There are certainly some days I wouldn’t mind going back and getting a do-over. This then leads to the conversation about changing the past, and thus altering the course of future events. It gets pretty trippy when you end up stepping on a bug and killing your future self, but it’s a risk many seem willing to take. Time travel may not be a possibility quite yet – or ever depending on which issue of Popular Science you’re reading – but if there’s one thing we do know, it’s time travel has a way of not working out the way we want it to.
We’ve scoured our brains and have come up with a list of our Top Ten Time Traveling movies that end up teaching us a thing or two about our desire to change past events.
1. Back to the Future Trilogy (1985-1990)
Marty McFly was never in time for his classes… He wasn’t in time for his dinner… Then one day… he wasn’t in his time at all.
Why it rocks: A DeLoren turned into a time machine – is there any other reason?
Okay, there’s also the fact that director Robert Zemeckis took the time to have Universal Pictures build a semi-permanent set that could be dressed and re-dressed to represent 1955, 1985, and 2015. Concepts of skewed timelines, a future that we won’t even come close to seeing, and brilliant goofs on perceptions of the past and future make these films click on every level.
The Lesson: If you’re aren’t careful, you might screw up the moment your parents meet, thus ruining any chance for you being born.
2. Primer (2004)
If you always want what you can’t have, what do you want when you can have anything?
Why it rocks: Low budget plus high concept pseudo-science leads to one mind twisting cluster bomb, as viewers try to figure out which person is the original, and which is merely a copy as relationships between the two scientists breaks down. This film is an excellent look at how anyone, anywhere could stumble upon a major scientific discovery, only to have it go horribly wrong in the end.
The Lesson: Using time travel to corner the stock market is a good idea, but using time travel to manipulate your friends and family is only going to lead to someone winding up dead.
3. TimeCrimes (CronoCrimenes) (2007)
El crimen es solo cuestion de tiemp…
Why it rocks: Poor, poor Hector. He’s just an average schlub who accidentally finds himself jumping back one hour in time. Each time he travels back, he discovers that he is the person behind his own predicament, thus he has to force himself to commit awful acts in order to set time right and save his wife.
The Lesson: When you travel back in time, and someone tells you not to interfere with your past self, they are lying. You’re going to get involved, and some very strange shit is going to happen.
4. Army of Darkness (1992)
Trapped in time. Surrounded by evil. Low on gas.
Why it rocks: Bruce Campbell, a chainsaw for a hand, an army of the undead, the Necronomicon, and a Boom Stick. Do you really need to ask why this film rocks? Be warned though, there are four different endings to this movie, depending on which copy you have in your possession, and only one of them is the best ending.
The Lesson: If you are going to mess with demonic forces and find yourself in the past, be sure your Oldsmobile is filled with technology to kill the undead. Oh, and don’t forget your Boom Stick.
5. Time Bandits (1981)
All the dreams you’ve ever hand, and not just the good ones.
Why it rocks: For any kid who has wanted to escape their mundane life and have an adventure of a lifetime, this movie is for you. Not your typical take on time travel, Time Bandits presents the idea that when the universe was created, the Supreme Being created a map to different points in time. His employees steal the map in order to plunder history of its treasures, all the while Evil attempts to trick them into giving up the map in order to escape the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness and bring evil to the world. For fans of Monty Python, this is a must see movie, as Terry Gilliam delivers up one of the most fantastical fantasy films of all time. Take that Baron Munchhauasen!
The Lesson: If it is black and smoldering, don’t touch it! It is EVIL!
6. Twelve Monkeys (1995)
The future is history
Why it rocks: Terry Gilliam seems to have a special something for time travel movies. While there is real time travel going on, this movie focuses on subjective memories and our perceptions of reality as Bruce Willis doesn’t realize the memories he has had since a young child are actually events that will play out for his future self. What gets really trippy is when Willis and the audience make the connection that his main objective in the movie is totally wrong, and the real threat might succeed in bringing about the apocalypse.
7. Donnie Darko (2001)
Life is one long insane trip. Some people just have better directions.
Why it rocks: If you like your time travel movies filled with metaphysics then this is the film for you. Donnie finds himself in a Tangent Universe and if he doesn’t figure out how to close it, the Primary Universe is going to die, too. It’s all about following the right path to the solution…
You didn’t get that from the film? Huh, how ‘bout that?
The Lesson: Teenager+Puberty+Time Travel=Giant Scary Rabbit. Yup, that lesson makes about as much sense as the movie the first time (or three) you watch it.
8. Timecop (1994)
They killed his wife ten years ago. There’s still time to save her.
Why it rocks: I like that this film doesn’t try and explain time travel, instead it presents an action flick about those who are tasked to police the time stream. When this movie came out Jean Claude Van Damme was still at the top of his game given any number of projects, Damme decided this comic book adaptation would be the way to go.
Plus, it has Mia Sara in it…
The Lesson: If you are going to break the rules of time, make sure you do it to save your wife and stop a crazed sociopath at the same time.
9. Groundhog Day (1993)
He’s having the worst day of his life…over, and over again.
Why it rocks: This is a highly tragic movie wrapped in a comedy, as Bill Murray tries to make the best of a terrible situation. The movie is a great take on the concept of reincarnation and going through life again and again until a life lesson is learned.
The Lesson: If the Universe wants you to do something – you’ll do it.
10. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
History is about to be rewritten by two guys who can’t spell…
Why it rocks: Take two stoners, give them a time machine that looks like a phone booth, and let them run roughshod through time until they learn where they belong in the grand scheme of things. By far, the best part of the movie is Bill and Ted’s history report that closes the movie.
The Lesson: Be excellent to one another… and… PARTY ON DUDES!
The Also Rans
While the list of Time Travel movies could take up an entire column (and maybe it will reappear in the future), here is our short list of movies that almost made the cut.
- The Time Machine (1960)
- Somewhere in Time (1980)
- Frequencey (2000)
- Trancers (1985)
- The Butterfly Effect (2004)
- Sooner or Later (2006)