Time travel is often used as a template for many science fiction films, and once the concept is introduced, it offers a unique and engaging opportunity for great storytelling. Time travel movies generally require a means of time travel, such as a time machine or portal, to take a traveler back or forward in time, with the traveler then able to return to their own time by the same means. These type of time travel movies usually throw up a number of problems for the main character, who then has to contend with the time paradoxes their actions create.
A time loop, on the other hand, is a movie plot device in which a person becomes mysteriously stuck in time, perhaps just a day or so, and usually without the aid of any time machine. The character is then fated to relive the same period of time over and over again, each time trying to find a way of breaking free of their never-ending cycle of repetition. Meanwhile, the time loop continues until a certain condition is met, such as a time being reached, or the death of the main character, after which the phenomenon resets and the process starts all over again.
While this interesting story device is not done nearly as often in time travel films, it is still used often enough that to this day time loop movie makers continue coming up with new storylines and putting their own spin on the genre whenever they can.
With all that said, here is my top 10 countdown of the very best movies involving time loops:
Director: Carl Bessai
Three young drug addicts at a rehabilitation facility are fated to endlessly repeat the ninth step in their recovery program after failing to apologize to those people harmed by their addiction. What ensues is a gritty and enjoyable indie movie which explores what a group of characters of dubious morals would do if they were fated to relive the same day over and over again with absolutely no consequences. This low-budget movie is quite unique, and while it is certainly not an epic, it does offer a much darker, more realistic, and overall intriguing exploration of the time loop premise.
Director: Jack Sholder
A tardy office clerk called Barry Thomas finally talks to the crush of his dreams, Lisa Fredericks, who is a high-profile scientist working on a particle accelerator at the same company. After work, Barry then sees Lisa murdered, and while at home later that night gets a freak electrical shock from a lamp that zaps him back in time to repeat the same day. Now he’s got to figure out how to break the time loop, while keeping her from dying. Sort of a “Back to the Future” meets “Office Space,” this TV movie may not have had the money or cinematic flare of other big budget, silver screen movies, but it does have a decent cast, underplayed comedy, and a simple engaging enough plot to make for an entertaining little sci-fi gem.
Before I Fall (2017)
Director: Ry Russo-Young
Samantha Kingston, a spoiled teenage girl who has a seemingly ideal life, complete with cool high school friends and boyfriend, has the perfect day planned until a fateful accident traps her within an endless loop. She is subsequently forced to reevaluate her life, and particularly the casual cruelty in which she interacts with others, in order to try breaking the repeating cycle. Although this movie is primarily directed towards a teenage female audience, it is still mysterious enough to keep the interest of a wider demographic and does cover many universal truths and life lessons, including growing up, friendships, and developing a strong moral compass.
Run Lola Run (1998)
Director: Tom Tykwer
One of the most unique time loop movies out there, this German thriller is surrealism incarnate. It centers around Lola, a young woman with vividly red hair, who is trying to raise and deliver a large sum of money to her boyfriend, Manni, within just 20 minutes in order that he may give the money to his violent crime boss after accidentally leaving the original sum on a subway train. In the meantime, Lola must do all this and reach her boyfriend before he makes a desperate and dangerous decision to rob a nearby bank. Unusual aspects of ‘Run Lola Run’ includes the use of crayon-like animation to symbolize when Lola is venturing off on a different sequence at the beginning of each of her runs, as well as a unique soundtrack, and distinctive look that makes it stand out as one of the more memorable loop movies you’ve ever seen.
Director: Vincenzo Natali
Supernatural horror stories may not sound like a properly mixed element of time loop movies, but “Haunter” tries something unique and darkly different. This one’s about Lisa Johnson, a girl who on her 16th birthday was murdered alongside her parents and little brother back in 1985, with the unfortunate family subsequently doomed to relive the fateful day before over and over for eternity. After Lisa becomes conscious of her circumstances, she discovers that she is still able to communicate with people from other timelines, leading to an interesting premise that presents itself like an extremely well-done Twilight Zone episode. Overall, Haunter is a beautifully shot, well-directed, acted and imaginatively grounded movie, which plays out more like a mystery thriller than a horror story, although it certainly has the look, tone, and cinematography of one.
Source Code (2011)
Director: Duncan Jones
“Source Code” is a nice change of pace from the usual time loop angle. In this movie, a giant train explosion has already taken place and U.S. Army pilot Captain Colter Stevens finds himself part of an experimental government program that sends him back to about 8 minutes before the disaster in order to learn the bomber’s identity and prevent the next attack involving a large dirty bomb unfolding six hours hence. This film has a really tight, well framed and thoughtful storyline that handles it’s subject matter excellently, and is complemented by a good cast that includes the likes of Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan and Jeffery Wright.
Director: Tony Elliott
This futuristic story brings a slightly more apocalyptic tweak to the time loop genre, and focuses on a military engineer called Renton and his girlfriend, Hannah, who are hiding an experimental energy source machine called ARQ, which may provide the means of freeing humanity from a tyrannical corporation that is dominating and polluting the planet. After armed raiders enter and try to steal the perpetual motion machine, a sequence of time loops are instigated, giving the couple the opportunity to try and sort out all the clues, and identities of the masked figures in order to find out who is targeting them and why. Having a world-ending related theme subsequently brings an extra dimension to the table, while the characters and decent acting really helps to move the story forward at a pleasurable pace. A very satisfying film overall.
Director: Christopher Smith
Triangle involves single mother, Jess, and her friends getting stuck in a crazy storm that forces them to abandon their yacht and board an eerie deserted ocean liner that mysteriously appears from out of the sea mist. What ensues is a weird, intelligently written supernatural tale involving a masked serial killer on the loose, which has plenty of chills to provide a dark, engrossing and ultimately satisfying white knuckle ride. While complicated at times, Melissa George’s strong performance helps draw us into the madness of her emotional reality, as she tries to figure out this compelling looping jigsaw puzzle.
Groundhog Day (1993)
Director: Harold Ramis
The most classic, iconic and frequently referenced movie of its genre, there isn’t a time loop film out there that can be described without Groundhog Day being mentioned in some capacity. Bill Murray plays a news reporter who despises covering a story on Groundhog Day, but learns a whole new world of karma when he’s forced to relive the same day over and over again. This is the classic story that, still to this day, perfectly embodies all the good and bad possibilities of being stuck in a time loop, and everything that goes with it. It’s a film that also stands the test of time, with the comedy, writing and highly enjoyable storytelling providing much replay value (pun intended) to this day.
Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Director: Doug Liman
The most recent and most badass use of the time loop concept, “Edge of Tomorrow” was a critically acclaimed, but financially fumbled, mega sci-fi blockbuster that depicts the disgraced Major William Cage being forced to relive the worst day of his life, while battling time altering aliens in hulked up mech suits. The result is a darkly funny, action movie that surprises you on many levels and in many ways. The casting and acting are truly top-notch, with the likes of Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Brendan Gleeson and the late great Bill Paxton in full form. Without doubt, this is one of the most amusing, inventive and effective use of a time loop premise, which is not only fully explained in the movie, but is wholly relevant to the plot, and adds to an already tightly packed, amazing sci-fi blockbuster.