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4 Time Travel Movies Marvel’s Copied (& 4 It’s Rejected)

Summary The MCU’s time travel rejects conventional time travel rules, avoiding plot holes and establishing clear boundaries.
Avengers: Endgame draws inspiration from Back to the Future, implying the need to course-correct the changed past.
The MCU’s time travel is more similar to Star Trek’s time heist and Palm Springs’ time loop than films like Terminator and Looper.
The MCU has used time travel for various purposes, drawing inspiration from a wide range of pre-existing media while still rejecting many conventionally accepted conceits of the idea other films have used. Time travel is always a tricky subject to explain, with the best time travel movies clearly establishing rules that are followed to a tee. Less-successful science fiction stories dip their toes into the waters of the idea to disastrous effects, the presence of poorly-explained time travel being a surefire way to open up dozens of plot holes.
The most prominent example of time travel in the MCU is undoubtedly Avengers: Endgame, in which the remaining members of the Avengers go on a “time heist” to steal back the Infinity Stones from the past in order to wish everyone back to life. When Hulk explains the mechanics of time travel in the MCU, he directly rejects the conventions of several time travel movies named by War Machine and Ant-Man, much to the pair’s chagrin. However, there are a few films Marvel has clearly drawn inspiration from when it comes to their own brand of time travel.
8 Back To The Future
Copied
Despite Ant-Man’s bewildered response to Hulk’s explanation, “So Back To The Future is a bunch of bull****?”, Avengers: Endgame copies Back To The Future more than it would like to admit. While it’s true that the MCU’s time travel machine can’t change the present by altering the past, the reverse seems to still apply. Much like Marty ensuring that his parents fall in love in order to conceive him, Captain America is tasked with replacing the Infinity Stones (as well as Thor’s hammer), at the exact moment they were stolen, implying a need to at least somewhat course-correct the changed past.
7 The Terminator
Rejected
The premise of the Terminator franchise revolves around the rogue A.I. Skynet’s attempts to squash the human resistance by killing the mother of its leader, John Connor. In Avengers: Endgame, War Machine suggests a similar course of action, wondering out loud why the group doesn’t just use their time machine to kill a baby Thanos, much to Hulk’s horror. Beyond the ethics surrounding the idea, Hulk asserts that killing Thanos in the past before he enacts the snap won’t change anything in their present, solidfying the branching timeline nature of the MCU’s time travel.
6 Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Copied
Star Trek is mentioned in War Machine’s list of time travel media whose mechanics are rejected by Hulk. However, as it’s unclear which of Star Trek’s many examples of time travel Rhodey is referring to, one film stands out as actually being very similar to Avengers: Endgame’s time heist. In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, the crew of the Enterprise must travel far back in time to steal, of all things, a living humpback whale, whose form of communication is critical to a crisis facing the Federation. This mirrors the Avengers’ time heist almost too perfectly, even including the crew splitting up and going to various locations to get away with rescuing the creature.
5 Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban
Rejected
Of all the films featuring time travel, Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban features the possibly tightest closed loop of causality ever put to screen. Harry and Hermione’s efforts in using the time turner sync up perfectly with past events, creating an ouroboros of cause-and-effect that ensures every single action taken by the duo is essentially destined. Considering the T.V.A. of Loki fame in the MCU exists solely to monitor the sacred timeline, pruning the many branches of alternate timelines created by time travel shenanigans in order to protect a single, deliberately-chosen line, Harry Potter’s time travel starkly contrasts the MCU’s.
4 Palm Springs
Copied
Close
One of the best time loop movies ever made, Palm Springs is a sprightly romantic comedy featuring two guests at a destination wedding that become trapped in a Groundhog’s Day-style repeating day, continuously time-traveling to the day’s beginning without fail. The MCU has featured a similar two-person time loop, only in a much less romantic context. When Doctor Strange finds himself unable to defeat the evil entity, Dormammu, he instead uses the Time Stone to trap him in a similar repeated instance of time, frustrating the trapped all-powerful being of darkness into conceding his hold on the material world.
3 Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Rejected
Another entry on War Machine’s list of time travel pop culture touchstones rejected by the MCU’s science, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure clashes with Marvel’s logic in more ways than one. Not only do the Bill and Ted movies feature a malleable past that can affect the future, but the first film takes it a step further, insinuating that one can influence the present by simply planning to do so in the future. Bill and Ted demonstrate this when they free themselves from a jail cell by simply planning to leave the keys for themselves in the future, a truly mind-bending display of malleable time travel logic.
2 Interstellar
Copied
Christopher Nolan’s poignant science fiction odyssey, Interstellar explores the effects of space-time dilation on humans in space in a way that is incredibly accurate to real-world physics. As the characters in Interstellar travel through space, they experience time at a much faster rate than their families on Earth, leading to a heart-breaking moment in which Cooper sees videos of his daughter aging years over the course of a single day. Avengers: Endgame plays with this same idea, as Ant-Man experiences five years in the Quantum Realm in a matter of hours.
1 Looper
Rejected
Rian Johnson’s science fiction thriller offers some fairly consistent time travel rules, only to be completely eschewed by the MCU’s approach. Rather than Marvel’s easily-branching timelines, Looper insists on a single chain of events with a powerful flow of time, creating a closed loop, as the title implies. However, with a significant enough change, the flow of time in Looper is powerful enough to outright erase paradoxes in the blink of an eye. This overwhelming commitment to only a single timeline couldn’t be more different than the MCU’s multilinear time travel.

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