Oddly enough, we have two comedies heading to theaters in the next few weeks that try to wring laughs by dropping characters into shockingly different time frames. In Tim Burton’s ‘Dark Shadows,’ Johnny Depp plays an 18th-century vampire who escapes his tomb in the 1970s and tries to exact revenge on his tormentors. Then, in ‘Men In Black 3,’ Will Smith’s Agent J time-travels back to the 1960s to prevent an alien from murdering his partner, Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). Hilarity ensues.
The synergy of the time-shifting story lines got us thinking about our favorite films which dropped characters from one era into another in search of laughs. We tried to avoid films that merely repeated a short window of time (so no ‘Groundhog Day’ or ‘Prisoner of Azkaban’ on this list). And we really wanted to focus on films that went for the funny … as ‘Shadows’ and ‘MIB’ try to do. Here are our 10 favorite out-of-time heroes. Who did we miss?
Our generation’s top time traveler, McFly (Michael J. Fox) sped to 88 mph and leapt to 1955, where he had to help his teenaged father (Crispin Glover) romance his horny mom (Lea Thompson). McFly’s adventures would take him to the distant future and the wild, wild west, but few movies top the original for humor and heart.
Before they could become Wyld Stallyns, Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) had to pass high school history. Thankfully, “future dude” Rufus (George Carlin) stopped by with a time-traveling telephone booth – talk about outdated! – and the boys were off and running. Still, ‘Bill & Ted’ only became ‘Excellent’ when our future rockers brought such greats as Abraham Lincoln, Napoleon and Socrates back to modern-day California … and took them to the mall.
There’s something groovy (baby) about a hero who spends 95% of his movie trying to get laid. When you’re as homely as Mike Myers’ cryogenically frozen secret agent, you can understand why you have to work so hard to score chicks. ‘Austin Powers’ had one good joke – an unfrozen spy tries to heat up his love life and, maybe, stop his nemesis (also Myers). But it lasted for three movies, so perhaps the jokes on us?
Mark Twain’s 1889s novel about a modern-day citizen waking up in Medieval England has been adapted to the screen numerous times, though Bing Crosby’s carefree spin through the 1949 musical production has to be our favorite, if only for the scene where Crosby’s mechanic tries to teach the palace band how to spice up their playing style. Extra shout out to Martin Lawrence’s ‘Black Knight’ … just because.
One of the most popular films in the long-running ‘Star Trek’ series, perhaps because of the unforced touch and accessible sense of humor of Leonard Nimoy, who stars as Spock and directs this feature. Also, what sounds like a ridiculous mission – the Enterprise crew travels back in time to collect an extinct whale so it can translate an alien signal – ends up being one of the most memorable big-screen adventures in ‘Trek’ history.
Jean–Claude Van Damme has played some preposterous characters over the course of his illustrious career. But Max Walker actually could be considered a feasible action hero, with ‘Timecop’ ranking as one of Van Damme’s best (for what that’s worth). JCVD plays a futuristic police officer who travels through time to prevent crimes in different eras. It sounds phony, but it’s surprisingly thrilling. Plus, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Van Damme prevent a man from committing suicide in the year 1929!
In the third ‘Evil Dead’ film, Sam Raimi falls back on a storytelling crutch several filmmakers use when tasked with conjuring a sequel: He shifts his hero to a foreign location and ramps up the action. Thankfully, Ash (Bruce Campbell) already turns his dial to 11, so dropping this chainsaw-wielding maniac into the Middle Ages only helps ‘Army of Darkness’ become a gory, guilty pleasure of Necronomicon-destroying fun.
A recent example, though that doesn’t make it any less worthy of this list. ‘Paris’ became the highest-grossing film of Woody Allen’s career for a reason. The legendary filmmaker conveys a deep appreciation for the artistic contributions of such titans a Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso. But it’s Owen Wilson’s aw-shucks tour guide through Europe’s Golden Age that make ‘Paris’ a trip worth taking.
So David (Tobey Maguire) and Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) don’t exactly time travel in Gary Ross’ sharp ‘Pleasantville’ so much as they transport themselves into a ‘Leave it to Beaver’-style 1950s sitcom. But any film that features Don Knotts as a magical TV repairman AND Joan Allen igniting a tree while exploring her body in a bathtub is going to get serious consideration around these parts.
New World Pictures
Based on a true story – or is it?! – Stewart Raffill’s thriller explores mysterious Naval experiments that reportedly tried to mask the military's ships from radar technology. In true sci-fi fashion, though, Naval officers David Herdeg (Michael Pare) and Jim Parker (Bobby Di Cicco) transport themselves from the 1940s to the middle of the desert … in 1984!