The Best Time Travel Logic in Time Travel Movies ... of all Time

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Later this week (or is it earlier next week?) you'll be able to catch the Joseph Gordon-Levitt/Bruce Willis time travel adventure "Looper." I, on the other hand, have already seen it. Not because I've journeyed to the future, but because I've been to Canada (which is really, really not the same) and saw its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival.

As I wrote in my review for NextMovie's Mirror Universe site Film.com (and we'll be talking about parallel dimensions another day) "in an age where filmmakers are more likely to shrug and suggest you simply embrace mystery, writer-director Rian Johnson draws a line in the sand and says 'no.'" There's a great moment when Bruce Willis says to his younger self that he doesn't want to start discussing the nitty gritty of time travel lest they start making diagrams on the table with straws. However, "Looper"'s great win is that it doesn't have to tell you how it works, it shows you.

"Looper" is destined to rank high in future time travel movie lists, but here are nine more that, I think, do a pretty decent job with the sci-fi other than just showing lit-up prop and saying "flux capacitor." Or, if they bail on the science, they speak to a higher truth.

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Primer

The more time that passes without Shane Carruth making a follow-up to this microbudget miracle, the more I'm convinced it was actually placed here from the future. One of the most challenging movies you are likely to see, this wheels-within-wheels tale of two tinkering scientists who create a box that, should you crawl within, sends you back in time for as long as you sit inside has an elegant beauty nestled within its complexity. Print out one of the handy teacher's aides and hold on tight.

The Time Machine

The classic George Pal version from 1960 with Rod Taylor is surprisingly watchable even for today's ADHD lunatics who can't go to the bathroom without uploading a machinima supercut to Twitter (note: I don't really know what those words mean.) Either way, the proto-steampunk design of H.G. Wells's time traveling furniture is wonderful and iconic and the society of far-future's Eloi and Morlocks (oh, so that's where those words came from) still seem like reasonable endgames for our culture.

Los Cronocrimenes

This relatively recent entry in the time travel canon proves two things: human nature is predictable, and you should avoid creepy looking glass buildings stashed in the woods at all cost.

While we in the audience are shouting, "stop! stop! don't you see what you're doing?" our lead character keeps marching toward his doom thinking he's going to outsmart his own self. This Spanish-language mindscrambler presents a time machine that's a vat of liquid hooked up to electronics. So, yes, a hot tub time machine.

Also check out: 'Looper' Review

Triangle

Everything that's cool in "Los Cronocrimenes" is happening in Christopher Smith's "Triangle" except with Melissa George in a really tight white T-shirt. A woman gets trapped in an impenetrable loop of her own destruction (on a creepy, empty cruise ship no less!) and no amount of headfakes or pivots offer an escape.

The science behind "Triangle" is vague at best – that is, unless, you saw that old "In Search Of. . ." about the Bermuda Triangle and lost a week's worth of sleep when you were seven.

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Time Bandits

If that Carl Sagan video is to be believed, "Space is filled with a network of wormholes/You might emerge somewhere else in space/Some when-else in time." If this is true (and why would PBS lie?) it stands to reason that all it would take is someone to map out the where the wormholes are and, voila, a system of time travel is at your fingertips. Terry Gilliam's film adds one additional, realistic twist – if someone did have access to time travel, there's a good chance the first thing they'd do would be to figure out new ways to rob people.

Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen's recent love letter to the City of Light offers almost no scientific explanation for its protagonist's ability to travel over eighty years back in time when the clock strikes twelve he's got the right mixture of red wine and ennui. And yet, the conclusion he draws at the film's end is truer than any amount of technological wizardry. The present is always a little disappointing because life is a little disappointing, so until you find some kind of inner happiness, wherever you go you'll be bringing your problems with you. (Note: making out with Marion Cotillard as Sidney Bechet plays can't hurt.)

12 Monkeys

Back to Terry Gilliam again and one of the finest presentations of time travel. This movie wins despite never really explaining the tech, but it still makes it looks really cool and complex. All those tubes and funhouse glass screens.

Still, despite the traditional-seeming Hollywood thriller form, '12 Monkeys' is upfront about how no amount of actions can change the world's outcome. This fatalism (it is based on a French modernist classic) seems at odds with how we feel movies, even how we feel life should work. That it is still so exciting is a testament to how good of a movie it is.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Don't think of the fourth dimension – time – as separate from the three "directional" dimensions that we can see and understand. Spacetime is all connected and, as my very shallow understanding of relativity and astrophysics tells me, gravity plays a big part in how it manifests itself. Therefore, why WOULDN'T slingshotting yourself around the sun at faster-than-light speeds effect when you are as well as where you are?

That aspect of "Star Trek IV" seems totally believable to me. Why a probe searching for a whale would roil up the seas and nearly destroy the planet is another matter.

Run Lola Run

If all knowledge and perception is experiential – getting high and asking if what I see is blue is what you see is blue is totally moot to a solipsist – then time travel needn't involve any sort of technology at all, just access to untapped parts of our mind. They say that our brains fire up in all sorts of unexpected ways when we die, so who's to say that we don't re-experience key moments from life and re-imagine them with different outcomes.

Maybe "Run Lola Run" is the only real form of time travel that, to quote Blue Oyster Cult, forty-thousand men and women every day are experiencing. I guess we'll all eventually find out. I just hope I've got good sneakers on.

I've forgotten your favorite. Yes, I know. Please tell me what a jerk I am in the comments below.

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