Ars Live: Join us July 9 for a lively discussion on time travel in the movies


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Since antiquity, humans have envisioned various means of time travel into the future or the past. The concept has since become a staple of modern science fiction. In particular, the number of films that make use of time travel has increased significantly over the decades, while the real-world science has evolved right alongside them, moving from simple Newtonian mechanics and general relativity to quantum mechanics and the notion of a multiverse or more exotic alternatives like string theory.

But not all time-travel movies are created equal. Some make for fantastic entertainment, but the time travel makes no scientific or logical sense, while others might err in the opposite direction, sacrificing good storytelling in the interests of technical accuracy. That’s why last fall, we gave you the Ars Guide to Time Travel in the Movies, co-written by yours truly and my spouse, physicist Sean Carroll of Johns Hopkins University. The aim was to help us all make better, more informed decisions when it comes to choosing our time travel movie fare—and have a bit of fun while doing so.

The guide was never meant to be an exhaustive/comprehensive list; rather, we selected films that represented many diverse approaches to time travel across multiple subgenres and decades. We then evaluated each one—grading on a curve—with regard to its overall entertainment value and scientific logic, with the final combined score determining a film’s spot on the overall ranking. Does the time travel make logical sense? Second, is the physical mechanism of time travel somewhat realistic? And third, does the film use time travel in narratively interesting ways? So a movie like Looper, which makes absolutely no sense if you think about it too hard, gets points for weaving time paradoxes thoroughly into the fabric of the story.

Naturally, some fan favorites didn’t make the list, and plenty of people took issue with our final rankings (and occasionally our scientific and logical analysis). Nor did we include films that used the repeating time loop trope, simply to narrow down the scope a little bit.

All of that means there’s plenty of fodder for an Ars Live discussion. We’ve put together a terrific panel of experts to do just that—and we’ll also be taking all your burning questions about time travel in the movies.

In addition to myself and Sean, we’ll be hosting screenwriter Ed Solomon, best known for the Bill & Ted franchise as well as 1997’s Men in Black. (Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure earned a prominent spot in our guide.) Also joining us is physicist Jim Kakalios of the University of Minnesota, who teaches a hugely popular freshman seminar entitled “Everything I Needed to Know About Physics I Learned from Reading Comic Books.” Kakalios is also the author of the bestselling book The Physics of Superheroes and is sure to have some strong opinions on our chosen topic.

This is the second Ars Live event this year; we’re reviving the series after several years’ dormancy. During these discussions, reporters and editors at Ars Technica speak with industry leaders about the most important science, technology, and cultural news of the day. So please join us at 2 pm ET (18:00 UTC) on July 9 on our YouTube livestream.

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