I have a soft spot in my heart for time loop movies. Anytime a character is thrust into a situation where they must relive the same day over and over again in search of some lesson learned, I’m on board. Some films use the concept better than others, but time loop movies are reliably entertaining, if only because the possibilities are literally endless. If you were able to live the same day over and over with no consequences, wouldn’t you start by doing some crazy stuff? Or maybe you’d be the type to just sit around all day, enjoying life on your terms, knowing you’ll never have to work another day in your life. Why would you if every day was the same?
Then again, maybe you’d use your eternal life to figure out how to see tomorrow. The funny thing about living the same day over and over is that, when the good times run dry, you’re still stuck for eternity. Human beings are naturally inclined to move forward, progress, and see each day as an opportunity for improvement. Therein lies the appeal of time loop movies: if you were never able to see tomorrow, would you be able to keep your sanity? And as great as your own eternity might seem at first, it must be nice to finally break through and see the other side of midnight.
Before we begin, let’s get some honorable mentions (and TV episodes) out of the way. If you’re looking for time loop stories on the small screen, Supernatural‘s “Mystery Spot” – a third season episode that is considered by many to be one of the series’ best – is a great place to start. Eureka‘s “I Do Over” is another great one, as well as Angel‘s “Time Bomb,” Stargate SG-1‘s “Window of Opportunity,” The Mindy Project‘s “Hot Mess Time Machine,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s “Life Serial,” Charmed‘s “Déjà vu All Over Again,” The X-Files’ “Monday,” Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s “Cause and Effect,” and The Twilight Zone’s “Shadow Play” episode. There’s also a great short film, 1990’s 12:01 PM, about a lowly office worker who relives the same 59-minute period over and over again. It was expanded into a not-so-great 1993 TV movie, but you can probably skip that one.
Some other movies I considered including but didn’t because they kind of stretch the definition of “time loop”:
Primer, Timecrimes, Looper, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, About Time, Triangle, Predestination, mother!, Donnie Darko, Coherence, and The Butterfly Effect.
So, without further ado, here is GEEK’s Top 5 Time Loop Movies.
5. Happy Death Day (2017)
Last year’s Happy Death Day, directed by Blumhouse regular Christopher Landon, is already on its way to becoming a cult classic. Featuring a surprisingly strong performance by newcomer Jessica Rothe, she carries what is easily one of the year’s most entertaining slashers. Happy Death Day follows a bratty college student named Tree who wakes up in a dorm she doesn’t recognize, next to a guy she doesn’t know. That night, she’ll be murdered by a masked assailant, but instead of the murder going unsolved, Tree wakes up. In that same dorm, next to that same stranger, alive and (mostly) well.
The twist that sets Happy Death Day apart from other time loop movies is the ticking clock aspect, where Tree only has a certain number of tries before she’s dead for good. Every day, she wakes up with the internal wounds of the day before. On the outside, there’s nothing wrong with her, but her body is slowly dying, and she’s running out of time. The chemistry between her and co-star/love interest Israel Broussard, who plays Carter in the film, is almost worth the price of admission on its own, and the movie does a good job at appealing to the mindless teen audiences while still being an effective and surprisingly original genre exercise.
4. Run Lola Run (1998)
Okay, so Run Lola Run isn’t exactly a time loop movie, and I know I made a big stink about including movies that didn’t quite fit the guidelines, but this is my list so shut up. Run Lola Run deserves to be included on this list. It’s fast, it’s fun, and we see the same events play out similarly, multiple times. Close enough. As a breakout feature for writer-director Tom Tykwer and star Franka Potente – who, playing Helga, was one of the only good things about FX’s Taboo – Run Lola Run is a hugely influential movie, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Recently spoofed on an episode of Showtime’s SMILF, the film’s Rashomon-esque story is pretty timeless. People are constantly considering different scenarios, and Tykwer’s visceral direction let viewers see Lola make decisions in real time. It may not be a time loop in the traditional sense, but any opportunity to shower this film with praise is worth seizing.
3. Source Code (2011)
Duncan Jones’ follow-up to 2009’s Moon stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a soldier named Colter Stevens who suddenly wakes up on a commuter train. He has eight minutes to find a bomb stored somewhere onboard, and if he doesn’t, the entire train will explode. No worries, though, he has as much time as he needs. When the train explodes, Colter wakes up at the beginning, with eight more minutes to do it again. Duncan Jones is obviously one of the most talented directors working today – let’s not hold Warcraft against him – and Source Code is a clever twist on the time loop genre, shortening the amount of time to just eight minutes instead of a full day. Gyllenhaal’s performance is unsurprisingly fantastic, and Jones’ unique direction makes Source Code a breezy 93 minutes.
2. Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Initially ignored upon release, Edge of Tomorrow has emerged in the last couple years as (arguably) the best time loop movie of all time. Sharing that top spot with the obvious choice – there’s a reason this one is at #2 – Edge of Tomorrow is a thrilling, and pitch-perfect blockbuster movie that, unfortunately, didn’t do blockbuster numbers at the box office. Starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, Edge of Tomorrow manages to avoid so many time loop cliches by allowing Blunt’s character to be a kind of conduit for the audience. Once Cruise’s William Cage finds his footing, the perspective shifts, and we learn new information with Blunt’s Rita Vrataski, who begins each day not knowing Cage or what he’s capable of. By the time the two have found what she thinks is a refuge at a nearby home, only to learn that they’ve both been there countless times, Edge of Tomorrow solidifies its place in the canon of time loop movies as a shining example of what the concept can and should be.
1. Groundhog Day (1993)
Yeah, like we’re not going to put Groundhog Day at the top of a list of time loop movies that we’re posting jus after Groundhog Day. Come on, we’re not animals. At this point, there’s not much I can say about Groundhog Day that hasn’t already been said. Even that, right there, has probably been said many times. And that. And that.
See, even talking about Groundhog Day turns into a time loop.
In all seriousness, Groundhog Day is still one of the best examples of high-concept comedy. Blending a thought-provoking premise with some of the best comedic work Bill Murray has ever done, Harold Ramis’ 1993 film is still so popular for a lot of reasons, but Groundhog Day is a movie that means different things to different people. Ramis was actually surprised by the reaction and expected to get a lot of backlash for the concept. Instead, Groundhog Day became one of the most beloved films of all time and is definitely a comedy classic for the ages.
Revisiting it recently, I was surprised by how mean-spirited the whole thing is, in a way that never distracts from how unrelentingly entertaining it is. Murray’s cynicism only becomes more relevant with time, and Andie MacDowell’s hugely underrated and naturalistic turn as Rita is the movie’s secret weapon. If you haven’t seen Groundhog Day in a while (or at all), now’s the time. Not only is it seasonally appropriate, but it’s the perfect blend of sentimentality and cynicism seems much more tailored to our times than the year it was released.
Images: Columbia, Warner Bros., Summit,
Bavaria Film International, Blumhouse, Universal