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VBOAT'S PICK For Best Time Travel Movie: PRIMER

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After 3 full months of polling, Primer leads by more than a standard deviation over Back to the Future for the title of Best Time Travel Movie. Which makes sense because it is also our pick for the best in the category. Now, we’re going to but the table below of the current rankings before getting to our reasoning. Note that the review the table will not just spoil the movie Primer but all the movies in the category.

Before we make our, fairly easy case for why Primer is #1 in category, let’s remind people just how much Primer did with very little in terms of budget. A theme we will return to in our defense of Primer at #1.

Film Release Date Budget Box Office
#2 Back to the Future 1985 $19 million 388.8 million
#1 Primer 2004 $7,000 $841,926
The Terminator 1984 $6.4 million $78.3 million
Terminator 2: Judgment Day 1991 $102 million $523.7 million
#3 12 Monkeys 1995 $29.5 million $168.8 million
Looper 2012 $30 million $176.5 million
The Time Machine(1960) 1960 $829,000 $2.6 million

The Case For Primer

Time travel is a narrative device that has been employed by filmmakers for generations, offering a unique perspective on causality, the human experience, and the philosophical implications of altering history. While many movies have tackled this concept with varying degrees of success, one film stands out as the most intricate and thought-provoking: Shane Carruth’s Primer.

To be clear, what Primer does and does better than anything is leverage intellectual capital. Often low budget movies (regardless of genre) focus on making simple movies. Even great movies, be it the Juno or Take Shelter, all put the vast majority of the plot into simple scenes with complex dialogue. Realizing they won’t have the budget for well known actors or actresses or fancy set pieces, Primer does the opposite. It creates a movie focused centrally around ideas. However what we like most about Primer, is that watching the movie is reminiscent of watching Mulholland Drive for the first time: you know the film is riddle, but you know it is a riddle that has an answer.

We believe we have that answer, but you’ll have to check out review to see it.

2. Back to the Future

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Primer winning by a substantial margin in this category is that it makes a list where Back to the Future is not number 1. In reality, no discussion of time travel movies is complete without mentioning Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future. A cultural phenomenon, this film is beloved for its heart, humor, and quintessential 80s charm. While it offers a more accessible and entertaining take on the subject, it employs a simpler and more fantastical view of time travel. Unlike Primer, it doesn’t delve into the deeper psychological or philosophical ramifications of altering time.

Let’s be honest: no movie on this list (even Terminator) has a line that’s as emotionally satisfying as “No Bif. You leave her alone.”

See it? is this a serious question?

3. 12 Monkeys (14.42%)

Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys is a dystopian vision of the future, where a convict is sent back in time to prevent a virus outbreak. It beautifully examines the fatalistic nature of time and destiny. While rich in its thematic elements and storytelling, it still leans more towards the deterministic view of time, making it slightly less open-ended and contemplative than Primer.

See it: Definitely.

4. Looper (13.02%)

Rian Johnson’s Looper introduces a world where crime syndicates use time travel to erase their problems. The moral implications of one’s actions on their future self and the larger world are core to its narrative. While Looper offers a fresh take on the genre, its emphasis on action and drama somewhat dilutes the raw intellectual engagement found in Primer.

See it: Definitely.

5+6. The Terminator (5.12%) & Terminator 2: Judgment Day (3.72%)

James Cameron’s The Terminator and its sequel are iconic for blending time travel with action-packed sequences. The films tackle the implications of AI evolution and human survival across time. Yet, while entertaining, their focus on spectacle doesn’t reach the cerebral depths or narrative complexity that Primer offers.

See it? If you want.

7. Time Crimes

A lesser-known gem, Time Crimes, is a Spanish thriller dealing with accidental time travel and its consequences. Its intricate plotting is reminiscent of Primer, but it leans more toward the horror-thriller genre, making its exploration of time travel slightly more confined.

See It? Yes.

8. Predestination 

Predestination is a masterclass in paradoxical storytelling. Based on Robert A. Heinlein’s short story, it delves into identity, destiny, and the cyclical nature of time. While it’s an intellectual treat, its focus on the personal journey of its protagonist makes it slightly less encompassing in its exploration of time travel as a phenomenon compared to Primer.

See it? If you’re in high school, yes. If you’re not? I’m actually going to say yes as well. But don’t @ me if you hate it. 

Filming Locations in Primer

Primer Filming Locations