At night, when the sky is glistening with millions of stars, there may dawn the realization that we humans are utterly tiny in comparison to the ever-expanding universe(s). Therefore, if we who inhabit one planet and exist within a massive galaxy are so small, then the question arises that there should be more beyond the life that we know. The multiverse theory and many-worlds hypothesis delves deeper into this thought with concepts of parallel universes and even altered realms that resemble nothing we are used to. The complexity and ambiguity of the subject has made it the catalyst for decades of discussion, experiments, and, most importantly for our purposes, entertaining movies.
The range of possibilities regarding the multiverse means that the topic has spanned across many film genres like dramas, thrillers, horror, and even romance. These movies give an insight into the desire countless people have to alter their past or live out a completely different life, as well as the dire impact that doing this can have on the future (and even the psychology of the present). However, they also convey how limitless the multiverse may be and explores the idea that many worlds can exist simultaneously. With the Marvel Cinematic Universe quickly becoming a staggeringly large multiverse which garners endless popularity and box office figures, and the very highly-anticipated Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness hitting theaters this year, let’s take a look at the best movies about the multiverse and the many-worlds theory.
5 The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)
The Chronicles of Narnia was the fantasy film that had children across the globe peeking into the back of their wardrobes. Based on the C.S Lewis novel (and Christian allegory) of the same name, this first in the epic series of films centers on four children (Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy) who are evacuated during the Blitz against England in World War II and sent to live in the countryside. During their stay, they find a wardrobe that leads them to the fantasy world of Narnia, where they ally with the creator of Narnia, Aslan, against the evil powers of the White Witch. The discovery of talking Lions and friendly Fauns by merely looking into an old wardrobe sparked a phenomenon around the world, giving hope to fans that the key to a beautifully enchanted realm was not out of reach, that there is another world hidden within and parallel to our own. It’s no surprise that a film which encourages such a sense of wonder like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe would gain worldwide success, earning a staggering $745 million at the box office and receiving positive reviews. Following the achievements of the first film, two more installments entered into the Narnia universe with Prince Caspian (2008) and finally The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010). While not as high earning as the first film, these follow-ups were still adored by fans and the franchise grossed a total of $1.5 billion worldwide. It’s a hopeful film which may not examine the science of the multiverse, but certainly locates one of the central hopes surrounding it– that all is not lost, that there are worlds in which some things can still be fixed.
4 Looper (2012)
Directed by Rian Johnson (also known for the brilliant Brick and Knives Out), Looper revolves around present day (2044) contract killers called loopers who are hired by criminal syndicates from the future (2074) to terminate victims that are sent back through time. To hide their connection to the syndicate, any loopers who survive until 2074 are sent back and killed by their younger selves, therefore closing the loop. However, a problem occurs when Joe (Joseph-Gordon-Levitt) fails to kill his older self (Bruce Willis) and subsequently faces dire consequences. This film highlights the importance of decisions in the past and how sacrifices sometimes need to be made in order to secure a better future. While the emphasis is on time travel, the science behind it is dependent upon the many-worlds hypothesis, which also gives the film a more epic scope. With profound performances from the cast and a wonderfully intricate plot, Looper won numerous awards, including the Critics’ Choice Movie Award for Best Sci-Fi/Horror Movie. This movie provokes the thought that we may exist in another form somewhere else in the multiverse, forcing one to ponder the unsettling situation of being confronted with an alternate version of themselves.
3 The Butterfly Effect (2004)
Starring Ashton Kutcher in one of his more serious roles, The Butterfly Effect focuses on a college student who, after suffering from blackouts and memory loss throughout his childhood, later discovers that he can travel back through time and inhabit his former self during his blackout periods. With his adult mind conscious in his younger body, he attempts to alter the past and ultimately change the present to better the lives of himself and his friends. However, like all dabbles with time travel, there are consequences, and the interesting aspect here is how shifting past events in one iteration of the universe can ripple outward and effect every universe in the multiverse (like the old adage about a butterfly flapping its wings in one place and causing a typhoon in another). The Butterfly Effect is actually a heartbreaking movie that deals with childhood psychological trauma and the impact it has on adulthood. It details the fork-in-the-road decisions life presents and the wish many have to return to the past in order to reshape their future. Although The Butterfly Effect did not receive critical acclaim, it was a financial success, earning $96.8 million at the box office from a $13 million budget. Two straight-to-video follow-ups were made that had no relation to the first film or to each other and were both panned by critics, but the original is a provocative, dark classic.
2 Tenet (2020)
The majority of other-world movies focus on a single alternate universe, but Tenet resembles a maze of realms that need to be reshaped until it reflects a single coherent piece. From Academy Award-winning director Christopher Nolan, Tenet follows a secret agent who learns to manipulate the flow of time so as to prevent an attack from the future which threatens to destroy the present world. Starring John David Washington and Robert Pattinson, the film features epic scenes as timelines in the multiverse overlap with one another, creating eye-grabbing action sequences of characters fighting alternate versions of themselves and high-speed car chases in reverse. Although the film is a lot to digest and some have called it “baffling,” it is this complexity that makes it an instant classic within the sci-fi world as the audience, along with the characters, struggle to endure the time loop. Grossing a modest $363 million against a $200 million budget due to the limitations of the pandemic, Tenet was credited for preventing the closure of thousands of cinemas and won various awards including the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. There have been no talks of a sequel of yet, and considering this film took Christopher Nolan more than five years to write, it’s clear we will not be hearing word about it any time soon.
1 Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
The first major, theatrically released animated film in the Spider-Man franchise, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse uses its incredible animation to tell the story of a young boy named Miles Morales as he becomes the new Spider-Man and joins the other Spider-People from parallel universes in order to save his universe from the crime lord, Kingpin. This movie gave refreshing and progressive versions of the Spider-People as they were all ages, sizes, and sometimes not even human, as one might expect from the multiverse. Along with the exciting plot and humor, this film displayed a unique Spider-Man in contrast to what audiences are used to. Miles Morales comes from a Puerto-Rican and African-American background, and all of his family members are still living. This new depiction of Spider-Man was greatly favored by fans and critics alike, with the film winning Best Animated Feature at the 91st Academy Awards and collecting numerous awards at the Golden Globes. With the multiverse being the feature of a few Marvel movies of late, fans are eager to see how far the many-worlds theory can go, especially as it relates to their favorite heroes. Their wish has been granted as two follow-ups of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse are set to be released on October 7th 2022 and an unknown date in 2023 respectively.
Phil Lord and Chris Miller revealed that each dimension in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse will have its own animation style.
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