10 movies that tampered with time (for better or for worse)
In celebration of Back to the Future day, we’ve taken a look at 10 movies from the last 30 years that have tinkered with time travel.
Time travel is one of the most intriguing sci-fi concepts explored on the big screen, but it’s also such a complex subject matter that even Earth’s brightest minds have trouble agreeing on its feasibility.
It’s one of the most exciting topics that sci-fi hits; not only is it supported by quantum mechanics theory, but once you jump the infinitely mind-boggling “how it works” hurdle (or at least circumnavigate it), the possibilities are truly endless.
Some titles, like Back to the Future, use time-travel purely as a backdrop for an entertaining blockbuster, whereas others, like Primer, take the science of paradoxes, multiverses and time dilation very seriously.
In the 30 years since Back to the Future, countless films have taken a shot at the impossible task of making time travel plausible (or at least entertaining). Below are our top 10 in chronological (or anachronistic - I don’t know anymore) order.
1. Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure
Released only four years after Back to the Future, Bill and Ted took the chains off the whole time-travelling adventure-comedy premise and went full goofball. Bill and Ted is excellent in its own right. Not only did it add a dash of historical education to the mix, but it also gave us Keanu Reeves and introduced younger audiences to George Carlin (albeit, in a fairly timid role as the time-hopping mentor, Rufus).
2. Terminator 2: Judgement Day
When a time travelling T-800 tells you they’ll be back, you better believe it. Sure, The Terminator had a time-travelling Arnie, but Judgement Day is where the timeline began to get messy. Awesome, but messy. After the original - where a time traveller sent by John Connor protects Sarah Connor from The Terminator, and along the way impregnates Sarah Connor to create John Connor - the future John Connor sends The Terminator back to protect a younger John Connor from another shape-shifting Terminator. Try saying that without taking a breath.
3. 12 Monkeys
Before it was a subpar SyFy series, 12 Monkeys was a superb film by Monty Python mastermind, Terry Gilliam. Bruce Willis plays Cole, a man who is sent back in time to prevent a deadly virus from circulating, as it all but wipes human civilisation from the face of the Earth in 2027. Claiming to be from the future, Cole is immediately institutionalised when he reaches 1990. There, he meets a group of radicals (led by Brad Pitt) who he suspects to be responsible for the outbreak.
Many movies gloss over the science behind their time travel mechanics and who could blame them - it’s a hotly debated topic and sometimes avoiding any explanation is the only way of keeping the Internet trolls at bay. The creators of Primer said “fudge that” and hypothesised one of the most logical rationales for time travel to ever appear in a work of fiction. Granted, the characters in Primer play it safe by only travelling six hours into the past. But what they do with that six hours is nothing short of genius.
5. The Butterfly Effect
The Butterfly Effect may not be the greatest time travel movie to exist - in fact it may not even be a good movie - but it’s hard to deny the appeal of this 2004 thriller featuring Lenovo pusher, Ashton Kutcher. A 20-year-old college student with the ability to transport his conscience through time and into his younger self uses his abilities to preclude a series of traumatic events that had lasting effects on his group of friends. As we learned from The Simpsons Time Travelling Toaster, making small changes to the past is almost never good - as poor Kutchy finds out.
6. Futurama: Bender's Big Score (2007)
The feature-length movie that returned Fry and the Planet Express crew to our screens begins with Bender utilising a “time code” tattoo on Fry’s butt to steal a number of treasures from different moments in history. It starts off with the usual laughs you’d expect from an episode of Futurama, but once the time travel and multiverse themes kick in, Bender’s Big Score reveals itself as one of the most touching and poignant additions to the Futurama canon - right behind “Jurassic Bark”.
7. Source Code
Imagine waking up to Jake Gyllenhaal. Every. Single. Day. Sounds like a dream, right? Well, there’s a catch; you also die in a fiery explosion at the end of every. Single. Day. But, hey, Jake’s totally worth it, right? In Source Code (the second movie from Bowie’s progeny, Duncan Jones) Jake Gyllenhaal plays a marine whose conscience is transported into another man’s body in the final eight minutes before a bomb explodes. Colter (Gyllenhaal) must relive this eight minutes over and over again until he discovers the identity of the bomber.
8. Safety Not Guaranteed
Safety Not Guaranteed sure uses time travel as its central theme, but whether or not time travel actually exists in this universe is the film’s central conflict. Jeff (New Girl’s Jake Johnson) and Darius (Parks and Rec’s Aubrey Plaza) are two reporters from Seattle investigating a newspaper classified ad for a wanted time travel companion. They travel to a quiet seaside town to track the self-purported time traveller, Kenneth (Mark Duplass), down, only to find he is slightly unhinged. Are his claims full of hot air or does he have the technology to travel through time? You’ll have to find out.
Bruce Willis just can’t stay put in the one timeline. Looper tells of a dystopian future where time travel is very much a reality, but as quickly as it’s discovered it’s made illegal. This doesn’t stop criminal organisations from utilising the technology to pull off complicated assassination contracts. In the present day, young Joe (Joseph Gordon Levitt), is given one last contract before retiring. Only, the man who arrives is himself from 30 years into the future (Bruce Willis). Old Joe manages to outwit Young Joe, kicking off the most twisted game of cat and mouse to ever grace the screen.
We love time travel movies for two reasons: a) the sheer adventure, and b) the way they can mess with the viewer’s mind like no other sub genre. If it’s mind-melting you’re after, then Predestination is where it’s at (was at… will be at?). It’s way too hard to explain Predestination without giving too much away, but the basic gist of it is: an agent who works for Temporal Corps (a kind of timecop agency) is given one last mission to travel back and stop an enigmatic criminal, “the Fizzle Bomber”, from killing thousands.Make sure you watch this completely sober. It’s the only way to keep up.
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