We previously looked at (Some of) The Best Time Travel Movies You Might Have Missed, and commented that there were many categories within the subject that might be included; we have since covered (Some of) The Best Time Travel Movies for Children, and had also mentioned romances, so here is a stab at these.
It is not an easy category to consider. For one thing, many movies that are not in themselves romance stories contain romances within them--Sarah Conner and Kyle Reese in Terminator, James Cole and Kathryn Railly in 12 Monkeys, Evan Treborn and Kayleigh Miller in The Butterfly Effect. Also, the line is not always clear--Millennium is not really about Bill Smith and Louise Baltimore, but their relationship is very much the foil against which the subject of time travel and paradox is explored.
It also is problematic that two of the best time travel romances were already recognized as two of the best films overall; but we will recognize them again. Also, several good time travel romances are also fairly well known; you are probably at least aware of some of these (and the more so if you follow this series). However, we have endeavored to create a list of good time travel romance movies, movies in which the romance is at least as significant as the time travel, which are worth watching. We agonized over the sequence in some spots, and maybe these are not all "the best", and most had some significant temporal flaws, but all were worth watching.
When we did the first article on the best unknown time travel movies, the first there was a quirky romance entitled 11 Minutes Ago. In the opening moments, the world's first time traveler arrives from the future--and is greeted by a film crew waiting to cover his arrival. They expected him because he is going to make future trips to moments earlier in the party, and as he is attempting to explain that there is no reason for him to do that an attractive girl abruptly gives him a big kiss and tells him that she's still thinking about the answer to his question. He then manages to attend almost the entire party almost entirely out of sequence, eleven minutes at a time, becoming involved in the lives of the guests and particularly the girl.
In the couple of years since our best of list was published, another wonderfully oddball romantic film was released. The driving mystery of Safety Not Guaranteed is whether Kenneth Calloway actually has a working time machine, and if not what he is really doing; but the story is really about his relationship with Darius, the reporter intern sent to get the story who becomes his companion. The film explores relationships more than time travel, and does a good job of giving us a believable bonding of two people who prove to be more the same than different.
Also on our previous list of gems, Happy Accidents features Vincent D'Onofrio and Marisa Tomei in an unlikely pairing: he came from the future simply because he wanted to meet her, but he is not allowed to tell her this, nor the deeper reason why he is here. She has trouble believing him, particularly as the truth is revealed in fragments. The black market in time travel in the future is interesting, and the interactions of time travelers in the past gives it some fascinating turns, but ultimately it is the love Sam has for Ruby that makes the story worth watching.
When Clare first meets Henry, he has been married to her for quite a few years; when he first meets her, she is very much in love with him and has been waiting for years for that moment. That is the backdrop for the love affair in The Time Traveler's Wife, a story of a relationship that spans a lifetime. Henry suffers from something like an epileptic condition, except that his "seizures" cause him to vanish from the present and appear at some other moment in time--relatively random, sometimes future, sometimes past, and in different locations. He always arrives completely naked with no notion of where or when he is or how long he will be gone. However, he frequently appears in the wood behind the home of a young girl named Clare, who happens to be the girl he married before he started landing in her backyard. Their relationship develops entirely out of sequence, as each already loves the other, to whom the other is a stranger, and wants to see the relationship blossom (although he never tells her that she is his wife before they are married). Their life together is a fascinating study, and their daughter learns to do things with the ability Henry never imagined.
In one of the most recent films we analyzed, About Time, Tim says that for him, it--the remarkable ability male members of his family have to travel to moments in their own history--was always going to be about love. He ultimately is right. He uses his strange ability to connect with Mary--or more precisely, to reconnect when he has managed accidentally to undo their first meeting and has to find a way to bring them back together. This film, though, is more about life, about whether you would change the past if you could, and about the warm relationships not only between Tim and his wife Mary, but his relationships with his sister Kit and with his father. It is made by the people who made Love, Actually, and is very much the same kind of movie in many ways. It also, interestingly enough, features as Mary Rachel McAdams, who played the title character in The Time Traveler's Wife, also on our list. Perhaps she has a knack for helping people travel through time.
The Jacket is very different from most of the films on this list. It is built as something of a murder mystery, a suspense thriller in which Jack is arrested at the scene of a murder and has no memory of events, but subsequently is mistreated by a doctor whose treatment causes him to travel in brief visits to the future--where he meets the young girl who could have provided some verification of the part of his story he did recall. In his sporadic visits they build a relationship, and he changes his own future while trying to solve his own death.
The last three on our list are all the sort that are already fairly well known, popular films with well-known actors and ample budget. They are "better" in those ways that mark an expensive film, but not necessarily in the ways that matter in time travel stories. Kate and Leopold features Meg Ryan and a debonair Hugh Jackman, separated by most of a century but brought together by the explorations of her inept boyfriend. Much of it is about the differences between the modern world and the nineteenth century, the attitudes of a nobleman transplated to America against a hard-selling Madison Avenue account executive. The resolution smacks of fixed time theory, but overall it is a laudable plot in an enjoyable story.
The Lake House is Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock maintaining a correspondence across a two-year gap thanks to the magic of a modernistic house by a lake in which they stayed a very short time apart. It begins because she leaves a note for whoever is moving in after her, but he receives it when he lives there two years before. Through their correspondence they fall in love. Yet for some reason their efforts to meet each other are stymied, and ultimately she cuts off the relationship because she decides it will never work. The complication is a major spoiler, and a clever twist, but it leads to a grandfather paradox as she undoes the event that brought them together originally.
There is a fanbase for a romance film which thinks it the greatest time travel love story of all time, Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour in Somewhere In Time. The film gets kudos for an innovative notion of time travel, as Richard Collier wills himself into the past to meet Elise McKenna, because in her last years she came to him and asked him to return to her. It has a fixed time feeling, and were it not for the inclusion of a pocket watch caught in a time loop it would be a perfect time travel story. Resolving it, though, takes much of the romance out of it, and so it is really only enjoyable if you don't think too hard about it. That can be said of many time travel films, of course, but in this case fans are usually upset at efforts to make temporal sense of the love story.
If there is a time travel romance you thought ought to have been mentioned here, drop me a note. It is possible I missed it, in one sense or another.