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Right on the Tick

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"Right on the tick! Amazing! Absolutely amazing!"

This trope is all about the association of important plot events with a specific time. This includes times which are linked to folklore, urban legend, or history, but this trope also applies to in-universe examples, if the time in question is given significance in-universe. Extraordinary events—both good and bad—may happen at a specific time, or that time may serve to remind characters (and the audience) of a significant event which has already happened.

Not all examples of attention paid to the time of day belong here. It's only Right On The Tick if a) it has already been established in a work that this time is significant; and b) special attention is paid to the passage of time or the proximity of Time X. Such attention can include shots of or descriptions of watches or clock faces, but the significant time can also be indicated by tolling church bells or the chiming of a distant clock. For example, if you're watching a movie in which aliens attack only at 7:07 A.M., and the characters in the film keep watching the clock to see when the aliens will attack, that's an example of Right On The Tick. If, on the other hand, the aliens' kill happens at a randomly chosen time, and the camera just happens to pan out and show us that Bob became breakfast at precisely 7:07 A.M., that may have dramatic significance, but it's not an example of this trope.

Subversions may include stories in which something which is supposed to happen at X o'clock either does not happen at all or happens at a different time.

This trope can be pulled with the help of a Cuckoo Clock Gag. Compare Race Against the Clock. Contrast Clock Discrepancy. See also When the Clock Strikes Twelve, a trope specifically about midnight. All examples related to midnight should be listed there rather than here. See also Exact Time to Failure, which is about relative time rather than absolute. For other references to clocks or time, see Stopped Clock or 24-Hour Trope Clock. For a character who's determined to keep everyone on time, see Clock King. See also Clockwork Prediction and Three... Two... One... Despite the name, has nothing to do with The Tick.


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  • Death Note: Light is often shown watching the clock or his watch as he waits for the Death Note to take effect- most obviously in the case of Naomi, who fails to die on time, due to giving him a false name.
  • Ghost Stories: In the sports festival episode, it's predicted that Datto the ghost will kill the runner in the fourth lane at precisely 4:44 (at least in the gag dub). Apparently, this is his usual pattern of attack.

    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The ending of A Serious Shock! Yes Madam! have Cocco finding her kidnapped son, with a Time Bomb strapped on him. After a bit of Wire Dilemma (with Cocco ready to die with her child if all else fails) the bomb eventually stopped... witn 1 second on the timer left.
  • In The Exorcism of Emily Rose, 3:00 A.M. functioned as a significant time because of a legend which claims that 3:00 A.M. is the hour when evil has greater power, since it is the opposite of the time when Jesus Christ was believed to have been crucified (3:00 P.M.).
  • Back to the Future Part II: Trope Namer. The original has the Hill Valley clock tower struck by lightning at precisely 10:04 P.M. on November 12, 1955. Doc then comments how the post office should be as efficient as the weather service in the future. This foreshadows the ending, when right after the DeLorean is struck by lightning, a man from 1955 Western Union delivers a letter from 1885 to Marty, which was instructed to be delivered not only at an exact time, but at an exact location.
  • Independence Day: The first half has David intercept a signal that the alien cruisers are preparing to attack all major cities at once at a specific time, identified by a countdown timer. And exactly that happens.
  • High Noon makes heavy use of this trope, constantly reminding the viewers of how fast the noon hour is approaching.
  • In Duck Soup, President Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) is supposed to turn up when the clock strikes ten. Subverted for laughs as he sneaks in from the back using a fireman's pole.
  • 1408: At one point during the torture of John Cusack's character by the "evil room" in , the clock radio starts a 60 minute countdown. The movie ends precisely 60 minutes later, to the second.
  • In Midnight in Paris, the mysterious Time Travel vehicle always arrives at a particular street-corner at precisely midnight. Gil just misses bringing his fiance Inez along for the ride by getting his timing wrong.
  • The indie film Clockwatchers featuring four office temps doing Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
  • Nick of Time has Gene Watson (played by Johnny Depp) being forced to kill someone within a certain time limit or his daughter will be killed. The entire film takes place in Real Time, with many shots showing clocks or watches with the current time as the film progresses.
  • Camp Nowhere's titular summer camp has a daily 5:15 flyby from jets stationed at a nearby Air Force base. A minor character mentions that it's missed when it doesn't happen, and its timing later becomes plot-crucial.
  • Trading Places shows all the traders at the New York commodities market's frozen concentrate orange juice trading pit standing and waiting till the clock hits 9:00 AM and start trading.
  • Octopussy: Bond has to race from East Germany to an American air base in West Germany to stop a nuclear warhead from detonating at 3:45 PM.

  • In the urban legend 11:11, this is the time at which a high school couple were killed in a car accident on their way home from the dance. According to the story, all the teens still at the dance paused and noticed that time (without realizing the significance of it)—and now you, the listener, will remember it too.
  • In another urban legend, at exactly 20 minutes past the hour, an inexplicable silence will (allegedly) fall over any conversation or crowded room.

  • In Oliver Twist, 8:00 A.M. has special significance because it is the hour when prisoners were executed. Nancy thus pays attention to the chiming of the clock when it strikes eight.
  • Dorothy L. Sayers' Busman's Honeymoon also references the 8:00 A.M. execution time; at the end of the book, Lord Peter Wimsey falls apart at 8 A.M., because he knows that the criminal he helped catch and convict is being executed.
  • A Christmas Carol: Subverted. Jacob Marley's ghost tells Scrooge that the Three Spirits will arrive at specific times on three consecutive nights. The spirits do show up right on time, except that due to some supernatural time-twisting, all of their visits occur on the SAME night—Christmas Eve—meaning that Scrooge wakes up in time to celebrate Christmas.
  • In Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days, Fogg's bet specifies that he must complete his travels in precisely that amount of time, and that he will lose the bet if he gets back to the club to declare his success even one second later than 8:45 pm on the 80th day, no matter how much earlier than that he got back to London. Time zones come into play in the resolution.
  • Discworld:
    • In Witches Abroad, the villain is trying to make a Cinderella-type story happen and the witches have to stop it, so one thing Nanny Ogg does is mess with the clock so it strikes midnight at only half past nine.
    • In Reaper Man, Death knows his replacement the New Death will only attack at midnight - there's no reason why he couldn't do it earlier, but he's the type to use Drama like that.
    • Deconstructed in Men at Arms: Vimes has the culprit in his gonnesight and very much wants to shoot him, but knows he's still a Watch officer - duty-bound to bring the killer in alive - until the clock chimes the hour and his retirement becomes official. Clocks all over the city start chiming, apparently freeing him to do as he wishes, but none of them are correct; clockwork technology in Ankh-Morpork isn't advanced enough to be relied upon, and some Guilds even set their clocks wrong on purpose. It's not until after Carrot has talked Vimes down that the watch he'd received as a retirement gift - a much more accurate timepiece - actually does chime the hour.
  • The chapter headings for every book of Gone list the exact time to the climactic event of the book, to the second. In the first book, this refers to the exact time until Sam turns 15 years old, in the context that anyone over fifteen years old in the FAYZ disappears.

    Live-Action TV 
  • M*A*S*H: 5 O'Clock Charlie is the camp's nickname for a North Korean pilot who comes by every day at exactly 5 PM to strafe the camp - or at least he would if he wasn't such a bad shot.
  • Some of the music from The Drew Carey Show references this trope: In "5 O'Clock World," a guy drudges all day until 5 and then he starts to live, and at the top of the DC version of "Cleveland Rocks" everyone's watching the clock for 5 so they can run out.
  • In the Supernatural episode "Frontierland", Dean has to defeat a phoenix in a Wild West gunfight by high noon. It Makes Sense in Context. This trope is invoked through the use of clocks and watches.
  • During the initial retreat in the Battlestar Galactica reboot, the Cylons caught up with the Colonial fleet every 33 minutes on the nose. By 200+ repeats of this, the crew had set up a timer on the command deck to eye nervously.
  • Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger: During Burai's last two episodes there are several shots focusing on clocks, to emphasize that his borrowed time is running out. It runs out on precisely the stroke of two, leaving him to die.
  • Chernobyl: Legasov kills himself at the exact time, 1:23:45, that the Chernobyl accident. happened, exactly two years later. This is accompanied by several shots of a clock. Episode 5's How We Got Here calls attention to the exact time of events happening that led to the explosion, culminating once again at that particular second.

  • In the song "The Clockmaker's Apprentice" by Clockwork Quartet, the narrator reveals that he has rigged the pocketwatch to explode, killing the owner at precisely 6:00.

  • The title of Sarah Kane's play 4.48 Psychosis reportedly derives from the time (4:48AM) when the playwright, in her depressed state, often woke. In the play, the main character says multiple times that she will kill herself at 4:48.

    Video Games 
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, the world ends at exactly 6:00 A.M. after three days unless Link does something about it.
  • The central conceit of The Sexy Brutale - everyone's movements (and, importantly, every murder) takes place in a set sequence with consistent timing, forcing Lafcadio to navigate around other's paths and counteract the staff accordingly.

    Western Animation 
  • In 12 oz. Mouse, the Clock is always frozen at 2:22. One Gainax Ending later, it ticks over to 2:23.
  • "One Minute 'Till Three" from Tiny Toon Adventures (specifically from the Three Shorts episode "Best O' Plucky Duck Day") has Plucky waiting for 3:00 (the dismissal time for school) while Granny is giving the class essays. To make things even more agonizing for Plucky, the clock has a tendency to run backwards.
  • In Johnny Test, the entire class is waiting for the bell to ring and is intently watching the clock's minute hand to reach twelve. When the bell rings, Johnny screams "IT'S SUMMER VACATION!" and the entire class runs out. The bell, however, was for first period.
  • The Powerpuff Girls has two examples. "Speed Demon" has Buttercup impatiently eyeing the clock to hit the dismissal time. "Him Diddle Riddle" is unusual in that the entire episode elapses in real time, with the tower clock in downtown ticking off time as the girls race to solve Him's riddles.
  • Batman: The Animated Series:
    • In episode "The Clock King" this trope is justified. A Schedule Fanatic has been ruined by (in his eyes) Mayor Hill's suggestion to take his coffee break at 3:15 instead of 3:00. Exactly 7 years later, the villain prepares a complicated Death Trap for Hill and a diversion for the local hero Batman who surely will try to stop him. Why doesnt he just shoot Mayor Hill? Because his whole motivation is to be on time. He ties Hill to the hands of a Clock Tower that will crush him at 3:15. Hill's death is not enough, it has to be Right On The Tick.
    The Clock King: have an appointment to keep at 3:15 precisely with the grim reaper! (evil laugh)
    • "Appointment in Crime Alley" has Batman trying to find and defuse explosives that have been set by Roland Dagget to level the old neighborhood at exactly 9:00 while he's speaking at a business meeting.
  • In the Bugs Bunny cartoon "Hare Trimmed," Bugs and Yosemite Sam are involved in a duel. Bugs manages to count off the paces and have Sam in the middle of the street so he gets run over by a bus. Bugs checks his watch: "Yep...right on time!"

    Real Life 
  • At 22:00 sharp, each and every evening, students in the Flogsta student housing in Uppsala, Sweden, go to their windows and out on their balconies and scream and shout at the top of their lungs. This phenomenon is called Flogstavrålet, or the Flogsta scream. Listen for yourselves. This has been going on since at least the 1970s.