6. Primer (2004)
Written, directed, scored, produced and edited by Shane Carruth, who also stars in the film, Primer is an independent sci-fi film. It follows Aaron and Abe who supplement their engineer day jobs with entrepreneurial tech projects, working out of Aaron’s garage. When they accidentally invent what they think is a time machine, they put it through a series of tests. Soon they come to realise that there may be very dark consequences to their invention.
Primer went on to become one of the most talked about debut films of all time. Much of this is due to its incredibly complex and science heavy plot. It is also due to the production constraints that Carruth worked within. Primer was made on a budget of $7000 and was made using a crew of just five. Most of the cast were friends or family members who also provided catering services too.
In spite of its humble production process, Primer went on to achieve great things. It made $842,000 at the box office and won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. It has also amassed a cult following and it has inspired numerous articles that try to explain and pick apart the complicated plot.
Despite its success, Carruth does not have a high opinion of his debut film. In an interview in 2013, he said of the film, “I’m not happy with it. I see nothing but rough edges.” However, he did say that he is grateful for the film.
7. Timecrimes (2007)
When Hector spots a beautiful woman undressing on his property, he decides to spy on her. However, when he investigates further, Hector finds that the woman has been assaulted before he too is attacked by a man swathed in bandages and wielding a pair of scissors. When Hector escapes, he happens upon a scientific facility where a scientist persuades him to hide in a time machine.
Timecrimes was directed and written by Nacho Vigalondo, who also stars in the film. The film premiered at 2007 Fantastic Fest before being released to positive reviews who were especially complimentary regarding the film’s special effects considering its low budget. Timecrimes also won a number of accolades including Best Picture at Fantastic Fest and the Asteroide Award for Best International Sci-fi Feature Film at the 2007 Trieste Science Fiction Festival.
Due to its positive reception, an English language remake of Timecrimes was planned with United Artists, before being moved to DreamWorks with Steve Zaillian due to write and produce the film.
8. Time After Time (1979)
Based on Karl Alexander’s novel of the same name, which was actually unfinished at the time of filming, Time After Time was adapted by Nicholas Meyer who also directed the film in his directorial debut. Time After Time follows H.G. Wells who has built a time machine and plans to use it to travel to the future to a utopian paradise. However, before his plan can come to fruition, Jack the Ripper uses the time machine to escape from the police and travel to 1979. With the help of a bank teller named Amy, Wells must catch Jack before he can continue his killing spree.
Time After Time was released to positive reviews and won a number of awards, including the Saturn Award for Best Writing and the Grand Prize at the Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival. Time After Time grossed $13 million at the box office and went on to inspire a television series also named Time After Time which aired in 2016.
Mary Steenburgen’s role as Amy has since been noted as having parallels to another film featuring time travel – Back to the Future III, in which she plays Clara. Back to the Future Part III appears to deliberately mirror her role in Time After Time. Steenburgen said of the two roles, “Actually, I’ve played the same scene in that film (Time After Time) and in Back to the Future Part III. I’ve had a man from a different time period tell me that he’s in love with me, but he has to go back to his own time. My response in both cases is, of course, disbelief, and I order them out of my life. Afterwards, I find out I was wrong and that, in fact, the man is indeed from another time, and I go after him to profess my love. It’s a pretty strange feeling to find yourself doing the same scene so many years apart, for the second time in your career.”
9. Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea (1977)
By taking anti-aging pills, former Nazi Klaus Abard survives to the 1990’s and plans to time travel back to Germany in 1944 so that he can present Hitler with a hydrogen bomb to use in order to win the war. However, on the morning of the planned trip, the pilot dies and his earnest twin brother Jan decides to impersonate him, not knowing about Abard’s intended plans. When the plot goes wrong, Jan tries to figure out a way to go back in time to save his brother and foil Abard’s evil plans.
Directed by Jindrich Polak, Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea is an adaptation of the short story of the same name by Josef Nesvadba. The film is very popular in the Czech Republic but was virtually unknown by many other audiences until it was shown by the BBC in a foreign language film slot in 1982. This led to a fandom for the film being created and it amassed a cult following. Fans even imported copies of the film from the Czech Republic as the film was never officially released on DVD elsewhere.
10. Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
In a 1997 edition of magazine Backwoods Home, senior editor John Silveira wrote a joke ad as a filler for the magazine’s classified’s section which read, ‘Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 930022 Oakview, CA. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.’ The ad soon became a phenomenon and inspired the film.
Safety Not Guaranteed was directed by Colin Trevorrow in his feature length directorial debut and was written by Derek Connolly. Safety Not Guaranteed premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival where it won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award. The film was released to positive reviews from critics and was also a box office success, grossing over $4 million against its budget of $750,000.
Safety Not Guaranteed has since been named as one of the most influential films of the last decade because of its effect on the filmmaking industry. The film was notable for having a first time director, a budget of less than a million dollars and of being character driven instead of effects driven. Safety Not Guaranteed caught the attention of Netflix and foreshadowed how streaming would play an important role in film creation and distribution.