In each and every film you watch, certain aspects of the production stand out more than others. Sometimes the movie just looks incredible and you’ll leave the theater gushing over the cinematography. In other cases, you’ll be quoting the film days after seeing it and will always think of how good the writing was; nay, how integral it was to its quality, almost as if it was a character unto itself. All the same, a narrative theme can be the driving force in a motion picture, especially in science fiction. This week’s highly anticipated release of Summit Entertainment’s Source Code has brought to mind a handful of past projects in which time-travel (or time-looping, as is the case in Duncan Jones’ new movie) plays a role as significant as its director or star.
Back to the Future: Perhaps the best-known and most beloved time travel film ever, Robert Zemeckis’ breakthrough motion picture wouldn’t exist without the theory of time travel. The fate of an entire family is at stake in this ‘80s staple, making Marty McFly’s ability to go back to the ’50s to save them paramount to its plot.
Twelve Monkeys: In Terry Gilliam’s mind-mending movie, the fate of the entire world is in the hands of a lone time traveler. James Cole (Bruce Willis) is tasked with gathering information about a disease that wiped out humanity and time travel not only plays a key role in the main story, but is also used to define the enigmatic protagonist.
The Terminator: The fight for the future is waged in the present (2029 A.D. to the resistance) and past in James Cameron’s unprecedented neo-noir thriller, in which the question of whether or not humanity’s fate can be altered is at the heart of the story. The great conundrum of time-travel — the debate over whether the chicken or egg came first — is ambiguously explored in the film, making for an incredibly existential action flick.
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure: It’s the Wyld Stallions, the musical collective comprised of wannabe rock star’s Bill S. Preston Esq. and Ted “Theodore” Logan, that’s in jeopardy in Stephen Herek’s sophomore feature. The dimwitted duo use an extra-dimensional phone booth to navigate the circuits of time to retrieve iconic historical figures for their senior thesis, a plot point that wouldn’t have been possible to explore if not for the wondrous notion of time-travel. If ever there was a film developed solely for the comedic and visual possibilities that time-travel suggests, it’s this one. Of course Alex Winter wishes that he could travel back to 1989, when he still had a promising career…
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home: There’s no element of science fiction that the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise hasn’t explored. In the third sequel to 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the team heads back to the late 20th century to rescue some humpback whales (I kid you not). The film depicts a human culture clash between a “modern” working gal and a futuristic Starfleet captain while contrasting the next-gen production design familiar to sci-fi films with some refreshingly natural visuals, all used to comment on contemporary issues (some dated by 21st century standards).
Groundhog Day: If there’s one thing that Bill Murray and Jake Gyllenhaal can agree on anything, it’s that being caught in a time loop is a pain in the ass. In this hit comedy, Murray plays a repulsive TV weatherman who must relive the events of Groundhog Day ’93 over and over again until he makes things right in his life. There’s not a lot of travel, per se, but it’s a dark tale chronicling a cosmic joke involving the space-time continuum, meaning it is right at home in this list.