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"Scientists are saying that the future is going to be far more futuristic than they originally predicted!"—Krysta Now, Southland Tales
You're making a movie set in a recent time, say The Nineties. Well, that's not long ago enough to make for a period film, is it? This apparently means it's okay for Alice to listen to Miley Cyrus on an iPod and for Bob (or more likely, someone in the background) to drive around in a 2006 Honda Accord. After all, it's practically The Present Day, right?
This trope is when, while making a story set during the recent past, the contemporary culture of the production seeps in, creating an Anachronism Stew. It varies whether this becomes more obvious or less in the ensuing years. Most period works are Anachronism Stews anyway, but it's pretty noticeable when a fad shows up in the wrong time period. Witness the Seventies fashions and hairstyles on Happy Days.
The Bellisario's Maxim can sometimes be applied with regard to location shoots and incorrect background details. Sometimes there just isn't time or money to get everything right. Still, it's fun to spot them...
Of course, much of this assumes that casual viewers will actually notice the discrepancies. There will always be someone who does, but assuming that every person watching will have an encyclopedic knowledge of every past era is a bit presumptuous. In fact, this trope probably exists precisely because authors usually make the opposite assumption.
Compare Comic Book Time.
Comic Books Edit
- Superman Birthright (2003) was supposed to be the new canonical Super-Hero Origin of the Man of Steel, who in the ongoing books has been Superman for "about ten years". It includes instant messaging and the Department of Homeland Security.
- Alpha Dog, set in 1999, features an Xbox game console, a poster for the game Men of Valor and the song "Slither" by Tech N9ne.
- The Queen, set in 1997, features a Nokia 6210 mobile phone and lots of cars that postdate the film's setting.
- United 93, set on 9/11, includes a billboard advertising the film Chicken Little, UPS' 2003 logo and a 2004 Embraer Jet.
- The 2005 version of Fun with Dick and Jane, set in 2000, includes a convenience store with a sticker on the door stating that those born before "today's date in 1983" cannot buy either alcohol or tobacco. Problem is, in pretty much all US states, the legal age for purchasing alcohol is 21, and the legal age for tobacco purchases is 18. In 2000, someone born on that date in 1983 would only be turning 17, too young to buy either product. In fairness, there are some references to the year 2000, such as a prominently placed Gore/Lieberman billboard, but that's still pretty lazy.
- Stephen King's Storm of the Century, set in 1988, nonetheless has a prominent Product Placement scene involving a late '90s Mac laptop.
- Into the Wild is another film that doesn't seem to be aware that the early '90s were any different than the present. It includes what appears to be a digital camera (used by a main character) and a delivery truck labeled "ups.com".
- The trope name is taken almost literally in 24 Hour Party People, a film set from 1976 to 1992 but where the makers seemingly made no effort to disguise outdoor location shots. The main characters drive around what is obviously Manchester circa-2001 in period costume and cars, past satellite dishes, anachronistic cars, buildings and billboards. Given the irreverent self-referential style, it was probably a deliberate decision not to get too detailed.
- In America is ostensibly set in the '80s, but in order to create a "timeless feel," the director deliberately left in anachronisms like shots of Jessica Alba's L'oreal billboard in Times Square.
- Blood Diamond, set in 1999, but features clothes and cars from 2006 or so. Also at one point a character makes a reference to how in America things are "bling bling" but in Africa it's "bling bang" even though that phrase woiuld only be popularized a year later by Lil Wayne.
- A semi-example from Lord of War. A character in 2000 refers to small arms as the "real weapons of mass destruction". The term certainly existed before the Iraq War (there is recorded use from 1937), but in the context it seems odd.
- Sid And Nancy, made in the mid-eighties, but set in the late-seventies (of course), has some rather obvious 'eighties cars, including an '80-82 Cadillac limo in 1975, and an '84-'85 Honda Civic. Strangely the latter does have correctly lettered number plates for the year ('old' P-reg in British car parlance).
- Behind Enemy Lines is at the end of the Bosnian War, which was in late 1995. However early in the film there was a reference to wanting to be with Britney Spears, who had not yet risen to prominence at the time, and a character yells out "WILSON!" when a football flies off an aircraft carrier deck, a reference to Castaway which also had not yet been released.
- The Hurt Locker was made in 2009, but set in 2004. The movie features, among other things:
- No Country for Old Men set in 1980 contains many instances of modern day brand names and logos appearing, such as a of a Carl's Jr. in El Paso. Carl's Jr. had not expanded to El Paso in 1980. But the most notable anachronism in it would be the fact that many car alarms are heard going off after a car explodes. Car alarms of the type were not prevalent until the mid 80s.
- Perhaps a case of The Coconut Effect at work, such an explosion not setting off car alarms in a film would seem very odd.
- Plus, there are several firearms used in the film that would not be developed for another few years.
- Drew Barrymore's character in The Wedding Singer was one of the few in that movie without stereotypical Eighties Hair, makeup, or clothing. This was likely done to be less a target of audience ridicule than the other characters, though ironically her 'Nineties hair' has itself since become sufficiently dated that modern audiences may not notice the discrepancy.
- The Day of the Jackal, released in 1973, but set in France in 1963, has many location shots of early-70s Paris, and scenes with several French cars that are a few years too early, such as the 1965 Renault 16, restyled 1967 Citroen DS, and 1969 Peugeot 504, as well as an SNCF locomotive that was introduced in 1969.
- The Squid And The Whale is set in 1986 but contains a shot of an ambulance with a 9/11 memorial on the back, a poster for WWE wrestler Hurricane who only debuted in 2001, and many cars that post-date the setting.
- Also in what's not quite an anachronism but kind of odd is when the father discusses what movie to see with his son and his girlfriend, with the son suggesting Short Circuit but the father saying "Blue Velvet is supposed to be interesting." which is what they go to. Both films were released in 1986, but Short Circuit was several months earlier and was out on video by the time Blue Velvet hit theaters. This is akin to characters in a movie in 2008 discussing whether to see Cloverfield or The Dark Knight or in 2009 discussing whether to see The Hangover or Avatar.
- As for the present, you could decide between a first-run theater or a discount theater, which would be playing the less recent fare.
- The subway trip depicted in the film is also anachronistic. In 1986, the trains would have been covered in graffiti, and the service depicted didn't exist until 2004.
- Whit Stillman's Metropolitan is meant to be set circa-1974, but the hairstyles of the characters, clothing, cars, and background music are clearly of an era no earlier than 1989. Stillman said he wanted to do the film as a period piece, but couldn't.
- The Roaring Twenties starring James Cagney came out in the late 30s. They didn't even try. Literally, it was a conscious decision not to recreate the actual look of the actual 20s. No 20s fashion, no 20s hairdos, just a little Prohibition and The Great Depression, that's it.
- Milk has a bit of an inversion, the film is mostly set in 1978 and includes a scene at a baptism at a Catholic church where all the women are wearing some type of ceremonial headcovering. While this used to be common place for women in a Catholic church, this practice largely went away in the early 70s and is unlikely to have been the case at this event in 1978.
- The Social Network takes place in late 2003 and 2004, yet many of the visible laptops clearly are from the modern day. Somewhat ironically in a bit of an inversion they mostly appear to be Windows 98, even though XP had been out for several years at that time and would no doubt be more standard among such a tech-savvy crowd.
- On the DVD commentary for The Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola points out two longhaired hippie-looking men in the background inside the hotel when Michael arrives in Las Vegas in what's supposed to be the early Fifties.
- Dumb And Dumberer is a prequel set in 1987, with Lloyd Christmas dancing and rapping Vanilla Ice's Ice Ice Baby track which was released in 1989, two years later!
- The Chinese Connection (a.k.a. Fist of Fury) is set some time in the early twentieth century (1908 or the 1930s, depending on who you ask), but makes no effort to disguise background occurrences of 1970s clothes and cars. This may have been because of budget limitations.
- Callas Forever is about the end of Maria Callas' life in 1977. Yet, we get to see a Renault Vel Satis. That car was launched in 2002.
- The original verison of Sybill.
- The movie Megan is Missing is set in 2007, but features technology more common now: most glaring is that the characters have video chats on their phones. While smartphones with this feature did exist in 2007, it seems unlikely that the characters would have such a phone at 13/14 years old at that time. It was probably done for ease of storytelling, and possibly slightly justified as the characters are mentioned as living in a relatively wealthy area of California.
- The film adaptation of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close joins the tradition of 9/11 movies forgetting they're supposed to be period pieces, with several too-new cars (a 2008 Ford Escape is prominent) and cabs displaying the new-in-2007 NYC taxi graphics package noticeable in the trailer. Meanwhile, the protagonist's dad films him on super 8 rather than a then-standard VHS-C camcorder.
- Sucker Punch is ostensibly set in the 1960's. In an early scene, an asylum guard is seen wearing white iPod headphones. Disregarding the fantasy stuff that falls under Rule of Cool, some of the weaponry just wouldn't have been around in the 60's.
- Although considering the Mind Screw nature of the film, this is probably deliberate. Or it might not be the 60s after all, it's never outright stated.
- The Big Lebowski was made in 1999 but takes place in 1990, mainly so there can be meaningless allusions to the Gulf War like the Dude saying "This aggression will not stand" and having a dream with Saddam Hussein as a bowling alley attendant. There's a possible flaw in this; there's a scene where Jesus Quintana, a registered sex offender, has to identify himself to his neighbors as such. While California did have a sex offender registration at the time, notifying the public of local sex offenders wasn't made a big deal until the passage of various forms of Megan's Law in 1994 onward.
- In the Harry Potter books, the internal chronology dates the events of Harry's time at Hogwarts to the 1990s. The only notable anachronism in the books is a mention of Dudley owning a Play Station in what should be August, 1994, when the system was not yet available. The films, on the other hand, clearly reflect their 2000s production years, although it's not clear whether they're set in the same time frame. For example, the sixth movie features the destruction of London's Millennium Bridge, which shouldn't exist yet it being, you know, before the millennium.
- The fifth movie, when Harry is taking Dudley home, clearly shows the car numberplate "MA 06 KBH" in the background, and the "06" means it's part of the February 2006 issue ("56" would have meant August 2006). A little later, flying to his trial at the Ministry of Magic, Harry passes a completed Canary Wharf development (in the book's year of 1995, even 1 Canada Square (the skyscraper with the pyramidal roof) hadn't been built yet) and the London Eye (not erected until autumn 1999). Oyster Cards (2003) also featured briefly. According to which fans you believe, these are either glaring anachronisms which detract from the film, or evidence that the film has been updated to our time.
- The movies are also filled with noughties fashion- what the characters wear when dressed as Muggles - it's not glaring, and hard to describe, but an obvious example would be the wide-horizontal-stripes jumpers (a bit like this) that Hermione and Ron kept wearing in the sixth one - hot at the time of filming, not really around in the nineties.
- The main issue with these inconsistencies is Voldermort's father's grave in The Goblet of Fire has a death date of 1944, which is in line with the book canon; Voldemort killed Riddle Sr. "50 years ago [before 1994]".
- This is taken to incredibly ridiculous levels in fanfiction. Now, moving the action forward a bit so that Harry starts Hogwarts around the same year the writer turned eleven is one thing; it's not as if any of the books explicitly specify a date, and in any case there must be some fanfiction writers whose parents aren't much younger than Harry would be by now, so wanting to Write What You Know as far as pop culture references are concerned isn't going to break Willing Suspension of Disbelief all by itself. But fics set in the Marauders' era (canonically the 1970s) seeming to take place in The Present Day so as to accommodate Author Appeal, on the other hand, is significantly less forgiveable. Even ignoring the timeline, you'd think that anyone would realize that a movie which came out last year couldn't possibly have been around when Harry's parents were at school... you'd think...
- Charles Dickens' The Pickwick Papers was set in 1827-28, but was written in 1836-37. Dickens seemed to forget this at times. (At one point Mr. Jingle mentions he has written an epic poem about the July Revolution in France; in the next edition of the novel Dickens added a footnote to the effect that Jingle must be a prophet, since the Revolution happened in 1830.)
- The novel Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey was published in 1949, and mentions British characters going on holiday to France eight years earlier -- which, if the novel is also set in 1949, would be very bad timing. This is part of what inspired Jo Walton to create her Small Change Alternate Universe where World War II went differently.
- Silvia Avallone in his best-selling (in Italy at least) debut novel Acciaio ("Steel" - about two girls growing up in a decaying industrial town) does this constantly, forgetting that the events take place in 2001, and the book is thick with annoying anachronisms (which could have been averted with some simple internet checks) like the presence of Porsche Cayenne (distributed only since 2003), a famous (real) steel company that was not sold to Russian investors till 2004 and many others.
- As pointed out by Kim Newman in the afterword to Anno Dracula, Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897) is an Epistolary Novel set seven years before Harker's coda ("Seven years ago, we all went through the flames"), and yet uses 1890s terms like "New Woman", and has a somewhat anachronistic phonograph (they existed, but weren't common, and most still used tinfoil cylinders rather than wax).
Live Action TV Edit
- Happy Days is a borderline case. It never quite forgot that it was set in The Fifties, (and had made it into the early Sixties by the end) but they got really lazy about not letting The Seventies seep in.
- Ditto its spinoff, Laverne and Shirley.
- M*A*S*H is also borderline example. The show contained frequent references to popular culture that didn't exist until after The Korean War. Also, Eternal Sexual Freedom, anti-war and post-women's-lib attitudes, which would have been quite out of place in the early 1950s, were portrayed as commonplace. This may have been intentional, as the show was a fairly Anvilicious commentary on the Vietnam War, which was still ongoing when the series began. Some examples include one of the pinball machines, some pictures of too-modern Hueys, and a 1969 issue of The Avengers.
- Additionally, haircuts that were in style in the 1970s and 1980s appear in the show, but these haircuts were not what the characters would have worn, or by anyone in the Army at any point in the twentieth century.
- Not to mention the constant use of trucks from the 1954 model year.
- Given the series (and preceeding film) were taken from a book by a real army surgeon who served in Korea and based it on his own experiences, the rampant womanizing of the main characters can be assumed to be fairly realistic.
- Additionally, haircuts that were in style in the 1970s and 1980s appear in the show, but these haircuts were not what the characters would have worn, or by anyone in the Army at any point in the twentieth century.
- Jeeves and Wooster takes place in a Genteel Interbellum Setting as it is, but the episodes where Bertie vacations in New York have a particularly jarring example; the World Trade Center being clearly visible in establishing shots of the city.
- Oliver Beene was nominally set in The Sixties, but characters had attitudes and fashions more at place in the 2000s.
- Averted by Lost where for the characters (though not for us), it's just been three or four months. The producers have thrown in some pretty detailed "then" references.
- Which made it interesting when Jack pulled out a present-day looking phone in what was purportedly a flashback, meaning that it was set sometime before 2004. Subverted there when the viewer discovers that it is in fact a flashforward set in 2007.
- Averted in The Sarah Connor Chronicles, where the characters travel through time from 1999 to 2007, and are amazed at technological advances and mentions of "9/11".
- In the Wild Teen Party episode of Freaks and Geeks (set in 1980, filmed in 1999), several of the male extras have obvious '90s bowl haircuts.
- In the DVD extras, Judd Apatow recalls having told the main character actors; "You got the part- don't cut your hair".
- The school bus scenes in The Wonder Years. Look out the bus windows and play "Spot The Eighties Car".
- A fairly common trope in the reconstruction scenes in true crime documentary shows (lower budget admittedly), especially with obviously out of place cars. In line with the trope the authenticity of the vehicles, and police cars especially, will usually be related to how far back in time the scene shows, and how many major styling eras it passes.
- In Quantum Leap, Sam leaped all around the timeline of his own life. At times, he would end up in New York in a time before the World Trade Center was built, but in any establishing shots of the city, the towers would be there. Also, in the pilot episode, he's supposed to be in the 50's, but a modern vehicle can be seen in the background.
- Done on purpose in one episode of Get Smart. The Unseen baddie of the week had used a de-aging ray on some scientists, reverting their brains to when they were children. One scientist talks about watching Captain Kangaroo, but that show wasn't on when the scientist in question was a child, proving that she's not really under the effects of the ray and that she's the bad guy.
- Nicely averted on Treme, where YouTube is treated as a novel, revolutionary innovation. The rapid progress of technology helps remind the viewer that while 2005 is close to the present day, time has marched on a little.
- The 1999 TV movie Michael Jordan: An American Hero shows its title character wearing current (for the time) Air Jordans in scenes that were meant to take place a decade earlier.
- Upstairs, Downstairs often uses patterns and colours in the clothing and sets that belong more in the late 60's and early 70's than Edwardian England. Particularly obvious examples appear in some of Lady Marjorie's dresses in the first season.
- The '50s-set BBC series The Hour has beautifully researched clothing, but the younger women's hairstyles aren't authentically 50s, presumably because 50s-style perms look rather like 80s hair. Mrs Madden's gorgeous New Look outfits are also not quite contemporary with the other women's outfits.
Video Games Edit
- Shenmue, set in 1986, lets the character win Hang-On and Space Harrier games that can be used on the character's Sega Saturn, a system which did not exist in 1986. Almost certainly intentional, though; Shenmue comes from Sega, who would know when their own games came out, and since home systems in 1986 couldn't do arcade-perfect ports of them (the arcade versions of both came out in 1985), it would have had to be done anachronistically (though it must be noted that these games' ports were two of the most important titles for the Sega Master System in 1986).
- Similarly, there is the range of Sega-themed toys available from the gashapon (capsule toy) machines, again most certainly intentional.
- Ryo's watch is explicitly a Timex Indiglo, not available until 1992 at the earliest. The model of Timex Expedition (Timex T 433914 E), on which the design of Ryo's watch is based, was not released until 1998.
- Higurashi no Naku Koro ni is set in 1983, but nothing except the dates of past events really agrees with that. The most blatant example is a reference to the Cardcaptor Sakura anime in the game version of Watanagashi, which didn't premiere until 1998.
- Anime-wise, there's a reference to Maria-sama Ga Miteru, and in Watangashi in most medias, the doll tends to resemble a Rozen Maiden.
- The spiritual sequel, Umineko no Naku Koro ni is, if anything, worse. Not only do they reference Cardcaptor Sakura again, people cosplay as Touhou characters, and some of the characters have even played Higurashi or watched it on a flatscreen TV in the anime.
- The Sims 3 takes place two generations before The Sims 2, but is still the modern day, even more-so than The Sims 2 was.
- This is especially odd because The Sims 1, which takes place in between the two games, has a distinct 1970s aesthetic (and still with then-modern technology).
- The Sims 3 seems to be trying to go for the World War 2 era feel, however everything is distinctly late 2000s. Considering the world is set in a Fantasy Counterpart Culture, we can let it mostly slide.
- In Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker, set in 1974, there is an MP 3 player. We also hear a pop song in the game, sung by one of the characters, which is a modern jpop production complete with digital synthesisers and Auto-Tune.
Web Original Edit
- On one occasion in Survival of the Fittest a character directly quoted the Dark Knight. The problem with this? SOTF v3 is set in 2007, a year before the film even came out.