By Karen DeGroot Carter • October 26, 2020
Good stories often provide welcome escapes from life's challenges, and those that also allow us to slip into the past or jump into the future can be especially welcome in exasperating times. While a pop classic like the movie Back to the Future is an obvious choice for a fun, time-bending adventure, and holiday favorites such as Groundhog Day and A Christmas Carol also toy with time in unique ways, many other books and movies effectively explore the power and impact of time travel as well.
I remember discovering the sci-fi-fantasy young adult novel A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engel at one of my grade school's first small book fairs in the 1970s. The story of precocious Meg captured my imagination from the first page and took me on a fascinating time-travel adventure fueled by highly original perspectives, high stakes, and lyrical writing that contributed significantly to my love of language.
More than 20 years ago, my husband suggested watching the 1980 romantic fantasy, Somewhere in Time starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour, which I loved. I was recently surprised to see this movie mentioned on social media by a number of friends who shared how much they'd also loved watching Somewhere in Time—and how many times they'd watched it through the years. I also recently learned the movie was an adaptation of a 1975 novel originally titled Bid Time Return (but subsequently republished as Somewhere in Time) by Richard Matheson, a prolific author of titles in the horror genre, which explains the incredibly effective paranormal aspect of this compelling romance.
Cult favorite Primer is a low-budget 2004 film that had only a limited release but received attention for its complex yet down-to-earth take on time travel and its potential implications. The two engineers who tinker with time travel in Primer are friends whose very different approaches to how they can benefit from knowledge of the future—and whether they should—threatens more than just their friendship.
A popular book club selection in the early 2000s, author Audrey Niffeneggar's award-winning debut novel, The Time Traveler's Wife, was made into a movie in 2009. The story of a woman dealing with her husband's genetic disposition to suddenly disappear into a time-traveling void and return just as unexpectedly explores not only the potential impact of time travel on a person's quality of life but on the lives of those they love.
In the Harry Potter stories by J.K. Rowling, Harry's friend Hermione uses a time-turner to enable her to take more classes than she'd otherwise be able to. But Hermione's time-turner is actually used for time travel only once in the series—in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, when Harry and Hermione travel back in time on a critical mission. Published in 1999, the third Harry Potter book was adapted into a wildly popular film in 2004.
In the critically acclaimed sci-fi thriller Looper, time travel takes on a deadly angle involving a crime syndicate, contract killers, and their time-traveling victims—which include the killers' future selves. Set in the year 2044, Looper won multiple screenwriting awards and was listed in numerous top-10 lists of best movies of 2012.
More sci-fi-focused time travel adventures are found in the impressive series of works that began with the original publication of the novel Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card in 1985. Since then, the tale of Andrew "Ender" Wiggin has not only been expanded into numerous books but became a 2013 action movie of the same name.
Time-travel stories are found in a wide range of genres, so whether you prefer romance, fantasy, science fiction, thrillers, or comedy, you're sure to find a fascinating tale of time travel featuring the type of storytelling you enjoy. And if you most enjoy watching short television episodes one at a time—or one after another—the beloved Dr. Who series offers up decades of time-travel escapism featuring a Time Lord who embarks on adventures in a unique time-traveling machine famously known as a TARDIS.