Time Loops and Paradoxes: Great Time Loop Movies
Tomorrow is Groundhog Day in America and there are two very distinct, and very different, definitions of what that phrase means. The first is the traditional definition ‘A day which, according to an old story, is the day the groundhog wakes up after sleeping through the winter. If it sees its shadow on this day, there will be six more weeks of winter, and if it does not, spring will start early.’. The second definition, and the one this list focuses on, is ‘a situation in which events that have happened before happen again, in what seems to be exactly the same way.’
Time loop movies can be incredibly fun, playing with the repetition of events, the freedom of a do-over and the ultimate goal of ending the loop and going back to the unpredictability of life. It transgresses genre with Romance, Comedy, Sci-Fi and Horror all utilising this narrative device in creative ways. If you enjoy your films with a side order of déjà vu you should check out these great time loop movies.
Groundhog Day (1993)
Of course the original had to get a shoutout, especially considering its significance in pop culture for coining this secondary meaning for ‘Groundhog Day’. It may not be the first time loop movie ever made but it’s one that really set the bar. Bill Murray is Phil Connors, a cynical and self absorbed weatherman is sent to Punxsutawney to cover their Groundhog day celebration and gets stuck in a time loop repeating the same day over and over again. The only way to end the loop, he simply needs to stop being an asshole and act selflessly and lovingly, it’s kind of simple. It’s a thoughtful comedy that has some hilarious laugh out loud moments and a lot of heart underneath.
Run Lola Run (1998)
Run Lola Run is a stylish, 90’s German experimental thriller film that explores twenty of the most hectic minutes in a young girl’s life as she tries to alter the fate of her and her boyfriend. Of course, with most time loop movies there’s an element of the ‘Butterfly Effect’ but Run Lola Run utilises this more than most delving into free will and determinism and how our actions trigger surprising events in the lives of those around her. Lola’s boyfriend has left a bag with 100,000 deutschmarks on the subway and is about to meet his boss empty handed, leaving Lola with twenty minutes to help him or face the consequences. It’s a fast paced, frenetic techno action adventure that’s well worth the 81 minute runtime.
Well now, have you ever wanted to watch a film that is incredibly intelligent and immensely enjoyable but leaves you feeling like an absolute dummy? Then Primer is the perfect choice for you! Two engineers, Aaron and Abe, accidentally invent a time machine, but instead of getting into hijinks and finding out that nights winning lottery numbers they react with scientific intrigue and an element of fear. It’s a creepy and enthralling film that explores paradoxes, paranoia and puzzlements without pandering or dumbing down for an audience. Shane Caruth was a one man band, writing, directing, editing, scoring, producing and even starring in this extremely low budget and yet fascinating science fiction film that deserves every part of its cult status.
It all starts with a voyeuristic man and a woman stripping in the woods. From there Timecrimes descends into time loops, paradoxes and bandaged ‘strangers’. Hector, the man with the binoculars, is chased into the woods and ends up discovering an underground laboratory that leads to some time travel, continuous loops and mistaken identity based mishaps. It’s a Spanish Science Fiction Horror film that starts out as a game of cat and mouse transforms into a time tension mystery and brings slasher tropes along for the ride. Timecrimes is definitely another one worth watching more than once, laced in clues and hints that might fly over our heads on first viewing. Atmospheric and unnerving it’s a rabbit hole worth jumping down.
Director Christopher Smith had already made me terrified of empty London tube stations and wary of going on any form of work retreat and now he has me terrified of losing my mind on an ocean liner whilst stuck in a time loop. With an underlying fable story of punishment and guilt, referenced by a character who discusses the myth of Sisyphus, this is a horror that deserves more than a couple of rewatches to get the full effect of it. Jess is a struggling single mother who is invited for a day out on a friend’s yacht, giving her a break from caring for her child and a chance to unwind. Unfortunately, after a freak storm the group end up trapped, not only at sea but in a recurring time loop. Beyond that everything else would be a spoiler and this film deserves to be watched with untainted eyes and an open quizzical mind.
Rian Johnson is definitely a writer and director who likes to play with genre and our audience expectations of it. In Looper he explores the paradoxes of time travel in Science Fiction and brings ingenuity to the film without excluding the audience from it. The dialogue is whip smart and the character(s) are cold and cool in an action hardened way. The premise focusses on ‘loopers’, assassins from the future who use time travel to dispose of their victims and ends with time travel suicide. It’s a strange concept that is dealt with brilliantly and transcends the typical trappings and failings of its other Sci-Fi inspirations. With twists, turns and a whole heap of intelligence this is an interesting and thoroughly consuming time loop movie.
About Time (2013)
Now, I’m not usually one for a romantic comedy, but if you throw in a little fantasy and a time travel wardrobe and you have my attention. After learning from his father that the men of the family can time travel, Tim Lake decides to use it to help improve his love life. He can only travel to moments in his own life and he can only change so much without ruining the lives of those around him. These rules are important, until they’re not, but that’s bound to happen in a film like this, you have to take off your Sci-Fi hat and put on your Rom-Com hat to enjoy this one. All issues are masked by an incredible cast, some fun dialogue and a big soft heart at the centre.
Blood Punch (2013)
Stylish, wicked and completely crazy, Blood Punch is a blood soaked and darkly comedic horror film with plenty of curveballs thrown at the time loop formula. Milo is a sweet young man mixed up in some bad business after being caught cooking meth and sent to a rehab facility. It is here he meets incredible femme fatale Skyler who convinces him to do ‘one more cook’ and be set for life. She’s convincing and stunning, so of course he goes to a cabin in the middle of nowhere with her but the first hitch in the plan is her psychotic boyfriend Russell joining them. It’s a warped narrative with an original edge but no pretension from the script, just a wild ride into some intense and bloody scenarios. Madellaine Paxson’s directorial debut is splatter filled genre fare with a great ensemble cast and clever humour that will keep you laughing, gasping and guessing.
Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Based on the Japanese Science Fiction novel All You Need is Kill, this high octane conceptional time loop film is based in the aftermath of an alien invasion. Edge of Tomorrow doesn’t follow the typical war hero, instead William Cage, played by the stunt obsessed Tom Cruise, is a media relations officer with no combat experience drawn into the action who, after a failed mission awakens on the same morning to relive, and hopefully change the outcome, of these events. Our action star in this one is actually Emily Blunt’s Rita Vrataski, who is a celebrated hero and has experienced loops before. This time loop action film is like a video game with our protagonist learning and adapting every time they repeat a level.
Happy Death Day (2017)
Combining the fun hijinks of time loop Comedies with the darker tones of a Slasher movie just makes perfect sense, yet before the release of Happy Death Day the idea had never really been explored. Tree Gelbman is a self centered, partying college student who wakes up in fellow student Carter’s bed on the morning of her birthday. Later that night she is murdered by a baby face mask wearing killer and startlingly wakes up again in Carter’s bed, reliving the same day. Upon realising what has happened she makes it her mission to find out who the killer is and stop them before it’s too late. Jessica Rothe is amazing as the sarcastic but lovable lead and the film showcases some very fun kill methods. Also, it’s sequel Happy Death Day 2 U adds even more, presenting us with entertaining death sequences and a parallel universe sci-fi twist.
Game Over (2019)
The first ten minutes of Game Over was incredibly tense, following a masked killer as he stalks a young cancer patient and brutally attacks her. It’s an early set up for an element that doesn’t then really pay off until the final act, but it was enough to keep me glued to the screen until then. The film shifts focus to Swapna, a games designer with a crippling fear of darkness after she was sexually assaulted who finds out a disturbing backstory about a tattoo she got on the day she was attacked. It’s a strange, but inventive, genre switch up that combines psychological thriller, personal drama and a slasher film.
See You Yesterday (2019)
When settling in to watch a fun Sci-Fi film about intelligent and sweet teenagers managing to time travel using Ghostbusters style backpacks the one thing I didn’t expect was to end up in tears at numerous points. Director Stefon Bristol, and his NYU mentor Spike Lee who produced the film, bring poignant modern day issues of police shootings and racially motivated violence whilst exploring family, friendship and hope. Set in Brooklyn during the summer it is drenched in rich colour and visually beautiful to watch whilst carrying important ideas and messages. The cast are incredible with the two young leads exuding energy during the goofy fun moments and holding down the emotion during some of the more harrowing turns. There’s even a cameo from time travel alumni Michael J Fox.