For authors, screenwriters and directors, time travel has been a useful plot device, solving problems and setting up unusual situations for some characters. In the upcoming “Hot Tub Time Machine,” for instance, four friends accidentally travel back to 1986 to relive critical turning points in their lives.
In honor of these soggy time travelers, here’s a look back at how Hollywood has handled other chronological issues:
“The Time Machine (1960)”: Based on the classic novel by H.G. Wells, “The Time Machine” opens in 19th-Century England and ends up 800,000 years in the future. Rod Taylor plays H. George Wells, an inventor who creates a machine that lets him travel through time. Thanks to George Pal’s creative, stop-motion animation techniques, the scenes of Wells traveling through time have become classic examples of filmmaking. For the 2002 remake, fans were especially happy to learn that the department store mannequin from the original film would be making a cameo appearance.
“Back to the Future”: Steven Spielberg set the time travel bar pretty high with this 1985 comedy. Michael J. Fox plays Marty McFly, an underachieving high school student who ends up in the driver’s seat of a time traveling DeLorean. According to Doctor Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd), time travel is possible thanks to the flux capacitor, a device he invented after falling off his toilet. Trying to escape terrorists, Marty ends up in 1955, forcing a young Doc Brown to find a way to send him back to the future.
“Time After Time”: Instead of just writing about time travel, H.G. Wells builds his own solar-powered time machine in “Time After Time.” As played by Malcolm McDowell, Wells believes that people in the next century will have cured diseases and ended social inequity. Forced to follow his murderous best friend to 1979, Wells discovers that over 86 years, mankind actually has regressed in many ways instead of moving forward. Still, any future (and movie) that includes Mary Steenburgen can’t be all bad.
“Seven Days”: A cult hit on the fledgling Paramount Network, “Seven Days” focused on the efforts to reverse engineer the technology unearthed at the Roswell Crash Site. Scientists use the alien gadgets to create a sphere that can back in time, but because fuel is limited, trips are restricted to a maximum of seven days.
Jonathan LaPaglia plays Lt. Frank Parker, a man who has an unusually high tolerance for pain, an attribute essential for “chrononauts” using the sphere. On almost every episode, Frank has to go back in time to stop some crisis, but his control over the alien technology sometimes leaves a lot to be desired.
“Quantum Leap”: NBC held the ratings axe over this time-travel show for years, but a loyal fan base kept Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell on the air for nearly 5 seasons. Bakula plays Dr. Sam Beckett, a genius scientist who develops a “string theory” about time travel. Believing that he can travel back and forth in his own lifetime, Beckett uses his Quantum Leap accelerator on himself, but he ends up leaping into the lives of other people. The cryptic last episode of “Quantum Leap” indicates that Dr. Beckett himself is the real reason that he’s leaping uncontrollably through time.
“Hot Tub Time Machine,” rated R for strong crude and sexual content, nudity, drug use and pervasive language, opens in theaters on Friday, March 26.