True love is difficult even under the best of circumstances. But what if your soul mate has come into your life via a time machine? Even EHarmony can’t help you with that dilemma.
These out-of-time romances, though, are a perennial hit in popular culture. And for good reason: They’re an emotional thrill ride. If true love finds a way against these tremendous odds, then it gives audiences hope that they too will find their one and only. If the couples’ love is thwarted, these stories are cathartic weepfests.
Then there are the “fish out of water” elements, where someone from the past or future tries to deal with the time period to which they have been transported. Though all of these films are, by their nature, fantasy, some are more grounded in a sort of “reality” -- for example “Time Machine” author H.G. Wells, propelled into the future, who realizes they he will cause chaos in the world order if he tries to change the present or the past.
The latest entry in the canon of these romances, “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” opened this weekend in third place with an estimated gross of $19.2 million. Based on the bestselling novel by Audrey Niffenegger, the fantasy revolves around a handsome Chicago librarian (Eric Bana) who happens to have a genetic disorder that causes him to travel through time when he gets stressed (although you might think it would be the other way around). Of course, this causes more than a few problems with his wife, Claire (Rachel McAdams).
Bruce Joel Rubin, who won an Oscar for his 1990 spirited romance “Ghost” and adapted “Time Traveler’s Wife,” believes these love stories fly because “I think people have an innate sense that we are not as bounded up by time as we feel we are,” he says, adding that watching these movies “is like a release.”
In the case of “Time Traveler’s Wife,” Rubin says that though it’s a fantasy, “the underpinning of the extraordinary kind of timeless love is very real. I think it’s a deep and profound wish fulfillment.”
Here’s a look at the ways love and time travel mix on screen:
‘Somewhere in Time’
A cult has sprung up around this 1980 romance (it wasn’t that popular when it was released) because of its over-the-top love story and beautiful lead actors. Christopher Reeve plays a young playwright who becomes enchanted with a vintage photograph of a young actress (Jane Seymour) he sees on the wall at a hotel. Through self-hypnosis, he travels back to 1912, where he falls in love with the actress. But her manager (Christopher Plummer) is less than thrilled with their romance because he feels it will derail her acting career.
‘The Time Machine’
This 1960 adaptation of H.G. Wells’ classic 1895 novel stars Rod Taylor as a young man from Victorian England who creates a time machine and finds the love of his life, the winsome Weena (Yvette Mimieux), in the future. Directed by George Pal, the film won an Oscar for its then- cutting-edge effects. Word to the wise: Avoid the disastrous 2002 remake.
‘Time After Time’
Clever, romantic 1979 fantasy penned and directed by Nicholas Meyer that finds “Time Machine” novelist Wells (Malcolm McDowell) holding a dinner party at his house in London in 1893. But the dinner is interrupted when the police come to arrest his surgeon friend (David Warner), who may actually be Jack the Ripper. The doctor escapes via Wells’ own time machine. Wells soon follows and finds himself in 1979 San Francisco. He has a difficult time adjusting to modern life until he meets a sweet bank employee (Mary Steenburgen, whom McDowell later married).
‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’
Winner of three Academy Awards, this lavish 2008 adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story finds Benjamin (Brad Pitt) born in 1918 with the outward appearance and infirmities of an old man. As everybody gets older, Benjamin ages in reverse. At 12, he meets a 6-year-old girl named Daisy. Over the years, their paths cross. Eventually, they fall in love and have a child. But because of his age reversal, Benjamin feels that he will be a burden to Daisy (Cate Blanchett) and their child.
‘Kate & Leopold’
Hugh Jackman steals this 2001 romantic comedy from director James Mangold. Jackman plays a British duke from 1876 -- he’s the future inventor of the elevator -- who falls through a portal and ends up in contemporary New York, where he meets and falls in love with a career woman (Meg Ryan). Eventually, she decides she’d rather be with Leopold than have a career and travels back in time to be with him. (In time-travel movies, love always wins out over more practical considerations.)
‘Back to the Future’
The big hit of summer 1985 that spawned two sequels puts a funny twist on time-travel romance. Seventeen-year-old Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) accidentally is sent back in time 30 years in a quirky time machine built from a DeLorean by his eccentric scientist friend Doc (Christopher Lloyd). Unfortunately, his “mother” (Lea Thompson), who is in high school, starts to fall in love with McFly instead of his father (Crispin Glover). McFly has to make sure his parents fall in love or he’ll disappear.
Tilda Swinton is perfectly cast in Sally Potter’s 1993 adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s novel about a person who travels through four centuries, first as a man and then as a woman, finding love with a man (Billy Zane) in the contemporary world.
‘The Lake House’
Syrupy 2006 romance starring Keanu Reeves, as an architect living in 2004, and Sandra Bullock, as a doctor in 2006, who fall in love via letters they leave in a mailbox at the lake house they lived in at separate points in time.
In Brad Anderson’s 2001 sci-fi romance, Marisa Tomei plays a young New Yorker who has been unlucky in love. She finally thinks she’s found Mr. Right (Vincent D’Onofrio) until he tells her he’s a “back traveler” from 2470.
‘The Love Letter’
Campbell Scott stars in this 1998 “Hallmark Hall of Fame” drama based on a short story by Jack Finney -- the author of the time-travel classic “Time and Again” -- as a computer games designer living in Boston who finds, in a secret compartment in an antique desk he bought, a love letter written by a woman (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who lived during the Civil War era. Not able to get her out of his mind and encouraged by his mother (Estelle Parsons), he writes her back, using Boston’s oldest post office, which was opened during the Civil War. Miraculously, she responds to his letter. The two fall in love via the letters -- which, not surprisingly, causes problems with Scott’s impending nuptials.