The season 2 finale of Loki has just aired, renewing our interest in the multiverse with an unexpected ending that made us more excited about the future of the MCU. But even before Marvel and DC brought that concept into our lives, filmmakers have been experimenting with the concept of alternate timelines, delivering some fantastic movies that used this premise to explore timely, fascinating themes. Here’s a list of 5 films with alternate timelines, from beloved classics to new releases, in no particular order! Enjoy!
1. Sliding Doors (1998)
Gwyneth Paltrow stars as Helen, a woman who lives in London and whose life takes two drastically different courses following the split-second timing of catching or missing a train. From that moment on, Sliding Doors shows us two parallel universes, based on the two paths Helen’s life could take, depending on whether she catches or misses that train. But which of the two timelines is the best one? Which would allow her to have a better life and career? We’ll let you discover that for yourself, but suffice it to say that it’s not as easy as it would seem.
Sliding Doors – and no, that’s not a reference to the revolving doors policy in the film industry, which refers to conflicts of interest within film funding organizations – is such an interesting watch because it’s just as timely now as it was in 1998, upon release. By taking a seemingly inconsequential moment and showing us how it would generate two completely different paths for our protagonist, the film gets us thinking about chance, happiness, missed opportunities and life’s unpredictability, and reminds us that there’s no such thing as a perfect life. Gwyneth Paltrow is superb in a film that will absolutely surprise you.
2. Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022)
Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
This absolute gem of a movie opened SXSW in 2022, and has been taking the world by storm ever since. If you haven’t watched it yet, you’re in for a real treat. Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s (or Daniels) film begins by introducing us to its protagonist, a Chinese American woman named Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) who spends her days handling demanding customers at the laundry store that she owns and dealing with taxes, surrounded by her well-meaning but unhelpful husband (Ke Huy Quan), unappreciative teenage daughter (Tallie Medel), and ill father. But one day, something happens that turns her life upside down, while at the same time completely subverting the genre of a movie that, up till that point, could have simply been a compelling drama about a busy, organized immigrant woman and her family.
The event in question takes place when the family is at the IRS, for an appointment with hilariously named accountant Deirdre Beaubeirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis), and Evelyn’s husband suddenly becomes a different variant of himself, urging his wife to do follow his instructions as the fate of the entire world depends on her. As it turns out, there are so many different variants of Evelyn, and each of them has achieved something extraordinary. But the fate of the universe lies in the hands of the only variant who has faced rejections her entire life – which has made her more ordinary, but also more resilient. And so, a sci-fi adventure begins, and let’s just say it’s a journey you won’t be forgetting anytime soon. Everything Everywhere All At Once is the ultimate multiverse movie, dealing with the alternate timelines of the person we could have been while, at the same time, telling the story of a mother and a daughter who simply want to be loved.
3. Avengers: Endgame (2019)
Anthony & Joe Russo
Avengers: Endgame is one of the best Marvel movies out there, as it completes a Phase of the MCU that the Studios had been working toward for years. If you’re not familiar with this universe, it’s best if you watch all these films in order, as the beauty of Endgame is that it takes you back to your favorite scenes from previous films in the most unexpected ways, as our heroes go back in time to prevent catastrophic events from happening in their timeline. Not to be missed.
4. Groundhog Day (1993)
What if you were forced to re-live the same day over and over again, and what if that day happened to be the day you despise the most? That is what happens in timeless classic Groundhog Day, where Bill Murray plays a self-centered, cynical weatherman named Phil. Every year, Phil is sent to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to report on the titular holiday, which he absolutely despises. But this time, a blizzard takes place, and Phil finds himself stuck in a time loop that he can’t get out of. As the same day keeps repeating itself, a chance meeting makes him want to change his behavior, which enables us to see the many versions of that day, depending on the actions he makes. There’s so much to love in Groundhog Day, one of the best time loop movies out there and a film you’ll find yourself revisiting over and over again.
5. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (2023)
Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers & Justin K. Thompson
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, chances are you’ve heard of the Spider-Verse franchise, a series of movies that revolutionized the idea of what an animated superhero film should look like, and gave us a pretty compelling story too. In the first film, we meet the titular hero – only, his name is not Peter Parker but Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), though his story has many similarities with the one we all know from previous Spider-Man movies. It turns out that Miles isn’t the only “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man” out there, and the film introduces to many variants from alternate timelines as they get together to – you guessed it! – save the world.
Across the Spider-Verse is even more elaborate and stunning than its predecessor, and it introduces us to even more variants, including one that affects the way we see not just this film, but the one before it too. For a full list of the Spidey variants and alternate worlds in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, check out this Total Film article. And if you need another reason to watch this film, save the date: Beyond the Spider-Verse hits theaters in March 2024!
The 5 films with alternate timelines listed above all take the concept of the multiverse and explore it in a new, interesting way that will keep you entertained while also making you think. If you’re looking to revisit some classics, Sliding Doors and Groundhog Day are the movies for you. If you’re craving a superhero film, there’s plenty to choose from in the list, from MCU classics to revolutionary sci-fi gems. Happy watching!