Flashback (trope)

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If you want the page about the game Flashback: Quest for Identity, |go here.

A narrative technique in which we're shown events that took place before the episode's main action.

Can be subverted with a flashback to something that didn't actually happen.

Often provides the added bonus of getting actors into period costumes.

Specific types of flashbacks include:

Dreaming of Times Gone By and Bad Dreams are two ways to show them. See also Flashback Effects for ways of distinguishing a Flash Back from normal action, and Viewers Are Goldfish for flashbacks to events that are still fresh in the audience's mind. It's also a brilliant way to indulge in some Exposition of Immortality.

When a character is having a flashback, it can be because of psychic/magical powers, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or simply resurfacing memories. In either case, it's a common justification for a movie to show the audience a Flashback.


Examples of Flashback (trope) include:


Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • In Digimon, after Impmon does his Heel Face Turn after killing leomon, there are constant flashbacks by Jeri and Impmon of him (As Beelzemon) killing him over and over again. Impmon and Jeri have other flashbacks to show how they became what they are. Jeri's mother died when she was little, her father became distant and she could never really connect with her step-mom, and Impmon gained a hatred of humans because of his abuse at the hands of his young Tamers.
    • Series one and two also had flashbacks. Most of the Digidestined have flashbacks of family deaths, such as Izzy and Cody, who have flashbacks about their parents' deaths, Ken has his brother Sam's death, and Tai has the time that he almost was responsible for his sister Kari's demise. Owikowa also had flashbacks, to show how and Hiroki (Cody's dad) were friends, and how alone he felt after Hiroki died. TK often has flashbacks about Angemon's sacrifice to stop Devimon, and Ken has flashbacks of his time as the Digimon Emperor.
  • Tenjou Tenge has a flashback arc, which takes up a large chunk of the anime. While it is important for establishing the backstories of many of the show's characters, unfortunately the anime didn't get far enough to really do anything with those newly fleshed-out characters before it was cancelled.
  • Bleach: Happens a lot in the manga. They often happen during a significant fight in which one character is going to lose or die or if the fight helps defines a character that's won. The anime, via Adaptation Expansion, can go to town with this making episodes out of what's sometimes nothing more than a few panels in the manga.
  • Naruto has an insane number of flashbacks. Protagonists, antagonists, and bystanders alike will go into flashback after flashback, explaining their tragic back-stories, lives, and motives. Any and all emotional scenes that were reasonably short in the manga will be severely lengthened by montages of flashbacks. Entire episodes will consist two characters talking while they exchange flashbacks. An example: Hinata's confession to Naruto during the Pein arc took a couple pages in the manga, while in the anime it took AN EPISODE because roughly 3/4 of the episode was a montage of flashbacks going through her childhood and her interactions with Naruto. To be fair, Naruto does not use flashbacks to the point where they're boring or overdone; many times these flashbacks really accentuate a moment or decision by a character. Example: Sasuke's Tragic Backstory at the Valley of the End, to which we get new meanings of hundreds of chapters later. In the case of Hinata's flashbacks in the anime episode of the Pain arc, the flashbacks were not mere filler but an elaboration of Naruto and Hinata's characters, or an expansion on what is canon.
    • And contrariwise, while flashbacks are often used well, there are also some very irritating examples: for instance, in "Valley of the End" there are flashbacks within the flashback—to things that happened five minutes ago.
  • Kiddy Grade starts doing frequent Flashback Cuts around episodes 9-12 when Eclair struggles with her repressed memories and the numerous times she's come back from the dead. This is followed by episode 16, appropriately titled "Look/Back" which combines a Recap Episode with expository flashbacks and episode 20 which is again largely based around a series of flashbacks.
  • Used many times in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, may it be to reveal the Anti Villains Start of Darkness or to simply show what drives the characters. Played with in regards to Fate, who had a Flash Back of her days when her mother loved her to show why she's such a Love Martyr, only for her to eventually realize that those memories were not hers.
  • Cluster Edge uses this constantly, to the point it conquers the series.
  • Ninin ga Shinobuden parodies this. When asked to explain how he got stuck on Miyabi's chest, Onsokumaru promptly goes into a flashback covering various events from the previous week, even though the only relevant event (Miyabi tripping and falling on top of him) occurred about five minutes earlier. The ninja are quick to point this out.
  • One Piece uses these like there's no tomorrow. Mostly for the background stories of the main cast, but other characters get plenty of them, too.
  • Soul Eater - Used mostly in the conventional manner of revealing backstory, but Maka's one during the Clown chapters is particularly twisted. It looks like an ordinary flashback until everyone falls down dead and little!Maka wants to know why her daddy isn't getting up...
  • The Rave Master dub as a truly epic flashback. The first time they use it it's a little fitting; It shows when Elie first meets Sieg after developing amnesia and he attempts to kill her, leading to her present actions. The second time they play it is right after she meets Sieg again. Right before it starts he questions her with (voiced very well) "How did you survive?" Then it goes to the flashback, where he says the exact same thing... in the exact same tone, with the exact same expression (not that he has that many expressions)
  • Happens multiple times in Code Geass where characters' childhoods are shown to better explain their motivations and behavior. Usually it leads to a Tear Jerker.
  • Episodes of the Detective Conan anime adapted from the manga, especially multi-part episodes, frequently employ flashbacks and in-dialogue recaps to pad out the run time (as well as occasionally replaying the last several minutes of the previous episode as the beginning of the current one), since otherwise there wouldn't be enough material to fill the full episode length. It's not uncommon to have seen the same footage 3 or 4 times (counting the first time it was shown) by the end of a multi-part episode. (It's especially noticeable when viewing all parts of multi-part episodes in one sitting.)
  • Fruits Basket has quite a few, since we need to see how each character's Dark and Troubled Past has caused them to be the wreck they are now.
  • Hayate the Combat Butler uses flashbacks to explain some parts of a few character traits, then spends an arc to build up a new character and ready the story to be thrown into a much more serious arc, before toning things back down.
  • Oto x Maho uses a flashback to effectively show that Konata's Plan in the first chapter was, in reality, the final stage of a Gambit Roulette.
  • A lot of these show up in Yu-Gi-Oh!, even to the point where they actually had a Flashback within a Flashback.
  • THE iDOLM@STER - Chihaya gets a ton of flashbacks foreshadowing her past, before things hit the fan.
  • Axis Powers Hetalia: America admits to always getting these when he begins to clean his storage room, and never being able to finish or throw anything out. Might overlap with It Was a Gift since two of the three objects he gets flashbacks over (a house with a set of wooden soldiers and a 3-piece suit) were in fact presents from England. Might overlap with Troubled Backstory Flashback several times- both the soldiers and the suit bring back bittersweet memories, which he lampshades by exclaiming there HAS to be something cool that doesn't bring bad memories with itself. Cue him finding a scratched musket from the Revolutionary War, bringing one of the biggest Tear Jerker moments in the entire series.


Comics[edit | hide]


Fan Works[edit | hide]


Film[edit | hide]

  • Used to death in the B-movie Boggy Creek 2: The Legend Continues.
  • In another Mystery Science Theater 3000 alumnus, Future War, a character in a jail cell flashbacks while exercising, covering all the fight scenes in the film thus far, including one that happened before the cut to the cell. "Soon he'll be flashing back to the start of his flashbacks."
  • John Carpenter's film Ghosts of Mars use extensive flashbacks that get more and more convoluted as the film goes on. The film is framed as one character telling the events to her superiors later; but every time she or another character meets up with someone new on the planet, that person explains whats been happening to them in their own flashback, and this repeats itself when they meet new people. This eventually devolves into the viewer watching a flashback within a flashback within a flashback within a flashback. Quite jarring if you let yourself become aware of it. Kudos to the character speaking to her superiors, though, who could remember everything she heard fourth-hand verbatim.
  • Passage To Marseille was a movie in which a reporter comes to an air base to interview a Free French officer who starts telling the story of one of his men (Humphrey Bogart). Flashback to the man being recovered at sea by a ship along with four others. It is revealed that they are escaped prisoners. Flashback to them planning to escape in order to join the fight against the Germans and saying why they absolutely...
  • Citizen Kane tells the story of someone who died at the beginning of the film, so a high percentage of its running time is Flashbacks.
  • Airplane!!: Ted and Elaine (meeting in the bar, in the Peace Corps, in the hospital, rolling on the beach), Ted's war memories. These can get ridiculous... The reactions to them can get a bit more ridiculous.
  • The 1956 melodrama The Locket bears the distinction of having a flashback within a flashback within a flashback within a flashback.
  • Shaolin Soccer features a unique subversion: While Sing is trying to convince an old soccer coach of the value of Kung Fu, there are flashbacks to an ancient master performing techniques described, a master played by the same actor as the coach. The coach interrupts the last flashback by pulling off the old master's costume and stepping out of the character.
  • Inverted in Memento, which flashes forward at intervals until the movie ends in the middle of the story.
  • The Bad and The Beautiful has three, one for each character Shields alienated.
  • Blue Thunder uses these as a vehicle to illustrate hero Frank Murphy's Shell-Shocked Veteran Backstory, and also to foreshadow a key plot point regarding his relationship with Cochrane.
  • Jay in Sky Blue has a flashback to when Shua showed her the blue sky; Shua later has one to a few minutes later, showing why he was exiled. Later still, Cade has a flashback to the same event, where it turns out he framed Shua for his own action.
  • The Saw films do this extensively as a means of explaining the convoluted plots and building character development, even when many of the main characters are dead in the 'current' timeline.
  • In Jaws the Revenge Ellen has several flashbacks throughout the movie, although there is no way the majority of the scenes could be in her memories as she wasn't present for many of the events.
  • In Silent Night Deadly Night 2 the whole beginning is a flashback to the first movie even though there is no way that Ricky could've remembered any of the events depicted except for the last one because he was either a baby or wasn't present.
  • In A Fistful of Dynamite the main protagonist has flashbacks from his better days back in Ireland, with his friend and an unnamed woman featuring in brief scenes featuring no dialogue. Later we see the reason he left Ireland in the same style.
  • Rashomon is largely told through flashbacks. There are even nested flashbacks. It's so famous for this, it became the Trope Namer for Rashomon Style.
  • Saving Private Ryan plays around with its flashback a bit. It starts with an Age Cut into the flashback, except the old man in the graveyard is Private Ryan, not Captain Miller seen in the landing craft. Ryan isn't in the flashback at all until the final battle, and couldn't have remembered everything shown first-hand. (It is, however, possible Ryan the story comes from stories told by Upham).
  • In the beginning of Lola Rennt, Manni's predicament is shown in flashback as he describes it. Then there are numerous flash-forwards as Lola encounters various characters, in rapid-fire montages showing their futures.
  • Mission to Mars ends with Gary Sinise's character having rapid flashbacks of his late wife and all his friends, as he is preparing to leave for another galaxy to meet the progenitors of humans.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • In The Dark Tower, Book One: The Gunslinger, the first quarter of the novel is devoted to flashbacks to events just prior to the beginning of the novel, and flashbacks to Roland's childhood within those. In Book Four: Wizard and Glass, the bulk of the story is a flashback to a formative event in Roland's early adulthood.
  • Like the index down there says, this is Older Than Feudalism: Odysseus has a long flashback in The Odyssey.
  • Harry Potter has the Pensieve and Tom Riddle's diary, allowing for magical plot important flashbacks.
  • K.J Parker's Scavenger Trilogy. In places there's more flashback than straight narrative.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Angel: The series makes extensive use of this trope, often to detail events in Angel's past and sometimes other characters too. Many episodes have at least a few minutes of flashbacks and many episodes will feature extensive use of flashbacks that alternate with events of the present time that are somehow connected to what the flashback is detailing. Examples of episodes include "Are You Now or Have You Ever Been", "The Prodigal", "Five by Five", "Darla", "Lullaby", "The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco", "Destiny", "Why We Fight", and "The Girl in Question".
  • Virtually every episode of Highlander has an extensive flashback; since the series protagonist is four centuries old, there's plenty of available plotlines to choose from. Usually, the flashback shows the hero's first meeting with the guest Immortal of the week.
  • Friends, with the prom video and Thanksgivings past.
  • The Golden Girls did several episodes each featuring multiple flashbacks on a common theme. It usually felt like the writers had ideas for gags which were not enough for a whole episode, and was often easily mistaken for a Clip Show. There was also an episode showing how the girls met.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer used flashbacks frequently to establish the backstories of characters like Angel, Drusilla, and Spike.
  • While the new series of Doctor Who does not use flashbacks often, it has received some stick for using them to flash back to extremely obvious, memorable scenes from previous episodes. This is to help children understand what's going on as - despite its morbidly high body count - the show is aimed at families.
  • Without a Trace thrives on these and sometimes includes a Flash Back within another Flash Back. To top it all, one episode featured a Dream Sequence in a Flash Back.
    • And another starts at the end of the story, does a How We Got Here flashback to the beginning, proceeds to use several more flashbacks as events of the mystery are unraveled, and when it reaches the end again, it turns out it was All Just a Dream. Surreal, to say the least.
  • Subversion: in the first season finale of Arrested Development, two lines that seem to provoke flashbacks ("Your father promised [the company] to me on the day he went to prison.", "We've had some great times.") are followed by blank screens captioned "Footage Not Found."
  • Parodied in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode featuring Boggy Creek 2: The Legend Continues: During a host segment, Crow, Tom Servo, and Mike attempt to explain a fight that occurred minutes ago via three flashbacks, each blurrier than the last, with none of them adding any new information. Mike then realizes that he was looking for his contacts, and Servo promises his next flashback will have a car chase and explosions.
  • Because How I Met Your Mother, in essence, has every episode as a flashback, along with its quick editing, it's hard to tell where flashbacks end and begin, or if a Flash Forward (such as Barney's brother's wedding) really counts as a flash forward or if the rest of the episode is a flashback compared to the flash forward. No one seems to mind, though, because everyone can still follow the storyline.
  • Lost features flashbacks extensively from the pilot onwards. The show begins with a plane crash that strands a group of characters on an island. Flashbacks are used to show how the different characters ended up being on the plane in the first place. Early episodes were often "themed" around a single character, with a present conflict on the island being illuminated as their backstory showed what kind of person they were before the crash. After several seasons the backstories of most of the main characters had not only been covered very thoroughly, but some characters' lives were shown through flashback to have been connected even before they got on the plane together. At the end of season 3, the writers subverted the viewers' familiarity with the use of constant flashbacks when the two-part season ender featured a lengthy flashback that appeared at first to show a bearded, alcoholic Jack dealing with the recent death of his father, an event previously established as having happened just before he boarded the doomed plane. While his behaviour and the reaction of people around him in the flashbacks seemed to fit the timeline, they ended with Jack meeting Kate, another island survivor. The flashback was in fact a flash-forward to a time when both characters had finally managed to get off the island, and when viewed again Jack's behavior and his treatment by other people must be re-interpreted in the context of him becoming famous after returning home. This set up the fourth season to feature flash-forwards almost exclusively instead of flashbacks, though episodes two, six, eight and eleven still featured them.
    • Season 5 started with a series of episodes that either contained no flashbacks or only had brief flashbacks at the start of the episode. After that, we had full flashbacks to how Sawyer joined DHARMA in 1974 and how Locke died. Then, characters in 1977 began to have flashbacks to their past-which happened to be 2007, making it so that we have flashbacks to events that chronologically haven't happened yet.
  • Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles has a flash-forward that technically, doesn't exist, as the character who envisions it (Derek Reese), came back in time and killed the inventor of the device that will eventually become Skynet. Which means, if he did that, then the person would cease to exist, and...oh my god, I've gone cross-eyed!
  • Almost every episode of Forever Knight has a flashback as a part of the case. Most of them are from Nick, the show's main character, but some come from others. The notable exception is the episode 'Games Vampires Play,' in which the spots usually taken up by flashback are used to show Nick playing a virtual reality game.
    • There are many jokes amongst fans over the fact that Nick would frequently have his flashbacks while driving or mid-conversation. This was lampshaded once or twice by other cars beeping at him at stoplights and characters noticing every once in a while and staring at him.
  • Psych begins every single episode with a flashback to Shawn's childhood, usually vaguely related to the plot in some way.
  • In The Middleman, there's a Flash Back, sometimes combined with an Imagine Spot, used to explain what happened between scenes.
  • The IT Crowd does this a couple of times in one episode regarding how one character became a Goth and subsequently lost his high position and was forced to work in a room in the basement. Contains a lot of Flashback Stares.
  • Firefly: The episode "Out of Gas" which jumps between three time periods: the current time frame (the actions of a dying Mal), a short time in the past (the events that led to Mal's current situation) and a more distant past (how Mal's crew was recruited, including the ship itself).
  • Being Human (UK) has a beautifully simple one - as the vampire Mitchell walks down a street, internally monologuing, his hairstyle and clothes change to reflect the fashions of every decade since his turning. Being Human has lots of flashbacks, especially in series two, where every single episode begins with a flashback.
  • The Pretender hardly has an episode without flashbacks, generally in some way related to whatever is going on in the present.
  • It's Garry Shandling's Show has a flashback booth (labeled "It's Garry Shandling's Flashback Booth") that Garry enters to start a flashback.
  • Leverage has several, including one in which Parker, as a child, had other kids bury her alive to help her get over her fear of the dark.
    • Every episode has short flashbacks, usually at the end, when some hidden scene is revealed that explains how the Leverage team outwitted their opponent-of-the-week. The pilot also had flashbacks describing each team member. There was also an episode that was done in Rashomon-style flashbacks.
  • Farscape episode "The Ugly Truth" has each of the crew members flashing back to the same set of events, with each giving a different twist on what happened—to the frustration of the captors trying to interrogate them. Obviously these aliens aren't familiar with the concept of The Rashomon.
  • Used heavily through Homeland to explore what happened to Brody during his time in captivity and tease whether his Heel Face Turn actually occurred or noth.
  • The short-lived show New Amsterdam has John do flashbacks occasionally, starting with the pilot, where he remembers how he was mortally wounded defending a Magical Native American woman, who repaid him by making him immortal until he found his soulmate. Oftentimes, he remembers past lovers (each time, he thought she was "the one"), children, and dogs.


Newspaper Comics[edit | hide]

  • Sally Forth: In an arc for Feb. 12, 2010, Sally remembered the first time she met her boss, Ralph. She eventually snaps out of it.

Ted: You seemed zoned out for days! I almost called the hospital.
Sally: Don't worry. No one's ever died from a flashback.


Theatre[edit | hide]

  • The first act of Nine ends with a series of flashbacks to Guido's youth.
  • Miss Saigon goes back to "The Fall of Saigon" midway through the second act
  • During the song "Poor Thing" from Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, the story of Lucy Barker's rape is shown onstage as Mrs. Lovett sings about it.
  • The Tom Stoppard play Arcadia alternates scenes between flashbacks and the modern day.
  • In David Auburn's Proof, there are several scenes that flashback to when Robert was alive.
  • The original version of Merrily We Roll Along had the story told in flashback, framed by Frank speaking at a graduation ceremony.
  • In something not unlike a Pensieve Flashback, Prior recounts his encounter with The Angel to Belize in the middle of a later scene, and both his telling and the encounter are played simultaneously onstage.
  • The Phantom of the Opera is told in one giant flashback, as the show's opening scene is of the aged Raoul attending an auction selling off items from the opera house.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • |Flashback: The Quest for Identity. In-game flashbacks.
  • In Minori's route in Brass Restoration, flashbacks are used much more frequently than needed, often to recap something that happened half a scene ago. Thankfully not as prevalent in other routes.
  • In Valkyrie Profile, flashbacks are often used to show the events leading up to the Einherjar's deaths.
  • Halo 3: ODST makes extensive use of this, though technically, it's actually Rookie going through camera recordings, not flashbacks per se, but it still counts.
  • All of the interludes in The Reconstruction. Subverted in that all but one of them are flashbacks to the prologue's cast.


Visual Novels[edit | hide]

  • Maji De Watashi Ni Koi Shinasai has flashbacks interspersed between routes as necessary; no single path gives a complete background on the family, with each person's pertinent set of flashbacks happening in their own storyline.


Web Comics[edit | hide]


Web Original[edit | hide]

  • In The Gamers Alliance, various characters have flashbacks which often explain their past and their relationship with other characters.
  • Unusually for the series, Lonelygirl15 episode "Comfort Food" included flashbacks to Daniel's grandmother's funeral. Flashbacks were again used in the series 3 episode "I Miss Her".
  • LG15: the resistance makes frequent use of these to show Maggie's past.
  • Frequently used in The Gungan Council in order to explain why a character has or does something. "It's Not That I Keep Hanging On, I'm Never Letting Go" uses it in spades.
  • Parodied in episode X of Transolar Galactica, when Captain Trigger gets a flashback without the series actually cutting to it.

Reggie: Oh great, he's having one of his little flashback things.
...
Samson (after half a minute of Trigger staring vacantly into space): ... how long does it take?


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Invader Zim also lampshades a common problem with this trope: In "The Fry Cook What Came From All That Space", Zim recalls a flashback of being demoted to fry cook under fry lord Sizz-Lorr, and then escaping. After Zim escapes, it shows Sizz-Lorr alone, shouting at the top of his lungs:

Sizz-Lorr: I will find you Zim, so help me, I will search the entire universe, and I! WILL! FIND YOOOOOOOOU!
(Cut back to present time with Zim and Sizz-Lorr)
Sizz-Lorr: How did you remember what I said if you weren't there?
Zim: *shrugs*

  • On Jimmy Two-Shoes, there have been a few flashbacks about Lucius' life under his father, including the one that made him a Self-Made Orphan.
  • Used a lot in Phineas and Ferb by the character Dr. Doofenshmirtz, since almost all of his inventions have a backstory and he uses flashbacks to let Perry and the audience know the purpose for it. However, there have been some occasions where he'll skip over a flashback since Perry already knows the story, and on one occasion he had a horrible headache and said it hurt too much to do a flashback.
    • Once Perry was going into a flashback of how he escaped, which Doofensmirtz took advantage of by attacking him.
    • In a Time Skip/Alternate Universe episode set in ancient China, this discussion occurs about "Master Perry".

Phineas: What's he doing?
Ferb: That's a ripple dissolve. He must be having a flashback.
Phineas:...does he know we can't see it? Should we give him some privacy? I don't know the protocol for flash-backs.

  • Used frequently in Avatar: The Last Airbender, usually in the form of someone in the present narrating something that happened in the past (like the flashbacks in "The Storm," "The Avatar and the Firelord," and "The Southern Raiders"). "Zuko Alone" and "Appa's Lost Days" have characters who don't or can't talk about their pasts quietly remembering them in the form of flashbacks.
  • The Care Bears Movie is told as this.