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"People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually — from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint — it's more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly... timey-wimey... stuff."
The Tenth Doctor, Doctor Who, "Blink"

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Excepting mundane travel from the past to the future at a rate of one second per second,note  no human has ever experienced Time Travel first hand. Indeed, we don't know if it's even possible.note  So debating which time travel theory is right is much like trying to find the best flavor of Kool-Aid. Fans are aware and accepting of this, just like no one minds when Our Monsters Are Different, or two different series have different rules for magic, so long as the series' own internal rules are consistent.

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Of course, sometimes they aren't. The Timey-Wimey Ball is the result of a series or movie where the writers are a wee bit confused or forgetful about exactly which kind of time travel can happen, sometimes within the span of one episode! One day You Can't Fight Fate (or at least not without the Butterfly of Doom coming along), but the next you can Screw Destiny and Set Right What Once Went Wrong by killing Hitler and changing the past for the better. Especially headachy because there's no Temporal Paradox, or if there is it's totally arbitrary.

The standard Hand Wave (if one is given) is that time is very complicated and the particulars of the situation affect how the rules apply in ways that a layperson wouldn't understand. Which is one of the many reasons why some fiction fans really, really HATE time travel.

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Despite the similar images the name might conjure, this is unrelated to Swirly Energy Thingy (although a Swirly Energy Thingy might very well have Timey-Wimey effects). Likewise, a Continuity Snarl is not necessarily related, though the presence of Time Travel-induced retcons can certainly make a character's past seem like a tangled up ball of yarn.

Compare Close-Enough Timeline. Occasionally, anything involving this may decide to pull out the Temporal Paradox card, and/or The Multiverse. A Time Crash is what happens when this isn't in play. See also Narnia Time. Aside from shape, unrelated to ball-shaped behavior tropes. You had better hope it is unrelated to Happy Fun Ball.

Warning: High chance of spoilers.


Examples

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Fairy Tail:
    • The Memory Days OVA features a plot where a magical book sends Natsu's team six years back in time for a few hours, creating a Stable Time Loop where they influence events from their past (Natsu getting the scar on his neck, and Lucy deciding to join Fairy Tail).
    • Things get really complicated with Eclipse, a gate created by Zeref that enables Time Travel. Hisui plans to use the gate to travel 400 years back in time to kill Zeref, which would create a Temporal Paradox as Zeref wouldn't have conceived the idea. This leads to a Bad Future where an army of 10,000 dragons in the past comes through the gate, and so Lucy uses the gate to stop this from happening. However, this creates a second Bad Future where Acnologia takes over the world seven years later, and so Rogue travels back to the day before Future Lucy arrives so he can stop Present Lucy from closing the door, thus making a third timeline. Destroying the portal in this timeline prevents Future Lucy and Future Rogue from ever using it, thus sending them back to their respective futures, and the dragons Rogue summoned back to the past. At this point, however, the timeline has become so jumbled that the damage caused by the dragons cannot be reversed, and everyone in that timeline still remembers what happened. Moreover, one of the dragons from the past is also influenced to keep a nickname that was given to him in the present.
    • Ultear's Dangerous Forbidden Technique, Last Ages, reverses time at the cost of the user's lifespan. She compounds the aforementioned timeline hijinks by using it to prevent it from happening at all, only for it to send her a single minute into the past. However, the spell gives everyone in the world momentary foresight of what would happen within that minute, which works in the heroes' favor, seeing how a good number of them were dying at the time.
    • Eclipse comes back into play again (this time in a much stabler way) when it's revealed Lucy's ancestor, Anna, worked with Zeref to send Natsu and the other Dragon Slayers 400 years from the past through the gate. For this to work, the gate in the past was set to lead only to the time when one of Anna's descendants opened it on the other side, leaving specific instructions for them to pass along until it reached Layla, Lucy's mother, on July 7, X777, a good 14 years before the above fiasco happened.
    • Another concept of time travel is discussed in the form of Neo Eclipse, Zeref's ultimate plan, which would theoretically allow Zeref to relive his own life with all of his present memories intact so he can prevent his family's death, avoid becoming cursed, and stop Acnologia before he grows too powerful. Unlike regular Eclipse, which is all but stated to keep any alternate timelines it has created intact, this spell would completely erase the current timeline from existence.
  • Haruhi Suzumiya. The first thing we hear about time travel is that it's like a picture book; it looks continuous, but it's not, and scribbling on one page won't change the ending, so it's impossible to change the future. That gets thrown out the window pretty quick, with time loops up the wazoo. Several space-time locations get multiple time loops overlapping over them at the same time. However, starting in Novel 9, the timeline splits— not diverges, splits— and later fuses back together, and in novel 10 it is revealed that the evil time traveler Fujiwara is from a different future than Mikuru. In his, she's dead—and he wants to fix that, because she's his big sister. Unfortunately, in the timeline she's from (where she survived), her little brother never existed in the first place. So it's possible to change the future, right? Maybe. Because when all this craziness is going on, Kyon brings up the picture book analogy again, and it's confirmed that that is how time travel works (though at the same time it's implied to be an incomplete explanation). The mechanics of time travel in The 'Verse are pretty much incoherent now.
  • Mahou no Iroha: Time travel is apparently very possible with the help of magic, and the Magical Girl main character somehow changes some things but not others that leaves readers scratching their head.
  • Mahou Sensei Negima!: Time travel watches pop up during the Mahora Festival arcs, creating Stable Time Loops, multiple copies of Negi running into each other, a Set Right What Once Went Wrong or two, and some Rule of Cool duels that exploit the effects of short-range Time Travel. However, it is later stated that long-range Time Travel creates Parallel Universes.
  • Natsu no Arashi! enjoys playing foosball with its Timey-Wimey Ball as characters jump back and forth across the hours, leading to a series of Stable Time Loops.
  • Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE-: The fucking up of the entire time-space continuum. Trying to trace the law of causality after a case of Nice Job Breaking It, Hero! would cause more brain damage than the combined screws of Quantum Mechanics, Relativity, and Superstring Theory put together! Just one of the results was a situation where thanks to incorporating every single type of Time Travel, you can't say if it is Always Identical Twins, Alternate Self, Identical Grandson, Generation Xerox, Cloning Blues, My Own Grampa, Tangled Family Tree, Everyone Is Related or a blow your brain combo of all of these put together simultaneously! Putting what is confusing about the time travel involved into words is, in itself, extremely confusing.
  • DokiDoki! Precure's Non-Serial Movie handles this trope in what's probably the most dumbest way possible. The Big Bad, frustrated at the Pretty Cures escaping their temporal prison as well as reforming one of his minions, decided to travel to the future and kill everyone there. Apparently, according to this movie, if there is no future to look forward to, the present will cease to exist (despite the fact that going to the future and changing things there affects jack squat in the present).
  • Dragon Ball Super can get into this in the "Future Trunks" arc. Previously in DBZ, Trunk's time machine worked firmly on alternate time line theory. DBS sticks to that rule.. for that time machine. It then introduces divine time travel through the time rings, which works on Stable Time Loop, as do any actions done by the gods using divine ki. However the time machine and time rings are both active, and each can only do its own version of time travel. It gets confusing very quickly.

    Board Games 
  • There's a Back to the Future card game based on the film, where again each player is someone from an alternate timeline trying to manipulate the universe into one where they exist. However, one big difference is that after doing so, the time travelers have to stop Emmett Brown from inventing time travel so that nobody else can mess with it and their timeline becomes the only timeline. Paradox much?
  • In Chrononauts, players are competing time travelers from alternate futures sent on missions into the past to recover various historical artifacts. Each player is playing tug-of-war with the timeline so that they can return home, which results in a very fluid history. If enough paradoxes pile up, they can even destroy the universe.
  • In Time Agent, your objective is not to win. Your objective is to have already won... without Time Travel being invented. This is probably the least confusing part of the game.
  • In US Patent #1 by Cheapass Games, each player has invented a time machine and hopes to profit from it, but the only one who will be able to profit is the one who holds a patent. Given that patents can be invalidated by proof of earlier work, the only patent that matters for a time machine is the chronologically first one. So the entire game consists of a race through time to be the first in line on the first day the Patent Office opens.

    Comic Books 
  • Marvel Comics' Adam Warlock, specifically his evil future self The Magus embodies this trope. Adam Warlock met his futureself and immediately The Magus set about trying to ensure Adam would turn into him. This did not work when "Thanos" and the In-Betweener interfered and Adam was given a choice of timelines, wherein he chose the shortest. The Magus appeared again when Adam Warlock attained the Infinity Gauntlet and divested himself of his good self (The Goddess) and his evil self (The Magus). The Magus initiated the Infinity War, but was defeated. Later, to seal the Fault in space caused, in part by the Annihilation Wave, The Phalanx Invasion, and the War of Kings, Adam Warlock who, as he expanded magical energy slowly started turning into The Magus, used an "unused" timeline to repair the fault. That particular "unused" timeline was the one in which he became The Magus.
  • The Avengers:
    • Say the word "Kang" to a fan and they'll often shudder. His time-travel schemes are so complex that his future self, Immortus, is another major Avengers enemy, and the two can often be seen fighting each other. To give a sense of scale: most Marvel Handbook profiles are one to three pages long except for major characters like Spider-Man, Iron Man or Wolverine. Kang's gets six pages, and the bottom half of each page is devoted to Kang's timeline, which is chronological in years but requires jumping around from page to page to get Kang's chronological story.
    • Made even more confusing with the addition of a third iteration of Kang in Young Avengers: Iron Lad who actually kills Kang in an attempt to prevent himself from becoming Kang and ultimately realizes the only way to save the future is to become Kang anyway. If you find yourself confused, know at least that you aren't alone:
      Jessica Jones: Is this a time-travel thing? Because I hate time-travel things.
      Iron Man: If it's Kang, it's a time-travel thing.
      Jessica: See, this is why I hate Kang...
    • You can also thank Kang for raising one of the X-Men's greatest foes, Apocalypse.
  • The DCU has all sorts of fun here, especially when Booster Gold is involved, but it's been proven time and again that trying to Screw Destiny usually ends badly. Aside from that, the Timey-Wimey Ball hurts Booster's head as much as it hurts the audience's.
  • The Flash:
    • Professor Zoom has (retroactively) had his hands on the Timey-Wimey Ball from day one. In a single issue you see him edit his brother, parents, scholarly rival, and lover out of his own history, apparently to make sure he'll actually become the supervillain he is. It Makes Sense in Context.
    • And then the Professor started in on Barry's history, and that ended with Flashpoint. Nice job breaking it, psycho.
    • The Flash himself historically averted this trope when at all possible. Barry and Wally repeatedly refused to even try holding the Timey-Wimey Ball. Until Flashpoint. Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!.
    • The second Zoom came into being because he tried to grab the Timey-Wimey Ball and blew himself up. Unfortunately for him, his powers (unlike every other speedster) avert the trope.
    • An issue of Impulse had a Mad Scientist invent a time machine, and attempt to change the past so that he would rule the world. Impulse and Max Mercury go back in time to stop him, but wind up stuck in the far distant past. Max lectures Bart on the Butterfly of Doom, and how even eating a fish might cause irreparable harm to the future. But then they discover that the mad scientist is now trapped in the past as well. The three of them decide that the best way to get home is to cause as much damage and destruction as possible. Their logic is that if they completely change the past, it will alter the future so much that the scientist will never exist, which means he will never invent his time machine, which means they won't have travelled to the past in the first place, which means they won't actually cause any damage at all and find themselves back home. Confused?
  • Gold Digger: With all the dimension-hopping, time-traveling technology in Gold Digger, naturally there's a lot of Timey-Wimey Ball action going on. However, of special note is issue #50 of the color series, which features an artifact that is an actual ball of string that can warp time and space.
  • Iznogoud: In Iznogoud's Childhood, Iznogoud experiments a type of time travel in which the present and the past happen at the same time for a while, which he tries to exploit by attempting to get rid of the Caliph's younger self. The whole thing eventually end up being a Stable Time Loop, in which Iznogoud's time travel is what causes his younger self (who Used to Be a Sweet Kid) to transform into the Jerk Ass we're familiar with. However, earlier in the comic, Iznogoud stabs younger Wa'at Alahf to test the time travelling nature, and that case works on a Ripple Effect basis, in which adult Wa'at Alahf shows up with a scar he'd never had.
  • Legion of Super-Heroes. There's three of them. Two of their enemies are the Anthropomorphic Personifications of the Timey-Wimey Ball.
  • Limbo in the Marvel Universe (mainly shows up in association with X-Men) is an entire dimension of timey-wimeyness. When the X-Men entered and got separated, both Wolverine and Colossus encountered long-dead versions of each other, and managed to escape just fine in the end. Storm was stopped at one point by her older self, who had remained in Limbo for decades studying magic. And Nightcrawler killed his older self.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog has an interesting variation at one point. Knuckles, juiced up on Chaos Energy, was given the chance to bring back everyone on the Floating Island through his power. To do so, he keeps bouncing back in time and stopping a certain event. Not only does that have bad consequences for him, but what he doesn't know is that he keeps futzing up the actual Sonic events, creating timelines such as a pure SatAM world, one based off of the 1995 OVA and a timeline where Robotnik never initiated his coup. At the end, Knuckles decides to stop that and just bring everyone back from the prison the Dark Legion launched them into.
  • In the 1980s Marvel The Transformers comic, one can alter the past to suit the present. However, there is also the possibility that one travels to a different universe that is simply the same as your own. So thus, any attempt to travel back in time to, say, build a giant cannon to destroy the dark god who created you when he turns his attention to Earth in order to free yourself from his control as Galvatron tried to, can potentially end in failure as it is not your own universe. As it turned out, it WAS Galvatron's own universe.
  • John Byrne's run on Wonder Woman has a classic example of the rules changing within a story. When Diana's mother becomes the new Wonder Woman, Jay Garrick recognises her as the mysterious woman who was involved in one of his adventures in The Golden Age of Comic Books, and who he never really met. When he tells Hippolyta this, she travels to the past in order to maintain the timeline by ensuring everything happens the way Jay remembers. Once she gets there, however, she decides to stick around and become the Golden Age Wonder Woman and a member of the Justice Society of America. History is therefore completely altered after all, but no-one seems to mind.
  • Zipi y Zape: All the story about the time-travel machine built in a barrel revolves around this trope. In the first chapter, the twins use it to transform a wall lizard into its evolutionary ancestor (which turns out to be a crocodile). In all the other chapters, the twins use it themselves; it no longer makes anything appear in the present time, but depending on the chapter, it either just takes them to the past, or somehow transforms them in their ancestor (and, somehow, with all the knowledge and remembrances that those ancestors have). In one chapter, when their mother makes an omelette with an egg found in the past, the twins remark that its strange look is due to the fact that the egg had over two hundred years, even though the time travel should have prevented the egg from aging. Finally, in the last chapter, the twins get trapped in the future when their machine gets broken; strangely, in a rare example of an inverted San Dimas Time, it's said that house prices were getting higher because of the twins' absence.
  • Teen Titans Go!: In Issue #31, a villain changes Robin's past to become his mentor and the other titans are helped by Good!Robin's future self a.k.a. Nightwing. During the epilogue, Beast Boy wonders how that Nightwing could exist at the same time as Bad!Robin and Raven handwaves it by saying they don't fully understand how Time Travel works.
  • All-New X-Men had a hard time deciding whether they were changing the timeline, creating a new one, creating several new ones, or just messing everything up – OR whether it had all already happened. Both this book and the tie-in Children Of The Atom had the added conundrum that while people from the past who were still alive in the present (and one who was dead in the present) were visiting the present, so were a bunch of people from the future, at least one of whom was presently visiting from the past. Several times.

    Fan Works 
  • Discussed at length in The Parselmouth of Gryffindor: time-travel magic only exists thanks to a loophole in the rules of the universe, and so while theoretically it ought to allow you to change the past, in practice, magic does its best to manipulate probablity so that the result is a Stable Time Loop. The farther back in time you go and the more efforts you make to change the past, the more unstable space-time becomes until you're either obliterated or kicked back to your home time period.
  • In the Doctor Who fanfic Gemini, this trope is invoked so as to defy Stable Time Loop: It’s easier for the Daleks to change the past than it is for anybody else, so the military is trying to create super-soldiers that can change the timeline as easily as the Daleks can.
  • In Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, the time turners are used much more frequently, which leads to this when two or more are involved. Dumbledore and Snape have to resort to charts.
    McGonagall: Tell me your conclusions, but please, don't tell me how you figured it out.
    • This is actually an inversion, or something. The writer doesn't appear to be confused about what kind of time travel is possible; rather, he works very hard to make sure that it follows consistent rules. And the characters know about these rules. But trying to work out the logical implications of these rules results in confused characters and confused readers.
    • Trying to find loopholes in the rules has been shown to result in leaving angry notes for your past self not to do so.
  • Kyon: Big Damn Hero has much more Time Travel going on than the original — to the point that at any point of story there is at least one open loop. Amusingly, Kyon once quoted the Doctor when trying to explain his understanding of Time Travel.
  • In the Mass Effect's Crucible, the multiverses work mainly as "Overwriting the timeline" but later the CrucibleVerse itself become a hybrid version of both "Overwritting" and "Branching timelines". Basically, time can be seen as a river with different universes as balls floating in it. Each ball has in front of it what look like millions of almost identical versions of itself in different points spread across the width of the river while behind there's nothing. As the ball floats forward depending on how the river flows ­it'll take the place of one of the many copies and the others in line with it disappear. The potential what ­might have ­been's all disappear when the ball finally arrives. So as the future hybrids come to the present of the CrucibleVerse and change it, the Bad Future soon disappear to be replaced by a new future.
    • But due to Sam, Aunties and their "employers"'s intervention, a new future, different CrucibleVerse is created by pulling the bad future backwards and, as it can't survive on its own, branching off from the main timeline like a Siamese twin. In new time line, the souls of those time travellers from the Bad Future are put into their younger bodies while alt.Jane meet her main counterpart to know everything that happened in the now disappeared bad future to change the new twin universe for the better. This also cause Life and Death from the main timeline to work double-duty since they partly exist outside of time and space.
  • In My Immortal, the main character Ebony travels back in time to teach a young Voldemort about love. But when she does, the plot really starts to get strange. A few examples are that characters in the past know what will happen in the present, that items will not work in time-periods where they're not invented yet, and that people can't die outside their native time-period.
  • Similarly, Time v3.0, being a Doctor Who fanfic that does its best to encompass all the chaotic mess that was the Time War, uses this trope up, down, and sideways.
  • A Crown of Stars tries to avert this. Daniel and Rayana explain Shinji and Asuka that they technically can stop Second Impact and other tragedies... but then Shinji and Asuka would be completely different people, ergo their fixes would be meaningless. So both gods use time-travel to undo the consequences of those tragedies.
  • In Once More with Feeling Shinji remembers everything what happened in the original timeline, even though a lot of events are significantly different due to his actions.
  • In The Second Try, Shinji and Asuka set to avert Third Impact, even though it'd mean that their beloved daughter will never be born. In order to avoid this, Kaworu sends Aki back in time, but she arrives several months later than her parents.
  • Thousand Shinji: The Warhammer 40,000 gods changed the past so they never existed. Even so, Chaos Marine Khenmu and his brothers-in-arms keep existing, and the fragments of the gods still existed and remembered the original timeline.
  • "Brother on Brother, Daughter on Mother" attempts to make some sense out of the trope as it applies to Star Trek (with the obligatory Shout-Out to the Trope Namer) with a variant of the many worlds theory wherein time is actually a rope made of strands of probabilistic outcomes that can tangle up. The purpose of the Time Police is to prevent that rope from "fraying" due to major temporal incursions; smaller incidents are usually papered over by the inertia of time itself.
  • The Road To Shalka is a Whoniverse fic, so it had to happen. Specifically, it happens in Skypigs, where the villain is trying to Make Wrong What Once Went Right, two Doctors (with their respective entourages) stop him together and we meet the companion's long-dead parents. Before they were a couple.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The time travel in About Time appears to have at least two different modes, but the explanation is very scanty. Tim can go back to a previous occasion and change what he did, but then he can choose to either live from that point onwards, or snap forward to where he jumped from and see what the changes have been. The event described in Secret Keeper seems to suggest he can also undo these changes.
  • The whole messy issue of Time Travel is lampshaded in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me when, after Austin starts to get bewildered by all the possible paradoxes his traveling into The '60s involves ("Oh no, I've gone cross-eyed."), Basil jumps in with "I suggest you don't worry about that sort of thing and just enjoy yourself", and then turns pointedly toward the camera and remarks "and that goes for you all as well". Much self-contradictory timey-wimeyness ensues since, as Mike Myers puts it in his DVD comments, "our theory of Time Travel is that Time Travel works however we need it to work for each particular scene's joke."
    • Although, ironically, the conversation that confuses Austin doesn't actually contain any inherent paradoxes; the Doctor Evil he was chasing was the contemporary version who had also gone back in time. Past Doctor Evil and Past Austin were both frozen cryogenically during the time period in question so there would be no crossover.
  • Back to the Future has different things happening to the hero as the past is changed. Read the timeline for the trilogy at this page if you have any questions about how it works. There isn't a single concern here that isn't covered there one way or another. To summarize, you can create alternate timelines, and any time it seems You Already Changed the Past (like Chuck Berry hearing the song he would later write) it's really just causing the same event in a different way (in the original timeline Chuck Berry did come up with the song entirely by himself).
  • Ben 10: Race Against Time includes a bit of this. Eon seeks to use the Hands Of Armageddon to bring his Dying Race to Earth to repopulate, but traveling through time so much has weakened him to the point where he's unable to use the Hands. His plan is to use the Omnitrix to turn Ben into himself (a second Eon), so that he can activate the device and end the reign of humans on Earth. The movie is pretty vague about how it works, but at first glance, it seems as though Eon may actually be Ben, corrupted by himself in his own past. On top of that, when Eon succeeds in implanting himself in the Omnitrix, he declares that "two cannot exist at once", disappearing into a different point in the time stream.
  • Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure establishes that "the clock is always running in San Dimas" — that is, that however long Bill and Ted are in another time, that much time will have passed when they return to their "home time". This is held up for the first film and most of the second... and then utterly discarded for the ending of Bogus Journey, where they zap away for 18 months and return seconds after they left. Of course, the first film kludges it a bit as well — when initially going back to their own time, they actually end up at the same point they left, and have to be told by Rufus that they need to dial 1 digit higher for the next day. Even more odd, Rufus never tells the two of them his name. They hear it from their future selves, who presumably heard it from their future selves who...
  • The Butterfly Effect has the events of roughly half of Evan's blackouts caused by his older self going back to them, while the other half were normal initially, but could be changed by his older self. One blackout even has examples of both. Also, it is established early on that Evan is the only who has any memory of the old timelines, but at one point another character notices a change in the timeline for no apparent reason.
  • Déjà Vu starts out well enough, but implies that the detective has already gone back in time and failed. In the original timeline, the love interest dies, and the hero's blood is all over her apartment. So apparently, in the original timeline, he went back and failed. But then in the new timeline, he gets his wounds saving the love interest. He doesn't bleed all over the love interest's place until after he saves her. So how did there end up being blood in the original timeline, but the love interests dies? What's more, the ending finishes without a Stable Time Loop of any kind, so either the changes made will reset or they've created one alternate timeline where everything is hunky dory and one where everyone's dead.
    • The time travel model used for this movie actually does make sense, it just creates convoluted timelines and is pretty confusing when watched without knowing this beforehand: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Deja_Vu_Timeline.GIF#file The authors were pretty unhappy with the way the material was directed, saying that it made the film seem like it had many unforgivable plot holes even though there weren't any.
  • Detention has one of these as a result of several things: a mother and daughter undergoing a "Freaky Friday" Flip that sees the daughter transplanted into her mother's body circa 1992, another kid from the year 1992 undergoing a nineteen-year time warp to the present day (2011), and a nerdy Asian kid in the present day transforming the school's bear mascot into a time machine for a science project. Ultimately, it will result in the destruction of the world... actually, just the destruction of Grizzly Lake High School, because hey, it's not like the main characters know of a world beyond high school.
  • Frequency is one big Timey-Wimey Ball. You've got the son talking to the dad on the same ham radio, and even the whole "changes happen in sync with each other" deal. The first time John changes history and saves his father, he suddenly has memories of both timelines, which is promptly dropped for the rest of the film as from then on he only has memories of how things originally happened.
  • Hot Tub Time Machine is really inconsistent with its time travel mechanics. Four friends travel back to one day in 1986 and hijack their younger bodies, so everyone sees them as their younger selves. Except one of the friends - Jacob - wasn't born yet and looks the same in the past as he did in the present, and can also interact with the past, but whenever something happens that might possibly stop his conception he flickers out temporarily. Initially the friends, fearing the Butterfly of Doom, try to enact a Stable Time Loop by making sure the big events they remember from that night still happen, but then they change their minds and try to make sure the night goes better the second time around. Some of the big events they remember still happen no matter what they do, but no in the way they remember them. Other events they really do alter. Meanwhile they directly or indirectly cause a couple of historical changes. In the end Lou decides to stay behind and use his knowledge of the future to greatly improve his and everyone's lives. When the other three friends get back they all have much better lives but do not remember them.
  • The Lake House was a horrible mixture of Time Travel ideologies. In some ways the timeline is constant — the guy she kissed at the party turns out to be the guy she's communicating with in the past. Yet in other ways the timeline is variable — she tells him how she misses the trees, so he plants one at the place she's going to live at — which she magically doesn't notice having grown until after she sent him that letter. And then there's the grandfather paradox involving the (lack of a) car accident at the end/beginning of the film, causing her to go/not go to the lake house and end up communicating/not communicating with the guy in the first place. And there's also the dog in the past timeline who responded to the name given to it in the future timeline.
  • Looper:
    • If you injure the present version of someone, the time-travelling-from-the-future version of the person will immediately show the scars. However, all events involving the future version up until the point the present version was injured continue to have happened as if the injury had never occurred. So you can cut off a present versions legs to stop the future one from escaping, and the future version will immediately fall over in a location they never could have reached unless they had legs up until a few seconds ago.
    • The trope is lampshaded on several occasions by the protagonists; criminals who don't really understand how the various time travel paradoxes work, only that trying to sort it out in their heads just gives you a headache.
    • Subverted in the extended version of the diner scene which is included as a DVD extra: after telling Young!Joe that he's not going to try to explain the effects of changing the past, Old!Joe then proceeds to explain them, using a line of salt — and it actually sorta makes sense.
  • Lost in Space contains a plot where John and Don walk into the future by an energy field just to find future Will and Dr. Smith creating that energy field as a result to build a machine to travel into the past, because the entire family was wiped out as a result of John and Don disappearing by walking into the future. When present Will and Dr. Smith enter the bubble, nothing happens to their future selves. Hell, Future Dr. Smith killed his past self without a second thought.
  • Time travel in Men in Black 3 varies between Temporal Paradox (the plot starts off with history being altered so Kay died in the 60s), You Already Changed the Past (Jay's father turned out to be have died in the process of Setting Right What Once Was Wrong), and Mental Time Travel (Jay defeats the Big Bad by rewinding time to avoid the attacks he can now see coming) depending on the needs of the plot.
  • Project Almanac begins because David finds a video of his current day self at his seventh birthday party, which leads to him discovering and rebuilding the time machine stored in his father's basement, suggesting a Stable Time Loop. Immediately after doing this, however, the cast wantonly screws with their own timeline to make things more favorable for themselves, clearly demonstrating that time can also be changed at will. What's especially crazy is that the situation the video depicts is David retgonning himself by destroying the time machine, which he succeeds in doing, meaning the very situation that led them to the time machine originates from a timeline in which said machine does not exist.
  • The film version of A Sound of Thunder (if not the book) uses hilariously inconsistent rules of time travel (and those rules don't make much sense before they start breaking them). It's a crucial plot point that the characters keep returning to the exact same point in time, but never run into previous versions of themselves (no explanation for that is given)... until the time they do (no explanation for that either). Plants smash through the walls of a building because the past was changed in such a way as to cause plants to grow larger and more aggressively (no explanation is given as to why someone decided to build the building in the spot where, in the new timeline, a giant tree has been growing for ages — not to mention why the tree that's always been there smashes through the floor while people watch instead of just appearing as it if had always been there). At one point, the characters are unable to travel back to the point in time they want to reach because there's a time disturbance between the present and their destination in the past; the solution? Travel back to an even earlier point and then go forward (if you guessed that no explanation is given as to why the time disturbance is somehow not blocking that too, you've been paying attention). There were explanations - that the changes come in waves, changing things in fits and starts, not all as a whole. As for having to travel further back, that's easy to explain. Think of it as trying to get into a house, but the front door has something pressed against it stopping you from opening it. What do you do? Go in through the back door and then walk through the house to the front door to remove the blockage. Simples!
  • Star Trek (2009): Word of God has it that instead of erasing the later series, it just split off a new timeline, so that the later series still happened in the original timeline (dubbed "the Prime" timeline in Fanon) but has not in the new timeline. This gets weird as there are many instances of characters from the Prime timeline traveling back to before the split, which means that if a character from the alternate timeline were to travel back to say, The orbital Atomic Accident, The Bell Riots, or The first Warp Test they would find time travelers from the Prime timeline, which from their point of view doesn't exist. Quite a Mind Screw... or Ass Pull, depending on the variance of your mileage. Prior to the film, Star Trek was pretty consistent that time travel changes affect the existing timeline, they don't spawn new timelines (though the existence of parallel but different realities were established, they just weren't caused by time-travel).
  • Star Trek: Generations, contains a nexus which can at once be described as a portal through time and simultaneously interpreted as a veritable heaven which may, in fact, act as merely a database containing the sentient thoughts of all who have encountered it. Kirk's visit to his past doesn't affect the timeline (although one may say this is due to him not actually doing anything to affect it). Picard, on the other hand, experiences an alternate present. While all this could seem viable as time travel, Guinan stops by to mention that Picard can experience the past or the future, the limits of his experiences within the nexus seemingly being restricted to his own imagination. This should leave a very Fridge Logic-taste in anyone's mouth when they realize that Picard and Kirk traveling back to stop Soren may not actually be time-travel but merely a pocket of Picard's own imagination within the nexus. Thus everything that happens past this point in time (i.e. First Contact, Insurrection and Nemesis) are not actually part of the prime timeline as Picard is actually gone and the Enterprise is destroyed with its crew dead. Note that the new timeline Star Trek could still be viable as there's no mention of Picard or Enterprise D and Generations has no effect on Spock's existence. Basically, if you accept the nexus as a means of time travel then the time line splits. If you argue it as merely Nexus-Picard's mind, then it doesn't.
  • Each Terminator movie uses a different theory of Time Travel, though it's at least consistent within each movie.
    • Though one persistent law of Time Travel is that things can only Time Travel if they are made of meat (so people, but not the organic fibers of clothing), wrapped in meat (i.e., Cyborg Terminators), can do a reasonably good imitation of meat (i.e., "Liquid Metal" Terminators) or sneak in when nobody's looking (Cromartie's head, which was still covered in meat). Which is to say, the mechanism here appears to be exactly analogous to airport security. The jury still is out on what would happen if you tried to bring a Ham and Fusion Grenade Sandwich with you.
    • This actually gets answered in the comic book continuity. A group of skinned-up Terminators gets sent back, but bring along an extremely fat human they captured because he's literally a meat bag. Full of guns. Whom the others have to kill to open.
    • The theory they use is that only living tissue can travel back in time. A deleted scene from the 2nd film indicates that the T1000 traveled back in a sack of living flesh and cut its way free before killing the cop. One inconsistency is a scene originally in the script for the first film indicates that Kyle Reese's partner, who travels back with him, gets fused into a fire escape and is instantly killed. Though as this is removed from the film it doesn't much affect the time portal energy cutting through things in the 2nd film.
    • Terminator Genisys goes whole hog on the Timey-Wimey Ball, as Kyle goes to 1984, and finds that the past has already changed thanks to SkyNet sending Terminators to try to kill Sarah when she was even younger. And that was caused by a Butterfly of Doom in the future - namely, Sknet attacking John while Kyle was going back through time. Entertainment Weekly tried to explain how things went (the writer even lampshades how complicated things get: "If I follow this correctly—and I admit that my nose is bleeding while I type this...").
  • In The Film of the Book The Time Machine (2002), the Time Traveler discovers that he cannot change any part of the past that would interfere with him creating the Time Machine, since it would create a Temporal Paradox. He can interfere with other matters, such as when he goes even further into the future only to see the Morlocks victorious over the Eloi, and afterward returns to the year 802701 to successfully defeat the Morlocks.
  • James P. Hogan had a solution in Thrice Upon a Time. The prospective time traveler induces a grandfather paradox. The universe doesn't abhor it or disallow it or anything, but simply plays out the umpteen zillion iterations of the events in question. A leads to B leads to Not-A leads to Not-B leads to A leads to B... It should go on forever, but on each run-through, quantum randomness causes things to be very, very slightly different (an atom decays or not, a pair of colliding air particle zig instead of zag) totally regardless of anything the time traveler does. Normally they won't make any difference whatsoever, but after a few million or trillion iterations, the randomness happens to align in such a way that it breaks the paradox (i.e., kills his wife in a new way) and lets the timeline continue past it. What we the audience see is merely the "final cut" version of history, the one that didn't get stuck in an endless loop.
  • Time Chasers, which 99 percent of its viewers know from Mystery Science Theater 3000. It tells - or rather, tries to tell - the story a man who invents a time-traveling airplane who has to repeatedly go back and stop his former boss from stealing and exploiting his invention for his own personal gain.
  • Cloud Atlas: The film jumps between stories several times in succession. The film's example of Together in Death also only makes sense if reincarnation isn't sequential.

    Literature 
  • 11/22/63 gets...vague with how time travel works. At first at seems like traveling to the past always creates a fresh new timeline, or "string," where none of your other trips happened, and if you screw something up, you can always make a new string where you didn't. However, it turns out that the strings can become tangled if there are too many of them, and making changes to history is like plucking the strings, causing them to "harmonize" with each other. If you get too many strings harmonizing, time itself will shatter from the vibrations. Jake nearly causes this to happen by saving JFK's life, but somehow he's able to save the world by making another string where that doesn't happen. All of this is explained by a hobo who's been driven insane by a very nasty version of Ripple Effect-Proof Memory (imagine remembering hundreds of different futures all at once, all in equal clarity) so there's a lot the reader never finds out.
  • Animorphs made use of Time Travel occasionally, and each time it apparently worked differently. Different techniques of Time Travel were involved, at least one of which was by use of a thingy created by the closest thing to a God in the series, and another (a Bad Future-esque thing) was just flat-out never explained. The bad future was apparently a dream caused by an advanced being for some reason. Maybe.
  • Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl and the Time Paradox does not actually feature any paradoxes. The prequel on the other hand... Specifically, an island was magically removed from normal time for 10,000 years, but the magic is breaking up and time starts running alternately forward and backward at varying speeds. Holly dies, but Artemis fires a shot backwards in time thus killing the demon who killed her and bringing her back to life. Furthermore, Artemis goes back in time and causes a mosaic of himself to be created hundreds of years in the past, a fact which is only noticed in the present day after he gets back. Artemis questions the first paradox, but eventually gives up trying to figure it out.
    • In Last Guardian Opal defies Stable Time Loop by having her past self from Time Paradox killed, and manages to survive. What Opal's timeline looks like now is anyone's guess.
  • The Book of All Hours duology by Hal Duncan doesn't even try to claim to be otherwise. It's such a mishmash of pocket universes, alternate universes, and paradox that causality can't even be seen with a telescope on a good day. Essentially: think of the universe as a huge piece of vellum on which reality has been written. Then crumple it up. Most characters make such a habit of going not just back and forth in time but sideways that one goes back to the day where he, as a child, met his elder self, and that elder self committed suicide... only now, as the elder self, shoots his younger self instead. Nothing happens to the elder.
  • Date A Live has this thanks to the existence of Kurumi. A notable example occurs in the tenth and eleventh volumes. Origami (now a Spirit) has Kurumi send her back in time so that she can prevent her parents from being killed by a Spirit. Origami gets into a fight with another Spirit and one of her own stray attacks hits her parents' house. The revelation that she was the one responsible for her parents' deaths causes her to enter Inverse Form. She returns to the present (as Kurumi's power has a time limit) and causes massive destruction. Kurumi then sends Shido back in time in an attempt to prevent this. Shido initially fails but does comfort Origami after the fact, resulting in her obsessive love for him in the future. He then finds Kurumi's younger self and has her send him further back, allowing him to stop Origami from killing her parents. This creates a new timeline where Origami's parents still end up dying but in a traffic accident, so Origami no longer hates Spirits. However, she nevertheless inherits the power and personality of her original timeline's Inverse Form, which manifests as a split personality. Eventually, Origami's two personalities fuse into one, while the other Spirits also gain memories of the previous timeline.
  • In Connie Willis's stories, the time machine sends you not to your target time-and-place but to the nearest point such that your actions will not change history. (This is consistent with James Hogan's theory mentioned above, though the mechanism is not explicitly stated.) In Doomsday Book (which shared the Hugo Award in 1993), a history student aiming for England 1328 lands instead in 1348, where she can't affect history because everyone she meets will shortly be dead of the Plague.
  • Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels:
    • The History Monks are originally presented in Small Gods as ensuring everything happens the way it's supposed to (although, even then, the monk Lu-Tze decides to Screw Destiny).
    • In Thief of Time, it's revealed that, following various alterations to the Disc's temporal dimensions, the "true history" barely exists, and their main job is to prevent the Timey-Wimey Ball from imploding.
    • In Night Watch, when Vimes travels thirty years into the past to become his own mentor, even the monks aren't sure what's happening.
      Lu-Tze: For a perfectly logical chain of reasons, Vimes ended back in time even looking rather like Keel! Eyepatch and scar! Is that Narrative Causality, or Historical Imperative, or Just Plain Weird?
    • If you try to place the times and events of some books, you will find they take place a couple years before a different book, and at the same time, hundreds of years before the IMMEDIATE SEQUEL of that different book.
    • Sir Terry himself at one point explained that "There are no inconsistencies in the Discworld books; occasionally, however, there are alternate pasts."
  • Jack Chalker's Downtiming the Nightside: People leaping through time can affect changes. If the change is small enough, nothing much happens to the timeline, but significant changes can happen. Karl Marx is killed 3 different times, at 3 different points of his life. At the end of his life, not too significant. After he publishes Das Kapital, not too bad either. Before he publishes it on the other hand... And this is just the tip of the timey-wimey iceberg.
  • In Johnny and the Bomb, Pratchett explains that most time travellers forget the original timeline when they return to the new one because of the human tendency to accept what's around them as normal; but if you really try (or are reminded of it by some useful clue) you can remember how things used to be.
  • David Gerrold's The Man Who Folded Himself features a time-travel belt, which has the traveller completely paranoid about the possibility of a Temporal Paradox destroying him. It turns out that Temporal Paradoxes are impossible; Time Travel rewrites history except for the guy who travelled through time. Various Mind Screw moments: the protagonist has orgies with himself of different ages, writes himself out of history, has a family with himself as a female, eventually has that written out of history (but his son still exists) and culminates in finally giving himself (as the son, so he's his own father) the time travel device. On the last, the idea of where it came from is explored a couple of times and eventually it's hit upon that it's impossible to know where it came from, the creators must have been written out of history. Oh, and he kills Jesus at an early age. It's okay, he goes back and stops himself after finding out how much it screws with history.
  • Poul Anderson:
    • Time Patrol stories are historically well-researched and confusing as hell. Among other things, the future is "uptime" and the past is "downtime," which makes it sound counterintuitively like time is a river that flows uphill. (This is consistent with convention in geology and archeology, where an earlier period is "lower" because its evidence is in deeper strata.)
    • Ditto in the 1632 series, the Grantville inhabitants from 2000 are "uptimers," the seventeenth century natives are "downtimers."
    • The same terminology is used in The End of Eternity, where use words like "downwhen", "upwhen", "anywhen" and "everywhen".
  • The Last Dragon Chronicles: Oh God. There are too many examples to list, though things start getting particularly crazy from Dark Fire onward. Taken to extremes in The Fire Ascending.
  • Dean Koontz averted some time travel issues in Lightning by virtue of having the Nazis invent time travel, the limitation being that it can only send you forward (and then you snap back to your point of origin when you make the return trip). While this has its own problems, it at least eliminates the ability to murder your mother before she gave birth to you. You cannot change your own past, but you can change the past of anyone born after you so long as the changes you try to make are not contradictory, and you can bring objects back. Played straight in that if a contradiction is demanded, the portal will refuse the forward transfer (this gets the heroine killed in one timeline). "Destiny struggles to reassert the pattern that was meant to be." Sometimes happily, and sometimes not so happily, it succeeds.
  • The Never Again series starts out simple enough. It seems to follow the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics so that time travelers can do anything they want, but will create a new timeline that never intersects with the old. Then comes the third book, where that is thrown out the window, and the author's attempts to explain what is happening (with a lot of Technobabble about "intersecting universes" and the like) just raises further questions.
  • The character of Phanthro in Relativity is a time-traveller from the distant future. He's constantly altering history (for the fun of it). When he's asked how he can alter the past without wiping his own time period out of existence, he just says, "Time doesn't work that way." No further explanation is ever given.
  • Robert A. Heinlein:
    • Heinlein wrote a short story called By His Bootstraps, in which the protagonist exploits a time machine to move himself forward in time. Simple enough. The Mind Screw comes in when he does this by his future self sending back his intermediate self to persuade his past self to enter the machine's portal. When the past self becomes the intermediate self, he attempts to double cross the future self, but that double cross naturally results in him becoming the future self. Follow all that?
    • For a real, double whammy version of mind screw, read —All You Zombies— which chronicles a young man (later revealed to be post-real-sex change) taken back in time and tricked into impregnating his younger, female self (before s/he underwent said sex change); then he turns out to be the offspring of that union (time-relocated yet again), with the paradoxical result that he is both his own mother and father. As the story unfolds, all the major characters — the young single mother, her seducer, the alcoholic writer, the bartender who recruits him into the time-travel corps, and even the baby — are revealed to be the same person, at different stages of her/his life. How's your mind doing now?
  • Harry Harrison's The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World features two overlapping timelines (one of which only has a temporary existence) and a loop. The lead character travels back in time to stop the Special Corps being removed from history, and manages to disrupt the enemy's plan. He then follows them further back in time, landing in an alternate history where Napoleon conquered Britain. He messes up the controls on the enemy time machine, and (after being rescued shortly before the alternate history disappears) follows them forward (but still long before his own time). He finds the villains (after a long time for them — so long they've forgotten everything except that he's the Enemy), but is unable to stop them; they travel back in time, and he's only saved by a time machine — allowing him to return to his own time — which he then sends back with the instructions for what he just did. Finally, he's told not to worry that he didn't stop the villains; they've just travelled to the first place he met them, where they will then travel back and create an alternate history where Napoleon conquered Britain, before...
  • Star Trek: The novel Q-Squared introduces several alternate realities, including one based on the Bad Future in Yesterday's Enterprise. However, in this case, when the Ent-D finds the Ent-C, all the crew aboard it are already dead. Afraid of Klingons getting their hands on a Federation warship (even an old one), they scuttle it and move on. Oh, and by the end of the novel, that reality is even worse off, since its Picard and Riker are dead.
  • In A Tale of Time City by Diana Wynne Jones, the titular city exists outside of the flow of history on the rest of the world. From this vantage point, the citizens see that history works like weather patterns — it shifts back and forth with minute details thanks to the butterfly effect and time loops. Basically, a more detailed explanation of the Timey-Wimey Ball, where shifts in the time travel theories are explained away as the changing "weather patterns" of time. For instance, on one day in Time City the inhabitants may observe that World War II begins in 1939, but on another day they may notice that it has changed to 1938. Perhaps time in the book is two-dimensional, with Time City time orthogonal to time everywhere else. Except it turns out that the history of Time City can shift back and forth too...
  • In Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next novels, not only do the rules of Time Travel make no sense whatsoever, the main character (whose father is a time-traveller) realises this, and often lampshades it. In one book, the rules actually seem to change over the course of a conversation with her dad, but she realizes there's no point in even asking.
    • In First Among Sequels, there is a subplot revolving around the fact that the time-travellers have mapped almost the entire future and found that Time Travel has not yet been invented. By the end of the book, Thursday and co. have managed to ensure that Time Travel is never invented, and thus, could never have been used earlier in the series. This means that several events from the previous four books including the plays of William Shakespeare and the beginning of all life on earth logically could not have happened. Since many of these events were the results of Stable Time Loops anyway, this is a case of Ascended Time Paradox. Or Mind Screw turned Up to Eleven. Either way, it's probably best just to apply the MST3K Mantra and enjoy the series.
    • A significant part of the plot of The Woman Who Died a Lot is that the non-existence of time travel in a world where many people know they used to work for the ChronoGuard has actually made the Timey-Wimey Ball worse.
  • In We Can't Rewind, the narrator makes several attempts to make sense of how his world's peculiar form of time travel works for the readers, and then gives up, explaining that he'll probably lose his mind if he keeps this up for much longer. He mentions that the temporal theorists of Merciar, from which he's writing this account, are doing no better at settling their controversies over how exactly inter-dimensional time travel works, and that most of Merciar's citizens have already given up trying to make sense of it in order to preserve their sanity and advised everyone else to do the same.
  • World of Warcraft: The novel trilogy War of the Ancients. Despite some dramatic changes (such as saving an entire race that originally went extinct), it's apparently okay to mess with time as long as the end result is roughly the same. Of course, it also helps explaining why said race appears rather plentiful in World of Warcraft after having been said to be extinct in an earlier novel...

    Tabletop Games 
  • Feng Shui uses this trope quite effectively: The heroes can jump between 4 points in history by using the Netherworld. Transferring control of enough Feng Shui sites changes the future completely, except for anyone who's visited the Netherworld.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • This is a fundamental quality of Warp travel given that the flow of time relative to realspace changes randomly during transit. Navigation for The Imperium of Mankind requires the use of psychic Navigators to essentially feel their way to their destination, avoiding the worst of the warp storms and riding favourable currents to reach their destination. However, given the abovementioned mutability of time along the way, when you arrive is anyone's guess. The crew could be in transit for weeks or months at a time to arrive at their destination at the same time as when they left, centuries late, or even before they set out, if you even get there at all. A graphical history for a given ship would more closely resemble a circuit diagram than a timeline if plotted out.
    • One specific example had an Ork leader accidentally end up at his starting location just before the fleet left, and then promptly attacked and killed his past self to get a spare of his favorite gun (the Waaagh! disbanded in the ensuing confusion).
    • There is also a long-running war between Eldar Farseers (who can manipulate current events to change the future) and actual time travelers from the Necron dynasties and Imperial Inquisition (who may or may not have accidentally erased themselves from the timeline).
    • One Imperial ship responded to a distress signal, but was ambushed in the Warp. Just before its destruction it managed to send out a distress signal...

    Visual Novels 
  • Time Hollow suffers from this trope at times. At one point, you rescue a mother and son from dying in a bus crash. Immediately afterwards, time refuses to change. So you try again. And again, nothing happens. Turns out the mother deliberately RE-changed events to cause her and her son's death. This is handwaved with an explanation that objects and people pulled or otherwise sent through a time warp become 'detached' in time. It may make your head hurt a bit more when you are able to talk to the mother, older, in the timeline in which you saved her, even though that timeline, from your perspective, DOES NOT EXIST because she keeps changing the past to prevent it.
  • Virtue's Last Reward requires Sigma to betray Phi at a critical juncture in order to open a plot lock. Due to this being an incredibly ridiculous and out-of-character thing to do, it is highly likely the player will only try it after Phi betrays Sigma in the alternate branch where Sigma allied — which she explicitly declares she's doing only because of Sigma's betrayal in the other path. You could almost call this a Stable Time Loop, except that it's an interaction between two different alternate universes that can only connect through Phi and Sigma's Time Travel powers.

    Web Animation 
  • Red vs. Blue starts out with a Stable Time Loop when Church keeps going back in time and ends up causing almost every problem that happened to the Blue Team. Then in season five, Wyoming uses his time travel ability (which Church was originally using without knowing it) to try and win the battle. Tucker has Ripple Effect-Proof Memory thanks to his sword and they end up doing things, and then undoing them. For example, Caboose is killed by the tank, and Tex gets knocked out/killed by Wyoming. In the "final draft" of the timeline, Tucker yells at Caboose to stay away, and warns Tex that Wyoming knows that she's there. Then it turns back into Stable Time Loop when Caboose's mental image of Sister, who is a guy, gets pulled into the real world. S/he ends up materializing next to a dead Wyoming, whose suit malfunctions, sending him all the way back to Sidewinder. Turns out, he was the mysterious "Yellow Church" that fans speculated about for years.
    • Since the "Yellow Church" claimed his plan to solve the Sidewinder crisis "seemed like such a good idea at the time", it could be safe to speculate Sister/Yellow Church is there due to a further loop leading back to Sidewinder.
    • The series later attempts to explain all this earlier time-travel nonsense during the "Recollections" trilogy of seasons by explaining that the Red and Blue soldiers are actually simulation troopers meant to test Freelancer troops against a myriad of mad situations and everything they were subjected to in Blood Gulch was in fact a controlled situation they weren't meant to understand.
    • Actually Word of God from Burnie Burns has confirmed that Church going back in time repeatedly never really happened, and was merely Gamma and Omega trying to cause Alpha to fracture into more A.I. fragments. Nobody moved through time in season 3. Yes this is a major retcon, but as of Season 8 it is considered the canonical explanation.

    Web Comics 
  • Used to great effect in The 10 Doctors. It's even mentioned by name as to how all ten Doctors can be in one place at the same time.
    Third Doctor: You see... time is... well... it's...
    Second Doctor: Well, it's... It's not linear... It is more sort of...
    Tenth Doctor: It's... squishy-squashy...
    Seventh Doctor: Wibbly wobbly.
    Sixth Doctor: Semi-fluid!
    Fifth Doctor: Gelatinous.
    Ninth Doctor: Mushy-gooey.
    Drax: Higgledy piggledy.
    Fourth Doctor: Hi-ho the dairy-o!
    Romana II: Green grow the rushes-o!
    First Doctor: Alright, you lot!
  • In Bob and George most of the characters can never find out what kind of rule Time Travel goes by, and one person once said it can be changed by the setting on the time machine. However, it appears that they follow Stable Time Loop rules, as no time period is ever affected by what happens in another. Indeed, the only way time travel is different than going to a different dimension is that people think it may change history.
    • Dr. Light's lab is clearly shown being pre-destroyed by a time ripple tearing through it and enforcing events from the new past. So yes, the past can be changed if you use the time machine right.
    • The ending however, suggest a stable time-loop, as it ends with a suggestion from a time-travelling ghost of Zero telling Wily to not activate him so he won't kill everyone. Then they all fake their death and move to Acapulco to prevent a temporal paradox.
    • There is a very good reason why "I hate Time Travel," is one of the more common Catch Phrases of the comic.
    • At another point, Protoman adds a fresh level of murk due to a) lacking Ripple Effect-Proof Memory and b) being paranoid enough to know he lacks Ripple Effect-Proof Memory, by remarking that a time-travel story is exactly how he remembered the events in question...well, it's how he remembers it now.
  • Breakpoint City can't decide quite how time travel works.
  • Dresden Codak: Dresden fucking Codak. This is what happens when Dada Comics undergo Cerebus Syndrome; leave your sanity at the door. The basic mechanics of the wimey-ball are pretty clearly laid out at the bottom of this page, though as always some inconsistencies appear if you think about it too much (somehow, the artificial wormhole doesn't split the timeline, but the natural one does).
  • Earthsong has a bit of timey-wimey-ball action, since character are pulled together to one time, and then returned back to the moment they left after an indeterminate amount of time.
  • Discussed in El Goonish Shive: Grace expresses confusion about how in Back to the Future Marty is affected by the Delayed Ripple Effect and while at the same time possessing Ripple Effect-Proof Memory. Justin tells her that the sequels don't make sense of this inconsistency and further that time travel is not allowed to make sense.
  • The sequel fic Forever Janette intentionally invokes the Timey-Wimey Ball by subverting the show's use of San Dimas Time — by letting the Fifth Doctor meet the Master from the Seventh Doctor's time. It doesn't say how this is possible, other than a passing mention that the two Time Lords are "off-phase" from a common Gallifreyan synchronicity.
  • Time travel in Irregular Webcomic! at first appears to work in a Stable Time Loop fashion, but then it's revealed that It's possible to "break" a Stable Time Loop, an action capable of destroying the entire universe. Several time loops have already been broken. And now Every universe, save the "espionage" theme universe, has been destroyed. They got better. And now apparently the timeline is too broken to go back pre-1933 (specifically the date of the Reichstag Fire). Complete with a link to this very article.
  • Looking for Group has a big fat temporal loop in the Kethenecia arc in Book 3, but really the arc underlies the whole story so far. It's still uncertain if the protagonists can actually change the timeline should they chose to, since so far they did their best to fulfill the prophecies.
  • It's openly stated by a member of the Time Police in L's Empire that all bets are off if you time travel via magic.
  • Trying to track the timeline changes in Misfile may lead to you repeating this trope name over and over and over again.
  • Minions At Work: Pretend it never happened.
  • Narbonic:
    • An extended time-travel subplot establishes that it is difficult, but not impossible, to change your own history. Physical time-travel takes all the energy that exists in the Universe or, as it turns out, in some other universe that's just out of luck, but it's possible to transfer your consciousness back or forward in time into your own body, and you can undergo changes as a result of altered behavior. For instance, Dave never smoked. At several points, the question of paradoxes comes up, and it is immediately dismissed by pointing out that thinking about it could cause it to happen, so it's better not to.
    • The same storyline provides an example of inconsistent time travel effects within a single sub-plot. Dave didn't cease to have ever smoked until after the time travel; however, Caliban's demotion, though also caused by the time travel, was established backstory before the time travel occurred.
  • This page of the Midnight Crew intermission in Homestuck typifies the response. Though most of the time travel shenanigans seem fairly self-consistent, it's still hella complex.
    • In the main continuity of the series, it gets worse when Future!Dave starts incorporating Time Travel shenanigans. And even he doesn't understand all the mechanisms behind it, his advice to the other characters (and the audience) is just basically "Don't overthink it."
      Dave: see the thing with time travel is
      Dave: you cant overthink it
      Dave: you just got to roll with it and see what happens
      Dave: and above all try not to do anything retarded
      John: i'm just the timey-wimey messenger here.
    • However, Magic A Is Magic A applies heavily and every form of time travel is internally consistent. The problem arises when there are at least four different forms of time travel, and possibly even more, all of which abide different rules
      • Heroes of Time have two options. Either A) They change destiny and cause a branch timeline, or B) You Already Changed the Past. They naturally have some intuition about what changes cause what. Time magic practiced by the Felt is more loose, and can be used for pretty much any form of Time Travel. And then there's the weird stuff, like the Furthest Ring distorting space and time, potentially causing someone to meet their past selves by traveling in a straight line and Skaian portals.
    • The Doctor's Trope-Naming soundbite is used in Arisen Anew from the Alternia Bound album.
    • All the rules get thrown out the window when John touches a strange artifact that makes him unstuck from reality. He has the power to make real and permanent changes in the alpha timeline.
  • Manly Guys Doing Manly Things heavily lampshades this trope. The main requirement to avoid the variety of paradoxes is "Don't think about time travel".
    Jones : Nnnnnooo I still think that's not how time travel works...
    Commander Badass : Look, anyone who watches as much Doctor Who as you do gotta know that technology more 're less runs on bullshit.
  • The characters of Melonpool handled time travel pretty responsibly the first two times. After they disable a mechanism that forbade them from being able to interact with things they had already done, including their past selves who were the time travelers, the whole affair became a convoluted mess and every new revelation had to be resolved by going back in time to stop themselves from changing what happened by going back in time to stop themselves from changing what happened. The moral of the story is: don't mess with time travel or your universe will implode.
  • This is probably gonna be the only way to understand the whole time traveling bit in Sonichu. To wit, Author Avatar Chris is launched into the future where he is able to help those in the future make the vaccine for homosexuality (even if that's not how it works) before being able to convince his future wife Lovely Weather he is his future self (despite the fact that he'd be ten or so years older) and do the nasty. He comes back, gives Magi-Chan Sonichu a Sonichu Ball and tells him to go back and get some of the vaccine to bring back to the past so they can cure everyone years earlier. And while he does talk to the past version of Lovely Weather, there's the case of the vaccine - if he brought the vaccine back from the past to cure everyone, why would there be a need for it in the future and oh, going cross-eyed.
  • There don't seem to be any concrete rules to Sluggy Freelance Time Travel. Possibly justified by the presence of beings like Father Time, Uncle Time, and the Fate Spiders who have an interest in making sure time runs smoothly and/or in a fun way.
    • The fact that the original fate spider gives up, quits his job and then only comes back after his successor has screwed everything up even more says a lot, at this point they seem to pretty much just watch and be amazed that all of creation hasn't gone up in flames already.
    • In a later strip, Old-Riff says that Time Travel follows the branching timeline rules, and therefore you can't change the past, you're just abandoning the Bad Future in favor of a different universe. But really, the way it works, this revelation doesn't actually contradict anything, since from the characters' perspective, they would have no way of knowing.
  • The Starship Destiny:
    • The robot Gizmo goes back in time to kill Hitler, reasoning that he can then go back again and stop himself. Instead, his first iteration convinces him to join in, since he can just go back again, and stop himself. Predictably, they end up having dozens of Gizmos brutalizing Hitler before he's had enough and stops his first self... and gives him a video recording of the event.
    • In another chapter, Gizmo went insane from a virus while saving the ship. The other crew members fix this by taking his head off (it contains his processors and memory drives), going back in time to just before he went insane, and switching heads, thus bringing his sane head back to the present while the insane one faces the virus (presumably, he can't go even insaner).
  • Done hilariously badly in the abandoned indie RPG Zybourne Clock:
    Imagine four balls on the edge of a cliff. Say a direct copy of the ball nearest the cliff is sent to the back of the line of balls and takes the place of the first ball. The formerly first ball becomes the second, the second becomes the third, and the fourth falls off the cliff. Time works the same way.
  • Awful Hospital: The alien zones don't always use "time" as we humans understand it, but something called "layers." Chronology can sometimes jump around on its own, via layers, without Fern needing to enter a time machine:
    Staph: As you read this letter, our kingdom will have undergone many generations of development... at least from our perception. Don't fret! In your own perception sphere, we are very much alive, and I'm certain you will have an opportunity to drop in and say 'hello.' Does that make sense? Sorry, we still don't really have a handle on how you experience the layers.

    Web Original 
  • The Terminator variety is spoofed in the Atop the Fourth Wall, where time travel doesn't work on pants.
  • Mind My Gap is a plot made of this. It seem at one point that up to four chronologically separate events with the same characters involved are happening at exactly the same time
  • Phaeton has time travel mechanics, but also has laws, and etiquette, all to prevent this from happening. Still there are people who don't follow the "Six Minute Flux" mechanic and cause this.
  • According to Huey in Ducktalez 5, the time-travelling Deweys all come from alternate timelines that are created when one of them tries to change history. Huey offers a situation, but that fails. Also, Dewey tries to ask for the Doctor's help, but that fails.
  • Doctor Whooves Adventures, being a Doctor Who fanfiction, have a tendency. Traveler in particular.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog multi-parter Scratch and Grounder made it so a couple of Sonic's ancestors didn't meet, making Sonic disappear. But for some reason Tails is still there and able to fix this.
  • In the double-episode "Two Futures" of Captain Planet and the Planeteers, Wheeler uses a time pool to go back and prevent himself from receiving the fire ring. This results in a crapsack future because the Planeteers never became a team and saved the environment (though why they didn't just find another guy to accept it is never explained). He then goes back and prevents himself from preventing himself from getting the ring. Then they both escape into the time pool again and merge for some reason. To make sure the viewers knew things were restored to normal, a scene from the utopian future is shown at the very end.
  • In the finale of Samurai Jack, Ashi uses her powers as Aku's daughter to open a portal in time which sends her and Jack back in time to the point where Jack was sent to the future. Jack drops out just after Aku flung his past selt into the future to begin with, and then kills Aku. Ashi hangs on for a weirdly long time after that (apparently at least a few weeks) before she collapses, having just enough time to explain that, because she was born of Aku way in the future, killing him in the past meant she was never born, before she faded from existence. Which raises the question: With Aku already dead, and therefore Ashi having never existed, who the hell is in the future to send Jack back in time to kill Aku?
  • Time travel in The Fairly OddParents! is... confusing. The first time Time Travel is used as a plot device, and in most subsequent appearances, history is very malleable and can easily be changed... with serious consequences.
    • However, the episode "The Secret Origin of Denzel Crocker" appears to utilize a straight Stable Time Loop... however Timmy's time traveling, in addition to causing Crocker to lose his fairies as a kid, also gave him a much more sophisticated fairy-tracker which he didn't originally have as an adult, meaning that Crocker must have lost his fairies a slightly different way the "first time around".
    • In a much later episode when Timmy wishes he were never born, a la It's a Wonderful Life, Jorgen reveals that Crocker's childhood would never have been ruined had Timmy never existed, which means that there was no "first time around" note . In other words, the writers wanted to use both Stable Time Loops and Temporal Paradoxes at the same time, resulting in a confusing mess. Cosmo did a lot to get little Crocker obsessed with fairies, but he only got the opportunity due to Timmy.
  • Futurama:
    • Time travel results in the creation of Stable Time Loops... except when it doesn't. In "Roswell That Ends Well", You Already Changed the Past is in effect, and everything makes sense. Then "The Why of Fry" contradicts this, and Fry succeeds in altering his own past (he doesn't prevent himself from getting cryogenically frozen, as he originally intended, but he does convince the Nibblonians to give him a better getaway scooter). Then, Bender's Big Score throws sense out the window: Bender's rampant time travel is revealed as the cause of some events from previous episodes (such as the fossilization of Seymour, and the first destruction of Old New York by flying saucers), while completely altering some other events (the final scene of "Jurassic Bark" gets retconned). Both stable time loops (like the tattoo on Fry's butt) and utter nonsense (like Hermes Conrad stealing his own body from the past) work equally well. Rather appropriately, Bender's time travel is carried out by a literal Timey-Wimey Ball.
    • The entire existence of Lars Fillmore is built on a combination of a Stable Time Loop and an Alternate Timeline. In the future, Fry meets Lars before going back to his own time. He then takes another trip back in time by an hour, displacing the Fry that existed at that time and turning him into a "time-paradox duplicate." The duplicate eventually becomes Lars, following his other self to the future and inspiring the original Fry to take on the false identity of Lars once he becomes a duplicate though his upcoming use of time travel.
    • Then there's Professor Farnsworth's time machine in "The Late Philip J. Fry", which could only go forward in time. When Farnsworth, Fry and Bender returned to a new, identical universe (making the Big Bounce theory true) It's impossible to know if the killing of the fish or Hitler did anything to Universe Two because they didn't get to stop in the 31st century to find out. They had to go around again to finally make a stop at Universe 3. This leads to all sorts of crazy implications as to what happened to the time traveling crew in the 2nd universe...do they kill their Universe 4 selves?
    • On the DVD commentary for "Roswell," the writers say that they initially intended to avoid doing any time travel stories, because it's basically impossible to make them make sense, but eventually they couldn't resist.
  • The Penguins of Madagascar has Kowalski try to stop two paradoxes that he created at the same time. While it's eventually resolved with a stable time loop, the second/third Kowalski couldn't have existed without having it's own paradox. It's... confusing. And the paradoxes effect time is only a few hours.
  • The plot of a Pinky and the Brain episode, in which the mice try to obtain a "World Domination Kit" from the future. It doesn't even try to make sense, but suffice to say it ended with the lab full of hundreds of Pinkys and Brains, and the ending tune changed to "They're Pinkys, they're Pinkys and the Brain Brain Brain Brain Brain Brain Brain Brain Brain Brain."
  • Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja: When the past was altered so the Sorcerer's imprisonment never happened, it got the Sorcerer free but didn't change the world in any way that reflected the damages he would have caused during eight centuries of altered history. No explanations were given.
  • Sealab 2021: "Lost In Time" shows Stormy and Quinn trying to steal cable for Captain Murphy and inadvertently cause a rift that sends them back in time to just before they left Sealab (about 15 minutes). They try to prevent themselves from causing the rift, but past Captain Murphy is convinced they are evil dopplegangers and not time travelers, so he has them locked in the brig. When their past-selves cause the rift (again), they experience the same events but somehow the original pair is also in the brig when they get there. So now there's 3 Stormies and 3 Quinns running around. Since the time difference is only 15 minutes, each successive Stormy and Quinn react in the same way, and since each pair is unable to stop the next pair, the number of Stormies and Quinns keeps growing until the brig is filled with them and they have to start referring to each other by which iteration of the loop they came from (i.e. Quinn 1, Quin 2, "the 7s", etc). Eventually time itself is getting so screwed up that weird alternate versions of them start showing up too (like pixie versions, or Quinn as Jabba the Hutt and Stormy as Salacious Crumb). The Quinns band together to try and think of a solution, while the Stormies play dodgeball. Ultimately, one of the Stormies reveals that they've been using their communicator watch(es) the whole time (but only with already locked up Stormies). One of the Quinns borrows it to call the version who is out stealing cable and finally ends the loop by averting the next explosion. Then, instead of using the combined brain power of dozens of genius Quinns to solve major world problems, Captain Murphy has all the duplicates fight to the death in the gym for his amusement.
  • Sonic Sat AM screws up it's time travel rules quite confusingly. Sonic and Sally try to travel back in time to before Robotnik's coup in order to stop him, but soon discover that this is impossible and they can't change the past, merely act out or ensure predetermined events (Sonic causes Robotnik's arm to be robotized, saves his younger self from getting captured, etc.). However at the last moment Sally attempts to change the fate of her nanny by telling her future information and it works, even though it logically shouldn't have. Even more confusingly, Ripple Effect-Proof Memory is in effect, so Sonic and Sally don't remember interacting with someone they now logically should. Sonic is appropriately confused.
  • South Park:
    • In one episode, Cartman freezes himself and is thawed out 500 years in the future. He then makes repeated calls to Kyle via a phone that reaches back through time, which makes changes to his time. He and everyone else 500 years from now only know the world the way it is after the changes. However, when he makes one more change at the end that hugely impacts history, he only remembers what the world was like before the change, while from everyone else's point of view it's always been that way.
    • In the episode "Goobacks" immigrants from the future come back through a time portal to get jobs in the present. When the townspeople try to improve the future so the immigrants will stay in their time period, the immigrants begin to fade away. A reporter notes that scientists say the time border follows Terminator rules meaning it's one way only and you can't go back as opposed to Back to the Future rules, where back and forth is possible, and Timerider rules, which are just plain silly.
  • Static Shock has a one-shot time-traveling metahuman who briefly teams up with Static and Gear, only to decide her powers are too dangerous, go back in time to before the Big Bang, and steal her past self's bicycle so she couldn't get caught up in it. Would be a classic paradox were it not for the fact that Static and Gear still remember the previous version of what happened. Upon pointing this out, Gear comments that if you try too hard to figure it out, your head will explode.
  • This episode of Tek Jansen, a series of shorts originally created for Stephen Colbert's show, illustrates how bad (or awesome) this trope can get.
  • Transformers Armada:
    • After Thrust shoots Starscream with the Requiem Blaster, we see a shot of Rad as an eight year old waking up in his parents' car and asking tiredly where the Mini-Cons are (implying his "present" mind was momentarily in his past body). Then cut to all the kids - possibly in an alternate future - being told by a slowly dying Hot Shot that the Transformers have all been eaten by Unicron because they didn't know that the Mini-Cons were servants of Unicron and were led to their doom. After this, cut to the kids now being at the moment of the Mini-Cons' creation millions of years ago inside Unicron. Rad then touches High Wire's hand and frees him (and by association all the other Mini-Cons) from Unicron's control by reminding them of their past/future happiness together. The Mini-Cons then know to go to Earth after they leave Cybertron to meet Rad and the other humans. Cut back to the humans returning mere moments before Thrust shoots Starscream, whereupon High Wire and his teammates combine into Perceptor and knocks the gun away, causing Thrust to miss Starscream completely. And none of this is EVER EXPLAINED.
    • The Mini-cons who prevented Starscream from being blasted weren't taken along with the kids' inexplicable time-jump, and there is no reason for them to have done anything differently in the present. It can't even be due to the kids' actions in the past — the Mini-cons would never have gone to Earth to kick off the events of the series if not for the kids, so it's not a case of the "old" High Wire wanting Starscream to die but the "new" one saving him.
  • There's a gigantic lampshade in Tripping the Rift. The crew saves the day by turning back time Superham-style: by flying the ship around a star counterclockwise really fast. While they're setting up, they discuss the inconsistency of the rules of time travel and the problems with changing the past.
  • In X-Men, Bishop keeps his memories of the previous chain of events when he returns into the future. Later the two parter "One Man's Worth" has the death of Charles Xavier before he founded X-Men resulting into a war-torn present. Wolverine and Storm from this changed reality travel into the past to help to save him. After the successful mission accomplishment they return into the future (present time) and for some reason lose all their memories about the Xavier-less reality.
  • Milo Murphy's Law has characters change the past through time travel frequently, yet also has a number of gags that rely on the assumption of a Stable Time Loop. It's also inconsistent about when characters can or can't remember events that got erased from the timeline.


Alternative Title(s): Temporal Shenanigans

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