Unexpected love stories that will give you the feels.
by Bradley Langham Illustrator: Alex Kidd
As we head towards Valentine’s Day 2021 in much the same fashion as we spent most of 2020—i.e. cooped up and alone—it can sometimes feel like we’re stuck in a loop. It’s tempting to want to either jump back in time to appreciate pre-Covid life or go forward to when it’s all over. But if the movies have taught us anything, messing with the past can have disastrous consequences, even if it’s the name of love.
So, get your Delorean up to 88 miles per hour, stick on some Sonny & Cher and dive into the space-time continuum. Whether it’s unexplainable loops, hard science fiction, or magic glitter, here are the nine best time traveling romances to watch this Valentine’s Day.
13 Going on 30
Dir. Gary Winick
After an embarrassing incident on her thirteenth birthday, Jenna wishes she could just skip straight to her thirties. However, when that wish is granted she finds out she has spent the last seventeen years being not so nice to those around her. Jennifer Garner is wonderfully sweet as the thirteen-year-old trying to navigate a grown-up world and she’s backed up by a pre-Hulk Mark Ruffalo and the forever criminally-underappreciated Judy Greer. [Spoiler Alert] She, of course, realizes her mistakes and that maybe the nerdy boy next door wasn’t such a bad choice—but if I knew that boy was going to grow up to be Mark Ruffalo, I’d probably feel the same.
Back to the Future III (1990)
Dir. Robert Zemeckis
Great Scott, Marty! After the phenomenal success of the first two Back to the Future movies, Robert Zemeckis was handed a blank check to do whatever he wanted for the sequels. He settled for a good old fashioned, rootin’, tootin’ western filled with train hold-ups, gunslinger draws, and horseback chases, all with a twist. We’re three movies deep at this point, so it’s full of callbacks to the last two movies. But after dealing with the McFly’s in previous installments, it’s Christopher Llyod’s wild-haired Doc Brown who takes center stage here, showcasing his range as the man of science who falls for Mary Steenburgen’s delightful school teacher. This is heavy, Doc!
Dir. Tony Scott
An ATF agent investigates a mysterious body of a young woman that washes up on shore at the same time a ferry is bombed in the New Orleans harbor. Convinced they are connected, he obsessively works with a new unit that uses experimental technology to see exactly four days into the past. Denzel Washington is his usual powerhouse, Paula Patton as the innocent femme fatale with Val Kilmer and Adam Goldberg rounding out the cagey team who might be able to do more than look into the past. It’s silly sci-fi that asks you to follow its breadcrumb plot with some highly imaginative action sequences with the late director’s trademark kinetic energy.
Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
Dir. Colin Trevorrow
After a man places a classified advertisement in a local newspaper seeking a companion for time travel, three magazine employees are dispatched to track him down and get an interview with a crackpot. Released at the height of mumblecore, this indie doesn’t hit every nail on the head but its themes of regret and wanting to change the past really do tug on the heartstrings. Aubrey Plaza is fantastic (even if she is in April Ludgate mode) but it’s indie king Mark Duplass, who brings vulnerability and warmth to the paranoid, wannabe time traveler, that really makes you want to take that quantum leap.
Dir. James Cameron
With a flash of blue light, a naked Austrian bodybuilder, and an iconic soundtrack (bah-bah-bum bum-bum) a genre was forever changed. Over a decade before making the world cry for Kate and Leo, James Cameron began a franchise that is still going on today, for better or worse. When the machines send back an unstoppable assassin to kill his mother before he is born, resistance leader John Conner sends his best warrior to protect her. Along the way, the pair inevitably fall in love, creating one of cinema’s most famous paradoxes. With a plot that’ll make your brain hurt, it also launched the careers of Arnold Schwarzenegger and badass Linda Hamilton.
Dir. Max Barbakow
Everyone loves weddings, right? What about the same one? Every day. For the rest of existence. Accidentally bringing the bride’s sister into his time loop, Nyles and Sarah use it as fun escapism at first, but the pair can’t outrun their demons, even when time stands still and when you find the one who makes life bearable, they’re worth holding onto. Andy Samberg has been perfecting his man-boy shtick for years so is excellent here but it’s Christin Milioti who really shines as the confused audience surrogate and a wonderfully sadistic supporting turn by J.K. Simmons. It’s darkly funny, beautifully captures its setting, and has a killer soundtrack.
About Time (2013)
Dir. Richard Curtis
An unfortunate truth with time travel movies is that inevitably, the one endowed with the gift will use it to trial-and-error trick someone into falling in love with them. Fortunately, they get the creepiness out of the way in the first hour and settle into a tale of learning from our mistakes, the heartache of watching our loved ones do the same, and taking the time to appreciate every precious moment. The cast is utterly charming with Domhnall Gleeson giving excellent bumbling Brit, Rachel McAdams being just wonderful in her one of four-time travel credits (count ‘em), and Bill Nighy as the loveable aging mentor.
The Lake House
Dir. Alejandro Agresti
This tale of the longest of long-distance relationships is not quite the Speed reunion we were expecting. Based on the Korean movie Il Mare (2000), Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves play two people who live in the same titular house, own the same dog but are separated in time by two years and communicate using a magic mailbox (because why not?) [Spoiler Alert:] It breaks its own rules of time travel for a happy ending and Reeves has never been the most natural of performers but something about Bullock brings out the best in him and the scenes they share are magnetic. She also may be the only actress to convincingly play chess with a dog? Prove me wrong.
Dir. Harold Ramis
That’s right woodchuck chuckers! We wouldn’t be able to make this list and not include Groundhog Day. Bill Murray stars as self-centered weatherman Phil, who is reluctantly sent out to cover the (very real) Groundhog Day ceremony, only to find himself reliving the same excruciatingly boring day over and over. The gold standard of the genre, its influences can be felt far and wide from Edge of Tomorrow to the superb Netflix series Russian Doll. It suffers from an off-putting middle section, but watching Murray go from egocentric to caring member of a small community is a delight. You’ll never hear “I Got You Babe” the same again.