We know the classics—The Time Machine, Planet of the Apes, The Terminator franchise, Time Bandits, Back to the Future 1 and 2, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, 12 Monkeys, Time Cop (just kidding?). But is the genre just a relic of the past?
Far from it actually. The last decade has generated a gaggle of some of the best time travel movies this side of the future:
Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)
Let’s face it: we’re bound to adore any movie that combines John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Crispin Glover, Back to the Future and Karate Kid references, and the song “Bizarre Love Triangles” by New Order during the climax. As extra incentives, this film is gut-bustingly funny and actually features a neat little time travel story. Not only did director Steve Pink (who, incidentally, recently purchased the rights to Daniel H. Wilson’s How To Survive A Robot Uprising!) do his sci-fi homework, he pays homage to some of the classics.
We expect the forthcoming sequel to do it all over again.
This is the best ‘thriller’ time travel movie we’ve ever seen. In fact, this movie could easily be considered a psychological horror film in the vein of The Strangers or Funny Games. But the central plot revolves around an unstoppable time loop that ensnares the film’s female protagonist in a bloody, existential game of guess-who-and-when on an abandoned ship adrift at sea. Creepy as hell, and mind-bending to boot.
This Spanish film is hardly a masterpiece, but we have to give it props for aggressively approaching the puzzling nuances of time travel paradoxes. There are also some superlative female nudity scenes, if that matters to you.
Source Code (2011)
We’re sure arguments could (and have) been made that this is not really a time travel film since technically most of the action occurs inside of an alternate timeline. But when the main character of a film—in this case Colter Stevens, played by Jake Gyllenhaal—revisits the same scene multiple times in an attempt to understand the present and alter the future, to us that counts as a time travel movie. Fortunately, director Duncan Jones (Moon) does not pistol whip us with explanations (i.e. Inception) and viewers are left to unravel the mystery themselves. Top-notch scifi.
Sound of my Voice (2011)
We anticipated this movie for a while and were not disappointed. Sound Of My Voice begins by depicting the induction of two people into a kind of cult. We don’t who they are or what group they’re trying to join. But it involves knowing a complex series of gestures and clasps to prove you are who you say you are. Our two main characters turn out to be documentary filmmakers trying to do an undercover expose. But upon meeting the cult leader, they began to struggle with what could be a new reality. This movie has one of the neatest, most clever climaxes we’ve ever seen. Brilliant concept, brilliant film.
This mind-bending direct-to-video mind bender is half found footage half mockumentary. It follows two conspiracy theorists/filmmakers who are trying to unravel the mystery of an unknown object found deep in a bayou. They learn the device may be tied to a secret military organization stationed on the moon using time travel to manipulate history. Lunopolis is an absolute goldmine for conspiracy theory lovers and its explanation of the interconnected nature of time travel and alternate universes is nothing short of brilliant.
One of the most subtle and yet arcane time travel movies imaginable, to the point where you’d realistically need to watch it at least three times to fully understand the plot. Taking place mostly in a garage, the film is about a few engineer-friends who accidentally discover time travel, then struggle to contain their own use of it. Admittedly, parts of it seem boring. Then later, you realize that if you had just been paying attention in the past, you wouldn’t be so confused in the present.
Shane Carruth’s most recent film, Upstream Color, is pretty strangely brilliant as well.
Total Recall—The original’s great and I expect the new one to be a masterpiece…but I haven’t seen it yet.
Midnight in Paris—Truly a wonderful film, but I just can’t bring myself to consider this Woody Allen gem a time travel movie.
Donnie Darko—This film is one of my favorites of all time, but technically it was made longer than a decade ago.
Star Trek (2009)