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Imagine waking up on a plane and discovering that it, along with some of its passengers, had traveled... somewhere else. A place with no other people, no other living things, a place where sounds are dulled, there are no odors, nothing seems to work, and even time seems to be winding down. And you don't know if you'll be able to get home. Welcome to the past. The cleanup crew will be here soon. Pray you aren't here when they arrive...

The Langoliers is a novella by Stephen King, published in the anthology Four Past Midnight in 1990. It tells the tale of a handful of passengers on a cross-country redeye flight who wake to discover that the flight crew and most of their fellow passengers have vanished. They are unable to contact ground control, and they see only darkness below them. After making an emergency landing in Bangor, they soon discover the chilling truth, and must find a way to escape the approaching sounds that may spell their doom while dealing with one of their fellow passengers, who is having a psychotic breakdown.

The novella was adapted into a two-part TV movie in 1995, starring Kate Maberly, Kimber Riddle, Patricia Wettig, Mark Lindsay Chapman, Frankie Faison, Baxter Harris, Dean Stockwell, David Morse, Christopher Collet and Bronson Pinchot.

Tropes used in The Langoliers include:
  • Asshole Victim: The only reason Toomy's allowed to live until the end (at Dina's request, whom he had fatally wounded after she tried to help him): so he can be Langolier-bait and save the rest from being devoured and they can escape.
    • Rather darkly, the novella implies that not only is this the only reason he survived that long, it's the only reason he ever existed in the first place.
  • The Atoner: Nick.
  • The "B" Grade: Part of Toomy's Freudian Excuse for flipping out over not landing in Boston as planned is the relentless pressure to succeed that shaped his childhood. In a flashback, we see his father roaring at him about his grade: "'B'! 'B' IS FOR BUM! DO YOU WANT TO SWEEP THE STREETS?"
  • Black Dude Dies First: In the TV movie, the sole black man in the group of survivors dies first. His race was not mentioned in the novella. However, he wears a Red Shirt.
  • Blind Seer: Dinah, who was on her way to have surgery to correct her blindness, is the first to hear Something Horrible approaching, and also uses psychic powers to divert a psychotic passenger into their path.
  • Blood From the Mouth: Dinah, after Toomy stabs her in the chest with a butcher knife. Justified in that the knife has punctured her lung, at least in the book.
  • Clock Roaches: The titular Langoliers, whose job is to tidy things up.

 [Bob is watching the Langoliers eat up the entire airport]

Bob Jenkins: Now we know, don't we?

Laurel Stevenson: Know what? We know what?

Bob Jenkins: We know what happens to today when it becomes yesterday. It waits for them. It waits for them, the timekeepers of eternity. Always following them behind, cleaning up the mess in the most efficient way possible: by eating it!

  • Conspicuous CGI: The Langoliers in the miniseries rather starkly contrast with everything else around them once they finally show up. Additionally, nearly all shots of the plane are also CGI.
  • Creator Cameo: Stephen King plays the director of the board meeting Toomy was supposed to attend, in a hallucination toward the end.
  • Death Equals Redemption: Craig Toomy, whose death is what saves everyone else.
  • Disability Superpower: Dinah is able to hear the approaching Langoliers before anyone else does, leading to Not Now, Kiddo, below. She is also able to psychically "see" through the eyes of others, and use a sort of blind-sense to be aware of the presence or absence of others around her.
  • Eldritch Location: The Airport in Maine.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Langoliers. The Happy Fun Timey Wimey Balls they see are just A Form You Are Comfortable With.
  • Empty Piles of Clothing: A strange version: the disappeared passengers from the plane leave behind watches, glasses, jewels, even surgical pins - but not clothes. Bob Jenkins lampshades this, saying: "What was taken and what was left behind [...] doesn't seem to have a lot of rhyme or reason to it."
  • Extreme Omnivore: The Langoliers eat the past. Can't get much more extreme than that. In the process they also eat a hillside, an airport, a runway, and Bronson Pinchot.
  • Freudian Excuse: Toomy's childhood. As mentioned, his father was cruel and demanding. After he died, things didn't get better, because Toomy's mother was an alcoholic, who, for example, on his tenth birthday put a kitchen match between two of his toes and lit it while singing "Happy Birthday to You". She considered this good fun.
  • Ham-to-Ham Combat: The scene between Toomy and the hallucination of his father in the movie.
  • Hate Sink: Pretty much the point of Toomy; without him, we wouldn't really have an antagonist.
  • Hey, It's That Guy!: A cast with Bronson Pinchot, David Morse, and Dean Stockwell will tend to elicit this reaction.
  • I Have No Son: Before Nick sacrifices his life he asks Laurel to find his father, and tell him that he tried his best to atone for the things he did. He says that she has to be persistent, because his father "tends to turn away and curse loudly when he hears my name. The old I-have-no-son bit."
  • Improbable Weapon User: Albert with a toaster in a tablecloth.
  • Improvised Weapon: Round 1: Cased violin. Round 2: Toaster in a tablecloth. Albert: 2, plus several thousand for style; Toomy: 0, minus several billion for getting eaten afterwards.
    • Nick briefly considers using ordinary coins as a makeshift set of brass knuckles.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted with Dinah.
  • Inferred Holocaust: No one ever seems to make a big deal out of the fact that 90% of the people on the plane were apparently vaporized at the beginning of the story. Justifiable, considering that there are bigger issues to deal with.
  • In the Doldrums: The world between seconds where the survivors end up.
  • In Which a Trope Is Described
  • It Can Think: The Langoliers actively tear up the runway to try and slow down the escaping plane. They also seem to take sadistic joy in watching Toomy beg for his life before they eat him.
  • Just One Second Out of Sync: Inverted here, as the characters find themselves an unknown amount of time in the relative past, in a "used-up" version of the world.
  • Kill the Cutie: Poor Dinah.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Craig Toomy, who has possibly the funniest last thought ever, under the circumstances:

 How can their little legs be fast? They don't have any le

  • Large Ham: Toomy is one of the most enjoyable characters in the film because of it, while his facials look like they're doing an Ernest P. Worrell impression.
    • The same character's voice seemingly breaking mid-line - "Scaring the little giiIIIiirl?! LADY!"
  • Locked Room Mystery: Bob Jenkins initially treats the disappearance of their fellow passengers as this.
  • More Teeth Than the Osmond Family: The Langoliers are almost entirely mouth, with three rows of teeth in their three jaws. In the movie, these rows also spin in alternative directions, giving them the appearance of hungry excavation drills or evil Pac-Man clones.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Bob Jenkins, who probably has enough material for a lifetime of scary stories afterwards.
  • Mr. Exposition: Bob Jenkins. This isn't the first time his actor has played Mr. Exposition, either.
  • Never Trust a Title: The name of the story implies that the monsters which appear in the story are themselves langoliers, whereas in fact they just have some parallels with the made-up boogeymen of Craig Toomy's childhood and neither their appearance nor their purpose matches.
  • Noodle Incident: A dramatic example. Nick asks Laurel to find his father, and tell him that he tried his best "to atone for the day behind the church in Belfast" and his father has to listen because of the time he brought the daisies. We find out what Nick did behind the church - he accidentally shot three boys, mistaking them for terrorists - but it's not revealed what was with the daisies.
  • Not Now, Kiddo: Subverted. Dinah hears the langoliers coming before everybody else, but she thinks that grownups don't believe children, especially blind girls. However, they believe her pretty fast.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: A few examples:
    • Before the plane even passes through the heavy cloud cover obscuring the world below, several characters indicate very strongly that they're terrified of what might be below.
      • When they wake up at first in the middle of the night, there are no clouds below them, thus allowing them to see the dark, lifeless landscape below.
    • What the hell is making that weird crunching noise over the horizon?!
    • That horrible, eye-watering, soul-sucking void left behind after the Langoliers eat the past.
  • Now Do It Again Backwards: The survivors determine that they must fly back though the time rip to get home. But there's a problem...
  • Ontological Mystery: Finding out where you are is a bit hard when you aren't anywhere. Particularly present in the novella, where most of the story is spent puzzling out the existential mystery of the past.
  • Playing Against Type: Before this movie, Bronson Pinchot was known for playing quirky comedic characters. Then he played the psychotic Craig Toomy...though in a quirky comedic way.
  • Rant-Inducing Slight: Toomy couldn't care less about almost everyone (including the pilots) vanishing or them being trapped in a dead dimension, but if you dare suggest he's going to be late for his meeting in Boston he will flip out on you like you wouldn't believe.
  • Recycled in Space: This miniseries is essentially "The Odyssey of Flight 33" under a Stephen King filter (which emphasises the Timey-Wimey Ball nature of the whole ordeal).
  • Red Herring: The guy with the black beard. Eleven people survive the trip. One spends the the entire book sleeping in the back of the plane. He wakes up, briefly, and then goes back to sleep. You keep expecting him to do something, but no, that's it.
    • His purpose is to remind Bob Jenkins that they must be asleep to survive the trip back through the time rip. (Rudy Warwick covers this role in the TV adaption, as he retreats to the coach section to sleep while everyone else is in First Class.)
  • Sanity Slippage: Discovering you've lost everything, when you've been made obsessed with success, and are going to Boston to explain this to your superiors, only to wind up trapped in a past being eaten by monsters, does this to a person.
  • Serious Business: "I have a meeting in Boston at NINE O'CLOCK!" This is so important to Toomy that he snaps and is willing to try to kill several passengers to make his meeting on time.
  • Shoot Him! He Has a Wallet!: Nick once shot three boys three boys behind a church in Belfast, because they had been throwing potatoes painted dark gray to look like grenades.
  • Shout-Out: In the novella, Bob Jenkins mentions the Shop (a mysterious organization also connected with the events of Firestarter) as a potential cause of their Ontological Mystery.
  • Slept Through the Apocalypse: The guy with the black beard.
  • Someone Has to Die: Good news: They should be able to escape by flying back through the time rip. Bad news: If they're awake when they go through, they'll vanish - and after seeing the past get eaten by Clock Roaches, none of them are particularly inclined towards sleep. Good news: If they lower the cabin pressure, they'll all fall unconscious and make it through unharmed. Bad news: Someone has to stay awake to restore the cabin pressure so they'll wake up on the other side.
  • Talk To The Vulcan Nose Hold: Nick really doesn't have time to listen to Toomy yammering on about how important his meeting is and how much he forbids the plane to make any sort of unscheduled stop at all. No, not even if most of the people on the plane including the flight crew have mysteriously vanished.
  • Things That Go Bump in the Night: The Langoliers started off as a childhood boogeyman that Toomy's dad menaced him with, a hobgoblin that ate up lazy children. Adult Toomy makes the natural conclusion when the local Clock Roaches show up...
  • Time and Relative Dimensions In Space: The "nowhere at all" variant, as the passengers end up in a "used up" past.
  • Time Stands Still: See Above.
  • Timey-Wimey Ball: Admittedly, up until the Langoliers show up, this story had an interesting take on time travel.
  • Tragic Villain: Toomy, oh so very much.
  • Waif Prophet: Dinah.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Toomy. Again. (Yes, he is both The "B" Grade and the "Well Done, Son" Guy. Scary, isn't it?)
  • Worst Aid: Dinah is stabbed in the chest with a butcher knife. Then they pull it out.[1]
  • Yeah! Shot: The end of the TV movie.
    • The novella ended with a literary version.


  1. As indicated on the trope page, leaving the knife in, contrary to public belief, would have kept most of the blood in. Given the nature of her injuries, though, that wouldn't have necessarily have saved her life, but it would have at least made it more likely she would have survived.
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