The 411 Movies Top 5 11.08.13: Top 5 Time Travel Movies
Posted by Shawn S. Lealos on 11.08.2013
From Back to the Future and The Terminator to Looper, Frequency, Time Cop and more, the 411 staff counts down their top 5 time travel movies of all time!
Welcome to Week 399 of the Movie Zone Top 5. My name is Shawn S. Lealos and you have entered my world.
The 411mania writers were given the following instructions: Next week, About Time comes out, a chick flick time travel movie that I heard is actually pretty good. So, this week lets count down our Top 5 time travel movies of all time.
Honorable Mentions: The Time Machine (1960), Twelve Monkeys (1995), Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann (1982), Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989), Freejack (1992)
5. A Sound of Thunder (2005)
A Sound of Thunder, based on a short story by Ray Bradbury and directed by Peter Hyams, makes absolutely no sense, but then very few time travel movies make any sense anyway. Most time travel movies, though, at least try to make their time travel seem plausible. A Sound of Thunder gives up after about a half hour and never bothers with all that of "making sense" nonsense. It's what makes the movie so much fun. Basically, it's Ed Burns trying to fix the present by trying to figure out what happened in the past that screwed everything up (someone on one of the Time Safari trips walked off the path and stomped on a butterfly, altering the future many times over). If Ed doesn't figure out what happened by the last "time quake" the present present will disappear and something new and different will take its place. That about sum it up? I think it does. It's a race against time to save time. It's an unintentionally brilliant movie that's sadly unappreciated. I think it deserves a special edition DVD.
4. Timecop (1994)
This sci-fi action flick, also directed by Peter Hyams, stars Jean Claude Van Damme as an agent of the "Time Enforcement Commission," a secret federal agency created by Congress to oversee time and space and make sure no one messes around with history. The flick's villain, an incredibly sleazy U.S. Senator played by Ron Silver, uses time travel to steal money from the past so he can fund his own Presidential campaign, a plot Van Damme tries to stop while dealing with his own time travel life issues. The best part of the movie is the ending, where Van Damme tricks Silver's character into meeting his younger self and because no two instances of the same matter can exist in the same space and time (I got that phrase from wikipedia) Van Damme pushes the Silvers together and Silver explodes. Great stuff. The direct-to-video sort of sequel Timecop: The Berlin Decision is pretty good, too, but it's not as good as the Van Damme original. Anyone out there ever watch the TV show?
3. Back to the Future (1985)
Back to the Future, the best of the three Back to the Future movies director Robert Zemeckis made, is all about making sure the future happens. When Michael J. Fox's Marty McFly ends up traveling back to 1955 and messes up the events of the original past he has to figure out how to get the past back on track so the future, his future, can happen. It's one of the few time travel movies that, thinking about it, makes sense, but I'd imagine that most people didn't think about that stuff back when it came out. It was all about the rising movie star Michael J. Fox, the brilliant Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown (he created the flux capacitor), and the rather light hearted, sincere story tone that just screams "Steven Spielberg is involved in this." The time machine, a fixed up Delorean, is also pretty dang cool. And who can forget the utter stupidity of bad guy Biff? Don't you just love it when he runs into the back of the manure truck?
2. The Terminator (1984)
The Terminator is basically a slasher movie involving time travel. You've got the big hulking killer robot assassin from the future (Ahnold Schwarzenegger) showing up in 1984 Los Angeles looking for Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), the mother of the leader of the future human resistance against the robots that eventually take over the world. Sent to protect Sarah is Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), a human soldier that is actually the father of the kid that Sarah eventually has. The flick has three sequels (Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, and Terminator Salvation) that all have their good points, their bad points, and their confusing points of time travel (does any of it really make any sense? What exactly are they trying to stop from happening? It sure seems as though there's no stopping the future. Skynet, no matter what, is apparently eventually going to rule). But the first movie is simple and clear cut and not all that confusing. I mean, yeah, John Connor, the head of the human resistance, meets his father as a young man, but it's best not to think about the implications of that. The Terminator is goddamn scary (it won't stop coming after you. Ever. "It's what he does!").
1. Trancers (1985)
Ah, yes, Trancers, the Tim Thomerson starring movie and movie series that I refuse to stop talking about. All five Trancers movies (I'm ignoring part 6 because it's awful and doesn't have Thomerson as Jack Deth so how the hell can it be a Trancers movie?) feature some form of time travel. Parts 2-5 feature actual time travel machines/vehicles that people get into in order to travel through time, which is cool and all, but the first movie has the coolest time travel conceit of them all: time travel via a special serum that allows a person to travel back through "the genetic bridge." As long as you have a known relative in the past you can travel back to that person's time and assume that person's identity. That's what Thomerson's Jack Deth does as he tries to prevent the evil Whistler from murdering the distant relatives of the future government called "The Council," making it impossible for the future to happen. Check out the ending and what Deth does to Whistler. It's still brilliant twenty-eight years later. "Dry hair's for squids." Ha.
This 2000 movie is a great showcase of the dangers of meddling in time. One night, a cop (Jim Caviezel) is fiddling around with an old ham radio when he starts talking to another man who turns out to be his father (Dennis Quaid), a firefighter who died when Caviezel was a child. Somehow, an aurora borealis is allowing them to talk over 30 years of distance, Caviezel convinced when Quaid drops a cigarette on the table in the past and a burn mark suddenly appears in the present. Caviezel warns his father about the fire that will kill him but in the process changes history as a serial killer who was supposed to have died in the past ends up living on and his victims include Quaid's wife. Now, the two have to work together across time to stop the killer, mixing in great bits (such as how Andre Braugher's cop in the past is convinced of the time travel by the results of the 1969 World Series), leading to a fun conclusion of how time can change dramatically and also a heartwarming touch of a man who lost everything getting it back.
The concept is delicious: In 2074, mobsters send people back 30 years to be killed in a past time without a trace. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of those men who faces the inevitable of "closing his own loop" when his latest victim turns out to be his own future self (Bruce Willis). A great bit is showing the timeline of Gordon-Levitt killing Willis, growing into a life of violence only to fall in love with a woman whose death he wishes to prevent. The uses of time travel are amazing like Gordon-Levitt sending a message to Willis by carving his own skin and the horrific fate of a man who tries to avoid his own closing. But humor too like when Jeff Daniels' mob boss tells Gordon-Levitt to avoid France as "I'm from the future. Trust me, you want to go to China." The actors do a good job selling the idea of the same man in different periods and even tackling the wild premise with Willis snapping "we start talking time travel shit, we'll be here all day." The turns to the plot are good, leading to a bold ending of how it takes a lot to change the future but might just be worth it if the promise of a better tomorrow is good enough.
3. 12 Monkeys
Turn Terry Gilliam loose on time travel and you can expect the results to be wild. This 1995 drama has Bruce Willis as a man from a 2035 where a plaque has wiped out nearly all of humanity, sent back, not to stop it but to gather information that can allow humanity to find a cure. His first trip sends him to an insane asylum in 1990 with a quirky patient (Brad Pitt) and Madeline Stowe as his therapist. When he vanishes and returns in 1995, Stowe is more open to his claims, especially after seeing a photo of him in WWI. The film mixes wild twists and turns, the question of how much is real and how much in Willis' broken mind and how it all links up to a segment of him as a child, showing that, despite all your efforts, some things are just meant to be and destiny is a much harder thing to stop than you think.
2. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
One of the best Trek movies ever, this utilizes time travel in a smart way (much better than the "stop JFK from being killed" arc Gene Rodenberry always pushed). Returning from Vulcan, the former Enterprise crew learn an alien probe is wreaking havoc on Earth to try and communicate with the long extinct humpback whales. Kirk makes the daring decision to use slingshotting in warp around a sun to go back to 1986, find some whales and bring them to the future. The idea of the 23rd century characters in modern times is fodder for great comedy such as Spock shutting up a guy on a bus but some fun bits here and there. For example, Scotty gives a scientist the formula for a super-glass and when asked if it's changing history remarks "how do we know he didn't invent the thing?" Or how Kirk doesn't realize that sending the Russian Chekov to check out a U.S. nuclear battleship isn't a smart move for the time. Packed with great humor and also heart, it's one of the best adventures in the franchise and how well time travel can work properly.
1. Back to the Future II
I know, I know, most would prefer the first movie for the fun of a kid of 1985 thrust into the 1950's and having to get his parents together. However, the first sequel actually shows time travel off better, particularly the effects of it. When in the future, Marty (unaware of how his future self becomes a mess) buys a sports almanac with the intention of using it. Doc Brown stops him but the aged Biff gets a hold of it, uses the DeLorean to go back and give it to his 1955 self who uses the information to become rich. Thus, when Marty and Doc return to 1985, it's a terrible place where Hill Valley is a corrupt and crime-ridden burg, Marty's father is dead and the powerful Biff is married to Marty's mom. It works great with a smart scene of Doc explaining to Marty (and the audience) how this all came about and why time travel can be so dangerous. In order to set things right, they have to go back to 1955 which has the element of Marty interacting with his own past self in events from the first film. Complicated but it manages to work and a good showcase for how time travel isn't as fun as it sounds with many dangers about.
Honorable Mentions:12 Monkeys, The Terminator, Star Trek 4:The Voyage Home, Army Of Darkness
5. Somewhere In Time (1980)
When Richard Matheson passed away I wrote a rather long winded but heartfelt tribute to the man. Most of the tribute centered around my love for this film and his source material Bid Time Return. I'm going to cut and paste from that a bit because my thoughts then about this film still ring true today. I first saw the film, a simple boy meets girl love story via Mathesons brilliant mind while in college. Christopher Reeve, fresh off Superman, is a young author who retires to an old hotel to find inspiration for his next novel. What he finds however is an infatuation with a young actress (Jane Seymour) from the early part of the 1900's. His infatuation overtakes him and he desperately seeks to find a way to travel back in time to meet Seymour. He eventually succeeds and leaps into a whirlwind romance with the young starlet. Only to be ripped back though time by a cruel twist of fate. This is a love story by way of Richard Matheson and The Twilight Zone, with a story so heartbreaking even the toughest guys will be forcing back tears in the end.
4. Field Of Dreams(1989)
If there's one thing I like more than horror, scifi, my wife, pretty much anything else, it's baseball. So when you combine scifi and baseball you immediately fly up my list. When you do it as well as Field Of Dreams you immediately make my top five. You should know the story by now and if you don't shame on you, Kevin Costner is instructed by a mysterious voice to build a ballpark in his Iowa cornfield, all so he can play catch with his deceased father. If you are a father, or have a father or know how to spell father than there is no way when Costner asks his dad to play catch that there isn't a tear in your eye. Then there is James Earl Jones giving perhaps the greatest speech about baseball in the history of cinema: "The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come." I get choked up just cutting and pasting it. Not your typical time travel film, but who wouldn't want to travel back in time or in this case bring their father forward for that one last catch, that one last moment with him. Sniff.
3. Bill and Teds Excellent Adventure(1989)
The film that taught us two very important lessons regarding time travel: Beethoven loves Bon Jovi's 'Slippery When Wet' and "San Dimas high school football rules!" True story, back during my formative years my parents began the practice of letting me and my two younger sisters each choose a film to rent form the video store. First shot out I chose Bill and Ted. needless to say it was a long time before I got to chose a film again and my father still never let's me forget it. His lack of love for the film certainly did not extend to me, nor to most other folks who were coming into their own in 1989. This film has everything you could possible want in a time travel film: Bowling with Napoleon, George Carlin, not so subtle Doctor Who references, and Jane Weildin staking her claim as the hottest Go Go (a claim that still stands to this day). While the first two films on my list are pretty heady affairs - this one is pure fun all while presenting the age old paradox: How can you make a totally righteous video with out Eddie Van Halen but how can you get Eddie Van Halen without a totally righteous video? Head scratching.
2. Planet Of The Apes(1968)
A time travel film that's not really a time travel film until the end of the last real, and that's what makes it so brilliant. These days anyone who's seen the film knows the astronauts have crash landed on Earth in the distant future. The image of the destroyed and half buried Statue Of Liberty is now nothing but a cliche. But the first time you see it, the first time it clicks - damn if that doesn't just knock your dick in the dirt. Charleton Heston leads a group of astronauts to the farthest reaches of space only to wake up on a planet where apes are the controlling species and man has been subjugated. As Taylor reveals more of Ape-kinds hypocrisy in their ways, it becomes more and more apparent that there is something more afoot than just landing on another planet. An absolutely brilliant film that inspired a series of sequels that told the origin of the original in a sort of circular, timey wimey, prequel manner...and I love them all.
1. Back To The Future(1985)
In my humble opinion Back To The Future is the perfect time travel film. It's funny. It's heartfelt. It's creepy. Marty McFly mistakenly travels back in time running from some Lybians who have just killed his friend eccentric scientist Doc Brown. He is transported back to 1955 where he meets his parents and inadvertently disrupts their pending relationship. Marty is forced to get his parents back together before being totally erased from existence. Along the way he invents rock'n roll, inspires a future mayor and shows his mom his underwear. It's simply a wonderful film, one of the few that shows actual good coming of messing with the space time continuum. Plus there's Huey Lewis, and really, nothing can go wrong when Huey Lewis in involved.
Shawn S. Lealos
It is the newest movie on my list, but damn if Rian Johnson didn't just knock it out of the park with this one. After the brilliant Brick led to the quirky but decent Brothers Bloom, Johnson really churned out a minor masterpiece with Looper. The movie stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who also starred in Brick, as a "Looper" or a hit man who is sent victims from the future who he murders and eliminates the body – what seems to be a perfect way to eliminate someone without any evidence. The one caveat is that the Loopers will one day be sent themselves, who they will then kill, retire and live out their lives until their time comes. When Levitt's future self arrives in the form of Bruce Willis, he accidentally blows the kill and has to search him out and eliminate him before his bosses come for him. There is a twist at the end that is kind of hokey, but it doesn't hurt how great this movie is.
I absolutely love this underappreciated and underrated movie. Jim Caviezel is a cop who is having a tough time. His dad died when he was a child and he has struggled ever since. One day he finds an old short wave radio, and while playing with it, someone else contact him on it and the two begin to have a nice conversation. Well, it is nice until he realizes the voice on the side is his dead father from many years before (Dennis Quaid). Caviezel then does what he should never do and decides to change the past and he saves his dad from the accident that took his life. Of course, when you change the past, things change in the future and he soon finds his dad and mom are now both dead and he has to figure out how to fix things as his entire life changes and spirals out of control. The ending is a sappy one, but as a sucker for father-son stories, this one gets me every time.
3. Army of Darkness
I love the Evil Dead franchise. As a matter of fact, back when I was in film school I did an audio commentary for the first Evil Dead movie, describing all the trick shots and effects, for my senior capstone project. Everyone calls Evil Dead 2 one of the best horror movies of all time, which is awesome, but I LOVE the first movie because of the charm of the low budget effects and love Army of Darkness because of the humor. In this movie, Ash travels back in time and has to save a village from the evil Deadittes and an evil version of himself. I also love the original ending where he doesn't get back home and heads too far into the future where the world is destroyed.
2. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Terminator is more about time travel, with Kyle Reece coming back in time to save a pregnant Sarah Connor from a Terminator sent back to kill her to eliminate the man who led the revolution against the machines. But, if that is a time travel movie, then so is the second movie which is MILES better and one of the best action movies of all time. In this one, a Terminator that looks just like the one from the first is sent back to save a now teenage John Connor from a more advanced model sent back to kill him. I never understood why they didn't just send the newer model back to do what the first one couldn't do, but it was still an amazing movie and is one of my favorite movies.
1. 12 Monkeys
When trying to figure out my favorite movies of all time, 12 Monkeys has always stayed in my Top 5 – bouncing around there depending on what kind of mood I am in. In the movie, Bruce Willis is a prisoner who is promised a pardon if he comes back in time to try to figure out and stop the incident that made Earth pretty much uninhabitable for humans. When he gets there, everyone thinks he is insane as he tries to find a group called the 12 Monkeys, led by a brilliant Brad Pitt as a mentally unstable environmentalist. This is quite simply one of the most brilliant time travel movies ever made, and one of the best of all time.