How Time Travel Might Become the Next Western

Peering through history, we find that seemingly everyone in the early to mid 1900s wanted to be a cowboy. When our children look back on the early to mid 2000s, they’ll find that we all wanted to become superheroes. This is because the most popular films of each time were Westerns and Superhero flicks. So then, is there anyway to find out what’s next? The Superhero genre, while still popular for now, is slowly becoming more and more cluttered. It has something to appeal to everyone, from The Avengers, to The Boys. Most can find a superhero story they love, in a similar fashion as the Western was before that genre was replaced by Space Adventure. 

While keeping up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the Disney+ miniseries Loki, and most recently watching Amazon Prime’s The Tomorrow War, something clicked and made me realize that the future’s favorite movie genre may just be the past. Both do something, that’s really only one paragraph worthy, but I think pretty interesting with Time Travel. Let’s start by looking at what’s already come before these properties in order to see how Time Travel might become the next Western. 

Many have tried to make Time Travel a more prevalent genre, from gritty realistic takes such as Interstellar, or more silly approaches like Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, but before this year, it was really only “The Big 3.” No, not androids, aliens, and wizards, these were The Terminator, Back to the Future, and Avengers: Endgame. Each of which, in one way or another, popularized a different Time Travel method that became, more or less, a staple on pop-culture. 

The Terminator franchise used the idea that by changing the past you not only create a new timeline, but can erase some from existence. This is the most confusing method, as we see in Genisys, where depending on how far back you go, it can change someone else’s past by making it your new future. Unfortunately, this idea couldn’t be put to good use as no one stopped Terminator: Dark Fate from being released.

Back to the Future’s use is easily the most simple, there is only one timeline, that can be changed by altering the past. That’s it. There are no branches or alternate realities, just hoverboards and bad future predictions. 

The last and most recent is Endgame, where it attempted to me somewhat realistic. When the characters are discussing this Hulk states, “If you travel to the past, that past becomes your future, and your former present becomes the past, which can’t now be changed by your new future.” In other words, you can’t go back in time to effect your future, but the act that you’ve even traveled through time creates a new timeline. While Endgame came out a little too recently for there to be any big examples of this being mirrored, we can it being expanded within its own universe with Loki

Within his series, a version of Loki becomes entangled with a secret group known as TVA, (Time Variance Authority). While working with them, he discovers the group is run more like a political party, or cult, with the mysterious Time Keepers, creating the organization to “Protect the sacred timeline.” So for our purposes, let’s just combine Endgame and Loki and call it, “The Big 3.5.” 

Why Tomorrow War and Loki stand out in this genre is that there isn’t really a scene where someone sits down and explains the time travel in great detail, maybe a sentence or two, but not in excruciatingly long detail. There is no big part regarding erasing timelines, to one where now Sarah Conner looks like a different actress. In Loki’s case, this is to show how convoluted the TVA is, and why Loki thinks of them as a joke. Regarding Tomorrow War, it’s to deal with what happens when you’re unable to accept choices you’ve made, or technically haven’t made yet, and what strives must be taken in order to win a second chance. 

With both these stories, the filmmakers realized that maybe as long as the Time Travel can be used as a tool to tell good stories and develop interesting character arcs, it doesn’t matter if the logic is completely sound with no flaws. Aside from “The Big 3.5,” these might be the only non-indie, big budget examples of writers putting Time Travel in the background of the story, rather that relying on it in order to captivate an audience. 

So maybe in the next 20-30 years, screenwriters won’t tackle the idea of what makes Time Travel work, but how traveling through time effects characters while creating unique and interesting storylines. For now though, unless anyone’s got a Delorean on hand, we’ll just have to wait and see.

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