10 time loops to get stuck in

Time travel is almost by definition off limits for the space-opera universe my books are set in… a shame, because it’s a narrative gift that keeps on giving. The rom-com Palm Springs is the latest example of why filmmakers keep coming back to the time loop, and here are a few more you won’t mind being stuck in… some well-known, some obscure, some recent, some from way back. But time’s irrelevant, anyway.

1 Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

Made for under a million dollars, this rom-com time-trip was inspired by a real-life spoof ad. The version in the movie reads…

Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 91 Ocean View, WA 99393. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED.

… a great premise, a bittersweet outcome.


2 Mirage (2018)

A claustrophobic Spanish-language time-trip set in the everyday that takes more than a few cues from Back To The Future and even Hitchcock, but it cleverly reworks its familiar tropes. It could’ve done with a bit of editing, but has some unsettling Poltergeist-y TV moments, earnest and convincing performances (I think, I can only speak a few words of Spanish) and a chilling payoff.


3 Looper (2012)

In Rian Johnson’s mindbending and thought-provoking blockbuster, time travel is a violent, messy business. Loopers are hitmen assigned to kill people sent back in time by a crime syndicate… until one day, when the person sent back is their own future self. Once killed, each hitman’s timeloop is closed – until one hitman’s future self escapes, that is, and the temporal paradoxes rain down.


4 Time Trap (2017)

A professor disappears into a cave. His students follow him in, only to find not only is there no wi-fi, but time moves in mysterious ways. Entertaining silliness ensues. As Palm Springs and Dark have taught us, an awful lot of time shizz seems to happens in a cave. Have you come across a cave on a hike? Is the cave glowing mysteriously at all? Don’t go in the cave!

Edge Of Tomorrow

5 Edge Of Tomorrow (2014)

Tom Cruise fights terrifying aliens over and over in a sleek, high-budget, high-stakes blockbuster based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel All You Need Is Kill. It underperformed at the box office (was it the fault of the title?) but garnered a cult following nonetheless, and was ahead of its time.


6 ARQ (2016)

Another infinite-day timeloop akin to the one in Palm Springs, only this one doesn’t play out at an endless wedding reception, it’s in a basement where a murder squad wearing gas masks is forever about to burst through the door. Turns out they’re after the ARQ, an “unlimited energy machine that also produces unlimited time” – cue subtly altering loops and a claustrophobic and entertaining SF ride.

Source Code

7 Source Code (2011)

After the stunning slow-burn directorial debut Moon, Davey Jones’ next offering was a tense action-packed SF thriller that’s a whodunnit within a time loop set on a speeding commuter train. Despite having only eight minutes for its protagonist to thwart an attack that will destroy the train, he manages to find time for romance and to wrestle with deep existential questions across multiple possible realities.

La Jetee

8 La Jetée (1962)

The artful, pioneering short film that was the basis for Twelve Monkeys is as close as sci-fi filmmaking gets to crowbarring someone’s head open to watch them dream, thanks to its figurative, psychoanalytic narrative being told (almost entirely) via still frames.

Deja Vu

9 Déjà Vu (2006)

Denzel Washington plays Doug Carlin, an agent sent to investigate a terrorist attack on a New Orleans ferry. He joins an experimental FBI unit that can, via a method explained by a scientist folding over a piece of paper, see just over four days into the past. Carlin doesn’t care about Einstein-Rosen bridges or whatever – he wants to thwart the plot and save an innocent girl. Suspend your disbelief, embrace the inconsistencies/impossibilities and just enjoy.


10 Primer (2004)

Offering a chilling, unsettling and perplexing brand of grainy realism, this no-budget headscratcher breaks every Hollywood convention in the book. Two scientists unwittingly invent a box out of plundered parts and observe that time inside it differs from time outside it. What happens then is you, the viewer, either marvel at the paradoxes or, like me, pause the film every five minutes, splash your face with cold water and urge your brain to at least try and keep up.

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