The idea of time travel has long fascinated philosophers, writers, and scientists alike. However, since the technology — or magic, for that matter — that might enable people to travel backward or forward to different points in time has yet to be invented or discovered, fans of temporal gallivanting will have to satisfy themselves with the many fictionalized depictions of time travel instead. Fortunately for cinephiles, there is a rich history of exploring the concept of time travel in various fascinating ways in movies.
While some films use time travel as a way to set up comedic fish-out-of-water situations, such as Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, others use the concept of time travel to set up a plot twist, like the devastating ending of 1968’s Planet of the Apes. Still, other movies, such as The Time Traveler’s Wife or Somewhere in Time, explore the effects that time traveling has on romantic relationships. Not surprisingly, one of the most popular concepts explored in time travel-themed movies is the idea of going back in time to correct a mistake or prevent a disaster. Call it the 20/20 hindsight tendency of time travel movies. Whatever the reason behind its use, time traveling tends to create interesting plot twists in movies. Here are five outstanding films about time travel that are guaranteed not to be a waste of your time.
5. Source Code (2011)
Source Code has drawn comparisons to Groundhog Day, since Bill Murray’s character in that comedy is also inadvertently caught in a time loop. The protagonist of Source Code is a military man who is being sent back to the same point in time after repeatedly dying. However, instead of trying to learn how to love like Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, the time traveler in Source Code is trying to learn the identity of a terrorist.
Directed by Duncan Jones, the co-writer and director of 2009’s superb Moon, Source Code was a commercial and critical hit. Source Code currently has a 92 percent “Certified Fresh” rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
4. 12 Monkeys (1995)
After a worldwide plague forces surviving humans to live underground, Bruce Willis’s character in 12 Monkeys volunteers for a time travel experiment. In the film, Willis’s character travels haphazardly through time to try to prevent the disaster. However, things go a little awry just as the time traveler realizes that he has seen his future self as a child.
This Terry Gilliam-directed movie also features Brad Pitt as a demented animal rights activist in a performance that garnered him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. Based on an innovative French short film called La Jetée, 12 Monkeys is time-traveling science fiction at its best. 12 Monkeys currently has an 88 percent “Certified Fresh” rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
3. The Terminator (1984)
This James Cameron-directed film proves that not all time travelers from the future are trying to save humanity. In The Terminator, a powerful android assassin played by Arnold Schwarzenegger time travels from the future in order to kill the mother of a yet-to-be-born human resistance leader named John Connor. The movie was an unexpected commercial success and helped cement Schwarzenegger’s status as a bankable movie star.
Besides introducing Austrian-accented lines like “I’ll be back” into the pop culture lexicon and giving technophobes another reason to hate computers, The Terminator also raises some interesting and possibly paradoxical issues with time travel, once it becomes apparent who John Connor’s father really is. The Terminator has spawned multiple sequels, including 1991’s highly successful Terminator 2: Judgment Day. However, the original film still holds up, and it currently has a stellar 100 percent “Certified Fresh” rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
2. Looper (2012)
Bruce Willis once again portrays a time traveler in this convoluted sci-fi thriller that explores the bizarre situations that can arise through time travel. After time travel is invented and promptly outlawed in 2074, the mob begins using it to eliminate its enemies by sending them into the past to be killed by waiting assassins called “loopers.” Things get complicated, to say the least, when a Looper named Joe is assigned to kill his future self.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the young version of Joe and Bruce Willis plays the older Joe, while Emily Blunt plays Joe’s love interest. Besides showing us what Joseph Gordon-Levitt will look like in 30 years, Looper also demonstrates a previously unheard-of use for time travel: body disposal. Looper currently has a 93 percent “Certified Fresh” rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
1. The Time Machine (1960)
Based H.G. Wells’s seminal science fiction novel of the same name, The Time Machine tells the story of a Victorian-era inventor named who builds a time machine to travel to various points in the future. Eventually the time machine takes the inventor thousands of years into the future, when strangely docile humans are preyed on by creatures called “Morlocks.”
Although the special effects may seem dated today, The Time Machine was considered groundbreaking at the time of its release, and the film won the Academy Award for Best Effects, Special Effects in 1961. Despite being more than 50 years old, this classic sci-fi film has retained its charm and has held up better than the critically panned 2002 remake.
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