Film: Time After Time

"Ninety years ago I was a freak. Today I'm an amateur."

1979 novel by Karl Alexander and movie directed by Nicholas Meyer (which, while based on the book, was made before it was published) starring Malcolm McDowell, David Warner and Mary Steenburgen.

In 1893, aspiring writer and inventor H. G. Wells (McDowell) invites some friends over to dinner, where he shows them one of his latest inventions — a device he claims can travel through time. Despite the general mockery he receives, one of them — a surgeon called John Leslie Stevenson (Warner) — takes particular interest in his claims, and not for no reason; moments after, the police intrude into Wells' home, claiming to have traced none other than Jack the Ripper to the premises. When a search reveals that Stevenson has disappeared, Wells realises that not only is Stevenson the Ripper, but that he has used Wells' time machine to escape into the future and evade justice.

Appalled at the thought of having unleashed a monster onto the social utopia he believes the future will be, he decides to follow Stevenson into the future and bring him back to face justice. Arriving in San Francisco in 1979, Wells finds that the future is not everything he thought or hoped, befriends an attractive, feminist bank clerk called Amy (Steenburgen) and discovers that Stevenson is up to his old tricks — and that Amy may be his next victim...

Nothing to do with the song by Cyndi Lauper (except that the movie apparently inspired the song's title).


Provides examples of:

  • Arab-Israeli Conflict: Stevenson uses this as an example of why he belongs in the modern world.
  • Armor-Piercing Slap: When Wells first catches up to Jack in the future, he attempts to reason with him, explaining that they don't belong there. Jack goes into a speech about how much he relishes the violent world he's discovered, and how easy it is to buy guns with cash, until finally the normally peaceful Wells can't take it anymore, slaps him in the face, and screams, "Stop it!"
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: If not actually the first story to be built on the idea of 'hey, what if H. G. Wells really did have a time machine?', then certainly one of the Trope Codifiers.
  • Born in the Wrong Century: Stevenson. He finds out that being Jack the Ripper in the Twentieth Century makes him an amateur when it comes to killing, and feels right at home starting up his killing spree again.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The "send the passenger to infinity" key
  • Chess Motifs: Starting with an actual game between Stevenson and Wells, and continuing with the theme of thinking ahead.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Wells, due to never having driven before.
  • Fish out of Temporal Water: Wells finds that the future isn't the utopia he'd thought.
    • Also, he has this exchange with Amy:
    Wells: Much superior to that Scottish place where I breakfasted.
    Amy: (Looks at him in confusion)
    Wells: MacDougals.
  • The Future Is Shocking: The film has H. G. Wells and Jack the Ripper taken to modern times. Jack changes the channels on a TV to show constant scenes of violence to claim that he belongs here and Wells doesn't.
  • Genre Savvy: Wells is savvy about a few things, such as:
    • There is a distinct possibility that he may need to trade jewelry for money in the future.
    • A museum exhibit of his desk may also have a perfect replica of his glasses.
  • Good Is Dumb: Wells, during the Hostage for MacGuffin scene.
  • Good Is Old-Fashioned: Stevenson considers Wells to be this.
  • Hostage for MacGuffin: Giving his word as a gentleman, Stevenson offers to trade Amy for the anti-return key Wells holds. He naturally fails to deliver the hostage, and chides Wells for not realizing that he is no gentleman.
  • The Idealist: "The first man to raise a fist is the man who's run out of ideas."
    • But then Wells finally caves in and buys a gun. Which goes badly for him.
  • I'm Mr. Future Pop Culture Reference: Inverted and subverted; to blend in, Wells, adopts the name of a period fictional character he's sure will be forgotten ninety years later. Unfortunately, this fictional character happens to be Sherlock Holmes.
    • Also, despite still being famous in the future, being known by his initials allows him to blend in quite nicely with his real name Herbert Wells.
  • Jack the Ripper: Well, yeah.
  • Love at First Sight: Amy has this for Wells.
  • Nerds Are Sexy: H. G. Wells, at least as perceived by Amy
  • Oh, Crap: Stevenson during the climax when he realizes Wells is about to pull the "send the passenger to infinity" key out of the time machine.
    • It can also be interpreted as an inverted Sword over Head moment. It appears that he knows the game is up and is nodding to Wells that there's nothing left to do but Get It Over With.
  • Protector Behind Bars: A variation. The hero is caught by the police with him being suspected of Jack the Ripper's latest murder spree. He begs them to send someone to protect his girlfriend.
  • San Francisco: Sure enough, the movie shows off the cable cars, Bay Bridge, Golden Gate, the exterior of the Exploratorium, etc.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The lighthearted music box tune during the murder in the opening scene.
  • Stealth Pun: Herbert misremembers the name of that "Scottish restaurant" as MacDougals.. No doubt that the audience was waiting for him to make a total dork of himself. But it would have made him seem too odd to Amy too early in the film. Especially when she was already willing to overlook the fact that he didn't pick up immediately on which war an American girl of her generation would have been protesting, something that's common knowledge in 1979.
  • Steam Punk
  • Taking the Heat: When the cops refuse to listen to Wells's Jack-the-Ripper story, he gets so desperate that he confesses to the killings in an attempt to get them to check Amy's apartment and make sure she's safe.
  • Terminator Twosome
  • Time Travel Romance: Between Amy and Wells. And in the ending, Wells takes Amy back with him to become the historical Amy Catherine Robbins.
  • Villains Blend in Better: Provides the above quote — H. G. Wells struggles to fit in (although to be fair to him, in practical terms he adapts a lot better than most; it's mainly culture shock over the idea that the future isn't everything he'd built it up to be), while Jack the Ripper of all people acclimatises comfortably.
  • Villain Forgot to Level Grind/Degraded Boss: Jack the Ripper, as the quote at the top of this page illustrates.