“What if there were no tomorrow?” ponders TV weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray). His drinking buddy replies: “That would mean there would be no consequences. There would be no hangovers. We could do whatever we wanted!”
For reasons never explained, after arriving in the small Pennsylvania town of Punxsutawney, Phil relives 2 February, Groundhog Day, over and over again. On day one, Phil is arrogant and dismissive, both towards his colleagues and the folk of Punxsutawney, but as he repeatedly wakes up on Groundhog Day, with Sonny and Cher’s ‘I Got You Babe’ blaring from his bedside radio, Phil realises that to exit this time loop he must mend his ways and become a better person.
Playfully exploring the boundless possibilities of its tantalising concept, Harold Ramis’s fantasy-cum-romcom, Groundhog Day, remains as beloved today as when it was released 25 years ago, on 12 February 1993. Despite a relatively modest box office opening, the film gathered steam and popularity, with the film demonstrating its own endless repeatability as a cult favourite on TV and DVD.
A quarter of a century on, its reputation as one of the great comedy films of the modern era is secure. Yet Groundhog Day was not the first nor the last film to use a time loop structure, or to examine the idea of cosmic second chances. If this Bill Murray classic has you hitting replay, here are five more films you’re sure to love…
A Matter of Life and Death (1946)
Directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
This Technicolor fantasy drama by legendary filmmaking team Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger shares the idea of a character afforded a second chance – in this case unequivocally by divine intervention. As RAF pilot Peter Carter’s (David Niven) Lancaster bomber burns above the English channel, the serviceman jumps to his certain death from the aircraft after his parachute fails. But when an angel fails to show up to escort him to the afterlife, Carter is later given an opportunity to plead for his life – and newfound love – in a celestial court. A Matter of Life and Death is resplendent with dreamlike special effects and sequences, notably the stairway to heaven connecting Earth to the afterlife.
- Watch A Matter of Life and Death online on BFI Player
- Listen to the BFI podcast on A Matter of Life and Death
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Director Frank Capra
No exploration of time loops, second chances and redemption can be complete without mentioning Frank Capra’s Christmas classic – itself inspired in some measure by Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. It’s the story of small-town businessman George Bailey (James Stewart), who becomes suicidal during a dark turn in his circumstances, but is given another chance at life by his guardian angel, Clarence (Henry Travers). Much like Groundhog Day’s Phil, who actually succeeds at multiple suicide attempts only to wake up alive and well the following day, George has reached rock bottom. Unlike Phil, of course, George has lived a virtuous and altruistic life to this point, but both characters receive a similar kind of divine narrative intervention, which steers them towards happiness.
Back to the Future (1985)
Director Robert Zemeckis
Like Groundhog Day, Robert Zemeckis’s 1980s sci-fi comedy is a touchstone for time-travelling and/or mixed chronology structures. Via a Delorean time machine and with the help of eccentric Dr Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd), Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) travels back and forth through time from 1955 to the present (1985), ensuring his parents successfully fall in love, while escaping the clutches of sadistic bully Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson). There’s something perennially appealing about the film’s concept: imagine meeting your parents when they were teenagers, or seeing your dad punch the school bully who once tormented him! Back to the Future playfully explores our fascination with time travel, the power and responsibility in manipulating time and the gravity of consequences should things go wrong.
Run Lola Run (1998)
Director Tom Tykwer
Constantly on the run, Lola (Franka Potente) must find 100,000 German marks to save her boyfriend’s life in Tom Tykwer’s frenetic Berlin-set thriller. But each choice she makes has different repercussions, which Run Lola Run explores in three distinct narrative scenarios, as Tykwer riffs on ideas of chance, the butterfly effect of small actions causing major effects and free will versus determinism. Like Phil in Groundhog Day, Lola faces stark choices that we see affecting not only herself but those around her. The Gwyneth Paltrow drama Sliding Doors (1998) used a similar structure, though both these films borrowed the idea from Krzysztof Kieslowski’s 1981 Polish film Blind Chance.
Source Code (2011)
Director Duncan Jones
Duncan Jones’ sci-fi thriller sees US army pilot Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) relive an eight-minute cycle looking for vital clues aboard a Chicago commuter train destined to explode. Whereas Groundhog Day’s hero got to continually relive en route to mending his ways, for Stevens the stakes are far higher, the margin for error significantly reduced. With stylistic and thematic influences from Alfred Hitchcock to Philip K. Dick, this time-loop thriller is a modern classic of high-wire cinema.