If you know me, you know I absolutely loved Happy Death Day, a slasher film that came out this past October. You also probably know how much the film was inspired by the 1984 comedy classic Groundhog Day, and that I simply love that premise when it’s used in other films and entertainment. Happy Death Day is out on Blu-ray and DVD today, so I couldn’t help but to revisit the film and others like it.
Shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Star Trek: The Next Generation used the premise to incredibly great effect, bringing us two of the finest episodes during the ’90s. In fact, the time loop episode of TNG – “Cause and Effect” – aired a year before Groundhog Day hit theatres. Maybe I’ll end up stuck in my own time loop until I figure out the origin of this premise.
Anyway, before my day runs out, here are the five films that best utilize this classic trope:
1) Source Code – 2011
Army pilot Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) awakens to find himself part of a top secret project being experimented now – the day a commuter train into Chicago exploded inexplicably, killing everyone aboard. We follow him as he is forced to relive the increasingly brief window of the past in order to discover the culprit and where they planted the bomb on the train. Stevens finds himself in someone else’s body with partial amnesia. His only contact from home is Colleen (Vera Farmiga), a voice in his head he can only see when he returns from each “leap to the past”. Setting right things which once went wrong, Stevens leaps back to the beginning of the day, hoping each time that he will figure out their problem, as well as his own. Why is he stuck in this experiment? Can he save the people aboard this train, including Sean Fentress, the man he’s leapt into? While this may sound familiar just because of the Groundhog Day situation, it also sounds eerily reminiscent of another favorite show of mine, Quantum Leap. Director Duncan Jones even finds the chance to sneak a Scott Bakula cameo in there, so keep an ear out for him. Including incredible supporting work from Jeffrey Wright as the scientist bent on manipulating the Source Code machine he’s developed, as well as Michelle Monaghan as Sean’s love interest (who Stevens of course romances), this is one of the sharpest sci-fi films of the last decade, let alone one of my favorites of all time. You’re in for a treat of the senses if you rent this next.
2) Edge of Tomorrow – 2014
Following on the footsteps of that predecessor, Tom Cruise couldn’t help but to take a chance on the Source Code success. He latched on to the Doug Liman-helmed adaptation of the Japanese novel All You Need is Kill, which tells the story of Major William Cage, a PR officer forced by corrupt superiors to head to the frontline of an unwinnable war, where he meets the courageous Special Forces commander Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) and heads out into battle with her. Almost immediately decimated by the enemy, Cage wakes up again right as he arrives on base. Realizing after a few rounds of death that he’s in some sort of time loop, he immediately plays with the rules and attempts to find out why his superiors wanted him dead, and whether or not this war will ever be finished. What comes next is a play on existentialism and sacrifice, morality of war and affection in a crisis. Like a souped-up version of Source Code, try your best not be charmed by Cruise or Blunt as they take you through a Call of Duty-sized masterpiece.
3) Triangle –
This little seen gem is so brilliant, you don’t realize it until it’s halfway over. I’m surprised no one has truly capitalized on the idea of being lost in the Bermuda Triangle before, but perhaps I’ve just missed some truly awful films that touched upon the area. In this, a group of friends head out for a sail on the ocean when their boat becomes capsized in a storm. Running across an abandoned ocean liner while floating with their wreckage, the group sets out to discover if they can be rescued, and why there’s an abandoned ocean liner in the middle of the ocean. Melissa George (The Limey, Alias) has never been better as the innocent bystander swept up in a nautical mystery that plays on dreams and the feeling of deja vu. I don’t want to give away anything for what could amount to a beautiful viewing for you, but trust me – the Bermuda Triangle ain’t messing around. Let’s just say this is like if Ned Ryerson wandered out of town to find the results of Phil’s misfortune?
4) Run Lola Run – 1998
Almost more Rashomon than Groundhog Day, this small-crime thriller puts its players in a thrilling chase against time in order to survive. The result is three separate tales of possible outcomes. Lowlife Manni loses the 100,000 marks he was supposed to deliver to crime boss Ronnie and turns to his girlfriend Lola for help. She immediately tells him not to do something drastic (as he’s confessed he may simply rob a nearby grocery) and instead heads to her bank manager father for assistance. From there, the events are re-told three times – from different points of view, hence the feeling of Rashomon – but it’s distinctly as if the day repeats itself because someone dies in each scenario. As the day gets increasingly harder for Lola, played with incredible ferocity by newcomer Franka Potente (later of The Bourne Identity), the stakes only ramp up faster. Lucky for us, all the twists and turns are resolved each time, and we can only hope the final outcome is the survival of this German version of Bonnie and Clyde. One of the best foreign films to come out of the 1990s, this was also most Americans’ introduction to Tom Tykwer (Cloud Atlas, A Hologram for the King).
5) Before I Fall
This one is newer, and I admit I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ve heard great things about it. How is it that we got two great Groundhog Day homages in the same year? I don’t mind at all. This is probably the young adult version of the tale, as it follows Samantha (Zoey Deutch), a prissy Mean Girl who heads out after school one night to celebrate Cupid’s Day with some friends at a party. On the way home, their car crashes and everyone is dead. Not wanting to end up in a Final Destination-sort of way, Samantha goes about tweaking moments from the day until she solves what went wrong, and along the way learns how much better it is to be nice. Isn’t that the whole point of being Bill Murray after all?
Are there any others I missed? I know About Time has some similarities with The Time Traveler’s Wife more than Groundhog Day, but it seems like it could be fun. Let us know in the comments, and hopefully you’ve gone out to the store (or online) to re-watch Happy Death Day or one of these classics.