“You! What planet is this?” – Doctor McCoy, to a homeless man upon teleporting to 1930’s Chicago (Star Trek, Season 1, Episode 28: The City on the Edge of Forever)
I must admit, I usually get confused when watching shows about time travel! But even so, it’s always fun and interesting to see how different writers and directors interpret the concept of traveling through time. Here is a list of time travel movies, animes, and TV series, including the obvious as well as others worth seeking out.
Back to the Future – Arguably the best time travel movie of them all is Robert Zemeckis’ 1985 comedy about an eccentric scientist (Christopher Lloyd) and his young friend (Michael J. Fox), who accidentally gets transported 30 years into the past in a DeLorean equipped with a flux capacitor. Back to the Future Part II jumps ahead to 2015 and back again to 1955 (with a stop at an alternate version of 1985 for good measure). Back to the Future Part III goes 100 years back in history to the Old West.
The Terminator – James Cameron’s classic introduced one of the most iconic sci-fi characters of all time. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a cyborg assassin transported backwards in time from a post-apocalyptic future to prevent the birth of a future rebel leader. The latest installment is Terminator Genisys, in which an unexpected turn of events creates a fractured timeline.
The Time Machine – The best film adaptation of H.G. Wells’ classic novel was this 1960 Oscar-winner for visual effects, which were groundbreaking for its time and set the standard for all time travel movies to come. The movie traces the journey of a man (Rod Taylor) from Victorian England as he visits three world wars (including a nuclear war in the late 1960s) before reaching the very distant future.
Time Changer – The year is 1890. Bible professor Russell Carlisle (D. David Morin) plans to publish a book arguing that morals can be taught independent of Christ’s teachings, but is denounced by his colleague Dr. Norris Anderson (Gavin MacLeod). It just so happens that Dr. Anderson has invented a time machine and he convinces Carlisle to travel to the early 21st century, offering him a glimpse of where his beliefs will lead. Carlisle is shocked by what he sees and hears, quickly discovering the pitfalls of a secular world with relative morality and no absolute standards.
I’ll Follow You Down – In this techno-thriller, a professor (Rufus Sewell) travels from Toronto to Princeton, New Jersey for a conference but doesn’t return. His wife (Gillian Anderson) and son (Haley Joel Osment) struggle to cope. Twelve years later, the son talks with his grandfather, who suggests that the father’s disappearance may have been the result of a scientific experiment involving time travel. The son is determined to find out the truth that may bring his father home.
The Philadelphia Experiment – Loosely based on actual events that supposedly took place during World War II, the U.S. government tests a naval ship to see if it can disappear from radar by using high-powered electromagentic energy. The “invisibility” experiment inadvertently sends two sailors 40 years into the future.
Kate & Leopold – This romantic comedy stars Hugh Jackman as Leopold, the Third Duke of Albany, in the year 1876. He falls through a time portal and winds up in 21st century New York where he meets Kate (Meg Ryan), an ambitious advertising executive. Amazingly, the duke seems to fit right in, as he’s mistaken for a theatre actor. Leopold is a true gentleman, with an old-fashioned sense of chivalry and concern over Kate not being chaperoned on dates nor having a curfew. It concerned me, though, that the wrinkle in time that brings these two together is accessed by jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge. Hope no one gets any ideas! Anyway, it’s a great date night movie.
Somewhere in Time – In this fantasy romance, the time travel theory is completely non-scientific – all it really takes is the right props and the power of suggestion. A Chicago playwright (Christopher Reeve) uses self-hypnosis to will himself back in time to find the actress (Jane Seymour) whose vintage portrait hangs in a grand old 19th-century hotel. Can their love outlast the problems caused by their time difference? This is definitely a chick flick that most guys will find boring and way too sentimental.
Midnight In Paris – You know how people of every generation always romanticize a previous age as golden? Well, Gil (Owen Wilson) is a struggling screenwriter who can’t stop daydreaming about quitting the movies and writing a novel. While visiting Paris with his fiancée (Rachel Mcadams), Gil walks right into his own fantasy when he enters a mysterious car at midnight and is taken back in time to the 1920s. There he is able to hang out with iconic artists, writers, and performers from the period including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Cole Porter, Salvador Dalí, and Pablo Picasso. Literature and art lovers will like this movie if you can overlook the smoking, drinking, and infidelity.
Time After Time – What if renowned sci-fi author H.G. Wells had actually created a time machine? And what if Jack the Ripper stole the time machine and traveled forward 90 years to the “present day” of 1979? Such is the outlandish premise of this movie, in which H.G. Wells pursues Jack the Ripper through 19th-century London to modern-day San Francisco when the serial murderer escapes his time period.
Time Bandits – A young boy named Kevin falls in with a band of time-traveling dwarves armed with a map stolen from the Supreme Being. They jump from era to era, plundering treasure from Napoleon and Agamemnon, and taking a trip on the Titanic, as an evil genius watches their every move. Told with a wickedly nasty sense of humor, and featuring members of Terry Gilliam’s Monty Python crew, much of the story may be off-putting unless you’re a fan – which I am not, so I didn’t care for this one.
Interstellar – A team of explorers travel through a wormhole in space in this movie that’s not your typical time travel story but is a mind-bending sci-fi epic that combines the concept of alternate dimensions with Einstein’s relativity effect. For example, time passes more slowly in higher gravity fields so on a planet orbiting close to a black hole, a clock will tick much more slowly than on a spaceship orbiting farther away – or something like that.
Galaxy Quest – This surprisingly good Star Trek parody features the cast of a cheesy outer-space TV show (Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman) thrust into a real interstellar adventure – and not as a time travel movie. But one of the central pieces of technology in the film is the Omega 13 device, which turns out to be a time machine – sort of. It transports the entire universe precisely 13 seconds into the past. That may be the smallest increment of time travel ever, but it’s just enough time to save the day.
Frequency – No one physically travels through time in this clever thriller, but a rare atmospheric phenomenon allows a New York City firefighter (Dennis Quaid) from 1969 to communicate via ham radio with his grown son (Jim Caviezel) in 1999, and help change history for the better. Amateur radio operators will surely appreciate this one!
Groundhog Day – Bill Murray’s rude and cranky weatherman character doesn’t actually travel through time, but he’s stuck in a time loop and keeps re-living the same day over and over again – the idea being that if we had a chance to do our lives over, we could do it better the second, third, fourth, etc. time around.
Meet the Robinsons – In this animated Disney movie, Lewis is a brilliant inventor who meets a mysterious stranger named Wilbur Robinson, whisking Lewis away in a time machine. Together they team up to track down Bowler Hat Guy in a showdown that ends with an unexpected twist of fate. This clever, witty cartoon is enjoyed by all ages.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time – If you could travel through time, what would you do? That’s the question facing high school student Makoto Kanno when she is granted that ability. She doesn’t want to use it for malicious purposes, just little things for her own personal benefit like avoiding embarrassing situations, hanging out with friends longer, and things of that sort. What’s the harm in that, right?
Time Traveller: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time – In this live-action adaptation of the award-winning anime The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, a precocious high school girl gains the power to travel through time in order to save her mother. Little does she know that she is affecting the lives of others just as much as she is her own.
Steins;Gate – This time travel anime follows Okabe Rintarou, a university student who refers to himself as Crazy Mad Scientist Hououin Kyouma – and he just happens to be the coolest scientist ever. (Sorry, Bill Nye.) After accidentally inventing a time machine, he and his colleagues must use their knowledge of it to stop an evil organization and their diabolical plans.
The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya – In this anime, Kyon finds that several traces of the SOS Brigade (an after-school club) have mysteriously disappeared from his life. Mikuru and Yuki do not seem to recall meeting him, and Haruhi and Itsuki do not attend North High School. Eventually, Kyon receives a message from Yuki’s alien counterpart asking him to gather keys for a program that could return him to his own reality. This starts Kyon on a journey that eventually leads him back to the night Haruhi first became interested in meeting aliens, time travelers, and espers.
Doctor Who – Last but certainly not least, the Doctor Who TV series features the never-ending adventures of a Gallifreyan Time Lord and his companions, traveling through time and space.
Bonus #1: Here’s one for the kids…
The Greatest Adventure: Stories from the Bible – Hanna-Barbera’s direct-to-video series tells of three young adventurers who travel back in time to watch biblical events take place. Derek and Margo are on an archaeology dig accompanied by “their nomad friend” Moki. They come across a door in an ancient ruin that turns out to be a portal through time. Each episode sends the trio into a different story from the Bible. They often interact with biblical characters, but rarely have any significant effect upon the plot. Thirteen videos were released between 1986 and 1992. You probably remember seeing these when you were a kid.
Bonus #2: Here’s one for the holidays…
A Christmas Carol – Scrooge supernaturally gets to see not only his past life with the eyes of his older self, but also his projected future if he doesn’t change the path he’s on right now.
Which time travel movies are your favorites? Did I miss any other good ones?