The Best Time Loop Tales of All Time-news

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Boss Level (Image: Quantrell D. Colbert/Hulu)

This week sees the streaming premiere of Boss Level on Hulu, Joe Carnahan’s new action flick about a badass caught in a repeating time loop that’s reset every time he dies. If this sounds familiar, you could be caught in a time loop yourself—or maybe you’ve just seen this trope before. It’s a popular one in all sorts of media, and we decided to travel the timestream and collect our favorites, over and over again.


Cause And Effect

Although a certain movie that we’ll get to in a second is widely considered to have popularized the time loop concept, this Season 5 episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation actually aired almost a year before it. The Enterprise is destroyed after colliding with another ship, but instead of everybody dying and ending the series, time rewinds to about a day before the accident and starts again. Eventually, Dr. Crusher finds she can pick up audio from previous loops, and the crew uses it to avert the catastrophe, finding that the other ship has been stuck in the same time vortex for 90 years. (Stream it on NetflixNetflix, HuluHulu, Amazon VideoAmazon Video, and CBS All AccessCBS All Access)


Groundhog Day

By far the best-known repeating time loop movie, this 1993 film follows a TV weatherman who heads to Pennsylvania to watch the titular rodent pop its head up and predict the rest of the winter. When a blizzard hits Punxsutawney, he’s forced to stay the night—only to wake up once again on the day before. He tries everything to break the loop before realizing that finding love and becoming a good person is the only way out. Palm Springs on Hulu has a similar premise. (Stream it on AMC+AMC+)


The Dark Tower

Stephen King’s dark fantasy epic has always stood apart from the bulk of his work. Spanning 4,250 pages over eight novels, it follows Roland Deschain as he quests for the titular tower, a nexus point between universes. In the final part of the story, Roland finally reaches the structure after much sacrifice and gains entrance, but in the coda (which King, in his authorial voice, urges you not to read) realizes that this isn’t his first quest, and the book ends with the same sentence that the first volume began with, just to drive it home.


The Legend Of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

This N64 classic is an example of a time loop that’s partially controlled by the protagonist. Link wakes up in Termina, a world threatened by the impact of the massive moon, which will make landfall in three days. To stop it, he needs to lift a set of curses and defeat the nefarious Skull Kid. But doing all that in 72 game hours (a little under an hour of real playing time) is well-nigh impossible without the aid of the Ocarina of Time, which resets Link back to the beginning of the loop while preserving his major accomplishments. It was a wild reimagining of the series’ core concepts and remains an all-time classic.


Edge Of Tomorrow

This Tom Cruise vehicle flew under the radar in theaters when it debuted in 2014, but has built a solid cult following. Cruise plays a military public relations officer who gets trapped in a never-ending cycle of battle triggered by an alien race waging war on the Earth. The explanation for the loop is remarkably elegant—the aliens have a collective consciousness that can reset time when they lose, so it’s a constant dance between the two sides that the humans don’t even know they’re doing. This one really captures the exhaustion of looping time. (Stream it on TBS with cable loginTBS with cable login or Hulu with Live TV)


Bioshock Infinite

Most time loops are used to tell stories of hopefulness, of people transcending their limitations and breaking free of the skeins of fate. But Booker DeWitt, the protagonist of Bioshock Infinite, isn’t so lucky. After being dispatched to the floating city of Columbia to rescue a young woman, DeWitt discovers that this isn’t his first rodeo. In fact, he’s been there a whopping 112 times on the same mission. It’s all part of an extremely twisty looping plot that sees the roles of hero and villain blurred.


Source Code

Sometimes loops aren’t quite what they seem. The premise of Source Code involves a device that reconstructs the last eight minutes of a person’s life and lets somebody loop through them as many times as they want. A US Army pilot is put in it to find the identity of a train bomber to prevent his next attack, but things quickly take a turn when he learns that time loops come with serious consequences to the dimensional fabric. (Stream it on Showtime)


House Of X

Jonathan Hickman’s radical reimagining of the X-Men’s convoluted history sprung from a fascinating revelation: Moira MacTaggert, a long-running supporting character, is actually a mutant with the power to loop her own life. Every time she dies, she starts over with all her memories and tries to ensure peace between human and mutantkind. Nine times she’s tried so far, and nine times she’s failed. Now she’s on her tenth and last loop, and making more ambitious moves than ever.


Happy Death Day

The idea of a time loop is innately horrifying, and this 2017 slasher flick ups the ante with one extremely nasty twist: the injuries that protagonist Theresa “Tree” Gelbman suffers from the masked killer who murders her over and over on her looping birthday stick around, meaning that after a few trips through she’s already worn down. She does eventually figure out the identity of her repeat murderer and break out of the loop… until the sequel comes along and amps up the mayhem even more.


Russian Doll

One of the most interesting things about the time loop premise is how it can be used to gain insight into elements of a character’s inner life by seeing how they adapt their reactions to repeating stimuli. In the 2019 Netflix original series Russian DollRussian Doll, Natasha Lyonne stars as game developer Nadia Vulvokov, who is cursed to repeat the night of her 36th birthday party over and over. Instead of a traditional fixed loop, Nadia resets every time she dies, which makes things even more complicated—especially when she runs into a guy having the same problem.

Boss Level premieres March 5 on Hulu.

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