Time travel movies to watch when you need a blast from the past

By Olivia Montes and Carlee Berkenkemper

Lifestyle Editor and Elm Staff Writer

As we embark upon a remote fall semester at Washington College, many students are missing the traditional comforts of campus and the surrounding community. While inventing time travel sounds like a very tempting option to sooner be reunited in person, science fiction films prevail to implore why we should refrain from messing with the space-time continuum, especially if those interventions involve disrupting our own plane of existence.

As we transition from summer blockbuster binges to fall study sessions, here are eight timetravel films to both learn from and enjoy all from the comfort of your own homes:  

“Back to the Future” (1985)

When it comes to time travel movies, “Back to the Future” is the classic go-to choice to blast back into the past.

The 1985 sci-fi film stars average California teenager Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and eccentric scientist Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd), whose iconic DeLorean time machine invention lands McFly in the 1950s. To, as the title suggests, get back to his timeline, he must make his parents get together so as not to become permanently erased.

With science fiction, comedy, and even a handful of catchy musical numbers, British magazine Empire sums its cultural relevance and long-lasting quality to audiences like this: “if you don’t like ‘Back to The Future’, it’s difficult to believe that you like films at all.”

“Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” (1989)

If it’s a wacky, slacker comedy you crave, in this movie classic cool guys Bill and Ted (played by Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves, respectively), on a quest to pass class, travel back into different points in the past to collect notable historical figures, including Ludwig Van Beethoven, Genghis Khan, and Abraham Lincoln, for their final history presentation.

With comedy around nearly every corner, this film, and its accompanying sequels, brings the audience to a variety of different places with their own unique moments—and plenty of Keanu—to go around.  

“Groundhog Day” (1993)

While most time travel movies focus on fixing the past, the future, or both, “Groundhog Day” paints a more morally applicable lesson about becoming a more aware and a more empathetic person in the present day.

When cynical weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) finds himself trapped in an inexplicable time loop, he begins to make amends with both himself and those around him, becoming a better person in the process—enough to escape the time loop.

As The Rolling Stone’s Gavin Edwards wrote, “the time travel in this Bill Murray comedy, while limited to a single day, still plays into one of the most fundamental reasons for its persistence: the notion that if we had a chance to do our lives over, we could do it better the second time. The movie’s great subversion of that fantasy is the lesson that you could begin your do-over right now, in the present tense, on February 3rd and beyond.”

“Timeline” (2003)

If you want an adventure flick that looks at what happens when archeology—and a fax machine—go awry, check out “Timeline” (2003). When new technology meant to instantaneously transport people or objects from one place to another instead takes Professor Johnston(Billy Connolly) to 14th century France—and it’s up to the professor’s son Chris [SF1] (Paul Walker)and protégé Kate (Frances O’Connor) to travel back to save the professor from the gruesome battles that marked the middle ages.

“Looper” (2012)

If it’s more action you crave, look no further than to the dystopian 2012 action “Looper”.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis star as the present and future versions of Joe, a hitman hired by major crime organizations that combine murder and time travel to make their victims truly disappear.

This dark twist on time travel encourages viewers to fear only themselves when Joe from the past is hired to close the loop and kill a future version of himself.

“When We First Met” (2018)

A recent addition to the lineup of Netflix originals, “When We First Met” has a more light-hearted, rom-com-esque approach to time travel, offering an in-depth look into the psychology of both the what could’ve been and what could be.

Adam DeVine stars as Noah Ashby, a man who falls head over heels for Avery Martin, portrayed by Alexandra Daddario. Flash forwarding a few years later, Martin is engaged to someone else, and Ashby decides to travel back in time to alter their relationship—with the help of an antique photobooth the two used when they, as the title suggests, first came into each another’s lives.

Along the way, the film questions how much control we have over our lives and if everything happens for a reason.

“See You Yesterday” (2019)

Another Netflix original, “See You Yesterday” brings together the scientific principles behind time travel and the continuing, all-too-real realities behind racial violence. When science whiz C.J. (Eden Duncan-Smith) witnesses her brother’s death at the hands of police, she, along with her best friend Sebastian (Danté Crichlow), use their time machines to go back and alter the past to save his life.

Combining the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement with time travel is no easy feat, but director Stefon Bristol, co-writer Frederica Bailey, and producer Spike Lee manage to bring them together to provide audiences with a look into travelling back in time to prevent unfortunate events, while also witnessing the domino effect that could arise from those changes.

“[The film] walks a delicate line between optimism and tragedy,” The Verge’sAdi Robertson said on May 9th, 2019. “It celebrates marginalized people acquiring the power to subvert a system that’s oppressed them, while acknowledging how powerful that system is, and how complicated changing it can be.”

“Palm Springs” (2020)

A worthy successor to “Groundhog Day”, this Hulu original film stars two unwilling wedding guests (Cristin Miloti and Andy Samberg) who, while stuck in a convenient time loop, develop a strong, loving relationship, learning more about not only each other, but what they ultimately want in the future—if they could ever get to it.

With a talented cast alongside a unique spin on reliving the same day against a backdrop of California summer style weather, this movie offers audiences the idea that, to truly appreciate the present, you surround yourself with those you cherish more than anything, because, what else are you living for?

According to Rotten Tomatoes, “strong performances, assured direction, and a refreshingly original concept make Palm Springs a romcom that’s easy to fall in love with.”

Featured Photo caption: As we continue to seemingly live the same day repeatedly, we might as well watch a list of movies that mirror our situation. Photo by Bradley Strong.

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