The Greatest, Craziest Time Travelers in Pop Culture


There are few notions as compelling as the idea of time travel. Whether it’s the chance to make good on a past mistake, the opportunity to change the course of history, or the possibility of witnessing the far-flung future, moving through time has always held a particular fascination for the more imaginative folks among us. That’s why it’s not hard to envision the idea of a person getting a little too obsessed with the notion — and maybe going a bit bonkers in the process.

In the new film Safety Not Guaranteed, indie fave Mark Duplass (Humpday, The League) plays a man looking for a time-traveling companion via a classified ad in Backwoods magazine. Parks & Recreation‘s Aubrey Plaza is the woman who responds, as part of a journalist’s attempt to see just how crazy this guy is. But is he really nuts or is there something more to the story? Watch the trailer after the jump and decide for yourself, then join us for a look at some of our other favorite chronally challenged figures in pop culture, from an overstimulated boy and his tiger to a murderous cyborg with the face of a governor.

Safety Not Guaranteed trailer

“Doc” Emmett Brown, Back to the Future

Perhaps the most likely of this bunch to have his sanity challenged, Emmett Brown built himself a time machine out of a DeLorean (after stealing plutonium from a terrorist group, natch), and launched one of the most enduring film trilogies of all time in the process. And as much as Marty McFly is clearly our hero in Back to the Future, we’ll always hold a place in our hearts for Doc, his wide-eyed stare, and exclamation of “Great Scott!”

The Doctor, Doctor Who

When it comes to eccentric characters, you can’t do much better than the man known only as the Doctor. In fact, over the course of the past 50-odd years, he’s been nearly a dozen different eccentric characters. In addition to hopping around the time stream in a supremely misleading police-call box (aka the TARDIS), the alien Time Lord has the rare ability to regenerate every time he dies — leaving him reborn with a new body, and often, a vastly altered personality. But if there’s one thing we can say for all the Doctors over the years, it’s this: none of them have ever been what you would call “normal.”

Bill and Ted, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Ted “Theodore” Logan might not be crazy so much as a bit on the slow side, but they’d definitely fall into the category of those whose stories you wouldn’t be all that likely to believe. Of course, when they unite the entire world through their music after gallivanting through history (and the afterlife), it’s hard to deny them credence — but when they’re collecting Abe Lincoln and Socrates for a school project, sanity is pretty much out the window. Beyond the fact that we’re huge Wyld Stallyns fans, we also can’t get over the fact that we’ll actually be seeing these two again on the big screen soon.

Daniel Faraday, LOST

Pretty much everyone on “the island” of LOST ended up time traveling at one point or another, but when it comes to the kookiest of the bunch, it had to be physicist Daniel Faraday. Out of the entire group, he’s the only one who ever seemed to have a clue about what was actually going on, as well as an idea about how to fix it. It just happened to involve setting off a nuclear bomb, though — and if that wasn’t crazy enough, just look at how he ended up sealing his own fate. (We won’t spoil it for those of you who have yet to get into the series, but it’s quite the temporal twist, for sure.)

Donnie Darko, Donnie Darko

Figuring out what’s going on in Donnie Darko is about as easy as figuring out what’s going on in LOST (but also equally fun). However, one thing that’s clear is that our troubled lead doesn’t have his head screwed on entirely straight. Apparently it turns out he’s destined to save the world, and there are parallel universes involved — but whatever’s going on, Donnie’s having trouble making sense of it himself. If only he had been able to really spend some time with The Philosophy of Time Travel, he might have been less confused. Or not.

Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin and Hobbes

For proof that one doesn’t have to leave one’s own head to cross the temporal divide, we look to our favorite comic-strip child genius and his trusty tiger companion. Calvin’s time machine is probably the simplest of the bunch, requiring little more than a cardboard box and a Sharpie. Working out flaws like only traveling in the direction he was facing was an ongoing process, but it didn’t stop him from having some extremely realistic dinosaur encounters along the way. Or as realistic as anything in Calvin’s fantastic world, at least.

James Cole, 12 Monkeys

Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys isn’t his first foray into the world of time-travel (we’re major Time Bandits fans too), but it is his most disturbing. In his feature-length take on French film La jetée, it isn’t just the audience questioning the mental well-being of Bruce Willis’ character, James Cole — it’s pretty much everyone on screen too. After all, he hears voices, prophesies doom, and spends half his time in a loony bin. As it turns out, he’s got pretty good reason, what with an actual plague on the way and all. It’s only made better by the fact that the even crazier guy here, Brad Pitt as Jeffrey Goines, is such a perfect loon.

Lou Dorchen, Hot Tub Time Machine

Rob Corddry’s most shining cinematic moment (so far) casts him as one of a group of friends tossed back in time — specifically to the ’80s — but if there’s any one of them that truly goes off the rails, it’s this guy. Chevy Chase plays the requisite eccentric mystery man with some knowledge of what’s going on, but it’s Corddry who throws caution to the wind and completely takes advantage of the situation. He’s lewd, crude, and ultimately lovable, despite it all.

Sam Beckett, Quantum Leap

We never thought anyone would be able to turn “Oh boy” into an enduring catchphrase, but this man did it. After a physics experiment gone wrong, not only was he left bouncing through the timestream, but he also kept landing in other people’s bodies — men, women, kids, even a dog. Better yet, he had to figure out how to solve their problems and course-correct their timelines if he ever wanted to move on. Fortunately he some help from the future, in the shape of his hologram friend Al and a computer named Ziggy. All of this leaves Sam with some serious memory problems, which he often describes as a “swiss-cheese brain” effect.

The Terminator, The Terminator

No, he wasn’t born crazy — he was just programmed that way. Arnold’s original homicidal cyborg came back from the future with a simple mission: kill Sarah Connor and preemptively destroy the human resistance before it can ever begin. Fortunately for us (or the future us), he didn’t pull it off, but he did pull off the birth of one of history’s greatest catchphrases: “I’ll be back.” Which, of course, takes on a whole new perspective when one can move freely through time.

So what do you think? Did we miss any of your favorite time-traveling headcases on this list? Tell us in the comments below and be sure to check out Safety Not Guaranteed, in theaters now!