I’ve gotta be honest, I don’t know what I was thinking when I tried to watch as many time travel films as I possibly could over the span of a year, but I can say this with confidence… some of them were okay.
But a lot of them weren’t. Remind me why I love this genre again?
Anyway, here are some favorites new and old, which I’m going to try to split into categories but will probably fail at miserably because this year has truly exhausted me. Shall we?
Must-See: You can crap on the time travel rules in Looper (and argue if they’re intentionally being misinterpreted by the characters), but for smart action with something to say, it can’t be beat. And after a film that takes itself so seriously, give Trancers (and its sequel) a try for some tongue-in-cheek B-movie goodness. One of the biggest surprises of the year, though, is Retroactive, a Jim Belushi slow-starter that rapidly ups the thrills and doesn’t skimp on the gunshots and explosions. Also, a little flick called The Terminator.
Worth Checking Out: Yes, Terminator 2: Judgment Day is an action masterpiece, but I can’t in good conscience call its time travel story better than the first. For Japanese insanity that steals from every big budget Hollywood production you know, give Ritânâ a whirl when you feel like watching eight movies in only two hours. And if you wish Quantum Leap had the budget for some explosions, Source Code is a clever little ride from the director of Moon. Also, shut up, Timecop, don’t even look at me. Next category.
Must-See: It’s no surprise that I love every installment of the Back to the Future trilogy; the original is obviously the best, but Part II takes some creative risks and Part III makes my heart flutter with sweeping Western romance. For a kids’ movie that’s equal parts wacky fun and intriguing mystery, Flight of the Navigator doesn’t disappoint. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is a solidly entertaining film for Trekkies and non-Trekkies alike, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban handles time travel so well that even a magic-hater like myself can thoroughly enjoy it. The Time Machine (1960) will always hold a special place in my heart, and Time After Time puts a creative spin on the H. G. Wells mythos that’s hard to resist.
Worth Checking Out: The Philadelphia Experiment is a weird little John Carpenter production that’s still a good time despite its flaws. Jeff Daniels gives a fine performance in The Grand Tour, a film with pacing issues but a solid second half. Millennium is such an unapologetically cheesy vision of the future that I couldn’t possibly leave it off the list out of sheer respect. The Time Travelers was surprisingly cerebral for an older film, and worth checking out for its melodramatic climax. Lastly, while I didn’t seem to grasp the message, I was impressed by The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey for its ability to tell a Fish Out of Water story like a centuries-old folk tale, showing us our own world through the eyes of strangers.
Must-See: Groundhog Day is a modern classic that should delight cynics and romantics alike. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is a gem of smartly stupid cinema that still holds up today, and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey tries some fun switch-ups while still telephoning through time. Wow, I kind of drew a hard line for comedies. Hmm. Alright, we’ll stuff Army of Darkness in here. It’s a crazy medieval supernatural slapstick romp that’s just… badass.
Worth Checking Out: It’s technically cryogenic freezing, if you’re a stickler about such things, but Idiocracy is a damn funny vision of a truly terrible future. For a bizarre but charming take on A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Unidentified Flying Oddball adds space shuttles and robots to the classic tale for a dose of pure silliness. While by no means brilliant, The Three Stooges Meet Hercules has a lot of laughs for a full-length Curly Joe feature, and Roman Scandals has catchy tunes and some great physical and stunt comedy from Eddie Cantor.
Must-See: Nobody understands Primer and everybody should see it for that exact reason. Twelve Monkeys is a trippy mystery in true Terry Gilliam fashion, though you should first check out the short film that it’s based on, La jetée. Los cronocrímenes is a tense vision of horror that will leave you with a lasting feeling of uneasiness. Planet of the Apes is a cookbook? For a study in perception, Sound of My Voice will keep you guessing as you infiltrate a highly secretive time travel cult.
Worth Checking Out: Despite being a thriller for moms, Premonition may be unintentionally bleak and accidentally brilliant? Russkiy kovcheg should certainly be praised for its technical achievements in the portrayal of time travel. Slaughterhouse-Five may have been fighting a losing battle in adapting the Vonnegut classic, but while it leaves out an awful lot, it deserves a watch for simply making the attempt. Detention is exhaustingly complicated and not recommended for those who obey recommendations. While technically a film about halting the flow of time, Suspension gets right what other clock-stopping stories seem to miss: there’s something inherently creepy about pausing a moment.
Must-See: While the love story may be overshadowed by quirk, Safety Not Guaranteed certainly presents a romantic view of the world, for better or for worse. Featuring a mesmerizing performance by Vincent D’Onofrio, Happy Accidents is a look at what makes couples click, up to and including the fact that one of them may be a time traveler. Midnight in Paris comically portrays our love affair with history and explores the nature of nostalgia. And Donggam… oh, sweet, wonderful Donggam… with not much time left in the year, Donggam tricked me into thinking it was just another formulaic “lovers across time” story and managed to hit me with a time travel dilemma I’d never seen before and wrapped on a far more positive message than the head-over-heels fantasy most romances are selling.
Worth Checking Out: Il Mare is the Korean film that The Lake House is based on, and it’s far more subtle and the leads have better chemistry. 13 Going on 30 may not stray too far from the romcom formula, but Jennifer Garner’s performance is nothing short of charming and completely carries the movie. And Cinderella III: A Twist in Time is a straight-to-video Disney sequel that’s… good. Like, could-have-been-released-in-theaters good. No, I didn’t believe it either.
Oh my God, have you seen Warlock? Fuck yeah, Warlock!
Want more time travel? Head on over to the Time Out archive.