Five Great Time Travel Movies

Scott Wallace
21st Oct 2015

In the iconic second instalment of Robert Zemeckis’s time travel trilogy Back to the Future, Marty McFly and Doc Brown travel forward through time – to October 21, 2015. In case you’ve missed it, that’s today. In honour of what’s being dubbed “Back to the Future day,” we’re taking a look at five other time travel movies that will bend your mind and warp reality as you know it.

La Jetée (1963)

This short film is arguably one of the best sci-fi movies of all time, and even directly inspired the classic 12 Monkeys starring Bruce Willis. It’s a tale of a dystopian future, a daring time travel narrative and a touching love story that ruminates on the nature of mortality, told almost entirely through still images. The film begins with the film’s unnamed protagonist watching planes at the airport with his parents – he witnesses a man being shot, and shortly thereafter, war breaks out, resulting in global destruction and the near-extinction of the human race. One person – our protagonist – is chosen to undergo an experimental procedure to travel back in time in order to save them from their fate. Once there, he discovers he may be losing more than he ever knew he had to the icy flow of time.

The Terminator (1984)

Don’t think too hard about the practicalities of time travel in The Terminator and its equally ground-breaking sequel, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, or you’re likely to get a headache. Just enjoy one of the most exciting and original sci-fi stories ever told. The cyborg T-1000 (the unstoppable Terminator of the title) is sent back in time to eliminate Sarah Connor, the mother of John Connor who is destined to lead the resistance after the machine uprising in the year 2029. Also sent back in time is Kyle Reese, whose mission is to save Sarah (and, as it turns out, become John Connor’s father). Telling a high-concept, high octane story on a relatively low budget, The Terminator is a big, exciting, but still brainy film, with jaw-dropping effects and a real human heart beating at its centre.

Groundhog Day (1993)

This romantic comedy starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell isn’t your typical time travel movie, but it definitely fits the brief. On a trip to the small town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to report on the town’s famous Groundhog Day festivities, Phil Connors (Murray) finds that he is stuck in a time loop from which it seems he’ll never escape. Phil seems to be the only one aware that the day is repeating endlessly, and while at first he responds with despair, he eventually comes to embrace the time he has been given and attempts to better himself. Part of his motivation is the gorgeous Rita (McDowell), his producer who travelled to Punxsutawney with him, and with whom he slowly develops a bond. Groundhog Day is a smart, funny and sweet movie with a genuine message about how we relate to the world and how we use the time we’ve been given.

Donnie Darko (2001)

Donnie Darko is a philosophical head-trip wrapped in tantalisingly dark teen angst. 3D movies are all the rage now, but this movie’s multi-layered, concertina narrative is told in four dimensions - the fourth dimension being time itself. Lured out of his bed one night by a horrifying apparition of a giant rabbit, Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) narrowly escapes death when a jet engine falls on his family home and directly on his bedroom where he should have been sleeping. From there, a chain of events leads Donnie down a rabbit-hole of theoretical science and metaphysics. In this film, everything loops back upon itself, and essentially the narrative forms a ring of fascinating cosmic coincidence and karma that will have you pondering its for days.

Midnight in Paris (2011)

One of the high points of Woody Allen’s otherwise drab late career, this time travelling romance came out of seemingly nowhere to become a box office hit and an Oscar winner. Owen Wilson stars as Gil Pender, a struggling writer who seems paralysed by his inability to keep in step with the 21st Century, which drives his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) insane. Instead Gil craves to move among the likes of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel in 1920’s Paris. His wish comes true one night when he suddenly steps into the past, and it seems that he has found a new purpose in life among his long dead heroes, and in the company of Adriana (Marion Cotillard) a muse of Pablo Picasso. The movie ultimately shows us, though, that borrowed nostalgia only serves to fixate us on something unobtainable, and the only way to get anywhere is to go forward.