I have always been intrigued by the concept of time travel, so I thought it’d be fun to list what I consider the best time travel films and then learn what readers have to say about the subject. Starting from the top:
This ingenious concoction of science fiction, thriller, and romance comes from the fertile imagination of Nicholas Meyer. Meyer first gained recognition with his best-selling mystery The Seven Per Cent Solution, which teamed up Sherlock Holmes and Sigmund Freud. Meyer serves up a second unique pairing in Time After Time–only with two nifty differences. Instead of working together, the pair are friends-turned-adversaries in the form of H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) and Jack the Ripper (David Warner) . And instead of setting the plot in the past, it involves time travel from the past to 1979 San Francisco. The usual time travel conumdrums are explored here, but they never get in the way of a delightful love story and clever social satire. In short, an underrated gem.
Given the blockbuster status of its sequels, it’s easy to forget that the original Terminator was a sleeper hit by an unknown director named James Cameron. Although Terminator 2 is a near-perfect action film, the first Terminator is grounded by a solid love story and gets kudos for setting the concept in motion. I imagine most of you have seen it, but those who haven’t I won’t spoil the “nested loop” that makes the head-scratching plot so memorable. By the way, I’ve often wondered if Cameron borrowed parts of his premise from the 1966 Michael Rennie B-film Cyborg 2087.
3. Repeat Performance
Decidedly offbeat 1948 B-film stars Joan Leslie as a popular stage actress who kills her husband on December 31st–and then gets the chance to live the year over again. Knowing the outcome, can she change the events that lead up to her murderous act? This atmospheric film benefits from a surprisingly good cast with Richard Basehart, Tom Conway, and Natalie Schafer. It was remade for TV in the late 1990s as Turn Back the Clock with Connie Selleca. Repeat Performance is not shown often on TV (it also isn’t abailable on DVD); I haven’t seen it in years.
George Pal‘s 1960 adaptation of the famous H.G. Wells novel is still the best version. The once state-of-the-art special effects hold up pretty well and Rod Taylor makes an appealing hero (Alan Young, from TV’s Mister Ed, is even better as a friend). Taylor’s romance with Yvette Mimieux (as Weena of the Eloi race) lack a certain magic for me, but Wells’ ideas remain fresh and the time machine itself looks way cool.
There are people that loathe this film and those that love it. I naturally fall into the latter group. I must admit, though, that my perceptions are clouded…I first saw this romance with my future wife when we were young and very much smitten with one another (we still are). The plot, which Richard Matheson adapted from his cult novel Bid Time Return, stars Christopher Reeve as a playwright who falls in love with a photograph of an actress (Jane Seymour) and wills himself back in time to be with her. The leads are photogenic and likable, the location filming at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island is breathtaking, and the music score by John Barry (who weaves in Rachmaninoff) is one of my all-time favorites. By the way, for many years, Somewhere in Time was the top-grossing film in Japan…though it flopped in the U.S. until rediscovered years later on video.
Leonard Nimoy devised the entertaing premise which sent the original Enterprise crew back in time to rescue some humpback whales (who are needed to save Earth in the future). Nicolas Meyer, who already explored time travel in the aforementioned Time After Time, co-wrote the screenplay. Although some of the social humor is now dated, this is one of the best of the Star Trek film series and, accounting for inflation, is probably the biggest box office hit of the Trek pictures.
Speaking of blockbusters, this family smash about a teenager who goes back in time and meets his parents in high school is undoubtedly the best-known time travel movie with contemporary audiences. The performances are engaging and the story gets a lot of laughs out of its unlikely situations (Mom, as a teenager, is attracted to her son). The sequels, which were shot back to back, are not as good. Back to the Future, Part II gets mired in its plot entanglements by sending its heroes to multiple time periods. Back to the Future, Part III is set primarily in the Old West and at least restores some charm to the series.
Although these movies are very different, I list them together because they both sprang from the fertile imagination of Terry Gilliam. For me, Time Bandits is an adult fantasy masquerading as a family film; its visual images (e.g., a knight on horseback bursting into a child’s room) are what I remember most. 12 Monkeys is a richly layered time travel film, in which once again a person from the future is sent back in time to alter future events. I have several friends who will cringe to see 12 Monkeys listed way down in the No. 8 spot. I admit, I haven’t seen it in awhile, so I may be offbase on my ranking of this one…but if so, not by much for me.
Honorable mentions: Berekley Square and its remake I’ll Never Forget You, the influential French short film La Jetee, Planet of the Apes, and 1964′s The Time Travelers (which may feature the most bizarre ending of all time travel movies).
OK, so there are my choices. What have I left out and how would you rank the best time travel pics?
Rick29 is a film reference book author and a regular contributor at the Classic Film & TV Café (http://classic-film-tv.blogspot.com/ and on Facebook). He’s a big fan of MovieFanFare, too, of course!