In “Déjà Vu,” Denzel Washington plays a federal agent who travels through time in order to prevent a woman’s murder, only to fall in love with her. To be sure, there are perils in whipping through the time stream — don’t mess up the past, don’t find out too much about the future, don’t step on that butterfly — just a few of the lessons we’ve learned from (among many others) these top 10 time-traveling movies!
10. “Somewhere in Time” (1980)
Two years after turning back time in “Superman: The Movie,” Christopher Reeve repeated the trick (albeit in less spectacular fashion) in this romantic fantasy. Reeve plays Richard Collier, a playwright who has a strange encounter with an old lady who asks him to “return in time” with her. Sometime later, he becomes obsessed with the beautiful actress (Jane Seymour) in an old portrait hanging in a Chicago hotel. When he realizes it’s actually the old woman he met years earlier, he enlists self-hypnosis to travel back in time to be with her. Trashed by critics upon release, the film has aged into a cheesy chick-flick classic, and the film’s tear-jerking climax only resonates more due to the real-life fate of its male lead.
9. “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” (1988)
Back in the days before the Internet made writing research papers a snap, lackluster students relied on alternate means of doing their homework. Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) make Cliff’s Notes obsolete by using an actual time machine (provided by George Carlin from the future) to help with their history project. This franchise-spawning dudefest teaches us that sometimes ignorance is indeed bliss and to never underestimate the power of stinky heavy-metal bands — one just may hold the key to world peace.
8. “The Final Countdown” (1980)
In 1980 near the Hawaiian Islands, the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier Nimitz passes through a strange storm that sends it back in time to 1941, mere hours before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Once the crew realizes what has happened, Captain Matthew Yelland (Kirk Douglas) wants to warn the Navy about the impending attack, but Warren Lasky (Martin Sheen), a civilian observer who helped design the Nimitz, believes they shouldn’t interfere with history. Things get even more complicated when the crew has to rescue a U.S. senator (Charles Durning) whose yacht is destroyed by Japanese Zeroes. The movie doesn’t quite live up to its premise (a remake might be in order), but it does have a really nice twist at the end.
7. “Army of Darkness” (1992)
Bruce Campbell returns as the chainsaw-wielding, zombie-fighting Ash in Sam Raimi’s final installment of “The Evil Dead.” A spell from the Necronomicon transports Ash (and his Oldsmobile) to England circa 1300 A.D., where gas stations are in short supply. The medieval locals are unsure whether the stranger is a “hero from the sky” or an enemy to be feared, so just to be safe, they lock Ash in a dungeon. It’s only after Ash helps defeat the Deadites (that he himself accidentally released … again) that he’s able to return to the present. It’s a Yankee stooge in King Arthur’s skeleton-infested court drenched in blood!
6. “Planet of the Apes” (1968)
What makes “Planet of the Apes” such a great time-travel movie, of course, is its revelation as such. The climactic scene in which Taylor (Charlton Heston) comes across the scarred Statue of Liberty half-buried in the sand and realizes he wasn’t in some strange simian-alien world but Earth — in the future — is one of the greatest revelations in film history (What? You haven’t seen it? Whoops. Sorry.). Subsequent sequels would continue to span time (past and future), but none would ever come close to the shock and awe of the original.
5. “12 Monkeys” (1995)
In Terry Gilliam’s last (but hopefully not final) masterpiece, Bruce Willis plays James Cole, a convict in the year 2035 who is sent back to 1996 to stop the release of a deadly virus responsible for wiping out most of mankind. The problem is, time travel is not an exact science, and it takes a few tries to get Cole to the exact destination. Bouncing through history can make one question his sanity, and part of the genius of the film is that we start to wonder ourselves whether the film is science fiction or psychological drama. Peppered with lots of trademark Gilliam minutiae, the movie boasts outstanding performances by Willis, Madeleine Stowe as a very confused psychiatrist and Brad Pitt as an obsessed animal-rights activist.
4. “The Time Machine” (1960)
H.G. Wells’ 1895 novel introduced the concept of time travel as we think of it today, and George Pal’s film adaptation was in many ways just as mind-blowing. Rod Taylor plays a Victorian scientist who invents a contraption that carries him into a far-flung post-apocalyptic future where the evil, monstrous Morlocks threaten the humanoid Eloi. The movie earned an Oscar for groundbreaking use of time-lapse photography to indicate speeding through time and a particularly clever shot of a dress-store window depicts the evolution of women’s fashion in a heartbeat. A 2002 remake starring Guy Pearce brings nothing new to the table.
3. “Back to the Future” trilogy (1985-1990)
Ask any child of the ’80s who their favorite time traveler is, and odds are they’ll say Marty McFly. As played by Michael J. Fox in the three “Back to the Future” movies, Marty time travels to the 1950s, 2015 and 1885, aided by the endearing mad scientist Dr. Emmet Brown (Christopher Lloyd). One of the things that makes the trilogy work so well as a whole is its attention to detail. Recurring scenarios in all eras (such as a vehicle dealership that sells buggies in 1885, Studebakers in 1955, Toyotas in 1985 and “hover conversions” in 2015) bring a clever continuity that rewards repeat viewings.
2. “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” (1986)
“The Voyage Home” wasn’t the first, nor the last, time a crew of the various Starships Enterprise broke the time barrier, but it may well be the most entertaining. When an alien probe comes to Earth in the 23rd century seeking the intelligent life it encountered centuries earlier, a lack of response makes the aliens very upset. Turns out that intelligent life was the humpback whale — now long extinct. So Kirk, Spock and the gang slingshot back to the 20th century to procure some whales and save the Earth (again). It’s a hoot to see the contrast between Star Trek’s futuristic technology (much of which seems primitive compared to things we now use every day) and that of a pivotal era in computer development (watch Scotty struggle with the 1MB Macintosh Plus!). And Kirk and Spock “attempting the hell to communicate” with our primitive culture is a hoot and a half. It’s worth noting that both this and the #1 film on our list were both directed by Nicholas Meyer, a man who knows his way around the millennia.
1. “Time After Time” (1979)
In this variation on “The Time Machine,” Malcolm McDowell plays H.G. Wells, whose amazing invention is discovered by none other than Jack the Ripper (David Warner), who uses it to escape capture by transporting himself from 1893 London to 20th century San Francisco. Wells follows the Ripper to 1979, where he enlists a bank teller named Amy (Mary Steenburgen) to help him learn the ways of the modern world and help capture the killer, who has resumed his spree in the gloriously violent new age. Wells convinces Amy his story is true by transporting her three days into the future, only to learn the shocking news that she is destined to be the Ripper’s fifth victim. Steenburgen and McDowell are charming in this smart, Hitchcockian thriller.
Of course, there’s lots more. “The Terminator” series, 1986’s “Flight of the Navigator,” 2005’s “The Jacket,” 2004’s “The Butterfly Effect,” 1989’s “Millennium,” 2001’s “Donnie Darko,” various adaptations of Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” and (ugh) 2001’s “Kate and Leopold” all take their characters on rides through the time stream. If you happen to think that any of those (or another movie we missed) should take the place of one of our top 10, let us know. We’ll see if we can go back and fix it — although don’t blame us if MTVNews.com’s history gets altered, turning it into a site all about polka bands from the 1950s!
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