Phone Boxes and Paradoxes: The 5 Greatest Time Travel Movies Ever

If you haven’t seen the new sci-fi action movie Looper, go and watch it now. Right now. I won’t spoil it here; I just want you to appreciate it, as it’s one of the best movies you’ll see all year.

It’s  probably going to go down in history as one of the best sci-fi films of the last decade, so to celebrate here’s a list of my five favourite time travel films of all… well, time.

Warning: I should probably make the disclaimer that I’m only including films I’ve seen personally. While I’m aware that films like Donnie Darko and Twelve Monkeys are hailed as masters of the genre, I’ve never had the pleasure of watching them, and so my inclusion of them here would just be plain wrong. OK? Good. Here we go:

 5) Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999) 

Probably the last great live-action film that Mike Myers ever made, The Spy Who Shagged Me was bigger and funnier than the original, and Myers’ triple performance as the eponymous spy, the villainous Dr Evil and the Scottish behemoth Fat Bastard was impressive without ever grating. It beautifully parodied the increasingly camp James Bond films of the time, made some great cultural references and took the piss out of time travel films by suggesting that the audience “don’t worry about it too much.” Austin’s summary of the 70s  and 80s was a gem; “there was an oil spill and A Flock of Seagulls: that’s about it.”

4) The Terminator (1984) 

James Cameron’s first seminal sci-fi (before he made Dances With Smurfs a few years ago) was a tense and gritty thriller that launched Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career – though whether this is a good or bad thing is probably a matter of debate. But whether you love or hate the Californian Governor’s policies, there’s no doubt he kicks ass as the time-travelling killing machine; “I’ll be back has often been imitiated, but never duplicated. And the sequel, Judgement Day, cemented Cameron’s reputation as a maker of huge-scale movies with budgets comparable to the GDP of a small African nation.

3) Midnight in Paris (2009) 

Widely considered Allen’s best movie in years, Midnight in Paris is an utterly charming film with a great cast, headed by Owen Wilson and Marion Cotillard, that includes great actors like Kathy Bates and Tom Hiddleston playing legends of the 1920s arts scene like Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald. No attempt is ever made to explain how Gil, a man with his head stuck in the past, is able to travel back to 1920s Paris every midnight. It’s just accepted as that special brand of Woody Allen magic, and it works; as well as being a great romantic comedy, Midnight in Paris also has a very clever moral about how nostalgia can blind us to what the past (and the present) are really like.

2) Looper (2012) 

I know, I know, I’ve only just seen this, but I genuinely couldn’t think of another movie I’d rather have on the list. Everything about it is of such a high quality: the universe is well-developed, the action is exciting, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis are phenomenal as the same person in two different stages of his life. But what really makes Looper stand out is its intelligence. It never panders to the audience or dumbs down its ideas for the sake of entertainment, and manages to keep you guessing about where the plot will go right up to the end. But still, it isn’t as good as…

1) Back to the Future (1985) 

What else could it be? Robert Zemeckis’ 80s classic rules the time-traveling roost because it works both as a great comedy and a great piece of science fiction. The script is incredibly tight and focused, with a great central thread about the dangers of rewriting history and some fantastic scenes involving Marty McFly’s attempts to shun the advances of his (admittedly rather attractive) mother. Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd give sensational performances, the soundtrack really cooks, and the DeLorean will forever be the coolest looking time machine in all of fiction.


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