Next week sees the release of Looper, a science fiction flick in which Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as a hitman who kills targets sent back through time by gangsters the near future, a job that gets unexpectedly complicated when his latest target turns out to be his future self (Bruce Willis). We at Movie Ink love a good time travel flick, probably because the idea of being able to undo past errors and/or do some really kick-ass sightseeing is too irresistible to pass hope. Here are a few of our faves:
The Time Machine (1960).
Method of Travel: A tricked-out piece of Victorian furniture
One of the best time travel movies ever made (and arguably the reference point for the entire subgenre), George Pal’s (The War of the Worlds) adaptation of H.G. Wells’ classic social allegory has withstood the test of time. Rod Taylor stars as a scientist who travels 800 millennia into the future to find mankind devolved into two species, the passive, childlike Eloi and the cannibalistic Morlocks who prey upon them. The film received a much deserved Academy Award for its visual effects. Skip the tedious 2002 remake.
Dr. Who and the Daleks/Daleks — Invasion Earth: 2150 AD (1965-66).
Method of Travel: a police box
Perhaps the greatest time traveller to ever go sightseeing through history, the Doctor was riding the crest of his still-young TV series when this pair of feature films was spun out from it. Rewritten as an eccentric English scientist played by Peter Cushing, the movies adapt two of the most popular episodes of the series. pitting our hero against his archenemies, the conquest driven aliens known as the Daleks. Filmed in Technicolor, these were the first color and widescreen adventures of the Doctor, and are a must for fans.
Time After Time (1979).
Method of Travel: see The Time Machine above
Screenwriter Nicholas Meyer (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) made his directorial debut with this adaptation of Karl Alexander’s novel about a time-travelling H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) who journeys to present-day New York City in pursuit of Jack the Ripper (David Warner). Both are surprised to find that the world Wells had hoped would develop into a utopia has instead become more violent and chaotic than either man could have imagined. (“Ninety years ago, I was a freak,” observes the Ripper at one pint. “Now… I’m an amateur.”) The plot may feel a little cut-and-dried by today’s standards, but some clever flourishes and prime performances (including Mary Steenburgen, whim McDowell married soon after) make this an under-rated classic.
The Time Bandits (1981).
Method of Travel: a map of the cosmos
A lonely child with a vivid imagination inadvertently joins a group of time-travelling dwarfs who have stolen a map of creation from the Supreme Being and gone on a looting spree through history. Cue guest appearances by Sean Connery (as Agamemnon), David Warner (Evil), John Cleese (Robin Hood), and Ian Holm (Napoleon). One of the best movies ever to come from ex-members of Monty Python (it was written by Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam and directed by the latter), its quirky story and clever sense of humor have made it a cult classic.
Back to the Future (1985).
Method of Travel: a DeLorean with a flux capacitor
Robert Zemeckis delivered one of the quintessential ’80s movies and (briefly) made a cool ride out of John DeLorean’s notoriously shitty sports car with this adventure comedy. Michael J. Fox stars as a high school kid who accidentally travels to 1955, where he must ensure his parents (Crispin Glover and Lea Thompson) meet and fall in love — a task complicated by his mom’s romantic interest (ick). Smart writing, great gags, and a choice cast (many of whom came onboard after extensive recasting) have kept it fresh.
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989).
Method of Travel: a phone booth
Two slackers (Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter) are sent on an odyssey through time by George Carlin to assemble a group of key historical figures in order to pass their high school history project; if they don’t, not only will they flunk out, humanity will never reach its next age of enlightenment. An unpretentious goofball comedy, it not only reached cult status, it spawned a sequel, cartoon series, and breakfast cereal (seriously).
Groundhog Day (1993).
Method of Travel: an unexplained temporal loop
Director Harold Ramis and Bill Murray generate a suprising amount of humor and heart from the simple premise of an egotistical and self-absorbed TV newscaster who inexplicably begins reliving the same day over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. Easily underrated, it becomes more appreciable after (appropriately enough) repeat viewings.
12 Monkeys (1995).
Method of Travel: a very odd contraption
Terry Gilliam returned to the time travel theme with this haunting thriller, based on the innovative French short film “La Jetée” (1962). Bruce Willis stars as James Cole, a convict in a post-apocalyptic future who is given a chance for a reprieve; all he has to do is travel into the 1990s to find a cure for the viral outbreak that decimated humanity. Unfortunately, James’ memory and sanity begin to erode, as does his sense of what is and is not real. Gilliam is savvy enough to place his faith in the smart, twisty script by David and Janet Peoples, and scores memorable performances from Willis, Brad Pitt, and Madeleine Stowe.
Method of Travel: a homemade time machine
Written and directed by Shane Carruth on a budget of just $7,000, this mind-bender won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and scored limited theatrical release. Carruth, a mathematician and engineer, uses an experimental plot structure to tell the story of two create a time machine and begin manipulating the stock market for personal gain, with unexpected consequences. It’s a challenge to watch the first time around, but rewards the patient and observant viewer.