Warning: This post contains MAJOR SPOILERS for Avengers: Endgame.
Avengers: Endgame was loaded with references to previous films in the MCU, but lots of other old movies were also mentioned as an easy way to describe a difficult concept.
One technique Endgame used to explain its own rules of time travel was referencing other famous time travel stories that had very different rules. Marvel wanted us to ignore everything we have ever learned from pop culture about how time travel should work, so we could understand how their version does.
How exactly has Hollywood been lying to us about messing with the past? Here are the other movies and television shows mentioned and how their time travel rules differ (or don’t) from the ones in Endgame.
Back to the Future
One of our favorite time-bending films took a beating in Endgame (no Scott, it’s not bull****), since it was presented as being a total lie. Marty McFly went to the past and changed things there, which totally altered the future, for good and bad, including nearly erasing his own existence. Those changes created a “split” in the timeline, but by going back to when the split happened he fixed things. The only people who have any memory of those changes and alternate realities having ever happened are the time travelers.
Endgame Similarity: Back to the Future is Endgame‘s total opposite, which is why it was mentioned twice as how not to think about the rules of time travel. But did they have to be so mean about it?
Hot Tub Time Machine
The hot tub lets you go back in time insofar as that your present day consciousness takes over your younger body (unless you didn’t exist during the time you travel back to, and then just materialize as yourself). By rewriting the past, you can completely rewrite your own life (or make it so you never exist), though when you arrive in the future you won’t have any memory of those new experiences you had while you were time hopping. You can also stay in the past and relive your life, abusing your knowledge of the future for personal gain.
Endgame Similarity: Just like Cap, Rob Corddry’s Lou stayed in the past and had a whole new life. However, Lou replaced his old self while Cap didn’t. Steve Rogers’ past self was still frozen in the ice. Otherwise these rules of time travel are no help for understanding Endgame.
Bill & Ted
A time traveler from a point in the future at which the Wyld Stallyns’ music has created a utopia comes back to help Bill and Ted graduate high school via their own travels to the past… so they can make the world-changing music they otherwise wouldn’t get to record. It’s an obvious paradox, but the rules in this world, full of time loops and multiple Bills and Teds, are a lot more fluid and less restrictive. You can just say you will do something later and it will become true now! If you say that, after you stop your enemy, you’ll travel to the past to hang a cage you’ll use to stop him, the cage just appears right then. It’s illogical and super convenient (and a lot easier to understand when you watch the scene).
Endgame Similarity: The Bill & Ted movies are most excellent, but useless in understanding how time travel works in the MCU.
In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, the Enterprise crew went back in time to find a humpback whale, which they brought to the future/present without any major alterations to history or the timeline. However, in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, time travel leads to a totally different, alternate timeline of events, even though everything that happened before one travels back in time will still have happened. Old Spock didn’t lose his memories, he just got trapped in the past with his younger self, who then lived his own alternate life in this parallel timeline.
Endgame Similarity: Having two version of the same person meet themselves doesn’t destroy the space-time continuum in either, as Nebula found out (nor does killing your past self make you die now). It’s far easier though to create an alternate reality in Star Trek, because you don’t need an Infinity Stone to make that happen. This is the closest parallel to Endgame time travel rules, but they’re not exactly the same.
Somewhere in Time
After finding evidence that he existed in the past, 1980 Christopher Reeve hypnotizes himself to time travel back to 1912 so he can find a woman. As an old lady in 1972, she had given him a pocket watch and said “Come back to me.” By film’s end we learn the two have always existed in this time loop, where Reeve was able to time travel because he learned he time traveled.
Endgame Similarity: The time loop element of Somewhere in Time means the past is always exactly the same, it’s just connected to the present in ways we can’t fully understand. Endgame‘s past can never be changed either, even when you change it, but those new experiences become part of a new present; there’s no loop. These films share one major similarity but a fundamental difference.
Science sent Sam Beckett back, but an unknown mystical force was responsible for bouncing him around to different time periods where his mind would enter the bodies of other people (while they were sent to his lab in the present). His actions would then change their futures, sometimes on a grand scale (sometimes even resulting in death). The past was meant to be changed, and even though we would learn what happened to them, those individuals would get to experience their new and improved lives, unaware of Sam’s role.
Endgame Similarity: Both Endgame and Quantum Leap required fooling around with quantum physics, but Sam Beckett could have actually gone back and stopped Thanos before he ever snapped his fingers.
People going back in time and changing the future is such a problem in this movie that there are time police officers who are tasked with keeping everything in check. And while the same person can occupy the same time period with a previous (or future) version of themselves, they can’t touch each other or they both explode, because the exact same matter can’t occupy the exact same place.
Endgame Similarity: In many ways, Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One is the ultimate Timecop, but there are no similarities between the two films rules. JVD can change the future by changing the past, something RDJ couldn’t.
You can go back in time to change the past, which changes the future, and you can even send radio signals to the past itself. But the one thing you absolutely can’t do is take inorganic material with you. You want to travel in time? Fine, but you’re going to be naked when you get there.
Endgame Similarity: Terminator‘s time travel rules are even more unlike Endgame‘s than even Back to the Future, because the Quantum suits would have disappeared when the Avengers went back, leaving Nebula and Rhodey naked on Morag together.
There is no time travel in Die Hard.
Endgame Similarity: Really, really off the mark. Ant-Man should probably go back in time and stop himself from using it as an example, cause this was the real B.S.
Images: Marvel, Paramount, Universal, 20th Century Fox, MGM, Orion, NBC