“WTF” and “time travel film” go together like Sarah Connor and the Terminator.
Time travel defies physics, and frequently logic, so it’s easy for a film to slide into WTF territory. Some movies don’t worry about physics at all — a simple blow to the head, masturbating, or wishing really hard can do the trick. Ignoring science can free a film up to tell a great story, but it can also bury the tale in time paradoxes and logical contradictions. Time-travel films can also bog down in pompous discussions of destiny and fate or lectures on the amazing world of the future. MST3K‘s recent target, The Time Travelers, suffers from both heavy lecturing and a bizarre time paradox at the climax.
Even in a genre filled with weirdness, some films stand out from the pack. Here are ten singularly awful WTF films, and five others where the WTF quality turns into something genuinely entertaining.
15) Terminatrix (1995)
Terminator is a classic, and like many classics, it’s been ripped off multiple times (e.g. Virgin Hunters, Nemesis 2). Terminatrix leaves the other knockoffs in the dust — it’s the kind of film that leaves you muttering, “Wow, someone’s got issues.”
The premise of the film is that a dystopian future government has banned sex, except for government-mandated baby-making sessions. To destroy Hanako, the leader of the sex-positive resistance movement, the government sends a female T-69 cyborg back into the past to prevent Hanako’s birth. Unlike the original Terminator, the T-69 isn’t looking to kill Hanako’s future father, Kota Sera. Her mission is to seduce him, then mangle his penis in her vagina dentata so he can never father a child.
To save Kota, the resistance sends freedom fighter Kaoru back to the present to pull a Kyle Reese. At the climax (pun intentional) they shove an electrified dildo inside the T-69, frying her circuits. Kota and Kaoru are free to start conceiving Hanako, so the future of sex is saved!
14) Dimension 5 (1966)
In the Dimension 5 opening, enemy agents are hunting “Espionage Incorporated” super-spy Justin Power when he suddenly vanishes. It’s not invisibility — he wears a time machine on his belt!
Sounds like a total game-changer for a spy film, right? Even if Power and his partner Kitty Tsu fail to stop Chinese super-spy Big Buddha from nuking LA, they can just go back in time and take a mulligan. Instead, they treat the time machine as merely a useful gadget, like a cuff-link laser beam. Along with pulling escapes from tight situations, they mostly use it to jump ahead and see what Big Buddha is planning. Then they return to the present and make a counter-move.
Using Espionage Incorporated’s mind probe on an enemy agent, the two spies learn when and where Big Buddha will assemble his nuke. Rather than wait to intercept the shipment or trap Big Buddha, Tsu and Power jump ahead three weeks to take Big Buddha out. After they succeed, Power tells Tsu that to avoid time paradoxes, they have to jump back to the present, wait three weeks, then repeat everything they just did. So the advantage of jumping ahead was … ?
13) Premature (2014)
When sexy, promiscuous Angela offers to relieve her classmate Rob of his virginity, Rob breaks plans to spend the evening with his platonic best friend Gaby. In Angela’s bedroom, he, erm, finishes before he can even get naked — and the day reboots to the moment Mom woke him out of a wet dream (a moment we’ll witness over and over). Welcome to Premature, the time loop raunch comedy someone thought America needed.
Rob discovers that masturbating reboots his day, which gives him unlimited freedom to be a jerk. For instance, he grabs a teacher’s boobs, then ejaculates to escape the consequences. As endless time looping begins to lose its charm, Rob hooks up with Angela again in the hope that having sex will fix things.
At this point, the creators apparently worried they hadn’t written enough slut-shaming into the film, and they promptly set out to fix that. Everyone reminds Rob that Angela is a Great Big Slut, and it turns out that she only wants to sleep with Rob so he’ll do her homework. Out of the blue, Rob and Gaby realize they’re in love, Rob chooses the virgin over the whore and when they sleep together the time loop ends. Mercifully, so does Premature.
12) A Sound of Thunder (2005)
Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder” is a classic story in which a time-traveler steps on a butterfly, turning the future he came from into a dystopia (it is not, however, the source of the term “butterfly effect”). “Classic” is not a word anyone uses for the 2005 screen version. Expanding a short story to a movie length adventure is always hard, but few films fail as badly as this one.
Rather than dystopia, the butterfly’s death makes evolution run wild. House plants become giants that thrust through concrete. Insects devolve into prehistoric horrors. Scientist Sonia Rand deduces that the changes will work their way up the evolutionary ladder — reptiles, birds, mammals, then finally humans — which makes no sense, but guarantees the maximum amount of monster-fighting. At the climax, Sonia herself devolves into what looks like a half-cat, half-fish, which fits perfectly with the movie’s grasp of evolutionary theory. The film’s hero fortunately fixes things, erasing the entire timeline and restoring Sonia. If only it were that easy to erase the memory of seeing this stinker.
11) Brigadoon (1954)
The musical Brigadoon has a simple, heartwarming message: new ideas are bad, so someone who prevents you from hearing them must be good.
When American tourists Tommy and Jeff wander into Brigadoon during a trip to Scotland, they’re struck by how old-fashioned the village is. That’s because two centuries earlier, the pious village priest sought to save Brigadoon from “witches”— people who would contaminate the residents with modern ideas (by definition, new ideas are bad, bad, bad and did we mention, bad?). Through the power of his prayer, the village leaps forward 100 years every night. As it’s in limbo for the other 99 years, 364 days, there’s slim chance of any new ideas finding it. There’s a catch, though: if anyone leaves, Brigadoon vanishes forever.
Local boy Archie is the one villager who feels cursed, not blessed by never being able to leave. When he dies accidentally, his father grumbles that Archie was “ungrateful” to the old priest and his wonderful gift. Despite the charms of the music, the dancing, and the cast, the premise comes off as less a fantasy than a nightmare.
10) A Thousand Kisses Deep (2011)
Several films use time travel to set up accidental how’d-I-know-it-was-my-father incest situations. A Thousand Kisses Deep is the most WTF of all of them.
The protagonist, Mia, has never gotten over being dumped by bad-boy boyfriend Ludwig and now learns she never will. After her crazy cat-lady upstairs neighbor throws herself out a window, Mia takes the elevator to her apartment and realizes that it’s her future self, still obsessed with Ludwig (who never comes off as irresistible sex catnip enough to justify the obsession). Fortunately the elevator travels in time because, reasons, so Mia goes back into her past to stop her younger selves from falling for Ludwig. She fails, repeatedly.
Then Mia encounters her visibly pregnant Mom in the past and discovers that Ludwig slept with her too. When Ludwig turns up, Mia overhears Mom’s desperate conversation with him, then rushes outside to vomit. Although the movie doesn’t spell it out, it’s obvious that Ludwig is Mia’s biological father. Now ready to play hardball, she shoots Ludwig so her past self will never meet him. Her future as a crazy cat lady is wiped away.
9) The Final Countdown (1980)
Imagine what could happen if a modern-day nuclear-powered battleship got hurled back to near Pearl Harbor on Dec. 6, 1941. Whatever you imagine is probably better than The Final Countdown, because what the writers imagined was …. nothing.
First quarter of the movie: SS Nimitz gets the cast on board, sets sail and goes through a time warp.
Second quarter: Everyone wonders why they’ve lost radio contact with the Navy and why the Hawaiian radio stations are playing such old music. Eventually they figure it out.
Third quarter: the inevitable discussions of changing history, defying destiny, do-we-have-the-right? Resolved when the captain declares that as a US naval officer he has an obligation to defend his country, history be damned.
Fourth quarter: As the Nimitz prepares to battle the Japanese fleet, it gets sucked back through the time warp and returns home. Everyone gasps at what an amazing adventure they just had. Credits roll.
8) Izo (2004)
“Since I invested my emotions in your mitochondria, you have been the answer!” doesn’t make a lot of sense, but neither does anything else in Izo.
In contrast to The Final Countdown, this movie has action to spare: after Izo’s death by crucifixion in the 1800s (based on the death of the real samurai Izo Okada) he bounces through time (the present, WWII), slicing and dicing people, then slicing and dicing more people, then slicing and dicing still more people. He’s like Jason Voorhees with a katana.
There are hints that Izo might be fighting some conspiracy. Or it might be an allegory. Or he’s a ghost, not a time traveler. Or the whole thing takes place in some weird afterlife where slicing and dicing is how you spend eternity.
As you might gather from the quote above, the dialog doesn’t clarify anything. While it’s hard to imagine a movie where people proclaim “imperfection trickling down from perfection is the essence of existence!” wouldn’t be so bad it’s good, Izo is so bad it’s just bad.
7) Idaho Transfer (1973)
Directed by Peter Fonda, this film mixes time travel with environmentalism for a distinctively 1970s bit of WTFery.
With Earth in danger of an imminent “eco-collapse,” a research project sends young time travelers into the post-collapse future so they can rebuild the human race. But as we later learn, time travel sterilizes the volunteers, so how much rebuilding can they do? And the supposedly ravaged Earth doesn’t look that much worse than the wilderness area Fonda shot the film in.
Things get weirder as the movie progresses. After one of the time travelers starts killing the others, one of the survivors, Karen, time-jumps back to prevent the killings, but fails. When she returns to the future, she wanders around aimlessly, endures a pointless montage sequence, then gets captured by a futuristic family and thrown into their car trunk. The family’s conversation implies future humans are using time travelers as a source of food, or gasoline. The kid in the car worries that when the time travelers are all used up, the family will have to start cannibalizing themselves — obviously meant as an environmental warning for anyone who hasn’t walked out of the theater yet.
6) Doonby (2013)
Doonby isn’t exactly time travel — it’s a story where someone (apparently God), reaches back through time to alter history. Most of the running time focuses on drifter Sam Doonby, who arrives in a small town, charms everyone, saves several lives and wins the heart of doctor’s daughter Laura Reaper. Then he and Laura have a fight, she wishes he’d never been born, and suddenly, he wasn’t. The movie took place in an alternate timeline, but God has now restored the original reality — in which Dr. Reaper aborted Sam! “Doonby” is an anagram for “nobody” because he never existed!
Everyone Sam saved is dead and nobody remembers the alt. timeline. But Laura, whom Sam saved from a stalker, is still alive, and remembers everything. Which leads to the question — why is she alive? Why is she cursed with remembering? Why would God create this alternate timeline in the first place? Sure, it dramatizes the anti-abortion theme for the audience, but within the movie world, it doesn’t seem to make sense.
Doonby isn’t the only Christian time-travel film or even the only Christian time-travel anti-abortion film, but it stands alone in its WTFness.
5) Chasing Christmas (2005)
Adaptations and updated versions of A Christmas Carol have become a movie and TV staple — and in Chasing Christmas, the ghost of Christmas Past is sick of it. Inflicting a “Christmas guilt trip” used to be a rare event saved for miserable human beings such as Ebenezer Scrooge; now it happens year after year, yet the supply of Scrooges never gets any smaller. In the middle of showing bitter, Christmas-hating Jack Cameron one of his childhood Christmases, Christmas Past snaps and abandons Jack in Jack’s childhood.
To avert a time paradox that would erase Jack from reality, Jack and Christmas Present chase Past through Jack’s subsequent Christmases. That doesn’t go well, as Jack has to relive miserable moments, like the Dec.25th he caught his wife cheating on him (the trip reveals that she’d been cheating way before then). Ultimately, Jack and Present take down Past and return Jack to the present. Jack finally makes peace with his past and learns to be happy again. It’s a traditional Christmas ending, but only after a very unconventional Christmas film.
4) Tomorrow I’ll Get Up and Scald Myself With Tea (1977)
This loopy Czech comedy starts in a utopian 1990s where household cleaners literally disintegrate dirt, suitcase nukes are museum pieces, and time-travel tourism is a thing. A trio of grumpy Nazis plan to “improve” utopia by having a crooked time pilot fly them back to 1944 and offer a stolen suitcase nuke to an embattled Fuehrer. The Third Reich will triumph!
Unfortunately for the Reich, the pilot chokes to death at breakfast. His identical twin, Jan, takes his place, but not knowing about the conspiracy, lands the ship on Dec. 8, 1941. When the Nazis tell Hitler they can save Germany, the Fuehrer is baffled: Germany’s allies just destroyed American power in the Pacific forever! Victory is his! What sort of scam are these guys trying to pull?
That leaves the Nazis desperate to return to the present for a do-over. Jan is willing, as he hopes to save his brother. Each attempt to fix things only makes things more confused. Finally the Nazis finally meet their comeuppance and Jan gets the girl of his dreams (though his brother stays dead).
3) Cruel and Unusual (2014)
After murdering his girlfriend Maylon in Cruel and Unusual, Edgar arrives in hell, an unending group-therapy session where the damned sit around and discuss their issues, or go back to their rooms and relive their crimes. Edgar protests that he doesn’t belong there: he only killed Maylon because the unfaithful harpy poisoned him, then wouldn’t let him dial 911. The facilitator says as Maylon died first, Edgar’s the murderer (the standards for damnation are pretty WTF themselves).
Edgar pushes back and finally escapes, but that traps him into reliving his last day from the viewpoints of Maylon and her son. For the first time, Edgar sees he was the bad guy in the relationship, an emotionally abusive bully and control freak. Maylon only killed him because she couldn’t stand his treatment of her son. His eyes opened, Edgar time travels again to prevent Maylon’s death. He saves her and also one of his fellow inmates (damned for committing suicide). That doesn’t get him out of hell, but he’s able to endure damnation now that he’s redeemed himself.
2) Nostradamus (2000)
The film opens with a fallen angel traveling through time, then chanting at a modern-day man until he spontaneously combusts. FBI psychic Hudson tells homicide detective Nostrand this is one of several similar murders; the only thing the victims have in common is that they’re good people. Nostrand’s a skeptic, but it’s soon obvious that the killers are not flesh-and-blood — and that Hudson’s on the target list.
The mastermind behind the murder spree is Garamond, who leads a Satanic 1500s cult called the Sixth Order. The cult is sending the fallen angels to the end of the millennium to murder key souls, tilting the balance of power in the end times and thereby ensuring the triumph of evil. After several time trips to the past, Nostrand and Hudson destroy Garamond and end his scheme. By the time the credits roll, though, the Sixth Order is trying again …
It’s a fun, oddball thriller, with a title that’s pure clickbait. Nostrand becomes Nostradamus in the past, but the seer’s famous prophecies play no role in the film. If the detective had gone back and called himself TrandNos, it wouldn’t have made a lick of difference.
1) Triangle (2009)
Unlike many time-loop films, that particular aspect of Triangle isn’t immediately obvious. After some confusing scenes with her mentally handicapped son, protagonist Jess goes yachting with friends. They discover and explore an abandoned freighter, the SS Aeolus, where a hooded figure attacks and turns this into a slasher film. Everyone else dies before Jess throws the killer off the boat. Then the yacht shows up again, triggering a new time loop and a new round of killings; Jess tries to save her friends, but fails. Rinse, repeat, multiple times (driven home by the huge pile of corpses glimpsed in one scene).
In the last cycle, Jess becomes the killer herself, part of a mad plan to fix everything. Instead, the latest alt. Jess now throws her overboard. Jess washes up on shore and goes home to her son — but when she sees her past self abusing him, she kills Past-Jess in a fit of rage. Jess then drives to the marina to go yachting with her friends … Like Sisyphus, the son of Aeolus in Greek myth, it appears Jess is condemned to an endless cycle of suffering.
Got a WTF time travel film you’d like to mention? Speak up in the comments section.