Time travel could be the coolest plot device in the entire circular history of science fiction. Covering dinosaurs to UFOs and everything in between, without it we wouldn’t have Star Trek, Doctor Who, The Terminator, Bill And Ted, or half of all the greatest genre films and TV shows ever made.
But not all time travel movies are created equal. Some are universally loved (Back To The Future, Donnie Darko), but others pretty much overlooked altogether liked they’ve slipped between the cracks of a time travel paradox.
If we ever get our hands on a time machine, we’ll use it to go back and drum up support for some of the best time travel movies that didn’t get the credit they deserved. So if you still don’t think Je T’Aime, Je T’Aime is as good as Looper, we’re probably still living in the darkest timeline…
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006)
Director Mamoru Hosoda graduated from Digimon: The Movie to this underrated anime classic. The story of a high school girl who stumbles on the power of time travel, it’s mostly all about how much fun a teenager can have with the concept. Instead of using it to go back and stop wars and meet dinosaurs, she uses it to retake her exams and fix an awkward fling – choosing to relive the same 24-hours, Groundhog Day style, until she gets her life right. There’s more to it than that though, and there’s a nice buried message about how you can’t stay a kid forever.
Sound Of My Voice (2012)
Brit Marling was the indie darling of 2011’s Sundance because she had two quirky sci-fis out at the same time. One, Another Earth, got just enough love to go cult, but the other, Sound Of My Voice, came and went without fanfare. Of the two, it’s Marling’s lesser known film that arguably stands up better after a few years in the wilderness – making for one of the most interesting and original takes on the time travel flick so far. Marling plays a cult leader who claims to be from the future and the film follows two documentary directors who set out to expose her. It’s understated and low-fi and very Sundance, but it finds a great new way to come at the genre.
Meet The Robinsons (2007)
Sandwiched between lesser-liked Disney features Chicken Little and Bolt, Meet The Robinsons arrived at a time when the Mouse House was, quite frankly, a bit lousy. Made during Disney’s acquisition of Pixar, the film was half finished when John Lasseter became the chief creative officer, and he reportedly scrapped most of the film and made director Stephen Anderson go back to the drawing board (literally). The result was uneven, at best, but the film has more creative fun with the space-time continuum than most animations that have tried, and the film has a freewheeling, zany approach to storytelling that feels more Looney Tunes than Disney.
Back To The Future Part III (1990)
No one’s favorite Back To The Future movie, Part III was made back-to-back with Part II, and it probably ranks as the world’s most owned, least watched film thanks to the trilogy boxset (alongside Alien 3, Indy 4, and Rocky 5…). In retrospect though, the film is possibly better than Part II (which looks a bit ridiculous now that we’re past 2015), and it stands-up as a fun, retro time-travel adventure in its own right. More B-movie than blockbuster, the film doesn’t try quite as hard as the others but it’s an approach that actually pays off – making it a lighter, brighter sequel than its predecessor. It’s got a great train set piece too.
Je T’Aime, Je T’Aime (1968)
Possibly the best movie about time travel that doesn’t have a gun or a robot or a DeLorean in it, Je T’Aime, Je T’Aime comes from the master of cinematic time hopping – Alain Resnais. Following up more ambiguous experiments with narrative memory like Hiroshima Mon Amour, Last Year At Marienbad, and Muriel, the French master tackled sci-fi head on with the story of a man who volunteers to test a time machine. The experiment goes wrong (obviously) and he’s left skipping through random episodes of his own life. Stan Lee loved it (working with Resnais on two unmade movies), Michel Gondry loved it (citing it as a big influence on Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind), but it’s still not considered a classic for some reason.
There are only ever two kinds of time travel movies. There are those that take the time to really try and make it all make sense, following each paradox and closing every loophole (see: Primer), and then there are those that just try to run fast enough so no one notices (see: Edge Of Tomorrow). The interesting thing about Predestination is that it manages to do both at once – somehow coming off cerebral and dumb at the same time. Similar to Looper in lots of ways, Ethan Hawke does a great job of holding everything together and it’s worth watching as a reminder that The Spierig Brothers actually made a decent film before Jigsaw and Winchester.
The Amazing Mr. Blunden (1972)
Possibly because it was directed by the same bloke who made the lovely tea-time classic The Railway Children, Lionel Jeffries’ The Amazing Mr. Blunden used to be considered a family film. Bleached of hope in an early ’70s Worzel Gummidge palette, the film makes for a surprisingly chilling ghost story – like a version of Tom’s Midnight Garden with more children burning to death in a house fire. Mixing Henry James horror with a time-skipping kids’ sci-fi story, the film is one of the great cross-overs that manages to fall between the cracks of a dozen different genres. It also ends with the promise of a sequel that we’ve now been waiting almost 50 years for – so watching it now feels like an endlessly looping time-machine in itself.
Nacho Vigalondo (V/H/S: Viral, Colossal) made his debut with this ridiculously complicated thriller. The set-up is weird enough – a bloke uses a pair of binoculars to perv on a topless woman, then he gets attacked by man covered in pink bandages before stumbling into a time machine, skipping back an hour – but it gets weirder as the narrative starts tying itself in space-time knots. Sold as horror but surprisingly funny, Vigalondo’s film is perhaps best viewed not as a time travel movie but as an allegory about marriage that’s disturbing but also rather sweet.
Time After Time (1979)
There’s no good reason at all why Time After Time isn’t considered a classic. It won a load of awards, it starred Malcolm McDowell and Mary Steenburgen, and it’s about HG Wells chasing Jack The Ripper through ’70s San Francisco. Taking liberties with Wells’ legacy and Jack’s infamy, and throwing a sweet love story in for good measure, it’s a terrific fish out of water time-jumper that runs its murder mystery like an antique clock (looks great but doesn’t really work), and looks a bit like a lavish episode of Doctor Who. What’s not to love?
Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
The last few years have seen several attempts to quirk-up the genre, ranging from rom-coms like About Time and The Time Traveller’s Wife, to alternate takes like Project Almanac and Midnight In Paris – but the one that managed to feel the most original didn’t really get the credit it deserved. Essentially a mumblecore movie with a time machine, Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass deadpan their way through Colin Trevorrow’s slick little indie to make one of the most endearing, smart and gently overwhelming time travel movies of the modern era. And all it’s really remembered for now is for being the movie that Trevorrow made before Jurassic World.
Read the latest Den of Geek Special Edition Magazine Here!