Time travel may not yet be possible, but that hasn't stopped generations of writers from imagining it. Hollywood is constantly producing new movies and TV shows on the topic — and the latest incarnation of the genre, About Time, hits theaters this Friday. About Time follows a young man (Domhnall Gleeson) who learns that he can travel back in time and change particular moments in his life just by going into an enclosed space and imagining them — a power he decides to use to romance the woman of his dreams (Rachel McAdams).
Though the stakes are relatively small compared to the Earth-shattering impact explored in other movies and TV shows about time travel, this is a pretty efficient way to get it done. So how do other time travel methods stack up against About Time? Here are nine, from best to worst:
Pros: Bigger on the inside
Cons: Sometimes she has a rocky landing
Standing for Time and Relative Dimension in Space, the TARDIS of Doctor Who can transport you across space and time — and is conveniently disguised as a blue 1950s police box. But nothing is perfect: Though The Doctor can usually steer his ship in the right direction and to the correct time period, sometimes the TARDIS has a mind of her own. The good news is that she'll translate the local dialect for you wherever and whenever you land. The bad news is that sometimes that's Pompeii, right before the explosion of Mt. Vesuvius.
Lessons for time travelers: Don't wander off!
2. Phone Booth
Pros: Easy to disguise
Cons: Not much room to squeeze in multiple historical figures
Similar to The Doctor and his TARDIS, Bill and Ted of Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure can travel through time in a cleverly disguised phone booth. Unlike The Doctor, their box isn't bigger on the inside (and they are somewhat less brilliant than he is). In the movie, they use their most excellent phone booth to gather historical figures for a school project. Should they fail, Ted will get shipped off to military school — and humans will never achieve the future utopian society that will be inspired by the duo, who are known in the future as "The Two Great Ones."
Lessons for time travelers: Make all repairs with bubblegum.
Time travel had a fairly limited role in the Harry Potter series, only popping up in the third installment, The Prisoner of Azkaban. Hermione is initially given special permission to time travel so that she can take on a terrifyingly large course load at Hogwarts. But she and Harry find her Time-Turner even more useful at the climax of the story, so they can go back in time and help Harry's wrongfully accused godfather Sirius Black escape from the Dementors.
Lessons for time travelers: You can't be seen.
4. 1981 Delorean
Pros: Doubles as transport
Cons: Requires 88 MPH to time travel; may invite speeding tickets
As Marty McFly in Back To The Future, Michael J. Fox accidentally travels back in time to 1955 with a little help from the mad scientist Doc Brown and his tricked-out 1981 Delorean. But, stuck in the past, Marty mistakenly saves his past-father from getting hit by a car — and in the process attracts the affections of his past-mother. Things get even more complicated, as Marty must then enlist the help of past-Doc Brown to harness the power of a lightning strike and get himself back to 1985 while trying to get his parents together before he disappears.
Lessons for time travelers: Don't be a hero in front of your mother.
5. Quantum Leap Project Accelerator
Pros: Sometimes you meet celebrities
Cons: Totally uncontrollable
On the late-80s/early-90s TV show Quantum Leap, the fun kicks off thanks to a little government bureaucracy. Genius physicist Sam Beckett is threatened with funding cuts to his time travel research, called "Project Quantum Leap," so he uses the technology on himself — though a little bit too soon. The show follows Beckett as he uncontrollably bops around time, inhabiting the bodies different people throughout history, trying to right wrongs and figure out a way to get back to the present.
Lessons for time travelers: Sometimes you just have to sing.
Pros: Useful in a pinch
Cons: Not useful for much else
The 1999 sci-fi spoof Galaxy Quest sent up the cultic appeal of shows like Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica, over which legions of die-hard fans endlessly obsess over minutiae long after the show has gone off the air. In Galaxy Quest, the washed-up cast of an old sci-fi show find themselves on a real spaceship meticulously modeled after their set, and must then save the alien race of Thermians from the evil Sarris. The Omega-13 will (spoiler alert) let them travel back in time for 13 seconds — just enough time to fix a single mistake — which they use after one moment that gets a lot of people killed.
Lessons for time travelers: Never give up, never surrender!
7. A 1920s car at midnight in the backstreets of Paris
Pros: The most stylish way to time travel
Cons: Only comes when you're alone, at midnight
Woody Allen's Midnight In Paris offers up a time-travel scenario with specific appeal for the struggling writer. One drunken night during a midnight stroll in Paris, Gil Pender finds himself transported back to the '20s after hopping into a 1920s Peugeot Type 176 car full of partygoers. Heading back in time every night, Pender meets and befriends literary greats like Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, who help him gain perspective on his new novel — and his too-rosy view of the era as the "Golden Age" of culture.
Lessons for time travelers: Surrealists will definitely believe you're from the future.
8. A hot tub
Pros: Can be very relaxing
Cons: Requires an illegal Russian energy drink to activate
In Hot Tub Time Machine, John Cusack, Craig Robinson, and Rob Corddry take a trip to a ski resort to reclaim their lost youth. During a drunken night in a hot tub, they spill "Chernobly," an illegal Four Loko-type Russian energy drink, on the controls, which accidentally sends them back in time to 1986. Landing at the start of one particularly epic weekend in their youth, they decide to try and improve their somewhat dissatisfying future lives by changing the decisions made during that fateful trip.
Lessons for time travelers: ALF is one of the first signs of trouble.
9. A black hole
Pros: Can swallow spaceships, no matter the size
Cons: You don't really have a choice
Star Trek has repeatedly dealt with the concept of time travel, including one memorable debate about its ethics on The Next Generation. More recently, the rebooted Star Trek film series created a whole alternate reality for the heroes, thanks to a time traveling ship of Romulans, hell-bent on destroying Spock, who were sucked into a black hole. Conveniently, the future Spock was also pulled into that reality to give Captain Kirk a hand in figuring out how to defeat them. Also convenient: How the alternate timeline sort of solved almost 50 years of potential continuity issues that could have arisen due to the many incarnations of the series.
Lessons for time travelers: Kirk will believe anything about universe-ending paradoxes
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- China's leader is telling the People's Liberation Army to prepare for war
- How I lost all my money
- The best books we read in 2014
- Why Pakistan won't hunt down the terrorists within its borders
- The religious right isn't retreating — it's reforming
- How to save money: 12 great personal finance tips
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- Diagnosing the Home Alone burglars' injuries: A professional weighs in
- How to wrap a present with mathematical precision (and waste less paper)
- How academia's liberal bias is killing social science
Subscribe to the Week