Bob meets George. George represents what will become of Bob if he takes the same path George did. Specifically, he represents a path that leads to corruption and evil and/or to a generally a miserable life. If George is well-meaning, he may try to warn Bob to not make the mistake he did. If George is evil, he may instead encourage Bob to follow in his footsteps. Either way, Bob will ultimately decide that he does not want to end up like George.
Named for Jacob Marley from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. In the book, Marley represents what will become of Scrooge if he continues to be such a selfish jerk. Naturally, any story that homages A Christmas Carol at all (of which there are many) will require a character in the Marley role as well.
Not to be confused with Jacob Marley Apparel.
For when the warning goes the opposite way, see Fling a Light into the Future.
Compare and contrast Hypocrite Has a Point: It may seem hypocritical to tell someone not to make the same life choices you made yourself, but it's justified if you can offer the perspective of experience on how it will turn out badly.
- Doraemon: It's the eponymous robot's raison d'etre to stop Nobita from becoming a Future Loser, but occasionally, Future Nobita himself appears to whip his younger self into studying diligently. These are some of the most unsettling episodes, since Future Nobita knows his past-self's tricks and possess Doraemon's future gadgets.
- In the manga adaptation for Kingdom Hearts II, a derezzing Sark warns Tron to stop believing in the users, since Sora and his friends would one day betray him, much like how Ansem betrayed them both, which lead to Sark's FaceHeel Turn. Tron retains his belief in the users, and Sora, who felt sorry for Sark, reassures him that they will always be friends.
- The plot of the DC Comics' comedy miniseries A. Bizarro. Al Bizarro, duplicated not from Superman, but from a LexCorp employee called Albert Beezer, initially thinks he should try to be like Beezer, but at the end of the first issue, Beezer tells Bizarro that his life sucks and in order to be happy Bizarro should "do the exact opposite of everything I did!" (a Mythology Gag on the pre-Crisis Bizarro Code).
- Lou Martin, The Slacker protagonist of Major Bummer, gets one of these from his time-traveling future self, who regrets having wasted his life. By the end of the story, present-day-Lou acts like he's had an epiphany, but the next scene shows him sleeping in and actively avoiding superheroics as usual.
- Sabertooth to Wolverine. During the arc following Wolverine's full recovery of his memory, he has a flashback to one of his earliest encounters with his evil rival. In an uncharacteristically intellectual moment, Sabertooth tells him (in Latin) "I am what you you will become". In this case, it's not a warning or encouragement, it's a prediction; Sabertooth believes Wolverine will eventually give in to his animal side (instead of fighting it) and become just like him: a savage, remorseless killer who delights in indulging his violent instincts. This is basically one of Wolverine's greatest fears, and Sabertooth just loves taunting him with it.
- Runaways has employed this a few times:
- At the beginning of the second series, the team is visited by Heroine, a future version of Gert, who warns them that there's a Bad Future coming unless they stop Victor Mancha from becoming Victorious. Gert even references Christmas Carol, calling Heroine "the Ghost of Hanukkah Future". She also repudiates Heroine, declaring that the only way she could ever become a leader of the Avengers is if she sold out her principles, and resolves to never become her. She doesn't, in fact, become Heroine; she's killed near the middle of the second series.
- In the "Dead-End Kids" arc, it could be argued that Klara — meek, submissive, and increasingly isolated from everyone except her spouse — represents what Karolina fears she is becoming in her relationship with Xavin. After Xavin dismisses Klara's plight as unimportant, Karolina decides that she will have to start standing up for herself.
- In "Homeschooling", Chase shows signs of becoming an abuser like his father. By sheer coincidence, his uncle, long thought to be dead, shows up and reveals that he long ago chose to leave their toxic family behind and considers himself better for it. Chase takes the wrong lesson from this, deciding that he needs to leave the other Runaways behind.
- One story in Sunnyville Stories has local housewife Mrs. Brown stop a fight between Mr. Jakes and his nephew. She warns them of how she had a quarrel with a childhood friend but that friend died tragically before they could make up; she further warns them that it's too late for her but the two still have a chance to make up and they do.
- Star Wars Expanded Universe comics had an arc where the Emperor Reborn had Luke fall to the Dark Side and join him, apparently to try and limit what he could do, and indeed, the Emperor Reborn dressed Luke like his father, as seen in the pic for In the Blood. And then Leia redeemed him, he tried and failed to kill the Emperor Reborn, and two volumes later finally managed it.
- In the pro wrestling story A New Beginning, Gail Kim has turned heel and recently become WWE Women's Champion. After her title win, Molly Holly shows up to warn her that if she continues her heel ways, it will ruin her. Subverted in that Gail doesn't listen to the warning.
- Naruto in Black Flames Dance in the Wind: Rise of Naruto warns Hinata to let go of her hatred for Kiba for committing suicide, citing that if she doesn't it will poison her memories of him. Naruto has held onto his hatred for the people who murdered his childhood friend for so long that he barely remembers anything about her.
- Star Wars: In the original trilogy, Darth Vader represents what would become of Luke if he turned to the Dark Side. This is made most clear when Luke battles an apparition of Vader on Dagobah which turns out to have his face. Later on, Luke nearly kills Vader, but stops himself when he realizes that he is just one step away from becoming the next Vader. The Emperor helpfully points this out while trying to encourage him to do it, ultimately spurring him to make the right decision.
- American History X has Derek Vinyard, a violent Neo-Nazi who was sent to prison following a vicious hate crime and has reformed, and now seeks to help his little brother Danny do the same and keep him from going down Derek's violent path.
- Disney's The Kid is a rather weird take on this trope... starting with the fact that it's told from the Jacob Marley's perspective. He gets chewed out by his younger self by giving up on their dreams.
- The 1972 film version of Tales from the Crypt has a rather grim subversion of this. The Crypt-Keeper shows a group of strangers visions of the hideous fates awaiting each of them as a result of various wicked actions; at the end of the film, he reveals that these visions are not warnings of what might happen, but records of what has already happened; they're already dead, and destined for Hell.
- Repo! The Genetic Opera: Blind Mag is a more tragic variant on this- she's a completely noble, compassionate person whose only mistakes were trusting entirely the wrong people. She warns her similarly trapped goddaughter Shilo to bolt for her freedom and think for herself.
- Charles Dickens must have liked this one. Another example in addition to the Trope Namer: In Great Expectations, Pip can become either Jaggers (the bad choice) or Herbert (the good choice).
- Henry James' story The Jolly Corner is a ghost story where a man is haunted by the man he might have become. It's not obvious whether the ghost represents bad choices, though another character remarks that he seems to have suffered more than the protagonist.
- Played with at the end of Artemis Fowl and the Eternity Code. Butler delivers one to the imprisoned Arno Blunt, The Dragon of the book's Big Bad, claiming he has "seen hell" and that Blunt will see it too unless he repents and confesses his crimes. The twist is that Blunt thinks he shot Butler dead and that he really is seeing the man's ghost, but Butler (thanks to fairy magic) is Not Quite Dead.
- In Frankenstein, Victor serves as a warning to Walton, who is in danger of becoming as obsessed with his exploration as Victor was with the science that led to the creation of his monster. Though inverted in that he blasts Walton's crew for not having the balls to carry on on Walton's journey. Victor might represent what Walton could become, but unlike other examples, he doesn't realize this, or regard it as a bad thing. He blames the Creature for all his ills, but doesn't take responsibility for the hell he put the Creature through For Science!.
- Stargate SG-1:
- In the early episode "The Torment of Tantalus", Dr. Ernest Littlefield represents what would become of Daniel if he stayed on the planet and tried to figure out the Meaning of Life Stuff.
- In the season ten episode "The Road Not Taken", Cameron tells Sam that she'll share her fate if she doesn't follow Landry's demands. Subverted, as Sam speaks out against Landry anyway.
- In 30 Rock episode "Rosemary's Baby", Rosemary Howard represents what would become of Liz if she left TGS and wrote films based on the premise that art should be offensive.
- An episode of That '70s Show featured Eric meeting a 35-year-old who had no job and was as big a nerd as he was. He eventually decided to avoid that fate after he found out the man still lived with his mother.
- The title character of Malcolm in the Middle met a 30-something loser who couldn't hold a job, was badly in debt to unsavory types and spent all day trying to get people to play chess with him at the park. He acted in exactly the same way as Malcolm.
- Foreman is afraid of becoming like the titular character of House. Despite trying to avoid this, he eventually does become what Cuddy describes as "House Lite", going even as far as acquiring House's habit of not wearing a lab coat.
- The Law & Order: SVU episode "Redemption" features an older detective who represents Stabler if he follows his current path.
- Similar to the above The Shield, Vic meets up with his former mentor (played by Carl "Action Jackson" Weathers), who's a walking cautionary tale of Vic's current path (with gangbanger subbing for Armenian mobsters)
- For the record, that's in the first or second season. The show lasts for seven.
- In the Friends episode "The One Where Heckles Dies", Chandler discovers that cranky old Mr. Heckles was once a fun guy, and becomes obsessed with the notion that he may become just like Heckles when he gets older.
- In an episode of Will & Grace, the titular characters meet an author who Will admires. They discover he's a miserable jerk who spends all day in his house arguing with his female best friend and roommate who's just as big of a jerk as he is. Guess who they remind the main characters of?
- Done in Buffy the Vampire Slayer where Xander meets his future self who tells him he will be unhappy marrying Anya. Subverted when it turns out future Xander is actually one of Anya's victims pretending to be Xander.
- In Supernatural, Dean gets this warning from the post-apocalyptic version of himself, who implores him not to resist the angels' plan for him. Essentially, he's given the choice of either becoming Michael's vessel or killing Sam before Sam becomes Lucifer's vessel. Predictably, he tries taking the third option of patching things up with his brother so that Sam'll be able to resist Lucifer.
- Max Ryan from the Criminal Minds episode "Unfinished Business" represents what could happen to any of the main characters if they allow their work at the BAU to dominate their lives: he's divorced, rarely sees his children and went as far as to move house in order to be closer to one of the crime scenes in a serial killer case that he never solved. Later in the show, Agent Rossi serves a similar purpose, having been divorced three times, being obsessed with an unsolved double murder, having been too focused on fame and having let his whole life pass him by while he worked at the BAU.
- Concentrated to its essence on Dollhouse: Topher's final advice to his apprentice before his Heroic Sacrifice is "Don't become me!"
- Zig-Zagged a bit in Scrubs with Dr. Cox. Cox is a brilliant and compassionate doctor, but his unwillingness to compromise and "play the game", as well as his open insubordination, have led to his career not advancing at nearly the rate it should have. JD completely respects and looks up to him, but fears that he will go down the same path if he doesn't become more flexible, and tells Cox as much. Cox takes the lesson to heart, and by the end of the series he has gone from an attending doctor to the chief of Medicine at Sacred Heart.
- Boy Meets World's sequel series, Girl Meets World sees Cory's former bully, Harley Keiner, working as a janitor as John Quincy Adams Middle School and regretting his actions as a bully, warning Billy when he's picking on Farkle and being willing to protect the latter.
Harley: I used to think like you. Now I'm holding a mop.
- In The Outer Limits (1963) episode "The Premonition", the Limbo Being gives one of these to the main characters—mostly because they threaten to set him on fire forever if he doesn't tell them how to escape from their Time Stands Still situation and avoid becoming trapped in a Void Between the Worlds, as he was unable to do.
- In The Flash, Barry is under trial for murder of Clifford DeVoe/The Thinker (who cheated death via Grand Theft Me), and Joe, out of desperation, decides to plant evidence against Marlize DeVoe (Thinker's wife and accomplice). Ralph, who himself was disgraced from police duty because he falsified evidence, tells Joe of his own experiences as a pariah and said that if Joe went through with his plans, he'll be going through the same thing. Thankfully, Joe wisely drops his scheme.
- The Irish folk song "Paddy's Lamentation".
Here's you boys, now take my advice
To America I'll have ye's not be going
There is nothing here but war, where the murderin' cannons roar
And I wish I was at home in dear old Dublin
- The song is even more poignant once the Fridge Horror sinks in: Paddy is dead and is giving his warning as a ghost.
- "The House of the Rising Sun" has (in one of the various versions) the verse:
Go tell my baby sister
Never do like I have done
To shun that house in New Orleans
They call the Rising Sun.
- "Ghost Riders in the Sky" concludes with one of the ghost riders delivering a warning:
As the riders loped on by him he heard one call his name,
If you want to save your soul from hell a-ridin' on our range,
Then cowboy change your ways today, or with us you will ride.
Trying to catch the devil's herd across this endless sky.
- In the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus gives the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (not to be confused with the other Lazarus). The rich man goes to hell and then begs Abraham to send Lazarus back to act as the Jacob Marley Warning to his brothers. Abraham tells him it would do no good: "If they would not listen to Moses and the prophets, they would not listen even to a man come back from the dead."
- Anders of Dragon Age II delivers a nightmarish warning to Merrill, telling her that if she continues to use Blood Magic, she will become possessed like him — trapped in a body controlled by another being, unable even to scream. Merrill retorts that whatever risks she's taken with magic, she's always known what the consequences could be, which is more than can be said for Anders when he merged with Justice.
"There's no such thing as a "good" spirit. There never was. All spirits are dangerous. I knew that. I'm sorry you didn't."
- Duke Edmun Dragonsbane from Dragon's Dogma turns out to be this. He initially comes over as a man who has everything he wanted, in the form of fame, power, riches, and a beautiful wife. But he is soon revealed to abuse his wife, nearly killing her, and is frequently reliving losing his past beloved. When the Player Character confronts the titular Dragon, they are given a Sadistic Choice. Either sacrifice their beloved, which will make the Dragon leave, giving the Player Character the fame and fortune as an alleged Dragonslayer, or face the Dragon in combat, which will almost certainly result in death. It turns out the duke experienced the ultimatum and chose the former, resulting in him being mad with guilt. This point is hammered in further, because making the former choice yourself shows you, the Player Character, having replaced Edmun Dragonsbane as duke, but living a lonely and maddening existence.
- Grim Fandango: Domino Hurley is what the protagonist Manny would be if he had no morals, and he spends a lot of the game trying to encourage Manny to be more like him.
"If you were just more like me, this is what could happen to you!" (He is then ground into powder by a giant coral-crusher he didn't see coming up on him.)
- After you defeat him in Ratchet: Deadlocked, Ace Hardlight provides the page quote by telling Ratchet not to let Gleeman Vox do to him what he did to Ace.
- Even more recently, The Force Unleashed's protagonist is another representation of what Luke (and potentially Leia) would have been like if raised by Darth Vader.
- Assassin's Creed: Rogue reveals that Achilles's warning to Connor to "in your haste to save the world don't destroy it" in the third game was this; in Rogue Achilles was reckless and indifferent to the suffering his actions caused in the arrogant certainty his cause was just. His warning to Connor is thus an attempt to keep Connor from making the same mistakes.
- In Fatal Frame II, Itsuki represents what Mio will become if she performs the Crimson Sacrifice and kills her twin.
- Archer of Fate/stay night. When he's not trying to kill his past self, he's anviliciously deconstructing his ideals in an effort to ensure he doesn't make the same mistakes he did. This only comes up in two of the three routes. In the first, he is eventually convinced that, even if it hurts, maybe he didn't make such a big mistake with his life. In the other, after seeing his past self has all but abandoned his ideals, he agrees to help him, committing a Heroic Sacrifice and giving him the power he needs to succeed.
- Used once in Narbonic, using a combination of Time Travel and Projected Man.
- Parodied in Brawl in the Family during their A Christmas Carol parody arc. Wario takes the role of Marley, who sees nothing wrong with the path Mario is taking, but is sent to warn Mario anyways.
- Played with in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!. Molly's clone, Galatea, was raised under much worse circumstances than Molly, and turned out mean, paranoid, and borderline villainous. When Galatea finally starts to get herself in order and become less of a jerk, Molly's family offers to let her live with them. Galatea makes it clear that she appreciates the offer, but refuses because she's afraid of losing her own identity if she were to start living exactly as Molly does. A subversion, since Molly's life was far nicer and more stable than Galatea's at that point.
- xkcd: Apparently, there is one just for Single Issue Wonks.
- South Park:
- Parodied in the "My Future Self 'n' Me" episode, where an organization hires actors to play kids future' selves to keep them from using drugs.
- It's also played (not quite) straight at the end of the episode with Cartman. The Future Cartman is a handsome and successful businessman who says that this is the big turning point in his life, and encourages his younger self to stay on the straight and narrow. Cartman, convinced that the guy is just another actor, resolves to be even more of a selfish jerk than he normally is. After he walks off, the Future Cartman changes into a fat slob. So basically, future-Cartman screwed himself over because he absolutely had to tell his younger self where he'd end up, even though it was presumably unnecessary in the first place... What an Idiot!.
- The reason that Luna helps Sweetie Belle in the fourth season My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "For Whom the Sweetie Belle Toils". As Luna's envy towards her own sister led to banishment for a thousand years, she doesn't want Sweetie Belle to make the same mistake with her own sister, Rarity.
- In Young Justice, this is Batman's defense as to why he had Robin join him on his crimefighting missions, though he doesn't say it to Robin himself (at least not onscreen, at any rate). In context, Batman had advocated for Captain Marvel's continued membership of the Justice League, despite the revelation that his true identity is a 10-year-old child:
Wonder Woman: I shouldn't be surprised, considering you indoctrinated Robin into crimefighting at the ripe old age of nine.
Batman: Robin needed to bring the man who murdered his parents to justice.
Wonder Woman: So he could turn out like you?
Batman: ...So that he wouldn't.
- During the Mortis arc of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Ahsoka meets her adult self, who warns her that she won't have a future if she remains student to her master, Anakin. Ahsoka does end up leaving the Jedi Order (mainly for other reasons), which ultimately saves her life (or possibly made things worse?), as it helps her get her away from Anakin when Revenge of the Sith happens, but it's not clear if Ahsoka's vision was real (especially given post-The Clone Wars content) and actually helped.
- Gargoyles has an episode where Xanatos is able to time travel to the past for a limited time, enough for him to secure his future, Demona is able to sneak along for the ride, in order to warn her past self not to trust humans. Young Demona refuses to believe she will become cold and heartless like her future self, but the damage was done. Especially, when a future Goliath, who also traveled with Xanatos, tries to warn her not to become like her future self, making Demona realize that something bad was coming and not to trust humans after all.