The first nonlinear stories written were the “Iliad” from the 8th century BC and the “Mahabharata” in 5th century BC.The “Mahabharata” is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India. It is actually a poem just like the “Iliad” is. The “Iliad” tells the story of the last few weeks in the final year of the Trojan war. These two poems have a common nonlinear narrative between them, which is called “into mid-affairs”: This story either begins in the middle or in its conclusion.
So, the idea is not new and has been used for a very long time, but of course the majority of books, movies or any other form of story-telling have been written in a linear way. In the 19th and 20th centuries few novelists, such as Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner, or Marcel Proust, used nonlinear narratives in their books.
Besides “Citizen Kane” by Orson Welles published in 1941, it was only after the Second World War that the nonlinear storytelling became known to a broader audience, mainly through cinema. There was Stanley Kubrick’s “The Killing” from 1956, but the 60ies really were the next step. “La Dolce Vita” by Federico Fellini and “Breathless” by Jean-Luc Godard set the start for a relatively packed decade. No greater developments were made in the 70’s and the 80’s.
Finally, the 90’s was the decade in which the nonlinear narrative took the center of the stage, with a lot of financial success, winning many prestigious awards.