Back to the future

This year, moviegoers can party like it’s 1999. Or 2042, 1969 or any other year they choose, because 2012 is a time for time travel movies. Here to help you navigate the murky waters of cinematic anachronism is a time travel primer – and yes, that is also a time travel movie reference.

The movie: Men in Black 3

Opening: May 25

Time frame: 1969-2012

The plot: “Somehow, history has been rewritten,” Emma Thompson’s character explains to Will Smith’s government agent, named J. “There has to be a reason this is happening, and K seems to be at the centre of it.” Smith must travel back to 1969 to unravel the mystery, a trip that involves a dive from the top of the Chrysler building. Or as his time travel guide puts it: “First we’ve got to get high.”

Future tech: Giant-wheeled personal transports that look like they were borrowed from Star Wars

Future cred: Josh Brolin, who plays the younger version of Tommy Lee Jones’s K, starred in a 1995 episode of The Outer Limits in which his character’s virtual-reality generator showed him the future.

The movie: Looper

Opening: Sept. 28

Time frame: 2012-2042

The plot: Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a “looper,” an assassin who kills people from the future who have transported to our present. (Makes the Jimmy Hoffa mystery seem like child’s play in comparison.) “Time travel has not been invented yet, but 30 years from now it will have been,” he explains, with an admirable grasp of chrono-grammar. Trouble ensues when one of his victims, played by Bruce Willis, turns out to be an older version of himself.

Future tech: The trailer features a quick shot of some kind of flying car, of course. They’re always about 30 years in the future, no matter when you are.

Future cred: Willis starred in 1995’s Twelve Monkeys as James Cole, a future-dweller who also crosses paths with a younger version of himself in a life-or-death situation. And if you need more, Gordon-Levitt featured in a 1995 episode of Quantum Leap, set in 1983.

The movie: Sound of My Voice

Opening: May 11

Time frame: 2012-2054

The plot: A couple of independent journalists investigate a cult led by a woman named Maggie (Brit Marling) who claims to be from 2054. “Your future,” she clarifies, in case you don’t have a calendar handy.

“It’s a really dark time,” she adds. “Every life is a death.”

Future tech: Not much, unless you count Maggie’s futuristic anchor tattoo.

Future cred: Again, not much, but Marling starred in the science fiction thinker Another Earth, about a duplicate planet with a slightly alternate timeline.

The movie: Safety Not Guaranteed

Opening: June 8

Time frame: Unknown, possibly just 2012

The plot: Three magazine journalists (again with the journalists!) investigate a man (Mark Duplass) who has writ-ten the following classified ad: “WANTED. Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.”

Future tech: Nothing in the trailer, although there are some nice future ethics. “No matter how tempting it will be,” says Duplass’s character, “we’re never ever going to say, hey, leave your Star Wars figurines in the box because they’ll be worth, like, hundreds more.” A wise move, avoiding what physicists refer to as the mint-condition paradox.

Future cred: Not much, although Jake M. Johnson, who plays one of the journalists, had a part on the short-lived TV show Flashforward, about an event that gives everyone on Earth a peek into their future.

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