Top 10 Time Travel Movies
Honorable mentions: The Butterfly Effect, The Jacket, Time Bandits, Timecrimes
Time After Time
The directorial debut of Nicholas Meyer, the man who wrote the only good Sherlock Holmes story not written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (The Seven-Per-Cent Solution) and would later go on to direct the two best Star Trek films, Time After Time is a light-hearted movie that posits what would happen if H.G. Wells and Jack the Ripper transported from 1893 London into 1979 San Francisco. While the story sounds campy as can be (and the movie occasionally is), the writers clearly took their premise seriously, bringing in extensive knowledge of both Wells and the Ripper to craft an adventure that is as smart as it is silly. The cast, including the likes of Malcolm McDowell, David Warner, and Mary Steenburgen, propel the film through its more ludicrous beats, and there are many scenes that are memorable. Granted, the rules of time travel are inconsistent (one of my pet peeves), but seeing H.G. Wells' surprise at a future that isn't a socialist utopia makes up for that in spades.
The Final Countdown
The biggest problem with 1980's sci-fi flick The Final Countdown is that, every time I think about it, I get the song of the same name by Europe stuck in my head. Aside from that, the movie is about an aircraft carrier--under the command of Captain Yelland (Kirk Douglas)--that encounters a bizarre weather event and travels back in time to 1941, mere days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The crew of the carrier, along with civilian Warren Lasky (Martin Sheen), once they determine for certain that they have travelled through time, are then forced to debate how to act; should they stop the Japanese from attacking Pearl Harbor, or should they let history run its course? The Final Countdown is like a beginner's guide to time travel issues, and the rules are simple and consistent. The premise is never adequately explained and some of the dialogue is as subtle as Jack Bauer with a belt sander, but it's still a good movie that paves the way for most of the more complicated time travel flicks on this list.
Somewhere in Time
Based on my favorite novel by one of my favorite writers, Somewhere in Time is about Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve), a young playwright who is approached by an old, dying woman who says simply, "Come back to me," hands him a watch, and disappears. Later, Collier vacations at the Grand Hotel, where he sees and becomes obsessed with an old portrait of an actress named Elise McKenna (Jane Seymour). It turns out McKenna was the old woman who is now dead, and Collier finds at her home a book on time travel. He visits the author of the book and uses his ideas to travel back to 1912 and meet McKenna at the Grand Hotel. What follows from there is a trite romance story, but it works because of the setting, the music, and the acting, all of which are stellar. Though the movie deviates in some pretty unforgiveable ways from the book, failed at the box office (it opened the same week as The Blues Brothers), and was blasted by critics as pointless drivel, Somewhere in Time has since earned a cult following throughout the world.
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure
Why is Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure on this list? Well, it's about two idiotic teenagers who, at the bidding of a time travelling George Carlin, go back in time and kidnap several important historical figures in order to give a presentation on history that will earn them a passing grade. They do all of this so they can impress "historical babes," stay together, and become the godlike figures they are destined to eventually become. They bring Beethoven, Genghis Khan, Abraham Lincoln, Joan of Arc, Socrates, Napoleon, Sigmund Freud, and Billy the Kid together into modern-day San Dimas, California and let them loose in the local mall, where Beethoven discovers electronic keyboards, Genghis Khan discovers sporting goods, and much, much more. In other words, the movie is on this list because it is awesome. If you have a problem with that, you're just wrong.
Terry Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys is about a convict in a future that has been decimated by a lethal virus that only affects humans. This convict, James Cole (Bruce Willis), is sent back in time to find clues about the virus' origins so that the people of the future can reclaim a planet apparently overrun by animals. Cole falls in love with both the past and a psychiatrist, Dr. Railly (Madeleine Stowe), who nearly convinces him that the future is a contruct of his insane mind. He then tries to escape his captors, who can track him through time, and begins unravelling a conspiracy involving a group headed by Dr. Railly's former patient, Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt in his best role ever), known as "The Army of the Twelve Monkeys." The Army appears to be responsible for releasing the virus, as Goines' father (Christopher Plummer) is the biochemist who creates the virus in the first place. The movie is mind-bending and trippy, and it represents probably the best thing Terry Gilliam has done since his Monty Python days.
-e. magill 11/23/2010