Total Recall

Total Recall: Our Favorite Movie Time Machines

With Hot Tub Time Machine hitting theaters, we take a look at various cinematic methods of transcending the space/time continuum.

by | March 25, 2010 | Comments

Hot Tub Time Machine

The concept of time travel has fascinated people for generations, contributing to the storylines of classic fiction in all formats — including, of course, the movies, where filmgoers have watched centuries vanish in the blink of an eye. Protagonists have used all sorts of methods to leave the present, from the outlandish to the relatively mundane; this Friday, for example, John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, and Clark Duke will travel back to the 1980s in a Hot Tub Time Machine. To celebrate Hollywood’s latest temporal journey, we decided to take our own trip into the past, and have a look at some of our favorite movie time machines!

Of course, movies about time travel don’t necessarily contain time machines. Sometimes, this distinction is easy to make — think Christopher Reeve in Somewhere in Time — and sometimes it’s a little trickier. For example, you won’t find the Tardis from the mid-1960s Dr. Who movies, since those were basically just expanded TV episodes. In addition, we disqualified the Starship Enterprise, for instance; it may have skipped across the space-time continuum on occasion, but those trips were the result of special circumstances. Likewise the spaceship from The Planet of the Apes… and, undoubtedly, one or two of your own personal favorites. So which ones made the cut? It’s, uh, time to find out!


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The remote, Click

Okay, so there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about Click‘s weak Tomatometer, but still — who wouldn’t love to have a remote he could use to pause, rewind, and fast-forward through time? We might ask for a sharper script once we got our hands on the gizmo, but would you complain if you befriended a permed, bow-tied Christopher Walken? Yeah, didn’t think so.

PROS: Battery-powered, pocket-sized, covered in cool buttons

CONS: Malfunctions often, excessive unfavorable comparisons to It’s a Wonderful Life, heightened risk of Hasselhoff


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The TDE, The Terminator movies

It’s hard not to be a little ticked off at Skynet’s Time Displacement Equipment — after all, it allows our future machine overlords to continue sending ever-more-sophisticated death robots into the past, thus making the last two Terminator sequels possible — but as time machines go, it’s really pretty neat, at least if you appreciate lightning-covered bubbles and gratuitous nudity.

PROS: Allows for stylish entrances, seems to gives users access to an endless series of quotable quips

CONS: Mandatory nudity makes cold weather problematic; machine was created by a Skynet, which is bent on the destruction of the human race


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Time machine car thing, Timecop

On one hand, the Timecop time machine was sort of lame — it only went back in time, for one thing, and then there was the fact that if things didn’t work just right, the driver ended up zooming into a giant wall. But on the other hand, how many time machines are simple enough for Jean-Claude Van Damme to use, let alone allow him to go back in time and team up with a younger version of himself to reduce Ron Silver to a quivering mound of goo?

PROS: No steering required, machine conveniently disappears after each journey, that whole Ron Silver thing

CONS: Future off-limits, looming possibility of death, risk of multiple Van Dammes


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The time-turner, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Most of the time travel devices on our list are big enough for the user to sit or stand in, but we’re willing to make an exception for the nifty pendant used by Hermione in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Sure, her original use of the Time-Turner was predictably square — she used it for nothing more exciting than fitting more classes into her schedule — but it was eventually instrumental in saving Sirius and Buckbeak. And besides, who couldn’t use a time machine that fits on a pendant?

PROS: Extremely portable, easy to use, matches most outfits

CONS: Very fragile, doesn’t allow user to alter events, mildly Flavor Flav-ish


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The Omega 13, Galaxy Quest

Thirteen seconds might not seem like a terribly long period of time, but when you’re talking about a device capable of pushing a reset button on the universe, it’s worth owning regardless of the limitations — just ask General Sarris, the reptilian nasty who blew up a planet to get at the Omega 13. Or, for that matter, ask the Galaxy Quest crew, which ultimately used the Omega’s brief rewind to get the drop on Sarris and save the universe. Now if we could only get a sequel — and a device powerful enough to erase Tim Allen’s involvement in Crazy on the Outside

PROS: Cool name, nifty glowing blue lights, zero risk of getting marooned in the distant past or future

CONS: Attractive to alien overlords, inability to prevent planetary destruction or Sigourney Weaver bleach jobs

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The box, Primer

Unlike most cinematic time machines, Primer‘s time-warping device doesn’t come with any cool lights, levers, or gull-wing doors — it’s just a box, albeit one with all sorts of intricate circuitry inside. It might look less impressive than most time machines, but the implications of its use are far more complicated than anything H.G. Wells dreamed up; in fact, it’s probably safe to say that most people that have seen Primer haven’t really understood it. It isn’t as exciting as taking a DeLorean to 88, in other words, but if time travel is ever really invented, it’ll probably be just as confusing and dangerous as it seems here.

PROS: Doesn’t need nuclear waste or alien technology to work, can easily be hidden in ordinary business park environment

CONS: Quickly destroys friendships, causes comas, weaves plotlines so tangled that viewers may weep in frustration


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The “gizmo,” My Science Project

It might have looked suspiciously like something out of a Sharper Image catalog, but this extraterrestrial orb did more than just look cool — it enabled its users to wreak havoc on dimensional boundaries, turning the space-time continuum into little more than a plaything. Sadly, critics were less than impressed with My Science Project‘s power, but c’mon — where else can you witness the combined might of Dennis Hopper, Dean Stockwell, and Fisher Stevens?

PROS: Plugs into any available power outlet, vaporizes bothersome authority figures, also functions as dorm-worthy light source

CONS: Inconvenient tendency to attract inter-dimensional clutter and create scary, world-destroying vortices; can’t fix Dennis Hopper’s hair


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The time machine, The Time Machine

You can’t talk about time machines without mentioning the name H.G. Wells — and although the 2002 remake of The Time Machine boasted niftier special effects, not to mention direction from Wells’ great-grandson Simon, it still doesn’t hold a Morlock-banishing candle to George P�l’s 1960 original. And okay, so Wells’ design may have been a little clunky compared to some of the time machines that followed (including 1979’s Time After Time, which featured a similar contraption), but you have to admire the scope of his vision — where most travelers contented themselves with a journey of a few decades, Wells took his audience hundreds of thousands of years into the future.

PROS: Simple to operate, comfy padded chair, can travel seemingly infinite distances without refueling

CONS: No stereo, cup holders, or GPS; open design is inconvenient in inclement weather


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The phone booth, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

No matter how many features your smartphone has, it isn’t as cool as the old-fashioned phone booth. Bill S. Preston Esq. and Theodore “Ted” Logan used it to usher in an era of utopian peace and ensure their destinies as the world-famous leaders of the hard-rocking/vowel-confused Wyld Stallyns. Until the iTunes store includes an app that’ll put us in a room with Freud, Beethoven, and Genghis Khan, this booth will remain most excellent.

PROS: Big windows, slim design, excellent long-distance rates

CONS: No place to sit, lack of cool ringtones, poorly spelled graffiti


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The DeLorean, Back to the Future

Looking at the souped-up DeLorean that Emmett “Doc” Brown used to zip around more than a century of history, it’s hard not to wonder whether you’re looking at a time machine or a time capsule, but this plutonium-powered beauty did exactly what it was supposed to…most of the time, anyway, and whenever Doc and Marty found themselves in a pinch, all they needed to do was come up with 1.21 gigawatts of power to get the DeLorean moving again. Who doesn’t have a spare 1.21 gigawatts lying around?

PROS: 12,000-mile warranty, fiberglass underbody, heaps of retro chic

CONS: Low MPG, AM/FM cassette stereo system, lack of qualified mechanics


Take a look through the rest of our Total Recall archives, including our countdown of John Cusack’s best-reviewed movies. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Hot Tub Time Machine.

Finally, for those who like some science with their science fiction, here’s a clip on the principles of time travel:

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