As with every month, we reach the end feeling there are still too many hours of exploration left. Too many films and programmes and books and other distractions that are relevant to the theme, but with no time machine in sight to go back and somehow fit it into our schedules.
This is that end.
We leave you with lists!
Amber’s Top Time Travelling Teams (That Don’t Include The Doctor)
In order of cinematic release/initial air date, here are the five films (and one programme) whose travelling teams make me happiest or whatever-feeling-is-appropriate-est. And I spared myself some agony by making this specifically not about Doctor Who.
Time Bandits (1981)
I first saw this film as a child, so I appreciated that one of our time travellers was, like me, a human child in the real world who got to escape into an adventure. Beyond that, this is a crazy crew who seemed unlikely to succeed (for so many reasons), but they do it anyway. They’ve got rough edges (and some rough middle parts) and might not be the team I’d want to travel with, but so delightful to watch!
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1985)
Speaking of delightful to watch, Bill S. Preston, Esquire, and Ted “Theodore” Logan are also that. For me, part of the appeal is that they remind me of skater boys I hung out with. Not the brightest, but good-hearted. I am a sucker for a good heart. The occasional presence of Rufus, Napolean, Billy the Kid, Socrates, Sigmund Freud, Beethoven, Genghis Khan, and (my favourite, played by the awesome Jane Wiedlin) Joan of Arc adds a sort of frantic fun to what could arguably be classed as a feel-good film.
(Arguably Keanu Reeves’s best performance, though I’m torn with Alex Winter because he got to be a Lost Boy…)
Quantum Leap (March 26, 1989-1993)
A lot of times, “odd couple” sort of situations don’t really work for me. But the nice mix of brilliant and kind time traveller Sam with irreverent and brash holographically-projected-into-the-past Al works well. Part of that might be that the framework here isn’t a sit-com but a drama. Add in the fact that, whilst they work to save the world over and over again, they are both striving to get Sam un-stuck from his time travel, and you’ve got a more interesting context for this team. I might have occasionally crushed on Sam or gotten emotional over his exploits and his situation.
Back to the Future (3 July, 1989)
I couldn’t show my face certain places if I didn’t mention Doc and Marty. Fortunately, I’m happy to mention them, even without that threat. Whilst I think all the things in my list are important, this one was arguably the most important of the lot (and that release date tells me it was a summer blockbuster thing). The lunacy of Doc was great for laughs, whilst the “normal kid” character of Marty made it easier for us to non-mad-scientist types to feel connected to the story. Who didn’t walk away wanting a DeLorean and a hoverboard? Or maybe even a mad scientist friend to help change our present via a past adventure…
Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
This film wasn’t one I anticipated liking as much as I did. And the thing that really made me love it was the team of Darius and Kenneth. Honestly, I’m a bit of a sucker for weirdos and their budding relationships. Plus, I’m a sucker for the way Aubrey Plaza plays disaffected. And the character of Kenneth, whilst we have reason to suspect his sanity, is a likeable guy. Are you starting to see that I’m a sucker for good guys? Someone disaffected and someone good in a film that’s not exactly mainstream is a good start for me.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Our team here for the actual time travelling are Wolverine and Kitty Pryde (aka Shadowcat). I love superheroes, and I really love X-Men. (Being not-normal is a good thing? Tell me more…) Even if most of the action we see is Wolverine, what I love is that his big, tough guy self is only able to do this with the help of a smaller female. I wish we lived in a post-sexist world where that sort of thing wouldn’t matter to me, but we don’t and it does. And the way she pushes on and, in her own way, shows she’s just as tough as burly Wolverine? Yeah! Plus, thanks, Kitty, for having a power that lets us see younger Xavier and Erik (aka Magneto) and Hank (aka Beast) and and and…well, now that I’ve wandered from time travelling teams to pretty people, time to let Cat do her winding up list…
(Of note, though I’ve stuck with time travel and not just things where time is squishy, I do want to call out that Quicksilver’s speed allows him to interact with things in a way that would make him out of sync with “normal” time and certainly involved in some wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff…Just with a little more sneering than we’d see from the Doctor.)
Cat’s Top Making-A-Change Time Travel Films
One of the greatest tropes with time travel is the desire to go back and change things. To make the small adjustment that will alter life for the better. In short, when faced with options to redirect the course of history, we suddenly all become the Doctor going back to kill Hitler. Usually anything with time travel brushes this off with dire warnings about not changing anything (think Butterfly Effect), but sometimes stories lean into that possibility, creating a narrative that cannot exist without that one express foundation: change everything. Here, following Amber’s method of release date, are some stellar uses of this idea in film (and one where I stretch the definition a bit to include a great movie). We’ve already covered some films that do this very well indeed: X-men: Days of Future Past, 12 Monkeys, most of the Back to the Futures. These are the ones without their own dedicated web space on our page.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
All of the Terminator movies follow the same trail. Save John Connor, save the world. It might be more appropriate to list the first film in that regard, because it introduced the idea and feels like the stakes were even higher, but I think the second movie is a little more fun. There. I said it. It’s not often I give James Cameron any credit for anything, but he can churn out an exciting action sequel better than most anyone. T2 also has fantastic effects, particularly groundbreaking for that time, and who doesn’t love using Arnold for good, not vengeance?
Groundhog Day (1993)
It’s going to be difficult to refrain from all-out fangirling right here, because this is one the best movies of all time. Actually, I’d wager it’s one of the most important movies of all time. Expertly crafted by the late, great Harold Ramis and screenwriter Danny Rubin, Groundhog Day manipulates time to teach greater lessons about humanity. When Bill Murray as Phil Connors, narcissistic TV reporter extraordinaire, is forced to repeat every Groundhog Day for what Ramis claims is anywhere from 10-40 years (and other folks have done more in-depth estimations with that timeline) he is strong-armed into examining the purpose of humanity. As part of that, he’s forced to change his self-centered ways. Groundhog Day uses time manipulation to stare down the barrel of what exactly us crazy humans are doing here on this planet. The results are staggering. Nothing religious, nothing preachy, but overall themes of love and service and decency resound against a backdrop of the most hilarious writing and acting you ever did see.
Midnight in Paris (2011)
This might be cheating, but Midnight in Paris‘s sojourn into the past is used to teach lessons and change the course of a life, so I’m keeping it. This is also a great example of a time usage we haven’t discussed too much, save for the sci-fi themes in my Doctor Who post: the modern man blasted into history. As one of the lighter and (in my opinion) less odious of Woody Allen’s movies, Midnight in Paris succeeds in crafting a beautiful history while gently explaining why that past isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Owen Wilson’s Gil might have completely romanticized Paris in the 1920s, but it soon becomes clear that his magical time traveling car is not there to solely indulge his whims and add fruit to his fancy. It appears to show Gil that not all that glitters is gold. Like Groundhog Day, this films exists to teach a broader moral to those watching. Those who always live at the mercy of past, even in positive ways, are doomed to ruin the present.
Alright, let’s get off this touchy-feely theme of personal growth and get back to nitty-gritty time travel for the course of history. Rian Johnson is one of those ridiculously talented writer-directors (please watch Brick; it will blow your mind). With Looper, using time travel as a way to change the trajectory of the world isn’t good enough. No, he has to take the endless possibilities with time travel and couch the message of changing history within a mind-bending action flick that plays with multiple timelines, each one having weight in the current story. Maybe confusing, but since the results are so slick and, well, cool, it’s hard to complain.