Time may take many forms – for some, a flat circle, and for others, money – but mankind has still failed to keep it from flowing in just one direction. Thankfully, that’s a rule that needn’t be followed by those weaving fiction in literature, film, TV and video games. But fantasy aside, would the ability to bend or break time really be all it’s cracked up to be?
Take, for instance, Life is Strange – a new episodic game series already described as a blend of everything from Twin Peaks to Pretty Little Liars, and nearly every indie coming-of-age story from Tribeca to Sundance. Yet it’s the game’s heroine and her unique talent for turning back time that sets this game apart. The catch? She can only rewind time for a matter of minutes – and that, time travel fans, poses a conundrum we’ve rarely encountered.
Infinite chances to relive a given moment would seem a blessing to those who second-guess their every decision. But Life is Strange‘s restriction means that sooner or later, time must march onward… and the consequences of that final decision can never be undone.
That got us thinking: are there other time travel stories we would leap at the chance to live for ourselves, but would, in practice, end up closer to a waking nightmare? Our answers lie ahead (as do SPOILERS for the films involved) in our list of 10 Time Travel Movies We Never Want To Live Through.
The Butterfly Effect (2004)
The Butterfly Effect begins straightforward enough: a young boy named Evan (Ashton Kutcher) is bullied and tormented due to unexplained blackouts and memory loss. When reading over his childhood journals as a full-grown man, Evan is sent back to those same traumatic blackouts, free to change the events as he sees fit.
Who wouldn’t long for a chance to revisit the most embarrassing, traumatic, or terrifying experiences of their childhood with older, wiser knowledge? The moral of this story is that sometimes a bad life isn’t so bad after all, and our scars – though nasty – make us who we are. Maybe just one memory would be easily changed, but… why stop there? The answer: multiple amputations.
As far as sci-fi action movies of the 1990s go, you can’t get much cooler than Timecop. When time travel is discovered, the government founds an agency to investigate misuses by recruiting ‘Timecops’ to hop through history in the name of the law. For movie fans already wishing to become a Jean-Claude Van Damme-level hero, no job could be more appealing. Yet the film wastes no time in showing just how much of a mess time travel would cause, government oversight or no.
Sure, arresting futuristic gangsters in the Old West (confounding onlookers like Butch and Sundance) is tempting, but place control over reality itself in the hands of executives (read: multi-millionaires), and you end up with a plot that reads like a sci-fi Mad Libs of world-ending paradoxes. Plus, we doubt anyone but Van Damme could achive the flexibility and leg strength the occupation clearly demands.
About Time (2013)
About Time may be best viewed through the lens of a heartfelt love story, as opposed to hardcore science fiction, but the core time travel is sound. Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) learns from his father that he is able to rewind time; expanding one’s knowledge of the world, cherishing time with family – or as Tim soon chooses, aid his troubled love life.
The first trailers showed the benefit of getting a do-over of every first impression and flirtation, but there are some drawbacks. Sticking with romance, most would agree that when it comes to letting lovesick suitors down easy, honesty isn’t always the best policy. Learning the hard way that the girl (or guy) of your dreams actually wasn’t busy this weekend, didn’t have to wash their hair, or isn’t really seeing someone else, is a shot to the ego that no amount of time travel will solve.
The line of work practiced by Michael Jennings (Ben Affleck) in Paycheck is one that any engineer – and sci-fi fan – would kill for: hired to dissect a competitor’s cutting-edge product, and rebuild an improved version for his employer. When the job is done, Jennings’ memory is wiped – waking from a dream with a massive deposit in his bank account.
Getting paid for work you don’t remember doing sounds too good to be true – until Jennings awakens after a years-long job to find his payment forfeited. Having glimpsed (not technically travelled to) the future, he instead leaves a series of clues to help his amnesic self prevent it from happening. Since we have trouble remembering our online passwords, resting Earth’s fate on being able to predict our own behavior is a guaranteed apocalypse.
“I know we can do it, because we already did.” It’s a common bit of reasoning in time travel plots, but what happens when the tasks in question – those that have ‘already been done’ – are grotesque and criminal? That forms the backbone of the Spanish film Timecrimes (Los Cronocrimenes), an everyday story following the lives of four people, that is, without exception, the worst-case scenario for any aspiring time traveller.
As intriguing as it may seem to interact and toy with our past/future selves, the ultimate price of keeping the timeline intact is one that still keeps us up at night. Taking care to not collapse the universe with the wrong action or comment seems like enough of a responsibility – doing so with multiple copies of ourselves running around just doesn’t seem fair.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
It may not be explicitly correct to call Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind a time travel tale, but Joel’s (Jim Carrey) journey through his own brain – reliving memories of his ex-girlfriend before they are systematically erased – might as well be. And it’s hard to think of anyone who would willingly choose to relive the good and bad moments of any relationship knowing that it would end in heartbreak (our memories tend to do a good enough job of that as it is).
Changing his mind halfway through the procedure doesn’t matter (you can’t change what already happened, after all) but the process of erasing the memories backwards – saving the best, earliest memories for last – is an added dose of cruelty. Why do we suddenly have an urge to travel to Montauk?…
Déjà Vu (2006)
Relying on director Tony Scott to bring a thrilling twist to time travel, Déjà Vu follows an ATF agent’s attempts to find the man responsible for a shocking terrorist attack. But instead of using traditional time travel, the film introduces a means to look backwards in time, to the days leading up to the bombing. With time moving forward in the present and past, it’s the only time travel story we know of to feature a chase scene between two cars – days apart.
As thrilling as the film’s final act may be (with the agent in question sent backwards through time), the task of observing murder victims in their last hours seems like a job for a select few. After our first shift, we couldn’t stop wondering if someone from the future was watching us this very second, waiting for us to make our last fatal mistake.
Groundhog Day (1993)
Admittedly, it might be more accurate to describe the endless loop endured by weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) in Groundhog Day is a curse, not time travel; though in the end, time travel is the curse. Like other films on our list, Groundhog Day asks the question of how much would be changed if given the chance to relive a day from start to finish. And then again. And again. And again.
As freeing as it may be to eat what we craved, say what we want, and do as we pleased, it’s safe to assume that the endless loop of people and conversations would grow old fast. But according to director Harold Ramis, Phil was caught in the time between 30 and 10,000 years, since “it takes at least 10 years to get good at anything.” We’ll pass.
Run Lola Run (1998)
When the titular heroine of Run Lola Run (Franka Potente) must race the clock to save her boyfriend’s life, the notion of ‘the butterfly effect’ is taken to extremes. Audiences are treated to not just one, but three different attempts and outcomes, with Lola’s smallest actions (and sheer coincidence) spinning the lives of innocent bystanders wildly out of control.
None of the three bring ‘good’ results for all involved, but there are hints dropped that show Lola retains some of her knowledge of her previous attempts. Does that include knowing the fates that await those around her? Raising $100,000 in twenty minutes is enough of a challenge, but seeing how our smallest gesture can ruin a life… thanks, but no thanks.
Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
We know what you’re thinking: who in their right mind would pass up the chance to become one of the most seasoned and battle-hardened soldiers in human history? A chance to strap on futuristic weaponry to defend Earth from an alien invasion – without the threat of death, merely restarting the day – is one that many, even most would take. But it’s the parts of Edge of Tomorrow that aren’t shown that have us worried.
The filmmakers are wise enough to start cutting to the chase – following every death of Major Cage (Tom Cruise) with him avoiding the death the next time around – but that’s not the whole story. Think of it as playing an hours-long video game without a Save feature. You die? You start all over again. Nagging headache? That’s your life now. Having trouble convincing a friend you’re in a time loop? Prepare to have the conversation a few dozen times.
The movie never states how many times Cage relives the day – which in our minds, is a very, very bad sign. We’ll stick with the video game version, if it’s all the same.
Project Almanac – Every teenager has moments they wish they could redo (or adolescent fantasies they wish they could fulfill), so handing them the ability to travel time is going to come with a lot of risk, and little forethought. How could that go wrong? If we’re talking about OUR teenage selves, that answer is ‘all kinds of ways…’ READ OUR REVIEW
Minority Report – Technically not “time travel,” this Tom Cruise sci-fi cult-classic looks at a future where people are judged by actions they would have committed in an alternate reality, if not for the intervention of time-crime cops who view possible futures through the lens of a psychic brian trust. Jail time for what you might do? We’d be 25 to lifers in no time flat…. No thanks.
Terminator 1 & 2 – We’ve all played that game where we ask, “What if you could go back in time and kill Hitler?” Well, director James Cameron flips that question on its head with his sci-fi/action/horror films about an evil future A.I. who sends cybernetic assassins back in time to kill not a great destroyer (like Hitler), but rather a great savior (John Connor). Since Sarah and John Connor spent most of their time on the run from a horrific death – with an extinction-level event looming over them – we’d be cool sitting this one out.
Source Code – Like Deja Vu, Source Code uses a particular technology to allow law enforcement/military officials to observe and report on a horrific terrorist attack in the recent past. Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) relives the last 8 minutes of a man named Goodwin’s life multiple times trying to identify the terrorist – (SPOILER) only to ultimately discover that he himself is a fading consciousness in a broken comatose body. Getting out of that jam required some alternative timeline theory we don’t fully understand, let alone want to rely on.
Looper – A more recent entry in the time travel movie genre, Rian Johnson’s film takes the cause and effect consequences of time travel and brings it down to a more intimate level. Through the character of Joe (Joe Gordon-Levitt), we learn that changing the future isn’t some grand mission; it can be as small (but important) as being humane and kind to a small child. But given how Joe ultimately “fixes” the future, we’d like to avoid this experience.
We wouldn’t have expected an adolescent/murder mystery, episodic video game series to give us doubts about just how novel time travel would be in practice, but there you have it.
If you wish to experience the game (and the blend of satisfying, guilt-free cruelty and second chances it offers) yourself, Life is Strange‘s first episode is available now for PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.
Check out a trailer for the game below, and for more information head to its official website: