Unintentional Period Piece

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Information icon4.svg This page needs visual enhancement.
You can help All The Tropes by finding a high-quality image or video to illustrate the topic of this page.


With dated 60s references like these, we won't have much of a life in reruns!

A work set in the present day at the time of its creation, but is so full of the culture of the time it resembles a deliberate exaggeration of the era in a work made later.

To provide a concrete example, let's say you're changing channels, and come upon an episode of Barney Miller. You see two gay men go to the police station to talk to Barney about what a recent California court decision would mean for them if they moved there.[1] Even if you don't look up the decision or when the episode aired from outside sources, you can tell it places the episode at least a few years post-Stonewall (in other words, after 1969); then, they get stuck there because the station is under quarantine because a prisoner who was being held there might have had smallpox, which also places the episode quite firmly in time (the last case of smallpox was diagnosed in 1978).

Thus, even without knowing anything about the show, you can immediately say "filmed in the mid-1970s" without question.

And that's an Unintentional Period Piece; by being current at the time of production, it winds up feeling like a period piece when viewed later.

It should be noted that part of what makes a work into an Unintentional Period Piece is an unconscious assumption on the part of the creator(s) that some element of the story or setting -- like smallpox or the raids on gay bars in the Barney Miller example -- is universal and unchanging when it's not, to the point that to an audience after the time that things changed, the reference is almost incomprehensible. Intentional period pieces know when they hit these things that they'll need to provide context or explanation for the audience. Unintentional period pieces assumed everyone would always know what they were; however, they have since been sideswiped by History Marches On and now confusion and incomprehension is the best they can hope for when an audience stumbles across one of these elements. (If not outright Values Dissonance -- "How can the good guy cops in Barney Miller even joke about raids on gay bars?") One could see it as the fun house mirror reflection of Too Soon.

Another way it happens is when a work goes out of its way to be deliberately oh-so-modern, which generally means pinning itself firmly to specific ephemeral fashions, issues and trends. Some of these may last long enough to still be current when the work finally reaches the audience, but eventually the relevance will fade. Many films made in 1960s were like that. The 1953 version of The War of the Worlds suffered from this because it tried so hard to update the story to the contemporary era that it's permanently affixed to it.

Narrow Parody is a subset of this trope. Zeerust is when a work's depiction of the future becomes dated, so all works with a far-future setting belong there, not here.

While just about every work becomes somewhat of a period piece after it becomes more than a decade old due to the characters referencing old trends, wearing out of style fashions and using out of date technology, this trope only really applies to works that wear their dates so blatantly that a viewer can identify the era or even year it was made in as soon as they begin to watch it. For example, while the 1990s sitcoms Seinfeld and Frasier show their age in some respects, they don't wear The Nineties so blatantly as to have this trope apply to them.

When this is caused by clothing and hairstyles alone, it's Fashion Dissonance. Look for examples of Technology Marching On and Aluminum Christmas Trees. Compare with Two Decades Behind and Society Marches On. Sometimes, especially when the viewer has spent too long on This Very Wiki, the very tropes in use may be recognizably of an era - such as the Nineties Anti-Hero.

Note that a work being a product of its time doesn't necessarily mean it isn't relevant or entertaining to modern audiences, even notwithstanding the kitsch or nostalgia factor (as many of the examples below will demonstrate). If the work's severe datedness also makes it inaccessible to modern audiences, then you have Values Dissonance. When a work's popularity can be specifically dated to a certain era, that makes it Deader Than Disco. Obviously films done in black-and-white or cel-animation (other than as an artistic choice), as well as video games, will automatically be dated for technology reasons, but if we listed them all we'd be here all day. So it would be best to judge them more by content and plot.

Important Sidenote: To avoid questionable examples, do not add a work less than 10 years old unless the situation is especially unusual. (Being completely overtaken by events by time of airing, and being called "instantly dated" by the press, have both qualified in the past.) For most works, it won't be particularly clear which ones really do bleed their production date out of every pore until roughly a decade has passed.


Examples, organized by both decade and media:

1930s Film[edit | hide]


1930s Literature[edit | hide]


1930s Theatre[edit | hide]


1930s Western Animation[edit | hide]


1940s Film[edit | hide]

  • Anchors Aweigh
  • The Great Dictator actually could be considered a couple of years ahead of its time, since back when America was neutral, the Nazis were rarely badmouthed in the media. But it is cemented as an early Forties film that could not have been made after World War Two because Charlie Chaplin couldn't have known the full scale of the Holocaust at the time the film was made (the Nazis are shown bullying and harassing the Jews, but nothing much worse than that). Chaplin later said if he'd known about the full scale of it at the time, he wouldn't have made the film.

1940s Music[edit | hide]

  • PEnnsylvania 6-5000 by the Glenn Miller Orchestra uses a telephone number in a format which was common in New York City until the 1960s. The modern number would be +1-212-PE6-5000, the Pennsylvania Hotel in Manhattan.

1940s Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Any Wartime Cartoon.
  • Looney Tunes shorts tend to be full of the pop culture of the decade they were made, particularly those made in the 1930s and '40s. This could also be said of episodes of Tom and Jerry, Woody Woodpecker or any number of cartoon shorts.
    • Any short directed by Tex Avery is especially full of dated and forgotten Memetic Mutations of the day.
    • The Tom and Jerry short "The Zoot Cat" deserves special mention, not only for its 1940s Fashion Dissonance but because the slang and the dances featured in it place it firmly in the 1940s.
  • The 1946 Disney short "All the Cats Join In", with its jazz soundtrack produced by Benny Goodman, features teens partying in a malt shop, doing swing dancing as a jukebox plays.

1950s Film[edit | hide]

  • Guys and Dolls. The mention of Cuba as a vacation destination where few restrictions apply would make no sense unless it were before the Cuban Revolution.
  • Averted with The Movie of West Side Story, which was made (very early) in The Sixties but is presumably set in 1957, which is when the play debuted. Admittedly, the Jets look and talk like a product of their time, but the much grittier Sharks look like they could be from two or three decades into the future!
    • The dialogue, however, was fairly authentic teenage slang from the 50s—which of course makes it sound incredibly dated to modern viewers.
  • 12 Angry Men.
  • Any movie of a musical from that era (and there were a lot) and the musical it was based on.

1950s Literature[edit | hide]

  • A couple of Ian Fleming's James Bond stories from ca. 1959 reference the anti-Batista forces in revolutionary Cuba with some sympathy, which wouldn't be the case a year or so later.
  • My Side of the Mountain is very clearly set in the 1950s. Some elements of the story are so dated that they would seem unbelievable to a reader born in the last ten or twenty years -- the Gribley family's very relaxed response to Sam's adventure is just the beginning, and the descriptions of (sub)urban teen hi-jinks that occasionally intrude on the wilderness drama depict activities that would be somewhat alien to modern teens.


1950s Live Action TV[edit | hide]


1950s Music[edit | hide]

  • The original version of "Santa Baby" as sung by Eartha Kitt refers to a "[19]'54 convertible", changed in many covers to "outer space convertible".

1960s Film[edit | hide]

  • One, Two, Three
  • Midnight Cowboy
  • Love With The Proper Stranger: Quite progressive and un-dated in many ways, but clearly made before abortion was legalised in New York state in 1973.


1960s Literature[edit | hide]

  • The White Album by Joan Didion, which is an intentional reflection on the period (that goes into the early 70's as well).
  • The young adult novel The Ghost of Dibble Hollow by May Nickerson Wallace is written as though the author never thought it would stop being the early 1960s. No explicit dates are ever given, and the reader must infer the approximate date of the setting from the fact that one elderly but not decrepit character was an early teen in the 1910s.
  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Main character Claudia gets a 50-cent allowance, hot fudge sundaes cost 40 cents, and a one-way train fare from Greenwich, Connecticut to Manhattan is $1.40. Admission to the Metropolitan Museum of Art is free. Oh, and two missing children who are white and well-to-do do not prompt a nationwide manhunt and 24-hour media coverage. Yup, this is the late 60s.


1960s Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • The Brady Bunch bleeds its late 1960s/early 1970s origin, due to Fashion Dissonance and being a touch too conservative for the 70s proper. This is lampshaded in the Brady Bunch movies, where they have this attitude in the 1990s.
  • Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In.
  • The Batman live-action series, arguably intentionally. The creators of the series deliberately went for an over-the-top "pop" palette reminiscent of 1960s artists like Warhol and Liechtenstein, and much of the humor derived from Batman and Robin's "old-fashioned" values becoming outdated in a more permissive era. By the time the show ended, the counterculture and hippies had started to creep in.
  • The Monkees.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus to an extent. While the majority of the Pythons' humour is pretty damn ageless, some of the jokes will fly over your head if you aren't familiar with British television presenters, celebrities and politicians who were around at the time. You might get a joke about a "Mrs. Thatcher", "Mr. (Harold) Wilson", and "Mr. (Edward) Heath", but unless you're well-versed in British culture, you probably won't know who Robin Day was (except that he owned a hedgehog called Frank). Some sketches parody aspects of British bureaucracy that are no longer around - for example the 'Fish License' sketch is based around dog licenses which were abolished in 1987. Pre-decimalised money makes an appearance on the 'New television licenses' end credit background, and the "appearing on the M2" are many Vauxhall Vivas - a brand of car long disappeared from the UK.
  • The Banana Splits, especially during the song segments. For example, in the "San Francisco" version of Wait 'Till Tomorrow, as well as the "Pop Cop" segment (which doesn't feature the Splits), you can see various, then-current styles of cars from the time.
  • |Mission Impossible clearly dates itself by a combination of two factors: on the one hand, while the conflict with the Soviet Bloc could carry the stories into the 1980s, several episodes dealing with Nazis keep it from going later into the 1970s as concerns about Nazis plotting a fourth Reich faded from popular culture.
  • Depending on the episode, Star Trek: The Original Series has this going on alongside its Zeerust. Between the color palette, the miniskirts, the Cold War Fed/Kling politics, the civil-rights-era Aesops and Chekhov's Monkees hair, it comes across as some kind of Neo-60s even when they aren't confronted with space hippies.


1960s Music[edit | hide]

  • "Mustang Sally" sung by Wilson Pickett: "I bought you a brand new Mustang, 1965..."
  • "Magic Bus" by the Who manages to still sound edgy until the unbelievably quaint-sounding, "Thruppence and sixpence every day just to drive to my baby".

1960s Theatre[edit | hide]

  • Hair focused heavily on The Sixties while while they were still going on, but did so intentionally. (It also explicitly cited the current year in one line of dialogue, and updated it every year.)
  • The Boys in the Band is very much a look at the self-loathing, dread and neurosis in a pre-Stonewall gay culture - especially since it hit the stage in 1968, one year before the Stonewall Rebellion. In fact, when Willaim Friedkin adapted the play for the screen in 1970, right when gay liberation and pride were on the rise, he was excoriated for putting together a "throwback" to the days of gay shame.

1960s Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Scooby Doo, thanks in no small part to the bubblegum pop background music during some chase scenes (starting with the second season in 1970—which makes this show a good candidate for the 1970s entries as well!).
  • As noted in the page quote, Rocky and Bullwinkle.
    • Ironically, Rocky and Bullwinkle has had a much longer life in reruns (appearing in syndication through the 1960s, '70s and '80s, on Nickelodeon in the early 1990s, plus very occasionally since then) than the show poking fun at it in the page quote (Tiny Toon Adventures hasn't been seen much on TV since the late 1990s or so).
      • It helps that there's over 100 episodes and the rights aren't owned by any of the big networks (so it's easier to negotiate syndication rights from area to area), whereas Tiny Toons has only 98 and is owned by Warner Brothers, which owns all the Turner networks.
  • The Flintstones and The Jetsons, despite taking place in the past and the future respectively, have enough 1960s pop culture references that they come off as "The 1960s With Cavemen" or "The 1960s With Flying Cars".


1970s Anime/Manga[edit | hide]

  • The second series of Lupin III, in addition to its 1970s styles galore, featured an episode where the heroes make an airborne escape over the Berlin Wall. Another episode had a frustrated Zenigata in Israel getting arrested for demanding a flight to Egypt. The English dub by Pioneer (later, Geneon) Entertainment "updated" many of the pop culture references for the early 2000s, when it was first licensed in the US, which resulted in making the show look as though it took place in the (then-)present day. For instance, a reference to Roger Moore - who played James Bond at the time - in the Japanese original, was changed to Pierce Brosnan in the English dub (That reference itself was later played straight as an Unintentional Period Piece of the early 2000s, as Brosnan was replaced by Daniel Craig).
  • The manga From Eroica with Love is, at its outset, clearly a seventies piece. From its art style, to its neo-nazi hunting West German NATO officer, to its Affably Evil Husky Russkies. As the decades rolled on and the manga continued, it first became a Period Piece, and then eventually moved forward in time a little, the Berlin Wall falling, and Klaus having to make nice with the Russians.
  • The Jack and the Beanstalk anime Jack to Mame no Ki is very much a product of its time you can tell in the music, like the music the vendor who sells Jack the beans plays a song on his piano which sounds a lot like the rock music of the time, the melody of Princess Margret's song "No One's Happier Than I" sounds like the song "Top of the World", and in the original Japanese version of Jack's "The Villain Sucks" Song about Tulip, Tulip does an Elvis Presley impression.


1970s Film[edit | hide]

  • The Warriors for 1979 New York City. Interestingly enough, the film is supposed to take place in the future, but was based on a novel from the mid-1960s.
  • Saturday Night Fever.
  • The Muppet Movie.
  • Koyaanisqatsi. Released in 1983, but largely filmed in The Seventies. It starts becoming a period piece when they begin showing people in dated clothing, and really dates itself when it shows the inside of an arcade (bridging those years in which the 1970s transitioned into the '80s culturally).
  • Zardoz. Even though the movie's set in a Post Apocalyptic future, its '70s influence shows everywhere.
  • Most disaster movies, such as Airport, The Poseidon Adventure, and The Towering Inferno.
  • The Man Who Fell to Earth supposedly takes place over several decades, but the fashions, technology and virtually everything else remain pure 1970s. This isn't helped by the fact that We Are as Mayflies to an Alien Among Us hero who isn't physically aging, meaning that only the appearances of the supporting characters clue us in to the passage of time.
  • Plenty of rock musicals of the time scream 1970s, such as Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, Tommy, Jesus Christ Superstar. Godspell, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Xanadu (1980). Part of the Narm Charm in those movies comes from that fact.
    • Popeye and Flash Gordon, both early 1980s HBO staples, could only have been made in 1980, at the end of the "maverick" era of filmmaking and 1970s excess.
  • Godzilla vs. Hedorah. So grounded in the very early '70s it hurts, with hippies all throughout the film, a very groovy score, and bar scenes that are said by Word of God to be inspired by Woodstock.
  • Many Blaxploitation films characterized the defining characteristics of the '70s. Black Caesar and Hell Up In Harlem, for instance, featured a pre-overhaul Times Square (back when it was known for its sleazy theatres as opposed to the LCD mecca of the late 1990s and 21st century), mink coats, kids shining shoes on the streets, afros, accounting ledgers written in multiple books, and much more.
  • The Bad News Bears: so very mid-'70s, and a fine example of what a PG-rated film could get away with before the PG-13 rating came along. Just listen to 7-year-olds toss out four-letter words, racial epithets and ethnic slurs like there's no tomorrow and try to keep your head from exploding. Also watch as the kids douse each other in beer and see a then 14-year-old Jackie Earle Haley smoke like a chimney.
  • Race with the Devil shows off its '70s-ness in the first ten minutes, where Frank is showing his friend Roger all the features on his $36,000 RV (money that, today, would buy a bare-bones BMW 3-Series). Said features include a color television with stereo sound, a microwave oven, and tons of faux-wood paneling.
  • Taxi Driver, and not just because of the fashions. At the time it was filmed, New York City was America's crime capital, the city was effectively bankrupt, and Watergate was still fresh on the public mind. Not to mention there's a brief scene in a porno cinema.
  • Burt Reynolds. Anything with Burt Reynolds.
  • In 1979, Love at First Bite was a comedy about Dracula dealing with the modern world. Thanks to the disco dancing, Jive Turkey supporting characters, Dirty Commies as Romanian government flacks, cheerfully-unprotected sex and Roots references, it's now Dracula dealing with this trope.


1970s Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Starsky and Hutch, which was trying so hard to be urban and au courant in 1975, it's now firmly in I Can't Believe It's Not Parody territory.
  • Barney Miller.
  • All in The Family, along with its many spin-offs.
  • The Star Wars Holiday Special is a very 1970s Variety Show with very vague Space Opera trappings. This is very sad, especially since the theatrical films do a pretty fair job of averting the trope.
  • The Muppet Show. People can learn a lot about the celebrities and pop culture of the '70s by watching this show today.
  • The original Hawaii Five-0 suffers this in the early seasons, beginning with the 1968 season, when episodes regularly revolved around issues arising from the Vietnam War such as drug smuggling by military personnel, incidents involving soldiers on leave in Hawai'i, and vets with psychological issues. In later, post-Vietnam, seasons the military aspect (including McGarrett's status as a Naval Reserve officer) was essentially eliminated.
  • Match Game, in the CBS era.
  • The Goodies, which was made throughout the entirety of the 70's in England. Graeme Garden, one of the writers, actors, and creators, has said that the clothes and trends now qualify as "quaint period pieces", and that you can get a pretty good idea of the trends, celebrities and government around the time by watching.


1970s Music[edit | hide]

  • Operator (That's Not the Way It Feels) was written by Jim Croce in 1972. The line "Operator, well let's forget about this call / There's no one there I really wanted to talk to / Thank you for your time, ah, you've been so much more than kind / And you can keep the dime" dates this. Pay Phones were common in the 20th century (but harder to find today) and a call for ten cents was possible (for local calls) from the 1960s through the early 1980s. Operator assistance was necessary for trunk calls from coin phones and most international calls in that era but, being labour-intensive, is now getting harder to find than a still-working Phone Booth in the wi-fi era.

1970s Standup Comedy[edit | hide]

  • Robin Williams' 1970 album Reality... What a Concept is littered with cultural and social references that rapidly faded out of living memory, sometimes by the 1980s. Some are so obscure these days that even with Wikipedia's help they are incomprehensible (“Hello, Gore Vidal for Thunderbird wine.”), and at least one reviewer who went back to the album after Williams' 2014 suicide has suggested that future releases come with an extensive set of footnotes to explain just what he's talking about half the time. A large fraction of his performance is built around two topics which are not nearly as fertile a ground for comedy as they were in the 1970s -- drug humor and the Soviet Union.

1970s Theatre[edit | hide]

  • Vanities sets its three scenes in the early 1960s, late '60s, and mid-'70s, respectively. By the time of its musical adaptation, it was three decades past its prime. The addition of a fourth scene set in the mid-1980s-early '90s didn't help.
  • The Magic Show, in its original form, is very firmly affixed to the seventies, with rock duo Donna and Dina (and their song "Solid Silver Platform Shoes"), references to then-current commercials ("Please don't squeeze the Charmin!"), and call-outs to places and events that were then current or nearly so, but which have become the things of history now.


1970s Western Animation[edit | hide]

1980s[edit | hide]

  • Any of the vast number of movies, songs and TV shows that reference the Cold War and fear of World War III, thanks to The Great Politics Mess-Up. (This mistake applies to most other postwar decades, too, particularly The Fifties).
  • Any use of a cell phone as a status symbol. Especially the huge brick-style ones, which would have gone dead when carriers started shutting down their analogue mobile base stations circa-2008.

1980s Anime[edit | hide]

  • Akira. It takes place after a nuclear bomb starts off World War III, and while society does rebuild; clothes, hairstyles, and technology show progress didn't really get past the 80s.
  • Furthermore, Anime: Super Dimension Fortress Macross. It took place in the then-far off world of 2009; but 1980s influence is everywhere.


1980s Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • The Dark Knight Returns, which was written in 1986, strongly features an exaggerated satire of the then-contemporary political and social climate. Back then it was a deliberate contrast to the typical world of young Batman. Now it reads like a deliberate period piece. The sequel, written 15 years later, was written based on the political and social climate of the early 2000s and is already showing shades of this as well, and will undoubtedly read like a period piece in ten years.
  • Bloom County, for all its surrealism, got hit with this hard due to its very prominent political element and a cornucopia of pop-culture gags. It was for this reason that a complete series collection was put off for years—Breathed was positive no one would get most of the jokes. The Complete Library was eventually released with historical commentary next to relevant strips and two-page spreads featuring then-recent newspaper headlines.


1980s Film[edit | hide]

  • Most of the teen films from the heyday of that genre:
  • The Wizard (film).
    • Every movie with a scene in an arcade is usually dated to the mid-to-late '80s. The Karate Kid is a notable example.
    • For that matter, Tron.
  • Back to The Future is very strongly '80s, to the point where the sequence introducing the "present day" of 1985 is now counted as an unintentional "Mister Sandman" Sequence like the introductions to 1885, 1955 and 2015.
    • The scene at the retro-themed restaurant Café 80's in Part II is remarkably prescient. Nearly all the '80s elements in there — Ronald Reagan, Michael Jackson, arcade games — are things that are strongly associated with the '80s today. (Compare it to the '80s "Mister Sandman" Sequence in Hot Tub Time Machine, a film made twenty years later.) This is despite the fact that the film was made in the '80s, and almost all those elements were still current (Doc Brown even remarks that the restaurant isn't done very well).
    • Averted with the "alternate 1985" scenes in the second movie, which, except for the Sammy Hagar music in the background, does not evoke the eighties at all. Biff Tannen's muttonchop sideburns and leisure suit, along with the way his goons at the casino are dressed, actually evoke The Seventies. Lampshaded by Marty, who responds to the urban decay around him by remarking that "This has got to be the wrong year!"
  • The motorcars, the technology, any of a number of cues tie the Back to the Future trilogy to a mid-1980s era which is now in the nostalgic past:
    • The Delorean DMC-12 was only manufactured for 24 months, in model years 1981 through 1983. It looked futuristic in its own era, but with only 9,000 DeLoreans ever made, the car's distinctive form is a 1980s timestamp in retrospect. This was lampshaded in a commercial promoting Radio Shack just before that chain's 2015 bankruptcy: "the 80s called, they want their store back".
    • The portrayal of fax machines as futuristic technology also dates this; the PDF file format dates to 1993 and broadband Internet became common around the turn of the millennium, making "scan to PDF" and e-mail more efficient than fax over dial-up.
  • To Live and Die In LA.
  • The Al Pacino version of Scarface.
  • Wall Street.
  • Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.
  • Road House. The Agony Booth's recap called it "a tone poem of late '80s cheese.".
  • Night of the Comet.
  • WarGames. Acoustic couplers were a particularly short-lived part of early modem use, but it also captures the tone of the end of the Cold War flawlessly.
  • Real Genius could only have existed when the SDI was a pressing concern.
  • The same goes for Spies Like Us.
  • Do the Right Thing features a character who seems to do nothing but walk around carrying a boombox blaring Public Enemy's "Fight the Power", and makes reference to several contemporary well-publicized hate crimes.
  • Red Dawn.
  • The Running Man, almost certainly intentionally. (Among other things, the movie is clearly a satire.)
  • Zeerust sets in on Escape from New York and manages to make Twenty Minutes Into the Future look like an Unintentional Period Piece. The vehicles, the weapons, Snake's immense walkie talkie, the styles of dress, the Cold War undertones and the soundtrack are so evocative of the 1980s that it is impossible for a contemporary viewer not to see it as a Reagan-era piece (which is slightly ironic, since it was filmed while Jimmy Carter was still president). Our Graphics Will Suck in the Future is also in play. Despite being labeled under different decades, the two movies were released only two years apart (1979 and 1981).
    • Also the fact that Snake Plissken gets into New York by landing on the World Trade Center (though to be fair, John Carpenter couldn't exactly have predicted 9/11).
  • In his commentary for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, director Nicholas Meyer mentions that all works are inevitably the product of their time period, when it's pointed out how Khan's followers look like the entourage of a hair metal band.
  • Teen Witch.
  • The Terminator has a memorable scene in a horrifically '80s nightclub, and also features Sarah and her friend dressing in everything you think of as '80s women's fashion and declare themselves "Better than mortal man deserves."
    • Most of Arnold Schwarzenegger's 80's work is dated.
  • Trading Places.
  • Big.
  • Flight of the Navigator is definitely something. 80s music, 80s hair, 80s clothing, it's all here.
  • The Goonies.
  • Rad.
  • Streets of Fire took place in a Retro Universe that looks like a mix between the 50s and 80s, but the 80s influence is so much more obvious.
  • Transformers: The Movie.
  • Die Hard. Of note, the references to VCR's and the fact that John McClane seems really uncomfortable using the computer monitor at the front desk of Nakatomi Plaza.
    • Both of which are easily beaten out by John carrying his gun and smoking on an airplane.
  • Scarface

1980s Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Miami Vice.
  • The Facts of Life (started in 1979; but is very much associated with the 1980s).
  • Full House, which is also an Unintentional Period Piece for the early 1990s, even beyond the typical Two Decades Behind phenomenon - perhaps inevitable with three trendy teenage girls in the cast. For example, the episode where Stephanie's band sings "The Sign" by Ace of Base could only have been made in 1994-95.
  • Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High.
  • The Golden Girls did this, both with the ladies' fashion choices and with a lot of their pop culture references (which they wisely kept to easily ignored asides, as much of today's Periphery Demographic is far too young to appreciate the endless stream of jokes about Donna Rice or Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker).
  • Family Ties.
  • Small Wonder.
  • MTV, when they played music videos on a regular basis.
  • The Beiderbecke Affair is like a time capsule of Leeds in the early 80s, and in particular of the British education system before the National Curriculum.
  • The Young Ones, being set explicitly during Thatcher's Britain.
  • Cheers. Many artifacts of the 1980's occur, such as the bar being amazed by a car phone.
  • Rockschool, a BBC miniseries later broadcast by PBS, was a show (in fact, two separate miniseries), the first (concerning a guitar-bass-drums Power Trio) of which lasted in 1984, and the second one (which added a keyboardist to the trio) in 1987, attempting to teach kids the basics of playing and singing in a rock band. Not only were the computer graphics used in the show, along with the hair and fashion styles of the four teenage presenters/musicians dated to the '80's, but naturally the special guests the show interviewed in segments, as well as the music technology the show demonstrated. Along with the stiil very useful information the show presents, the use of what would now be considered very crude and outdated (current vintage) synthesizer, sampler, guitar-synthesizer, sequencer, MIDI and drum machine technology in particular scream 1987 in the second series. (E-mu Emulator II! Moog Memorymoog!! Fairlight CMI!! Yamaha DX 7!!).
  • The first few seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, before it grew the beard.
  • You Can't Do That on Television, certainly during the early 1980s, has references to General Hospital and dated video arcade games (and the occasional period sociopolitical issues) in various episodes. The clothes and hairstyles of the teen cast members often betray their '80's origins almost as much as their accents and certain phrases they use betray their Canadian origins.


1980s Literature[edit | hide]

  • Kim Newman has acknowledged that his Sally Rhodes stories have become unintentional period pieces; the character is just as tied to The Eighties (or very early nineties) as Edwin Winthrop (an intentional period piece) is to The Roaring Twenties. "Organ Donors" features references to the poll tax, seven satellite TV channels, the ITV bidding war, and a "portable phone" as being a big deal.
  • Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis and Bright Lights Big City by Jay Mc Inerney.
    • American Psycho by Ellis as well. It was published in the early 1990's, but set in the late 80's.
  • The first Dirk Gently book (published 1987) by Douglas Adams has some specific technology references that place it firmly in the 1980s. Part of the plot revolves around an answering machine cassette tape, and one character trying to reach a telephone. The protagonist in the first book is a wealthy 'early adopter' computer programmer and electronic-music whiz, so his flat is filled with then-high tech Apple computer hardware, and 1980s synthesizers and electronic instruments. In the second book (from 1988) an important setting is the long-abandoned Midland Grand Hotel at London's St. Pancras railway terminal. One of the themes of the book is how humanity abandons things from the past it no longer requires and the rotting hulk of a Victorian railway station would have been an apt metaphor for this in 1988. Since then a huge amount of gentrification has gone on in the UK and in 2011 the Midland hotel was renovated and reopened.


1980s Theatre[edit | hide]

  • Edmond.
  • Despite the numerous (and, by most accounts, unsuccessful) attempts to modernize Starlight Express, the show remains firmly grounded within the 1980s. The disco-tinted score, neon-colored costumes, and references to DOS programming as if it were futuristic have been toned down or removed since the musical's inception, but the musical's premise and choreography require that the performers wear old-fashioned roller skates, so it can't avoid representing its decade. Some fans argue that if the show had declared itself an intentional period piece at the beginning of the 1990s, it would be more popular today.
  • Angels in America


1980s Video Games[edit | hide]

Video games from this era are obvious examples, due to 8-bit technology (and later in the decade, early 16-bit technology). Games from this era are also Unintentional Period Pieces for other non-technology reasons:

  • The Great Politics Mess-Up:
    • Raid Over Moscow.
    • The When Superpowers Collide strategy game series: Germany 1985, RDF 1985, Baltic 1985: Corridor to Berlin and Norway 1985.
  • The NES version of Punch-Out!! is definitely set in the 1980s, due to Mac's pink jogging suit, Mike Tyson being champ, and referfences to Bombay (now "Mumbai"), India and the USSR.
  • NARC, set in the War on Drugs.


1980s Western Animation[edit | hide]

1990s Anime[edit | hide]

  • Early episodes of Pokémon and the original series in general; they show how 1990s culture spilled over into the early 2000s.
    • The same could be said for the games, with the technology and clothing style.
  • Digimon Adventure. Izzy's Apple Power Book-like computer gives one an idea of the time; and the dial-up based methods both later in the season and the movie would become very quaint as broadband caught on very quickly in the early 2000s. The "You've Got Mail!" line from said movie also doesn't have the same impact in the age of Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.
  • Genki is clearly shown playing a Monster Rancher game on a PlayStation lookalike.


1990s Film[edit | hide]


1990s Live Action TV[edit | hide]


1990s Literature[edit | hide]

  • Several Animorphs books come across like this, due to the author's fondness for real contemporary pop culture references, as well as some situations that would be greatly changed by advancing technology (especially cell-phones). Probably the most blatant example was "The Warning," with a plot that heavily involves the internet, as it existed during the mid-nineties.
    • The Animorphs series is being rewritten, apparently replacing jokes and references from the 1990s with more modern ones. Most of the storylines should stay intact, but the 16th book, centered entirely on the Internet, will have to be rewritten very heavily, if not completely removed from the series.
  • Almost anything by David Foster Wallace.
  • Connie Willis's Bellwether - written in the mid-90s, its narrator is a sociologist researching fads, so the book is a perfect time capsule of fashions in everything. Remember hair wraps? Sunflowers on everything? The spread of Seattle-style coffee houses? Notably, e-mail is treated more as a gimmick than anything, and the narrator speculates about the way that attitudes to smoking will change in future... and gets it wrong (so far!)
  • Glamorama by Bret Easton Ellis, especially whenever a person who was considered famous at the time is mentioned.


1990s Theatre[edit | hide]

  • Eric Bogosian's subUrbia.
  • Rent. The movie, at least, starts on Christmas Eve 1989, but the show has always been synonymous with The Nineties. The repeated references to Virtual Reality as an evil takeover plot by The Man are downright Hilarious in Hindsight. AIDS spreading like wildfire to several of the characters (and being a short-term death sentence) is less hilarious, but pegs the action just as firmly in the early 1990s. Benny's desire to sleep with Mimi, who he knows to be infected, is arguably the worst case. It's also important to note that a large part of the reason so many people contracted AIDS in the 1990s was because it took a while for accurate information about how HIV spreads to become common knowledge, and even longer for preventatives to become easy to get. Also, plenty of HIV negative people are in sexual relationships with HIV positive people, although it was much more dangerous back then, since so little was known.


1990s Video Games[edit | hide]


1990s Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Tiny Toon Adventures is laden with contemporary pop culture references, very much in keeping with the tradition set by Looney Tunes. The other Warner Bros. cartoons of the period (such as Animaniacs and Pinky and The Brain) were much better at avoiding this trope, because many of their pop culture references were to figures and events of the past.
    • However, Pinky and The Brain's penchant for lampooning political figures make it age very poorly.
  • Daria, for the mid-late '90s, to the point of having a page on the fandom's wiki about it.
  • A Goofy Movie, thanks to a combination of Fashion Dissonance and the very '90s-sounding Fake Band "Powerline" that features heavily in the story.
  • KaBlam!!, which probably contributes to it's lack of life in reruns.
  • Hey Arnold! shows cassette-tape systems and boomboxes whenever there's in-universe music. Famously, Helga's father runs Big Bob's Beeper Emporium, having built his successful business on technology that couldn't be more nineties. Additionally, one episode has Gerald telling Arnold that he'll call him later, saying that he'll ring twice[2] to let Arnold know it's Gerald calling. Caller IDs are standard for phones nowadays.
  • A lot of the early Rugrats episodes feature 90s references.
  • Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego? is undeniably 90s. From the style, to the references, and everything inbetween.
  • The Critic is nothing but 1990's pop culture and celebrity jokes.
  • Doug, especially the Nickelodeon version. Most of the clothing and technology are very `90s.
  • Early episodes of Recess, though this was downplayed after the first season.
  • Pretty much any show/movie that features extreme sports, like An Extremely Goofy Movie or Rocket Power.


2000s Fan Fiction[edit | hide]


2000s Film[edit | hide]

  • Each of the works in the collective oeuvre of Seltzer and Friedberg (except for Vampires Suck, which was released in 2010 and focused on one work in particular) is one of these not only to the Turn of the Millennium, but to the specific year in which it was released. One of the main criticisms of their work is that the pop culture jokes that they rely on become outdated within just a few months, with the things that they're parodying having fallen out of the collective consciousness. Their tendency to base brief parodies on the trailers to movies that wouldn't be released until well into their own production probably has something to do with it.

I think the greatest redeeming quality [of Scary Movie 4] is that it works as something of a comedic time capsule from 2006, with so many jokes and cultural references that I had honestly forgotten completely about cheaply exploited for this movie. Like Tom Cruise going crazy on Oprah (the only part of the movie that had me near to tears in laughter), it almost makes you feel nostalgic...

  • Post 9-11 Terrorism Movies are already beginning to look dated.
    • The scene in the first Spider-Man film where a bunch of New Yorkers come to Spider-Man's aid and one shouts "You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us!" seems a bit awkward now. Especially given that that particular scene was added in post-production, after the attacks had occurred.

2000s Literature[edit | hide]

  • World War Z. The Jamie Lynn Spears reference alone dates the book to before 2007, when Spears' Teen Pregnancy scandal destroyed her career. Couple that with references to the Nintendo GameCube and AOL, as well as thinly-veiled expies of Howard Dean, Karl Rove, Colin Powell, Ruben Studdard, Bill Maher and Paris Hilton (all of whom enjoyed their greatest cultural prominence in the early-mid '00s), and you have a book that wears its "Bush-era America" origin on its sleeve.
    • Oddly enough, the No Celebrities Were Harmed may actually help the book seem current; with a little work, readers can put any celebrity they're familiar with into many of those slots. Replace Paris with Jersey Shore's Snooki and the scene featuring the unnamed airhead still works, aside from her being blonde.


2000s Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • 24 was arguably an example of this before it finished airing.
  • VH-1's I Love the New Millennium. It was made in 2008, before the decade it was supposed to be nostalgically looking back on was even over. This, of course, presented some problems in hindsight. The show is fascinating now as a time capsule for what people thought would be memorable and lasting about, say, 2007; some things apply, but some look laughably dated, even just a year or two down the road. And yet, it's almost more apt for the sort of nostalgia the show was made for.
  • A lot of 2000s shows on Nickelodeon and Disney Channel are becoming this, especially ones from the early 2000s. Technology in the 2000s changed rapidly, so you can tell when a show was made by what they're showing.
  • The Wire was an interesting case as the first season was based upon a real life criminal investigation involving coded beeper transmissions from the 90s; this was handwaved when the show aired in 2002 by way of having it being stated that the Barksdale crime syndicate was too cheap to pay for cell phones for its low level underlings.
    • Later season episodes were way more topical: Season four made heavy reference to the "No Child Left Behind Act" and it's effects upon modern high school educations, and street level dealers branded their product as "Troop Surge", "WMDs", and "Pandemic" (i.e. bird flu).
  • In Arrested Development, particularly the final season, the references to the War in Iraq are so specific that they tie the show to that exact time period. For example, GOB's wife is shown posing a la Lyndie England.
  • FX Network has this problem too: while The Shield only made occassional references to current events (one of the characters nearly loses her job after she makes racist remarks to an Arab woman who's husband was killed by a racist after 9-11, references are made regarding Arnold Schwarzenegger becoming governor of California, and referencing to the Housing Crisis in the last couple of episodes of the series), Rescue Me was definitively based around the aftermath of the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center. Nip/Tuck made references as well (Hearts & Scalpels was a Gray's Anatomy rip-off and the final season began with an episode that outright references the 2008 Recession).


2000s Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • The Proud Family. It has a not-so-subtle reference to Napster in one episode, when Napster as it once was went down in the early 2000s (around 2002).
  • Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends. Gamecubes (and a Wii in a 2007 episode), Game Boy Advances (which would become a Nintendo DS later), and a lot of other technology refrences make it an obvious product of the mid 2000s.


2000s Video Games[edit | hide]

  • The Emo Game series. Playing these games is like stepping back in time to 2002-03, what with all the pop culture references, '80s kid show nostalgia, Emo treading the line between "underground" and "mainstream", and MTV still, at the very least, basing its reputation around music videos.
    • This trope wound up killing the planned third game in the series, Super Emogame III. It had become one of these to 2005-06, and it even had a demo released, yet it had been languishing as Vaporware well into 2007 and beyond as Jason Oda's work commitments making advergames started piling up and eating into his time. It would've taken another couple of years to finish, meaning that, by the time of its eventual release, most of its humor and references would've been very outdated. Any attempts to update the humor would've delayed production for even longer. Realizing this, Oda pulled the plug on it.
  • Same as above for the Final Fantasy VI hack Awful Fantasy, made in 2003. It shows.
  • Grand Theft Auto 4 expansion, The Ballad of Gay Tony was about a man who spent beyond his means and had his excesses come back to bite him. There are also some more explicit references to the economic crisis, putting the game firmly in the latter quarter of 2000s.
    • Grand Theft Auto 5 appears to continue this, as the trailer alone is chock full of references to the crisis.


2010s Film[edit | hide]


2010s Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • A funny one occurred on NCIS: Los Angeles when the subject of one episode was Libyan government agents sent by Qaddaffi killing a rebel propagandist and trying to use his identity to get the rebel leadership into an ambush. Obviously written and filmed when the Libyan Civil War seemed (from the outside) to be deadlocked, by the time the episode aired (October 2011) the rebels would be more properly called "The Libyan Government", having been recognized as such internationally in September 2011 with Qaddaffi the one on the run who should be wary of ambushes. The "Arab Spring" references also clearly date the show.


Special Cases (either multiple decades, or Older Than Radio)[edit | hide]

Advertising[edit | hide]

  • Advertising in general has a tendency to be dated to whatever time period it came out, due to its constant attempt to capture the zeitgeist of whatever era it appeared in in order to better market products. As Charlie Brooker explains:

"Old adverts are like little nostalgia bombs, really. Each one sums up the year in which it appeared in an instant. '60s ads are cool and swinging, the '70s ads are sort of brown and grotty, whereas the '80s were characterized by power ballads and absolute swaggering fuckery like this." ... "'90s ads were all huggy-wuggy and sophisticated, whereas the noughties can't decide if they're all troubled and weird, or inspirational like this bloke whose cycling glory has prompted an identity crisis."


Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • Look at any issue of Archie Comics. Even back in the early '90s, they acknowledged this with their Americana Collections, showcasing the iconic strips of each individual decade. Usually they will feature one "Love Triangle"-themed story, then dozens of others about then-current fads, or parodies of then-popular movies. The fashions of most strips shown in the Digest format issues years later also date certain stories greatly.


Film[edit | hide]

Literature[edit | hide]

  • Jane Austen's books, which define the Regency Romance subgenre.
  • Stephen King's works are chock full of pop cultural references from whenever the book was written, to an almost Family Guy-like extent.
  • The Sherlock Holmes stories, which practically define Victorian London to modern audiences. Part of Steven Moffat's motive in writing Sherlock was that he felt the books' nature as Unintended Period Pieces was getting in the way of what Arthur Conan Doyle intended them to be, which was crime thrillers.
    • Well... it is a bit more complicated than that. Doyle kept writing Sherlock Holmes stories until 1927 but he never set any of them later than 1914—and even that story ("The Last Bow") is far later than the others. Most Holmes stories written in the 1920s were set two decades (or more!) in the then-past making them intentional period pieces.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Quite unavoidable with a Long Runner such as Doctor Who—the special effects and fashions (and production styles) give the production decades (sometimes the very years) away within minutes (unless this is the Eighties we're talking about, where the... Eightiesness gives away the decade within milliseconds). When the stories have been restored to DVD with new special effects, the Restoration Team have very deliberately shot many of the new effects in appropriate styles so they wouldn't clash with the source material. So the Five Doctors Special Edition has new and improved CGI effects that actually look like Eighties effects.
  • Soul Train: Mainly for The Seventies, but also for The Eighties and The Nineties.
  • Thanks to the Ripped from the Headlines formula, Law and Order, depending on the season, can seem quite dated. On the other hand, the fact that they just switch the names makes it so that the older episodes can still be enjoyed on their own merit.
  • Episodes of Saturday Night Live, thanks to its musical guests and its use of topical, current events humor (from "Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead" to "I can see Russia from my house!"), can be dated almost to the year.[3]
  • Pretty much every Game Show is dated to the year that it's produced, whether because of the products (four-figure Datsuns, anyone?) or the questions (which can fall prey to future updates).

Music[edit | hide]

  • Music videos tend to date themselves very quickly, especially videos by female artists, since women's fashions change more quickly than men's. Go look at a video like En Vogue's "Free Your Mind" and see whether it doesn't scream 1992.
  • Many, but not all, political songs fall into this category. To name a few:
    • Gil Scott-Heron's The Revolution Will Not Be Televised ripped into many popular culture icons, advertising campaigns and public figures from 1971, when the song was released.
    • Songs about apartheid rule such as Free Nelson Mandela by Special A.K.A. Just 6 years after the song was released, Mandela was released from prison.
    • Elvis Costello's Oliver's Army, which name-checked various places that were geo-political hot spots in the late 1970s.
    • Just about any song about the Vietnam War.
    • Heaven 17's Fascist Groove Thang is firmly planted in the 1980s, due to mention of Ronald Reagan as 'President Elect'.
  • Each of "Weird Al" Yankovic's albums is largely a product of the year it was recorded, as Al fills the albums with parodies of popular music at the time or older songs parodied in a way that references current pop culture. The polka medleys, in particular, contain snippets of pretty much every song topping the charts at the time.
    • Al is an odd case - he tends to parody songs that were popular two or three years before his album came out, which means they're usually forgotten by the time his parodies are released. This is the inevitable result of production times for albums—and one reason why after Mandatory Fun he will focus on individual songs released to the Web within weeks instead of CDs that take years to produce.
  • Most of those CD compilation albums that are released every year, such as Kidz Bop or Now That's What I Call Music! become this within a few years of being released, because they are just compilations of the top hits of the year.
  • Anything mentioning telephone calls or other technology ultimately becomes badly dated. From rural party lines to pay phone booths to actually talking to a live operator on an intercity call, phone tropes have been less able to stand the test of time than postal themes like "Please, Mr. Postman..." by (variously) The Marvelettes (1961), The Beatles (1963), The Cowsills (1969), The Carpenters (1978), The Backbeat Band (1994) and Amanda Fondell (2011) among others (and yes, there's even a Bob Rivers parody).
  • The concept of the ten-cent local call from a Phone Booth or Pay Phone recurs in multiple works through the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. "Happy Together" (Turtles, 1967) includes the line "If I should call you up, invest a dime." Rod Stewart ("Do you think I'm sexy?", 1978) asks "give me a dime so I can call my mother." Tommy Tutone ("867-5309/Jenny", 1982) pleads "Jenny Jenny who can I turn to / For the price of a dime I can always turn to you." Eventually, the telcos got greedy and raised the price to a quarter, to thirty-five cents or even to fifty cents; meanwhile, interactive voice response (IVR) and voicemail systems caused a spike in users charged for calls that never reached a live human. No point leaving a message; coin phones no longer accept incoming return calls. Abuse by telemarketers led to widespread adoption of call display, with fewer residential subscribers willing to answer unknown or unfamiliar numbers. Pocket pagers (which required the user find a phone to return the call) were supplanted by cellular telephones (which are self-contained), dropping pay phone usage further. Outside of locations with no cell service (such as a subway/metro platform or an extreme-rural location) few of the once-ubiquitous coin phones still exist. At 50¢ a pop to talk to someone's answering machine? The few coin stations still standing are rarely used.

Theatre[edit | hide]

  • Many plays by William Shakespeare were set in a time period that the original viewers during the Elizabethan era would find familiar. Nowadays, times have changed to the point where the dialect of Shakespeare's characters is frequently mistaken for Old English (which actually has more in common with German than modern English).


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Due to Development Hell causing the game to be delayed continually since its inception 13 years prior to its release, Duke Nukem Forever (released in 2011) has the unintended disadvantage of playing like a game from the early 2000's, right down to its gameplay mechanics and humor. The game plays as though certain parts were only added in a certain decade, the humor is outdated by several years, the references to previous installments are years (and even decades) out of date and the gameplay (as a whole) is much slower than 2010-era FPS's. In additions, several of the "topical references" include an out-of-date reference to Halo ("Power armor is for pussies!") and a near-exact replication of the infamous Christian Bale rant from the set of Terminator Salvation (which had already been out for several years by the time the game was released).


Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • Gaming comics are like this by design.
  • Ciem had the Montinel Corporation's CTR monitors as a justification for why a 2019 office would feature CTR monitors in it, so that the plot could be justified. Season 2 of Sodality updates to Ciem using a whole substation to short out the Musaran AI and free Jeraime, since substation designs are less likely to become obsolete over a span of four years. Also, Miriam's tendency to wear Snakes on a Plane T-shirts was grandfathered into her personal character, saying it was how she coped with the loss of her parents and has sentimental value to her that way. This is because by the time Real Life would catch up with Miriam's Cataclysmic Gerosha timeline, even updating her fashion choice to Sharknado T-shirts would seem dated and silly.


Western Animation[edit | hide]


Other[edit | hide]

  • Mad Magazine does this so well that compilation books from each decade since it began in The Fifties have been made. What seemed popular enough to be spoofed on their cover at one time might even two or three years later be forgotten. Sometimes due to a delay in publishing what it parodies may already be old news by the time the issue comes out.
  • Any map, due to changing political borders, countries or cities changing their names, things like The Great Politics Mess-Up, etc.
  • According to Orson Scott Card, all fiction is this way to one degree or another, bearing identifying characteristics of its writer(s)'s time and culture. He uses this argument as the thesis for an article explaining that The Book of Mormon has to be genuine because the tropes it uses do not correspond at all to the time and place Joseph Smith lived in.
  1. The subject of the decision was police raids on gay bars, something whose legal ins and outs Captain Miller could reasonably be expected to know.
  2. (ring, hang up after one ring, immediately re-call, a Truth in Television technique for phones without caller IDs)
  3. For those guessing, the Franco one is from 1975, SNL's first season.