Always a Time Traveler’s Girlfriend, Never a Time Traveler: Rachel McAdams and Science Fiction’s Weirdest Typecasting

In mainstream movies, if you want someone to play the quasi-love interest of a time traveler, your go-to person is always Rachel McAdams. She’s played the girlfriend of a time traveler in three films in just four years! But what does this kooky typecasting reveal about how culture sees women in time travel? And are there any other weird time-travel type-castings?

With the release of the somewhat uneven Richard Curtis effort About Time, many noticed how strange it was to see McAdams in the role of a time traveler’s wife again, since she played a time traveler’s wife in a movie literally titled The Time Traveler’s Wife back in 2009. So what’s the third film in which McAdams is romantically entangled with a time-traveler? That would be 2011’s Midnight in Paris in which she plays Inez, the grumpy fiancé of frustrated writer and unwitting time-traveler, Gil Pender (Owen Wilson). That’s right! Woody Allen does science fiction sometimes too! He even won a Hugo in 1974 for Sleeper. (Plus, Midnight in Paris is probably a better movie than About Time and The Time Traveler’s Wife combined. But nevermind. Back to Rachel McAdams.)

While Rachel’s choice of non-linear beaus is somewhat diverse in the traditional hunk to basic dork ratio, there is zero diversity when it comes to her electability to also travel in time. In The Time Traveler’s Wife, she knows about the time-travel and just sort of has to deal with it. In Midnight in Paris she assumes Owen Wilson is crazy, and never steps in the old 1920’s roadster with him. And in About Time, the whole time-travel business is predominantly hidden from her. It’s like the more she dates time-travelers, the less Rachel McAdams is allowed to know about the time travel. I imagine some kind of time travel mafia responsible for this gradual down-grading of Rachel McAdams time-travel clearance: “The dame knows too much! Next time she’s dating one of these temporal Thomases, make sure she knows nothing. You hear me, nothing!”

The track record for women being actually allowed to participate in time-travel in big-deal science fiction/fantasy films isn’t just limited to the weird wibbly-wobbly sidelining of Rachel McAdams. In Back to the Future Part II, Jennifer is basically roofied by Doc in an effort to get her out of the plot. (Which is already weird considering she also magically became a different actress—maybe Jennifer is a secret timelord and regenerated between Back to the Futures one and two?) Subsequently, Jennifer encounters her future self, which causes her to pass out again, so for the girlfriend of time-traveler Marty McFly, time travel ends up meaning being unconscious most of the time.

Back to the Future part 3 Christopher Lloyd Mary Steenburgen

At least Doc Brown’s girlfriend, Clara, gets to be awake for more of the plot than Jennifer, and it seems even gets to travel in time with Doc in their suped-up steampunk flying train thingy. Clara is played by Mary Steenburgen, who like Rachel McAdams, was also briefly typecast as a time traveler’s girlfriend! Prior to falling in love with Christopher Lloyd’s Doc Brown, Mary Steenburgen was the love interest of a time-traveling H.G. Wells in Nicholas Meyer’s Time After Time.

Wells was played by Malcom McDowell, who later married Steenburgen and then, in 1994, murdered Captain Kirk. So, with McDowell as Soran in Star Trek: Generations, and LLoyd as Krudge in Star Trek III, you kind of have to ask yourself if it’s a coincidence that both of Mary Steenburgen’s time-traveling boyfriends were also nemeses of James T. Kirk? Of course it’s not a coincidence! Captain Kirk is the key to all of this!

Time After Time Mary Steenburgen Malcolm McDowell

When Rachel McAdams was in The Time Traveler’s Wife, her boyfriend/husband was played by Eric Bana, who was, of course, big shock, another nemesis of Captain Kirk. In 2009’s Star Trek, Eric Bana played the insane revenge-driven Romulan Nero, who was also a time traveler. We could view this move by Bana as some kind of solidarity with Rachel McAdams, to also be, briefly, typecast as a time traveler.

As a bit of a side point, Hugh Jackman seems down with time travel typecasting, too, since he time traveled in Kate & Leopold and now is set to time travel in X-Men: Days of Future Past. This, however is not in solidarity with anyone, since in the comics, Kitty Pryde was the time traveler, and wow, wouldn’t it be great to see Ellen Page time travel? Has Ellen Page ever played the girlfriend of a time traveler? Kind of. In Woody Allen’s To Rome With Love, she is involved with Jesse Eisenberg, who is being sort of stalked by a time-traveling future version of himself played by Alec Baldwin. Either way, despite being close to time travel, Ellen Page is, like Rachel McAdams, being denied it constantly.

Seriously, why can't I time travel?

Seriously, why can't I time travel?

The only competition for time travelers’ girlfriends in mainstream films might be coming from Emily Blunt, who played the love interest for a time-traveling Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Looper. (Like To Rome With Love, one actor is visited by his “older self” played by another famous actor who doesn’t look anything like him.) And Blunt is set to star in the forthcoming Tom Cruise-remakes-Vanilla Sky-every year-vehicle, The Edge of Tomorrow, where it looks like she and Cruise both get to time travel. So, watch out McAdams! Blunt might be trying to take your time travel crown!

These kind of connections start to become Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon-dizzying (X-men connection!) if you think about it too long, which, in the interests of tea-leaf reading the future of big cinema time travelers, I have. When you take into account the fact that Nicholas Meyer—co-writer of three Star Trek movies (one of which featured time travel) and Time After Time—wrote and directed a Sherlock Holmes movie called The Seven Per-cent Solution, the future of time traveling boyfriends and girlfriends at the movies becomes clear.

Here it is: because Benedict Cumberbatch is now a nemesis of Captain Kirk, he will at some point, be in a movie—probably with Rachel McAdams, Ellen Page, or Emily Blunt—in which he is a time traveler. It would be fun if it’s Rachel McAdams, because then she could date two Sherlock Holmeses. But both Ellen Page and Emily Blunt also deserve to do a little time traveling for real. This movie should be written and directed by Nicholas Meyer, but lets get real, it will probably be Orci and Kurtzman.

In any case, if Rachel McAdams or her potential sisters in time travel do return to movies about time travel, let’s hope she/they are calling the quantum shots!

And let’s also hope all of this means that the next nemesis of Captain Kirk is…Owen Wilson!


Ryan Britt is a longtime contributor to Tor.com and had originally put in a weird Linda Hamilton/Christian Bale/Tom Hardy/Captain Picard thing in there, but took it out.

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