What’s Your Favorite “Time Loop” Fiction?

Last week, a friend recommended the new Netflix series, Russian Doll. I had heard of it but didn’t know much about it–all I knew is that it looked a bit dark and grim.

But he mentioned two things that convinced me to give it a try: One, each episode is less than a half hour (for some reason this is much more appealing to me than a 45-60 minute show). Two, it’s time loop fiction.

love time loop fiction.

The classic example, of course, is Groundhog Day. It’s one of my favorite movies, as it has the little–but crucial–supernatural twist that the protagonist must repeat the same day over and over. I’m not sure why, but there’s something very satisfying about that aspect of repetition, the little variances, and the mystery of how the character will fix the loop.

So I watched Russian Doll, and while it was indeed a bit dark at times, it was also quite funny and heartfelt too. And the time loop aspect is really well done on a number of levels that I’m not going to spoil here. It’s only 8 episodes, and I highly recommend it.

It made me think of other works of time loop fiction that I’ve enjoyed, and here’s what I came up with:

  • Replay (book)
  • The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August (book)
  • Edge of Tomorrow (movie and book)
  • 50 First Dates (movie)
  • Primer (movie)
  • Source Code (movie)
  • About Time (movie)
  • When We First Met (movie)
  • TIME Stories (board game)
  • Happy Death Day (two movies)
  • Palm Springs (movie)
  • The Map of Tiny Perfect Things (movie and book)
  • Dark (TV show)
  • Boss Level (movie)
  • Recursion (book)
  • Meet Cute (movie)

At one point I even started to design a board game around the idea of entering an exceptionally difficult puzzle, losing quickly, and then varying what you do the next time to survive just long enough to learn a little more before failing again. Maybe I’ll revisit it at some point.

What are your favorite works of time loop fiction? I’ve also heard of the movies Before I Fall and Happy Death Day–are they worth watching?

21 thoughts on “What’s Your Favorite “Time Loop” Fiction?”

  1. ARQ on Netflix. Action movie with this theme set in a dystopian future. It all takes place in this little bunker, but I thought it was well done.

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  2. There was a TV show called Daybreak. Only had a season. About a cop in tie loop, trying to solgshis own case (he had been framed for a crime). I liked it a lot

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  3. I love time travel stories, because they have the unique ability of being able to use a Set Up early in the movie, as a Pay Off at the end. Back to the Future is one of the best scripts ever written, and executed so incredibly well. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is an excellent book, and the best movie of the series. Not loops as such, but wanted to give them a mention.

    There’s a Science Fiction series on Netflix called Travelers, about people from the future come back to fix the past. Won’t say more because of Spoilers, but it’s done in an incredibly innovative way, and with amazing character development. Heartily recommended. And like any time travel show, they have their Groundhog Day episode, in Season 2, following the specific rules set up in this “world”, which adds another level of drama to the loop.

    Again, no spoilers, but I urge you to check it out. “Travelers”. There’s 3 Seasons to enjoy. And you will especially enjoy the Time Loop episode when you get to it.

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    • Oh, that reminds me! TV show Dark Matter had one “Groundhog Day” episode that had me laughing so hard I cried. Worked awesome because of the character payoff but probably would work even if you didn’t know the characters.

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    • Travelers is incredible, and they ended that series precisely as they should have. I also enjoyed the first season of Continuum, which has some similarities.

      I really think you should give ‘Primer’ a shot. It is an indie film, and takes more than a few viewings to pick up all the pieces, but I recommend watching it once, reading a plot breakdown, then watching it one more time to see if you agree. It’s very ‘David Lynch’ in that there is intentionally room for interpretation.

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      • Thanks Adrian! I’m not sure if your Primer recommendation is for me, though, as Primer is already on my list–it’s an amazing movie (I saw it in theaters when it originally came out, and I own it).

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  4. Mother of Learning is the best fiction web-serial being written. Beside having an amazingly well thought-out magic system the story is structured around a month long time loop. Still being written but is currently in the final act.

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  5. This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to you but my favorite time-loop usages are in video games:

    Braid
    Sexy Brutale
    Life Is Strange (not time-loop mechanics, per se, but it scratches similar feels)
    ******* (Omitted name, because the time-loop was not part of gameplay, but part of the ending)

    I think what appeals most about them is the ability to right inadvertent or unintended wrongs and have a second chance for those “what I really should have said/done” moments in life.

    On a sad note, my mother-in-law unexpectedly passed away the morning after we finished watching Russian Doll, and I distinctly remembering thinking to myself what I would do differently if I had a chance to do that day over (effectively making a plan for the second time through the loop).

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    • I’m familiar with two of those (though I haven’t played them).

      I’m really sorry for your loss, Derian.

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  6. I’m not a fiction fan whatsoever to have any favorite in that gebre, but I’d like to give it a try, given that it is a Netflix production.

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  7. I just watched Happy Death Day this week. It was fun, but more of a (very) dark John Hughes take on the Groundhog Day trope.

    If I were to recommend looping time stories, there are three that I truly respect.
    1) Primer. This one is deep, and I believe next to impossible for someone to grasp the full depth of what has transpired in a single viewing. Because they deliberately leave specific clues in the first 30 minutes that make zero sense until after you have seen the film, and by then, you haven’t kept track of all the nuances.

    2)The Manifold series by Stephen Baxter. It isn’t really looping time, but each book in the trilogy presents a different means of understanding time, then takes that understanding to an extreme.
    In one, there is a plant on the moon that exists in a reverse linearity of time, where it’s death precedes its birth. This has a lot of the flavors of Piers Anthony’s ‘Bearing an Hourglass’ the second in his Immortals series, where manifestations of concepts (War, Death, Nature, Time) are simply bureaucratic positions held by average humans. But when someone assumes the mantle of Time, they immediately begin to exist backwards…holding the position until their birth. Which leads to some really poignant and tragic relationships with people who experience time in the other direction.
    Maybe there are four that I respect.

    3) Predestination. This is a film with Ethan Hawke that is a complete brainmelt. It is incredible, it is depressing, it is confusing and it is appalling. But your perspective on the groundhog’s day time loop will forever be altered.

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  8. You may already be familiar with it, but one that came out since this blog: Palm Springs. The big twist on the Groundhog Day formula is that it’s not just one person stuck in the loop – the movie opens with a new person getting brought into the loop by accident, and an existing looper then takes them under their wing.

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