Time travel is a very alluring prospect. There hasn't been some horribly grave moment in my past that I ache to redo, like H.G. Wells' time traveler, but I'm sure there are some little things I'd love to give a second chance. Maybe I could go back and un-see "Battlefield Earth."
Film writers appear to be just as enamored with the idea. This weekend, "Men in Black 3" sends America's favorite black-suited gentlemen (after "Mad Men," of course) back to the '60s. Before you check in with Agents J and K, however, here are five other time travel-based movies from the past that are definitely worth watching in the present.
"Terminator 2: Judgment Day"
Between making "Dances with Wolves" with blue people and wanting to see more 3D movies (seriously), it's easy to rip on James Cameron. Even with the polarizing director at the helm, however, it's almost impossible to find faults with "Terminator 2: Judgment Day." The action is epic, the time-traveling story has more depth than you would expect from a big-budget action movie and the special effects – especially Robert Patrick's liquid metal villain – still look incredible 20 years later. It's arguably one of the best action movies of all time, and if you haven't seen it yet, you should before Cameron inevitably ruins it with a 3D re-release.
"Back to the Future"
I'm sure H.G. Wells and several literature professors may take issue with this statement, but for me, "Back to the Future" is the definitive time travel story. Yes, Wells' classic 1895 novel may have invented the term "time machine," but in my head, a time machine will always be a silver 1981 DeLorean with a flux capacitor. The film is that iconic and deservedly so. Robert Zemeckis' classic movie overflows with memorably imaginative characters, performances and moments. Most importantly, though, "Back to the Future" is wildly entertaining, which is more than I can say for "Battleship."
Time travel, with its alternate time lines and different versions of oneself, is a messy subject. Just ask anyone who's watched "12 Monkeys," a deranged journey to the future, the past and the present, as well as a few other places that neither the characters nor the audience are prepared for. In case the multiple time jumps weren't confusing enough, most of the protagonists, including Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt, are mental patients, making the audience wonder if what they're watching is even real. Plus, it's directed by Terry Gilliam, who has a notoriously casual relationship with sanity. It's a mess, but it's an exciting and fascinating look at the crazy idea that is time travel.
If I told you that I completely understood "Primer," I would be lying. The dialogue is extremely technical, and the story, about a group of inventors who accidentally create a time machine, never takes the time to explain much of what is going on. It's not surprising that the movie was written and directed by a former software engineer. The film is work, and it often feels that way, which makes "Primer" hard to love. At the same time, though, it's hard not to respect the film for wearing its brain on its sleeve and daring the audience to keep up. Plus, how can you not appreciate a movie that cost $7,000 to make, which is about the same as the buffet table on "The Avengers"' set.
There are a lot of reasons why "Frequency," a 2000 drama about a father able to change the past with the knowledge his son has in the future, shouldn't be on this list. The father-son duo, played by Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel, communicate using a ham radio, so it's more like really long distance phone calls than time travel. Plus, using it on this list means that I won't be able to use it for my inevitable Best Movies for Father's Day list. All of those reasons, however, are moot because "Frequency" is a terrific film that balances an intense crime thriller with a tear-worthy father-son story. Also, it was either this or "Hot Tub Time Machine."
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