Get us in your inbox

  1. Commit accidental incest!

    The movie: ‘Back to the Future’ (1985)

    The cockup: When he saves his own Dad from getting hit by a car (as you would, really), poor Marty McFly kickstarts a trail of events that include snogging his own Mum, proving once and for all that white folks invented rock ‘n’ roll and getting a really terrible punk-pop band named after him.

    The lesson: We hopefully don’t have to point out that it’s both ethically and legally problematic to make out with your immediate family members. But next time you see your Dad facing down a ten-ton truck, just leave it. He’ll be fine.

    Wisdom from the past: ‘I've never seen purple underwear before!’

    Read review

  2. Battle your bad self!

    The movie: ‘Army of Darkness’ (1992)

    The cockup: When poor long-suffering Ash was sucked through a portal into the medieval era at the end of ‘Evil Dead 2’, it seemed his problems were over. Tragically, the legions of evil followed him back – and what’s worse, his own evil clone is their leader.

    The lesson: The entire disaster is caused by the mispronunciation of an ancient ritual chant – so kids, take those elocution lessons seriously.

    Wisdom from the past: ‘Are all men from the future loud-mouthed braggarts?’

    Read review

  3. Witness your own death!

    The movie: ‘La Jetee’ (1962) and its loose remake ‘12 Monkeys’ (1995

    The cockup: Not one from the fun-and-games school of time travel flicks, Chris Marker’s experimental photo montage ‘La Jetee’ is the tale of a Frenchman haunted by his past (aren’t they all?), who travels back through time only to discover that the death he watched as a child was his own. Thirty-three years later, he suffers an even greater ignominy by turning into Bruce Willis.

    The lesson: In perhaps the only parallel between Marker’s bleak, apocalyptic avant-garde vision and the beasts of ‘The Lion King’, it really is all about the circle of life (and death).

    Wisdom from the past: ‘The man doesn't die, nor does he go mad. He suffers. They continue.’ Cheerful stuff.

    Read review

  4. Listen to bad punk rock!

    The movie: ‘Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

    The cockup: Wandering around twentieth century San Francisco in search of two humpback whales (it’s a long story), Kirk and Spock find themselves sharing the bus with a mohicanned thug carrying a ghetto blaster. It may not sound like such a disaster compared to some of the other cockups on our list, but you haven’t heard ‘I Hate You’ by Edge of Etiquette (actually two of the film’s soundtrack artists moonlighting, badly, as punk rockers).

    The lesson: A Vulcan neck-pinch isn’t only for bringing down intergalactic assassins, it can also be used to silence troublesome young rebels. Just be thankful Spock isn’t your Dad.

    Wisdom from the past: ‘I hate you… and I BERATE you!’

    Read review

  5. Witness the destruction of your empire!

    The movie: ‘Jubilee’ (1977)

    The cockup: In Britain’s first punk film, directed by Derek Jarman, Elizabeth I’s astrologer conjures up the spirit Ariel, who transports Queeny into the future – to 1970s London. You can understand her initial horror. One has gone to all the bother of starting an empire, sending Drake and Raleigh out God knows where to expand England’s territory overseas. And where does it all lead? A girl gang on a killing spree and a punk in a sequinned Union Jack twerking to ‘Rule Britannia’.

    The lesson: Ever wanted to know what the future has in store? Don’t ask.

    Wisdom from the past: ‘The world's your oyster, so swallow it.’

    Read review

  6. Choke on a croissant!

    The movie: ‘Tomorrow I Will Wake Up and Scald Myself With Tea’ (1977)

    The cockup: Truth be told, that remarkable title is a teensy bit misleading – this darkly humorous Czech romp is less concerned with beverage-based boo-boos and more with a gang of ex-Nazis who travel back in time to hand Hitler an H-bomb. That said, the apparent hero does die in a horrific French pastry incident, and his twin brother is forced to step into the breach. It’s like ‘Avatar’, only slightly less idiotic.

    The lesson: Those who are psychotically obsessed with history are just as doomed to repeat it as those who forget – over and over and over again.

    Wisdom from the past: ‘Mein Fuhrer, I can explain. That young man over there is me.’

  7. Get stabbed in the eye!

    The movie: ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’ (2010)

    The cockup: This goonball bad-taste nostalgia-com does exactly what the title suggests: four guys pour the wrong experimental Russian energy drink into an outdoor bath and find themselves transported back to the glory days of 1986. It’s all going great until John Cusack’s ex-girlfriend ocularly impales him with a fork.

    The lesson: Not telling the love of your life she has ‘trucker hips’ would be a great start. Also, if you have to drink something called Chernobly, be careful where you slosh it.

    Wisdom from the past: ‘Was it morally wrong for me to exploit my knowledge of the future for personal financial gain? Perhaps. Here’s another question. Do I give a fuck?’

    Read review

  8. Get used as fuel!

    The movie: ‘Idaho Transfer’ (1973)

    The cockup: In Peter Fonda’s unfairly maligned hippy-dippy sci-fi oddity, a bunch of teens travel into the future to start a new civilisation in the wake of a nuclear catastrophe. Tragically, their attempts to establish a peace ‘n’ love commune are thwarted when most of them go mad and the only survivor is unceremoniously dumped into the gas tank of a car that runs on human flesh.

    The lesson: Mankind’s impending self-immolation is inevitable, and all the acoustic-guitar-strumming in the world ain’t going to change that. Also, if you’re in a supposedly deserted future wasteland and a car comes along, don’t try to thumb a lift.

    Wisdom from the past: ‘I don’t think you have to leave anything behind. Just have a beautiful time like all the other junk litter in the universe, then say goodbye.’

  9. Accidentally kidnap important historical figures!

    The movie: ‘Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure’ (1989)

    The cockup: Okay, we’re cheating a bit with this one, because nothing really goes wrong for our metalhead heroes despite hooking up with pastime psychos like multiple murderer Billy the Kid, genocidal maniac Genghis Khan and legendary grumpy-boots Ludwig van Beethoven. But by internet law you can’t make a list of time travel movies without Bill & Ted on it, and we think that’s completely fair.

    The lesson: Be excellent to each other and party on! Because nothing can go wrong if you face each day with a vacant grin and a twin-neck flying V guitar.

    Wisdom from the past: ‘The only true wisdom exists in knowing that you know nothing. That’s us, dude!’

    Read review

  10. Confuse the audience!

    The movie: ‘Primer’ (2004)

    The cockup: There’s this science guy, okay… and he goes into this box… and he comes out four days in the past… then his equally smart friend builds another box… and they sit on this bench… and they don’t know which version of each other they’re talking to… and okay we’ve lost it, ask someone else.

    The lesson: Friendships are fluid, and scientific discovery is fraught with ethical and moral dilemmas. Also, you can turn a movie budget of $7,000 into almost half a million profit simply by perplexing the hell out of everyone. Who knew?

    Wisdom from the past (or possibly the future, we don’t know any more): ‘Are you hungry? I haven’t eaten since later this afternoon.’

    Read review

The top ten time travel cockups on film

In comic book blockbuster ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’, our heroes travel back in time to save the future. If only it were so easy...

Tom Huddleston
Written by
Tom Huddleston

Despite what you might think, time travel isn’t just about hanging out with your teenage grandparents and knocking off would-be war criminals. There are some serious potential downsides to mucking about with the space-time continuum. You might be chased by a remorseless robot from the future, or be forced to experience your own death over and over. You might get stuck in a French bar with Woody Allen, or (horror of horrors) inadvertently end up seeing the movie ‘Jumper’ again.

But all of these pale into insignificance when compared with the ten mishaps on our list. So before you hop into that time machine, glowing vortex, souped-up phone booth, hot tub or other temporal warp device, take a lesson from these poor unfortunates. 

RECOMMENDED: The 100 best sci-fi movies

    You may also like
    You may also like