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Published on January 12th, 2010 | by Darren Byrne

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Darren’s Top 5 Time Travel Movies

Despite what the song may say, time is not on my side. Time is a harsh teacher – the test comes first, the lessons later. Time brings aging, mistakes and regret. But what if you could go back? What if you had the chance to change things, to correct the mistakes and make things better? Would you do it? Could you do it?

Thankfully, we have Hollywood to help us answer these questions for us. The movies take the what-ifs and play them out on the big screen. Here’s my Top Five Time Travel Movies.

5. Twelve Monkeys (1995)

“Cassandra in Greek legend, you recall, was condemned to know the future but to be disbelieved when she foretold it.”

With a brilliant cast that includes Brad Pitt, Bruce Willis and Madeleine Stowe, this Terry Gilliam movie is a futuristic thriller. In Twelve Monkeys, Willis plays James Cole, a seemingly deranged prisoner sent back in time to find out the exact cause a plague that destroys most of humanity and makes the earth’s surface uninhabitable. As the jabbering madman Jeffrey Goines, Brad Pitt has an intense deviousness that is responsible for unnerving the viewer and creating the film’s central mystery. Gilliam keeps the audience guessing and that’s one of the film’s strengths: we’re never really sure we know what we’re seeing. Suspenseful and darkly brooding, Twelve Monkeys is well worth watching three or four times to truly appreciate it.

4. Primer (2004)

“Are you hungry? I haven’t eaten since later this afternoon.”

A former mathematician and engineer, Shane Carruth is responsible for the scientifically plausible and exceptionally credible Primer. The movie explores the exploits of two scientists who build a device that allows them to travel back in time to for financial gain. Primer portrays time travel in the realistic sense — it using actual science instead of fantasy as the vehicle for travel. The dialogue is dense and at times may leave the viewer confused (it certainly hurt my brain on the first two viewings). If you can figure out the premise, you’ll appreciate how big budget blockbusters are not the only means of entertainment in today’s movie scene. Shockingly, Primer was made on a budget of only $7,000.

3. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)

Abraham Lincoln: “Fourscore and seven minutes ago… we, your forefathers, were brought forth upon a most excellent adventure conceived by our new friends, Bill and Ted. These two great gentlemen are dedicated to a proposition which was true in my time, just as it’s true today. Be excellent to each other. And… PARTY ON, DUDES!”

Bill and TedBill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure provides an entertaining history lesson filled with comedy and memorable characters. Starring Alex Winter and more notably Keanu Reeves. George Carlin plays their guid, Rufus, who provides them with their time travel vehicle: the phone boot (Doctor..ahem..Who??). The duo go back to retrieve actual historical figures to bring them to the present time in order to complete their history project. Ultimately, they save the world. 🙂 Sophisticated? No! Entertaining? Hell yes!

2. The Terminator (1984)

“Are you saying it’s from the future?”

James Cameron’s Terminator is one of the tightest, most tense sci-fi films ever made and a landmark in the genre. In the year 2029, battles rage between the machines and the last of humanity. In late-20th-century LA, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) suddenly finds herself stalked by an unstoppable killing machine – a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) sent from the future to kill her and her unconceived son, John Connor, the future leader of the human resistance. Sarah can rely only on Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), a soldier sent from the future to protect her from the seemingly indestructible Terminator and save humanity. This relatively low-budget masterpiece was the breakthrough film for director Cameron and began a vicious time line that just might kill your brain. Although, if you can get your head around it, maybe you could click here for the Primer timeline. Mwahahah!

1. Back to the Future (1985)

“Wait a minute, Doc. Ah… Are you telling me that you built a time machine… out of a DeLorean?”

Every so often there comes along a movie that is so good that it defines its genre. If you were a child of the 1980s you grew up with Back to the Future. You can quote the lines and identify with the characters. As the movie starts we learn that the McFly family’s youngest son Marty (Michael J. Fox) is the rebel of the clan and his friendship with the odd, eccentric scientist Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd) forms the core of the story. Marty travels back back to 1955 and and helps his parents during their teen years in order to save his own present (without erasing his existence in the process). Doc’s time travelling Delorean is so famous it has become synonymous with time travel.

Those are my selection but I’d love to hear what you think. Are you annoyed I left out Time Bandits? Should Army of Darkness be on the list?

I do have a few honourable mentions to add: Though not a time travel movie, Pleasantville does an incredible job of capturing era displacement. 🙂 It’s a beautiful movie. Similarly, Groundhog Day isn’t strictly time travel but it does play with the concept. It’s an awesome film and if you pay attention to Culch.ie over the next week or so, you’ll be hearing a lot more about it.

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About the Author

Blogger, writer, movie buff, amateur dramatist and all round nice guy. When I'm not spouting about on Culch.ie, I can be found Tweeting inanities @DarrenByrne or @Culch_ie. I am the admin behind Culch.ie and if you want to contact me for anything, drop me a mail.



13 Responses to Darren’s Top 5 Time Travel Movies

  1. paddypadman says:

    Glad to see that BTTF made No.1!

  2. Niall says:

    Darren!!! W00t! I love time travel movies. You’ve covered nearly all the best ones, but who can forget the legend that was The Jetsons Meet the Flintstones!

    I’d propose the modern Star Trek and The Voyage Home, Generations and First Contact for having time travel as core plot-points.

    Ultimately I’m just annoyed that you left out Planet of the Apes.

  3. Nicola-t says:

    Can’t say I disagree with those at all! …and I’m in a very combative mood since finishing my worst / best films of the decade posts over on http://www.averagefilmreviews.com 😉

    The only one I would wonder a little about it Primer, I did think it was great and I’m sure all the loops were cohesive when they wrote it however I wonder… did they take out a little too much for it to all make sense to someone watching the movie?

    I think a viewer can make certain leaps during it but I’m not sure that there are always the scenes to back it up.

    Then again I’ve only seen it twice, may need a few more viewings.

  4. DavidONeill says:

    Great list. Not a film but if we’re talking great time travel stories an honerable mention must go to Quantum Leap.

  5. Emlyn says:

    @ DavidONeill – yes Quantum Leap if it weren’t TV…but Doctor Who might be in there also. Though that’s time AND space travel 😉

  6. Sinéad says:

    I love love love Time Travel plots.

    I would have included The Butterfly Effect, Flight of the Navigator and Time Bandits.

    Bill & Ted always reminds me of that cartoon series that followed it, watched it endlessly on Saturday mornings.

  7. Stan says:

    Great choices, Darren. Not a dodgy one in the pack. And though I like Army of Darkness, I wouldn’t describe it as a time-travel film.
    La Jetée is very good, similar to Twelve Monkeys but short (28 min.), black and white, and composed mostly of still photographs. Donnie Darko would be there or thereabouts too.

  8. voodoo says:

    The butterfly effect.

    UUUUUGHHHHH.

  9. Darren Byrne says:

    @Paddypadman That was never in question. It’s the ultimate time travel movie – defines the genre.

    @Niall I definitely considered First Contact for the list. Great film. But PotA never did anything for me.

    @Nicola I’ve watched Primer a good few times now. It’s such a great film. The mindbending plot aside, there are some great understated characters and a genuinely gripping atmosphere throughout. Give it another 4 or 5 or 10 viewings . 🙂

    @David Ah, that’s on a whole different list. And it would never come close to matching Doctor Who.

    @Emlyn So, what’s on your list?

    @Sinead Loved that cartoon.

    @Stan That came up a few times in my research. I’ll have to look into it.

    @Voodoo Are you saying you liked The Butterfly Effect? It did nowt for me.

  10. Peter Balfe says:

    Well obviously Army or Darkness needs to be number 1. ‘Nuff said.

  11. Emlyn says:

    @ Darren – well my rough top five would be:

    (5) The Time Machine – not the 😛 Guy Pearce remake of a few years back, but the Rod Taylor original adaptation of the H.G.Wells novel. The Morlocks scared me when i was small…still do…lol.

    (4) Time After Time – back with Mr. Wells, though this time he is an actual character (played by Malcolm McDowell) in a plot involving time-travel and Jack The Ripper.

    (3) Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure – just for the sheer fun of it. And took me a while to cop the Doctor Who tribute/spoof 😉 Love the sequel too.

    (2) Twelve Monkeys – what can i say? Visually rich, imaginative, with an intriguing plot. Terry Gilliam – enough said. I recently saw La Jetee a few weeks back…very intriguing use of telling a story with (99%) stills.

    (1) Has to be Back To The Future. One of my favourite films of all time. And the sequels are okay, if not up to the standard of the first.

    Honourable mentions – The Terminator (though i really don’t think of it as a time-travel movie), Frequency (a little gem from a few years back), and Time Bandits (Mr. Gilliam again). Primer is something i want to see in the future (ba-boom) 😉

  12. voodoo says:

    Holy crap no Darren, that was a groaning sort of UGHHHHHHH.

  13. Keleher says:

    Darren, good film topic 🙂

    The Time Machine with Rod Taylor was good, I remember a ‘B’ sci-fi film in which the characters were stuck in a time loop which went faster and faster near the end of the film, some monstrous beings attacking. It was not that good, but applicable.

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