If you can't do the time, don't do the, err... time
Picture the scene: you're at the end of a perfect evening, with your perfect date and you go and spoil it by saying something stupid like "What? You've never seen Die Hard?" Alright, well maybe that's just me. You might kick yourself. But in a movie you'd be legging it towards your time machine double quick. Boil 'em down and most time travel movies share one major thing in common: the "what-if?" factor. What if I'd not said that idiotic thing? What if I had invented post-its? What if I'd spent my teenage years learning to play chess better than anyone else in the world? Luckily cinema is far more imaginative than me, with movies ranging from a simple jaunt into Medieval times to more complex and paradoxical adventures. Here's 25 of the best.
25. Flight of the Navigator (1986)
The movie: It's 1978 and 12-year-old David Freeman (Joey Cramer) is chilling at home when all of a sudden he's been kidnapped by aliens. Bummer, right? Not really. This gaggle of extraterrestrials have a sweet ride they let David captain and he gets to do it all blastin' his favourite tunes. They drop him home but as they were travelling faster-than-light Joey doesn't realise he's been away... it's now 1986.
Unresolved paradox: David is allowed to return to 1978, presumably in time to take out shares in Microsoft.
24. Army of Darkness: The Medieval Dead (1992)
The movie: The third Evil Dead flick finds doltish hero, Ash (Bruce Campbell) whisked away from the present-day by the Necronomicon only to arrive in Medieval England. Greeted by a load of stuffy Medieval folk and a horde of Deadites, it's naturally up to Ash to appease one group and slay the other. Gimme some sugar, baby!
Unresolved paradox: Ash defeats the Army of the Dead using modern-day textbooks from the boot of his car.
23. Time After Time (1979)
The movie: In 1893, H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) realises his best friend (David Warner) is Jack The Ripper. Wells chases the Ripper to 1979 in his time machine. Present day London isn't quite the utopia Wells was expecting, but its great for a killer like Jack.
Unresolved paradox: Wells takes love interest Amy (Mary Steenburgen) into a future where she has become a victim of the Ripper.
22. Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
The movie: Things kick off in the 24th Century, where Picard (Patrick Stewart) and the Enterprise crew fight off a Borg attack, leading them to encounter pioneer Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell) who made the historic first contact with aliens in 2063. Cochrane is a grumpily down-to-earth geezer who doesn't like the way the Enterprise fanboys fawn over him.
Unresolved paradox: The Enterprise crew ends up helping Cochrane make his inaugural warp-drive flight.
21. The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey (1988)
The movie: This historical sci-fi flick hails from Vincent Ward, who almost turned Alien 3 into a batty wooden planet threequel. In the 14th Century, English villagers in an isolated mountainside are so terrified of the Black Plague they start paying attention to the visions of a medieval boy. In fact, they prove to be so compelling that the villagers tunnel into the earth and wind up in present-day New Zealand.
Unresolved paradox: Does the earth tunnelling method work both ways?
20. Predestination (2014)
The movie: This cracking sci-fi headscratcher flew under the radar at time of release, yet is deserving of a much wider fanbase. From Michael and Peter Spierig, the two directors behind the so-so vampire flick Daybreakers, comes this ambitious adaptation of Robert Heinlein's story All You Zombies. It stars Ethan Hawke as a temporal agent and Sarah Snook as... you know, I'm going to leave it there.
Unresolved paradox: To be truly awed by the frankly batshit machinations that Predestination offers, it needs to be seen by audiences who have little to no idea of the plot.
19. Back to The Future Part 3 (1990)
The movie: The trilogy-closer wraps things up nicely by heading farther back than Marty or Doc have ever gone before: 1885. In this film, specifically, the plot kicks off in 1955 with Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) having a fair bit time-travelling under his belt, realises he's got to go back in time to the old west where Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) is stuck. Marty adopts the non de plume of Clint Eastwood to get by. Biff eats dung. It's great.
Unresolved paradox: If Doc Brown got stuck in 1885, and left his DeLorean for Marty to travel back to rescue him, that means there must be two DeLoreans in the Wild West now.
18. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
The movie: It's 2023 and things are looking decidedly bleak for the X-Men, as Bolivar Trask's Sentinels threaten to wipe them all out. Luckily, Kitty Pryde's abilities include being able to project people into the past! She works her mojo on Wolverine who's whisked back in time to the '70s to stop the mutant-killing 'bots being made.
Unresolved paradox: If the Sentinels were really created in the 1970s, err... how come no-one mentions them in X-Mens 1-3?
17. Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1988)
The movie: In 1988 slackers and future world leaders Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) are about to flunk their history exam when the most excellent Rufus (George Carlin) saves their proverbial bacon. The pair are gifted a time-traveling phone booth in order to learn all about the past. Open the history book; pick a page. These guys need the help of Napoleon, Billy The Kid, Abe Lincoln and So-crates - and so they find them. Woah.
Unresolved paradox: The film's central premise. Bill and Ted only rule the world through their music, because their older selves convince them to do so.
16. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
The movie: Arguably the most sci-fiey Potter flick involves the use of a genius time-travelling device. It's just another fun-filled day at Hogwarts for Harry and Hermione, as the pair go back in time three hours previously. Interesting that considering all the other horrible incidents that happen - no spoilers here - nobody ever uses the time-turner again in the films.
Unresolved paradox: Harry saves himself by throwing a Patronus charm, which he only knew he could do because he realises it was himself who threw it.
15. Time Bandits (1981)
The movie: In a contemporary, suburban English home, Kevin (Craig Warnock)'s sleep is interrupted when he's kidnapped by dwarves who appear out of his closet and borrow him to help them steal valuable artefacts from various points in time. Lucky for him, Kevin's a massive history nerd, who quite enjoys travelling around time meeting Robin Hood, Napoleon and Agamemnon.
Unresolved paradox: Does Kevin's time travelling cause his family to be killed, or was he simply dreaming?
14. La Jetee (1962)
The movie: One of the most influential science-fiction films ever made is a mere 29 minutes long and consists mostly of still photography. If it weren't for La Jetee, we wouldn't have The Terminator or Back to the Future. The plot follows an unnamed prisoner (Davos Hanich) living in the aftermath of the Third World War, who takes various trips to the pre-apocalyptic past of his childhood, and also into the future.
Unresolved paradox: The man falls in love with a woman he first saw as a child who was witnessing his own future death.
13. The Time Machine (1960)
The movie: George, aka H.G. Wells (Rod Taylor), decides to try out his prototype time machine in the year 1900, trotting off happily to 1917, 1940, 1966 and then... err... 802,701. Yeah, that's quite a ways forward, so it's not much of a surprise that humanity in the future is split into the primitive Eloi and the savage Morlocks.
Unresolved paradox: George tells his friend all about World Wars 1 & 2. They could've passed on the message.
12. Star Trek (2009)
The movie: JJ Abrams' Kelvin Timeline reboot of the beloved franchise wangles in a series of intriguing time travel elements. In the 23rd century, Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Nero (Eric Bana) get caught in a black hole - but hey this is Star Trek! There's another timeline! In the 22nd century, Spock (Zachary Quinto) is young and only just starting out.
Unresolved paradox: Whether 'reboot' Spock is going to be permanently emailing old Spock to ask what was meant to happen in the original timeline.
11. Time Crimes (2007)
The movie: Nothing scarier than a figure in an overcoat and a bloodied towel over their face, lurking in the bushes is there? Timecrimes has that AND time travel. The horror time-travel genre is alive and well! This Spanish flick follows Hector (Karra Elejalde) on a sun-dappled afternoon as he spies a naked woman in the woods behind his house... and a mysterious figure approaching her.
Unresolved paradox: Where does the time machine come from, anyway?
10. Planet of the Apes (1968)
The movie: Taylor (Charlton Heston) and crew set out into space in 1972 and they wind up in the year 3978! Although the journey only appeared to take 18 months because they were travelling at light speed.
Unresolved paradox: What's never explained is how all of this happened. For that, you need to check out Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
9. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
The movie: Years after surviving a horrific near-death experience with a T-800, Sarah Connor's now in a psychiatric facility after blowing up a computer factory. That doesn't seem to bother the two machines from 2029, a T-1000 (Robert Patrick) and a reprogrammed T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who return to respectively assassinate/rescue both she and her son, John Connor (Edward Furlong).
Unresolved paradox: Skynet is founded using bits of the Terminator from the first film that it won't invent until much later.
8. Source Code (2011)
The movie: In the aftermath of a terrorist attack on a train. War veteran Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is forced to relive the eight minutes leading up to the tragedy in order to identify the perpetrator. Colter appears to fellow passenger Christina (Michelle Monaghan) as her boyfriend Sean but Colter behaves quite differently.
Unresolved paradox: According to Colters handlers, this isn't time travel but memory manipulation, but who knows what damage to the timeline their meddling might cause.
7. Looper (2012)
The movie: The one where Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a young Bruce Willis is... actually a damn fine time-travel film. In this world, time travel is outlawed, which means criminals love it and harness its capabilities for wrongdoings like murder. JGL's character Joe is one such lackey, a mobster in 2044 who kills whichever random person is sent back in time to him from 2074. As the movie starts, the person sent back is him...
Unresolved paradox: If the Rainmaker is who we know he is, then it's Old Joe's actions which lead to that. He can't off himself!
6. Back to The Future Part 2 (1989)
The movie: The direct sequel to Back to the Future kicks off in 1985 right as the first film ends, with Doc Brown rushing to Marty (Michael J. Fox)'s house to inform him that they've got to go.... yep, back to the future. They head to 2015, where the ignoramus Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson) has completely revived Hill Valley into his own image.
Unresolved Paradox: When Marty and Jennifer travel to 2015, surely they cease to exist in the interim years. So how are they able to have kids?
5. 12 Monkeys (1995)
The movie: What would the authorities do with a man claiming to be a time-traveller? Lock him up in an asylum, of course. This is the unfortunate scenario put forth in 12 Monkeys and faced by James Cole (Bruce Willis), a survivor from a post-apocalyptic future wherein a hideous virus has ravaged the face of the planet.
Unresolved Paradox: It's just possible that Cole pushes the villain into unleashing the planet-destroying virus.
4. Primer (2004)
The movie: This ain't your typical time travel flick. Forget the big budgets. Forget the gloss of A-list movie stars. And definitely forget all those parts where the characters explain the time travel weirdness to each other - and you're really grateful. Primer's a whole different kettle of fish, a true indie that follows a couple of science boffins as they dally with designing a time machine.
Unresolved Paradox: The film ends with five simultaneous timelines. Confused? This diagram probably won't help.
3. Donnie Darko (2001)
The movie: Tricky one to explain is Donnie Darko, as the time-travelling is technically done by a jet engine, which breaks off a plane on 30th October, and crashes into Donnie Darko's (Jake Gyllenhaal) bedroom on 2nd October. Donnie as a result, gets stuck in a parallel dimension whose only guide is a bloke called Frank in a Hallowe'en bunny costume. Helpful.
Unresolved paradox: Sadly, the explain-it-all Director's Cut more or less closes the loop.
2. The Terminator (1984)
The movie: It's the year 2029. Mankind is fighting a war with Skynet, a sentient network of machines who are out to slay humanity, and are winning. Skynet doesn't like this, so sends a cyborg (Arnold Schwarzenegger) back in time to kill the mother of the leader of the resistance. The resistance send back a soldier, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), to protect her.
Unresolved paradox: John Connor is only born because his adult self sent Kyle back in time. Lucky, huh?
1. Back to The Future (1985)
The movie: The one that made you either want a) a DeLorean or b) to be able to wail on a Rickenbacker like Marty McFly. The first in the trilogy is undoubtedly the best of the lot as the '80s teenager who made bodywarmers cool hits 88mph in Doc Brown's customised DeLorean in 1985... ...and drives into 1955.
Unresolved paradox: The biggie: if Marty has such an impact on his future parents' lives, how come they don't twig they're bringing up a son who looks just like 'Calvin Klein'.