Time Travel in Fiction Rundown


This video is sponsored by the YouTube Red
Sci-Fi Series “Lifeline”. For ages I’ve been wanting to make a video
analyzing time travel in fiction – not the magical or physical mechanisms by which the
time travel is supposedly achieved , but rather, the different ways time travel can influence
causality (and thus the plot) within the universe of each story. Needless to say, there are spoilers ahead! Let’s start with Ender’s Game by Orson Scott
Card – time travel in this book is actually 100% realistic: the characters experience
slower passage of time when they travel close to light speed, allowing just a few days or
months to pass for those traveling while years pass on earth or other planets. It’s traveling forward through time like we
normally do, but at different rates. This kind of time travel doesn’t “change the
past” or allow characters to make different decisions than the ones they already did – it’s
all one consistent historical trajectory. The original Planet of the Apes film is similar,
where astronauts experience extreme time dilation and then crash land on a strange ape-ruled
planet that (major spoiler) turns out to just be earth in the distant future. But what about actual time-travel time travel? Well, I would say there are two big distinguishing
features between different types of time travel in fiction. The first is whether or not the time traveler
is there when history happens the “first time around” – that is, is there a kind of “self-consistency”
where, since time travel takes you to the past, when the past happened the first time,
the time-traveling version of you was always there to begin with? Or does the very act of time traveling to
the past change what happened and force the universe onto a different trajectory of history
from the one you experienced prior to traveling? And the second distinguishing feature is:
who has free will when somebody is time traveling. Like, whose actions are allowed to move history
onto a different trajectory, and whose aren’t? One of the simplest time travels is “do-over”
time travel, where you essentially get to re-play history starting exactly as it was
at a certain point, with the only caveat being you remember your experiences from already
having tried various possible future timelines (while no one else does). It’s essentially like playing a video game
where you can start a level over with the foresight of what you did wrong the first
time. For example, in Groundhog Day Bill Murray’s
character relives the same day over and over again, and though he can make different choices
each time, he always starts back at the same point (except with new memories of his previous
choices). That is, until he figures out the one exact
set of choices that frees him from the loop. I consider “A Christmas Carol” to be in this
vein, too, even though it may not seem like time travel. But because Scrooge gets to visit the future
of his current timeline, even though he has no ability to affect the timeline directly
while “visiting”, he can still change his actions in the present based on what he learns,
essentially getting a “do-over.” The video game Braid is built on the idea
of “do-overs”, where you get to rewind a few seconds and try something different
(though there are some things that are immune to going back in time and don’t “rewind”,
which is what makes the game interesting). Braid also has another kind of time travel,
where you go back to your past as a separate individual, and the past version of you is
there with no free will, just doing exactly what you did the first time around, while
“time-traveling you” can change the course of history. This is also how the video “Clock Blockers”
by the Corridor Digital youtube channel works. And then there’s time travel where the very
act of going to the past or future creates a fully new trajectory of history because
time-traveling you weren’t there the first time around, and now you are. This includes the typical “anything goes”
time travel movies like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Back to the Future, Star Trek First
Contact, and so on, where you can kind of instantly jump back and forth to any point
in time you want, potentially resulting in multiple versions of yourself. From a causality perspective, anything you
do in the past (and even just the act of going back in time) redirects the course of history
onto a new timeline – in Back to the Future, Marty’s interference with his parents falling
in love results in the timeline of history being redirected towards a version of the
future where he doesn’t exist and so he starts to disappear from photos and real life. And even after correcting that major deviation,
his interactions with his parents while he’s in the past result in them being very different
people when he returns to his present time; he accidentally caused history to progress
in a slightly different direction. The movie ”Looper” is similar, but there’s
a little more circularity because when you jump to the past, you cause history to branch
onto on a trajectory where, in the future, the younger you also goes back in time the
same way you just did. Both you and your past self still have enough
free will to change that forward course of history, though, which results in weirdness
like you getting new memories when your past self does things you yourself didn’t do, or
if they lose a body part, suddenly you’ll lose it too, replaced by an old scar on your
own body. So, changes to the present affect not just
future timelines, but also future timelines that wrap back around to the present! The indie film Primer is in the same vein,
except that it takes the plot device of time travel to the extreme, with time travel within
time travel within time travel, time-traveling characters interacting with other time-traveling
versions of themselves, bringing time machines with them to the past inside other time machines,
and so on. But beyond the complexity, there are two things
that make Primer stand out: first, time travel to the past isn’t an instantaneous jump, but
actually takes time: to go back 6 hours, you sit in the time machine for what feels like
6 hours. And time travel can’t take you back to a time
before a given time machine was initially activated, since of course, the machine can
only be taking you back in time inside it if it’s turned on, so the first time it was
turned on is the farthest back in time you can go. There’s a nice logic to it. Which brings us to perhaps my all time favorite
of all fictional time travel: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It’s an “instantly jump back in time” kind
of time travel that doesn’t actually generate any new timelines. It manages that because in this universe,
while you were experiencing your initial, pre-time-travel passage through a particular
point in history, your “time-traveling clone” was also already there, doing everything you’ll
eventually do when you time travel yourself. For example, Harry and friends are saved from
dying by their time-traveling selves, the first time through that timeline. It makes so much sense – if you go back
in time, you really and truly were present at that point in time all along! This also means that during the period of
overlap, the time-traveling you has no actual free will, since everything you do has in
some sense already been done, which Harry comprehends when he realizes he has to save
his past self because he was already saved by his future self when he was in the past. I think I love this kind of time travel because
it manages to be logically consistent: it’s time travel to the past where you can’t change
the past, because the past already happened. And there’s only one timeline – the one
in which time travelers arrive from the future, do stuff, and at some later date, leave to
go to the past. Logical consistency is a primary thing that,
you may have noticed, I think lays the foundation for good time travel stories – not because
logical consistency is important in an of itself, but because, most of the time, in
order to care about the characters in a story, we have to believe that actions have consequences. If everything is just a meaningless series
of events, then we almost don’t have a story. So it’s really helpful if there are rules
by which the universe of the story functions, whatever those rules may be. Speaking of actions with consequences, I finally
got the kick in the pants I needed to make this video from my friends at the Corridor
Digital YouTube channel. They’ve asked me to help promote their new
YouTube Red Original Series, “Lifeline”, which, minor spoilers ahead… is a sci fi
action thriller with time travel in it. What kind of time travel, you ask? Essentially, if somebody dies in the future,
that sends a message back to the present, which allows people to jump forward to just
before the time the person dies and change the trajectory of history from that point
onwards, averting their death. But as you might imagine, things eventually
go awry. Anyway, you can check out the first episode
of Lifeline for free on the Corridor Digital channel or by following the links onscreen
or in the description . And fun facts: I actually know the Corridor guys from back before MinutePhysics,
when I was doing special effects for the “freddiew” channel. We also all grew up in neighboring towns in
Minnesota and even competed against each other in high school sports , though we didn’t know
each other at the time. But enough trivia – go check out their

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100 thoughts on “Time Travel in Fiction Rundown”

  1. Kernels says:

    I like harry potter's time travel as well.
    It's like they were destined to travel time, editting their past didn't change anything because it was destined that their future selves would save them.

    Good logic.

  2. Oeshen Playz1036 says:

    is it impossible to kill yourself in the past because you would be already bead before you time traveled and your time travel would be dead and also where did the first loop came from and if you time travel in the future and go to the past you wont see yourself in the past you went to and going to parallel universes would make you stay there until you did what you did before you went there.

  3. M. E. Ferreira says:

    Now I'm actually half concerned and half curious about to what extent writing a time travel system that resembles the time travel system of an existing story would count as plagiarism. I know copying actual mechanisms and events is an obvious no-no, but what I'm wondering about is the more "abstract" aspect discussed here. If I wrote a story where the logic of time traveling is similar to another story's, because I think it's the most consistent way to do it, or even because I've simply been influenced by stories that I like to think about it happening that particular way, and thus end up creating (a) similarly structured timeline(s) in the context of an entirely unrelated plotline, would it somehow be unethical or illegal? This is something I'd never considered before that popped into my mind after watching this.

  4. Conrad1013 says:

    I've been a huge fan of Corridor for the better part of a decade, so to randomly find an unrelated video that praises them right off the bat, warms my heart a bit.

    I was going to watch your video anyway, but still 😛

  5. Unteradmiralcaptainensign says:

    I think, when one travels back in time to change historical path, is actually the timeline acting on itself and possibly collapsing.
    You see, there are two states I know of that the timeline could be in.
    1. Locked in, written.
    2. In a state of flux.

    1. If the timeline is already written, there’s no going back, no escaping unless the timeline lets you.
    In the Flash, (mass spoiler)the Flash himself attempts to save his spouse from being murdered by taking different courses of action, when these were actually supposed to happen. This is when the timeline is already written and there’s no escape from it, no matter what. Everything you’d be doing was supposed to happen as written in time.

    When the someone time travels and somehow changes it’s path, it’s the timeline automatically collapsing on itself, allowing a new one to be surfaced.

    2. When the timeline is in a state of flux, anything can happen, paths could easily be changed and any minor event can change the entire course of it. So when you time travel, you actually break it. Other timelines could also easily surface and erase this one out of existence.
    Choices would also be matter of “luck” or the timeline choosing a path itself. When you change this you break it entirely.

    I favor the written one, where everything is supposed to happen.

  6. Iqbal Fauzan says:

    The last chapter of Attack on Titan is like Harry Potter time travelling

  7. Nuclear Bullet says:

    omg, I was wrong, it was Earth, all along… I miss Phil Hartman's Troy Mclure!

  8. Fuad hassan Faruk says:

    And then there comes endgames timeline that nothing makes sense. 😂

  9. Edwin Navarrete says:

    it is a shame you didn't mention 12 monkeys (even more convoluted than harry potter) or the arrival the ability of remembering the future

  10. ali mohammad kebriadar says:

    Yes that's exactly what I think, for example in 12 monkeys the only thing they need to do to stop the events is stop travelling

  11. Joshua Snell says:

    Once you start consciously processing the bass in this video, you can't ever focus on the story anymore

  12. Daniel MacDougall says:

    Sooo with the harry potter one, my question is: when did the 'first' iteration of harry jump back? Like, the first version of the timeline surely had to exist without the time travelling harry in order for it to reach the point where they travel back in time for the 'first time' (I'm thinking along the lines of the bootstrap paradox)? As I'm typing this I'm realising how difficult it is to explain any time travel concepts so apologies if this makes zero sense…

  13. 607 says:

    So we’re just going to ignore the cursed child? Yes, ok good.

  14. John Hales says:

    They all look like boobs and veins

  15. SAMSMILE4 says:

    laughs in homestuck

  16. 66666lambofgod says:

    How many times you said “time”?

  17. Ori Cardomay says:

    "To Say Nothing of the Dog"

  18. Naresh Munigela says:

    What is paradax

  19. Jürgen Zimmer says:

    you could add Interstellar

  20. areamusicale says:

    A beam of light only live for 3 years (relatively to it), a trillion of millions of years for anything else, so, travelling at the speed of light won't feel like "days" … it will feel like an instant.

  21. Jürgen Zimmer says:

    Endgame didn't make any sense to me either. Why did they have to bring back the stones at the end?

  22. 555zxc_Gamez says:

    What about doctor who?

  23. Jeff Hall says:

    Should update this with endgame info 😉

  24. Zachary Jobe says:

    Why do all of these look like biological diagrams of tiddies?

  25. Hudson Sanderson says:

    This didn’t help me understand it but I liked the drawings

  26. Burakku Ren says:

    5:21 “Fictional time travel” WHAT DO YOU KNOW, MINUTEPHYSICS, TELL US!

  27. Zeth99seb says:

    What is you opion about ARQ and its "time jumps"? That would be interesting.

  28. Mark Calabio says:

    Bill and Ted was consistent timeline tho! Just like prisoner of azkaban. Recall: circle k scene

  29. dragonfiremalus says:

    You miscategorized Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. One of the major factors is that going back in time DOESN'T change the past. That's how they are able to exploit actions their future selves will do. In fact, the rules for time travel in that movie are the same as those in HP:PoA.

  30. Silica says:

    harry potter still has questions like: how did they survive to go back and save themselves in the first place? and, if they allready survived then why go back to save yourself again?

  31. Phantom Kelpht says:

    okabe rintaro: hold my dr pepper

  32. Megaman Roige says:

    That time travel episode of Gumball?

  33. Matthis Thünemann says:

    The sirens Dark is a very good example of a good time travel series. Does someone watched it?

  34. The nonPerfectionist says:

    let me tell you about homestuck

  35. Sandeep Gorantiwar says:

    Time travel with "time dilation method looks much more relavant than any other."

  36. Jacob Westman says:

    Minnesota kid? I dig.

  37. Cool Dude says:

    One of the Greatest Time Travel fiction is Steins Gate.

  38. venim1103 says:

    Why not include the time travel in the “Dark” tv series??

  39. Make Contact says:

    Shoulda included Donnie Darko

  40. Ancap Zombie says:

    Then there's この世の果てで恋を唄う少女YU-NO.

  41. KevinGamer KevinGamer says:

    … just like the Nintendo Switch when u play the old fashioned games that sometimes come with the switch

  42. Simon Daly says:

    Shame this wasn't made after Avengers Endgame

  43. zebratangozebra says:

    Time travel stories are an untapped goldmine for writers and movies, surprised Hollywood hasn't realize it

  44. Zeek says:

    The Harry Potter version of time travel is pretty much exactly the same as from the FIve Kingdoms series (which came after Harry Potter).

  45. Xanman Gaming says:

    idea for a time travel system with no paradoxes and free will shenanigans: you can time travel to the future, but not to the past. as in, once you're in a point in time, every single point before it becomes inaccessible. however, you can travel to the past, but only in a different, totally seperate timeline that doesn't affect your own past in your own timeline. you can even travel back to your own timeline, as long as it was after you traveled from your own timeline to the other one.

  46. Shambo Saha says:

    All the types of time travel that you described have been covered at some point or other in the Doraemon series.


    1. In Nobita and the Explorer Bow Bow, Nobita and his friends come ftom the future to save themselves.

    2. In the episode "Dad wanted to be an artist", Nobita tried to make his dad marry a rich businessman's daughter, and he started to fade from real life.

    3. In "The parsemon tree" Nobita goes back in time, uses the time wrapper to make the tree mature, and comes back to change his dad's sad memories to happy ones.

    4. Also, the entire series is based on time travel, as Sewashi, Nobita's grandson, send Doraemon to the past in order to help Nobita.

    And also thousands of other examples.

  47. Dimitri says:

    what about the time travel similar to this one book i forget the name of, but was referenced in The Great Divorce, where the person who travels back in time can't do anythingto affect the future, like raindrops literally pierce his skin because their path can't be changed
    or the time travel in one of the Candy wars books where the main character travels back in time and tells his past self a warning and steals his mom's van, but not in his own body but in someone else's. This is represented earlier in the book where a stranger tells the kids a warning (him from the future) and his van gets stolen

  48. Matthew McNeany says:

    Trying to follow primer will give you an aneurysm.

  49. Kenjew Kii says:

    This is just an advertisement for a ton of movies we were tricked into watching

  50. Cosmic Collisions says:

    i knew that you were going to say that

  51. Subot Croft says:

    What about endgame

  52. lagging v7 says:

    How about time travel in Avengers:endgame still can't wrap my head around it

  53. T1Oracle says:

    If time travel creates a new timeline then it would require the same energy of the big bang to accomplish.

  54. Swat K.Wanich says:

    You are wrong. As Dr.Julian said there’s no time , time is just deception of space expansion forwardly

  55. Aiden Brickner says:

    Happy death day anyone?

  56. Pint size Kiwi says:

    Endgame soils it avengers endgame

  57. madad24601 says:

    The tv show crime traveller has the same travel type as Harry potter

  58. Hayden Dupont says:


  59. Hafiz Azim says:

    Yo you missed endgame….do it.

  60. N3bula says:

    Do end game

  61. Cuber 02 says:

    You should also do the the flash timeline

  62. Aaron Phillips says:

    You forgot DBZ with Trunks.

  63. Lycanroc Gacha says:

    That's right I heard the story 1:57

  64. Dreadnaught2517 says:

    Came here because of Avengers: Endgame

  65. Don says:

    Great vid but no Donnie Darko??

  66. Just Random says:

    The thumbnail looks like a couple of very weird boobs…….. (*)(*)

  67. The360Mlg Noscoper says:

    what about baldrick's time machine With two toilets

  68. fyggy says:

    the same sort of time travel that happens in harry potter also happens in dirk gently, and infact sets off the whole plot

  69. AVoiceOfOpinion93 says:

    Harry Potter's time-travel obeys the Novikov Self-Consistency Principle…

  70. EPIC12EPIC says:

    If u go to the future is wired to think that your friend’s concious is back in the past but you are talking to him now

  71. UnYin99 says:

    "it has a hot hat and a wooden, wild wand" is that from something?

  72. Hamza Ilarzeg says:

    You clearly havent seen Steins;Gate, nor Predestination

  73. Micah Impanis says:

    What about DBZ where and DBS where it causes multiple timelines as you can't change the past only create a new future to occur.

  74. Kevin Hoang says:

    im disappointed that you didn't included the time travel from dragon ball super.

  75. Michael Jensen says:

    You left out the coolest time travel causality weirdness example, from the Sarah Connor Chronicles; where rebels come back in time from the future and thwart a bad guy in the past, and some of them know who he is and others don't, because some of them came from post-thwart forks in the time line's future where he was never a bad guy, and others from a pre-thwart fork (otherwise, how would they know they needed to stop him).

    One of the characters that didn't know the bad guy, was even tortured by him in the pre-thwart time line and it creates trust issues from the other character because he thinks they must be an impostor (because how else would they not know their own torturer?).

  76. Isaiah Jurca says:

    Am I seriously the only person on the planet who noticed the thumbnail looks like a picture of breast vasculature diagrams?

  77. Xeno Bardock says:

    You can only time travel to future in reality by slowing down your time. You can do this by traveling near the speed of light causing inertia to increase therefore slowing down the speed of time. Risky method is freezing your body. Advanced method of slowing down time is by controlling larmor frequency to compress space which increases inertia. Inertia btw is not a property of mass, its property of space/ether, just like weight is not a property of mass.

  78. Kanwarbir Singh says:

    Now that was something more confusing than Mathematics.

  79. Tenly2009 says:

    There’s a movie called Paradox in which someone goes forward in time 60 minutes and finds his entire team dead. I wish you had included this in your examples. I think they did a really good job with the time travel aspects of the movie…

  80. Tenly2009 says:

    Ok – so your personal favourite time travel variation is the one in which we absolutely positively do not have free will…?

  81. Rich D says:

    The Harry Potter tone travel is the same as back to the future time travel, but that kind of time travel would create paradoxes.

  82. Deadbond1 says:

    D A R K !

  83. Mladen Mijatov says:

    Looper is bullshit though. People can't lose a finger and not know about it then be surprised since at that point they would have lived an entire life without that finger.

  84. Stanley Lin says:

    OMG that story at 6:51! Hahahaha

  85. The Original Dinner Slug says:

    What about when time is erased?

  86. Abdullah Hamad says:

    My first introductions to the idea of time travel were Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a book that centered around wishing wells, and Squaresoft's "Chrono Trigger".

  87. Random The Cat says:

    Time travel is possible!..

    See.. now you are in the future!

    Your even further in the future!!

    Wow! You might as well be at least 5 seconds in the future from when you started reading this comment!!

  88. gracie lou says:

    do Homestuck’s wack timeline if ya want a challenge

  89. Blue Jay says:

    because the Sun is hurtling through space and time with the Earth revolving around it. meaning If you time travel you are more likely to end up in empty space. then when you get hit by Earth you re-enter the Earth's atmosphere. To time travel you also have to master teleportation. or else you suffocate or freeze and burn. or just explode from the lack of air pressure. nope. no thanks, no time travel for me.

  90. Matthew Grimshaw says:

    Promoting YouTube? Seriously? Big fat thumbs down.

  91. Srimani Pandey says:

    In the shadow of the moon. Netflix. Your welcome.

  92. JackJackKcajify says:

    your making a ton of a priori assumptions, completely arbitrary assumptions, and you probly dont even know it. Assuming the time machine has a limit to where it can do, is one of the most blatant.

  93. Eddie Enderman1 says:

    The harry potters time travel makes sense but you could also say that for when someone changes a timeline they have already done it, therefore, having no control whatsoever and they will indefinitely fix it or won't fix it.

  94. Eugenio Rovira says:


  95. KNOWLEDGE 101 says:

    amazing video… i too really love the harry potter time travel

  96. Njerve1 says:

    Primer is nuts. Its impossible to get though that movie without a great deal of confusion about whats going on. Still an enjoyable watch.

  97. Marianne says:

    LOGIC + HARRY POTTER = an awesome video!!

    You could talk more about the fact that there is logic to the magic in Harry Potter!!

  98. Chris J says:

    Still waiting for my time machine to arrive, when I've finished with it I'll send it back to my previous self, that way I won't have to invent it.

  99. Shahrukh Ahmad says:

    wait what?

  100. daniel grover says:

    what about terminator

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