This line is often used when the speaker in question has to take immediate action on something and can't explain it immediately.
The real reason it's used is to get the listener to change locations without explanation, as to effect an on-screen reveal. Or because the writer wants to keep a character's motivations secret from the reader (or hasn't thought them up yet) and can't have the character explain himself right now. Or because there'd be no conflict if a character actually bothered to explain something instead of leaving the other characters confused.
The only real justification is that it almost always takes longer to describe a given action than to just perform it — in the words of Grace Hopper, "It's easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission." Explaining the action may waste valuable time that should be spent performing the action — meaning there is no time to perform the action at all. Of course, there's always the possibility that the person asking forgiveness really should have gotten permission — Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!.
Use of this trope can stretch credibility when the situation really can be summed up in only a few words. If you need somebody to run away, "No time to explain!" really saves you no time versus "There's a bomb!"
So why do writers use it? There are times when it is useful. If you know the characters in your TV series are going to be at the point A when they learn where the bomb is, and you know the characters will have to be at the bomb at point B - but to add scenes of them traveling from place to place is expensive and adds shooting days to the production. You could have them explain it all at point A, but that scene's been long already. There's very little dialogue at point B, so discussing it at point B would give the characters not actively defusing the bomb something to do. Here, it's okay to make an Acceptable Break from Reality just to get the characters from one place to another without breaking up the pacing of the work.
See also You Didn't Ask, Never Give the Captain a Straight Answer, Unspoken Plan Guarantee, and Don't Ask, Just Run. Contrast Talking Is a Free Action. However, be careful: This is a favorite tactic of a High School Hustler in initiating a Bavarian Fire Drill. Can also be used to cover an Indy Ploy and make it seem as though there is a plan.
Not to be confused with the video game with the same name.
- In The Twelve Kingdoms, Youko Nakajima was an Ordinary High-School Student until a mysterious blond man appeared in her classroom, swore allegiance to her, and urged her to escape as quickly as possible with not time for explanations. Shortly after, the school was attacked by monsters, giving some weight to his argument. Trapped in Another World Changeling Fantasy drama ensued, and it was a long time before Youko got an explanation. If he had taken the time to say one more sentence about what was going on, the entire plot would have been very different.
- In Fairy Tail, during the Edolas arc, Gajeel says this to Erza and Gray.
- Transformers Victory: When Hellbat, Black Shadow, and Blue Bacchus are attacking a plasma energy facility on planet Micro, Greatshot orders them to let him take care of it, specifically saying that there's no time to explain.
- Spoofed in the Bleach "Thousand Year Blood War arc" when Ichigo complains about no one telling him the Arrancar and Fullbringers were working with them and backing them up. Yoruichi claims they didn't have time to explain it to him, and he points out that anybody could have told him during their long and boring journey to the Royal Realm.
- A particularly galling comic book example occurred in a plotline in the X-Men books, especially Cable. Bishop, a time-travelling X-Man, was determined to kill an infant being protected by Cable because ... he never said, except that she threatened the future in some way. He constantly insisted that the X-Men would agree that she needed to die if only they knew what a horrible future her survival would lead to. But he just never had time to explain it to them. This made sense (or at least you could see how it made sense to him) when he was in a running gun battle with Cable. Made a little less sense when the X-Men caught him and held him onto him for a few hours before he escaped.
- Finn says this in the Adventure Time comics when he finds a tear in the Lich's Bag of Holding.
Princess Bubblegum: That's okay, it's pretty clear what's going on right now!
- Marvel Comics' Spider-Man editorial team and "brain trust" tried to do this after One More Day. The switch-over to Brand New Day resulted in a number of jarring changes — nobody recalled that Peter Parker was Spider-Man despite remembering that he had publicly unmasked during Civil War, Spider-Man no longer could use his organic webbing and the powers he had gained during The Other, Harry Osborn was back from the dead and now a triple divorcee, and so on. Besides that there were the unanswered questions as to how the new timeline created by Spider-Man's deal with Mephisto differed from the one portrayed in the existing comics. Marvel's official releases said that the reason why none of this was explained was because they had so many exciting and important new stories to tell, but readers soon guessed that the real reason must have been that the writers did not yet know the answers themselves. It took months and years for most of these questions to be addressed in-story, and a number of them are still unanswered seven years later, for instance the one about what happened to the organic webs and Other powers.
- In Sleeping Beauty the good fairies tell this to Prince Phillip as they break him out of Maleficent's dungeon.
- Belle's father says this when trying to hurry her out of the Beast's dungeon.
- In 101 Dalmatians, Pongo says this to Danny the Great Dane, after he and Perdita realise that Cruella is behind everything and they need to hurry. Quite a few Disney films seem fond of this line.
Great Dane: "Blimey! Who's after you, Old Nick?Pongo: A close relative of his, I think!
- The above is mildly Bowdlerised from the exchange in the book, which goes roughly thus:
- Sgt. Tibbs later says it to the Colonel as he and the puppies are being chased around by Horace and Jasper. The Colonel himself says it moments later to the newly arrived Pongos.
- Teacher's Pet: When Ian discovers Leonard and the newly-human Spot/Scott in his uncle's laboratory.
Ian: And who are you, mister, and why are you all dressed up like Scott Leadready II?Human!Spot: Uh, no time to explain, strange little boy I've never met before in my life.
- In A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Nancy has a dream that she's seeing her friend Rod being killed in the jail cell he's in. She wakes up and gets Glen (Johnny Depp) to accompany her to the police station. They join up at Nancy's house and run to the police station. Nancy waits until they're entering the police station to tell Glen that she doesn't have any time to explain. What could they have been discussing the rest of the way there that was more important than the fact that Rod Lane was being killed?
- The Princess Bride: "Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up."
- Parodied in Scary Movie 4, when the Tom Cruise/War Of The Worlds character says "We're leaving this house in 30 seconds, there's no time to explain", and a random passerby runs up to the window and screams "Alien Attack!". Tom admits that that pretty much covered it.
- Spy Kids
Uncle Felix: There's so much I have to tell you [about the kids' parents being spies], but very little time to explain.Carmen: Uncle Felix!Uncle Felix: The first of which is... [removes his fake mustache] ...I'm not your uncle.
- Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Holmes tries this line on Watson after throwing his wife off the train so she'll be out of the way of their shootout with Moriarty's henchmen. Unsurprisingly, Watson responds by trying to throttle him and is only stopped when the henchmen burst in the door and are killed by a booby-trapped rifle set up by Holmes earlier.
Holmes: That was no accident. It was by design. Now, do you need me to elaborate, or shall we crack on!
- World War Z. Brad Pitt's character picks up a crucial clue about the virus, and gives this trope (because his phone battery is running down) while convincing his superior in the UN to order the aircraft they're in to divert to a WHO research station. As the aircraft crashes shortly afterwards, it's something of a Fridge Horror moment; what if he'd been killed in the crash?
- Hermione does this offscreen in a way that backfires in Chamber of Secrets. She and Penelope figure out what's petrifying students, and they proceed to run out of the library without bothering to tell anyone, like the librarian or other students, what it is. They manage to get petrified before they can get wherever they're going.
- This happens in the Pendragon series, where Bobby, Gunny, and Spader initially think that stopping The Hindenburg explosion would save the future but upon a trip to the future Bobby and Gunny find out that stopping the Hindenburg explosion would allow Hitler to win World War II. Spader refuses to believe this, as he doesn't understand how they know. He might have understood if Bobby or Gunny had taken more time to explain things to him; however, they also had to stop someone else from stopping the explosion, and couldn't take the time to explain things to him.
- In The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, Reynie uses this to fend off questions from Joe "Cannonball" Shooter about why he and the other members of the Society aren't accompanied by any adults. It works quite easily, given that Cannonball is the sort of guy who is always on the move anyway.
- At the start of Aunt Dimity's Good Deed, Willis Sr. abruptly leaves Lori's cottage after writing note to her that's uncharacteristically short on details, citing this trope. At first, Lori thinks it's a joke Nell played, but Nell points to the absence of the blue journal and Reginald. Dimity has left behind a second note, which has some additional information, but it ends in mid-sentence. This sets up the pursuit of Willis Sr. throughout the rest of the novel. When Nell points this out, Wiilis Sr. pleads "high spirits" at just receiving the news that Lori is pregnant.
- Doctor Who:
The Doctor: (very fast) I'm the Doctor; I'm an alien from outer space; I'm a thousand years old; I've got two hearts; AND I CAN'T FLY A PLANE! CAN YOU?!
- "Can't talk, must dash, explain later!" is basically one of the Doctor's catch-phrases. Any particular usage may be terrifyingly true or a typically clumsy bid to avoid the things he never, ever explains.
- Deliberately over-used in Steven Moffat's Comic Relief parody "The Curse of Fatal Death", where it serves entirely as a Lampshade Hanging on things there simply aren't in-universe explanations for.
- In "The Bells of St John", the Doctor is somewhat rushed as an airliner is about to crash on their heads, so he has to haul Clara Oswald into the TARDIS, materialize on board the airliner and race into the cockpit without the time to appreciate her Bigger on the Inside reaction.
- They didn't use the line, but in Highlander: The Series, Richie wouldn't have died if Joe Dawson had spit out one more sentence before dragging Duncan to him.
- The Twilight Zone episode "Passage on the Lady Anne" has a pretty egregious example. At one point, the main characters are told "there's no time for lengthy explanations." Unlike some of the other examples and the Trope description, though, there never was an onscreen reveal; the viewer never finds out the Lady Anne's dark secret.
- Star Trek: Voyager
"I would be happy to take you through the process, but it would take at least ten hours to explain it all to you."
- The two-parter "Future's End" starts with one. A guy shows up in a time machine and immediately starts shooting at Voyager, until they get a temporary reprieve by adjusting their shields. The guy contacts them and says he has to destroy them for the greater good. When asked how their deaths would be for the greater good, he says "No time!" and goes back to shooting at them. We get to know this character a bit better as the episode progresses, and it turns out to be somewhat justified as he's more than a little unhinged, though why he'd have no time when he's manning a Time Machine is not explained.
- Averted in "The Phage" when the Doctor thinks up a procedure to save Neelix's life after his lungs have been removed, but says he doesn't have time to explain what it is. Kes however insists on an explanation. The Doctor replies with his usual Brutal Honesty, making Kes wish she hadn't asked.
- In "Cathexis", the Doctor solves the crisis with some Reset Button Techno Babble.
EMH: What's happened to the ship? The crew?Kim: No time. The emitter?EMH: It's in here, but—Kim: (breaks glass case holding the mobile emitter) Here. Slap it on. Let's go.EMH: Wait! I demand an explanation!
- In "Timeless" the Doctor naturally wants an explanation when he's reactivated to find himself 15 years in a Bad Future where Voyager is destroyed and the crew are dead except for Chakotay and Harry Kim. They on the other hand are in a hurry as a Galaxy-class starship is hunting them down to stop them breaking the Temporal Prime Directive.
- Used in Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Hero Worship": The Enterprise is stuck in a Negative Space Wedgie which is shooting a World-Wrecking Wave at them. At the last second Data, in the throes of a Eureka Moment, orders the Deflector Shields to be deactivated — explaining, after the fact, that the World-Wrecking Wave was a reflection of the shields' energy.
- Played straight in a lot of other episodes. It's not uncommon for Picard to get a message over the Comm from one of his men that he's found something, then upon asking what is told, "You better come see this."
- Parodied in Greg the Bunny:
Junction Jack: We're going to Greg's house.
Count Blah: What? Why?
Jack: No time to explain!
Count Blah: What are you talking about? It's a forty minute drive to his house, there's plenty of time to explain.
- 24 was quite fond of this trope. Just do what Jack Bauer says, people. He's always right, anyway.
- A variation on Lost: Ben tells Sun and Jack that in thirty minutes, he can take them to a woman who can explain everything to them. Cut to them in the car, and Sun says "You said we'd be there in thirty minutes." He responds, "I didn't account for traffic."
- Subverted in the Community episode "Basic Lupine Urology": Starburns is being chased through the school by Troy and Abed, and he attempts to hide himself by asking Quendra to kiss him, saying that he will "explain later". She refuses and says that she doesn't care what the explanation is.
- In the third episode of Twin Peaks, Agent Cooper wakes up in the middle of the night and makes a call revealing that he's figured out who Laura Palmer's killer is and that there's no time to lose, he must see Sheriff Truman in the morning so he can tell him who the murderer is. At the start of the next episode, over breakfast, it is revealed Agent Cooper forgot this huge revelation after going back to bed.
- In Cactus Flower, when Julian reads Toni's Spurned into Suicide letter, he changes out of his lab coat and rushes out immediately, outright refusing to explain the situation to Stephanie, though she suspects it has to do with one of his girlfriends. Not only does this leave Stephanie in the awkward spot of having to make excuses to his patients about what happened to the doctor, but she has no idea who Toni is when Igor phones the very next moment to report that Toni is alive.
- In the last act of The Consul, Magda, finally responding to Assan's desperate pleas to do something to stop her husband John from reentering the country and being arrested, tells him to wait as she writes a note, then hands it to him without any explanation other than her assurance that "this note will convince John that there is no reason for him to come back." Judging from her subsequent actions, this is in fact a suicide note. However, it is never delivered, as John returns and is arrested at the end of the same scene.
- Gorion's use of this trope is pretty much the entire reason Baldur's Gate happens. Which doesn't really make sense, seeing as all he ever had to say was "You're one of the many children of the God of Murder, and there's this guy going around killing them all and starting a pointless war so he can be the God of Murder. Time to leave!"
- That's a summary, not an explanation. Consider the amount of follow-up questions. Then again, it also shows how it's not simply about having enough time to list the details but about having the chance to explain things in a way that doesn't cause a severe trauma (and/or to spit out something it's difficult for oneself to say).
- In Fahrenheit, at one point Lucas has a vision of the evil Oracle approaching his brother Markus at his church. Lucas immediately calls his brother and tells him to lock himself in. Markus asks why and the player is given the choice to either say No Time to Explain, at which point you gain control of Markus and can lock yourself in; or come up with an alternative.
- Later on, when Lucas and Carla meet up and talk, even though there's plenty of time to explain, and Lucas actually gets a fair way into his explanation, he concludes that there simply isn't enough time to explain. and we're off to find the Indigo Child!
- 'There's No Time To Explain!' is a Fahrenheit meme around these parts.
- Later on, when Lucas and Carla meet up and talk, even though there's plenty of time to explain, and Lucas actually gets a fair way into his explanation, he concludes that there simply isn't enough time to explain. and we're off to find the Indigo Child!
- In Halo: Combat Evolved, Cortana sends Master Chief to warn Keyes not to activate Halo. She tells him she has no time to explain why, and this leads to a horrible mess. The reason for Cortana's panic was that she'd just discovered the "weapons cache" Keyes thought he was looking for was actually a Flood containment facility.
- There is a flash game entitled No Time to Explain in which your player is intruded on in his home by him from the future, who informs the player of the fact and remarks "there's no time to explain!" before getting dragged out by a Giant Enemy Crab, leaving you to pick up a giant laser beam doubling as a jetpack to stop the crab. It turns out that a (mostly, aside from possibly giving you and your past self a T-Rex heads or glasses) Stable Time Loop is in effect, and after being dragged out of the house by the Giant Enemy Crab again (also possibly wearing a T-Rex head or glasses), the original player screams "I should've seen this coming!!" A commercial remake was released later, which proves there's really no time to explain all the crazy stuff before the first attack.
- A doppelganger of yours says this literally in Simon the Sorcerer 2 after you break out of a cell. He also hands you a strange twig that teleports you outside and as it turns out, your doppelganger was actually your future self helping you escape via a so called timestick.
- In Steins;Gate, Okabe says this a lot when time-leaping to prevent Mayuri's death. He notes it's a sign of just how much Mayuri trusts him that she doesn't ask questions and goes along with him (though she does make him promise to explain later). Later averted when he realizes that he cannot do this on his own, so he begins taking the time to explain to his friends what's going on, which is implied to take a bit of time.
- In Destiny, the Exo Stranger summons the player's Guardian to Venus, and while telling them about the Black Garden, says that she doesn't even have the time to explain why she doesn't have time to explain herself or why she's helping you. In fact, she spends much of the conversation talking to someone elsewhere who is also in danger, and at the end she has to abruptly teleport away to protect them from another threat.
- Rephrased, with some self-awareness, in The Order of the Stick:
Vaarsuvius: ''You may have noticed that my explanations tend to take longer than the plans themselves.
Vaarsuvius: ''Time is at a premium, precluding extended discussion.
- In Katamari, the Prince from the Bad Future dismisses his past counterpart's questions about what's going to happen by rushing them both off to recruit help. He also doesn't bother to explain during the flight over.
- In RetroBlade, Conveniently used by Doctor T here. Time travel can spice up the use of this line in the long run.
- Schlock Mercenary has this in its Big Book of War. Twice.
Maxim 2: A Sergeant in motion outranks a lieutenant who doesn't know what's going on.
- The Artist is Dead!
The Witch: I'll tell you laterThe Figure: Why?The Witch: Remember when I said that everything was fine and we could stop running?The Figure: No.The Witch: That's why.
- In Charlie the Unicorn 3:
Blue unicorn: Come with us to the future!Pink unicorn: We need your help to finish our snowman!Charlie: Snowman? What're you going on about?Blue unicorn: There's no time to explain!Pink unicorn: Grab on to our tongues!
- A popular meme is based upon this. It can have multiples variation but generally comes in two ways: An animal driving a vehicle (There's No Time to Explain, get in the [Vehicle]) or someone driving an odd-shaped vehicle with a similar caption addressing said weird transportation method.
- Parodied In Sonic for Hire, Sonic and Tails get the clue "When at the start the code is the key". Sonic figures it out but repeatedly refuses to tell Tails what the answer is, saying "There's no time!". It's even further parodied as there is a part where the two are riding an extremely slow platform and Tails points out there's plenty of time to explain, however Sonic just jumps to the next platform shouting "No time!".
- Dreamscape: When Kai "recruits" someone (as in using CHEN to practically kidnap them), he has a bad habit of leaving out information until they are at a safe location.
- Happens a lot in Totally Spies!, though by the fifth time the phrase could practically be swapped with, "You were brainwashed by the villain of the week, but we stopped him, and now you're back to normal." Brainwashing is very a popular thing in this show.
- The Simpsons:
- In the episode "Lemon of Troy", Nelson bursts into the classroom and shouts "Everybody come quick! Something's happened. No Time to Explain." Along the way, he stops take a drink at a fountain, and is asked if it wouldn't be simpler to explain the matter. His response is "No! I said there's no time to explain and I stick by that!"
- Lampshaded in another episode, where Bart's fat-camp controller takes him home to see his family, and tells him "No talking on the way, it'll spoil the drama!"
- Averted in an episode of The Transformers, where a human character does inform the main characters of a plot against them using one of their own as bait before action is taken. However, the leader only bothers to listen to a fraction of it, and only agrees to listen to the rest after he's mobilized his forces to save their friend.
- "No time to explain, Fred!" was Super Chicken's Catch-Phrase (well, one of them) in George of the Jungle.
- A common phrase used in Jackie Chan Adventures is "Talk Later", used when a character has No Time to Explain and has to deal with a bigger problem.
- Birdman plays this card in the Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law episode "Avenger for Ransom", as he steals top-secret government documents and flies out the window, when just a few more words might have averted a skirmish with the military. Later, when he reveals that the documents he gave the villain were worthless, the general apologizes to him for doubting his word.
- In the first season finale of Ben 10, Grandpa Max's response to Vilgax's attack on Ben is to take the RV and drive away in the direction of Mount Rushmore. Gwen asks why they're going there when Ben's in trouble. Max says there's no time to explain. Despite being on an extended drive, a la the above Greg the Bunny example. To the show's credit, Gwen chews him out for his oversecrecy in the next episode.
- Angelina Ballerina: The Next Steps has the titular character saying this when her best friend, Alice, is saying about not liking of going to separate schools. Guess what she tried to her in the end.
- Averted in ReBoot, in the season 3 episode "Mouse Trap". Bob tells the crew that they have to lower the shields (which were the only things keeping them safe from the ravages of the Web) in order to pass through the buffer surrounding Mainframe. There's a general outcry at this because it sounds insane, but when AndrAIa asks Bob why, he explains. (Turns out, their shields were made from dead web creatures, which was why Mouse's trap, set up to protect Mainframe from such beings, had activated.)
- In "Magical Mystery Cure" from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, after Rainbow Dash's cutie mark is restored to normal, she asks just what happened. Twilight Sparkle tells her that there's no time to explain; they have to go fix Applejack. There isn't literally a time limit, but Twilight probably feels that the time for explanation is after the rest of the cast has been rescued from their misery.
- Super Friends 1973/74 episode "The Androids". While Wendy and Marvin are held captive in Dr. Rebos' laboratory she comes up with an idea. After tricking the Wonder Dog android into leaving the room she calls Marvin over and shows him an android assembly kit. When he asks what they'll make she says there's no time to explain and they get to work (they need to hurry because they have to be finished before the Wonder Dog android returns).