Reading a list of blockbuster time travel movies is like taking a trip back to our childhood. The Terminator. Back to the Future. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. So many movies we spent countless hours obsessing over. With the Bill & Ted movies airing on IFC this month, we got to thinking about what other time travel flicks are out there that may have been missed. From head scratching comedies to experimental documentaries, these time travel movies aren’t household names, but should be. As you revisit Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey during IFC’s Rotten Fridays, here are a few more films to check out for a most excellent time.
10. Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel
This playful yarn, clearly influenced by Shaun of the Dead and the films of Edgar Wright, is worth a Saturday afternoon on the couch. Mixing laughs and heart, the twisty time travel story sees our drunk heroes start their night at the pub where they run into an American girl (played by Anna Farris) who claims to have a time machine built into her body. She’s there to prevent a “time leak,” but ends up involving the lads in a meandering tale that sees them fighting to stop the end of the world. A light trifle of a comedy, it’s got a fun cast fronted by Chris O’Dowd, and enough time travel twists to keep you guessing.
9. Project Almanac
Found footage flicks have sort of run their course, but occasionally one pops up that does something fun with the genre. Dean Israelite’s high school time travel movie doesn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel, but he tells a surprisingly gripping story of a kid who sees himself in a home video from his childhood, and then finishes his father’s experiment in the garage so he can make that footage come true. A story about being careful what you wish for, the fun of this movie is in the way it shows what most teens would do if a time machine all of a sudden plopped onto their laps — namely, hit on girls and go to Imagine Dragon concerts, and how that could quickly unravel the very thread of existence. A fun flick for the teen in all of us, Project Almanac is worth a watch when you’re craving some lighthearted time traveling vibes.
Ethan Hawke has made a career out of vacillating between passion projects and blockbusters for the masses. His 2014 sci-fi drama Predestination, based on a short story by Starship Troopers author Robert A. Heinlein, isn’t easy to explain without giving away spoilers, but if you love the head scratching concept of time travelers creating a past that eventually creates them, this is the movie for you. While it failed to set the box office on fire, its 84% rating on Rotten Tomatoes should tell you that Predestination is destined to become a cult classic.
7. Sound of My Voice
A Sundance hit, this indie drama centers on the question of how would you react if someone claimed to be a time traveler from the future with all the answers to life. More psychological thriller than twisty time travel romp, director/cowriter Zal Batmanglij’s film explores the human need to believe, and what that makes us capable of. With a stripped down style that has one foot in sci-fi and another in the spiritual realm, this movie isn’t afraid to challenge its audience, and for that alone it’s worth checking out.
6. Time After Time
HG Wells! Jack the Ripper! Disco! This somewhat forgotten 1979 romp isn’t exactly a masterpiece, but for a goofy trip through the “Me Decade” of bushy mustaches and bulbous bell-bottoms you aren’t going to do much better. With genre standouts Malcolm McDowell and David Warner fronting the movie, and a charming Mary Steenburgen playing the love interest of HG Wells years before she would fall for another time traveler in Back to the Future III, director Nicholas Meyer’s (Star Trek II: The Wrath Khan) film has enough acting gravitas to sell the campy concept and ridiculously cheap thrills. If you’ve always wanted your time travel movies to feel like a Three’s Company episode about time travel and serial killers, this is definitely one to add to your queue.
Timecrimes (or Los Cronocrímenes) is a Spanish-language film about a hapless husband who accidentally travels an hour back in time, and slowly realizes that he may be responsible for some awful crimes as a result of his trip. A puzzle of a film, the joy in watching it is peeling back layer after layer of surprising twists, as our hero becomes a villain and then back again. A truly unique film with a sadistic streak, writer/director Nacho Vigalondo uses time travel to explore why we always seem to be our own worst enemies. David Cronenberg was rumored to be making an English language version of Timecrimes at one point, and if the master of body horror was sniffing around this movie, you know you’re in for a nasty treat.
With a budget of just $7,000, there’s no earthly reason why Primer is as effective as it ends up being. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, this low budget mindbender follows two engineers who accidentally discover time travel. Heavy with the supposed science behind their invention, and delivered with a dry, spare style, this movie’s complex plot is really an excuse to explore a fundamentally human question: What makes you you? Director Shane Carruth, a former engineer with a degree in mathematics, also starred in the movie, wrote it, scored it, and edited it, and the bare bones style is part of the fun here. With a heady plot fans are still debating, Primer is about as far from a dumbed-down Hollywood blockbuster as you can get. You’re going to need your own time machine to watch this gem a few times before it really starts to make sense.
3. Safety Not Guaranteed
Director Colin Trevorrow has become one of the biggest names in Hollywood — helming the recent smash hit Jurassic World and due to direct Star Wars: Episode IX — but it all started with this small, character-based comedy about a man who places an ad in the back of a newspaper asking someone to join him on a trip through time. With few special effects or time travel twists, this movie rests on the backs of its ensemble, a likable mix of Mark Duplass, Aubrey Plaza and Jake Johnson. A movie for genre and non-genre fans alike, this one is for the dreamers in all of us, and the cynics who would rather just have a stiff drink.
2. La Jetee
French New Wave cinema isn’t the first thing you think of when it comes to time travel, but this 1962 short film from writer/director Chris Maker takes the conventions of the genre and runs them through a psychologically surreal blender. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, the story centers on a prisoner who’s returned to a traumatic moment from his childhood in an attempt to save the world. Using still imagery and the conventions of a documentary, the film is only 28 minutes long. Still, for such a short run time, it rewrote the rules of the genre, and inspired countless future filmmakers, most notably Terry Gilliam for his classic sci-fi thriller 12 Monkeys.
1. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
A modern anime classic, this 2006 Japanese film is a sequel to the novel of the same name. Much like Project Almanac, it explores the idea of a teenager discovering time travel, and using it for her own selfish whims. Retaking exams, mastering karaoke and keeping a buddy in the “friend zone” are the motivations here. A highly relatable story with lush animation, this reverse Groundhog Day tells the tale of one girl trying to keep her innocent, perfect high school world the same forever, and slowly realizing that life always moves on.
Catch Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey this Friday at 8P on IFC’s Rotten Fridays!