How Long Have We Been Time Traveling In Movies?

It has been almost 100 years since the first time-travel movie hit theaters. There are so many ways to turn the time forward and backwards in cinema, it’s hard to say if these films belong to any one “genre.” Each time-traveling movie had to solve the logic puzzles inherent in its premise in its own unique way. Each movie has also played on the universal, even vain, desire of humans to see a world we don’t have access to–and maybe to change it. Here is a great summary of the best time travel movies to check out.

Although most people would point to H.G. Wells’s time-machine stories, there was another founding text: Mark Twain’s 1889 humor A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court. Twain, unlike Wells, was less concerned with the science behind his science fiction than he was about how it happened. Twain’s Connecticut Yankee wakes up in Camelot after being struck by a crowbar.

The time-travel film took a while to get out of Wells and Twain’s sci-fi shadows. The three most notable entries to the genre were A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court, which was a 1921 silent film, a 1931 talkie and a 1949 musical. George Pal’s 1960 adaptation of The Time Machine won an Oscar for best visual effects. Despite these successes, time travel was still a fringe subject in popular culture. It only appeared as a plot device for adaptations such as Planet of the Apes or Slaughterhouse-Five or occasional B-movies like Journey to the Center of Time or The Time Travelers.

It took so long for a non-adapted time-travel story like this to become a mainstream hit, which is a testimony to how difficult these films are to make. Each time-travel story must have its own set of rules. Hardcore genre fans, who are notoriously meticulous, will rip apart any story that does not. It’s no accident that the Wikipedia article on “Predestination paradoxes within popular culture” is more than 21,000 words long. Filmmakers like Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future), James Cameron (The Terminator) and Robert Zemeckis (1980s) found a creative solution to the near impossible task of writing a time-travel story. They wrote a story that is so entertaining that mainstream audiences will not care about consistency.

Despite their differences in plotlines and executions the back-to-back films about time travel were huge hits and spawned franchises that are undoubtedly the best in the genre. Because they managed to find the right balance between science and story, which was enough to keep diehard fans of the genre working on it for decades, was key to their success. Hollywood was able to adapt the time travel concept to almost any movie, despite its reputation for being a thorny one. It would be impossible to list all the time-traveling movies that have been made in the last century. However, the years after Back to the Future and The Terminator saw many time-travel dramedys (Peggy Sue Got Married), time-travel horror films(Warlock), and time-travel romcomss (Kate & Leopold), as well as time-travel stoner films (“The Bill & Ted films). Woody Allen’s decade-hopping Late Night in Paris was nominated for Best Picture – the first film in this genre to receive such a nomination.

It is easy to see how these films have endured. Who hasn’t ever dreamed of knowing the future or changing what happened? You learn from the past by visiting it; from the future you can see where you are going. Even if you go back to your origin time, your life experiences will change you. That’s what makes time-travel so popular and why it is so successful at the box office. While all movies can promise to transport you from your daily life and show you something different, none of them do it as well or quite as literally.