Right on the Tick
People watch the clock for lots of different reasons. Maybe we're waiting for school to get out. Maybe we're anxious about missing a train. Or maybe we're waiting for the clock to hit X, because when it does, something terrible, joyful, or amazing is going to happen.
This trope is all about the association of important plot events with a specific time. This includes times which are linked to folklore, urban legend, or history, but this trope also applies to in-universe examples, if the time in question is given significance in-universe. Extraordinary events—both good and bad—may happen at a specific time, or that time may serve to remind characters (and the audience) of a significant event which has already happened.
Not all examples of attention paid to the time of day belong here. It's only Right on the Tick if a) it has already been established in a work that this time is significant; and b) special attention is paid to the passage of time or the proximity of Time X. Such attention can include shots of or descriptions of watches or clock faces, but the significant time can also be indicated by tolling church bells or the chiming of a distant clock. For example, if you're watching a movie in which aliens attack only at 7:07 A.M., and the characters in the film keep watching the clock to see when the aliens will attack, that's an example of Right on the Tick. If, on the other hand, the aliens' kill happens at a randomly chosen time, and the camera just happens to pan out and show us that Bob became breakfast at precisely 7:07 A.M., that may have dramatic significance, but it's not an example of this trope.
Subversions may include stories in which something which is supposed to happen at X o'clock does not happen, or stories in which the thing which is supposed to happen occurs at a different time. If the event which is supposed to happen at X o'clock is a good thing (example: if Santa Claus is supposed to visit at precisely 2 A.M.), that's not a subversion; that's just one way of playing the trope straight.
Compare Race Against the Clock. See also When the Clock Strikes Twelve, a trope specifically about midnight. All examples related to midnight should be listed there rather than here. See also Exact Time to Failure, which is about relative time rather than absolute. For other references to clocks or time, see Stopped Clock or 24-Hour Trope Clock. For a character who's determined to keep everyone on time, see Clock King.
- Death Note: Light is often shown watching the clock or his watch as he waits for the Death Note to take effect- most obviously in the case of Naomi, who fails to die on time, due to giving him a false name.
- Ghost Stories: In the sports festival episode, it's predicted that Datto the ghost will kill the runner in the fourth lane at precisely 4:44 (at least in the gag dub). Apparently, this is his usual pattern of attack.
- In The Exorcism of Emily Rose, 3:00 A.M. functioned as a significant time because of a legend which claims that 3:00 A.M. is the hour when evil has greater power, since it is the opposite of the time when Jesus Christ was believed to have been crucified (3:00 P.M.).
- The Trope Namer is Back to The Future, more specifically, Part II. The original has the Hill Valley clock tower struck by lightning at precisely 10:04 P.M. on November 12, 1955.
- After the quote above, Doc comments how the post office should be as efficient as the weather service in the future. This foreshadows the ending, when right after the DeLorean is struck by lightning, a man from 1955 Western Union delivers a letter from 1885 to Marty, which was instructed to be delivered not only at an exact time, but at an exact location.
- The first half of Independence Day has Goldblum's character David intercepts a signal that the alien cruisers are preparing to attack all major cities at once at a specific time, identified by a countdown timer. And exactly that happens.
- High Noon makes heavy use of this trope, constantly reminding the viewers of how fast the noon hour is approaching.
- In Duck Soup President Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) is supposed to turn up when the clock strikes 10. Subverted for laughs - he sneaks in from the back.
- In an interesting variation, at one point during the torture of John Cusack's character by the "evil room" in 1408, the clock radio starts a 60 minute countdown. The movie ends precisely 60 minutes later, to the second.
- In the urban legend 11:11, this is the time at which a high school couple were killed in a car accident on their way home from the dance. According to the story, all the teens still at the dance paused and noticed that time (without realizing the significance of it)--and now you, the listener, will remember it too.
- 11:11 is also a popular time time for making wishes.
- In another urban legend, at exactly 20 minutes past the hour, an inexplicable silence will (allegedly) fall over any conversation or crowded room.
- And, then, of course, there's 420, as explained by Snopes.
- In Oliver Twist, 8:00 A.M. has special significance because it is the hour when prisoners were executed. Nancy thus pays attention to the chiming of the clock when it strikes eight.
- Dorothy Sayers' Busman's Honeymoon also references the 8:00 A.M. execution time; at the end of the book, Lord Peter Wimsey falls apart at 8 A.M., because he knows that the criminal he helped catch and convict is being executed.
- Subverted in A Christmas Carol: Jacob Marley's ghost tells Scrooge that the Three Spirits will arrive at specific times on three consecutive nights. The spirits do show up right on time, except that due to some supernatural time-twisting, all of their visits occur on the SAME night—Christmas Eve—meaning that Scrooge wakes up in time to celebrate Christmas.
- In Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days, Fogg's bet specifies that his must complete his travels in precisely that amount of time, and that he will lose the bet if he gets back to the club to declare his success even one second later than 5:00 pm on the 80th day, no matter how much earlier than that he got back to London. Time zones come into play in the resolution.
- M*A*S*H: 5 O'Clock Charlie is the camp's nickname for a North Korean pilot who comes by every day at exactly 5 PM to strafe the camp - or at least he would if he wasn't such a bad shot.
- Some of the music from The Drew Carey Show references this trope: In "5 O'Clock World," a guy drudges all day until 5 and then he starts to live, and at the top of the DC version of "Cleveland Rocks" everyone's watching the clock for 5 so they can run out.
- In the Supernatural episode "Frontierland", Dean has to defeat a phoenix in a Wild West gunfight by high noon. It Makes Sense in Context. This trope is invoked through the use of clocks and watches.
- During the initial retreat in the Battlestar Galactica reboot, the Cylons caught up with the Colonial fleet every 33 minutes on the nose. By 200+ repeats of this, the crew had set up a timer on the command deck to eye nervously.
- The title of Sarah Kane's play 4.48 Psychosis reportedly derives from the time (4:48AM) when the playwright, in her depressed state, often woke. In the play, the main character says multiple times that she will kill herself at 4:48.
- In Twelve Ounce Mouse, the Clock is always frozen at 2:22. One Gainax Ending later, it ticks over to 2:23.
- "One Minute 'Till Three" from Tiny Toon Adventures (specifically from the Three Shorts episode "Best O' Plucky Duck Day") has Plucky waiting for 3:00 (the dismissal time for school) while Granny is giving the class essays. To make things even more agonizing for Plucky, the clock has a tendency to run backwards.
- And in Tiny Toon Adventures How I Spent My Vacation there's a song about waiting for the tick at the start of the movie.
- In Johnny Test, the entire class is waiting for the bell to ring and is intently watching the clock's minute hand to reach twelve. When the bell rings, Johnny screams "IT'S SUMMER VACATION!" and the entire class runs out. The bell, however, was for first period.
- The Powerpuff Girls has two examples. "Speed Demon" has Buttercup impatiently eyeing the clock to hit the dismissal time. "Him Diddle Riddle" is unusual in that the entire episode elapses in real time, with the tower clock in downtown ticking off time as the girls race to solve Him's riddles.
- At 22:00 sharp, each and every evening, students in the Flogsta student housing in Uppsala, Sweden, go to their windows and out on their balconies and scream and shout at the top of their lungs. This phenomenon is called Flogstavrålet, or the Flogsta scream. Listen for yourselves. This has been going on since at least the 1970's.