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.
2. TIME AFTER TIME (1979)
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.
3. BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)
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.
4. THE TIME MACHINE (1960)
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.
6. PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED (1986)
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.
7. THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE (2009)
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.
8. STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME (1986)
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.
9. BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE (1989)
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.
10. HOT TUB TIME MACHINE (2010)
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.”