I like time travel stories, but there are plenty around that make little or no sense, dealing with the concept in a way that doesn’t bear too close examination. As such, in no particular order, here are some films that I think are better examples of time travel story-telling.

Primer (2004)

Potentially one of the most complex time travel movies ever, in which some friends invent a time machine, start to use it to make money through the stock market, but then ideas about past events they wish to change, making everything very complicated.

And it is complicated! There are multiple different strands of time overlapping through this story as characters keep on going back over their own time lines. You really have to concentrate to follow the events, and even then watching it more than once is a good idea. It is also a great example of a good concept well realised on a very low budget ($7000). I love it for its complexity and intelligence. This is no popcorn flick – it requires attention and focus.

Time Crimes (2007) (Los Cronocrimenes)

This Spanish film has only a few characters and is set in an isolated location. A man heads into the woods in search of a naked girl he has seen through binoculars, only to be attacked by a man with bandages over his face. Running away from this person, he comes across another building housing a lab. The man there says he can hide from his pursuer inside a large device, which turns out to be a time machine sending him back in time by one hour. This is the start of a multi-layered story where the man tries to manipulate events in order to recreate everything as he initially saw it, believing this will enable him to come out of the other end and return to his normal life.

I like it for two reasons – firstly that it is a tightly plotted storyline that (unlike many time travel stories) is not full of holes; secondly that the psychological depiction of the main character is very interesting to watch as he becomes willing to do whatever it takes to just straighten things out, however morally questionable they may be.

Time Crimes

Time Lapse (2014)

This film centres around a camera set up in an apartment window, that takes a photo once every 24 hours of the apartment across from it. However, each picture depicts 24 hours in the future. The inhabitants of the apartment discover the camera by chance, and also discover that the owner of the camera and apartment is dead. So, they hide the death in order to make use of the camera. Events deteriorate as they feel compelled to make the pictures they see occur, the idea being that if they don’t there will be a paradox, and their timeline, and therefore they, will cease to be.

I was thoroughly impressed with this movie. It has an intriguing and unique plot, a capable cast, and really keeps you on the edge of your seat. In spite of the story mostly taking place in the protagonist’s flat, it maintains suspense and excitement. It’s not a particularly well known film, but it won quite a few awards at the time and I would really recommend it.

Time Lapse

Predestination (2014)

In this movie, a ‘temporal agent’ travels through time to try to catch a terrorist bomber. This premise sounds very cliché, but is merely a starting point for one of the weirdest time-travel stories I have ever seen. It isn’t really possible to describe the story without giving away important plot points, but it’s a complex thriller where apparently unrelated events all come together for a conclusion that the viewer will never expect. Past meets future in one of the strangest loops ever.

Watch this one – Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snooke give excellent performances, and the story is bizarre.  

Predestination

Tenet (2020

This film follows the hero, known only as the ‘protagonist’, who works for the CIA. He discovers and is recruited by an organization known as ‘Tenet’, and discovers that a form of time travel has been invented. The story follows his efforts to stop the threat of a Russian to start World War 3. The flaw in this time travel method – it takes as long to go back in time as the amount of time you wish to go back by ie if you want to go back in time by one week it will take you one week to get there.

It’s an intriguing time travel method, and the special effects used to realise this (people and their surroundings moving backwards and so on) are really something to see. The script does a good job of explaining this instead of leaving it vague, so it is a concept you can suspend your disbelief and accept. I liked it mainly because of that – it is just so interesting and visually compelling to watch. It’s a good one.

Tenet

I’ve chosen these movies because I think they are more original in terms of the time travel involved and the problems created. They’re not run-of-the-mill ‘time travel as a plot device’ movies in the style of ‘Avengers’ or ‘Back to the Future’, but films that have thought a little more intelligently about the concept and what would be involved. Check them out if you haven’t seen them.

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