Regardless of what anyone says, I believe in my heart that Timecop was greenlit because someone showed a studio executive a picture of Jean-Claude Van Damme and said the word Timecop out loud, at which point they had to throw a script together as quickly as possible. Nothing about Timecop makes sense. It is the most 90s film ever made.
Finally, a film that uses time-travel for the correct reason; to allow a horny 1980s high school student to go back to prehistory so that he can convince a smoking hot, bikini-wearing cavegirl to have it off with him.
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I have to be careful here, because Tenet might not be a time-travel movie. Certainly time passes in it and some of the people are going backwards in time in it. But I’ve seen this movie twice now, and it mainly just seems to be about people mumbling everything, except for Kenneth Branagh, who gets to shout very loudly three times
The Butterfly Effect (2004)
God, this film. In summary: Ashton Kutcher plays a man who experiences blackouts, only to learn some years later that he can travel back in time and inhabit his younger self’s mind during the blackouts. But in doing so, he unleashes a world of unintended consequences. He becomes a murderer and loses limbs. Seek out the director’s cut if you can, because it ends with Kutcher’s character deliberately strangling himself in the womb with his umbilical cord.
The Time Travelers (1964)
A 1964 movie made on the cheap with genuinely terrible effects, The Time Travelers is about a group of scientists who travel to the future, fight some mutants and then return. What sets it apart, though, is its crazed ending. The film ends with the scientists venturing into the distant future, whereupon the film plays through again, faster and faster and faster until it cuts away to a still of the galaxy. Are they trapped in a loop
Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)
So seminal that it was namechecked in Avengers: Endgame. A flat-out comedy that primarily exists to allow a bunch of middle-aged men to act like teenagers, Hot Tub Time Machine is a film about an enchanted Jacuzzi that sends people back to the mid-1980s. Possibly a bit too bawdy for its own good, there’s a hint of a message about the unreliability of nostalgia here.
Some see Shane Carruth’s Primer as the gold standard of what a time-travel film should be. It’s the sort of movie that seems unnervingly realistic, from the down-at-heel engineers to the unshowy nature of time travel itself, where people in effect just get in and out of some boxes. Almost entirely unwilling to explain itself, for years Primer fans have come to rely on a series of graphs and charts to figure out what the film actually is.
Interstellar is also a lot. But at its core is a simple ethical quandary: would you try to save the world if it meant missing your children’s entire lives? Matthew McConaughey has to touch down on a planet during a space trip. The problem is that every hour he spends there is equal to seven years on Earth. Is the trip important enough for him to miss seeing the wonder of his children grow into adults? Technically, if you want to be fussy about this, Interstellar is a time dilation movie rather than a time-travel movie. But it gets a pass, largely because McConaughey sells the agony of the moment so beautifully.