Nine: Nine Time Travel Movies and Shows


Watching Nine has me thinking about how time travel has been covered in other shows (and of course the plot or theme similarities to Nine).  Here are nine films or television shows that I have been reminded of recently.  They’re in alphabetical order, with a rating of 0 (poor) to 9 (amazing) incense sticks.  Please feel free to discuss or add your own time travel/alternate universe favorites.  (There are some spoilers, so beware!)

Back2FutureBack to the Future Trilogy (1985, 1989, 1990)

Rating: 8 Incense Sticks

Synopsis:  Teen Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) accidentally travels 30 years into the past where he has to unite his high school age parents in order to save his own existence.

Why watch? Marty is a teenage everyman, he just wants to play in his band and hang out with his girlfriend.  By traveling back in time, he finally sees his parents as real people.  He also sees the repercussions of his actions throughout the series, as his own time gets tweaked by his activities in the past.  The films are great at creating the small town of Hill Valley in every pop culture detail: dusty sprawl in 1885, soda fountains in 1955, aerobics studios in 1985, and 4D movie theaters in 2015.  The core theme of the story is to do the right thing and there is no advantage to short cuts.  In the first couple episodes of Nine, Sun Woo has a poster of a DeLorean in his room.  The DeLorean  was used as the time travel device in the Back to the Future films.  There was a scene early in Episode 5 of Nine where Sun Woo thought he had dreamed of altering his timeline and speaks to Min Young thinking she is JOO Min Young.  This is similar to a scene early in Back to the Future where Marty had passed out and woke up to his mother tending to his head wound in relative darkness . . .only to realize his mother was actually 17 (and NOT his mother yet).

DonnieDonnie Darko (2001)

Rating: 7 Incense Sticks

Synopsis: Misfit teen Donnie Darko happens to start sleep walking just before  an airplane engine crash lands into his bedroom in the middle of the night.

Why Watch? Donnie Darko doesn’t initially seem like it’s about anything supernatural, it starts as more of an awkward emo teen film.  Donnie has strange dreams of a giant bunny named Frank who seems to know a lot about the secrets in their small town.  Without getting too spoiler-y, I can say there is a “tangent” universe within the film.

FrequencyFrequency (2000)

Rating: 6 Incense Sticks

Synopsis: A father and son are connected via a radio across a 30 year time span.  The son in the present day tries to save his father’s life with unforeseen consequences.

Why watch? It is a sweet film, and similar to Nine our hero is trying to save Dad and recalls original time lines once he has altered the future. The movie seems to try to be too many things to please everyone: a heartwarming father/son story, supernatural, a crime mystery, a little action/adventure.  The tone is just a little off so it ends up mediocre.

Life on MarsLife on Mars (2006-2007) Television Series

Rating: 9 Incense Sticks

Synopsis: In this UK television series, modern day detective Sam Tyler is on the hunt of a serial killer when he is hit by a car and wakes up in 1973.  He struggles with crime solving in an era before DNA and the nagging feeling that he might be imagining this reality: he may in fact be in a coma.  The show was also remade into a unexceptional US version in 2008, and there was a spinoff in the UK called Ashes to Ashes.

Why watch? It’s great to see Sam struggle without all these conveniences we take for granted: computerized files, mobile phones, pretty much anything you see on an episode of CSI.  Additionally, the culture was so different.  His squad is run by Gene Hunt, a man who interrogates with his fists and bends the rules as he sees fit.  Sam also finds himself drawn to rookie officer Annie Cartwright who is struggling with earning the respect of her peers in the midst of the feminist movement.  At the end of the series Sam is faced with writing off his experience as a dream from his coma or as a real place.  What he does is total spoiler territory (and for the record is COMPLETELY different from the finale of the US series) but with only 16 episodes is well worth the watch.

MV5BMjA3NzMyMzU1MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjc1ODUwMg@@._V1_SY317_CR17,0,214,317_Lost (2004-2010) Television Series

Rating: 7 Incense Sticks

Synopsis: Oceanic Flight 815 crash lands on a mysterious island where the survivors have to deal with polar bears, supernatural black smoke, time skips, and inhabitants known as The Others.

Why watch? Lost is incredible for its dense storytelling, episodes tend to focus on one character or pair.  We learn the characters back story, why they were traveling from Australia to Los Angeles, and even some previous connections to other passengers (that they are often unaware of).  Two leaders emerge from the pack: neurosurgeon Jack Shepherd who is very logical and John Locke who believes the islands powers are more than what you find in a microscope.  Science versus faith is something of an undercurrent for the series, as is destiny.  Additionally South Korean actress Kim Yunjin (Wedding Dress, Shiri) made her American debut on this show as half of a Korean couple whose relationship is at a crossroads.  They speak Korean to each other and there is Korean spoken in the flashbacks, most of the dialog is simplistic but it is still interesting once you know a little Korean.  There are some specific corollaries to Nine, but I don’t want to spoil anything in Lost for those who have not seen the series.  Because there are so many layers to the stories, people either love it or hate it.

QuantumQuantum Leap (1989-1993) Television Series

Rating: 9 Incense Sticks

Synopsis: To quote directly from the show’s opening: “Theorizing that one could time travel within his own lifetime, Doctor Sam Beckett led an elite group of scientists into the desert to develop a top secret project, known as QUANTUM LEAP. Pressured to prove his theories or lose funding, Doctor Beckett, prematurely stepped into the Project Accelerator and vanished. He awoke to find himself in the past, suffering from partial amnesia and facing a mirror image that was not his own. Fortunately, contact with his own time was made through brainwave transmissions, with Al, the Project Observer, who appeared in the form of a hologram that only Doctor Beckett could see and hear. Trapped in the past, Doctor Beckett finds himself leaping from life to life, putting things right, that once went wrong and hoping each time, that his next leap will be the leap home.”

Why watch? Again, our hero is a genuine good guy.  And, much like the popular kdrama trope, he is a genius.  Which is good, smart is HOT.  And it comes in handy when stepping into lives like that of a veterinarian (and having some medical knowledge), or a musician, or an attorney.  And the people he leaps into are common everyday people (for the most part) and he somehow manages to create or inspire huge things from the Heimlich maneuver to the moonwalk.  Quantum Leap is all about the positive effects of a good ripple.

A SoundA Sound of Thunder (2005)

Rating: 2 Incense Sticks

Synopsis: A man is sent back to the prehistoric era and the most minor actions have major repercussions in the present.  Based on the short story by Ray Bradbury.

Why watch? In short, don’t.  This movie is not good, bordering on downright silly.  The ripple effect of time travel is interesting and presented well enough in the story the movie is based on.  Or watch The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror V segment Time and Punishment, where Homer goes back to prehistoric times and squashes one bug before going back to an alternate reality where Flanders is in charge.  Subsequent visits result in gigantic Bart and Lisa, a murderous Maggie, and raining donuts.

Source CodeSource Code (2011)

Rating: 8 Incense Sticks

Synopsis: A man wakes up on a train to a face he doesn’t recognize as his own.  He is actually a soldier who is sent back into the last 8 minutes different passengers on a train to try and discover how a bomb was planted.  His actions appear to have effect on the present; will he find the bomber or save the train?

Why watch: This movie combines the thriller aspect of finding the bomber with the more cerebral concept of time travel.  The director, Duncan Jones, also helmed the fantastic Moon.  He constructs a story well, leaving the viewer questioning beyond what happens on screen.  Again, it’s hard to say much without revealing spoilers.12Monkeys

Twelve Monkeys (1995)

Rating: 7 Incense Sticks

Synopsis: A convict volunteers to go back in time to gather information about a man made virus that has become a plague in the present day.

Why watch? As the convict , Bruce Willis is sent back with certain facts assumed to be correct about the virus only to discover the past is not what he was told to expect.  Even things he recalls as a child he sees differently now as an adult. Segments of the film were inspired by the 1962 French short La Jette. It is frenetic and crazy, which is typical of director Terry Gilliam (Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen).  Similar to Sun Woo (and a few other leading men on this list), our hero has “no future” unless he fixes the past.

Twilight ZoneTwilight Zone episode: No Time Like the Past (Original Television Series, 1959-1964)

Rating: 6 Incense Sticks

Synopsis: A physicist attempts to change major event s in the past using a time machine.

Why watch? This episode is from Season 4, which means it suffers from the padded hour long episode format that Rod Serling opposed.  Our hero tries to change major historical events by warning Hiroshima of the impending atom bomb (nobody takes him seriously) and attempting to assassinate Hitler (foiled by the hotel maid).  He realizes that such major things are beyond his capabilities and that history seems to course-correct despite his actions.  Resigned to no longer meddle with destiny, he decides to permanently relocate to 1881, before bombs and the tensions of modern times.  He’s not there long when he hears about the assassination attempt on President Garfield.  He can’t seem to get outside of historical events and ultimately decides to go “home” to his own time.

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8 Responses to Nine: Nine Time Travel Movies and Shows

  1. nomad says:

    LOST..oh, how I’ve forgotten is that it is also a time-travelling-related story. I loved it in the beginning, but the end pretty much left me with a huge WTH. You’ve watched quite a bit of these shows! *awe* And Quantum Leap, though it remains one of those shows that I feel warm whenever I think about, did it end happily? I watched it when I was in INdonesia, and for some reason I don’t think they ever got to the ending of the show before it got cancelled. Til now, decades later I’m still wondering…did he ever find his way home? Did he?

    • EE says:

      I confess . . . I am a total TV junkie. I have a floor to ceiling bookshelf of just TV shows on DVD. I loved Lost, and the main thing keeping it from being a high score is the last five minutes of the final episode. It’s hard to wrap up a show that is all about loose ends, so I knew it was never going to be satisfying. And as for Quantum Leap, I think the ending can be interpreted as either happy or sad. I think it was Sam’s choice, and he did what he did as a good guy. I appreciate a “not all happy tied up in a bow with kittens and rainbows” ending.

  2. sally_b says:

    Hi EE — this was a nice read. Thanks for posting.
    Several things I haven’t seen before, I’ll add them to my *to watch* list.
    Life on Mars sounds like something I’d really like. British programming is almost always good.
    **sidenote: though it’s not exactly a time travel show – Red Dwarf (old British Comedy) does contain a number of time related themes — and it’s hilarious.
    …and lastly – it’s been forever since I saw 12 Monkeys – but I do remember being impressed by Brad Pitt in that one — such a departure from his pretty boy image.
    Thanks again ~

    • EE says:

      Thanks for reading . . . I cannot endorse Life on Mars enough. I had such a girl-crush on lead John Simm. He was also in the miniseries State of Play, in the journalist role that Russell Crowe played in the 2009 movie version. There are SO MANY good Brit actors in that one too, Bill Nighy, David Morrissey, James McAvoy, Kelly MacDonald. I do remember seeing Red Dwarf forever ago, I must find it and re-watch.

  3. Julia the Berkshire Beanie says:

    Loved your list. Seen all except Donnie Darko which will now be added to my To Watch list.

    Other time traveling movies I have thought of since watching NINE:
    – Happy Accidents
    – Time Traveller
    – The Philadelphia Experiment
    – Grand Tour: Disaster in Time
    – Time Cop
    – Retroactive
    – 12:01
    – Terminator
    – Forever Young
    – Time After Time
    – 5 Days to Midnight
    – Next
    – Looper
    – Groundhog Day
    The Lake House

    There are others I just can’t recall the names of
    – (arm chair time machine)
    – (the foreign film where she can pick up sounds and runs red string between the moments)

    • jomo143 says:

      Wow! That is a list. If you watched The Lake House, then, please tell me you watched the orignal, Korean film: Il Mare?
      with Lee Jung Jae, who is sooo beautiful and wonderful in that…I think I may have to post some photos of LJJ.

      • EE says:

        Il Mare and Terminator were on my little list of things I can’t believe I forgot lol. Also on my list were Sliding Doors (more parallel reality than “time travel” but certainly relevant), the TV series Awake (also parallel reality), Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and either of the films made on HG Wells Time Machine (1960 with Allan Young and 2002 with Guy Pearce). Also the TV series Flash Forward, which was good but hard to recommend since it was cancelled (and OH SO MANY LOOSE ENDS). I vaguely remember seeing the Philadelphia Experiment as a kid, I should probably watch it again.

      • Julia the Berkshire Beanie says:

        Adding Il Mare and Awake to my TO BE WATCHED list.

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