Project Almanac is the kind of movie where the characters are fully aware of other movies like it. That’s never been an unusual idea, because if you think about it, you’d be one of those characters, too. “Genre savvy” is what it’s called, and any human character who grew up on movies is going to have it. If a real slasher started killing your friends, you’d think about what happens in slasher movies, at least for a second before you just panicked because someone is murdering your friends. But it’s particularly true for more fantastical scenarios. If your world was suddenly populated by vampires or zombies, you’d consider the rules of movies about vampires or zombies. And if you managed to invent a time machine, you’d wonder which time travel movies got it right — especially regarding what happens to you if you encounter another version of yourself.
There are quite a number of other time travel movies referenced in some form or another in Project Almanac, too many to bother listing in this edition of Movies to Watch. Especially the really famous ones. One character mentions “Terminators one through four,” but I’m not going to recommend any of them. Same goes for Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, a clip from which even appears on screen. Then there’s Timeline, which isn’t alluded to except through the way the main actor in Project Almanac, Jonny Weston, really reminds me of a young Paul Walker. But nobody needs to see that movie. So, I’ve been selective, and only one third of the following recommended titles is from the time travel genre.
The rest are the usual variety. There are a few movies that have similar style or tone or plots outside of the primary genre and another few are linked by director and cast. And as always, this list is best avoided before seeing the movie at hand, as their reason for inclusion may have to do with SPOILERS regarding Project Almanac.
Let’s get the most obvious movie connection out of the way first. From the start, back when Project Almanac was still titled Welcome to Yesterday, it was likened to Josh Trank‘s found-footage superhero movie. Sure, there are tons of movies shot like this out there, but Chronicle similarly involves high schoolers, a sci-fi situation and selfish results. Project Almanac almost feels like a remake of Chronicle just with every instance of the words “super powers” in the script being replaced with “time travel.” Yet Chronicle is a far superior movie that not just is more consistent with its found-footage logic but also very clever in its employment. At times Project Almanac is actually more aligned with the high schoolers storyline in last year’s found-footage disaster movie, Into the Storm.
From there you might as well also go back and watch this underrated Doug Liman sci-fi flick that also shows us people with super powers being more naturally selfish and greedy rather than heroic. Now that Liman has also made a great time travel movie concerned with do-overs — Edge of Tomorrow — you may consider this the Chronicle to that movie’s Project Almanac.
The Goonies (1985)
For a good while, Project Almanac has a bit of the spirit of an old Amblin Entertainment movie. I started to think maybe producer Michael Bay had learned some good from his Transformers producer, Steven Spielberg (co-founder of Amblin and producer of The Goonies). In the first act of both The Goonies and Project Almanac, there is a financial dilemma and some of the main characters are about to lose their home as a result. They search through boxes of old stuff in an attic and find something that propels the plot and leads them on an adventure. On the way, they end up in a basement, find a significant trap door in the floor, and suddenly a hot girl that one of them likes shows up and — then they split as The Goonies follows a treasure hunt through booby-trapped caverns and Project Almanac follows a series of trips through time that contain their own peril.
While not an Amblin production, this sci-fi teen movie, which hit theaters a month after The Goonies, has a bit of that same spirit. It makes sense, because director Joe Dante had previously worked for Amblin on Gremlins. Here we have a trio of high school nerds (Ethan Hawke, River Phoenix and Jason Presson) who build a space craft together and wind up on an alien ship. Their early scenes building and testing their invention parallels the scenes of building and testing the time machine in Project Almanac all too well. Hawke’s character also has a crush on a cute girl from school that’s akin to the one had by Weston in the new movie.
My Science Project (1985)
Another month went by in the summer of 1985 and then we got this very cheesy but likable sci-fi teen movie in which John Stockwell finds an extraterrestrial engine that can transport things and people through time. What’s interesting about the movie is the plot never takes us along for a ride through time. Instead, the action sticks to the present while a ridiculous Dennis Hopper, playing a history teacher, goes back to the ’60s and returns without the narrative following him. Also, more in focus is all the stuff that the machine pulls to the present from the past and future, including ancient artifacts, Vietnam War soldiers, a Morlock-type creature from the future and a Tyrannosaurus rex.
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