Wed
Jan 15 2014 11:00am

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.

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.

33 comments
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
1. Lisamarie
Hah, this was worth it simply for the last image :) I would go and see that Star Trek movie.
bryan rasmussen
3. bryan rasmussen
I think the most reasonable solution is that time travellers are all weird asocial stalkers whose target of choice is Rachel McAdams
bryan rasmussen
4. OgreMkV
Don't forget that Hugh Jackman starred in The Fountain, which while not directly about time travel had him existing in several time periods with Rachael Weisz (as Hugh's girlfriend/wife/tree).

I'm not as good at this... maybe you guys can find more connections.
Christopher Bennett
5. ChristopherLBennett
One actress who got to be the lead time traveler was Cheryl Ladd in the film version of John Varley's Millennium. But I think that film did pretty poorly at the box office and doesn't seem to be well-remembered (it's at 13% on Rotten Tomatoes). There's also Kathleen Turner in Peggy Sue Got Married. And Emma Watson in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, though that's only peripherally a time-travel movie. (She was the hero's friend rather than the lead, but she was the one who instigated the time travel.)

And apparently there's a manga, anime, and live-action film actually called The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, though I'm not familiar with it.

Linda Hamilton didn't get to time-travel as Sarah Connor in the Terminator movies (though Kristanna Loken did), but the Lena Headey version of Sarah did become a time traveler in The Sarah Connor Chronicles, with help from time-traveling Terminatrix Summer Glau. Oh, and there's Rachel Nichols on Continuum.

Still, you're right -- on the whole, time-travel movies tend to have men time-traveling and women as their love interests, allies, or secondary travelers (dare I say, companions?). But then, that's pretty much an extension of the pattern of most sci-fi or adventure movies, isn't it?
Jenny Thrash
6. Sihaya
"Let's kill Hitler. Or date Rachel McAdams. Yeah, that second one sounds less physically dangerous and alot more fun."
Jenny Thrash
7. Sihaya
#4: The Fountain was about reincarnation, which is timey-wimey, especially since it's not necessarily a temporally linear phenomenon. But reincarnation is probably ready for a Kevin Bacon game of its own, one branching outwards from Cloud Atlas.
Marc Houle
8. MightyMarc
I'm surprised you didn't mention how Bruce Willis also time travels extensively (Looper, The Kid, and Twelve Monkeys).
bryan rasmussen
9. Darkblade
Anyone want to start a grassroots campaign to get Rachel McAdams as a companion in Doctor Who? Even just a one shot companion for a Christmas special or something.
bryan rasmussen
10. Rob Maloney
This was funny! I had a great laugh, and while I came up with several of the other time travel movies mentioned in comments...any more and the paradoxes and the what ifs, then theres, and what abouts would like Austin Powers cause me to go cross-eyed! Better to just sit back and enjoy the show! Shall we, Basil Exposition...I had to share, Ryan. I liked this one a lot!
bryan rasmussen
11. robbadler
You forgot to mention the brief TV show 'Journeyman' (I liked the game better than the show, too) where Moon Bloodgood gets to be a time traveller.
Christopher Bennett
12. ChristopherLBennett
@11: Oh yeah, maybe Moon Bloodgood belongs in the category of recurring time-traveler's-girlfriend too. In Journeyman she was the ex of the lead male time traveler (although technically she was time-traveling first), and before that, in 2006's swiftly-cancelled Day Break, she played the girlfriend of the lead character (Taye Diggs), who was trapped in a Groundhog Day-style time loop. She was also the love interest in Terminator Salvation, although that's the one installment of the franchise to date that doesn't have any time travel in it, so it doesn't quite put her into McAdams's three-time category.
bryan rasmussen
14. Alright Then
Midnight in Paris is science fiction??? Funny, I didn't see a flux capacitor in that roadster....
bryan rasmussen
15. charming.quark
Benedict Cumberbatch is a time traveler who dates Rachel McAdams, Ellen Page, and Emily Blunt, each in a different time period.
bryan rasmussen
16. Olivia Waite
James T. Kirk is also, of course, a time-traveler. Most Star Trek captains are, from my limited knowledge (some OS, some TNG, all DS9).
bryan rasmussen
17. zagrobelny
As a non time-traveling dude, I am totally willing to date attractive time traveling ladies from any time period.
Shelly wb
18. shellywb
Time travel romances, on the other hand, tend to have the heroine travelling in time, a la Outlander.

The movie Somewhere in Time had Christopher Reeve as the time traveler, and then he turned back the clock in Superman.
bryan rasmussen
19. carmen webster buxton
Hilarious, but I would argue that ABOUT TIME is as good as anything Woody Allen ever put together. It's a fabulous story, and I can't wait to buy the movie. Also, the lead actor (Domhnall Gleeson) played one of Ron Weasley brothers in a Harry Potter movie, so there's another 6-degrees connection.
Jim Adcock
20. dlairman
I want to know what the "weird Linda Hamilton/Christian Bale/Tom Hardy/Captain Picard thing" was...
Curtis Chen
21. sparCKL
I'm with dlairman. Tell us the weird Linda Hamilton/Christian Bale/Tom Hardy/Captain Picard thing! :)
Christopher Bennett
22. ChristopherLBennett
Well, Hamilton's voiceover was in Terminator Salvation starring Bale, who was in The Dark Knight Rises with Hardy, who was in Star Trek Nemesis with Patrick Stewart -- as well as Ron Perlman, who starred in Beauty and the Beast with Hamilton! So if you wanted to connect Hamilton to Stewart, you could do it in two steps instead of three.
bryan rasmussen
23. 2nihon
Owen Wilson in Star Trek. I think I would like to see that.
Erica Collier
24. scifibard
I can think of quite a few more TV female characters (whether leads, sidekicks, or bit parts) who get to time travel than in movies. Even the aforementioned Terminator examples: we have two actresses (one playing a human, one a machine) who get to be time travellers on the TV show...but not in the movies. And there's the whole universe of Dr. Who--in addition to all the female companions you have women like River Song who can travel in time and space without any help from the male lead, thank you very much (not to mention piloting his ship a touch better than he does). You really don't tend to get that in the movies.

Ok, so how about a film of one of Connie Willis' novels? Blackout anyone? That would get us some time travelling chicks on the big screen! I doubt they could do it justice but it's a better candidate for the big screen than many good spec fic books I could name...
Sue Hutchings
25. RabidReader1956
William Shatner played George Stapleton in the 1972 version of the Sherlock Holmes movie 'The Hound Of The Baskervilles". So obviously your theory has merit. It's all Bill's/Kirk's fault.
Sue Hutchings
26. RabidReader1956
And Christopher Plummer played Sherlock Holmes in the 1979 movie "Murder By Decree". He also played William Fawcett Robinson in the time travel movie "Somewhere In Time" in 1980. In 1956, Plummer's understudy for his title role in Shakespeare's Henry V at the Stratford Theatre was William Shatner. When Plummer was injured in an ... um, unfortunate affair ... Shatner took to the stage. And, of course, Plummer played a fantastic Klingon and nemesis for Kirk in Star Trek VI. This is getting scary. These Canadian lads of ours really rock!
Sue Hutchings
27. RabidReader1956
I just Googled Rache McAdams and found out ... gasp ... that she too is Canadian. Born in London, Ontario in 1978. Hey! We are taking over. Now to build a TARDIS. Hmmm.
Christopher Bennett
28. ChristopherLBennett
@26: And Captain Kirk was killed by Soran, played by Malcolm McDowell, who fell in love with Mary Steenburgen in Time After Time! (I'm not misspeaking there. The actors fell in love along with their characters in the film, and ended up marrying.)
bryan rasmussen
29. Ilithyia
@charming.quark
I'd love to see that movie! I haven't seen Benedict in any romantic roles yet, not that there aren't any, and he's definitely romantic lead material!
bryan rasmussen
31. Rob in L.A.
Terrific, laugh-out-loud article! Small corretion: Nicholas Meyer only wrote "The Seven Per-cent Solution," based on his novel. It was directed by Herbert Ross, who also directed "The Goodbye Girl" and "Footloose." Again, great article!
Stephen Coney
32. earlofwessex
Lena Heady also played the love interest of a time traveller more than once. She was Sarah Connner, as mentioned above, and previously she was in Twice upon a Yesterday.

Another one to look at is Chloe Annette who plays the love interest in the time-travelling show Red Dwarf and also is the female lead in Crime Traveler. Unfortunately, I haven't seen this show and so can't say if she is the love interest or not.

Mia Sara is the wife in Timecop as well playing in the show Time Trax, but again, since I haven't seen it, this may be a stretch.

Finally, Hugh Jackman, Christopher Reeves and Eric Bana have several things in common. They have all played superheroes and have all travelled through time in more than one role.
Christopher Bennett
33. ChristopherLBennett
@32: You're basically right about Mia Sara. She was the male hero's love interest in Time Trax, and she didn't time-travel herself -- although she did play lookalike characters in the two time frames, one evidently a descendant of the other (and both of them were love interests of the hero, IIRC). I'm not sure, but I think maybe her future character was killed and then Darien Lambert went back to find her lookalike ancestor alive in the 20th century.

Interestingly, this same dynamic was used in Power Rangers Time Force with the genders reversed. Erin Cahill played Jen, the leader of the Time Force Rangers, whose fiancee Alex (Jason Faunt) was apparently killed, and who then led her team back in time to meet Alex's lookalike ancestor Wes (also Faunt), who took his place as the Red Ranger (because the Ranger tech was genetically coded, so only an ancestor could activate it). So that was a case where the female lead was the time traveler and the male lead was the love interest.
Joe G
34. joeinformatico
@33: You remember correctly. 22nd century Mia Sara was killed in the pilot of Time Trax, then Lambert encountered her lookalike 20th century ancestor in the first episode of the regular series.

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