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Once Upon a Time

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"We don't need lists of rights and wrongs, tables of do's and don'ts: we need books, time, and silence. 'Thou shalt not' is soon forgotten, but 'Once upon a time' lasts forever."

Once upon a time there was a trope. This trope was a Stock Phrase and a very old one. In fact, according to Webster's, it goes back at least to 1380. It began almost every Fairy Tale there ever was.

It was a very popular trope. In French it was il était une fois (Literally: "It was a time") and in German it was es war einmal, which literally meant "It was once." Sometimes it was translated as "Once there was" or "A long time ago," but most often, this trope was simply translated as "Once upon a time." Other languages have translated it directly. Russian fairy tales often start "Zhyl-byl...", that is, "Once there lived...". In Ireland it was "There was this man...." which comes from the Irish language "Bhí fear ann fadó...." (There was a man a long time ago...). Armenian folk tales would typically start with "There once was and was not", indicating that the story was fictional.

Now, stories that began with "Once upon a time" often ended with "...and they all lived Happily Ever After." But Once never got to the end of the stories — he always stayed at the beginning. And that is where he will always be.

Now, are you sitting comfortably? Then let's begin. Once upon a time... note 


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  • A Juicy Juice commercial provided a Take That! at fruit drinks consisting only 10% of real juice by showing a father read his daughter a bedtime story with a "10% Satisfaction Guaranteed" seal on its cover.
    Once upon a time, there was a princess. The end.

    Anime and Manga 
  • The Japanese version of this is "Mukashi mukashi, aru tokoro ni," literally "Long long ago, in a certain place." Often shortened to just "Mukashi mukashi."
  • The Anthem of the Heart's first line is "Mukashi mukashi, aru tokoro ni." The protagonist, as a child, thought about everything in fairy-tale terms.
  • Princess Tutu: The narrator begins each episode with the Japanese equivalent, むかしむかし(昔々) or "mukashi mukashi." It's rather purposeful, since the show deals in Fairy Tale tropes.
  • Revolutionary Girl Utena uses the same phrase in narrating several plot points, most notably the story of the Prince and the Witch and the story of the Princess who wanted to become a Prince.
  • "Once Upon A Time" is one of the alternate titles for Windaria.

    Card Games 
  • There is a card game called "Once Upon A Time" revolving around storytelling. The stories always start with this.

    Comic Books 
  • Once Upon A Time may be the proper name to the story of JLA/Avengers, given that the phrase starts off each chapter, in the kind of fancy printing and placement usually used for story names in comics.
  • Kurt Busiek's Trinity: Once a race of aliens is telling their creation myth, it starts:
    In the Longago. Aye, and in the Long Longago, and in the time before the Long Longago. In the Before, when nothing was.


    Films — Animated 
  • Beauty and the Beast:
    "Once upon a time in a faraway land, a young prince lived in a shining castle. Although he had everything his heart desired, the prince was spoiled, selfish, and unkind. But then, one winter's night, an old beggar woman came to the castle and offered him a single rose in return for shelter from the bitter cold. Repulsed by her haggard appearance, the prince sneered at the gift and turned the old woman away, but she warned him not to be deceived by appearances, for beauty is found within. And when he dismissed her again, the old woman's ugliness melted away to reveal a beautiful enchantress. The prince tried to apologize, but it was too late, for she had seen that there was no love in his heart, and as punishment she transformed him into a hideous beast and place a powerful spell on the castle and all who lived there. Ashamed of his monstrous form, the beast concealed himself inside his castle, with a magic mirror as his only window to the outside world. The rose she had offered was truly an enchanted rose, which would bloom until his 21st year. If he could learn to love another and earn her love in return by the time the last petal fell, then the spell would be broken. If not, he would be doomed to remain a beast for all time. As the years passed, he fell into despair and lost all hope, for who could ever learn to love a beast?"
  • Cinderella:
    "Once upon a time in a faraway land, there was a tiny kingdom; peaceful, prosperous, and rich in romance and tradition. Here in a stately chateau, there lived a widowed gentleman, and his little daughter, Cinderella. Although he was a kind and devoted father, and gave his beloved child every luxury and comfort, still, he felt she needed a mother's care. And so he married again, choosing for his second wife, a woman of good family, with two daughters just Cinderella's age, by name, Anastasia and Drizella. It was upon the untimely death of this good man, however, that the stepmother's true nature was revealed: cold, cruel, and bitterly jealous of Cinderella's charm and beauty, she was grimly determined to forward the interests of her own two awkward daughters. Thus, as time went by, the chateau fell into disrepair, for the family fortunes were squandered upon the vain and selfish stepsisters while Cinderella was abused, humiliated, and finally forced to become a servant in her own house. And yet, through it all, Cinderella remained ever gentle and kind, for with each dawn she found new hope that someday her dreams of happiness would come true."
  • Fun and Fancy Free: The "Mickey and the Beanstalk" segment starts this way, which is lampshaded by Charlie McCarthy:
    Edgar Bergen: Once upon a time, long, long ago...
    Charlie: Funny, nothing ever happens nowadays.
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas:
    Twas a long time ago, longer now than it seems
    In a place perhaps you've seen in your dreams...
  • Oliver & Company
    Now it's always Once upon a time in New York City
  • Pinocchio
    Jiminy Cricket: One night, a long time ago, my travels took me to a quaint little village. It was beautiful night. The stars were shining like diamonds high above the roofs of that sleepy old town, pretty as a picture. As I wandered along the crooked streets, there wasn't a soul to be seen. The only sign of life was a lighted window in the shop of a woodcarver named Geppetto. So, I hopped over and looked in.
  • Rock-A-Doodle:
    Once upon a time, back before I even learned how to tie my shoes, the Sun came up. Now I know an ordinary sunrise may not be such a big deal to some folks, but imagine for a moment, instead of rising up like this: (the Sun starts to rise from Earth orbit) One morning where you live, she took a look around, and decided to go back to sleep. It happened once to us. Let me tell you all about it..."
  • Shrek:
    • The first movie appeared to use this trope at first, but lampshaded it and used a page of the book as toilet paper. Not surprising, since the movie is a Deconstructive Parody of fairy tales.
      Once upon a time, there was a lovely princess. But she had an enchantment upon her of a fearful sort, which could only be broken by love's first kiss. She was locked away in a castle guarded by a terrible fire-breathing dragon. Many brave knights had attempted to free her from this dreadful prison, but none prevailed. She waited in the dragon's keep, in the highest room of the tallest tower, for her true love, and true love's first kiss.
    • Shrek 2 played it a little straighter, until the sight of the Big Bad Wolf cut the narration short.
      Once upon a time, in a kingdom far, far away, the king and queen were blessed with a beautiful baby girl, and throughout the land everyone was happy, until the sun went down, and they saw that their daughter was cursed with a frightful enchantment that took hold each and every night. Desperate, they sought the help of a fairy godmother, who had them lock the young princess away in a tower, there to await the kiss of the handsome Prince Charming. It was he who would chance the perilous journey through blistering cold and scorching desert, traveling for many days and nights, risking life and limb to reach the dragon's keep, for he was the bravest, and most handsome in all the land, and it was destiny that his kiss would break the dreaded curse. He alone would climb to the highest room of the tallest tower to enter the princess's chambers, cross the room to her sleeping silhouette, pull back the gossamer curtains to find her...
    • The spinoff Puss in Boots: The Last Wish plays the trope completely straight.
      Once upon a time, a Wishing Star fell from the sky. Scorching a great woods black, the Dark Forest was born, the Wishing Star hidden at its center, filling it with new life, and the legend of a single wish locked away in the star, waiting to be granted.
  • Steven Universe: The Movie has the phrase "Once upon a time..." begin each verse of the song "Happily Ever After".
  • The animated feature Twice Upon a Time uses this phrase in its opening narration.
  • Yellow Submarine:
    Narrator: Once upon a time, or maybe twice, there was an unearthly paradise called Pepperland. 80,000 leagues beneath the sea it lay, or lie. I'm not too sure.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Often used in film titles:
  • Inglourious Basterds:
    Once upon a time, in Nazi-occupied France.
  • The Star Wars series will start each film with a variation on this phrasenote :
    "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..."
  • Once Upon a Forest
  • Enchanted:
    Narrator: Once upon a time, in a magical kingdom known as Andalasia, there lived an evil queen. Selfish and cruel, she lived in fear that one day her stepson would marry and she would lose her throne forever. And so she did all in her power to prevent the prince from ever meeting the one special maiden with whom he would share true love's kiss.
  • Godmothered: The first sentence spoken is "Once upon a time, there was a magical place called the Motherland, where Fairy Godmothers lived and learned all they needed to know about godmothering."
  • The Sixth Sense:
    Malcolm Crowe: Once upon a time there was this person named Malcolm. He worked with children. He loved it. He loved it more than anything else. And then one night, he found out that he made a mistake with one of them. He couldn't help that one. And he can't stop thinking about it, he can't forget. Ever since then, things have been different. He's not the same person that he used to be. And his wife doesn't like the person that he's become. They barely speak anymore, they're like strangers. And then one day Malcolm meets this wonderful little boy, a really cool little boy. Reminds him a lot of the other one. And Malcolm decides to try and help this new boy. 'Cause he feels that if he can help this new boy, it would be like helping that other one too.
  • Spaceballs: The prologue text begins with "Once upon a time warp".
  • WarGames:
    Stephen Falken: Now, children, come on over here. I'm going to tell you a bedtime story. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin. Once upon a time, there lived a magnificent race of animals that dominated the world through age after age. They ran, they swam, and they fought and they flew, until suddenly, quite recently, they disappeared. Nature just gave up and started again. We weren't even apes then. We were just these smart little rodents hiding in the rocks. And when we go, nature will start again. With the bees, probably. Nature knows when to give up, David.note 
  • In Ever After when Danielle's descendant is about to tell the "true" story of Cinderella she Lampshades this. She has recently read the works of the Grimm Brothers, so she has only recently learned the storytelling conventions:
    Now then, what was that phrase you use? Oh, yes. Once upon a time...
  • Inverted in Emir Kusturica's Underground - the final words in the film are:
    "Once upon a time there was a country called Yugoslavia..."
  • Scott Pilgrim vs. The World:
    Once upon a time, in the mysterious land of Toronto, Canada, Scott Pilgrim was dating a high schooler...
  • In-universe: Kolya has an example of a girlfriend of Louka's telling little Kolya stories in Russian over the phone (while her husband is away, naturally enough), starting audibly with Zhyl-byl....
  • The Return of Swamp Thing:
    Once upon a time... in the Swamp.
  • Holes
    "Once upon a time, there was a magical land where it never rained. The end.'''"
  • Sabrina
    • The 1954 original begins with this:
      "Once upon a time, on the north shore of Long Island, some thirty miles from New York, there lived a small girl on a large estate. The estate was very large indeed, and had many servants. There were gardeners to take care of the gardens, and a tree surgeon on a retainer. There was a boatman to take care of the boats: to put them in the water in the spring, and scrape their bottoms in the winter. There were specialists to take care of the grounds: the outdoor tennis court and the indoor tennis court, the outdoor swimming pool and the indoor swimming pool. And there was a man of no particular title who took care of the small pool in the garden for a goldfish named George. Also on the estate there was a chauffeur by the name of Fairchild who had been imported from England years ago together with a new Rolls-Royce. Fairchild was a fine chauffeur of considerable polish, like the eight cars in his care, and he had a daughter by the name of Sabrina. It was the eve of the annual six-meter yacht races, and as had been traditional on Long Island for the past thirty years, the Larrabees were giving a party. It never rained on the night of the Larrabee party. The Larrabees wouldn't have stood for it. There were four Larrabees in all - father, mother, and two sons. Maude and Oliver Larrabee were married in nineteen hundred and six, and among their many wedding presents was the town house in New York and this estate for weekends. The town house has since been converted into Saks Fifth Avenue. Linus Larrabee, the elder son, graduated from Yale, where his classmates voted him The Man Most Likely To Leave His Alma Mater Fifty Million Dollars. His brother, David, went through several of the best eastern colleges for short periods of time, and through several marriages for even shorter periods of time. He is now a successful six-goal polo player and is listed on Linus's tax return as a six hundred dollar deduction. Life was pleasant among the Larrabees, for this was as close to heaven as one could get on Long Island."
    • The 1995 remake uses this phrase in both the opening and closing narrations:
      "Once upon a time, on the north shore of Long Island, not far from New York, there was a very, very large mansion-almost a castle-where there lived a family by the name of Larrabee. There were servants inside the mansion, and servants outside the mansion. Boatmen to tend the boats, and six crews of gardeners-two for the solarium, the rest for the grounds, and a tree surgeon on retainer. There were specialists for the indoor tennis courts, and the outdoor tennis courts, the outdoor swimming pool, and the indoor swimming pool. And over the garage, there lived a chauffeur by the name of Fairchild, imported from England years ago, together with a Rolls-Royce, and a daughter named Sabrina. Among other things, the Larrabees were noted for the parties they gave. Few people anymore give parties the way they did. It never rained on the night of a Larrabee party. The Larrabees wouldn't have stood for it. There was Maude Larrabee, who inherited the Larrabee Corporation when her husband died on the 13th hole at Pebble Beach. There was Linus, the older son, who graduated from Yale at 19, and took his mother and the company for a ride on the fiber-optic highway, and turned a hundred-million-dollar family business into some serious money. Linus was on the cover of Time. But most of all, there was David, the younger son, who was in and out of many schools and even more relationships. He was handsome and charming and funny and romantic. David did a Gap ad. Sabrina? She made him laugh."
      "Once upon a time, on the north shore of Long Island, not far from New York, there was a very, very large mansion, almost a castle. And on this very large estate lived a small girl. And life was pleasant there and very, very simple. But, then one day, the girl grew up and went beyond the walls of the grounds and found the world."
  • Us
    "Once upon a time, there was a girl and the girl had a shadow. The two were connected, tethered together. When the girl ate, her food was given to her warm and tasty. But when the shadow was hungry, she had to eat rabbit raw and bloody. On Christmas, the girl received wonderful toys; soft and cushy. But the shadow's toys were so sharp and cold they sliced through her fingers when she tried to play with them. The girl met a handsome prince and fell in love. But the shadow at that same time had Abraham. It didn't matter if she loved him or not. He was tethered to the girl's prince after all. Then the girl had her first child, a beautiful baby girl. But the shadow, she gave birth to a little monster. Umbrae was born laughing. The girl had a second child, a boy this time. They had to cut her open and take him from her belly. The shadow had to do it all herself. She named him Pluto, he was born to love fire. So you see, the shadow hated the girl so much for so long until one day the shadow realized she was being tested by God."
  • Bedtime Story (1964):
    "Once upon a time, in a castle by the sea, there lived a handsome prince. Well, it wasn't really a castle. It was a chateau on the French Riviera. And he wasn't really a prince, although people thought he was, especially his victims.… Although his victims gave up priceless treasures, there was none but felt that it was a poor price to pay for such a glorious adventure. Meanwhile, in a forest surrounding a little German village, there was a wolf. He prowled the countryside in search of victims. Like the prince, he preyed only upon women."
  • Song of the South: Uncle Remus says this when he starts to tell the story of Br'er Rabbit and the Tar Baby.
    "Once upon a time... Not your time, not yet my time. But one time... I was goin' fishin', and I was just thinkin' how the flowers and critters is curious things. They can look in your heart and tell when it sings. If it's whistlin' a tune or singin' a song, they'll all say 'Howdy!' when you come along."
  • Pinocchio (2022, Disney): The films opens similarly to the original classic in that Jiminy Cricket uses the phrase to open the story, which the Jiminy-in-story lampshades.
    Narrator!Jiminy: It's a story that begins a long time ago. Well, actually, it's a story that begins once upon a time, a long time ago. That's right, much better, much more precise.
    Jiminy: Never understood that expression. How can it be once upon a time?
  • The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm uses this phrase to begin the vignettes based on The Elves and the Cobbler and The Singing Bone, and to end the whole movie.
    "Once upon a time, there was a cobbler. An old, old cobbler. He had snowy white hair. A big thick mustache. Bushy eyebrows riding on a sea of wrinkles. He worked very hard. Day in and day out. But for various reasons his customers were not pleased."
    "Once upon a time, long , long ago, in a faraway land there lived a huge and fearful dragon. He was as tall as the tallest tree in the forest. When he walked, it was an earthquake. When he breathed, a forest fire. All the people lived in terror of this monstrous beast who had invaded their land from no one knew where. For he ate up their crops, devoured their cattle, and carried off all the young children to his lair."
    "Once upon a time, there were two brothers."

  • Ant And Bee: The first Ant and Bee book uses the phrase several times in the first few pages.
    Once upon a time there was an Ant. And once upon a time, this ant did not know that there was somebody in the world called Bee. And once upon a time, this bee did not know that there was somebody in the world called Ant, because once upon a time, Ant and Bee did not know about each other.
    Once upon a time Ant had a hat which was too big for him. And once upon a time Bee had a hat which was too small for him.
  • The Bible:
    "In the beginning..."
  • ''Choo Choo (1937):
    "Once upon a time there was a little engine. Her name was CHOO CHOO. She was a beautiful little engine. All black and shiny."
  • Lord Dunsany in Time and the Gods:
    "Upon an evening of the forgotten years the gods were seated on the hills."
  • Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie:
    "I was born in the city of Bombay...once upon a time."
  • A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man by James Joyce:
    "Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo..."
  • Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein:
    "Once upon a time when the world was young there was a Martian named Smith."
  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens:
    "Once upon a time — of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve — old Scrooge sat busy in his counting-house."
  • In The Colour of Magic:
    'We've strayed into a zone with a high magical index,' he said. 'Don't ask me how. Once upon a time a really powerful magic field must have been generated here, and we're feeling the after-effects.'
    'Precisely,' said a passing bush.
  • Friedrich Nietzsche, On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense:
    "Once upon a time, in some out of the way corner of that universe which is dispersed into numberless twinkling solar systems, there was a star upon which clever beasts invented knowing."
  • Winnie the Pooh:
    "Once upon a time, a very long time ago, about last Friday..."
  • From The King's Chessboard:
    "Once, long ago in what is now India there was a wise man who performed a service for the king of Deccan..."
  • Parodied in Bored of the Rings:
    Cellophane [...] bid them tell the tale of their adventures.
    Arrowroot cleared his throat. "Once upon a time," he began.
    "Call me Ishmael," said Gimlet.
    "Whanne in Aprille," started Legolam.
    "Hear me, oh Muse," commenced Bromosel.
  • The Eyes of The Dragon by Stephen King:
    "Once, in a kingdom called Delain, there was a King with two sons."
  • J. R. R. Tolkien's Smith of Wootton Major:
    "There was a village, once, not very long ago for those with long memories."
  • In "The Voice on the Radio, the third in Caroline B. Cooney's Janie series.
    Reeve begins the story of Jainie with "Once upon a time."
  • Storyteller: Subverted. When the grandfather starts to tell the story, he begins with "Once upon a time..." but his grandchild stops him by complaining that they are tired of stories always starting that way and asks him to try starting the story another way.
  • Played with in The Adventures of Pinocchio: "Centuries ago, there lived... 'A king!' my little readers will say immediately. No, children, you are mistaken. Once upon a time, there was a piece of wood."
  • At one point in James and the Giant Peach, Centipede begins reciting a poem that starts this way but nearly falls of the peach before he could get past the intro:
    "Once upon a time,
    When pigs were swine,
    And monkeys chewed tobacco,
    And hens took snuff
    To make themselves tough,
    And ducks said, "Quack quack quack-o"
  • The Reader (2016):
    Once there was, and one day there will be. This is the beginning of every story.
  • Princesses of the Pizza Parlor: Used in the description of multiple stories:
    • How the blurb at the back of the paperback collection of the first three episodes starts:
      Once upon a time,
      a niece asked her uncle to manage a
      fantasy game for her and her friends.
      The girls had no idea how to play;
      the uncle had no idea what he was getting into.
    • As part of the online description of "Pasta and Penalties: The Redemption of Princess Isabel, part 1":
      *This is a side-story to the series "Princesses of the Pizza Parlor," taking place between episodes 6 and 7*

      Once upon a gaming table, a young lady tried her hardest to get along with her friends and play nice as she visited their game, only for it all to fall apart because of her. She quit the table soon after, never to return.
  • Earth Sea apparently uses the line "As long ago as yesterday, and as far away as Selidor, there lived a prince...", as ironically noted by a prince who finds himself stranded on the remote island of Selidor.
  • Threadbare: The prologue of the first book starts:
    Once upon a time, there was a teddy bear.
  • RWBY: Fairy Tales of Remnant: The Girl in the Tower is written in a very traditional way, beginning with the standard "A long, long time ago..." and ending with "happily ever after". Professor Ozpin deconstructs this story in his notes, observing that it was a classic piece of propaganda, written by a protagonist who understood the power of fairy tales to inspire. The reason for Ozpin's cynicism is because the classic layout of the fairy tale starkly contrasts the real story — a tragedy that has trapped the Big Bad and Big Good into an endless Secret War for the fate of humanity.
  • Crictor by Tomi Ungerer: The children's book begins thusly:
    Once upon a time in a little French town lived an old lady whose name was Madame Louise Bodot.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Barney & Friends has a song titled after the trope name.
  • Bewitched "I, Darrin, Take This Witch, Samantha (#1.1)"
    Narrator: Once upon a time, there was a typical American girl, who happened to bump into a typical red blooded American boy. And she bumped into him, and bumped into him. So, they decided they'd better sit down and talk this over before they had an accident. They became good friends. They found they had a lot of interests in common. Radio. Television. Trains. And when the boy found the girl attractive, desirable, irresistible, he did what any red-blooded American boy would do: He asked her to marry him. They had a typical wedding. Went on a typical honeymoon, in a typical bridal suite. Except, it so happens that this girl is a witch.
  • Blackadder: In the third season, Baldrick reads the story he wrote:
    "Once upon a time, there was a happy sausage named Baldrick. And he lived happily ever after. The end."
  • Charlie's Angels:
    Charlie Townsend: Once upon a time there were three little girls who went to the police academy - two in Los Angeles, the other in San Francisco - and they were each assigned very hazardous duties. But I took them away from all that, and now they work for me. My name is Charlie.
  • Dead Like Me:
    Georgia: Once upon a time, or more specifically at the dawn of time, god, lower case "g", was getting busy with creation, as the kids these days are saying. He gave Toad a clay jar and said, "Be careful with this. It's got death inside". Pleased as punch and oblivious to the fact that he was about to become god's fall guy on the whole death issue, Toad promised to guard the jar. Then one day Toad met Frog. "Let me hold the jar of death, or what ever you call it", Frog begged. With a nod to Nancy Reagan's pearls of wisdom, Toad just said no. But Frog was determined, and after much whining Toad finally gave in. "You can hold it, but only for a second", he said. In his excitement, Frog began to hop around and juggle the death jar from one foot to the other. Frog was an asshole. "Stop!" Toad cried out, but it was to late. Frog dropped the jar and it shattered to the ground. When it broke open, death got out, and ever since then all living things have to die. Makes you wonder how much better the world would be if frogs just stuck to hawking beer. So there you have it, the mystery of death finally revealed. We all die, some of us sooner then later. For me it's going to be much sooner. But that's only the beginning of my story.
  • Doctor Who "The Android Invasion: Part 1":
    The Doctor: Once upon a time there were three sisters, and they lived in the bottom of a treacle well. Their names were Olga, Marsha and Irena... Are you listening, Tillie?... I feel disorientated.
  • The Drew Carey Show:
    Mr. Wick: Gather around, everyone. Story time. Come on... gather around. Once upon a time... Johnson was fired. And everyone else lived happily ever after. Freaked, but happily.
  • Brian Henson's Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story:
    "Once upon a time...yes, this sounds like a fairytale. A little something for the children."
  • From the same Doctor Who, the 12th Doctor in "Listen"
    The Doctor: Once upon a time *touches Rupert's forehead, sending him to sleep* The end.
  • Married... with Children "Buck Saves the Day":
    Al Bundy: Once upon a time, there was a young boy. A boy... full of hope. He was single, and he was happy. Then one night, much like tonight, something rose from the swamp. He heard a noise behind him: thump-thump, thump-thump. He walked a little faster. Thump-thump-thump-thump. Then he saw it. There, in the light of a bar, stood the evil, redheaded, high-heeled spandex monster. He ran from it. He stood it up, he dated others, but nothing could stop it! He could hear it's wild call: "oh honey? Honey?" It was horrible. Finally... it trapped him. Opened... opened its hideous mouth, bared its fangs and said, "Marry me?"
  • My Name Is Earl, "Creative Writing":
    Joy Turner: Here's a story: Once upon a time, Randy shut up. The end. It had a slow start but I liked the middle.
  • Once Upon a Time in Saengchori is a whimsical Korean Drama about an underperforming branch at a brokerage firm that gets Reassigned to Antarctica, namely the eponymous tiny village in the boonies. The title of the series evokes the light and fanciful mood, as the City Mice from Seoul have strange encounters with the people of the quirky town. The title also evokes the element of fantasy in the Lightning Can Do Anything plot in which a high-ranking manager at the firm loses all sense of numbers after he's struck by lightning.
  • Salvage 1 (1979):
    Narrator: [opening narration] Once upon a time, a junkman had a dream.
  • Titus, "The Smell of Success":
    Ken Titus: I got a little story I wanna tell you. Once upon a time... NO! If I help you now, you'll never learn to help yourself! [leaves]
    Ken Titus: I got a little story I wanna tell you. Once upon a time, your dog got hit by a truck this morning!
  • Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars: '
    "For the 89th time...once upon a time there was a boy named John and John was an astronaut. He lived in a far away place called Earth which is so far away you've never heard of it. One day when John was out doing astronaut things a big, blue wormhole gobbled him up and spat him out at the far end of the universe. Things were looking grim in Mudville, till our hero met an amazing living ship, made some nice new friends, and he hooked up with his dream girl. We could've lived happily ever after, but the Peacekeepers raped, chased and tortured us for years on end. And two months ago, we got our asses shot off again."
  • Mister Rogers' Neighborhood: The opera "Spoon Mountain" begins:
    "Once upon a time, not so very long ago. Not so very long ago."
  • Once Upon a Time: It's not just the title, it's the very first thing we see.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer. While playing with their Cute Kitten, Tara tells her lover Willow a story of a stray kitten who was placed with a bunch of other strange animals in the pound and eventually adopted by a nice family.
  • In My Special Book, Book Girl, who loves telling stories, always begins her stories by saying "Once upon a time..."

  • The Small Faces, "Happiness Stan Suite".
    Stanley Unwin: Are you all seaty comftibold two-square on your botty? Then I'll begin. (Song: "Happiness Stan") Now, of courst, like all real-life experience story, this also begins once upolly tie-toe...
  • Total Eclipse of the Heart:
    Once upon a time I was falling in love
    But now I'm only falling apart
    There's nothing I can do
    A total eclipse of the heart.
  • The James Taylor song "Our Town," used in the movie Cars, begins
    Long ago, but not so very long ago,
    The world was different, oh yes it was...
  • Billy Joel's "Falling of the Rain" begins:
    Once upon a time in the land of misty satin dreams
    There stood a house and a man who painted nature scenes...
  • "Once Upon A Time In The West" by Dire Straits.
  • Don McLean's "American Pie":
    A long, long time ago
    I can still remember...
  • "Those Were the Days", recorded most memorably by Mary Hopkin:
    Once upon a time there was a tavern
    Where we used to raise a glass or two...
  • "Fairytale" Sara Bareilles, mickey-taking every fairytale written with:
    Once upon a time in a far away kingdom
    Man made up a story, said that I should believe him...
  • Waltzing Matilda:
    Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong,
    Under the shade of a coolibah tree...
  • Taylor Swift's "Forever and Always", a bitter break-up song, begins with:
    'Once upon a time', I believe it was a Tuesday when I caught your eye...
  • On the 1969 Christmas record The Beatles sent out to their fan clubs, John Lennon began a story with "Once upon a pool table..."

  • Edgar Allan Poe, The Raven:
    Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary...
  • Also from Poe, "Annabel Lee"
    It was many and many a year ago,
    In a kingdom by the sea,
    That a maiden there lived whom you may know
    By the name of Annabel Lee;

    Puppet Shows 
  • Bear in the Big Blue House had a song titled this.
    "Once upon a time / That's the way the story goes / Now where it's gonna end up / No one knows."

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Exalted, Koans and sutras associated with the Sidereals inevitably begin this way:
    "Once, there was a maiden..."

  • Into the Woods opens with this line being spoken by the Narrator before the music starts. The second act begins similarly:
    Narrator: "Once upon a time[music starts] —later..."
  • The Opening Narration from The Solid Gold Cadillac:
    This is a fairy story—the story of Cinderella and the four ugly corporation directors. Once upon a time, not so long ago, Cinderella went down to Wall Street, not in a gold coach drawn by six white horses, but in the I.R.T. subway.
  • Call Me Madam has the song "Once Upon A Time Today."
  • Hairspray uses this phrase at the beginning of almost every verse of "Mama, I'm a Big Girl Now".
  • Anastasia has this exchange:
    Dmitry: Do you believe in fairy tales, Vlad?
    Vlad: "Once upon a time" I did!
  • There's an entire song in Bare: A Pop Opera named after this trope. It occurs during the second act and is sung by Jason after finding out that he impregnated Ivy and breaking up with his boyfriend again as he reflects on the days when his relationship with Peter was carefree and happy and his fear that God will not accept him for being gay.

    Video Games 

    Web Animation 
  • The opening narration of Beauty and the Beast (Phelous) begins with: "Once upon a time, there was a damn idiot in a castle."
  • The flash cartoon The Fifth Avocado opens with "Once upon a time, there was a ducky that drank some Snapple."
  • Ukinojoe's "Irod Bad":
    Narrator: Once upon a time, Tony Stark was just walking through the desert, when (explosion) he was kidnapped by terrorists!
  • Zero Punctuation: Red Faction: Guerrilla
    Yahtzee: Once upon a time, a fresh-faced youngster saved up all his pennies and bought his first PS2, and with it he bought a game called Red Faction 1, and after rushing home to play he discovered that Red Faction 1 was not a very good game. Actually it was total shite on a crusty roll.

    Web Video 
  • Lindsay Ellis begins part two of the Loose Canon episode about The Phantom of the Opera like so:
    "Once upon a time, there was this brilliant composer, not the best looking guy. And one day, this beautiful, young, chestnut-haired, singing and dancing ingenue floats into his life, and he falls in love with her. And he decides, 'I'm gonna take you under my wing, and tutor you, and compose this incredible masterwork for you to star in.' And she was enthralled at first, but then, in the end, it didn't work out too well. I'm talking, of course, about the tragic, torid tale...of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Sarah Brightman, during the creation of what would eventually become the longest-running Broadway show in musical theater history!"
  • Sam & Mickey's "Career Girl" has Barbie deliver a Career Day speech consisting of over 50 anecdotes with this template:
    "Once upon a time, I had a dream. A dream to be a/an (insert job here). So I studied hard, I bought the outfit, and eventually...I became a/an (job)."


    Western Animation 
  • The intro to The PJs starts with "Once upon a time in the projects," which is also the title of an Ice Cube song.
  • Spongebob Squarepants, "Something Smells":
    Patrick: Once, there was an ugly barnacle. He was so ugly that everyone died. The end.
  • Il était une fois...: Albert Barillé produced tons of educational animated series which all got "Once upon a time" in their title, completed with the main subject (man, space, life, America, inventors, explorers...). They also shared a very similar cast of reccuring characters.
  • One episode of The Simpsons is called "Once Upon a Time in Springfield".
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic begins its very first episode with a narration from Princess Celestia.
    Princess Celestia:"Once upon a time, in the magical land of Equestria..."
  • The Ren & Stimpy Show: "Once upon a time, the sky grew black as blood."
  • Most, if not all Fractured Fairy Tales begins with "Once upon a time."
  • The Elmer Fudd/Daffy Duck outing "A Pest In The House" begins thusly:
    Once upon a time, there was a labor shortage...
  • In The Scarlet Pumpernickel, Daffy Duck's proposed script starts this way:
    Daffy, "Once upon a time..." Great opening, huh?
  • Samurai Jack: "Aku's Fairy Tales": "Once upon a time there was a sweet little girl, with a red riding cape and GREAT FLAAAAMING EYEBROWS!"

    Real Life 
  • The Gettysburg Address:
    Abraham Lincoln: Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.


Video Example(s):


Once Upon a Time (Bare)

Jason's lowest moment. As he reflects on the mistakes he's made and the parts of himself he thinks are wrong, he desperately tries to turn to God for help.

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Main / OnceUponATime

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