13 totally excellent time-travel movies
We're so enamored with this go-to plot device and all the films — some wonderful, some painful — that resulted. Jump in and take a ride back in time.
Thu, Dec 05, 2013 at 04:10 PM
This one’s for all you TARDIS-obsessed readers who spend an exorbitant of time pondering the lyrics to a certain 1989 hit single from Cher. (Seriously, try turning back time yourself to revisit that infamous music video that made even the most hardened MTV executives blush.) You know who you are.
Despite the inconvenience of our own local portal being out of order and would-be time traveler Richard Branson not returning our calls, we’ve managed to wrangle up few notable time travel-themed films across a range of genres including science fiction, a romantic comedy and a harrowing thriller involving a unstoppable killing machine from the future. Some of our choices are obvious and some are a touch more obscure. And following our top picks we’ve provided a supplementary list just to cover all of our time-traveling bases. So queue up the Huey Lewis and the News (or Cher) and get travelin’ with our most excellent list.
“12 Monkeys” (1995): “The future is history.”
While director Terry Gilliam has done time travel before in 1985’s fantastic, family-friendly “Time Bandits,” this is an ultimately more depressing vision of decade-jumping that concerns surly convict James Cole (Bruce Willis) who is accidentally transported from the year 2035 to 1990 instead of an intended 1996 (whoops!) by scientists who have recruited him to learn more about the origin of a deadly virus that, in 1996, ravages the Earth and kills off most of the human population in the process. Although Cole is eventually transported to the correct year, he spends some quality time locked up in a mental institution where he meets a twitchy, bug-eyed animal rights activist played by an Oscar-nominated Brad Pitt.
“Army of Darkness” (1992): “In an age of darkness. At a time of evil. When the world needed a hero. What it got was him.”
The gleefully ridiculous third installment in Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” franchise finds chainsaw- and “boomstick”-wielding antihero Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) unwillingly zapped back to the year 1300 A.D. where he continues to do what he does best: produce killer one-line zingers (“Gimme some sugar, baby”) and slaughter legions of the undead.
“About Time” (2013): “A new funny film about love. With a bit of time travel.”
This recent, “reassuringly bland” addition to the stable of decades-hopping rom-coms (see also: “Kate & Leopold,” “Click,” “13 Going on 30” etc.) was helmed by the British overlord of Hugh Grant-starring feel-good weepers, writer/director/producer Richard Curtis (“Love Actually,” “Notting Hill”), and co-stars Canadian actress Rachel McAdams in her third film in which she plays a woman romantically entangled with a time-traveling fella (the other two being “The Time Traveler’s Wife” and “Midnight in Paris.”) Really, this must be some sort of record. McAdams, however, appears to be itching for a piece of the time-travel action: “It's pretty unfair. I've now done three films with time travel in them and I've not gotten to time travel once, so I'm kind of bitter about that.”
“Back to the Future” (1985): “17-year-old Marty McFly got home early last night. 30 years early.”
Little explanation is needed for granddaddy of science fiction-oriented 1980s teen comedies (see also: "Weird Science," "Real Genius" and the similarly time travel-themed “My Science Project”) that explores the extreme awkwardness that comes along with being hit on by your own mother, in her teenage years, after being transported in a pimped-out DeLorean back to 1955.
“Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” (1989): “History is about to be rewritten by two guys who can’t spell.”
You know the story: Two completely idiotic, totally righteous dudes (one clad in a belly shirt and the other in a black vest and high tops) from San Dimas, Calif., score some serious extra credit in their high school history class — and avoid being sent to military academy — by hanging out (via a phone booth-cum-time machine in a Circle K parking lot) with some most excellent historical figures including Napoleon, Socrates, Abraham Lincoln, Joan of Arc, Genghis Khan and Sigmund Freud.
“Donnie Darko” (2001): “What would you do if you knew the future?”
The time-travel genre is treated with a heaping dose of teen angst in Richard Kelly’s moody, menacing and much-adored cult classic starring Jake Gyllenhaal as the titular troubled — and schizophrenic? — high school student along with Drew Barrymore, Jena Malone, and Patrick Swayze as a sleazeball motivational speaker. Come for the wormholes, arson, killer '80s music and metaphysical chitchat. Stay for the Sparkle Motion.
“The Final Countdown” (1980): “Trapped outside the boundaries of time and space ... 102 aircraft ... 6,000 men ... all missing.”
Really, it’s hard enough work as it is serving aboard a nuclear aircraft carrier without the massive inconvenience of being transported back 40 years, via a crazy vortex in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, to Dec. 6, 1941, the day before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The plot of this Kirk Douglas-starring sci-fi flick was reversed — two very confused Navy sailors in the 1940s are zipped via vortex to 1984 — four years later in the inferior but still entertaining “The Philadelphia Experiment.”
“Peggy Sue Got Married” (1986): “She awoke in the past with a chance to rebuild her future.”
If there’s one thing that could be gleaned from this Francis Ford Coppola-directed drama aside from the fact that Kathleen Turner doesn’t make for a very convincing high school student, it is this: Sometimes time travel can be more effective — and cheaper — than couples therapy.
“Primer” (2004): “What happens if it actually works?”
Engineer-turned-filmmaker Shane Carruth’s mega-confusing/complicated/cryptic indie hit is filled with enough scientific jargon to make Bill and Ted’s eyes glaze over in less than a minute and has been described as "'Mulholland Drive' for math geeks." It also proves that you don’t need recognizable actors, a sizable budget or special effects to make a critically adored time travel flick: The film won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival.
“Scrooged” (1988): “The spirits will move you in odd and hysterical ways.”
This modernization of Charles Dickens’ classic proto-time travel yarn “A Christmas Carol” stars Bill Murray — in full-on Bill Murray mode — as Frank Cross, the world’s most despicable, no-good TV exec who eventually grows a heart only after suffering the trauma of being zipped forward and backward through time by three very spirited — and at times physically abusive — specters. And because this is 1980s, Bobcat Goldthwait plays the Bob Cratchit role. While we’re on the topic of Murray, we should probably point out that we’ve excluded “Groundhog Day” from this list on purpose ... isn’t the point that Phil Connors is stuck in a time loop, not traveling through it?
“Sleeper” (1973): “A love story about two people who hate each other, 200 years in the future.”
Before he dabbled with true time travel in “Midnight in Paris,” director Woody Allen tackled the topic in this zany, zinger-filled early-'70s box office hit that comes complete with one of the most ridiculous banana peel scenes in the history of cinema. While some may not consider this slapstick-heavy work of sci-fi comedy as being a time-travel film as it involves cryogenics (Allen’s nebbishy health food store owner wakes up 200 years in the future but doesn’t leap through time to get there) instead of vortexes, time machines, traumatic head-bumping and the like, we still consider it part of the genre.
“The Terminator” (1984): “Your future is in his hands.”
Before notoriously difficult walnut farmer/undersea explorer James Cameron went completely off the rails and before Arnold Schwarzenegger embraced his gubernatorial side came this truly scary sci-fi thriller about a near-mute, proto-Google Glass-wearing cyborg assassin sent from the year 2029 to ruthlessly hunt down and kill an L.A. waitress who, unbeknownst to her, will eventually give birth to a son who will lead mankind in a fiery battle against our robot overlords. And when the Terminator muttered the immortal words “I’ll be back,” he meant it. The film gave way to three sequels, a popular TV series, comic books and numerous video games. In 2015, the franchise will be rebooted with a new “Terminator” film starring Schwarzenegger.
“The Time Machine” (1960): “You Will Orbit into the Fantastic Future!”
One word: Morlocks.
12 more notable time-travel movies:
“A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” (1949)
“The Butterfly Effect” (2004)
“Flight of the Navigator” (1986)
“Hot Tub Time Machine” (2010)
“The Jacket” (2005)
“Planet of the Apes” (1968)
“Safety Not Guaranteed” (2012)
“Somewhere in Time” (1980)
“Time After Time” (1979)
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