It's About Time: 10 Movies That Travel Back in It (trailers)

Rafer Guzmán / Newsday (MCT)

The raunchy new comedy "Hot Tub Time Machine" isn't exactly going for scientific accuracy: The key ingredient that allows the characters to journey through the space-time continuum turns out to be a can of Red Bull-style energy drink.

But time travel, no matter how seriously or comedically portrayed, never loses its power over our imaginations. It's a device that allows us to break the most basic law of life: What's done is done. Of course, sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't. Here are 10 time-travel movies, ranked from the most realistic to the most ridiculous — which isn't necessarily a bad thing.


1. PRIMER (2004)

PLOT: In a Texas suburb, two engineers accidentally create a time-travel device. Their first thought: stock market! Their next thought: everything else.

TWO-TIMING: In this low-budget but highly complex film, the heroes create doubles of themselves in a temporary, temporal loop. In other words: mind-boggling.



PLOT: Victorian Londoner H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) chases Jack the Ripper (David Warner) into modern-day San Francisco.

FUTURE SHOCK: The Ripper finds that our violent era suits him, while Wells — who in his time argued for free love — finds a few upsides as well.



PLOT: Michael J. Fox plays Marty McFly, a teenager who travels to the 1950s to turn his nebbishy father (Crispin Glover) into a stand-up guy.

SWEET RIDE: The time-traveling DeLorean is more memorable than believable, but there's some logic to the notion that Marty might cease to exist if his parents never meet.



PLOT: Once again, H.G. Wells (Rod Taylor) is traveling in a machine of his own invention. This time, he journeys beyond the present day into a (seemingly) peaceful future.

SQUARE ONE: Arguably the first major time-travel movie, this adaptation of Wells' novel raises broad questions about civilization, evolution and war.


5. TIME BANDITS (1981)

PLOT: Lonely young Kevin is befriended by a troupe of time-traveling dwarves who take him back to Ancient Greece.

VISION THING: The real attraction here is watching writer-director Terry Gilliam reveal his future style, a mix of medieval grittiness and steampunk machinery.



PLOT: Peggy Sue (Kathleen Turner) travels back to 1960 and tries to repair her broken marriage to Charlie (Nicolas Cage).

SIMPLE SOLUTION: Who needs a machine? In this movie, Peggy Sue simply faints at her high-school reunion and wakes up in a different decade.



PLOT: Henry (Eric Bana) loves Clare (Rachel McAdams) but suffers from a genetic condition that causes him to bop all over the timeline.

FREE RANGE: Why is Henry limited to our contemporary era? This overly serious romance would have been more fun if he occasionally popped up in a dinosaur's lair, or landed in the Jetsons' living room.



PLOT: The crew of the Enterprise discover that Earth's existence depends on the survival of humpback whales, already extinct.

HIGHLY ILLOGICAL: Slingshotting around the sun to go back in time? That's almost as goofy as Superman rewinding the clock by forcing Earth to rotate the other way.



PLOT: Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves play two high-school metalheads whose history report becomes more interesting than they expected.

BOGUS!: Almost nothing in this absurd comedy is believable, and fans wouldn't have it any other way. Still, the similarities between Socrates' teachings and Kansas' rock ballad "Dust in the Wind" are uncanny.


PLOT: Four dudes at a ski resort are transported back to 1986.

WHY ARGUE?: You want logic in a movie with this title? The emphasis here is on crude humor and nostalgic nods to the '80s, with a plot twist lifted directly from "Back to the Future."

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.