You Have 48 Hours

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Sometimes, you wonder if your workplace is being a little overbearing with their deadlines.

24 hours, Dag, 24 hours. 23 hours, 59 minutes. Don't make me stand here and count.
Thornton Reed, Garth Marenghi's Darkplace

One of the standard storytelling techniques is the Race Against the Clock. By giving your heroes a limited period of time to accomplish something, you immediately add an element of urgency to their story. Clocks come in all forms and lengths, but one of the most popular is the 48 hour limit, since it gives the story a deadline that's reasonably urgent but not too restrictive. It also allows for scenes set both in the daytime and at night, maximising the storytelling possibilities.

Most commonly used in cop shows, in which Da Chief will give our hero two days to close the case and find the evidence on the suspect before the DA throws the case out. As an added incentive, he might risk losing his badge. If Da Chief is on friendly terms with the hero, he may give him the 48 hours as a favour. Another variant is that the cop needs to make something stick, as someone can only be held for 48 hours (in California; 72 hours in other states, but most writers are Californians) without being charged with a crime, after which they will presumably flee jurisdiction.

Compare Stalked by the Bell, the video game equivalent.

Examples of You Have 48 Hours include:

Anime and Manga

  • The time limit of the Emergency Escape Program in The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya was two days. Complicated by the fact that the message didn't state whether the 48 hour count started from when the note was first written, or from the time when Kyon later discovered it. And that was probably the least of the temporal complications involved, too.
  • The Saints of Athena in Saint Seiya have 12 hours to save Saori/Athena from...
    • ...the Golden Arrow making her way to her heart (Sanctuary Saga.) They need to reach the top of Sanctuary, retrieve the Shield of Athena, and shine its holy light upon her. The Clock of Flames on a hill of Sanctuary keeps precise track of this schedule.
    • ...dying of exhaustion and exposure at the North Pole, due to her keeping the eternal ice from melting and flooding the Earth (Asgard Saga, anime-only.) The Saints need to de-brainwash Queen Hilda, the true caretaker, and release her from Poseidon's thrall so Saori passes the task back to her.
    • ...drowning within the Main Breadwinner (a gigantic pillar that holds up the ocean above Poseidon's temple) before it floods completely (Poseidon Saga.) They need to defeat the Seven Marine Shoguns and destroy their pillars before getting to the Main, which is guarded by Poseidon himself.
    • ...getting killed by Hades' Specters invading Sanctuary (Hades Saga, Sanctuary Chapter.) In an inversion, the Specters themselves only have 12 hours to accomplish their task, because that's all the time they have allowed back on the world of the living before their bodies disintegrate. So, the Saints only need to hold them back for so long.
    • ...having all her blood drained out by Hades' jar deep in the Underworld, in the heavenly land of Elysium (Hades Saga, Underworld Chapter.) The Saints need to remove her from the jar and give her the Divine Cloth of Athena so she can defeat Hades and end the war.
  • In one episode of Code Geass, Lelouch is given five hours to find his sister Nunnally, who has been kidnapped by a Geass-using psychopath, who may or may not have stuck to the assigned limit.
  • This is one of the central plot points of Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit - a Chosen receives the titular document 24 hours before they are killed by the nanocapsule imbedded in their heart rupturing. Each Episode revolves around what that particular Chosen chooses to do with that time.
  • In Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Hitomi gives Sayaka 24 hours to confess to Kyosuke before she does it instead. Unfortunately, because Sayaka believes she's no longer human, she does not think she can ever confess, and knowing that Hitomi will confess leads her to despair.


  • The first book of Gorsky and Butch starts when it turns out that their comic makes no sense. So Da Chief tasks the two heroes with finding it. And they have 48 pages to do it.
  • An early issue of the Sonic the Hedgehog comics has Sonic being told by Princess Sally to find Nack the Weasel or be exiled for disobeying a royal order. Because really, giving a super speedster 48 hours is like telling them "take your time".
  • In Final Crisis, the human Green Lanterns are given 24 hours to save the universe. So, no pressure...
  • In Bookhunter, the Oakland Library Police are investigating the theft of an irreplaceable book which was on loan from the Library of Congress. The book was scheduled to be returned in three days, so our protagonists have that long to solve the case before the feds learn of the theft and take over the investigation.

Film - Animated

  • In the Hanna-Barbera Superstars 10 movie Top Cat and the Beverly Hills Cats, Benny must wait for 48 hours before he can inherit a fortune. Should anything happen to him during that time, the evil butler and his dog would get it. Subverted in that the urgency doesn't start until 24 hours have passed.

Film - Live Action

  • Forty Eight Hours and Another 48 Hrs.. Obviously.
  • In The Naked Gun, Frank Drebin has 48 hours to prove that Nordberg is innocent.
  • In Tomorrow Never Dies, James Bond has 48 hours to stop a global war from starting.
  • In The Fifth Element, they had 48 hours before the Big Bad Ultimate Evil could attack. Zorg also gives such an ultimatum to one of his underlings.
  • In Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Mr. and Mrs. Smith had orders from their respective assassin contracting firms to kill the other Smith in forty-eight hours before said companies kill them both.
  • Lampshaded thoroughly in the 1978 science film Capricorn One. Elliot Gould's heroic journalist is on the verge of being pulled away from the scoop of the century by his editor. Bargaining for time, he argues that "the assignment editor is supposed to say "you've got 48 hours, kids, and you'd better come up with something good or it's going to be your neck!" That's what he's supposed to say, I saw it in a movie."
  • The hero of Taken is told, based on prior experience, that he has 96 hours to find his kidnapped daughter before the trail runs cold.
  • 88 Minutes takes this a few steps further.
  • Snake in Escape from New York had 24 hours to save the President, or the tiny explosives they injected him with would detonate, open up his jugular veins, and kill him.
  • In Stardust, Tristan has a week to travel into a neighboring magical universe and bring back a fallen star to Victoria before her birthday, or she'll marry Humphrey instead of him. Ironically, he eventually leaves the heroine, his actual true love, after making love to her so he can let Victoria down within that time frame—leading to the heroine's instant near-suicidal depression, as she doesn't realize he's going to (literally) dump his former crush and come back to her the same day.

Live Action TV

  • Mission: Impossible used this quite a bit, though one writer took it a bit too far by writing no fewer than three different episodes where the team had to prevent something that was going to happen "in two days at 4:00."
    • Happens in the third movie as well: Ethan Hunt gets 48 hours to complete a Hostage for McGuffin scheme.
  • Law and Order uses the final "can only be held so long" variant frequently, along with the statute of limitations.
  • The First 48 on A&E is a living and breathing example, following homicide detectives attempting to get a suspect booked and charged in that time frame.
  • The CBS newsmagazine 48 Hours was titled in that manner as the stories covered by the show literally took place over a two day period. The show kept the title even though it now covers long-term True Crime stories.
  • Heroes plays with the trope in season two - Matt Parkman is given this limit, but only because he mind-commanded Da Chief into doing so.
  • An episode of Supernatural features "ghost sickness," which kills its victims in 48 hours after causing them to fear everything. Like cats.
  • Parodied on "The Office," kind of, when Michael apparently misunderstands the threat:

Michael: (being blamed for an obscene watermark on a paper order; making a video) If I could leave you with one thought, remember... it wasn't me. They're trying to make me an escape goat. If I am fired, I swear to God, that every single piece of copier paper in this town is going to have the F-word on it. The F-word. You have one day.
Pam: One day for what?
Michael: That's...they always give an ultimatum.
Pam: ...OK.

  • On "Scrubs," Laverne is annoyed when Colin Farrell's character is ousted from the hospital:

Laverne: You have one day to get us another gorgeous Irishman.
The Todd: One day. (off JD's and Turk's looks) What? The Todd appreciates hot, regardless of gender.

  • The Collector has standardized deals with the Devil: For a period of ten years the client gets what he asked for. In the last 48 hours, the benefits of the deal (and sometimes other effects) will gradually disappear, and at their end his soul would be taken. Typically that's when the local debt collector would find him and give him a chance to go early. Almost every episode, the protagonist Morgan is allowed to help a client in his last 48 hours find redemption and be freed of his deal; once he makes contact with him, the countdown starts in his collector's cellphone, which zeroes on success. In "The Yogi," the title character lampshades how artificial the round numbers seem.
  • Doctor Who starring David Tennant had an episode titled "42", which of course gave the Doctor exactly 42-minutes to solve the present crisis with the story playing out in real-time. Similarly, in Matt Smith's debut story "The Eleventh Hour" the Doctor is given 20-minutes to prevent the destruction of the earth, again with that portion of the story occurring more or less in real-time.
  • Happens a lot on The Shield, but notably in season 7, when almost all of Vic's arc is trying to secure himself a job and immunity deal before a scheduled review board fires him from the LAPD.
  • 24 does this repeatedly, but its usually more like two hours.
  • Stargate SG-1 has the episode "48 Hours", wherein a member of SG-1 gets trapped in the Stargate's data buffer and Stargate Command shuts down operations to avoid overwriting that buffer. The rest of the team is given 48 hours to investigate the matter before normal Stargate operations resume.

Video Games

  • The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, in which you have 3 days to stop the moon from crashing into the planet.
  • Dead Rising gives you three days (six hours real-life) before your helicopter comes back to pick Frank up, as per the latter's demand. Whether you're actually there for the rendezvous is but one of the deciding factors of what ending you get.
  • Ghost Trick has the time limit imposed on Sissel by Ray to find his killer by sunrise the following day (about twelve hours after he was shot) before his soul disappears. Subverted by the fact that the time limit was a trick to drive Sissel's actions forward before a certain event in the endgame occured that would permanently screw up the timeline.
  • A relatively obscure FMV murder mystery game gave you six hours to examine the crime scene, analyze the evidence and interview suspects. This was actually more like five hours, as the last hour was split between a press conference and confronting a suspect. The justification is that after six hours, either the trail will go cold, or the murderer will get away.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog:
    • Sonic Adventure 2 features Dr. Eggman giving the entire world 24 hours to surrender before he fires the Eclipse Cannon. Later on, his grandfather's program is set into action, destroying everything in 27 minutes, 43 seconds.
    • In Sonic Heroes, Dr. Eggman threatens to unleash his new weapon in 24 hours. It's really Metal Sonic.
  • Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors': Guess how much time you have.
  • In The World Ends With You, the Reaper's Game gives Players 7 days. They have to survive each day's challenge and the onslaught of Noise for that long. Each day, they're given a challenge, and a time limit in the form of a Timer printed on the palm of their hand in which to complete it. If nobody completes the challenge for that day, then everyone is erased. Megumi Kitaniji is also cursed with a Timer. His limit was one month, in which to attempt to win his Game with the Composer.
  • In Professor Layton and the Last Specter, Police Chief Jakes gives Layton 24 hours to leave Misthallery when he starts getting close to uncovering the truth. He doesn't wait that long before sending goons after Layton and later, framing him for the specter attack.
  • The Infocom game Deadline used the tagline: "A locked door. A dead man. And 12 hours to solve the mystery"

Western Animation

  • In The Simpsons, when Homer got Marge indebted to the mob, Fat Tony gave Marge an ultimatum.

You have 24 hours to give us our money. And to show you we're serious... you have 12 hours. See you at 6am.

Real Life

  • Real crimes have a much lower chance of being solved if a major break in the case is not made within the first 48 hours.
  • Places that have an Honor Code (and by extension Honor Boards/Committees). If Alice catches Bob lying, cheating, stealing, or tolerating, Alice will say verbatim "You have 48 hours," after which if Bob hasn't self-reported whatever he did to the Honor Board, Alice does it for him. If he was guilty, this usually results in a stricter punishment.