Time loop

Time loop

A time loop or temporal loop is a common plot device in science fiction (especially in universes where time travel is commonplace) in which time runs normally for a set period (usually a day or a few hours) but then skips back like a broken record. When the time loop "resets", the memories of most characters are reset (i.e. they forget all that happened). The plot is advanced by having one or more central characters retain their memory or become aware of the loop through déjà vu.

One well-known example of this is in the 1993 film Groundhog Day, in which the main character is the only one aware of the time loop. Stories with time loops commonly center on correcting past mistakes or on getting a character to recognize some key truth; escape from the loop may then follow.


Types of Time Loops

Physical Time Loop

In a physical time loop (rarely seen in the media), the spacetime loops around to form several closed timelike curves. Since the time in that region is looped, you could only escape it by leaving the affected area. Also, there would be an infinite number of copies of any matter in the area, unless an object left the loop. In that case, there would only be as many copies of that object as many times it completed the loop. This type of time loop cannot be ended or destroyed.

Conscious Time Loop

In a conscious time loop, everyone's consciousness loops through time. In such a time loop, causality could easily be violated.


The following series featured time loops as a main theme or at least fairly frequently:

  • Day Break - A police officer relives the same day over and over, and has to figure out how to save himself and those close to him from a host of threats.
  • Doctor Who makes frequent use of time travel. A number of episodes involve or make mention of a time loop (also referred to as a "chronic hysteresis"): "Image of the Fendahl", "Carnival of Monsters", "The Invasion of Time", "The Armageddon Factor", "The Claws of Axos", "Meglos" and "Father's Day" (a car is stuck in a time loop after history is changed as the universe seemingly tries to 'restore' history). In the episode "Blink" the Doctor knows exactly what clues to leave in the past in order to help a character in the present (Sally Sparrow) deal with an alien threat because she has carefully collected and preserved all the information and gives it to him after the fact. The Master's use of the term "time loop" in "The Claws of Axos" may be the first instance of its use to describe the phenomenon. Beyond the original TV series, the term also appears in the radio play "No More Lies", starring the Eighth Doctor, Paul McGann. In the spinoff series Torchwood, in the first episode of the second series, another time loop is mentioned, where main character Captain Jack Harkness and his partner John Hart were trapped in a two-week time loop for five years. A recent Doctor Who episode to feature a time loop is "The Big Bang", in which River Song is put into a time loop within the TARDIS to keep her alive, the TARDIS 'freezing' itself in the moment of its own destruction.
  • Higurashi no Naku Koro ni - The story is shown in chapters, each one a variation of the same time period. Each chapter unravels part of an overarching mystery. The chapters typically end with the death of some or all of the main characters. The conclusion of the story comes when the mystery is solved and death is prevented. The reason for these time loops becomes part of the mystery as characters begin to remember scenes from previous time loops.
  • The Lexx - Stanley Tweedle, Zev, Kai and 790 travel the span of two universes on a Manhattan-sized living insect ship, in an effort to discover a way to defeat a villain called "His Divine Shadow". Kai is the lone survivor (technically animated dead) of a humanoid species called the Brunen-G, which were eradicated two-thousand years in the past by His Shadow. This event was prophesied by a now deceased Brunen-G Seer to have happened before, and expected to happen again, in a time loop referred to as the "Future-Past".
  • The Tatami Galaxy - An unnamed student relives the first two years of his college career repeatedly, choosing a different club to join at the beginning each time, unaware consciously of the time loop. One loop ends with two smaller jumps backwards, reliving the iteration's final hours a second and third time, before it fully resets.
  • Tru Calling - A university graduate working in the city morgue is able to repeat the same day over again to prevent murders or other disasters.

Time loops have been featured in individual episodes of many TV series, including:

TV Show Episode Comments
Andromeda "When Goes Around..." It's also hinted that Trance Gemini has experienced the show's time-line several times.
Angel "Time Bomb" The characters do not experience events in a single loop; one character begins randomly jumping through time and experiences events multiple times, sometimes out of order
The Angry Beavers "Same Time Last Week"
Blood Ties "5:55" The characters discover Pandora's Box, which ends the world whenever it is opened; due to the main character Vicki Nelson having been marked by a powerful demon, history is apparently 'reset' each time the box is opened to give the demon the chance to kill Vicki.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer "Life Serial" One of a trio of geeks puts Buffy into a time loop when she's working at the Magic Box. She has to face the same customer over and over until she's able to satisfy her.
Cardcaptor Sakura "Sakura's Never-Ending Day" ("Time and Again" in the Nelvana release)
Charmed "Deja Vu All Over Again"

"The Good, the Bad, and the Cursed"

"Show Ghouls"

In "Deja Vu", a demon tries to repeat the same day over and over again until he can find a strategy to defeat the sisters.
Breaking a time loop that others are stuck in is a major plot element in "The Good, the Bad, and the Cursed", but we and the sisters themselves only go through it once.
Code Lyoko "A Great Day"
Although the main characters have the ability to relive a day ("Return to the past" or "RTTP") and be the only ones who retain their memories, throughout the entire series these are the only two episodes in which the same day is repeated multiple times.
Crime Traveller "Final Episode"
D.Gray-man "The Rewinding Town"
The Dead Zone "Deja Voodoo"
Early Edition "Run, Gary, Run"
Eureka "I Do Over" The main character has to solve what is causing him to relive the same day repeatedly without the help of the geniuses in the town, and he finds that no matter what he changes throughout each repeated day, the end result is still the same. He then realizes that nothing simple he does will change anything, and that if he wants to stop reliving the same day, a drastic measure must be taken.
The Fairly OddParents "Christmas Every Day"
"Deja Vu"
The main character wishes that it was Christmas every day.
The main character wishes for a watch that allows him to reset a certain amount of time so that he can undo his mistakes.
Farscape "Back and Back and Back to the Future" John Crichton's exposure to the energy of a black hole causes him to experience time jumps where he sees the future.
First Wave "Gulag"
Fringe "White Tulip"
Futurama "The Late Philip J Fry" Fry, Bender and Professor Farnsworth use a forwards time machine and after travelling through multiple times in the future, fast forward to the end of the universe where they witness a second big bang and discover that when the universe ends, another universe exactly the same as the old one is created.
Justice League Unlimited "The Once and Future Thing: Time Warped" The villain, Chronos, is trapped in a time loop at the conclusion of the episode and his actions thus undone.
Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman "'Twas the Night Before Mxymas"
Lost "Flashes Before Your Eyes"
Medium "Be Kind, Rewind"
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya The "Endless Eight" arc Episodes where the characters relive the same two weeks of summer vacation, as the one behind it attempts to pack as much into these two weeks as possible, but is not satisfied, and thus the loop repeats
Monty Python's Flying Circus Déjà vu (skit, a.k.a. "It's the Mind"), episode 16.
The Outer Limits "Deja Vu"
"The Refuge"
Painkiller Jane "Playback"
Pepper Ann "'T.G.I.F"
Pet Alien "The Day That Wouldn't End"
Phineas and Ferb "Phineas and Ferb's Quantum Boogaloo"
Phua Chu Kang "Toto Day"
"Power Rangers: Lightspeed Rescue" "Yesterday Again"
"Power Rangers: Zeo" "A Brief Mystery of Time" The Machine Empire traps Earth in a time loop; a recent brainwashing experience allows Tommy Oliver to be partly aware of the day repeating itself.
Totally Spies! "Deja Cruise"
Red Dwarf "White Hole" The crew are exposed to a white hole- the opposite of a black hole- which spews time into the universe, causing them to repeat various events as well as experiencing time out of order.
Red vs. Blue "Have We Met?", "Same Old, Same Old"
7 Days "Déjà Vu All Over Again" Run Frank Run! Frank Parker must save Talmadge. The clock is ticking, he's far away, traveling on foot, but thankfully, if at first he doesn't succeed (and indeed he doesn't), he gets to try, try again.
Silver Surfer "The Forever War" Silver Surfer finds Adam Warlock trapped in a time loop where he defends his homeworld from the Kree. After leaving it they find that Warlock's true homeworld was destroyed long ago, so he returns to the time loop.
Smallville "Reckoning" Having indirectly caused the death of Lana Lang, Clark Kent turns back time to avert the events that led to her death (Although the new timeline results in Jonathan Kent dying instead)
South Park "Cancelled", "Go God Go XII" In "Go God Go XII" the time loop is inescapable only because the person remembering it is incapable of understanding the problem.
Stargate SG-1 "Window of Opportunity" The episodes "The Gamekeeper" and "Avatar" also feature time repeatedly "resetting" itself, but they both take place within virtual reality universes, whereas "Window of Opportunity" takes place in the real world and is the only instance of the term "time loop" being used in the series, Earth and sixteen other worlds within a certain distance of the original machine apparently repeating the same eight hours for over three months.
Star Trek: Enterprise "Future Tense"
Star Trek: The Next Generation "Cause and Effect"

"Time Squared"

The episode "Cause and Effect" demonstrates a localized time loop where time only loops for the main characters and those involved directly in the loop. The loop is caused by the destruction of the Enterprise, which in turn resets the loop. Once the ship's destruction is averted, the loop breaks, and the characters discover that quite some time has passed while they were trapped in the localized loop.
"Time Squared" sees the Enterprise being destroyed and Captain Jean-Luc Picard being sent back in time to the moments before the ship was destroyed, but the past Picard is able to break the loop that would have led to him becoming his future self.
Star Trek: Voyager "Coda" Captain Kathryn Janeway apparently experiences multiple timelines resulting in her death, but the 'loop' is revealed to be an illusion generated by a life-form trying to trick Janeway into 'accepting' her death
Strange Days at Blake Holsey High "Thursday" Corinne Baxter has what she considers the worst day of her life and repeats it over and over until she looks at it optimistically.
The Suite Life on Deck "International Dateline" The time loop is caused by a lightning bolt that strikes while the boat passes the international dateline sending the S.S. Tipton back in a time loop that only Cody Martin Realizes, so he takes advantage to try and kiss Bailey Pickett, his crush. In the end, he doesn't manage to kiss her.
Supernatural "Mystery Spot (3.11)" The time loop is caused whenever Dean Winchester is killed. The time loop was created by a Trickster to teach Dean's brother Sam a lesson.
The Twilight Zone "Shadow Play"
The Twilight Zone (2002 TV series) "Rewind" Jonah is given a gift of a personal tape recorder that rewinds time and allows the holder to create a 5 minute Time Loop.
Weird Science "Universal Remote"
Wizards of Waverly Place "First Kiss" Alex Russo wants her brother, Justin, to get his first kiss. During the kiss, something wrong happens, so Alex set the time back so Justin could do it right.
The X-Files "Monday" A woman has to repeat the same day over and over, each ending with someone dead after a bank heist. She confronts Scully and Mulder on several occasions to try and stop the time loop, and Mulder gets the sense of Deja Vu.
Xena: Warrior Princess "Been there, Done that"

Audio Drama

  • In one episode of The Shadow, "The Man Who Killed Time", the antagonist creates a time loop.

Music videos


  • 12:01 PM and 12:01 - two films (a 1990 short and a 1993 full-length), based upon Richard A. Lupoff's short story of the same name.
  • 1408 - A jaded writer is trapped in a hotel room that physically and psychologically torments him, unable to escape. Although the main storyline of the film is not a time loop, this device does appear as one of the many horrors inflicted by the room. At several points in the story, he thinks he has managed to leave the room, only to discover later he has been inside it all along.
  • Bless the Child, a 2003 Hong Kong film
  • Blind Chance - Krzystof Kieslowski's 1987 film following three different possibilities, all spouting from chance. Precursor to Tykwer's Run Lola Run.
  • Christmas Do-Over - A shallow ad executive finds himself reliving Christmas day over and over.
  • Christmas Every Day - A 13-year-old boy relives Christmas day again and again.
  • Donnie Darko - A 16-year-old boy is visited by a strange entity from the future who guides him into ending a time loop and thus preventing the destruction of our universe.
  • È già ieri - A man relives a day again and again
  • Groundhog Day - A jaded weather man relives the same day, Groundhog Day, over and over, while stuck in a small town due to the weather.
  • Il Mare and its Hollywood remake, The Lake House - these two films share time-loop like features: Two characters exist in different time frames, and affect each other's lives. The ending of the film is a causality paradox, which if followed through would cause the timeloop to repeat.
  • The Last Day of Summer - A boy relives his last day of summer after being repeatedly hit on the head.
  • Limbo 2004 - An attorney finds himself stuck in Limbo, neither alive or dead. He is in a unique time loop that lasts 1 hour and does not move him back to the same place when time resets. Then he finds others who are stuck in the same loop as him.
  • Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas - retells Christmas Every Day with Huey, Dewey, and Louie.
  • Mirror for a Hero - a 1987 Russian film. Besides Groundhog Day's idea of living a perfect day it has a bundle of time, person and society related ideas.
  • Naked - Creative Swedish variation on Groundhog Day where a man wakes up naked in an elevator after his bachelor party, and struggles repeatedly to reach his wedding in time.
  • Nirvana - time loop happens to a fictional person in a virtual reality game.
  • Pokémon: Giratina and the Sky Warrior - Dialga traps Giratina in a time loop, preventing it from leaving the Reverse World. The time loop is broken when Giratina is brought out of the Reverse World via artificial means.
  • Primer - Film deals with a time loop that is described as being like a cul-de-sac with an "A end" and a "B end".
  • Reeds - similar to Triangle, a boat enters some reeds where mysterious events happen, however the main characters appear to be stuck in a cyclical loop, encountering past versions of themselves.
  • Retroactive - A woman escapes a couple's captivity while traveling through a desert by car. She discovers a lab where a scientist is experimenting with time travel and is returned minutes before her escape. This cycle is repeated as she attempts to correct a series of violent events.
  • Source Code - A film in which the protagonist repeatedly lives out the last eight minutes of a victim of a terrorist bomb in order to try to ascertain who the bomber is and to prevent them from detonating a dirty bomb in central Chicago.
  • Triangle (2009) - this film involves a young woman trapped in a loop. There are copies of people and items, seemingly allowing many variations on the loop happening at the same time.
  • Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer - The day before Tomobiki High School's student fair is looped repeatedly.


  • "Doubled and Redoubled", a short story by Malcolm Jameson that appeared in the February, 1941 issue of Unknown. Accidentally cursed by a witch, the protagonist repeats a "perfect" day, including a lucky bet, a promotion, a heroically foiled bank robbery, and a successful wedding proposal. This story was a precedent to Groundhog day and 12:01 PM.[1]
  • "Escapement", a 1956 short story by J. G. Ballard.
  • "12:01 PM", a 1973 short story by Richard A. Lupoff.
  • The Dark Tower, a series of seven novels by Stephen King featuring many elements of time travel, including a time loop.
  • In a story in The Decameron, a dead man (Guido degli Anastagi) is ordered to catch his dead recalcitrant beloved and tear her apart, every Friday.
  • The Details of Nikita Vorontsov's Life by Arkady Strugatsky.
  • "Genevieve Undead" by Jack Yeovil. While not a true time loop due to time still carrying on as normal outside the estate and the loop changing slightly with each playthrough it is still endless repetition for those who are caught in the curse.
  • HELP! I'm Trapped In the First Day of School! by Todd Strasser. A boy keeps repeating his first day of school. A later book in the series features the same character being trapped in the first day of summer camp.
  • I Am the Cheese. Technically not a true time loop novel, but the young main character, who is revealed to be insane, acts out the same week over and over.
  • In Lord Sunday, the last of the The Keys to the Kingdom, a series of seven young adult fantasy novels by Garth Nix, the main character's mother is stuck within a time-loop.
  • "A Little Something for Us Tempunauts", a 1975 short story by Philip K. Dick.
  • Lost in a Good Book, the second of the Thursday Next novels by Jasper Fforde. The title character travels back in time to save her husband from being eradicated and experiences a time loop before returning to her present-day 1985. (Time loops are also mentioned as a form of incarceration and punishment, confining the prisoner to a dull place such as a laundromat or in the line to checkout at a store over a span of a few minutes repeated for the duration of the sentence. Aornis Hades is incarcerated in an 8 minute loop in the checkout of a TJMaxx, Temporal J. Maximum security prison, never quite being allowed to checkout. Her enloopment could be lengthened as a reward or shortened as further punishment.)
  • Mathematicians in Love, a novel by Rudy Rucker.
  • The Neverending Story, a book by Michael Ende - a time loop is deliberately set in motion at one point to force Bastian's hand.
  • The Plot to Save Socrates, a novel by Paul Levinson
  • In The Rashness of Haruhi Suzumiya there is a chapter Endless Eight in which Haruhi Suzumiya creates a time loop because she never wants their vacation to end.
  • Replay, a Ken Grimwood novel in which the main character suddenly shifts to much earlier in his life, then relives shorter and shorter periods.
  • Tales from the Time Loop, a book by David Icke.
  • "That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is in French", short story by Stephen King.
  • Time Trap and Back To The Time Trap by Keith Laumer.
  • The Tunnel Under The World, a short story by Frederik Pohl. in which the citizens of a town are seen to relive the same day over and over, seemingly unaware that they are doing so. At one point however a chance event results in one man retaining his memory of the previous day, allowing him to observe that history seems to be repeating; the rest of the story is concerned with his attempts to solve the mystery, which is resolved in a bizarre ending.
  • All You Need is Kill, a novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, featuring a soldier who relives an unwinnable battle endlessly, until he wins it.
  • Several stories from the Ijon Tichy series by Stanisław Lem.
  • Before I Fall is a novel by Lauren Oliver, in which a teenage girl that dies in a car crash relives her last day seven times, unraveling the mystery of her death in the process.

Comic books

  • Kid Gravity - Kid Gravity changes the clock to suit himself, but it causes a time loop. He ends up fixing it. As always, he gets in trouble for his wrongdoing.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure - At the end of the fourth part of the manga, Kira Yoshikage gains a time looping power named Another One Bites the Dust. The originality of it is that Yoshikage doesn't manipulate the power by himself (he knows that time loops can occur, but he doesn't know how many times it has happened and what has happened before).
  • Nth Man: The Ultimate Ninja - At the end of the series, both John Doe the Nth Man and Alphie O'Meagan realise that they are trapped in a time loop because of Alphie's manipulation of the Time stream.

In the 2011 Beano annual, The Fred's bed comic strip shows Fred traveling back in time repeatedly to have some cake. Despite having the origanal cake in his stoumach, he does not have any doubles.

Video games

  • BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger - The game's story mode is in a time loop.
  • Breakdown - In one section of the game the main character experiences an illusion that causes him to repeat the last few seconds of what just happened.
  • Dragon Warrior VII - One town in this game is placed under a curse so that the same day is repeated, with only the heroes, not native to the town being cursed, knowing that there is a time loop.
  • Ephemeral Fantasia - The game centers around a five-day time loop, about which only the hero is aware.
  • Fate/hollow ataraxia - The main characters Shiro and Bazett are trapped in a four-day time loop.
  • Final Fantasy - Garland, once loyal knight of the Kingdom Coneria (Cornelia), is sent back 2000 years into the past. There he became Chaos, the Master of Evil, and sent the Four Fiends of the Elements ahead 2000 years into the future, where they would send him back in time. Garland/Chaos theorized that in 2000 years the time loop would close and he would cease to exist, which he thought would make him immortal.
  • GrimGrimoire - The main character is stuck in a time loop and has 5 days to try to stop a disaster.
  • Higurashi no Naku Koro ni - Each chapter is a different iteration of the same month, with only one character being aware that she is living in a time loop, although some of the other characters begin to recall events from past time loops.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask - The entire game is set around a three-day time loop, which the main character and protagonist, Link, can reset at any time he needs to.
  • Little Busters! - The entire visual novel takes place within an artificial world—set at high school—that loops on itself every few months. The protagonists are unaware of the loop, but each time they return they are stronger and smarter, until finally hero and heroine fully regain their memories and are to ready to face the challenges of the real world.
  • Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time - The player is given the "Dagger of Time", allowing them to continuously relive the previous ten seconds of game-play for a set amount of times, or until the player is satisfied with the way he or she played those ten seconds. The Prince is also sent back to the night before he stole the dagger, with the dagger of time in his possession, near the end of the game.
  • Shadow of Memories aka Shadow of Destiny - The game begins with the death of the player, which the player then needs to prevent.
  • Timesplitters: Future Perfect includes many scenarios where the player works with past and future versions of himself that he meets through time loops.
  • Escape from Monkey Island (2000) - In one portion of the game, the player has to repeat the actions of the second Guybrush encountered earlier. If not performed identically (because at this point in time, the player is now the earlier second Guybrush), the player is returned to the start of the swamp.
  • Wild Arms: The Vth Vanguard (2006) - One of the characters, Avril Vent Fleur is obligated to relieve a 12,000 year old time loop in order to save Filgaia, the planet where the game takes place. Although she is unaware of the loop at first, she gains back her memories near the end and decides to return to the past to prepare for the future events. Otherwise, breaking the loop will result in a time paradox. This is one instance where only the character's consciousness travels through time, not the body.
  • Flower, Sun, and Rain - In this game, "searcher" Sumio Mondo is assigned the task of defusing a bomb on an airplane. When he tries to make it to the airport, he is blocked by outside forces, and the plane explodes. Upon waking in the morning, he discovers that he is back in the previous day, with the bomb still waiting on the airplane.
  • Xenosaga - One of the series villains, Wilhelm, makes use of Zarathustra to create what he calls an Eternal Recurrence to prevent the universe to collapse, effectively creating a time loop, which the heroes tries to prevent in the end of the third episode of the saga.
  • WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 - In a portion of the "Vs. Undertaker" Road to WrestleMania story, the player has to win a 2-on-1 match against Mark Henry and Big Show. During the match, an evil laugh can be heard and a flash of light is shown, automatically restarting the match and restoring Henry and Show. The time loop ends when your character/wrestler has either Henry or Show on the outside, counting them out during the 10-count and winning the match.

Repeated single loops

These are not time loops, but the repeated going-back results in many of the same story qualities emerging:

  • Seven Days (TV show) - Alien technology allows one person to go back in time seven days, typically to prevent a catastrophe shown in the opening scene.
  • Tru Calling (TV show) - A woman named Tru Davies works at a morgue, where dead bodies make requests for help. This sends her back to the beginning of the day so that she can attempt to save the person's life.
  • Galaxy Quest (Film) - The Omega 13 device allows the activator to jump back in time thirteen seconds. Everyone but the person who activated the device is unaware of the time jump.
  • 12 Monkeys (Film) - The character of James Cole is sent back in time to determine the origins of a pandemic that nearly wipes out mankind. He dreams of an episode where he remembers seeing his lover, Dr. Kathryn Railly running after him in an airport. In reality, this is a memory he had as a child where he witnessed his own death as an adult.

See also


  1. ^ Peter Stockwell. The poetics of science fiction. p. 143. ISBN 0582369932, 9780582369931. 

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