Top 10 Bits: Time Travel Films

Back to the Future - Time Circuits

Time travel is cool. While Hollywood seems to fall in and out of love with time travel, if the sheer number of remakes, reboots and sequels is anything to go by, revisiting the past is a box office requirement. After Sydney Film Festival‘s closing night film Safety Not Guaranteed, we got to thinking. Who are some of our favourite time travellers? What are some of the perils of travelling through time? And where do we get our own time machine.

Our list will take you back to the 1920s, through the 1950s, back to the time of Socrates and frequently to the most dangerous era of all: the 1980s!

MIdnight in Paris

10. Midnight in Paris (2011)

Traveller: Gil Pender (Owen Wilson)
From: 2012 → 1920s → 1890s
Method of Travel: Peugeot Type 176
Drawbacks: The allure of nostalgia; surrealists

Unhappy with the age he is living in, Gil Pender pines for the “golden era” of the 1920s. When he finds himself magically whisked there at the stroke of midnight while on a trip to Paris, where he falls in love with a local (Marion Cotillard) along with meeting  Alice B. Toklas, Cole Porter, Josephine Baker, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, who take him to meet Ernest Hemingway. A return to form for Woody Allen, who was in danger of being lost in Scarlett Johansson-Land, and Wilson playing a pitch-perfect stand-in for the man himself.

Escape from the Planet of the Apes

9. Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)

Traveller: Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), Zira (Kim Hunter) and Dr. Milo (Sal Mineo)
From: Undisclosed → 1973
Method of Travel: Icarus spaceship
Drawbacks: Humans; Initiating the downfall of humanity

Following the destruction of the Planet of the Apes (nee: Earth) in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, apes Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), Zira (Kim Hunter) and Dr. Milo (Sal Mineo) escape the exploding planet in the salvaged space capsule of Taylor (Charlton Heston). The shockwave sends them back in time to 1973, where they become the subject of government interest. In a way, this action brings about the events of the first two films, making this both a prequel and a sequel in that predestination paradox wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey way.  Like all good sci-fi, it also covers experimentation on animals, nuclear war and government intrusion.

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure

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

Traveller: “Ted” Theodore Logan (Keanu Reeves), Bill S. Preston, Esquire (Alex Winter)
From: 1988 → Various
Method of Travel: Phone booth
Drawbacks: Failing history class (bogus!); altering history; military school

When Bill and Ted are visited by Rufus (the late, great George Carlin), they find out that if they don’t pass history, Ted will be shipped off to military school in Alaska, thus ruining a future in which their music brings harmony. In a phone booth, reminiscent of Doctor Who, the Californian duo travel through time to meet the likes of Socrates, Napoleon and a couple of willing wenches. Party on dudes!

12 Monkeys - Time Machine

7. 12 Monkeys (1995)

Traveller: James Cole (Willis)
From: Post-apocalyptic future → 1996
Method of Travel: Projector/collector set up with spatial coordinates
Drawbacks: Animal attack; sealing your own fate

Based on Chris Marker’s 1962 short film La jetée, the world has been stricken by a deadly virus in the future, that scientists believe was unleashed in 1996-1997. So they send Cole (Willis) back in time to find out who was behind it, and buddy up with Brad Pitt. Director Terry Gilliam also evokes Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) in this clever twist on the temporal travelling film canon.

Flight of the Navigator

6. Flight of the Navigator (1986)

Traveller: David Freeman (Joey Cramer)
From: 1986 → 1978
Method of Travel: Alien spacecraft with talking phallus that sounds like Pee Wee Herman
Drawbacks: Human body not withstanding stress of time travel; talking phallus that sounds like Pee Wee Herman

After a late night stroll in the woods, 12-year-old David wakes up to find that eight years have passed, although he has not aged. Eventually, he finds out that he was taken aboard an alien spacecraft and probed (mentally) and light-speed travel resulted in him being misplaced in time. Released when CG animation was just starting out, Flight of the Navigator was the world’s first 35 mm feature film to use environment mapping, creating the illusion of a chrome spacecraft occupying a live-action area. It has contains Beach Boys music.

The Terminator Time Travel - Arnie is naked!

5. The Terminator (1984)

Traveller: T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn)
From: 1986 → 1978
Method of Travel: Time Displacement Equipment (TDE)
Drawbacks: Nudity; Being crushed in machinery; Sleeping with your boss’s mother

You ever have that dream where you are thrown back in time, and you have to protect this chick who is destined to be the mother of the saviour of humanity? And you’re naked? When Naked Arnie sets out to kill Sarah Connor, like some kind of non-giving up robot guy, only one man in hobo pants can stop him.

Donnie Darko - Time Travel

4. Donnie Darko

Traveller: Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal), but that’s where it gets confusing…
From: See above
Method of Travel: Wormhole
Drawbacks: Rabbits; airplane engines

When a rabbit tells you to go outside, you say “Yes”. One of the less conventional time travel movies, could this be for real or a psychotic break? Either way look out for Cunningham and his “dungeon”.

Safety Not Guaranteed

3. Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

Traveller: Kenneth
From: 2012 → undisclosed
Method of Travel: That would be a spoiler
Drawbacks: He’s only done this once before. Must bring own weapons. Safety not guaranteed.

Another film where the time travel may or may not take place, but the magic is wanting to see it happen. Based on the newspaper article and Internet meme of the same name,  Safety Not Guaranteed is one of the most charming films of 2012, and destined to be a cult classic. Safety may not be assured, but big sloppy grins are guaranteed. Weapons are optional.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

2. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

Traveller: The crew of the late Starship Enterprise NCC-1701
From: 2286 → 1986
Method of Travel: Klingon Bird-of-Prey, slingshot around the sun
Drawbacks: Power loss; inventing transparent aluminium; punks on buses

The mid-1980s clearly had a time vortex in the middle of them, for many temporal anomalies occurred there. Needing a set of humpbacks to take back and…erm…hump in the future, the crew set out to save the Earth from collective alien probing. This fish-out-of-water comedy was just the ticket for the Star Trek franchise, injecting a large dose of comedy after the often weighty Search for Spock. We challenge anyone to not to get a chuckle out of the Russian Chekov (Walter Koenig) asking unsuspecting 1980s US civilians where he can find the “nuclear wessles”.

Back to the Future

1. Back to the Future (1985)

Traveller: Marty McFly
From: 1985 → To: 1955
Method of Travel: A modified De Lorean with flux capacitor.
Drawbacks: Could get stuck with insufficient plutonium; unwarranted attraction by mother; unravel own existence

Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) is thrown back in time in a time machine invented by Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) because of the damn Libyan terrorists. The original Back to the Future remains fresh and exciting after a quarter of a century largely thanks to its inherent simplicity. Undertones of incest aside, it’s pure magical fun, and with the exception of the opening and closing light show, this is a simple fish-out-of-water period piece.

What are some of your favourite time travel films? Let us know below or hit us up on Twitter.