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Time Travel Science Fiction Films (1990s)

Back to the Future, 12 Monkeys, Groundhog Day, Quantum Leap

During this period of cyberpunk and anime, time travel continued to be a popular theme.

Back to the Future

Back to the Future (1985) was born from a man reading his father’s yearbook and wondering, if he could go back to then, would they have been friends? The film examines the problem of time travel – the grandfather paradox. If you go back and kill your grandfather, you would not have been born, so how can you have gone back to kill your grandfather? Dr Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist, said, “If you change the past, the present becomes a logical impossibility.”

Marty McFly, a typical American teenager of the Eighties, is accidentally sent back to 1955 in a plutonium-powered DeLorean “time machine” invented by a slightly mad scientist. During his often hysterical, always amazing trip back in time, Marty must make certain his teenage parents-to-be meet and fall in love – so he can time travel back to the future. It was followed by two sequels, and there is also a dedicated website.

Twelve Monkeys

Time travel allows authors to tackle pretty heavy themes within entertainment. The French film La Jetée (1962) by Chris Marker was a powerful film shot entirely in still images. A prisoner from a post-apocalyptic future is sent back in time to change things. David and Janet Peoples adapted it to the film Twelve Monkeys (1995). In this the time traveller knows the future but everyone thinks he’s mad.

An unknown and lethal virus has wiped out five billion people in 1996. Only 1% of the population has survived by the year 2035, and is forced to live underground. A convict (James Cole) reluctantly volunteers to be sent back in time to 1996 to gather information about the origin of the epidemic (who he’s told was spread by a mysterious “Army of the Twelve Monkeys”) and locate the virus before it mutates so that scientists can study it. Unfortunately Cole is mistakenly sent to 1990, six years earlier than expected, and is arrested and locked up in a mental institution, where he meets Dr. Kathryn Railly, a psychiatrist, and Jeffrey Goines, the insane son of a famous scientist and virus expert.

The idea was made into a TV series currently running on the Syfy channel.

Groundhog Day

In Groundhog Day (1993) a man gets stuck in the same day over and over. He becomes desperate and even tries suicide many times. He only gets out of it when he changes. Then the worst day of his life becomes the best day of his life at the end, like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. A stage musical version of the story premiered in 2016.

Quantum Leap

Quantum Leap (1989-93) TV series was unique because rather than travelling through time himself, he inhabits another body, but he too has to put something right before he can move on. The series started very light, but the scriptwriters soon realised they could deal with darker issues, like the assassination of President Kennedy.

Doctor Sam Beckett led a group of top scientists into the desert to research his theory that a man could time travel within his own lifetime. Unfortunately, in order to save his funding, he was forced to enter the accelerator prematurely and vanished. He then found himself in someone else’s body with partial amnesia. His only contact from home is Al, a holographic image only he can see and hear. Setting right things which once went wrong, Sam leaps from life to life, hoping each time that this is the final leap home.

[adapted from Wikipedia and IMDB]

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Follow her at