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A variation of the Bad Future trope in which the present IS the future for someone. This is distinct from stories set in a Bad Future because the status quo is Like Reality Unless Noted. Alternate Timelines and Alternate Universes are likewise separate tropes. Alternate Histories can be compatible, though.

As an example, let's say that we have a story with a Japanese Samurai that arrives in the present from 200 years in the past. He'd probably be shocked to learn that Japanese culture has largely been replaced by Westernization, and that Japan surrendered to the United States after World War 2. Modern citizens of Japan have largely moved on, but someone from an earlier era might see this as their Bad Future.

It is also acceptable if something terrible happened to a long-running character or someone related to them. A past version of said character learns that a loved one has died or left them, or that they themselves have died or worse.

Another acceptable version is if a person from the present goes into the past and lets the truth slip. So long as the spirit of the trope is explored, it works just fine.

Could be the result of Values Dissonance or when stories turn Darker and Edgier. For some reason, bad guys never seem bothered by this.

Usually, to prevent changes to the status quo, there'll be a You Can't Fight Fate Aesop and actions to the contrary will result in Setting Wrong What Once Went Right, possibly resulting in a Terminator Twosome.

Not to be confused with horrible gifts.

No Real Life Examples, Please. There is no need to start a flame or edit war over an example.


Comic Books

  • Since comic book characters tend to remain publicized for decades, writers ADORE this trope.
  • Captain America is the freaking KING of this trope. Every incarnation of Captain America uses this trope to some degree or another, but Ultimate Cap is probably the most apparent.
  • In one arc in the Green Lantern comic, Hal Jordan is brought to the present era and learns that not only has Coast City been destroyed, not only is the Corps dead, but the latter was his own doing as part of a massive Face Heel Turn.
  • In his title series, Nova meets his ex-lover Namorita, who is dead in the present, while the two of them are ripped through time. Namorita is blissfully unaware of anything that happens in the future, including the fact that she and Nova were no long a couple long before her death, and that she is one of the parties blamed for the deaths of hundreds of innocents.
  • Magik discovered that she would die from the Legacy Virus when she and her team time-traveled to the present. Sadly, if she hadn't time-traveled in the first place, she wouldn't have died, as it was in the present that she was infected with the Virus by her brother Rasputin.
  • In the Intercontinuity Crossover JLA-Avengers when they discover their Silver Agey joined universe isn't "real" they get a glimpse of the real two universes, and Hal Jordan & Barry Allen are especially disappointed about being dead, and in Jordan's case learning that he destroyed the Corps and Coast City. Both still want to fix things to the way they should be though, becuase that's the right thing to do.
  • In The Twelve, a bunch of World War 2 superheroes get put in statis as they're trying to prevent a Nazi operation. When they wake up (in 2009), they're very disoriented to say the least: one guy can't understand the concept of mixed-race marriages, another tries a career as a humorist relying on offensive stereotypes seventy years out of date, one tries to get to his old job as a journalist (and has never heard of the Internet), one who has Super Hearing now has to deal with all the wireless broadcasts (phones, TV, radio...), etc.
  • Another example from DC 2000, wherein a villain shows the 1940s era Justice Society members the present day in order to convince them everything's gone horribly wrong.
  • Similarly, the 1940s Marvel Comics heroes in Avengers/Invaders arrive in the aftermath of Civil War and briefly think that the Germans won World War II as a result.
  • In Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, when the Legion of Super-Heroes visits Superman just before what is likely to be his last battle, they bring Supergirl with them. Since the story is set post-Crisis (but before the new continuity kicked in), Supergirl is dead in the "present", and Superman tells this version of Supergirl that his Supergirl "is in the past," without specifying that it's not on a mission as the visitor thinks.


  • In Pleasantville, this is done in stark contrast to the idyllic past-set TV show.
  • In Back to The Future, Marty McFly figures out he's returned to his own time when he notices a filthy bum sleeping on the park bench.
    • Also from Back to the Future:

 Doc Brown: Tell me, Future Boy, who's president of the United States in 1985?

Marty: Ronald Reagan.

Doc Brown: Ronald Reagan? The actor? Then who's vice president, Jerry Lewis? I suppose Jane Wyman is the first lady? And Jack Benny is secretary of the treasury!



  • Callahans Crosstime Saloon short story "The Time Traveler" (1973): An American is imprisoned by a South American dictatorship in 1963 and released in 1973. When he gets back to the United States, he finds society radically changed due to events in the 1960s and suffers from "transplant shock" so severe that he tries to commit suicide.
  • Soon I Will Be Invincible has a throw-away reference to a group of villains from the 1950s who traveled forward in time to the present to learn from their future selves or successors how they conquered the world. Instead, they found a good present where superheroes still prevailed, and became so demoralized they returned to their own time and gave up trying.
  • In Time Scout, The Accident has devastated the present. The past is available for tourism, but the present is eating itself with gun control and political correctness and organized crime all running rampant.

Live Action TV

  • The Twilight Zone TOS episode "Once Upon a Time" (1960). A janitor from 1890 is sent to 1960 via a time helmet. He finds it much noisier and hectic (including having to dodge cars in the street), finds the prices much higher, is almost arrested by a policeman, etc. He eventually escapes back to the past, which he finds much better.

Tabletop Games

  • Given the Time Travel shenanigans that Feng Shui characters get involved in, it's entirely possible to come back to a present that is completely unlike what it was like when you left it, particularly if a Critical Shift went down while you were gone.

Video Games


  • Played with in Nodwick, where a time traveler from the heavily Magitek past arrives in the current feudal world (only to find out it was bringing his date-minder through the time portal that hosed his "future".

What, the article's over already? NOOOOOO!