10 Time Travel Films That Began In The Past

Exploring Time Travel Movie Beginnings: A Journey to the Past

Time travel movies have a unique way of captivating audiences, often whisking them away on thrilling adventures that span different eras. While many of these films begin in the present before propelling characters into the past or future, there’s a subset of time travel movies that choose to open in the past. This deliberate choice sets the stage for a variety of narrative elements that enhance the overall experience for viewers. In this article, we’ll delve into the world of time travel movies that kick off their stories in the past, highlighting how this approach pays off in terms of character dynamics, plot development, and the exploration of different time periods.

Starting in the Past: Building Character Dynamics

When it comes to time travel narratives, the decision to begin the story in the past offers filmmakers a powerful tool for establishing character dynamics. Take, for instance, the 2004 film “13 Going On 30.” This delightful time-jumping fantasy comedy opens in 1987, introducing Jenna Rink, a young girl longing for popularity. As he faces the challenges of her teenage life, Jenna makes a wish to fast-forward to age 30, only to wake up in 2004 with a completely different life. The opening sequence in 1987 skillfully sets up the contrasts between young Jenna and her older self, providing a foundation for the narrative’s time-bending journey.

Paying Off Cliffhangers and Creating Tension

In some cases, beginning a time travel movie in the past serves as a strategic way to pay off cliffhangers from previous films or to build tension for the upcoming time jump. Consider the “Back to the Future” trilogy, where the sequels “Part II” and “Part III” ingeniously continue the story from where the previous films left off. “Part II” starts in the past of 1955, the year of the original film’s events, before catapulting characters into a tumultuous future. The tension created by this temporal leap is palpable as the characters grapple with the consequences of their actions. Similarly, “Part III” commences with Marty McFly in 1955, setting the tone for his wild Old West adventure that follows.

Setting the Stage for Disruption

Opening a time travel movie in the past also serves as a way to set the stage for the disruption of normalcy. The 1978 film “Flight of the Navigator” masterfully does this by introducing David Freeman, a young boy sent through time after an encounter with extraterrestrial beings. The film opens in 1978, showcasing David’s typical suburban life before he is unexpectedly transported to 1986, where he finds himself unchanged while everyone around him has aged. This clever use of an initial time jump propels the narrative into uncharted territory, highlighting the stark differences between David’s past and present.

Exploring the Cinematic Past: Time Travel Movie Examples

10 – The Time Machine

The Classic Time Machine Tale

The iconic 1960 film adaptation of H.G. Wells’ renowned work, “The Time Machine,” sets the stage with George displaying a scale model of a functional time machine to his friends in the year 1900. George’s journey through time commences, taking him to 1917, 1940 – where he’s confronted with the impending Second World War – and 1966, where the looming threat of nuclear weapons distresses him. His temporal voyage ultimately lands him in the year 802,701. By the time George reaches the distant era of the 8,019th century, he’s surrounded by Morlocks, rendering the year 1900 a distant memory.

9 – 13 Going On 30

A Jump through Adolescence

The time-jumping fantasy comedy “13 Going on 30” unfolds in 1987, where we meet Jenna Rink, an awkward young girl with dreams of popularity, preparing for her 13th birthday bash. Following a humiliating encounter with the cool kids at her party, Jenna makes a wish to escape the tribulations of her teenage years and catapult to age 30. The next morning, Jenna awakens in 2004, greeted by an unfamiliar apartment, an unrecognized boyfriend, and an esteemed role as the editor of her beloved fashion magazine. The film’s opening in 1987 serves as a perfect setup, establishing the character dynamics before the leap through time.

8 – Back To The Future Part II & III

Continuing Time Travel Adventures

“Back to the Future” concludes with a sequel tease as Doc Brown arrives in 1985, urging Marty McFly and his girlfriend Jennifer to assist their future children in 2015. The follow-up, “Back to the Future Part II,” picks up immediately from its predecessor in 1985. By the film’s end, Marty is stranded in 1955 and learns that Doc is stuck even further in the past, in 1885. “Back to the Future Part III” commences with Marty’s journey to the Old West. Amid these chaotic and seemingly endless time-traveling escapades, the message resonates that meddling with the timeline brings about no positive outcomes.

7 – Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery

Cryogenic Time Capsule

The original “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” doesn’t feature time-traveling, unlike its sequels, but it does present an intriguing twist on time. Both Austin and his arch-nemesis Dr. Evil are cryogenically frozen in 1967. They awaken 30 years later, thrust into a society marked by cultural shifts and transformations. While Austin contends with the changes, his pursuit of revenge against Dr. Evil leads him to navigate a brave new world. The film’s opening in 1967 showcases the swinging culture of Austin’s origin, juxtaposing it with the unfamiliar landscape of the 1990s.

6 – Flight Of The Navigator

A Time-Altering Abduction

“Flight of the Navigator” commences in 1978, where 12-year-old David Freeman embarks on a simple journey to retrieve his younger brother Jeff from a friend’s house. A fall into a ravine takes a peculiar turn when David is abducted by aliens. Upon his return to Earth, it’s 1986, and eight years have passed without any visible aging on David’s part. His parents and brother have aged, while David remains unchanged, resembling his image from a missing child poster eight years earlier. The film’s opening in 1978 lays the foundation for David’s ordinary life before the disruptive time jump.

5 – A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court

Time-Trapped Twists

Mark Twain’s satirical sci-fi classic, “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” centers on an American mechanic thrust into Arthurian Britain in 528 AD after a head injury. Armed with future technology knowledge, he manipulates power and faces romantic entanglements. The 1949 film adaptation starts in 1912, placing it in the past before Hank Martin’s time-travel-induced transition to the realm of King Arthur.

4 – Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny

An Epic Temporal Adventure

The final installment of the Indiana Jones series, “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” incorporates time travel as the titular adventurer, well-versed in history, becomes an active participant. By the film’s conclusion, Indy voyages from 1969 to the Siege of Syracuse in 212 BC, encountering Archimedes. The film’s introduction uses digital de-aging for an authentic time travel experience. Set in 1944, a youthful Harrison Ford battles Nazis on a speeding train, establishing the film’s flexible historical timeline ahead of the time portal journey.

3 – Time After Time

A Twisted Time Tale

“Time After Time” presents an imaginative premise where H.G. Wells’ time machine is an actual invention. When Jack the Ripper employs this machine to evade authorities in 1893, Wells pursues him to 1979. The Ripper finds the 20th-century society in alignment with his violent inclinations, while Wells, an optimist, is dismayed by humanity’s regression toward barbarism. The meticulously designed opening scenes introduce Wells in his element before the ’70s scenes cast him as a bewildered observer in a rapidly changing world.

2 – Army Of Darkness

A Medieval Encounter

The wild narrative of “Evil Dead II” reaches its zenith when Ash Williams is hurled back to the Middle Ages. “Army of Darkness,” the trilogy’s finale, commences with Ash already marooned in the Middle Ages, attempting to return to his time. The film capitalizes on anachronistic humor as a modern man, equipped with a shotgun, chainsaw, and Oldsmobile, navigates the past’s challenges.

1 – The Time Traveler’s Wife

Chronicles of Uncontrollable Time

“The Time Traveler’s Wife” revolves around Henry DeTamble, a time traveler subjected to involuntary jumps through time. While the primary story unfolds in 1991, the film opens in the early 1970s, revealing Henry’s survival of a fatal car accident that claimed his mother’s life by inexplicably transporting him two weeks into the past. This introductory scene highlights the tragic limitation of Henry’s time-traveling escapades – he cannot alter significant events, even when returning to moments before the car accident that took his mother’s life.

Conclusion: A Window to the Past and Beyond

Beginning a time travel movie in the past is more than just a narrative choice; it’s a doorway to exploring character dynamics, paying off cliffhangers, and disrupting the familiar. By providing audiences with a glimpse into an earlier era, filmmakers effectively set the tone for the temporal odyssey that awaits. Whether it’s the comedic escapades of “Austin Powers” or the thrilling adventures of “Back to the Future,” these films remind us that the past is not just history – it’s the foundation upon which the future unfolds. So the next time you find yourself transported through time within the confines of your favorite movie, remember that it all began with a single step into the past.

Note: This article has explored a handful of time travel movies that begin in the past, offering a unique perspective on storytelling and character development. However, there are many more films in this genre that also employ this approach, each contributing to the rich tapestry of time-travel narratives in cinema.

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Stevie Flavio
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