With the upcoming release of a movie about a Jacuzzi that allows its occupants to traverse back through time (read: Hot Tub Time Machine), we thought this might be a good opportunity to see what other devices have been used throughout cinematic history for time travel – so we’ve compiled a list of of the 5 best and 5 worst time machines depicted in movies.
The ability to relive our past has been something that most (if not all) people have thought about at some point in their lives. Oftentimes, the wannabe time traveler just wants to go back to high school and capture some past glory that eluded them. Others may want to go back and change some horrific event in their lives, thinking that the future will be better for them if they do. I, for one, can think of a couple of things I would like to go and erase from my chronological database (like the time I decided to date my first girlfriend in high school).
Whatever the reason, the scientific means to make it possible to become a jet setter cruising through time just doesn’t exist, but that doesn’t stop people from dreaming up ingenious, and often ridiculous, ways to imagine how it could be done. So join me, if you will, as we take a look back at the best and worst time travel devices conceived in movies.
The Top 5 Cinematic Time Machines
#5: Hot Tub – Hot Tub Time Machine
The movie that inspired this article (read our Hot Tub Time Machine review), gives us one of the most fun, wettest ways to experience a temporal shift. The best part is that it comes with its own repairman, liquor and mascot. Seriously, why did it take so long for someone to come up with the idea to travel in a device full of wet people wearing minimal clothing? I can’t wait to see the film that gives us the Karaoke Time Machine.
Time Traveled: 24 years
#4: DeLorean – Back to the Future I/II/III
It would be difficult to write an article about movie time machines without mentioning the famous modified defunct car and its “flux capacitor.” Anyone who enjoys 80’s films will immediately answer “Back to the Future” when asked the question “What movie has the most popular time machine ever?” In the sequels, Doc Brown further modifies the vehicle to run off of garbage and fly. By the time the third installment rolled around, Brown had found a way to make a locomotive engine both fly and travel through time. If only Amtrak were that efficient.
Time Traveled: 60 years
#3: Phone booth: Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Like its fish ’n chips cousin, the 1960’s American style phone booth became a time traveling sensation in this 1989 comedy starring a pre-kung fu Keanu Reeves. This cramped mode of travel was more than sufficient to allow our two intrepid chrono-voyagers to visit the past and return well into the future. It can also be repaired with bubblegum, so that’s a plus as well. Wyld Stallyns… EXCELLENT! *air guitar*
Time Traveled: 3100 years
#2: The Tardis – Doctor Who
OK, granted this time machine shaped like a 1950’s style London police box comes from a TV show, but I’ll remind you that there is also rumor of a feature length Doctor Who movie in the works, so let’s just say it counts. The Doctor is an alien being called a Time Lord and can move back and forth through time as he wishes using the Tardis, which is itself a living object capable of much power. Being much larger on the inside than it is on the outside, the Tardis definitely deserves a spot in the top 5 of all time travel devices.
Time Traveled: 100 trillion years
#1: The Time Machine – The Time Machine (1960/2002)
I would be remiss if I didn’t make the number 1 time travel device the one that inspired two movies from the book of the same title. The Time Machine was written by H. G. Wells, who many sci-fi experts consider to be the father of time travel. First published in 1895, it was the precursor to all time traveling explorers to come. With the ability to move in small increments or large spans of time, Wells’ time machine is an all-time classic that any sci-fi aficionado would be proud to own.
Time Traveled: 30 million years
Honorable Mentions: The following films don’t quite explain exactly what device is used that allows their characters to travel time but their contribution to the time traveling genre can’t be ignored:
The Terminator I/II, Timecop, Time Bandits, A Connecticut in King Arthur’s Court, Frequency, Donnie Darko, Flight of the Navigator, Twelve Monkeys; The Philadelphia Experiment, The Final Countdown
The 5 Worst Cinematic Time Machines
#5: “The Box” – Primer
Adding this movie to the bottom of my time traveling list almost breaks my heart because I enjoyed the film so much, but I just can’t give it credit for an original time traveling device concept. The plot of the movie is a little hard to follow but basically, two engineers accidentally create a box that can allow its occupants to move back and forth through time. Since the film was really low budget ($7,000), they basically travel in – you guessed it – a box. No fancy dials, buttons or knobs and no time/space wormhole theory. Go read the Wikipedia page HERE for a detailed (and mind numbing) explanation for how the box works because my head ‘sploded reading it.
Time Traveled: 4 days
#4: Unexplained Generated Wormhole – Timeline
Michael Crichton didn’t do himself any favors with this lackluster attempt at a time travel story. A story never does well when the writer tries to explain away the fact of time travel by lumping things in “wormhole” theory. I’m not saying that wormholes can’t and don’t exist but I’ve watched enough science fiction to know that you can’t just generate one without the use of alien technology or, at the very least, 1.2 “jigowatts” of power. And must the American government always be the controlling entity behind time travel?
Time Traveled: 646 years
#3: (Another) Unexplained Generated Wormhole – A Sound of Thunder
Ray Bradbury wrote this as a short story but somebody thought it would be better as a feature length film involving the changing of time. That was a really bad idea. As explained above, there is nothing fun, sexy or exciting about a wormhole. In fact, just the opposite is true. What is the first image that pops into your mind when you hear the word “wormhole”? Yeah, that’s what I thought. In addition, I bet Sir Ben Kingsley wishes he could use a wormhole to remove himself from ever being in this film.
Time Traveled: 65,000,001 years
#2: Tachyon Amplifier – Land of the Lost
This time traveling device is actually a pretty cool concept. It’s also sleek, compact and has a very interesting name. Unfortunately, it also happens to be attached to an extremely unfunny, uninspired, unoriginal TV show-turned-movie. I’m really not sure if they actually traveled through time either. The word “tachyon” would imply time, and the dinosaurs and primitive ape-like creature would certainly indicate that the characters went backwards in time but I couldn’t find anywhere that actually supports that. Either way – good device, bad movie.
Time Traveled: Unknown
#1: Medallion in a moat – Black Knight
There really isn’t much to say about this time traveling device except that IT’S A MEDALLION IN A MOAT! Why not just use an apple in a barrel or a toothbrush in the sink to whiz through time? Oh I know, how about harnessing the great power of a turd in the towel to take you on some time traveling adventures because that would seem fitting based solely on how bad this film was. In truth, the time traveling device had more to do with the moat than it did the medallion but that still doesn’t keep this from being the absolute worse cinematic time traveling device ever.
Time Traveled: 673 years
Dishonorable Mentions: Just like the honorable mentions for the best categories, these films earned a spot in the worse section by having neither a good time traveling device or story (seriously The Lake House – a mailbox?):
Time Travelers Wife, The Lake House, Kate and Leopold, Freejack, Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, Star Trek: First Contact, The Butterfly Effect
Well there you have my humble picks for the best and worst time travel machines throughout cinematic history. Now before you start going all wacky on me in the comments, I am completely aware that I left off the time traveling capabilities of the Stargate from the Stargate:SG-1 TV series. That was on purpose because in order for time travel to occur with a Stargate, a solar flare must cross directly in the path of an open wormhole. Oh man I think I just out-geeked myself.
What time traveling devices and/or movies did I leave off that you would have liked to seen mentioned? Give us your thoughts and suggestions below. Until then, I’ll talk to you in the future… or past.
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