The Evolution of Time Travel Movies

In honor of #FutureDay, Denisa and I watched the entire Back to the Future trilogy with TRC and DC. I had forgotten just how fantastic the first movie really is. Compact, fast moving, great characters. Really just a gem. Absolutely loved it. But today’s post isn’t about the first one. It’s about the second.

When BttFII came out, I remember hearing a fair bit of complaining about it. (Disclaimer: I was eleven when it came out, so I could be off on my memories.) Looking over some of the reviews from then, critics generally accepted it for the zaniness that it was intended in, so maybe my recollections are wrong. Personally, I recalled the movie being pretty thoroughly confusing. Multiple timelines, alternate presents, repeating pasts, duplicate characters. It was hard for me to keep them all straight.

TRC had no trouble with it at all when we watched it. Now, of course there’s a chance that he’s just plain smarter than I was (a fair possibility), but I also think time travel has come a long way in movies since the days of Marty McFly. What movies did we have before then? Time Bandits, Terminator, Time After Time, The Time Machine, Philadelphia Experiment, Peggy Sue Got Married, and the like. Bill and Ted came out the same year as Part 2 did. The majority of those time travel films are pretty straightforward affairs. People go back in time or forward in time, and that’s about it. Pretty vanilla, when you get right down to it.

Think about the time travel movies we’ve had since then. Groundhog Day, Edge of Tomorrow, Primer, Terminator 2, Donnie Darko, Looper, 12 Monkeys, Midnight in Paris, FAQ about Time Travel, Interstellar. I’d argue that time travel has come a long way. The movies that explore it aren’t content to just have characters go one direction. They’re exploring the possibilities. The science. The pitfalls.

Watching Back to the Future Part 2 wasn’t confusing at all for me now. Was the original Doctor Who full of time travel zaniness? I wonder if I’d been a Whovian earlier, if the film wouldn’t have left me dizzy when I first watched it. Even if it was, the fact is that popular audiences have gotten the hang of time travel. There’s no longer a need (typically) to have a Doc character explain what’s going on in long swathes of exposition. We’re up and running with new and crazy plots in no time.

At least, that’s how it seems to me. What about you? Am I missing some key movies? Does this hypothesis hold water? Let me hear what you have to say.

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