Sci-fi fans appreciate aliens, zombies and other worlds, but perhaps no topic peaks our imaginations more than time travel.
These continuum-jumping tales have a tall task: introduce viewers to a time-travel mechanism; tell an interesting story with a beginning, middle and end; and navigate the metaphysical questions time travel raises. When it’s done well, it’s beautiful.
From Michael J. Fox to Bruce Willis, some of Hollywood’s brightest stars have added unique, thought-provoking accounts to the time-travel film cannon. Keep your timelines straight, and remember, don’t let your past self see your future self. These time-travel classics will bend your mind.
Shot on a $7,000 budget, “Primer” became an indie classic with its realistic premise and science-infused script. In the film, four young engineers start a side business selling graphics cards to fund their personal research. When the two protagonists discover that an ambiguous machine has the properties to transport matter in time, a series of plausible events unfold. The strength of “Primer” is its grounded, serious tone. After your first viewing, you’ll have more questions than answers. Online enthusiasts have mapped, graphed and time-lined the details to unpack the robust story. Not bad for a low-budget indie flick.
At some point, most time-travel movies have to establish consequences if the same person sees himself in different parallels. “Looper” has a simple premise to avoid this problem. People from the future are sent back in time with bags over their heads, then promptly killed by a looper. Things take a turn when the protagonist is prompted to kill an older version of himself (he didn’t have a bag on his head). The two character’s actions are intertwined. Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon Levitt must work together to save their lives without upsetting the natural order. “Looper” delivers a smart, engaging story. The Patriot Ledger declared it “both daring and logical, two rarities in modern sci-fi.”
“Looper” wasn’t Willis’ first sci-fi rodeo. The star cut his teeth in “12 Monkeys,” an apocalyptic thriller that sent Willis back and forth between the past and future. Like most great sci-fi movies, “12 Monkeys” bore criticism for its confusing plot. But the outstanding performances by Willis and up-and-comer Brad Pitt put it over the top. “12 Monkeys” will make you re-think the way you view reality, mental stability and your pet.
‘Back to the Future’
All the other films on this list owe their existence in part to Robert Zemeckis’ “Back to the Future,” the timeless trilogy that brought time-travel to the masses. Fans were hooked the moment Doc Brown revealed the Delorean to Marty McFly.
“Back to the Future” launched Michael J. Fox into stardom and became a fixture in American culture. The Delorean remains a popular car, as evidenced by Delorean.com. You can’t mention time-travel cinema without referencing this all-time great film. Check your cable or satellite listings for the next time “Back to the Future” is on television. It never gets old.
‘Hot Tub Time Machine’
Not all time travel movies explored the metaphysical implications of time travel. “Hot Tub Time Machine” choose to focus on how fun it would be to revisit your favorite decade. Stacked with comedy stars Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry and John Cusack, “Hot Tub Time Machine” is the time-travel movie you imagine when you first consider the topic. Revisit the ’80s and enjoy this sci-fi comedy.