Time travel grabs the interest of just about everyone as it tickles two different senses. The first is to correct a personal mistake. To either stop something bad from happening or to possibly save someone we care about. This selfishness of not having to go through a personal tragedy is attractive to anyone who has suffered loss.
The second is to correct a global mistake. If given the chance killing Hitler before his rise to power could save millions of lives. Both of these have a pull that makes everyone wonder what could have been. As we see in most time travel movies when you mess with the past it could change the future in ways no one could have imagined or wanted.
Planet Of The Apes (1968)
The best part of the time travel in Planet Of The Apes is that you don’t even know it’s a time travel story until the very end. During a mission out into space, the crew crash lands on a planet inhabited by intelligent apes. Humans have been enslaved and fight to survive. After battling back and forth the humans finally escape only to find that they have been on Earth this whole time.
There is nothing better than seeing the broken image of the Statue Of Liberty as Charlton Heston screams on the beach. They blew it up! This twist had to catch the audience off guard when it premiered. Thinking they would be safe as all this was happening on a different planet only to find out that this was a glimpse into the future where man has failed itself.
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
Excellent! The movie that made air guitar famous. The simple concept here is that Bill and Ted just have to pass their History exam. The future depends on it. For the audience, it is something they can relate to. The looming threat of getting an F was enough to turn most people’s stomach’s in high school. When the phone booth shows up and Rufus tells them that all their answers are only a phone call away made any kids heart race.
Having the ability to go anywhere and anywhen is a fantasy everyone would love to have. Seeing Bill and Ted bring their present-day (for 1989) sensibilities to the ancient past makes for a lot of fun. Then bringing iconic figures like Billy The Kid, Beethoven, and Joan Of Arc to the present and seeing them find their way in a modern setting makes this an instant classic. How does history reconcile itself in the middle of mall culture?
The Terminator (1984)
What if the savior of mankind is killed before he is even born. This one is interesting as it takes the question of killing Hitler and reverses it. After technology gains sentience it sends back an assassin to kill its biggest enemy. Great setup. The menacing Terminator prowling the streets searching for Sarah Connor ended up catapulting Arnold Schwarzenegger into stardom and created a franchise that is still going to this day.
While the time travel aspect isn’t fully explored in this first entry it sets the story in motion and brings a lot of questions about fate vs predestination. If John Connor didn’t send back Kyle Reese to protect his mom would he ever be born? The brain melts if you try to think about it too much.
12 Monkeys (1995)
Having time travel set against Terry Gilliam’s usual bleak and dark settings makes for an interesting film. The hows of time travel are never explained and the story is better off for it. All we need to know is that sometime in the future a plague has hit humanity hard. In order to find out how to prevent it, scientists are sending back prisoners to gather as much info on the virus as possible.
Bruce Willis is our constantly confused main character as he tries to remember his orders. After his different accidental trips through history, he finally reaches his designated time frame where he meets up with a creepy Brad Pitt who is believed to be the one responsible for mankind’s downfall. Pitt is incredible in his role and showed every he actually had range rather than the pretty boy he had been labeled. A great look again at fate and predestination while set in a complex Terry Gilliam setting.
Back To The Future (1985)
I’m not sure there is a more famous time travel movie. The first movie brings up the idea of having a teenager go back to see what his parents were like in high school. This idea is something everyone can latch onto. It gives the viewer a glimpse into an area of their own life that they weren’t around for. What do their parents want to be before they are bogged down with the mundane essentials of family life?
The time travel aspects are a lot of fun. Marty not only gets to experience the past but also put his mark on it. While usually the parents are responsible for giving their kids advice and encouragement to be the best versions of themselves, here we see the exact opposite. Marty actually makes his dad stand up and believe in himself. This helps make every aspect of his life better going forward and makes life better for the whole family.
When we get to the second film of the series the time travel antics really get pushed to the moon. There we get a trip to the future, an alternate 1985 where Biff is in charge of the entire town, and a trip back to the first movie to see it from a completely different angle. Not many sequels can say that they are able to go back and re-examine the first film from a completely different point of view. It adds a whole other level to the story. When you rewatch the first one you know in your head that a whole different story is happening back in the shadows where no one can see. That is using time travel at its best.
What would be on your own time travel movies list? Talk back below!