“The Terminator" (1984)
James Cameron’s iconic sci-fi action thriller is not strictly a time-travel oriented film but the adage does factor significantly into the entire saga. For those who have not seen the film, this writer is about to spoil the franchise. Scrappy and resourceful Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) is sent back in time to save one Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), mother of John Connor, the leader of a human resistance in a desolate future where artificial intelligence has blossomed and corrupted into a death factory bent on the eradication of humanity. What follows is a series of brilliantly escalating set pieces as Kyle and Sarah are pursued by The Terminator (future governor Arnold Schwarzenegger), a full-on killing machine. Time travel is rarely mentioned in the film, but the echoes of Kyle’s trip reverberate throughout the films that followed and permanently impact the fate of Sarah and her unborn child. Also, the glimpses of the future that Cameron does show are nifty, though eclipsed by the sequel’s massive visual overhaul. [A-]
“Time After Time" (1979)
Having already teamed Sherlock Holmes and Sigmund Freud with his script for "The Seven-Per-Cent Solution," writer Nicholas Meyer paired another duo of Victorian figures for his directorial debut, sending H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) to San Francisco in 1979 in pursuit of Jack the Ripper (David Warner) for "Time After Time." It's a thoroughly odd picture, the kind that would be unlikely to be greenlit today -- a strange blend of fish-out-of-water comedy, romance and serial-killer thriller. Meyer can't always make the tones work together, but for the most part it's a rather charming concoction, aided in no small part by its cast. McDowell, now best remembered for his villainous roles, is a noble, gentlemanly hero, Mary Steenburgen, as his liberated love interest, is quite lovely, and David Warner turns in the first of his two great time-hopping villains as Ripper, who is much more home in the 1970s, where he declares "90 years ago, I was a freak. Now... I'm an amateur." Few films make better use of San Francisco as a location as well. Not a classic. by any means, but a firmly enjoyable way to spend a rainy afternoon. [B]
“Time Bandits" (1981)
Of all the remakes on the horizon, the recent announcement that Terry Gilliam's "Time Bandits" was to be re-envisioned as an 'action franchise' is perhaps the most depressing, simply because the original is such a distinct, never-to-be-repeated piece of work, one that would be noted to death if put through today's development process. Following 11-year-old Kevin as he's thrust onto a quest with six thieving, time-traveling dwarfs, who've stolen a map of time from their former employer, the Supreme Being -- a map also desired by the simply-named Evil (David Warner). The time travel aspect is principally an excuse for a series of wonderful A-list cameos from the likes of John Cleese and Sean Connery, but the film's really a fairy tale, and one with as much wonder (the giant's appearance remains a thrill to this day) and darkness (the ending, which sees Kevin's parents exploding, leaving him alone) as you'd hope for. The performances across the board are gems, particularly Warner's hilarious villain, as is the who's who of diminutive actors that play our heroes (particularly the much-missed David Rappaport as their leader, Randall). It's a little rough around the edges, to be sure, but in this case it's firmly part of the charm. [A]
Based on the obscure, Dark Horse comic line, this Sam Raimi-produced actioner takes place in a near future, where a time-travel agent must regulate the usage of the deadly technology, only to see it fall into the wrong hands of a slimy politician. As far as Jean Claude Van Damme action pictures go, this is one of the better ones, with an inventive premise and a solid director in Peter Hyams, who knew how to best spotlight Van Damme’s prehensile athleticism and reptilian sexuality. The highlight of the fairly campy actioner -- which inspired a failed TV show and DVD franchise -- is the late Ron Silver as the twisted Senator McComb, a standout in a crowded field of icky '90s-era bad guys, his sinister coif of hair and designer suits showcasing a character actor reveling in his shot at action movie immortality. [B]
Honorable Mentions: The birth of the genre can be traced back to two pieces of fiction: H.G. Wells' “The Time Machine" and Mark Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court." Both have seen a number of screen translations -- George Pal's 1960s version of the former holds up well, certainly far better than the 2002 Guy Pearce-starring take (directed by a descendant of Wells himself), while a 1949 take on the Twain tale is also worth a watch. The Martin Lawrence vehicle "Black Knight," which cribs from the story? Not so much.
“Berkeley Square" was perhaps the first true time-travel film, but remains virtually unseen today, while "Brigadoon" has the honor of being perhaps the only time-hopping musical. Alain Resnais' "Je t'aime, Je t'aime" is pretty terrific as well, while Peter Fonda's "Idaho Transfer" is something of an oddity, let down by the performances, but still worth a watch.
The French rom-com "Peut-etre" looks beautiful, but doesn't quite work, while both 1951's Tyrone Power vehicle "I'll Never Forget You"/"The House on the Square" and "Il Mare" make valid contributions to the romantic time-travel sub-genre. The "Star Trek" movies frequently play with the concept, most notably in "The Voyage Home," "First Contact" and J.J. Abrams' 2009 reboot. What have we missed? Send us an email last week, we'll add it before we publish it.
-- Cory Everett, Oliver Lyttelton, Kimber Myers, Gabe Toro, Christopher Bell, Danielle Johnsen, Mark Zhuravsky