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Stopped Clock

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A timeless motif.
"As he and hundreds of compatriots met their sudden fate so did that pocket watch. Its hands are now forever frozen at the exact time of 11:43, a perennial reminder of the fragile existence of an entire city."
Simon Whistler in his video essay about the earthquake that destroyed Jamaica's Port Royal
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A useful method of telling when a certain disaster/event happened is that all of the clocks have stopped at the same time. This can also happen to individual time pieces that have been damaged. May be a cause of Clock Discrepancy.

This can be caused by (among other things), a wall clock stops working after its batteries run out or... an alarm clock waking someone up and finding itself embedded in a nearby wall moments later.

Power cuts can be neatly illustrated with a digital clock flashing '12:00' or '00:00'.

Stopped clocks are, surprisingly, often correct. Twice a day, in fact. For these metaphorical stopped clocks, see Dumbass Has a Point.

See also Race Against the Clock, Right on the Tick, and 24-Hour Trope Clock.


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Examples:

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    Advertising 
  • An advert for "Get the Max" coffee featured somebody oversleeping because his alarm clock stopped, and needed a quick fix of coffee to make him awake and alert.

    Anime & Manga 
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure:
    • Stardust Crusaders: After Kakyoin gets mauled by DIO, he uses his last moments before death to fire one last Emerald Splash at a nearby clock tower to destroy it, in an attempt to relay to Joseph that DIO's Stand power is to stop time.
    • Diamond is Unbreakable: Hayato uses Stray Cat's air bullet to fire at Kira's chest, but was stopped thanks to the watch that Kira put inside his pocket, which ended up destroyed. This destroyed watch later becomes a tell that Kira's final attempt to use the time loop ability Bites the Dust failed and he was killed without even realizing, as it should have been restored had the time loop succeeded.
    • Stone Ocean: Emporio's Stand forms into the prison's past music room, before it was destroyed in a fire, the clock in the room remains stopped at the moment it was burned down.
  • In Maison Ikkoku, the eponymous apartment building's clock tower always reads 10:25.

    Audio Drama 
  • In the Big Finish U.N.I.T. drama Time Heals, all the watches on a crashed train stopped at 11:30, even though the crash happened at eleven o'clock ... because the train was half an hour further up the track than it should have been. This is the first clue that someone is mucking around with time.
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    Film 
  • Back to the Future uses this with a strong justification: in order to generate the power necessary to send the Delorean back to the future, Doc and Marty use the latter's knowledge of the future to get the car to the exact spot needed: the clock tower, which was struck by lightning at a very specific time, which everyone knows of because the clock stopped working at that exact moment.
  • In Chinatown, Jack places a watch under the car of the person he's tailing. That way he could know at what time he left by the time the watch was run over.
  • In The Conjuring, one of the first signs that something is wrong is that the clocks keep stopping at 3:07.
  • In Ghost Watch, the cameraman observes that his watch stopped at 9:30 pm, just as they went on air. Several viewers call in to note the same thing has happened with their household clocks.
  • In Godzilla (2014), Serizawa carries a pocket watch stopped at 8:15 AM, August 6th, 1945. It belonged to his father, implying he experienced the Hiroshima bombing. He shows it to Admiral Stenz to warn against using another nuke to try to kill the Kaiju that have reemerged.
  • GoldenEye: As they first meet, Natalya Simonova tries to deny that she survived the GoldenEye's EMP attack at the Severnya Station where she worked, but James Bond points out how her watch is frozen on the time the attack took place.
  • Throughout The Machinist the hero will notice when it is 1:30. At the airport the "local" clock is frozen at 1:30 and flickers back and forth between seconds. The reason is revealed in a flashback sequence towards the end when we see that the fateful hit and run happens at 1:30 pm. The frozen clock time is a symbol for the hero being stuck in the past since this traumatic event.
  • In Pan's Labyrinth, at one point it is implied that Captain Vidal's pocketwatch originally belonged to his father, which the latter broke at the time of his death so it would freeze at that time in order to show his son "How a brave man dies" and later Vidal had it repaired out of spite. As Vidal is about to be killed by the rebels he takes out his watch presumably to break it again and asks that his son be told the time of his death only for Mercedes to cut him off to say "He won't even know [his] name" followed by her brother shooting him.
  • In Picnic at Hanging Rock, the teacher's and coach driver's pocket watches stop shortly before Miranda and the other students disappear.
  • The Quiet Earth: When John Hobson wakes up he finds that his watch has stopped at 6:12. As he explores the deserted world, he finds that all watches and clocks have also stopped at 6:12.
  • The Road: Time ceases to matter when you're facing The End of the World as We Know It.
    Viggo Mortensen: The clocks stopped at 1:17. There was a long sheer of bright light, then a series of low concussions. I think it's October...but I can't be sure. I haven't kept a calendar for years.
  • In Sherlock Holmes, Watson reminds Holmes that he forgot to determine the midget's time of death by checking the broken pocket watch.
  • In Triangle, the clocks on board the Ghost Ship are stuck at 8:17 a.m. signifying the time of the car accident that set everything in motion. Same goes for the heroine's wrist watch.
  • The War of the Worlds (1953): After the Martians use their heat ray for the first time, all the watches of the people in the nearest time stop. When this happens, the people notice that all of the watches stopped at the same time.

    Literature 
  • Adrian Mole: When the electricity in the Mole household is cut off because they Forgot to Pay the Bill, Adrian watches the kitchen clock stop, noting that it is "dead symbolic".
  • Agatha Christie used it, of course.
    • In "At the Crossroads", one of her Mr Quin stories, it's one of the stock detective-story elements faked by the murderer to make himself look innocent.
    • And in Murder on the Orient Express, this was again faked.
    • In The Clocks, the body was found near to 4 clocks that were stopped at 4:13, even though it was found at 3 PM. However, the clocks had no real significance to the plot, and were only there to serve as a Red Herring.
  • In Great Expectations, Miss Havisham's clocks are all stopped at 8:40 — the exact moment her groom-to-be jilted her.
  • The Hatter's pocket watch in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland doesn't tell the time, but does tell the date. (Unfortunately, it's two days slow.) This may have something to do with the fact that, according to him, Time is angry at him for "murdering the time" while singing at a concert, causing the clock to never change for him and his friends.
  • The time of Big Bad's escape from the authorities in Never Send Flowers is determined by the broken wristwatch on one of the policemen set to guard him.
  • In the first Artemis Fowl book, the title character realizes that the fairies have put his mansion in a containment field when he notices his watch has stopped, especially since it's designed to sync up to a computer that keeps the exact Greenwich Mean Time.
  • Muldoon notices one in Jurassic Park when he conducts a Sherlock Scan of the scene of the first Tyrannosaurus rex attack. The fact that he finds a child's watch with a smashed face but an intact strap means that it was damaged during the attack and Tim (the child wearing it) removed it afterwards, meaning that he's still alive. The footprints leading away from the scene confirm Muldoon's hunch.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In All My Children's "Who Killed Will", storyline, a suspect is on trial and one of the most compelling pieces of evidence is a broken clock, showing a time that eradicates his alibi. However, after another suspect testifies and admits that he tampered with the clock to give himself an alibi, the first suspect is now cleared. Ironically, despite the second suspect's own deceit, he's innocent too.
  • A minor plot point in Ashes to Ashes (2008). Whenever Drake asks Keats for the time, he gives her the same time: the minute Drake died.
  • Near the end of the final Bones, Brennan has a box of items recovered from the exploded lab building. One item is a clock that stopped when the bombs went off. She says she wants to hang it up when the repairs are done at the lab. When Booth asks why, she says it’s a reminder that things could have stopped for them, as they could have died, but they didn’t, and the clock is a reminder.
  • Castle has used a broken watch to establish time of death more than once.
    Lanie: He was killed at 11:15.
    Castle: So specific. I'm impressed.
    Lanie: His watch broke when he fell.
    Castle: Ah, you shouldn't have told me. Less impressed.
  • One episode of Columbo involved the time of death being established by a broken watch. Columbo figured the watch must have been planted on the victim's body with the time pre-set, because he was a tough sportsman who wouldn't have wanted to be seen dead wearing such a wimpy, fragile timepiece.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In the episode "The Wedding of River Song", every single clock on earth is stopped at 5:02pm on April 22, 2011, because time itself is broken by River refusing to kill the Doctor, which was a fixed point in time.
    • In "The Visitation", Tegan has the following to say when the Doctor's latest attempt to get her to Heathrow Airport ends with the TARDIS landing in the right place, but in 1666:
      Call yourself a Time Lord? A broken clock keeps better time than you do! At least it's accurate twice a day - which is more than you ever are!
    • A broken clock provides a sign of trouble in "The Girl In The Fireplace" ... not because of the time it displays, but because the fact it is broken reveals that the Clockwork Droids are nearby, and broke it so that their own internal ticking sounds would be mistaken for its tick.
    • In "The Unicorn and the Wasp," the murder victim's watch broke as he fell, putting the time of death at exactly 4:15 pm.
  • At the end of the multi-part episode of Lois & Clark that involved Clark being lost in time, the exact time of his departure is needed to save him. Good thing said departure involved an explosion that damaged the Big Bad's watch.
  • A stopped watch used to be a common method of discerning time of death when the cause of death was a fall from a great height. This was abused in at least one episode of Midsomer Murders to make a murder look like a suicide.
  • As with Midsomer Murders, this was also used in Murder, She Wrote where a broken clock in a struggle indicates when the murder took place. The struggle was actually manufactured, and the clock set forward several hours before being smashed in order to give the murderer an alibi.
  • In Once Upon a Time, the clock in Storybrooke is not working, which is to indicate that time is frozen. When Emma arrives in Storybrooke, the clock starts working again.
  • Star Trek: Voyager
    • In "Time and Again" when the crew investigate a planetwide explosion, Tom Paris finds a stopped clock in a wrecked shop window. Unfortunately the explosion has created fragments in time, so Tom is suddenly sent back to before the disaster happened. Looking at the now-working clock and talking to the shopkeeper regarding their units of measure, he works out the disaster will happen tomorrow.
    • A different take in "Macrocosm". Janeway and Neelix return to Voyager to find the crew infected by a virus, and work out the approximate time of events because a recorded program has been running for eleven hours.
  • Supernatural: Played with in "The End". Dean goes to sleep in a hotel room, setting the alarm clock to wake him four hours later. Cut to a smashed clock and Dean waking up in broad daylight in the room which is now a burnt-out wreck, as he's awoken in a Bad Future.
  • On 30 Rock, Jack accidentally hits his elderly mother with his car and sits there in the driveway for a full eight minutes before calling 911. She chews him out at the end of the episode after noticing the discrepancy between the time on her watch, which broke when she fell, and the time of his cell-phone call. "Numbers, unlike children, don't lie!"
  • The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "Where is Everybody?" depicts a man wandering in an empty town. In one building, he finds a broken clock. The implication is that the clock must have stopped at whatever time disaster struck, scattering the inhabitants. We later learn that he broke the clock himself in his attempt to escape a space simulation chamber.

    Music 
  • The song "My Grandfather's Clock" references this.
    Ninety years without slumbering, tick tock, tick tock,
    His life seconds numbering, tick tock, tick tock,
    It stopped short, never to go again,
    When the old man died.
  • Kero Kero Bonito's "The Princess and the Clock" tells the story of a princess trapped in a tower with a stopped clock hanging above her, a metaphor for her never being allowed to grow up.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • There's a The Far Side cartoon where police are investigating a shooting at a clock store. The place has been shot to pieces, all clocks are reading the same time as each other, and the detective is wondering "Now if only we could determine the time of death...."

    Video Games 
  • The Ace Attorney series use this idea many times - twice in the first game alone.
  • In the Agatha Christie pastiche Interactive Fiction game Death Off the Cuff, the victim's watch stopped at the time that he was stabbed. Except that, much like in the actual Christie example, it was faked to draw suspicion away from the perpetrator of said stabbing.
  • In Barrow Hill, all the clocks and watches you find have stopped advancing, and some of the analog clocks' minute hands can be seen jiggling in place, as if forcibly held on the brink of moving. Emma the DJ discovers that hers has stopped during a live broadcast you pick up via radio, and she invites callers to phone in and tell her the right time.
  • BioShock: New Year's Eve coincided with a series of bombings in the heart of town, with the Kashmir Restaurant being hit hardest. Atlas led a large segment of lower-class citizens in a series of attacks on Rapture's upper-crust establishments. The riots basically never stopped; the party decorations are still up, and many Splicers are wearing their costumes from the ball.
  • In Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon, George finds a broken grandfather clock in St. Stefan Chapter headquarters which indicates the time when Susarro's henchmen attacked the Templars.
  • Condemned 2: Bloodshot from the same developers as F.E.A.R. has one instance of this as well: the first bit of investigation the player does at Black Lake Lodge is looking at the watched on the wrist of a severed arm to determine when it was removed.
  • In Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, after Kiyotaka's murder, the victim is found with his watch broken at the time the murder occurred.
  • In Dead Space 2 all the clocks have stopped (permanently) at 12:00, odd, considering they are powered L.E.D clocks that would normally keep going, or at least flash.
  • In Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas, Fallout 4, and Fallout 76, every single clock you see stopped at the exact time the Chinese attack occurred. Seems like some of them would have been wound-up or something...
  • In F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin, all clocks after the hospital level have stopped due to the events of the first game.
  • In the adventure game Gray Matter, strange and seemingly supernatural events happen around the Oxford University campus, and each time the clock stops at the time of the event.
  • In MySims Agents, a thief had broken into Evelyn Gray's home and also broken her clock. This is a vital clue determining the time of the break-in, as it proves that it happened well after Skip had his pizza.
  • In Mystery Case Files: Madame Fate, there is a clock behind the fortune teller throughout the game, a grim reminder that there is little time until Madame Fate's death, which is scheduled When the Clock Strikes Twelve. After Madame Fate's death at exactly twelve o'clock, the clock stops running.
  • In Serena a clock on the wall can be heard ticking away through most of the game, but after a certain point (once he opens the armoire and finds what's strongly implied to be his own dead body) it stops and the pendulum can be seen frozen mid swing.
  • In Silent Hill: Homecoming, all the clocks in town are stopped at 2:06. 2:06 AM being the time of Josh's death. In a more meta-sense, 206 is the number of Alex's room in the Bedlam House ending.
  • In Tomb Raider (2013), every cutscene that allows a good look at Lara's wrist shows her watch at the exact same time, to the second, throughout the game. No attention is ever brought to this in-story, so it probably just means that the watch was damaged when the Endurance sank.
  • In The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, all of the clocks in the town are stuck at 7:00, which is what time it is on Ethan's digital clock when the house starts burning and Ethan starts imagining Paul Prospero's story. In the post-game, the clocks move to 7:04, the same time that Ethan wakes up from his Dying Dream. The one at the train stop is set at 7:05, the same time that Ethan dies.

    Web Animation 
  • Homestar Runner: In the Strong Bad Email "vacation", Strong Bad sends a postcard from (among several other places) "It's That CLOCK (Look at it go!)". Of course, the clock isn't going at all.
    Strong Bad: Okay, the best thing about this postcard is if you look at the clock, that's the exact same time that I first laid eyes on the clock! 2:55, man. And like, iddi—oh, wait, it still says... 2:55. Okay, well, the clock is broken, but still! It's about the best thing I've ever seen [sings] in my whole liiiiiife!

    Web Comics 

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • Camberwick Green: The famous Trumpton clock stops, when a careless painter leaves a pot of paint in the way of the moving figures. As they are blocked, the clock stops working.
  • Duckman: At the beginning of "A Room with a Bellevue", Duckman wakes up late because Ajax thought the 12:00 on the VCR was accurate (see below in Real Life).
    Duckman: Ajax, you were supposed to wake me up at seven!
    Ajax: Don't worry, dog. It's only twelve...twelve...twelve...twelve...twelve...
  • Attempted by Bloo in one episode of Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends. He's annoyed a giant friend known only as "The New Guy" by asking him "How's the weather up there?", and said friend threatened to "give him something to laugh about" at 4 in the afternoon. Bloo, not understanding how time works, attempts to prevent this by breaking every clock in the house. Madame Foster counters by having Coco bring in a large countdown clock. Naturally, Bloo tries to smash it, only to bounce off.
    Madame Foster: That's plexiglass, dear boy. There's no breaking that!
  • Parodied in Futurama when Zoidberg tries playing detective in a What If? short.
    Zoidberg: My first clue came at 4:30 when the clock stopped. My next clue came two hours later at 4:30 when I found the murdered corpse of Amy's dead deceased body!
  • Gravity Falls: In "Headhunters", when Dipper interrogates Manly Dan about the "murder" of Grunkle Stan's wax replica, Manly Dan's alibi is that he was punching the clock at the time... in this case, an actual street clock that's stopped at the time of the crime.
  • The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy story "Time Waits For No Mandy" (from Cartoon Network Block Party #56, DC Comics) has Mandy, who hates celebrating her birthday, tricking Father Time into going on vacation. It causes a loop in time to the point where it becomes monotonous. Grim, Billy and Mandy try to find a way to get Father Time back on the job.
  • Johnny Bravo: Subverted in the episode "The Day the World Didn't Move Around Very Much". A jet cutting a power line stops Johnny's clock at 12:00, and after seeing similar events, he's convinced that time has stopped for everyone but him when in fact he runs into various instances of things intentionally standing still for other reasons.
  • 12 oz. Mouse: The clock is a living wall clock that can slide around on and teleport, but its hands are stopped, stuck on the time 2:22.

    Real Life 
  • The Hiroshima Peace Memorial features a clock whose hands have stopped at the time the A-bomb was dropped, 8:15.
    • A similar monument in Japan actually depicts what time the Kobe earthquake struck.
    • Ditto for a clock at the Chernobyl power plant. It can still be found at a museum.
  • Mormons refer to Joseph Smith's time of death by what was on his watch when he hit the ground after being shot out of a prison window.
  • The ruins of an elementary school in Ukedo, Fukushima Prefecture, has a clock that stopped at 15:38, when the 2011 tsunami hit the school building and cut off its power. A temple also has a hundred year old clock that stopped when the tsunami hit the temple grounds, although a decade later, after a small aftershock earthquake, the clock suddenly ticks again.
  • Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, died in the Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul at 9:05 AM on November 10, 1938. For many years all the clocks in the palace were set to 9:05 (the clock in the room he died still is), and every November 10 most Turks hold a minute of silence at that time, even if they are driving (they will pull over first).
  • Kinetic energy watches require no batteries but are powered by movement and can keep working for 12 to 36 hours after the last movement. In criminal investigations, this can help determine an exact time of death.
  • When the pirate city of Port Royal, Jamaica was leveled by natural disaster in 1692, watches were found in the rubble stopped at 11:43 a.m., the time the disaster struck.
  • VCRs included a digital clock, which in many people's homes simply blinked "12:00" because no one could be bothered to figure out how to program it after hooking it up or after a power failure, because the clock wasn't necessary to watch movies - only to program when to record things. This became a common Stock Shtick for someone who was Hopeless with Tech.
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, many buildings were left with calendars stuck on the day the lockdowns started, frozen in time almost.
  • An intentional example: Victorians would stop the clock for a while upon the death of a family member.
  • Clocks on the RMS Titanic were regulated from the Bridge. As a result, they stopped when the bridge (or the clock themselves) were flooded. At least one remains intact in Cabin C-55 (which housed Isidor and Ida Straus), stopped between 2:04 to 2:20 AM. note 

 
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The Princess and the Clock

"Shadowed by a clock face, the hands arrested at the time she came, and though she showed the passing of the days, eternally a child she will remain." The song tells the story of a princess trapped in a tower with a stopped clock hanging above her, a metaphor for her not being allowed to grow up and leave the tower.

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