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DIY Film Fest: 6 time-travel flicks you'll go back to (sorry) time after time


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Tim Cogshell, film critic for KPCC's Filmweek and Alt Film Guide, has joined Off-Ramp's team of commentators. Cogshell blogs at CinemaInMind.

Off-Ramp has been after me asking me to do another DIY film festival, and I’ve been asked to talk sci-fi flicks with the sci-fi nerds over at the DigiGods podcast.  They have a great audience and I know they are going to want to talk time-travel movies. Sci-fi nerds always want to talk time travel movies. So let's kill two birds with one stone.

1. "Looper" (2012)

Let’s start with a modern film that’s fast becoming a cult classic. The nerds love Director Rian Johnson’s 2012 time-travel thriller "Looper," and so do I.  It stars Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon Levitt as the same guy from different moments in time. What I like most about Looper is that it’s a love story wrapped in a thriller hidden in a time-travel movie.  And that it’s Johnson’s own original script. He worked it all out beat-by-beat in his head and "Looper" is tight as a drum.

2. "The Butterfly Effect" (2004)

Sci-fi nerds love Ashton Kutcher movies. Plus, it’s a pretty good flick. Like "Looper," "The Butterfly Effect" is actually a love story, this time wrapped in a drama hidden in a time-travel movie.  And it almost gets Chaos Theory right. There are several alternate endings for "The Butterfly Effect." All easy to find. Some of them happy.

3. "Time After Time" (1979)

Malcolm McDowell and David Warner in
Malcolm McDowell and David Warner in "Time After Time"

For something vintage I usually go with director Nicholas Meyer’s "Time After Time."  Weaving together the Jack the Ripper mystery with an H.G. Wellsian time-travel adventure and a contemporary romance, it's Nick Meyer’s directorial debut. With Malcolm McDowell as H.G. Wells, a pre-"Time Bandits" David Warner as the Ripper, it’s surprising how well this classic straddles time from its settings in 1893 and 1979 right through to the present day. And it will premiere as a series on the ABC television network in the fall. It’s certainly a debut film, but the Nick Meyer who would go on to write and direct the more cerebral "Star Trek" films is definitely in there.

4. "Somewhere in Time" (1980)

Christopher Reeve in
Christopher Reeve in "Somewhere In Time," the time travel date flick

I love Jeannot Szwarc’s "Somewhere in Time," a time-travel romance starring a young Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour and a beautiful John Barry score.

5. & 6. "La Jetée" (1962) & "Twelve Monkeys" (1995)

Chris Marker’s "La Jetée" and director Terry Gilliam’s "Twelve Monkeys" are in some ways the same movie at different moments in time. "La Jetee" is a short film constructed almost entirely from black-and-white still photos, voiceover and the atmosphere of time and place.

Watch "La Jetee" on Vimeo

It’s the specific inspiration for "Twelve Monkeys." Aside from being a flat-out brain freeze of a time-travel movie, it’s a different kind of Terry Gilliam movie – austere, stark and character driven. Plus, the film has Brad Pitt in his first Oscar-nominated performance.

Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt in
Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt in "Twelve Monkeys"

Those of you paying attention will note that both my first and last picks star – yep – Bruce Willis.

OK, I think I’ve got the sci-fi movie nerds covered.  Mix and match to build a DYI Time Travel Film Festival of your own. And remember, if you go back in time, don’t change anything!