Time is the devastator of youth; milk spoiler; the oldest and deadliest enemy of humanity. However, in films, we can easily conquer time: running back and forth, jumping into the future or the past with simple editing. Filmmakers are constantly traveling in time, so it is no coincidence that there are so many films in which this trick turns into a plot idea.
But unfortunately for their protagonists, the best time travel movies often show us that the prison of time is inevitable. Even when these protagonists look like they’ve found a way out, from natural wormholes to heretical machines, their fates are usually predetermined: they often get stuck in time loops or simply die. Time and death close comrades…
Of course, this chaos turns into mind-blowing entertainment for the viewer, so without further ado, let’s present our picks of the best time travel movies.
Terminator 1 and 2
Terminator one as well as 2 really quite different films. In the first, Arnie the terminator is the bad guy. Our machine lords sent him back in time to kill a woman who will give birth to a child who will lead human resistance to victory. A man from said resistance is sent back to stop Arnie. It’s a dark and strange story: a classic action movie filmed on a budget. The second, by contrast, is a high-budget extravaganza with perhaps the best special effects in cinema history compared to the time. Here Arnie, now a blockbuster star, demanded to play the good guy: he is still a robot, but he protects the key child from the icy and more advanced T-1000 robot.
The most famous art house time travel film, La Jetée follows a man sent from a dystopia after World War III to save the future and find the truth behind traumatic memories of his past. The film, only 28 minutes long, is a simple series of black and white photographs combined with a hazy narrative yet engaging. Terry Gilliam turned it into 12 monkeys, a funny colorful privateer starring Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt, is an equally weird but different tonality film.
This modern sci-fi classic follows the alien “arrival” of giant, peaceful, inkjet squids. Before geopolitical squabbles can escalate into a nuclear exchange, Amy Adams must translate the squid’s ink pleas into American English. (Spoiler alert: It’s about time travel.) This visually stunning film is based on The story of your life, a short by Ted Chang, one of the best living science fiction writers. This film is a great introduction to his work.
Classic featuring Bill Murray at its best. Murray plays an edgy reporter who wakes up one morning to find himself stuck in a time loop on Groundhog Day (and yes, that’s where the term came from). Fear gives way to joy when he realizes that he is now an omniscient god. This then gives way to boredom as he lives the same day an infinite number of times, and Murray must understand why he was cursed. Still a touching and brooding comedy.
This is truly a time travel movie that will beat them all if you really want to get to the bottom of time travel itself. Two engineers accidentally discover a side effect of the A to B causal loop: they can go back a short distance in time and start using it to make huge amounts of money in the stock market. What follows is a highly technical and philosophical view of the implications of time travel.
Looper This is just a sealed fantasy action movie: an immersive world created in less than two hours, with funny and interesting characters. Joseph Gordon Levitt plays a contract killer who kills and destroys his targets in the past to avoid future detection. Bruce Willis plays an older self who Levitt is tasked with assassinating. The realism of the time travel aspect is not really the purpose of the film: writer Ryan Johnson directly contrasted it with Primerwhere the rules of time travel are so important; Looper was conceived instead as a character-driven thriller.
One of the highest grossing anime films of all time Your name it’s a pleasant, a bit empty exercise, but fantastic entertainment, undoubtedly. Two schoolchildren exchange bodies every night, argue about ruining each other’s lives, and then end up falling in love. They must fight in time to save the city from an apocalyptic disaster. The animation is gorgeous, colorful and fluid, the music from Radwimps is a shiny butt of earworms, and the story is a real teardrop.
Where is the time travel dogma remained largely unexplained, in Interstellar Nolan seems to be really interested in educating his audience, and he does an admirable job of portraying some of the implications of Einstein’s theory of general relativity. The dialogue in the film can be a little corny and corny, but a visit to the high-altitude planet of waves, where the years pass like minutes, is just a great movie that is only worth the price of entry.
The cult classic that brought Jake Gyllenhaal great fame. This is one of those concept films that bombards you with knowledge, but is actually not as smart as it sounds. Better to just sit down and let it wash over you, including of course Frank, the iconic black rabbit who tells Gyllenhaal that the world will end in 28 days. It is also an important artifact of a certain part of Millennium culture: any Gen Z cultural critic trying to understand the neuroses of the Millennium should definitely add this film to his research.
Planet of the apes
Original Planet of the apes – a very strange film – there is something embarrassing about monkeys now: the artist John Chambers’ prosthetic make-up technique was revolutionary at the time. But while the Andy Serkis prequels are certainly more action-packed, the original should make the list because it includes the most iconic “twist” in cinema in time. Charlton Heston’s latest revelation, when he smashes his fists on the beach at the end of the film, has been parodied to death, especially The Simpsons… (Which also created a fantastic musical adaptation movie.)
This story first appeared on WIRED UK…
More great stories at WIRED