This is one of the posts from my Time Travel Week that I have really been looking forward to. So much so in fact that I have watched or rewatched about 12 time travel movies over the past 2 months to prepare. I still haven’t managed to watch every film I wanted to and it was so hard to choose a Top Ten that I have had to put down loads of honourable mentions which basically in essence makes it into about a Top 25. I also had to be strict about my ranking process. I basically went for the films that excited me about time travel in some way. Ones that really made me want to jump in a time machine and have some fun. And I only went for ones that had time travel as the core plot point. Therefore I was strict and didn’t include any Terminator movies in my top ten. Obviously they are based around time travel (especially the Kyle Reese paradox in the first movie) but the entire movie is more of an action movie that ensues from one time travel event, and pretty much the whole film takes place in present day.
I’ve really enjoyed watching all these films and it has increased my love of the time travel genre even more. I do also have to point out that there is a new film coming out in January that looks pretty awesome. It’s a sort of found footage (read ’shaky cam’) time travel teen movie called Project Almanac. The trailer looked pretty cool (apart from when it flashed up Michael Bay’s name). So who knows, it may make its way into my Top Ten if I redo it next year. There is also Hot Tub Time Machine 2 but we’ll have to see if they can recapture the magic of the first film.
It goes without saying that this list may contain spoilers for people who haven’t seen these films before. All images in this blog post are from IMDB.
There were lots of contenders for the no.10 spot but I (controversially perhaps) plumped for this Jean Claude van Damme ‘classic’. It’s just a bit of fun and it does have some cool elements of time travel and bumping into your former self and making money from the past etc. And for me the emotional investment of what happens to his wife at the start really does make you feel that the ability to time travel is something massively important to him. But that kitchen splits scene is totally ridiculous. Totally. Ridiculous.
9. Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel
I hadn’t heard of this one before I started researching for this blog post, but it was an extremely fun movie. It stars Chris O’Dowd from The I.T. Crowd fame. It’s got a fairly simple premise and for most of the film is filmed in one location but it’s still a surprisingly good, fun and well made movie which addresses a lot of the common tropes expected of time travel movies. I definitely recommend it for anyone who wants to watch a good fun example of this genre.
Many people have this film as their no.1 time travel movie, or at least higher up on their list, and I can totally see why. It’s totally refreshing and done on a really limited budget (hence why their time travel machine is a box and not a DeLorean). It’s also not at all in your face. It’s quite the opposite in fact. The plot is quite complicated to follow and there certainly isn’t lots of exposition to help explain it. Often the dialogue is something like, Person 1 “So, you don’t mean…”, Person 2 “Yep, I do”, Person 1 “So that totally means ‘you know what’?”, Person 2 “It sure does”, Person 1 “Woah”, Person 2 “Yep”. You’re kind of left to fill in the gaps. And there are long moments where there is no dialogue but just the scientists thinking. But again I found that refreshing and it gave it a sense of reality that you don’t normally get. You kind of felt that if someone did invent a time machine then this would be how the prototype would happen and the sort of mistakes they would make along the way. I just felt that they missed a few tricks or could have done something a bit more exciting with it. But there was no way it wasn’t going to make my list.
7. Hot Tub Time Machine
When I first heard about this film I thought it sounded ridiculous and I only actually watched it last month specifically for this blog post, but I was extremely pleasantly surprised. Firstly it is a well made comedy. It’s not just slapstick or toilet humour but it’s got cleverly crafted moments, some quite heavy emotional bits, great acting and a great script. Not to mention some awesome cameos from 80s stars. But more importantly for this blog post it got me really fired up about time travel and the idea of being in that situation of time travelling back to a party weekend when you were in high school or college. There’s not a lot of time travel science in there but it still has a great premise that really fires the time travelling cylinders.
6. Edge of Tomorrow
This is obviously a time loop film rather than a traditional time travel film. But there are so many archetypal time travel tropes at play here. He’s reliving the same day over and over and so he can learn what everyone says, learn what they do, perform ‘magic tricks’ by telling them what they will say before they say it, appear to be incredible on the battlefield just because he knows what’s coming etc. I love that video game element of these kinds of film. You play through the level learning where the bad guys and the traps are and then you die but get to try again with a new life. And not just that but I found this film to be immensely enjoyable. I thought it was great fun, laugh out loud in places and I thought Tom Cruise was absolutely fantastic in the lead role, which is not something I’ve been able to say of all his recent movies.
5. Groundhog Day
Obviously this is the film that Edge of Tomorrow takes a huge amount of inspiration from. Groundhog Day is the daddy of the time loop films. But I was actually torn as to which of the two I would rank higher. I felt I kind of got more excited and entertained in many ways by Edge of Tomorrow but after reflecting I think Groundhog Day has more heart and is more rewatchable. I love the article by Wolf Gnards which analyses how much time Bill Murray’s character must have spent in his time loop. Crazy stuff. There’s something about time loop films that I really enjoy. Maybe it’s the fact that you get the chance to really perfect that day and be the best person that you really can be, which is hard on normal days because life keeps throwing you curve balls.
4. Midnight in Paris
This Woody Allen film stars Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, Tom Hiddleston, Adrian Brody, Kathy Bates and others. I really didn’t think I would rate this one as highly as I have. Again I only heard of this one after I did some research for this blog post. And it’s a very different kind of time travel movie. It’s more of a magical one rather than a mad scientist one. But what I really liked about it was the excitement of the main character who gets to back to a specific time in history that truly inspires him and gives him what is missing in his life. It totally evokes the excitement that time travel to the past should bring out in someone who has any sense of history or romance. It also tries to touch on points such as too much nostalgia sometimes being a bad thing and that the grass is always greener and sometimes you should just make the most of the time that you are in right now. A very touching and well made movie that brings the magic back into time travel.
3. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
A true classic. This is obviously a comedy but it’s also one with a lot of heart, a smattering of pseudo-education and a lot of fun time travelling cliches in it. It’s got all the fun plot games including things like Bill & Ted meeting their future selves and playing the “What number am I thinking of?” game and also the classic scene where they cleverly plant keys for themselves to find, which I mentioned in my blog post on Wednesday about Time Travel Cliches and Tropes. But it’s just great how they use the time machine to help them with their history report by going back and essentially kidnapping some of the key figures in history. This is the sort of thing you would do if you had a time machine. Not the kidnapping part, but who wouldn’t want to go back and meet people like Socrates and Abraham Lincoln. It’s an incredibly fun journey through time and one that I can easily watch time and time again.
2. About Time
This one intrigued me ever since I first heard about it and I hoped that I would really like it. I wasn’t disappointed. I’m sure it’s not for everyone but if you like Richard Curtis (maker of Four Weddings, Notting Hill and Love Actually) then it could be up your street. It’s got all your normal heart warming Richard Curtis moments and great British acting but it also has some pretty hard hitting plot points due to the particular time travel rules it applies to itself. It’s about a young man who has a genetic ability to time travel, so it’s quite different from all the other films on this list. It’s not time travel on a grand scale, it’s more like time travel on a small intimate level in one person’s life, but I felt that it really did make you think about what it would be like to have an ability like that and what highs and lows that ability might bring. I definitely recommend watching it if you haven’t already.
1. Back to the Future
I don’t think there was ever any doubt as to what my no.1 would be. I did think before I saw them that Primer and About Time might contest it but only About Time came close in the end. And when I say Back to the Future here it can kind of refer to the whole trilogy just so that I don’t have to try to place the two sequels into the Top Ten too but I actually really mean the first film and if there were no sequels then the first film would definitely still be no.1. It just has a great script, fantastic plot, incredible actors, an amazing score and the whole vibe of it is just so perfect. Even without the immense nostalgia I associate with it I think it still massively holds up today. I really enjoyed my Back to the Future Secret Cinema experience earlier this year too which made that viewing of it even more immersive. It truly is a modern day classic and the first thing that people think of when you mention Time Travel. It’s burned into our psyche and I for one had no hesitation at all in making it my no.1 time travel movie.
There really were so many good films in this genre and it was very hard to pick the Top Ten so here are the ones which nearly made it in.
Deja Vu – This was very close to being in my list. Very good film and looks on time travel in a slightly unique way. Got some interesting paradox things happening in there too.
The Time Machine (1960) – I found this film totally charming. Quite pessimistic about the future of mankind but it certainly was very easy to watch even nearly 55 years after it was made.
The Time Machine (2002) – I still enjoyed this recent remake but I didn’t quite feel it had the heart of the original. Some questionable scientific points in this one too but in different ways. Still well worth a watch though.
Peggy Sue Got Married – I only watched this one for the first time for this blog post. Thoroughly enjoyed it (if not just for Nicholas Cage’s outstanding performance in it) and it is one of those ‘what if’ films that always gets you reminiscing about your own life.
Safety Not Guaranteed – Very intriguing film which doesn’t actually have any time travel in it but the whole premise revolves around someone who says that they can time travel. Well worth a watch. Really enjoyed it.
Time Bandits – Typical Gilliam. Off the wall, crazy, but also very artistic and pretty funny in places. I actually never watched this back in the day and only watched it for this blog post. It didn’t really have enough structure to get me hugely enthused about it but it was close to being added to my list at one stage. I was only watching a bad copy on YouTube so I will certainly give this another go if I get hold of a better copy.
Flight of the Navigator – This is one of the films which first jumps into my mind whenever I think of time travel, mainly because of the scene where David has gone to his parents’ house but finds other people living there, and then is taken to his parents’ new house only to have his dad walk out of the doorway into the light to reveal how old he is. I find it chilling every time.
The Terminator – As mentioned above, this film is much more of an action film than a cerebral time travel film but this first film does have that brain liquidating plot line about Kyle Reese being the father of the person who sent him back in time which is pretty mental when you think about it.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day – Not a huge amount of time travel in this one but still worth a mention because of what a truly awesome film it is.
Twelve Monkeys – Another Gilliam film here where time travel is pretty central to the plot. Very unique film and one that deserves more than one viewing to really appreciate it. It nearly made my list but got knocked down pretty early on.
Looper – I enjoyed this film but I think they could have made much more out of the time travel element.
Source Code – This is a very interesting take on the time loop movies. Really enjoyed it.
The Time Traveller’s Wife – Bit of a strange one this one. Very unique storyline and kind of hard to identify with the lead character’s situation but definitely one to watch if you’re interested in the genre.
The Lakehouse – This film gets slated by a lot of people but I actually really like it. I think the premise is totally unique and intriguing.
Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home – Perhaps (definitely) not the best of the Star Trek movies but as a time travel film it’s pretty damn enjoyable.
Star Trek (2009) – Good film with some time travel elements in it.
ONES THAT I DIDN’T GET TO WATCH YET
TimeCrimes – I heard about this one from my fellow blogger Paxton Holley from the Cavalcade of Awesome blog. It’s just slightly hard to get hold of and so I wasn’t able to easily watch it before writing this post. I’ll try to track it down.
Timeline – I think I may have watched this years ago but I can’t remember much about it. I don’t think it would make my Top Ten so I didn’t stress about squeezing it into my viewing but I will try to watch it again soon.
The Butterfly Effect – I only heard about this Ashton Kutcher film recently and will definitely check it out when I get a chance.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time – Only heard about this doing my research. It’s an anime film and I’ve heard good things about it so I need to watch it.
Biggles: Adventures in Time – I was only made aware of this last night but a part of me has a very vague memory of maybe watching it back in the day. I definitely need to watch it sometime.
Donnie Darko – Still never seen this.
While I’m here I might as well add in some of the bigger TV shows that are about time travel. I’ve not watched many episodes of some of these but I might get spurred on to watch some of them more after this week.
Quantum Leap – An absolute classic show. The pilot episode is amazing and among my favourite pilots. I personally just felt that the premise got a bit tired towards the end of the show’s run. It became quite episodic and you’d switch off after a few minutes if you didn’t like who he had leapt into that week. Oh boy.
Life on Mars – Great show from the UK where a detective from the early 2000s finds himself as a detective in the 1970s. Very well made.
Doctor Who – The classic show that needs no introduction. It obviously has many different crazy plotlines but time travel is a very common one that makes its way into quite a few story arcs.
Continuum – Not seen it but want to check it out.
Sliders – Not seen it but want to check it out.
The Time Tunnel – Not seen it but want to check it out.
Time Trax – Not seen it but want to check it out.
Early Edition – Not seen it but want to check it out.
Project Almanac – Again here is the link to this new movie coming out in Jan 2015.
Hot Tub Time Machine 2 – And here is the trailer to this Hot Tub sequel.
Twelve Monkeys – I’ve heard they are making a Twelve Monkeys TV show which sounds very intriguing. Here is the trailer.
Tune in tomorrow for the next instalment of #timetravelweek.