Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Roads! A collection of fascinating and fun time travel movies.
BACK TO THE FUTURE TRILOGY (1985 – 1990)
Thirty-three years since its final instalment in 1990, the Back to the Future trilogy remains the best time travel trilogy ever to grace our cinema screens. Directed by Robert Zemeckis and produced by Steven Spielberg, Back to the Future (1985), Back to the Future Part II (1989), and Back to the Future Part III (1990) have left an indelible mark on popular culture and filmmaking.
Mixing classic coming-of-age themes with a thrilling time-travel adventure, Back to the Future would seamlessly blend humour, nostalgia, and science fiction into a new format, creating something timeless for all ages. Through the adventures of Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd), themes of friendship, family and love dovetail with the classic Grandfather paradox of time travel. But far from confusing its audience with general relativity and quantum physics, each Back to the Future film bathes the audience in the spirit of adventure, and the power of friendship and love, creating a trilogy that is accessible, fun and joyous. The result is three movies, unlike anything that came before or after. The Back to the Future trilogy is timeless, magical and an ode to the power of 80s Hollywood storytelling and imagination.
TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY (1991)
The summer of 1991 was far from boring in cinemas up and down the UK; in fact, it was the kind of summer cinemas can only dream of now, as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Point Break, Boyz n the Hood, The Rocketeer, Backdraft and City Slickers hit big in box office sales. However, one film was to reign supreme above all the others and change the very landscape of filmmaking in the process. That film was Terminator 2: Judgement Day, the incredibly expensive sequel to James Cameron’s lower-budget science fiction cult classic The Terminator in 1984.
With its groundbreaking visual effects, compelling characters, and thought-provoking exploration of the Grandfather Paradox, Terminator 2 was a film that genuinely shook the ground under its cinematic feet. Here Cameron’s direction and the engaging performances of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Edward Furlong, Linda Hamilton, and Robert Patrick created an unforgettable cinematic experience that, for better or worse, depending on your viewpoint, reshaped Hollywood and the summer blockbuster forever. While, ultimately, simplistic in its exploration of time travel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day remains a defining classic of 1990s cinema, building upon the groundbreaking effects of Cameron’s Abyss (1989) while opening many new doors to the emerging world of CGI.
Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Roads!
THE ADAM PROJECT (2022)
There is more than a hint of 1980s nostalgia in Shawn Levy’s family time travel adventure, The Adam Project. However, unlike many recent films that thrive purely on nostalgia as a narrative plot device, Levy’s movie combines the energy and visual charm of films such as D.A.R.Y.L and Flight of the Navigator with a modern and decidedly fresh time travel adventure. Ryan Reynolds swaggers with his usual tongue-in-cheek charm as Adam, a renegade pilot who crash-lands in 2022 after trying to save the world from irreparable damage due to the discovery of time travel. As Reynolds attempts to change history for the better, he is forced to team up with his 12-year-old self (Walker Scobell) in a time-jumping adventure rich in heart, action and humour.
There is much to love in this tale of a boy and man haunted by the death of their father. However, the real standout has to be the young Walker Scobell, who announces his arrival with a performance that matches and often upstages Reynolds’ energy and charisma. Levy clearly understands the lack of science fiction movies currently aimed at a family audience. The Adam Project clearly seeks to fix that with a fun and engaging rollercoaster of time-travelling action that leaves you with a big 80s-size smile.
FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR (1986)
Directed by Randal Kleiser, Flight of the Navigator carried us away on a wave of adventure, science fiction and wonder, becoming a cult classic of mid-80s cinema. However, the narrative is far more detailed than most of us remember. Twelve-year-old David (Joey Cramer) falls into a ravine and is knocked unconscious after a prank by his kid brother. When he wakes up and arrives home, he discovers that eight years have passed without him ageing a single day. After hospital checks involving NASA, it is revealed that David has subconscious memories of being taken to a planet called Phaelon which may account for time passing on Earth while David was standing still. When David telepathically finds the ship that took him, he meets Max, the ship’s intelligent interface. There he discovers he was a mere test to see if the human body could travel through time, a test that ultimately led to David being dropped off eight years after his accident. But all this is only the start of David’s adventure as Max needs the star charts held in David’s head to return home.
Flight of the Navigator was one of several family-orientated science fiction movies to hit our screens following the success of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial in 1982. However, like many mid-80s cult classics, Flight of the Navigator would earn its stripes years after its initial release through VHS and TV. Kleiser’s film would embrace three key themes: time displacement, self-discovery and the importance of family. Its narrative would take the inherent darkness of a story about a missing boy and flip it into a cosmic coming-of-age journey. While the science may be ropey, the result is a tender, warm, loving exploration of lightspeed theory, home, friendship, and adventure as childhood ends and teenage life begins.
Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Roads!
STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME (1987)
Following the continuing story of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock was never going to be easy; after all, Star Trek III ended with the destruction of the USS Enterprise, the death of Kirk’s son and the resurrection of his closest friend Spock, leaving our motley crew in a Klingon Bird of Prey for transport. In his second stint in the director’s chair, Nimoy would embrace a new direction, taking a series of endings and creating something distinctly different. Star Trek IV was, in many ways, the birth of a new era for the Enterprise crew, but it was also an environmental film hidden under the cloak of a time travelling space adventure.
By the early 1980s, the international ‘Save The Whale‘ campaign, alongside the activism of Greenpeace, had begun to make its voice heard in abolishing the hunting of whales, with the International Whaling Commission bringing forward a moratorium on the commercial practice. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home would take these environmental discussions into space in a time travel adventure that broadened the appeal of the Star Trek franchise and, in turn, gave the franchise its most significant box office success in 1986. Here the enterprise crew would use a slingshot light-speed method of travel, initially introduced in the TV series, to travel back to Earth and save the whales. A mix of light comedy and science fiction ensues that plays fast and loose with time travel theory. But despite this, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home remains one of the most entertaining additions to the franchise, and all those who watched it in cinemas will remember the short film about saving the whales that preceded the main feature. While its environmental impact is difficult to quantify, Star Trek IV should be celebrated as the moment environmental action, science fiction and time travel combined in the most unlikely of places.
GROUNDHOG DAY (1987)
The landscape of modern cinema is full of time-loop movies, from Happy Death Day to Souce Code and The Obituary of Tunde Johnson. However, the king of them all remains Harold Ramis‘ 1993 comedy, Groundhog Day. Groundhog Day is the benchmark in time-loop storytelling, whatever the film genre. Combining the classic romantic comedy with a discussion on humanity, purpose and kindness, the story of Phil Connors (Bill Murray), a self-centred weatherman trapped in a time loop, is nothing short of sublime.
At some time, we have all wondered what becoming trapped within the same day would be like. What would we do differently? How would we react to the same discussions and meetings on repeat? Would we slowly go mad as we searched for an escape door that wasn’t there? Groundhog Day covers all of these questions while asking us to reflect on the meaning of our existence. Is our life all work and no play? Do we genuinely treat others around us as we wish to be treated? How many opportunities do we simply ignore due to time pressures? Groundhog Day reminds us that true fulfilment can only be achieved when we opt to break free from the cycle of monotony and stagnation that surrounds us. As a result, it transcends the boundaries of a typical comedy as it explores themes of self-reflection, empathy, and the pursuit of meaning and purpose while always maintaining a comedic charm that is sadly absent from many modern comedies.
Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Roads!
BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE (1989)
Directed by Stephen Herek, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure was a sleeper hit in 1989 as we met the loveable slacker Bill S. Preston Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves). What started as a series of skits from writers Chris Matheson and Ed Soloman soon transformed into a time travelling adventure exploring friendship, history and absurdist anarchy. Our dynamic duo would travel through time, meeting the likes of Socrates, Napoleon Bonaparte, Billy the Kid and even Joan of Arc. Sounds nuts, right? It is!
But for all Bill & Ted’s goofy humour and late 80s slacker vibes, it managed to brilliantly balance its comedy with a far more tender exploration of friendship, love and diversity. Bill and Ted’s bond is unbreakable, and their unyielding support for one another is truly inspiring. Here their journey through time only strengthens their bond and brotherhood no matter the challenges they face. Equally, the film’s commentary on diversity and inclusion is impressive, even if the wacky humour occasionally obscures its power. Through the historical characters they meet, Bill and Ted learn to believe in themselves and reject the label of “losers” given to them by their peers and teachers. Here Bill and Ted’s time-travelling opens up a new world back home, where they can fully embrace their potential, skills and knowledge. Maybe it is for this reason that Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure continues to speak to new audiences today as it proudly encourages us all to “Be Excellent To Each Other” and not judge a book by its cover.