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Stable Time Loops in movies.


Animation

  • In Free Birds, Jake reveals that, when he was little, the Great Turkey appeared to him in the sky and told him to find Reggie and use the secret government time machine to travel back to the first Thanksgiving and prevent it. Near the end, Reggie finds out that he's supposed to go back to Jake's younger days and pretend to be the Great Turkey with S.T.E.V.E. the Time Machine throwing his voice.
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Live-Action

  • The premise of 12 Monkeys (inspired by La Jetee) is that Time Travel cannot alter history in any way — whatever you go back and do in the past, you've always gone back and done in the past. Cole remembers that as a kid, he saw his own death, which later happens just as he recalled it. The researcher (and the other time travelers) went back from 2035 to 1996 for one reason only — to gather information about the original virus (which had greatly mutated by their own time) of The Plague that had decimated humanity in 1996, so that a cure could be developed in 2035. The near-destruction of humanity in 1996 will always happen; the 'happy ending' is that humanity gains the chance to recover four decades later.
  • Subverted in Altitude. In the opening a mysterious plane that appears out of nowhere crashes into Sara and Bruce's plane when they are kids and kills both their parents. In the present day it's revealed that the plane was in fact the one Sara and Bruce are currently piloting. In the conclusion of the film they enter a temporal vortex but manage to avert another crash while killing themselves, allowing their child selves to live with their parents still alive.
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  • Strongly implied in Arrival, where at the climax of the film, desperate to call off a Chinese attack on the aliens, Louise experiences a future memory in which she meets the film's built-up antagonist, General Shang, at a party celebrating successful relations with the heptapods. Shang tells her that he came to the affair specifically to speak with her and shows her his private phone number, explaining that he feels it's 'important' for her to see it now, despite the fact that she'd already used it in the past to call him up and get him to stand his forces down by reciting the dying words of Shang's wife, which he then also tells her.
  • Back to the Future has one moment that looks like an example: the scene where Marty is in the past and he plays Johnny B. Goode, by Chuck Berry. Chuck's cousin hears it and calls him to hear it on the phone, implying that's where he got the idea for the song. However, given that Marty has clearly not already changed the past when the movie starts, and Chuck could not have heard enough of the song and Marvin had no opportunity to write down or memorise the lyrics, it should be obvious that this was an example of Alternate Timeline.
  • Bill & Ted:
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    • In Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Bill and Ted demonstrate remarkable cunning by using Stable Time Loops to their advantage. For example, in the first film Ted's father has lost his keys; when Bill hits upon the idea of setting things up using time travel, he suggests they could go back, take the keys, and hide them somewhere; they immediately check the location and the keys are there. They're also careful to remind themselves that they need to set things up when they're done with the history report, otherwise it won't happen. Also, they hear their future selves call Rufus "Rufus", which is why they use that name for him later when they become the future selves. He never actually tells them his name.
    • In Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, the climax revolves around this, as both Bill and Ted and Big Bad Chuck De Nomolos try to use the same plan against each other; the boys disarm De Nomolos with a sandbag and trap him in a cage, but he produces a key and a new gun. When the gun turns out to be a BANG Flag Gun (that says "Wyld Stallyns Rule!"), the boys point out that only the winners can play that game, and they set up the key and gun to fool him.
  • Los Cronocrimenes (Timecrimes) involves a triple loop of sorts.. A man named Hector sees a girl stripping in the woods and is then chased into a laboratory by a man with a bandaged face and scissors. Hector is told by the lone scientist in the lab to hide in a machine, which sends Hector back in time an hour, causing him to become "Hector 2" while "Hector 1" is still watching the girl strip and being chased. At first the scientist and Hector think it's best for Hector 2 to lay low until Hector 1 is through the machine, but Hector 2 begins to realize that his actions are causing results that he saw as Hector 1. After he cuts his face and bandages it, then finds the girl and the scissors, he makes her strip and chases Hector 1 into the machine. Unfortunately during this Hector 2 witnessed his wife's death, so he returns in time again, becoming Hector 3, working to save his wife while Hector 1 watches the girl strip and runs, and Hector 2 makes the girl strip and chases Hector 1. Hector 1 and Hector 2 eventually vanish because they become Hector 3, closing the loop.
  • In the short film Chrono Perambulator, three skeletons from the Neolithic age are dug up along with fragments of manufactured metal components. A Mad Scientist declares they must be the remains of a Martian spacecraft and uses the eponymous invention to go back in time to meet them. A reporter and a colleague reluctantly agree to go along, but remain skeptical until a tribe of hairy cavemen come out of the fog.
    Reporter: Well professor, I think you've just made history!
    Scientist: (dawning horror) I think you're right...
    (Cavemen club them to death and smash up the time machine)
  • Donnie Darko: The entire movie takes place in an unstable time loop, and the whole plot centers on trying to close it. When Donnie transports himself and the jet engine that killed him back in time, it closes the loop and negates everything that happens in the movie. However, this is never explicitly stated, resulting in a certain amount of Mind Screw.
  • Evil Dead 2 has a simple one that is briefly touched upon. The Necronomicon contains a prophecy with an illustration of a man with a chainsaw appearing in the Middle Ages, and at the end of the movie Ash ends up being sucked through time to the Middle Ages and serving as the basis of that picture.
  • In The Final Countdown, the USS Nimitz goes back in time from the early 1980s to just before Pearl Harbor. During their trip, one of their crew is left on an island and ends up staying there. Forty years later, he's running a defense company that helped design the carrier in the first place...and was the man who had sent Martin Sheen's character, an employee of his company, to be onboard the Nimitz at that time. This not only meant that person was present for the events but sending him to the Nimitz delayed her departure, which could have been what put her in the right place at the right time to be sent back in time.
  • In Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, time-travelers try to remove Godzilla from history by going to an island it was living on as a dinosaur before mutation during WW2. They teleport the dinosaur they find into the Bering Sea, away from getting hit by nuclear tests. However, nuclear waste and Russian submarines disappearing during the 1970s end up turning the dinosaur into the Godzilla seen in the first Heisei series entry The Return of Godzilla. However, this information is discovered too late as a Japanese nuclear submarine seeking out the dinosaur to try and mutate is destroyed by Godzilla and only making him bigger.
  • In Grizzly Mountain, two kids go back in time to 1871. They're the ones who are responsible for keeping Grizzly Mountain from being blown up, and allowing the Natives to keep their land.
  • Interstellar: Not only does "Ghost" Cooper direct past Cooper to the secret NASA base, but the n-dimensional space from which he sends the message was/is/will be created by Humanity's distant descendants, who only survive the Second Dust Bowl due to the quantum maths Cooper sends to Murphy. He also returns to the initial trip through the wormhole to touch Brand's hand via gravitational anomaly.
  • In The Tall Grass: What all the characters are trapped in. Becky and Cal entered the maze because of Tobin's cries for help, then several months later Travis entered the maze to find them, then stumbled onto Tobin and his family when they entered the maze. At the end, Travis sends Tobin back in time to break the loop by preventing Becky and Cal from entering in the first place.
  • La Jetée has two loops in it.
    • The first one starts when the protagonist witnesses a murder as a child and the image of a young lady screaming in horror is burned into his memory. This memory is what allows him to travel back in time from the post-apocalyptic future, and what causes him to try to escape his superiors and start a new life in the past. He is shot by his masters while in the past, with his younger self watching, completing the loop.
    • The second loop occurs when the man travels from the ruins of post-WWIII Paris into a future where civilization has returned to its peak, gathers supplies, and goes back to his own time so the supplies can be used to rebuild society and allow that utopian future to occur.
  • Brazilian film O Homem do Futuro (The Man from the Future) ends up in one of those. Protagonist Zero ends up going back 20 years to the day of his prom, where he prevents his date from humiliating him, which ruins his life. This changes the future... but not for the best, specially as said date hates his guts. So Zero goes back to the prom again, stops his other time travelling self and instructs his date to humiliate him and not contact him for 20 years (which she does once Zero returns). During the prom, Zero also ends up creating the fortune that financed the time travelling process, by instructing a classmate that became a contractor to buy stock from Google and sell it before the 2008 crash.
  • A meta version appears in The Last Temptation of Christ. The last temptation that Jesus faces as he is being crucified shows the world that would have come about had he not died on the cross. In it, he meets Apostle Paul who is a caricature of a Straw Hypocrite. The Fridge Brilliance behind this portrayal is found in The Bible itself, where St. Paul himself wrote "if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain." In other words, if Christ was not crucified, even if there was a version of Christianity still arose, it will have been in vain and a lie like the film version of Paul. Christ resists the last temptation and is crucified, closing the loop and makes the future Christianity true.
  • Defied in Looper. The movie features the main character's future self going to the past to kill a boy who would grow up to become a crime boss. The movie ends with his present self realizing that his future self killing the boy's mother and ruining his life is what caused him to become a crime boss in the first place, so he ends it all by killing himself, making his future self disappear, presumably making a better outcome for the boy.
  • Lucy: Towards the end of the film, Lucy, who has become superhuman thanks to Applied Phlebotinum, mentally travels back to the distant past, meets the pre-human known to archaeology as Lucy, and touches her, starting the process of evolution which will lead to the society which creates Lucy the superhuman.
  • Paradox 2016 is one big example of this. A group of researchers have secretly built a time machine, but when they test it for the first time by sending someone an hour into the future, he arrives in the middle of a carnage where something has Gone Horribly Wrong, but there's no-one who can tell him what has happened. He travels back to when he left from, and the characters try to fix the events by both more time travel and mundane means, but they can change nothing — everything always happens exactly as in a video recording they recovered from the future. In addition, it's revealed that one of them was originally from the future. He travelled back in time, made money using future knowledge, and helped build the time machine to be the precursor of the one he used. He did all this based on information — and using a time machine — that he found in the future as a result of the events of the film.
  • The original Planet of the Apes 5-film series. You can start at any of the films, and follow them around in numerical order to form the time loop (each film follows the previous one, the first film follows the fifth).
  • According to Miller in Repo Man, all of human history is one. Of course, he doesn't seem the most reliable source on these things, although the rather drug-fueled ending makes it seem a bit more likely.
  • Shock Labyrinth... maybe. The kids are scared in the past by themselves in the future. The future Motoki grabbed his younger self briefly and the future Ken pulled Yuki's body away as Miyu watched. Then again, Yuki might just be messing with them.
  • In Somewhere in Time, an old woman gives young playwright Richard Collier a pocket watch. Years alter, Richard figures out a way to go into the past and gives the pocket watch to the much younger lady, who keeps it until she meets young Richard as an old woman. Also, Richard Collier's signature from the past in the book in the present — indicating that his trip into the past will be successful.
  • In Split Infinity, A.J. goes back in time (via Mental Time Travel) to 1929. It turns out that she was responsible for saving the house and the barn from the stock market crash.
  • While Star Trek tends to be inconsistent about how time travel works, this trope pops up occasionally:
    • Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home does this with the invention of transparent aluminum.
      McCoy: You know, if we give him the formula, we'll be altering the future.
      Scotty: Why? how do you know he didn't invent the thing!
      • In the Novelization of IV, Scotty says that he did invent transparent aluminum, and that it was necessary to show him how.
      • The same thing also happens when Kirk sells the glasses he got from McCoy for some needed money. He even lampshades it.
        Spock: Admiral, weren't those a gift from Dr. McCoy?
        Kirk: And they will be again. That's the beauty of it.
    • Star Trek: First Contact: Zefram Cochrane spends much of the movie uncomfortable with knowing how 24th century humanity reveres him, when Riker reassures him "Someone once said, 'Don't try to be a great man. Just be a man, and let history make its own judgements.'" Cochrane ridicules the quote and asks who originally said it, to which Riker responds "You did, ten years from now." So, we have Cochrane influencing Riker, who, in turn, influences Cochrane.
  • Terminator
    • In The Terminator, the world-ruling SkyNet computer attempts to defeat the human resistance by sending a Terminator android back in time to kill the mother of resistance leader John Connor before he was born; not only does the Terminator fail, it turns out that if SkyNet had not made the attempt, Sarah Connor would not have met John's father and John would not have existed.
    • Terminator 2: Judgment Day (and a deleted scene from the first film) reveals that the technology used to create SkyNet was developed by researchers studying the remains of the Terminator android. Thus, the SkyNet technology was never invented by anyone, but came into existence within the time loop. The Third film points out that the events of the second only delayed Judgment day and that Skynet was inevitable, leading to the possibility that the events of the first movie accelerated them in the first place. Also, in the first film Kyle tells Sarah a message John gave him to memorize. In the second film we see that Sarah has given the message to John, so he can give it to Reese. So who wrote the thing?
  • Thrill Seekers avoids this trope for the most part, as time is shown to be subject to change. At the end, however, a dying man from the future recognizes one of the Feds, who likes to invent gadgets, as the future inventor of a temporal displacement device, which will open the door for time tourism. The Fed then notices an interesting device near the now-dead man and decides to hold on to it, not knowing it is a time machine.
  • In the 2015 film Time Lapse, the protagonists discover a machine that takes photos of their living room from 24 hours in the future. Believing that any attempt to change the future will have dire consequences for them, they meticulously stage the scenes in the photos at the required time, thus closing the loop. It gets more complicated as the film progresses though - It turns out that one of them, Callie, had secretly been seeing photos of her future self holding up written instructions for her, and after following those instructions, she wrote them down for the benefit of her younger self and made sure to pose for the photos she saw 24 hours earlier. Finally, all the events of the film culminate in a photo being taken that turns out to be the same photo the machine's inventor saw weeks earlier, and which prompted him to take actions that led to his premature death, which is what kicks off the events of the film in the first place.
  • Michael Crichton's Timeline and The Film of the Book include this trope. In the beginning of the story, the archeologists discover a sarcophagus of a one-eared man buried with his wife, seeming, for all intents and purposes, to be a knight. When the characters go back in time, one of them ends up falling in love, getting an ear cut off, and winds up staying in the past, thereby becoming the man in the sarcophagus.
  • In Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann, the protagonist from the present unwittingly goes back to the wild west and meets an attractive young woman. After getting to know her (at her insistence), she asks about a necklace, which he claims his grandmother gave him. Through the course of the film, he gradually realizes that no, these aren't a bunch of really intense historical re-enactors, while she comes to understand that he really is from the future. Just before he returns to the present, she snatches the necklace and holds it up, wordlessly and clearly explaining why she did it and who she will become.
  • Triangle has a very convoluted one. Jess comes to the harbor looking dazed and eventually ended up being on a mysterious boat and threw a masked killer overboard. She realizes she's in a Groundhog Day Loop by seeing herself boarding the mysterious boat and tries to break the chain by killing herself becoming the masked killer and getting thrown overboard. She drifted back to the shore where she was able to hitchhike back home seeing herself with her son. She killed her other self and wanted to dispose of the body which resulted in a car accident killing her son. She gets on a taxi to go to the harbor and the trauma seems to have caused amnesia. She comes to the harbor looking dazed and eventually ended up being on the mysterious boat, etc. etc. etc.


Alternative Title(s): Films

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