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Ripple Effect Indicator

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In many Time Travel stories in which a character in the past is changing the future, there will be an object, or sometimes a person, from the future that is directly affected as a specific consequence of the Time Traveler's actions.

The main effect is that this object, or if it's a photograph, the subjects on the photo, will vanish or reappear as changes are made to the timeline. This is done typically to show whether what the protagonist in the past is doing the right or wrong thing.

In short, a Ripple Effect Indicator is an object, originally from the future, that fades away or otherwise changes based on actions in the present changing the timeline.

See also Ret-Gone, which can be an effect of this. See also Delayed Ripple Effect and Ripple-Effect-Proof Memory. This is usually seen in "overwriting the timeline" in the Temporal Mutability scale.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • The Divergence Meter in Steins;Gate measures the difference between the current timeline and the reference alpha timeline. However, major changes in the timeline can make it Ret-Gone.

    Comic Books 
  • In the first story arc of Booster Gold Vol 2, Booster's JLA membership certificate changed to reveal alterations to the timeline, for instance becoming The Flash's death certificate.
  • In Detective Comics (Rebirth), Tim Drake meets a future version of himself who's a brutal Batman who kills. Future!Tim thinks he's in a Stable Time Loop (saying "I've had this conversation with myself already") and that nothing can be changed. But when he mentions Conner Kent, Tim has no idea who he's talking about. Checking the records, Future!Tim realizes the timeline has been altered. He suddenly slashes Tim's arm, causing a huge cut. Future!Tim then pulls off his glove to see a long-healed scar that wasn't there before and realizes this is a new timeline that he can any means necessary.
  • Given a twist in Wonder Woman: Odyssey where the items that indicate a change in the timeline are items which weren't changed by said alteration. Some images and items show the more traditional Wonder Woman, cluing in Diana that something is amiss. Several action figures, a mural, a drawing by a friend's kid...

    Films — Animation 
  • Meet the Robinsons:
    • The film features a giant sky vortex that will suck things that ceased to exist in, or spit them back out.
    • As soon as Lewis vows that he will never invent D0R15 ("DORIS"), the bowler hat with an attitude, she disappears, along with all the effects that had happened because of her.
  • In Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, when the gang goes back in time to stop the other superheroes' tragic backstories, Robin watches their images fade from copies of their comics to make sure he's succeeded. They're later seen fading in again when the Teen Titans reinstate said backstories.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Marty's photo of himself and his siblings in 1985 serves as this in the original Back to the Future. As the time to get his parents falling in love draws closer, his siblings from the eldest on down vanish from the photo and reappear once he succeeds. Variations of this trope occur throughout the series enough that by Back to the Future Part III, Marty has gotten savvy about it, taking a photo of the grave of the person whose death he's trying to prevent before going to the past.
  • In Frequency, Frank (John's father) needs to give an indication to John that he is still alive, and so burns a few words into his desk in the past. In the present, John sees these words appearing on the desk at the same speed at which Frank is seen burning them, as if they're being burned in the present. Other examples include events in the past triggering sudden, sometimes disorienting changes in John's memories, changing photographs and giving a new, nicer appearance to the decorations in the house.
  • In Men in Black 3, when K is "erased" from history, his apartment shifts to a regular apartment (no secret stash of alien weapons) and a different family is living there when Jay comes by the following morning.
  • In Looper, when Joe (as well as one other looper that we get to see) 'writes' on his arm with a knife in the main time of the film (when he's still young) so that the resulting wounds, after healing, show up on his older self's arm. The message told his older self where to meet to settle the situation. Later when young Joe sees that old Joe won't quit, he kills himself to prevent his old self from killing a child he's grown to care about; old Joe disappears, just like that.
  • Cable keeps his daughter's charred teddy bear on his belt in Deadpool 2. When a Delayed Ripple Effect makes it look new, he knows he's succeeded in saving his family.
  • In Timecop, Walker finds himself in 1994 with both the past and 2004 versions of villain Aaron McComb. Walker kicks the 1994 McComb across the face, opening up a huge cut. Instantly, a scar materializes in the same spot on the face of the 2004 McComb.

  • In one of the Charmed tie-in merchandising novels the sisters battle an ancient goddess that's not restricted to a single time so she can hop from era to era, dimension to dimension. She starts messing with a few of the Halliwell Family's ancestors and the effects in the present are changes to the family house's interior decoration, changes in Phoebe's appearance (her hair becomes long and dark) and Piper's son, Wyatt disappears because he was never born. Phoebe also passes out after getting a barrage of visions of her family in the future and the past being attacked by the ancient god.
  • In the short story "Abe Lincoln in McDonald's" by James Morrow, the titular American president visits a version of the 20th century in which slavery remains legal in the South. His decision to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, made at the moment a slave is shot to death, causes that slave's body to be replaced by a robot.
  • In TimeRiders, three teenagers police the timeline, living through the same two days (September 9th—10th, 2001) in a loop. One of them, Sal, is responsible for walking around the city of New York during the days before and of 9/11 attacks, checking everything for changes caused by the Ripple Effect. Due to them living in a time bubble, they all have Ripple-Effect-Proof Memory.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 12 Monkeys: Cassandra's wristwatch. Cole finds the 2043 version of it and brings it back to the past with him. When he scratches the present-day version of the watch, a scratch simultaneously appears on the future version.
  • In Charmed (1998), Piper goes back in time to prevent a series of events that will cause the deaths of Phoebe and Paige. She tracks down her younger self who naturally assumes that Future Piper is some demon using an illusion spell. Future Piper proves it's her by giving a hard pinch to Past Piper's arm and then pulling up her shirt to show a huge bruise on the exact same spot.
  • Doctor Who: Fun example in "The Two Doctors": When the Second Doctor is abducted and (temporarily) transformed into a hedonistic, gluttonous Androgum, the Sixth Doctor, who's trying to track him, finds himself increasingly distracted by thoughts of food.
    Sixth Doctor: Well, they say there's more than one way to cook a cat. Here, pussy, pussy, puss-puss! Here, little puss. [the cat flees]
    Peri: Doctor, what are you doing?
    Sixth Doctor: They can make quite good eating. Small mammals are quite flavoursome when baked.
    Peri: What are you saying? I don't understand.
    Sixth Doctor: I knew it would happen. I'm turning into an Androgum!
  • The premise of Early Edition, in which a man literally receives tomorrow's newspaper today, and is expected to change the negative headline/lead story into something more positive before it happens. When he is successful, the headline/story changes accordingly.
  • The Flash (2014):
    • The secret "time vault" includes a future newspaper article about the Flash written by Iris West (or rather Iris West-Allen). When Barry briefly loses his powers in season one, the vault's records of the Flash temporarily vanish.
    • This comes up again in season three. After Barry alters the timeline, he's horrified to see the article is now written by someone else, since Iris is now apparently fated to die at Savitar's hand. It changes back in the season finale when H.R dies in Iris' place.
    • In the season five finale the article changes following Team Flash stopping Cicada for good, the date of it changing from 2024 to 2019.
  • In Frequency, whenever Frank changes something in the past, Raimy gets to see the changes apply to her present timeline in real time. E.g., Frank's burn mark on the ham radio, the changes to Maya's Police file on screen as she gets rescued, or the vanishing of Goff in front of Raimy's eyes once he commits suicide in the past.
  • In Krypton, Adam Strange brings Superman's cape back with him, and it slowly dissolves to indicate the timeline's been altered so Kal-El won't end up on Earth. In the Season Finale when Seg-El sends Brainiac to the Phantom Zone, the cape is restored... and when Brainiac drags Seg in with him and General Zod says no-one will forget his father's sacrifice, the cape's symbol changes to the House of Zod crest.
  • Legends of Tomorrow: Normally not used since they have an AI who can check the timeline, but it does come up on occasion.
    • In "Last Refuge", the crew realise The Pilgrim is attacking Past!Ray when he suddenly doubles over in pain with bruises appearing across his body as she beats his past self to death.
    • In "Beebo the God of War", the team finds a group of Vikings (who are supposed to start a Christian revolution) worshiping a time-lost talking doll called Beebo. When Sarah calls Ava, Ava mentions "Beebo Day".
      Ava: Beebo Day's part of the anachronism, isn't it?
      Sarah: Yep.
      Ava: Never did feel right...
    • In the season 4 opener, the first clue that something is seriously wrong is when Nate's father refers to the "Woodstock Massacre" that ended the hippie movement. Nate, being a student of history, immediately rushes off to check the timeline.
    • In the episode "Seance and Sensibility", the team realise an anomaly has affected Jane Austen when the Austen character names on Mona's shirt start to disappear.
    • When time aberrations disrupt the development of Rock & Roll, the Legends notice many objects changing around the Waverider. Mick's pet rat is no longer named Axl, because Axl Rose never became a famous rock star. Zari's copy of Guitar Hero becomes Trombone Hero. And Nate's hair is no longer in a Pompadour, because apparently they modeled it after Elvis Presley.
  • In MythQuest, it's possible for the characters to travel into a myth and act it out, including a different ending. If they change a myth, storybooks and textbooks in the real world change.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): In "Gettysburg", Vince Chance has a book entitled Great Battles of the Civil War. While on the Gettysburg battlefield for the re-enactment, he looks at the section on the battle and finds a photograph of several injured Confederate soldiers taken after Pickett's Charge featuring a nearby rock in the background. He and his friend Andy Larouche are later sent back in time to 1863 by Nicholas Prentice. Andy attempts to change history by preventing Pickett's Charge so that the Confederacy will win at Gettysburg. However, Lt. Winters believes that he is a Dirty Coward and a traitor, so he shoots him in the chest at point blank range. Andy dies within about a minute and Prentice returns Vince to the present. When Vince looks at the same photograph, he sees Andy's body is now lying against the rock.
  • Al often served this role in Quantum Leap. For the most part, he merely reported the timeline changes to Sam as relayed by Ziggy, however, one episode, "A Leap for Lisa", in which Sam had leaped into a young Al shows changes such as Al being temporarily replaced by another person entirely.
  • In the Solos episode "Leah," the title character (Anne Hathaway) is living in 2024 and communicating with versions of herself in 2019 and 2029. Leah manages to craft a cure for her mother's ALS condition and send it to her 2019 self over her 2029 self's objections. As Leah sits, a monitor shows the 2029 version of her frantically trying to stop this on her side, only to scream as she vanishes. The basement around the current Leah begins to change, from her board of equations melting to the advanced computers disappearing and being replaced by a regular basement. Leah herself is the last thing to vanish, crying as she hopes this is a 2024 where her mother is still alive.
  • The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Yesterday's Enterprise" pulls off a clever example: the Enterprise encounters a Negative Space Wedgie, and Worf is called to the bridge. The camera shows Worf at Tactical, beginning a step to Picard. Camera pans to Picard, Time Ripple happens, and then the camera pans back to reveal Tasha Yar at Tactical, just as she's always been. Once the timeline is corrected, the camera pans back to reveal Worf at Tactical.
  • Star Trek: Voyager: In "Year of Hell", a Krenim scientist is using a temporal weapon to change history for his race's benefit. Voyager is being harassed by a poorly armed Krenim vessel commanded by a weaselly xenophobe who rather pathetically demands that Voyager leave their space (which they don't even own). When the temporal shift occurs, he's suddenly a Smug Snake commanding a powerful warship with temporal torpedoes that can pass right through Voyager's Deflector Shields. When the timeline is finally restored to normal, the Krenim commander has a professional demeanor, politely but firmly insisting that Voyager take another course around the disputed area.
  • In the 300th episode of Supernatural, a wish brings Dean and Sam's long-dead father, John, from 2003 into the present. At first, the boys and mother Mary are ecstatic to have John back. Dean goes to the local bar the brothers frequent and tells the bartender "double our usual." He's thrown when the bartender acts as if he's never seen Dean before. Sam passes some kids the brothers had helped earlier in the episode who likewise treat him as a stranger. Sam then sees a poster indicating Dean is wanted for countless crimes while Dean finds video of Sam as a motivational speaker. They realize that taking John out of his proper time period has begun altering history ever since and changing their lives. At which point, a very much alive Zachariah shows up with Castiel as his lackey.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959):
    • In "And When the Sky Was Opened", The Daily Chronicle initially features the headline "Three Spacemen Return from Crash; All Alive" and a photograph of Colonel Ed Harrington, Colonel Clegg Forbes and Major William Gart. After Harrington ceases to exist, the headline changes to "Two Spacemen Return from Crash in Desert" and only Forbes and Gart are pictured. When Forbes likewise ceases to exist, the headline reads "Lone Spaceman Completes Journey; Lands in Desert" and only Gart appears in the accompanying photo.
    • The episode "Back There" has a man at a club of patrons insisting time is fixed and no one can change it. When he leaves, he enters a fog bank and finds himself on April 14th, 1865. Naturally, no one believes his claims Abraham Lincoln is going to be killed except one policeman but it's not enough to stop the killing. Whisked back to the present, Peter is brushing off what happened as a weird dream that confirms his beliefs. But when he enters his club, he's thrown to discover that William, formerly an attendant, is now a full wealthy member. It turns out William's great-grandfather was the cop who'd believed Peter and his attempts to stop Lincoln's death got attention. Instead of a forgotten patrolman, he became Chief of Police, a councilman and very wealthy investing in real estate. Peter realizes that while some historical moments are fixed, other parts of history can in fact be altered.
    • In "Person or Persons Unknown", although there's no confirmation that the plot is time travel induced, David Gurney finds a picture of himself with his wife Wilma taken before he vanished but she vanishes from the picture before he can show it to Dr. Koslenko to prove that he does know her.
  • The Twilight Zone (1985):
    • A variation in "Little Boy Lost". Kenny is the son that Carol Shelton would have had in the potential future where she stayed in the US and married her boyfriend Greg instead of going abroad on a photography assignment. When she decides to take the assignment, Kenny disappears from the photos that Carol took at the zoo.
    • Another variation in "Opening Day". After Joe Farrell kills his love rival Carl Wilkerson in a Hunting "Accident", Carl's image in a photograph of him and his wife Sally is replaced by one of Joe as he has become her husband. The next day, Joe himself drowns as he thinks that Carl is trying to kill him. The photo then reverts to its original state.
    • In "The Card", after the Wolfes' cat Boris ceases to exist, his bowl and pillow disappear from their front porch. Linda initially believes that her husband Brian and her older children Matt and Evan are pulling a prank but it later becomes apparent that they don't remember ever having a cat. After the credit card company takes the children away, Matt and Evan's room has turned into a study while the baby B.J.'s nursery is used for storage. Brian's image later disappears from a photograph of him and Linda and the name on her card changes from "Mrs. Linda S. Wolfe" to "Miss Linda S. Wilson." After Linda herself disappears, the card is entirely blank.
    • In "Extra Innings", Paula gives Ed Hamner a 1910 baseball card showing a player named Monte Hanks, who bears a remarkable resemblance to Ed and whose stats are identical to Ed's first two years in the Major Leagues. The card allows Ed to travel back in time to 1910 and assume Hanks' identity. While there, he scores a home run. After returning to 1988, he shows Paula the card and it now says that Hanks scored eight home runs in 1910 instead of seven. After Ed goes back to 1910 for the third time, Paula rips the card in half as she knows that he would rather remain in the past. That night, the stats on the card change before her eyes. As Hanks, Ed played in the Major Leagues until the early 1920s. When Paula turns the card around, there is a new photograph of a smiling Ed with the caption "Batting Champion."
    • Another variation in "Street of Shadows". After Steve Cranston and Frederick Perry swap lives and identities, Steve's image replaces Perry's in a photograph with the film star Lana Taylor and on his driver's license.
  • In Voyagers!, Phineas Bogg's device showed a red light when history had to be changed and showed a green light when it was set right.

  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: While trapped on prehistoric Earth, Ford and Arthur encounter a hovering spacecraft that keeps appearing and disappearing as they discuss how to react to its presence. They eventually figure out that it has traveled back in time, and that whatever they do next will determine whether the future will be one in which the spacecraft exists and makes the journey; as long as they can see it, they're on the right track, but if it disappears, that's a sign that whatever they're planning to do will result in a future where the spacecraft never visited them in the past.

    Video Games 
  • In Mortal Kombat 9, Raiden's medallion cracks when he receives his first visions from the future. As the story progresses, the medallion shows only more signs of damage every time Raiden fails to prevent certain future events from happening...until the very end, when Shao Kahn is finally defeated for good.
  • Marle's vanishing and return early in Chrono Trigger is used to demonstrate both how past events are affecting the future and how you know you succeeded in repairing the time line.
    • Here's a few more: defeating Magus in the past results in the Mystic village statue of him replaced with Ozzie, and then said village finally not hostile to humans once you defeat Ozzie. Restoring Fiona's forest in the past (it appears, along with a shrine, in the present) and helping an NPC in Porre learn the value of sharing turns their descendant in the present, who is the Mayor, into a generous person.
    • A few more indicators are part of ending montages: Marle making a strange frog-like noise if Frog marries the Queen, the opening cinematic happens again but everyone's a Reptite, and Robo crashes into Atropos in a futuristic Millennial Fair.
  • In Chrono Cross, the Dead Sea replacing Chronopolis in Home World, reflecting a timeline where Crono did not defeat Lavos.
  • Achron uses various symbols on the timeline to indicate various events happening.
  • The Journeyman Project games have the Temporal Security Agency, which has one agent on watch at any given moment monitoring history for any ripples. In the first game, once such ripple was detected (which only travel forward in time), an agent was sent back to prehistoric times to retrieve the archive of the "correct" history in order to compare to the new history and determine the time and place of the interference. Later, this is Hand Waved by a new, easier, method of tracking and determining ripple origins. The game cutscenes show a holographic screen with a representation of the timeline on it with an actual ripple (reminiscent of an earthquake representation) spreading into the future. Naturally, the agents must act before the ripple reaches them.
  • In Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers, the hero ceases to exist as a result of preventing the Bad Future they came from. One of special episodes in Sky expands on this by showing the effects on the future, with the sun's rise finally bringing an end to the eternal night, and the denizens of the future ceasing to exist, as well. They all get better.
  • In Back to the Future: The Game by Telltale Games, Marty uses newspapers and a photo of George for the same purpose as he did in the movies. In the latter parts of the series, a newspaper from an alternate Hill Valley exclaims that crime is at an all-time low. After Citizen Brown (who by that time was convinced to go with Marty) decides to instead blame Science and try to make Edna Strickland in 1931 to instead live happily with Young Emmet, it instead changes to an article about a rather messy divorce between the two in 1985. Once Citizen Brown realizes Edna will never change and throws himself in the way of Edna in an escaping car and dies/fades out, it instead changes to Doc Brown receiving the Key to The City in 1985, in which the crazy wild-eyed old man scientist Doc we know and love (mostly) arrives at that moment because Marty gave Young Emmet a cryptic message about that article.
  • Inverted in the Eternal Champions spin-off Chicago Syndicate; despite Larcen Tyler managing to avoid his demise, one of the first things you can do is read a newspaper article reporting Larcen's death.

  • In the General Protection Fault Surreptitious Machinations saga, the time traveling protagonist Todd uses himself as the Ripple Effect Indicator. With that, he's able to show that he has succeeded in breaking the Big Bad's Stable Time Loop.

    Web Original 
  • In the Scott The Woz episode "It's Awesome Baby!", which has Scott being accidentally transported to an alternate timeline where the only video game available to play is Dick Vitale's "Awesome Baby" College Hoops, the first sign that something is wrong is that all of Scott's copies of Madden 08 have turned into Dick Vitale's. Not only that, but every other game reviewer on YouTube only ever talks about Dick Vitale's, and all stores have their names altered to something relating to the game's title.

    Western Animation 
  • Referenced as a joke in the Bob's Burgers episode "My Fuzzy Valentine". Bob and the children are on a mission to find the perfect Valentine's Day gift for Linda: the old "love tester" arcade machine he and his wife used while on a date 15 years ago. When Bob balks at the price, his daughter Tina says, "Come on Dad, you need to get that Testometer for Mom. I'm starting to disappear!"
  • DuckTales (2017): In "Timephoon!", when Mrs. Beakley suddenly vanishes, Scrooge realizes she's been thrown into the past when she just as suddenly appears in a painting featuring him, Donald, and Della fighting pirates.
  • In the Lucas Bros. Moving Co. episode "Beeper Beeper", the Lucas Brothers go back to the year 1995 and accidentally prevent their younger selves from buying the same CD, starting a Feud Episode between the kid twins over their new favorite bands. The future Lucas Brothers then begin to experience brief zaps of "disappearing" to remind them that they need to stop their past selves' interests from diverging any further.
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "It's About Time", Twilight Sparkle herself is the Ripple Effect Indicator. After being (unsuccessfully) warned by a haggard-looking and supposedly battle-weary version of herself from the following Tuesday, the Twilight of the present day focuses her efforts to avert that outcome. As her exploits show the bad future goes unobstructed because her appearance grows to become that of her future self's until the fateful Tuesday arrives and she looks exactly the same. Ultimately it's all for naught as the "disaster" ends up being her worrying for nothing... so she tries to go back in time to correct her self from one week earlier not to make the same mistake... but can't get the message across, which sets into motion the whole affair and closes the Stable Time Loop.
  • Death Crystals from Rick and Morty show you how you're going to die and your death will change based on what you do now.


Video Example(s):


Marty's Photo

After Marty prevents his parents from meeting, his siblings start to fade from a photograph.

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Main / RippleEffectIndicator

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