; their reasoning is that every person has so many ancestors, at least one of them's got to be famous for something.

    Comic Strips 
  • Nero: In De Rode Keizer Nero, Petoetje, Petatje and Madam Pheip travel to Ancient Rome and wouldn't you know it: they actually meet Emperor Nero.

    Fan Works 
  • In Jesus and Hitler: A Romance (NSFW) Hitler literally runs in to Jesus the second he steps out of his time machine.
  • In the Victorious time-travel AU "Across the Years", Jade meets the actor Charles Green when she arrives in America in 1869, some years before the man will achieve greater fame.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Time Bandits, the titular bandits manage (through completely random time-jumping) to run into Napoléon Bonaparte, Agamemnon, and Robin Hood.
    • Although sort of justified in that they all wanted to go to places to get lots of treasure, and kings and conquerors fit the bill. Still doesn't explain how they kept ending up in the general vicinity though.
  • Back to the Future:
    • Marty managed to avoid anyone more famous than the cousin of Chuck Berry (although the novelization of Back to the Future Part III claims the kid who asks him what a movie is was D.W. Griffith), but he bumped into relatives without trying in both the first and third movies (and let's not even get into the animated series). Everything did take place in the same town in California, though.
    • He also ran into a black busboy at a diner in 1955 who responds to his boss telling him to get back to work by stating that he's going to be someone. Marty, recognizing him, states that he's going to be mayor having seen the man's campaign posters in his time. The busboy thinks it's merely a motivational suggestion, while his boss laughs off the idea of a black man being mayor.
    • He also helped save Clara Clayton from falling into the ravine and having it named after her. Additionally, "Mad Dog" Tannen was pretty well known for his gunslinging. Although we only hear about Tannen's modern day fame in the alternate timeline Biff created, where it's pretty clear his history was embellished or outright fabricated simply because he was Biff's ancestor.
  • In Shanghai Knights, the main characters create the personas of Sherlock Holmes and Watson, freely give the idea to Arthur Conan Doyle, and take on a young Charlie Chaplin as a sidekick.
    • And the Action Girl kicks Jack the Ripper off a bridge.
    • Also, Shanghai Noon reveals that Roy O'Bannon's true name is "Wyatt Earp" at the end of the first movie. The main character, Chon Wang(pronounced 'win'), remarks that Wyatt Earp is "a bad name for a lawman". Chon's nickname, given by Roy, is John while he pronounces Chon's last name as "Wayne". At the end of Shanghai Knights, Chon and Roy set off back to America, taking the young Charlie Chaplin with them, while Roy proposes that he and Chon go to Hollywood, where "they're setting up a new motion picture project". In reply, Chon thoughtfully says "John Wayne: Movie Star"...
    • Rule of Funny was in full effect, as Doyle is inaccurately portrayed as a policeman (in real life, he was a doctor), and the movie takes place two years before Chaplin was even born.
  • The Man from Earth has the titular 14,000-year-old character (John Oldman, har har) recall close meetings with Christopher Columbus, Vincent van Gogh, Buddha, in addition to being Jesus, though probably not in Purgatory.
    • Not quite a time travel example, though, he'd been around the whole time. Encountering a few famous people over the course of 140 centuries is not especially unlikely.
  • Western film American Outlaws does an especially hamfisted job of this. The central characters are Frank and Jesse James, and the film repeatedly has them name famous Civil War era characters, groups, and incidents as the director's way of demonstrating that they really are in the Old West.
  • In Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, Jean Cocteau pulls the time-travelling protagonist into a car and takes him to a party where Cole Porter is sitting at the piano. The first people he meets are Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, who introduce him to Ernest Hemingway, who takes him to Gertrude Stein's place where she's arguing with Pablo Picasso... Later he also meets Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel.
    • Given, those people were all in Paris at the same time, and interacting pretty closely, which is one of the main reasons that the protagonist is so in love with that period of time. However, the speed with which he runs into them all is rather hard to believe . . . unless it's all in his head.
    • Later in the film he and Adriana travel back to 1890's Moulin Rouge and meet Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin, and Edgar Degas within minutes. Spotting Toulouse-Lautrec in the Moulin Rouge is believable. Two other famous painters of the era somewhat less so. . .unless it's all in Adriana's head.
  • Men in Black 3 featured a time travel plot with an appearance by Bill Hader as Andy Warhol, the very man who predicted that in the future, everyone would be famous. A trope twofer example, since he's also portrayed as an undercover MiB agent.
  • Ben-Hur: Ben-Hur meets Jesus Christ twice! First when Jesus offers him water when he is Crossing the Desert as a slave and second when he sees Jesus being crucified.
  • Forrest Gump has the title character meeting Elvis Presley, George Wallace, JFK, LBJ, Richard Nixon and John Lennon on the Dick Cavett, not to mention inadvertently creating the Smiley Face t-shirt and busting the Watergate burglars.
  • The 1923 silent film Little Old New York manages to cram in every historical figure associated with New York in the early 1800s. Some, such as Robert Fulton and John Jacob Astor, are full-fledged supporting characters. Others, such as Washington Irving and Lorenzo Delmonico, only have cameos. Not all of the figures portrayed were in New York at the same time, and some weren't even alive at the same time.

  • Creation (1981) is essentially a guided tour through the Ancient World of 4th Century B.C. , where the hero Cyrus Spitama grows up in Persia alongside Xerxes and Artemisia in the court of Darius and Atossa. He himself witnesses Zoroaster's death and is his grandson and heir. He later visits India and meets Vardhaman Mahavira, Gautama Buddha, King Bimbisara and King Ajatashatru. Then he visits China and meets Confucius. In Greece, he meets Pericles, Herodotus, Aspasia, Creator/Socrates and others and also Themistocles and Thucydides for good measure. Seen It All doesn't begin to define him.
  • Inferno (Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle): As they travel through Hell, Allen and Benito come across a steady stream of interesting individuals in a manner much like Dante and Vergil's. Most examples of the different layers are either someone famous, such as Billy the Kid in the circle of the violent, Tammany Hall among the corrupt politicians, Jesse James among the thieves and Henry VIII among the schismatics, or someone known to Carpent(i)er, such as a couple with extreme opposite environmental beliefs. The characters discuss this when crossing the 8th Ring, noting that Dante met an "improbable number" of Italians peppered with Greek and Roman heroes, while in their own trip they mostly met Americans; Benito also recalls encountering a lot of Germans while escorting a German woman. They chalk it up to people preferentially noting their fellows over strangers.
  • An example of how old the historical fiction version of this trope is, is that the Victorian novelist Thackeray complained about how contemporaries like Sir Walter Scott wrote novels where the main characters bumped into famous figures left and right.
  • An interesting subversion in the time-travelling series 1632. A small Virginia mining town from the year 2000 travels back to 1632 Europe. They do encounter a handful of famous people, but most of the significant events are done in-universe by the "little people", in a deliberate Take That! by Eric Flint against the "Great Man" theory of history. Said people become famous as a result, but definitely weren't beforehand.
    • Also very well justified in this plot. When there's an entire town of technology from almost 400 years in the future, the people in it are naturally curious about famous people in their history, and the famous people of the past will want to go to see it. Cardinal Richelieu is a major political figure, the high school English teacher is interested in Shakespeare...
      • Speaking of Shakespeare, there is a fantastic inversion: Shakespeare was a playwright, but one who only wrote light comedies. In-universe, it is apparently one of the English-speaking world's worst kept secrets that the big, dramatic tragedies we in OTL attribute to Shakespeare were published and performed by Shakespeare and his troupe, but written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. Doctor Abrabanel, who is a theatre enthusiast and at one point lent de Vere money which he never got back, finds the whole thing equal parts hilarious and satisfying.
      • A particularly hilarious example is Grantville's Catholic church, which is named for Saint Vincent de Paul, who at this point in history is very much alive and in the process of travelling around France doing the work which in OTL would get him canonised. In the end, the priest in Grantville is ordered to rename the church, before Father Vincent catches wind of it and "becomes completely insufferable".
  • A novel which could be considered a subversion is Connie Willis' To Say Nothing of the Dog. The time traveling main characters encounter only ordinary upper middle class Victorians, and the overall message seems to be that the "little people" affect history as much as more famous figures.
    • The main character does happen to spot the author of one of his favorite books out boating on the Thames, but it's just a cameo. And while the time travelers do meet the ancestor of someone they know in the future, it's because they were specifically aiming for her.
  • The Sherlock Holmes pastiche The West End Horror mainly seems to be an experiment by Nicholas Meyer to see how many famous historical figures he can cram into one novel. In the course of the story, Holmes runs into Oscar Wilde, Gilbert and Sullivan, Bram Stoker, and numerous others.
    • Justified by the fact he is investigating a crime in the West End, where all these people worked and played.
  • Averted in the short story Child of All Ages, where a child claims to be hundreds of years old. When someone wishes to test their claim, they ask the child about famous events and people. The child replies that they can give the answer, but only because they can read history books, too. Seems she was too busy just surviving and that not many famous people invite random peasant children to stay with them with the foreknowledge that something important is about to happen.
  • In E. L. Doctorow's Ragtime famous people aren't just bumped into, they're full-blown characters who also keep bumping into each other. These "famous people" range from still-famous magician Harry Houdini to all-but-forgotten tabloid darling Evelyn Nesbit. It gets slightly more confusing when only one fictional character, Coalhouse Walker Jr., has a full name (the other fictional characters are referred to as "Mother", "Tateh", etc), which leads most readers to believe that he is just another forgotten celebrity.
  • M.J. Trow's Lestrade novels are full of historic characters. Given the premise (a Deconstruction of Sherlock Holmes using a Direct Line to the Author but telling the "true story" behind Watson's accounts) Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is justified. Having Lestrade point at a baby and tell Watson he'd make a better Holmes than William Gillette, before revealing this is the infant Basil Rathbone, somewhat less so. Then there's Oscar Wilde, Gilbert and Sullivan, Jack the Ripper, Florence Nightingale...
  • George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman books are a non-time travel example, in which Magnificent Bastard Harry Flashman travels around the Victorian world, accidentally getting dragged into major historical events (and one or two contemporary fictional ones). There are too many historical cameos to list here, but some of the more notable ones include The Duke of Wellington, Lily Langtry, Oscar Wilde, Queen Victoria, Otto von Bismarck, Abraham Lincoln, Sam Grant, Sherlock Holmes, John Brown and Benjamin Disraeli.
  • Orson Scott Card's The Tales of Alvin Maker is set in an alternate history of America in a world where supernatural powers are real and affect history, and does this a couple of times, perhaps most notably with Napoléon Bonaparte, who keeps turning up. The two historical figures who appear as main characters are William Blake (as an itinerant story collector called Taleswapper) and Tecumseh, as something of a tragic hero, though he isn't the main character. Taleswapper also knew Ben Franklin, and Washington and other familiar names have come up, though in unfamiliar places. Justified in that Napoleon doesn't turn up until he has a good reason to, Taleswapper's position as Blake is blink-and-you'll-miss-it, and Tecumseh isn't on the usual lists of 'famous people.' Also in that it carries the idea that certain people are destined to make an imprint on history, so even if the circumstances change it'll happen anyway.
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's To Sail Beyond the Sunset, alternate universe novel, it is remarked that one of the characters knows a Harry Truman, who couldn't be related to another universe's politician because he was a haberdasher (the real Truman was indeed a haberdasher before entering politics). In the alternate universe, Truman never entered politics.
  • Like the Turtledove examples above, it's alternate history rather than time travel, but in Robert Harris' Fatherland, the Beatles (with five members!) apparently still become a musical force in the early-to-mid sixties, even with Britain conquered by Nazi Germany and Hitler still in charge.
    • That's actually somewhat less implausible than most of the examples given: all of the four Beatles in our timeline (and presumably the fifth one in this timeline) would have been alive during World War 2, albeit as infants or toddlers. Their musical talent would remain intact, and since the Beatles had no formal musical training in our timeline the matter of education doesn't even come into play. The kind of music the alternate Beatles are playing, and the circumstances under which they can perform, on the other hand, would be completely different.
  • In Edward Eager's The Time Garden, the children occasionally do this. Though they do wish for some of the things, a lot of meetings are still entirely accidental. For example, at one point they wish to see "the Queen of England" (Elizabeth) and wind up meeting Victoria (who is not amused).
  • The very first person Artemis Fowl runs into in turn-of-the-century Spain in The Lost Colony is the renowned architect Antoni Gaudí. Needless to say, he feels immediately compelled to give him unsolicited advice.
    Artemis: "You've got some mosaics planned for the roof. You might want to rethink those. Very derivative."
  • Occurs several times in The Magic Treehouse series of books. Usually justified as the famous person is related to Jack and Annie's current quest, but sometimes it's done gratuitously.
  • Averted in In the Keep of Time. Other than King James II, who is only viewed from afar, no one of historical significance appears in the story, with all the characters the children meet being original characters, or at most archetypes and positions likely to be expected in the time period. The exception might be the Laird of Smailholm who may have been a real person, but since none of the children had heard of him prior to their adventure, meeting him doesn't fully hew to this trope either. Sir Walter Scott is mentioned as having stayed at Smailholm Cottage, but this tale seems to be included simply for historical flavor (and accuracy—not only is this story true, Scott wrote of the tower, including it in his poems The Eve of St. John and Marmion).
  • Subverted in Tim Powers' The Anubis Gates, in which the only Real Life historical figure the protagonist meets is Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whom his employer deliberately sought out. For a while he thinks he's also encountered Lord Byron, but it's really a magical clone of Byron, who wasn't even in the country at the time.
  • Neal Stephenson's novel Cryptonomicon and The Baroque Cycle trilogy are full of this. The former includes, for example, Alan Turing, Douglas MacArthur and Hermann Goering. The latter includes Newton, Leibniz, Hooke and just about every other important 17th-century natural philosopher, plus Blackbeard.
    • Justified in that the primary protagonist of The Baroque Cycle was a member of the Royal Society (which included most of the prominent natural philosophers of the English-speaking world at the time) and therefore it makes sense that he would interact frequently with other Royal Society members and possibly even their rivals (Leibniz, who was encountered before he was famous).
  • The spirit of this trope is present in the Riverworld novels. Every human who has ever lived is resurrected on an alien planet, upwards of 10 billion people, and yet the protagonists keep running into notable historical figures, like Alice Liddel, Hermann Göring, and Mark Twain.
  • Justified in the Never Again series of novels, as the time travelers' whole objective is to change the past, so of course they will run into famous people. It's really only played completely straight in the first book, because later books include people in the past who never existed in Real Life as major characters.
  • Averted in the short story "The Gnarly Man" by L. Sprague de Camp. The title character is a 50,000 year Neanderthal who has managed to live a quiet, normal life over the millennia. The only famous person he ever encountered was Charlemagne, who he saw giving a speech in Paris. He realizes the best way to stay alive is to avoid anything or anybody interesting.
  • The Roman Mysteries series has its main characters meet Pliny the Elder, Pliny the Younger, Emperor Titus, Emperor Domitian, Flaccus, Bernice, Josephus and others.
  • Mostly averted by the Time Scout series, but while investigating Jack the Ripper, the Ripper Watch Team runs into William Butler Yeats at a social club. Cue massive fangasm by the time guide in charge.
  • The protagonist of the ''Time Machine'' gamebook series apparently has no way of controlling where his his time machine will deposit him; still, he seems to keep ending up near famous and notable people (that, or in the middle of wilderness with some animal or savage tribe attacking him on sight).
  • Nicely averted in Chrono Hustle... for the first six stories anyway. After that there are encounters with Aphrodite and Hermes, Imhotep, and Merlin.
  • Everyone in the afterlife of The Divine Comedy is either a well-known historical figure or someone who would be familiar to Dante's readers. It gets a justification as Dante's guides point out these exemplary figures, or Dante himself recognizes them. They also usually have more important places in Heaven or more picturesque punishments in Hell. There are some exceptions, though; the hoarders and spenders, for instance, are so featureless that they can barely be distinguished from each other, and Dante does pause to talk with a nameless Florentine suicide.
  • The aversion of this trope is actually a plot point in Redshirts. When the senior officers of the Intrepid travelled to the past a few years in the backstory, they didn't encounter anyone famous. Which, given that they are living out a bad Star Trek ripoff, meant the point of the episode in question was "future people being Fish out of Water in the present" rather than "future people meet famous person in the past", giving the redshirts a reference point for their own time travel plans.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Played with in an episode of Bewitched, where Endora threatens Samantha that she'll tell Darrin about her relationship with Sir Walter Raleigh if she doesn't comply. Samantha protests that she never even met Sir Walter Raleigh, but Endora reminds her that Darrin wouldn't know that.
    • Which is inverted an exchange between them at a witches conference where Samantha needs to address the assembly.
      Samantha: Mother, if you don't put me first on the agenda, I'll tell Daddy about you and Sir Walter Raleigh.
      Endora: What's to tell? The man was nice enough to put his cloak over a puddle for me, so I invited him home for a cup of tea.
      Samantha: Mother, when you told me to go to bed...I didn't go.
      Endora: Guess who's first on the agenda?
  • This is the driving premise behind the Blackadder: Back and Forth special. The time machine used by the characters (which had been invented by accident thanks to Baldrick having a Genius Ditz moment) was somehow "attuned" to the frequencies of Lord Blackadder's ancestors — who just so happened to be big historical players in the eras they visited.
    • As the show creators themselves have noticed, Blackadder's intelligence seems to rise as his fortunes fall. The Blackadder in Rome is scarcely above a grunt. However, the trope is affirmed and indeed parodied when you take into account the amount of times those same people are hanging around Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie....
  • When Dracula visits Sunnydale in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, we find that both Spike and Anya have their own histories with the famous Count. (Though with Spike being a century-old vampire himself, it's practically expected.)
  • Doctor Who does this fairly frequently.
  • Happens fairly frequently in Forever Knight, mainly because the characters have been around for so long. In one episode, Nick encounters Joan of Arc; in another, Lacroix contemplates turning a young German soldier into a vampire, but decides the man has too much darkness in his soul (you can probably guess who he turns out to be).
  • In Heroes, Hiro Nakamura, through an accidental use of his powers, winds up several centuries in the past — and immediately runs smack dab into the legendary warrior Takezo Kensei. Also known as Adam Monroe, who became one of the biggest villains in the series due to Hiro's actions.
  • New Amsterdam (2008): The "Soldier's Heart": Throughout the episode, the 400-year-old main character John Amsterdam flashes back to an incident that happened when he was an army surgeon in the American Civil War, and a patient whose leg he had to amputate took drastic and violent action. The understanding Amsterdam gained of the "soldier's heart", which he discusses with his orderly Walt, helps him understand the current-day mystery he faces concerning psychologically troubled veterans. None of this has anything to do with what happens in the episode's last flashback, where Walt out of nowhere tells John "I want to give you a copy of this book I wrote" and hands him a book whose title page reads Leaves of Grass, revealing "Walt" to be famous poet Walt Whitman.
  • Mostly averted in Quantum Leap, where the majority of the characters Sam becomes are ordinary people — but he does run into Buddy Holly, a young Michael Jackson, Sylvester Stallone, Bill Clinton, and a teenage Stephen King, who decides to become a horror writer thanks to him. When Sam saves a man from choking, a woman asks the guy "Are you all right, Dr. Heimlich?"
    • Sam also became Lee Harvey Oswald, Elvis Presley and Dr. Ruth in other episodes.
    • And Marilyn Monroe. Most of the celebrity encounters happened in the last season when they were doing everything they could to boost ratings.
    • The ancestor variant shows up when Sam leaps into his own great-grandfather, a Union general near the end of the Civil War. At the end of the episode, he talks with a newly freed slave who declares that, since being emancipated has made him feel like royalty, he will be taking the surname King. You can probably guess where this one's headed...
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation visited 19th century San Francisco in "Time's Arrow", and Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) tried to stop their "invasion". (He also gives a spot of writing advice to an ambitious bellhop who turns out to be named Jack London.) Later, in The Movie, they went back in time and ended up protecting the creator of their Applied Phlebotinum. (Justified, in that the time travel was initiated by the Big Bad. Naturally they picked an important place and time to attack, namely the first test flight of a Terran ship warp drive that would attract the attention of the Vulcans to begin open interaction with that planet.)
    • This is justified in the Star Trek RPG by saying that spots where history has a chance to change drastically, also called Nexus Points, tend to draw unintentional time travelers, and intentional ones have to take them into account when performing the calculations.
    • In "City on the Edge of Forever", Spock gives a similar explanation of why they wound up in the same place that Dr. McCoy would soon arrive.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has done this twice, both times running into famous characters from their own 'Verse. They ran into a martyred civil rights activist in "In Past Tense", and the original crew in "Trials and Tribble-ations".
    • Justified in "Tribble-ations" because they were there/then to stop a bad guy who had gone to that place and time specifically because he knew the original Enterprise and Kirk were there.
    • "In Past Tense" is more a case of You Will Be Beethoven, as Sisko takes the place of the martyred civil rights activist and makes the demands that lead to reforms of the Sanctuary Districts.
  • The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles does this constantly, because of the show's educational nature. In every episode Indy meets a new historical figure (and sometimes more than one).

    Myths & Religion 
  • Combine this trope with Reincarnation, and you get Everyone From The Past Was Famous, in which a suspiciously-high proportion of believers in past lives insist that they were once famous people, or closely associated with somebody famous. Cleopatra VII is a classic one for women to claim as a previous incarnation. Because, yeah, she was beautiful and rich and that's what we all want to be, you know? The number of people who claim to have been passengers aboard the Titanic exceeds the actual passenger manifest of that ship considerably and is a MAJOR subject of contention on Titanic message boards.

    Video Games 
  • In Day of the Tentacle, a character gets stranded 200 years in the past. Without even leaving the house, he runs into George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock and Betsy Ross. Which is really silly given that Jefferson wasn't even in the same country as the others at the time that this was implied to be occurring in. This is just one of the many historical errors in that game, which the programmers were aware of. The manual even warns you to not use the game as research material.
  • The Shadow Hearts series features a degree of the historical fiction version, with the heroes bumping into such famous historical personages as Kawashima Yoshiko (As a note, the little girl in the second game is supposed to be the historical one — the one in the first game is a wholly fictional character, who, according to the series, is the namesake of the real one), Al Capone, H. P. Lovecraft, and the Great Gama (yes, he was a real person - ask The Other Wiki). Party members over the series include Mata Hari (under her actual name, Margarete) and Princess Anastasia Romanov.
  • Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader, a game set in an Alternate History version of 1588, manages to have William Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci, Tomas Torquemada, Cervantes, Niccolò Machiavelli, Hernán Cortés, and Jacques de Molay all living within a few blocks of each other in Barcelona. Nostradamus, Queen Elizabeth I, and Joan of Arc also turn up later in the game.
  • In Star Control II, a member of the Pkunk alien race (think happy-go-lucky Space Gypsies) explains why psychics always tell you that you were someone famous in a past life—only important people reincarnate. If you weren't important, influential, or otherwise historically notable, "you just kind of... cease. Isn't the universe a wacky place?" Sort of an Everyone's Past Is Someone Famous.
  • Assassin's Creed:
    • The Animus is not technically a time machine, but in Assassin's Creed Altaïr/Desmond winds up meeting King Richard I. In the interests of remaining historically accurate, he's a bit of an asshole.
    • Assassin's Creed II, which is set in Renaissance Italy, features Leonardo da Vinci as a frequent ally, repairing your assassin tech and decoding messages from your ancestor. Ezio also rubs shoulders with the likes of Lorenzo de Medici, Caterina Sforza and Niccolò Machiavelli, and the final boss is Pope Alexander VI. Justified, since, according to the game, just about every famous inventor/artist/mind of the era was either an Assassin or a Templar. It's also noted that the reason the plot is happening is that Desmond's specific ancestry works like this. One of the modern assassins (Rebecca) notes that she's had one chance to use the Animus personally but couldn't find anything the least bit exciting available to her.
  • The 1980s graphical adventure game Eureka! depicts various historical characters in five different periods of time.
  • Justified in The Amazon Trail series of games, since the Jaguar's blue mists specifically send you to the points in time when those famous figures are present in the Amazon for the sake of educational content (both in and out of character; the locations would be less interesting if they weren't populated with famous scientists like Alfred Russell Wallace and Richard Evans Schultes, famous conquistadores likes Lope de Aguirre and Francisco de Orellana, and other famous figures like Henry Ford and Teddy Roosevelt; but also, the Jaguar wants you to interact with those characters to gain wisdom and to complete specific objectives like saving Teddy Roosevelt's life, so he specifically sends you to those places for your growth on your journey).


    Western Animation 
  • Totally describes an episode of Jem where the Misfits send the Holograms back in time to keep them from performing at a concert. The girls get sent back to the 1700s, the 40s, then the 60s, where they just happen to meet Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Glenn Miller, and Jimi Hendrix (though for legal reasons, the last two are referred to as "Ben Tiller" and "Johnny Beldrix"). The Agony Booth did a recap of this one.
  • Almost every episode of the series Time Warp Trio, on the Kids' Discovery Channel, is based on this trope. Somewhat justified since they time-travel via a magic history book, which a magician uncle gave one of the trio — apparently with the idea that the kid would eventually (1) learn a lot of history and (2) learn how to steer the book.
    • This is the same for the series of stories the cartoon was based off of.
  • Lampshaded in the Futurama episode "All the President's Heads".
    Professor: Where could Farnsworth have minted such a high quality fake?
    Benjamin Franklin: Not here, but you know, I have a friend in Boston who's an expert silversmith, they could be connected... there's only, like, 40 people who do anything around here.