The idea of being stuck in a time loop has been a source of artistic fascination for years, with many films highlighting the positive character growth and outrageous antics that it would make possible. The time loop motif has returned to the horror genre with Happy Death Day, in which a college student is murdered on her birthday, but finds she is stuck repeating the same day over and over again, and must stop her killer to close the loop.
In honor of its release, let's take a look at some of the best films from over the years in which there is a time loop directly affecting the characters. (Note: This article contains spoilers for the films listed.)
Before I Fall
- Release: 2017
- Cast: Zoey Deutch, Halston Sage, Logan Miller
- Rotten Tomatoes score: 66 percent
Before I Fall was a fresh change of pace for the YA genre thanks to its different premise and wonderful lead performance from Deutch. Following a young woman reliving the same day over and over again after dying in a car accident, the film flipped the script on many of the YA cliches by actually taking the time to develop the characters and diving into some teenage themes not often discussed. With an ending that's heartbreaking and unexpected, it certainly makes the loop worth it.
Edge of Tomorrow
- Release: 2014
- Stars: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton
- Rotten Tomatoes score: 91 percent
Though it was considered a minor domestic box office flop, there was no denying that #EdgeOfTomorrow was a major hit across the board, grossing a worldwide sum of $370 million at the box office against a $178 million budget. It also received critical acclaim, and for good reason.
The film followed Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), an American military officer with no combat experience who is thrown onto the battlefield against an invading alien race and dies. But he finds himself with the ability to restart the day over and over again after dying; with the help of Special Forces warrior Rita Vrataski (Blunt), he improves his fighting skills and gets closer to the heart of the mystery behind his time loop and the solution to ending the war.
While it was advertised primarily as a dramatic sci-fi action film, critics and audiences were surprised by an often hilarious and thrilling movie that offered a unique twist on the time loop genre and created a gripping tale of growth and sacrifice. With a sequel that's also a prequel in the works, fans can look forward to more of Cruise and Blunt fighting back against the aliens soon.
- Release: 1993
- Stars: Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, Chris Elliot
- Rotten Tomatoes score: 96 percent
It might not have been the first time loop film, but Groundhog Day was certainly the first to become such a huge hit and influence. It follows arrogant TV weatherman Phil Connors (Murray) as he is trapped in the same day over and over again, reporting on the titular holiday in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. With a combination of Murray's outrageous charms and surprising dramatic depth, as well as a story that blends smart comedy and deep philosophical character development, it has grown on both critics and audiences over the years with multiple viewings.
- Release: 2012
- Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt
- Rotten Tomatoes score: 93 percent
Before joining Disney to write and direct Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson delivered the thrilling sci-fi noir Looper to the big screen and blew audiences and critics away with its mind-bending premise and fast-paced action. Set a little under 30 years in the future, the film tells the story of a hitman named Joe (Gordon-Levitt), who works for a Kansas City crime syndicate in killing those sent from the future, where body disposing has become impossible due to future tracking systems. When his future self (Willis) is sent back and escapes, Joe must track him down and kill him if he hopes to have a future.
The idea that the hitmen in the film must kill their older self suggests that some will always be trapped in the loop in which they will eventually be sent back to the past and killed by their younger selves. Thanks to the thought-provoking storytelling and thrilling action, as well as a pair of commanding performances from Gordon-Levitt and Willis, it made for a compelling sci-fi film.
- Release: 2011
- Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga
- Rotten Tomatoes score: 92 percent
While most time loop films require a supernatural element to keep the protagonist trapped in the same day, Source Code actually changed it up by creating a technological element that offered intelligent themes and thought-provoking ideas. After a Chicago Metra train explodes due to an unknown bomber, a U.S. Army pilot (Gyllenhaal) is tasked with reliving the same day over and over in a computer recreation of the event in order to find the bomber, while he also makes it his personal mission to save one of the passengers (Monaghan) on board.
In keeping the nature of Gyllenhaal's mission a mystery to both him and the audience, the filmmakers created a sense of suspense and thrill as he sought to find out not only what happened to him, but also to the passengers around him. When the reveal of where Gyllenhaal really is — and how he changes the rules that the scientists in the film believe exist for time travel — the story becomes a mind-blowing and captivating experience that makes this easily one of the best and thrilling time loop films made.
- Release: 2009
- Stars: Melissa George, Liam Hemsworth, Michael Dorman
- Rotten Tomatoes score: 82 percent
When single mother Jess (George) joins her friends for a trip on one of their boats, a storm hits and forces them to abandon it. They happen upon a deserted ocean liner, but someone begins stalking and killing them off one by one. As the body count increases and the situation appears to repeat, Jess must find a way to end their time loop to save herself and her friends.
Right off the bat, the film works to ground its characters by giving a little insight into each one, especially Jess, who is struggling in her life as a single mother with an autistic child. As the story progresses and the characters hit the sea, the tension and mystery set in, drawing audiences closer. When the ending reveals the biggest twist of all, audiences are left in amazement and on the edge of their seats as the film solidifies itself as a real mind-bender, deserving of its praise.
- Release: 1995
- Stars: Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt, Madeleine Stowe
- Rotten Tomatoes score: 88 percent
It's been the subject of intense debate and interpretations for its time-bending story and mind-blowing ending. With stylish direction from visual genius Terry Gilliam (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Brazil), Twelve Monkeys follows prisoner James Cole (Willis) in a future where a deadly virus has forced humanity underground; Cole is recruited to go back in time to find the virus and stop it from spreading.
One of the key reasons for the story's success was its frequent suggestion that Cole might indeed be insane and is only imagining everything, though audiences start the film in the future and get multiple "signs" it's real. What really seals the deal is the ending, in which Cole's nightmare memory from his childhood — of a man running past him in an airport with a gun, and killed by police — turns out to be Cole himself, trying to stop the man responsible for the virus. Revealing that the character has potentially been stuck in a time loop for his entire life, audiences are left with the mind-boggling consequences.
What are your favorite films revolving around a time loop? Are you looking forward to Happy Death Day? Let us know in the comments below!