Film's great distraction is taking you to another place, right? Following that train of thought, time travel movies and alternate world movies (think parallel worlds) literally transport their characters (and you, albeit more figuratively) somewhere else you might never otherwise conceive of. For that reason, both are always favourites for cinema fans. Here is a list of the best time travel and alternate world movies that break down the sturdiest borders of reality - time and place - without a second thought.
1. Back To The Future
Michael J Fox at his best is Marty McFly, an affable American teen who shares an odd companionship with mad scientist Doc (Christopher Lloyd). Doc's life work has been spent on trying to create a time travelling machine and when he finally seems to have cracked it, it is Marty who accidentally travels back to his parent's generation. This is a no-brainer choice and a definite must see in this category, one which if you have never seen then you really should run to the DVD store to rent (nay, buy) now or you will never be able to claim to have seen the best of time travel films. Until you have seen all the quirks of Doc and seen a 1950's mother hit on her time travelling son, your imagination has not been stretched to the full. The first is most definitely the best of the trilogy by far but all three are not only enjoyable, but the second installment sums up the 80's era in one swift but daft move and the final third is a good spoof of the Western genre. There is no better way to make plenty of pop culture jokes such as 1950's Doc's ‘Ronald Reagan? The actor? Then who's vice-president, Jerry Lewis? I suppose Jane Wyman is the First Lady?'
Back To The Future Part II may be dated now but that's what makes it so worthwhile. Where else is 2015 a world with hover boards, robot cooks and all-angles sci-fi clothing that only Trekkies or Michael Jackson and his many imitators would wear. On the other hand, the eye control glasses they wear show some foresight when you compare them to the Google Glass.
Back The Future Part III celebrates not only the sci-fi genre but also the Western, and those are two genres you don't often see together. As with the other two in the series, the logic of time travel is dexterously played with but never taken too seriously like so many others in the genre. The plot line's inclusion of Irish relatives settled in the West makes it that bit extra suitable for an Irish in-joke fest. No other trilogy could offer you as many pop culture gags, and introduce so much to it itself; flux capacitors, 88 miles per hour and purple Calvin Klein's.
2. Midnight In Paris
A more recent selection, as clichéd as the description is, Midnight In Paris is a Woody Allen masterpiece. It is an understated, toned down version of Allen but it is him nonetheless, with the New York witticisms and European influenced cinematography meshed together. It's a rom-com without the drip, and undoubtedly one of Owen Wilson's best films so far. With Kathy Bates, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Adrien Brody, Gad Elmaleh, Lea Seydoux and Michael Sheen on board, what could go wrong? Without making it sound vacuous, it is kind of like the film version of coffee drinking and people watching, as along the plot the game of ‘spot the historical figure' continues on out.
3. Donnie Darko
The murky waters of teenage life are empathetically, and dramatically it should be added, expressed in Donnie Darko. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a brooding teen like no other, but one with some real psychological problems rather than some Skins-like moany attention seeker lauded for their depth just because of their ability to swallow a pill. The 2.4 family and the Christian-centric society Donnie is plotted in are proven not to be as air-tight as the smug representations of that society would suggest. The division between reality and psychosis is never fully determined, and so too the time travelling is left as an elusive occurrence that may have been a figment of Donnie's over-spilling imagination or a real event experienced collectively or just by Donnie.
4. 12 Monkeys
Monty Python member Terry Gilliam went on to unpredictable projects more so than many of the members and 12 Monkeys is the biggest signifier of this change in paths. The only thing that could link it to his Monty Python past is the outlandish style of the film. In a post-apocalyptic world, a convict is sent back in time to gather the information on why the human race has been wiped out by a mysterious disease. Plot lines get intertwined quickly so it is a bit of a brainteaser at times. The grimy visuals and sombre tone is regularly broken by crazed, dark humour, which Brad Pitt does (surprisingly for many) so well with the company of Bruce Willis.
5. Groundhog Day
This is Bill Murray laconicism at its best as he pokes fun at Middle America and the daily trudge of life. The comedy finds Phil Connors (Murray), a cocky weatherman, stuck in a strange time warp in which he must repeat a nightmarish day over and over again.
6. It's A Wonderful Life
Just like a puppy, it's not just for Christmas. It's A Wonderful Life can be described only with superlatives, as it is easily the one of the most classic life-affirming, uplifting of films ever made. George Bailey (James Stewart) is worn down by life's bad turns and at the point of desperate escape when an otherworldly intervention occurs and gives him a new lease on life.
7. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
On the lighter scale of things, Austin Powers is the perfect spin on the beloved Bond series and the one of the best time-travelling comedies of all time. It doesn't have a high brow bone in its body and it doesn't want to. Powers is a British spy stuck in swingers 60's mode, equipped only with bad teeth and velour suits to defeat his arch nemesis, the aptly named Dr Evil. Groovy baby (had to be said).
8. Run Lola Run
The 1990's stylized German film was the catalyst for so many others after it. In a race against the clock to save her petty criminal boyfriend from some serious criminals with murderous intent, Lola must collect enough money and bring it to the exact destination. This could so easily be just a reasonable thriller but this is just the backdrop for the real action, which is the switches from one world to another alternative depending on Lola's minor choices along the way to the drop off. It is a great examination of the butterfly effect, a kinetic tour de force with Lola as the powerful lead.
9. The Double Life of Veronique
Krzysztof Kielowski, the director of the Three Colours (Blue, White, Red), should be as given equal accolade for this earlier film, made two years before the trilogy that he is best remembered for was released. Another French and Polish collaboration, the film questions the standard conception of individuality and singular identity as our two main characters share a connection that cannot be explained despite any blood relation or even nationality. The twin-like connection Weronika and Veronique share moves from being disconcerting to oddly comforting, yet thankfully it never crosses over to saccharine.
10. The Wizard of Oz
Another Christmas and childhood favourite, The Wizard of Oz transports its audience seamlessly to an alternate world abound with flying monkeys, personality-full lions, tins (well, tin-men) and scarecrows. The poppy field (opium) references, vivid colours and Pink Floyd Dark Side of The Moon synchrony make it a constant alt favourite to debate too.
In Baaria, Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso) ventures back to his home of Sicily- and more specifically his hometown of Bagheria/Baaria (the second of which is Sicilian dialect) - to tell recount the history and lives of the past five decades through several characters. The mafia, political unrest, poverty, and the changes between generations are all tackled with the rich expression the director is known for. When one young boy chases a coin rolling down the road, it signals the wheels of time rolling back to land him in another time to face his own past generations.
12. A Clockwork Orange
The dystopian world of A Clockwork Orange may make you rethink the desirability of alternative worlds and time travel, but at least it makes you think. Everything in the film (keeping in line with the novella) is one big experiment. The main characters are violence fanatics who revel only in destruction. The idea of changing morality in society and the molding of language make it an eternal cult film.