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16 Time-Travel Movies Worth Your....Time

Features
by The Playlist Staff
April 1, 2011 6:43 AM
9 Comments
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“12 Monkeys" (1996)
Basically the last great Terry Gilliam film, to date at least ("Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" might have its defenders, but it's a severely flawed picture), "12 Monkeys" is also the director's most successful attempt at blending his own interests with the Hollywood mainstream. The film's bleak future, with its sunglass-wearing elders and bizarro time machine, is none-more-Gilliam, but there were enough A-listers to make the film a sizable commercial hit. And the A-listers bring their A-game: Bruce Willis gives a career-best performance as the convict sent back to the '90s to prevent the release of a virus that forced humanity underground, who comes to doubt his own story, while Brad Pitt picked up his first Oscar nomination as a wild-eyed animal rights activist. The script, from "Blade Runner" writer David Peoples and his wife Janet, is terrific, and while the film is concerned more with the changing nature of memory (perfect subject matter for cinema, really) than with the paradoxes of time travel, it all comes full circle with the devastating ending. Also required viewing: Chris Marker's "La jetée," which the film is based on, and "The Hamster Factor," the must-see making-of documentary on the film's DVD. All being well, one day Gilliam will make a film as good as this again. [A-]

“Army of Darkness" (1992)
Observe the progression of the Evil Dead Trilogy. The inaugural film is almost a straight horror movie, while its follow-up is a giggle- and gore-filled take on the genre. But when Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell get to number three, “Army of Darkness,” they keep the comedic tone, then switch the target to schlocky medieval films, add some slapstick, and gleefully send Ashley “Ash” J. Williams back to 1300 A.D. He’s surrounded by primitive screwheads and a Harryhausen-esque army of Deadites, and Campbell’s sarcastic delivery gets to shine in the sublimely silly, endlessly quotable fish-out-of-water film. There’s a plot in here somewhere about Ash needing to retrieve the Necronomicon to return home to S-Mart, but we’re too busy laughing at Mini-Ashes and boomsticks to really care. Our verdict: Groovy. [B+]

“Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" (1989)
Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Ted “Theodore” Logan are Wyld Stallyns in Stephen Herek’s minor classic, a sprightly, irreverent time travel comedy about two slackers who couldn’t do anything right until hooking up with the otherworldly Rufus. The time-hopping chuckster gifts them with a phone booth that allows them to complete their class project on time, as they leap from one period to another, procuring history’s greatest figures, from Socrates to Joan of Arc. The history lessons are straight out of Mad-Libs, but the film skates by on the noted charm and chemistry of Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter as the title’s somewhat brain-dead rockers, two best friends who are united by both their love of rock, but also their unspoken support system keeping either of them from falling into an abyss of bad grades, unsupportive parents, and dead-end futures. [B+]

“Timecrimes" (2007)
Sort of a dizygotic twin to Shane Carruth's no-budget "Primer," Nacho Vigalondo's "Timecrimes" retains some of the smarts but keeps things from getting too talky/dry in a way that only someone named Nacho can do. Starring "Biutiful's" schlubby Karra Elejalde as Hector (who's more Joe the Plumber than the actual Joe the Plumber), this Spanish micro-indie kicks things off sleazily, having the protagonist pursue a naked vixen he glances in the woods surrounding his property. Suddenly attacked by a bandaged man on his way in, Hector escapes into a mysterious lab and is swindled by its resident scientist into a time-traveling gizmo. Emerging an hour earlier in the timeline, things get a bit complicated: this Hector must force Hector #2 to follow the same path he did, thus making a full-circle. Of course, nothing's that easy, and eventually another Hector appears to disorder things further. With three now vying to be the one-and-only, you've got yourself a fairly immersing thriller and one of the more fun examples in the genre. Vigalondo could've used the multiple Hectors as some sort of insight into a single human being's various facets, but he'd rather play than philosophize. Thankfully, the typically convoluted plot elements are easy enough to keep track of but hard enough to invoke that good ol' problem solving self-satisfaction as you figure it out. Polished with breezy pacing and an occasionally goofy sense of humor, the filmmaker is no Duncan Jones or Neill Blomkamp, but will probably be helming smart genre pictures just the same in due time. [B]

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9 Comments

  • mike | April 2, 2011 10:59 AMReply

    Fuck The Jacket - not good enough to be on that list

  • jcormier | April 2, 2011 5:19 AMReply

    A recent and creepy time travel flick called Triangle was quite enjoyable in its twistiness. Some new things were added to the time travel trope that I found really clever.

  • Melissa | April 2, 2011 3:44 AMReply

    I would definitely add Frequency to the list.

  • jimmiescoffee | April 2, 2011 1:57 AMReply

    '12 monkeys' is underrated. one of the best science fiction movies ever made.

  • Jr Cigar | April 1, 2011 8:59 AMReply

    Frequency was a sleeper hit about a decade ago. From what I remember it was pretty enjoyable, but it may not have aged well... can't remember.

  • Marko | April 1, 2011 7:31 AMReply

    Reading that blurb about Primer made me wonder if Shane Carruth has tried approaching Megan Ellison about funding it.

  • dfsakjlfad | April 1, 2011 7:13 AMReply

    The Butterfly Effect is horrible.

  • Moggz | April 1, 2011 7:09 AMReply

    The butterfly effect is worth a mention .Very dark.

  • rotch | April 1, 2011 7:00 AMReply

    I'm proud that you didn't mention Hot Tub Time Machine.

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