On February 2nd, 1993 — and on the infinite number of days that followed it — Bill Murray’s curmudgeonly weatherman Phil Connors woke up to the sounds of “I Got You Babe” and reported on the Groundhog Day festivities in Punxutawney, Pennsylvania. And while his displeasure about having to cover such a nonsensically rodent-centric holiday eventually faded, the enduring charm of “Groundhog Day” has not.
In the three decades since Harold Ramis’ classic comedy hit theaters, the time loop formula of characters being stuck repeating a single day has been imitated by everyone from Tom Cruise to Natasha Lyonne. While the heights of “Groundhog Day” are hard to top, time loop films have become a charming addition to nearly ever genre under the sun. Ramis’ idea ended up providing a shot of adrenaline that allowed time travel cinema to flourish for another quarter century.
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Time travel has its roots in ancient myths and folk tales, but in terms of modern fiction, the concept can be traced to Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” An 1889 novel that used its premise of a normal American man bonking his head and ending up in Camelot to satirize feudalism and the monarchy, “Connecticut Yankee” made its way to cinemas in 1949 as a considerably more chipper Bing Crosby jukebox musical romance.
From that film, time travel started showing up earnestly in all kinds of different movies, mainly sci-fi adaptations like influential H.G. Wells flick “The Time Machine.” The concept practically exploded onscreen in the ’80s, being used for comedies like “Back to the Future” and “Peggy Sue Got Married” and more intense action films like “The Terminator.” The appeal of the concept is obvious; adding an everyman from our time is an easy way to make an exotic and unfamiliar landscape suddenly familiar. Furthermore, time travel at its core explores the very human anxiety of change and the passage of time. It forces heroes to confront who they were and what they’ll become, and whether their fates are pre-determined or can be rewritten. Sure, we love time travel because it’s cool, but not just because it’s cool.
Punxutawney Phil’s lack of a shadow this morning signaled that an early spring could be on the way, but there could still be some chilly weeks of binge-watching before the seasons truly change. On this very special Groundhog Day, we can’t think of a better way to spend that time then to catch up on some of the best time travel movies of all time. Keep reading for IndieWire’s updating list of our favorites.
With editorial contributions by Alison Foreman, Christian Zilko, and Samantha Bergeson.
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