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The 10 Least Competent Time Travelers

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Time travel is a tricky subject. Questions of causality, the butterfly effect, what happens when timelines differ — all these can be extremely confusing, which might explain why there are so many shitty time travelers out there. In movies, TV shows, books, whatever, there are plenty of jerks who obliviously wreak havoc throughout history, either out of ignorance, greed, or just a desire to have sex with one's ancestors (it happens more often than you think). Here, in no particular order, are 10 people who shouldn't be driving a car, let alone allowed to travel through the space-time continuum.


1) Marty McFly, Back to the Future
Admittedly, Marty McFly didn't really ask to be a time traveler; he went to the ‘50s to escape some very angry Libyans, he goes to the future because Doc Brown dragged him to it, and he goes to the 1880s to save Doc. However, that's hardly an excuse for nearly fucking his mother in the first Back to the Future movie, or grabbing a sports almanac from 2015 to take back to the ‘80s to get rich. A sports almanac that Old Biff steals and brings to his younger self thus effectively ruining the entirety of America, thanks to Doc Brown leaving his time-traveling DeLorean unattended. Actually, maybe Doc belngs on this list, too.

2) Hank Morgan, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
I'm guessing Mark Twain hadn't heard of "the butterfly effect" when he wrote his classic A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, because when Hank Morgan wakes up in ancient England, he does the equivalent of murdering every goddamn butterfly he sees. He immediately uses his knowledge of a solar eclipse to convince everybody he's a wizard, and becomes the second most powerful man in the kingdom. He shoots knights with his revolver, blows up Merlin's tower with explosives, creates bicycles, gets King Arthur arrested for slavery, starts a war with the Catholic church, and basically messes with every single person and thing he finds in 528 AD. Where's a timecop when you need one?

3) Superman, Superman: The Movie
Sure, Superman does rewrite history by travelling back through time and saving Lois Lane from Lex Luthor's man-made earthquake. That's not kosher time-travel, but the real reason movie Superman is a shitty time traveler is by traveling back through time in the dumbest way possible. He literally flies around the earth really fast until… it's a few hours earlier? I'm hardly io9's science expert, but I'm pretty sure that's not how that works. Although it's still less dumb than Superman II's amnesia kiss.


4) Brendon Doyle and J. Cochran Darrow, The Anubis Gates
In Tim Powers' very strange time travel novel, wealthy but dying industrialist J. Cochran Darrow finds a portal to the 1880s, and hires literary scholar Brendon Doyle to check it out. Doyle immediately misses the portal back to the present; how does he acquit himself with his modern knowledge and foresight of major events? He becomes a bum. Seriously, he can't manage to even get a job washing dishes at the local tavern until, thanks to a werewolf who can transfer people's minds, he ends up in the body of one of the poets he's studied. Meanwhile, the dying Darrow sets himself up as an 1880s industrialist, and works with the werewolf to receive new, healthy bodies. Look, I feel this should be obvious, but if your time travel plan is wholly dependent on a mind-swapping werewolf, do not make that goddamned plan.

5) Philip J. Fry, Futurama
Few people have done more time traveling that Futurama's Fry. He accidentally cryogenically froze himself until the year 3000. He's gone back to the 1940s. He's gone 1,000 years in the future, and then past the end of the universe back around the big bang and all the way to the 31st century again… twice. And in one timeline he returned to the 21st century for a few years. Basically, Fry is a bad time traveler because he is bad at time travel, ending up anywhere and anywhen with virtually no control. But of course, all of this pales compared to Fry's ultimate chronological fuck-up, namely, having sex with his grandmother in the ‘40s and becoming his own grandfather. Admittedly, it works out in that he lacks the delta brainwave which makes him immune to the Brainspawn, which allowed him to save both Earth and the universe. But he hardly knew this when he got himself some sweet GILF action. Also: gross.


6) Everybody on Lost
So say you're on a plane heading to a magic island, and when you land, you've managed to land in the ‘70s. How would you deal with this situation? Well, if you're a character of Lost, you decide to detonate a goddamned atomic bomb. I know their plan was to reset the timeline so that they never landed on the island in the first place, but 1) it didn't work, because the island is crazy and 2) you still have to go through the process of exploding. Look, it may be slightly less crazy than "I'll hire a mind-swapping werewolf" but if your plan is "Let's explode an atomic bomb and hope for the best" you seriously need to think up a better plan.

7) Lazarus Long, Time Enough for Love
So Futurama's Fry goes back in time, has sex with his grandmother, and becomes his own grandfather. That's bad, but in Fry's semi-defense he thought he'd killed his real grandfather and was going to be erased from existence any moment. The long-lived Lazarus Long, star of several of Robert Heinlein's novels, does not have that excuse. Because when he goes back in time to meet his mother, his mother is actually pregnant with him… and he has sex with her anyways. That is insane. Admittedly, it doesn't really affect the time-space continuum, but it's still really, really gross and I feel like it should be near the top of any book of time travel no-nos. There's incest, and then there's whatever this is — incest with the world's most disturbing double-team, I guess.

8) Nick Miller, Time Chasers
This low budget scifi flick made its way to Mystery Science Theater 3000, partially because the time-travel device was simply a light plane with a Commodore 64 inside, and partially because the mulleted protagonist Nick Miller gives the machine to a transparently evil CEO who uses it to take over the future. It's even named Gencorp, for goodness' sake. Miller's attempts to prevent this future end up getting alternate versions of him and his girlfriend killed, before Miller manages to destroy the 5 ¾-floppy discs containing the secret of time travel.


9) Everyone Who Works at Time Safari, A Sound of Thunder
In this movie adaptation of a Ray Bradbury short story, a company named Time Safari literally sells people the chance to take vacations throughout time. As such, I have to spread the blame amongst all of Time Safari employees, because selling trips into the past to any idiot with a credit card is pretty much the worst idea ever. It's like letting several bulls loose in a china shop, where all the china is actually the fabric of reality. What's more, even beyond being fundamentally stupid, the Time Safari people are terrible at their jobs — they end up in random times, they bring people to volcanoes that are about to erupt, they don't use a bio-filter to prevent things from coming back to the present because it's too expensive, and they end up causing time waves that fuck up the entire planet and create some kind of mutant baboon-lizards. Look, if you manage to create a race of mutant baboon-lizards by doing anything, chances are you have fucked something up badly.

10) Ashton Kutcher, The Butterfly Effect
When Ashton Kutcher discovers he can travel back in time to various points of his own life by reading his diary out loud (sigh), he tries to fix his ridiculously, almost hilariously awful childhood, which includes him starring in child pornography, killing a pregnant woman and his dad trying to kill him. Amazingly, Kutcher's forays to the past actually makes his life worse — one time he ends up in prison and getting raped, another time he returns to the present to find both his arms missing — and he also fuck ups the life of his crush Amy Smart, too. And despite how terrible he is at it, he keeps going back and trying to fix things and just continues making them worse, to the point where (in the director's cut, at least) he travels back to when he was a fetus and strangles himself with his umbilical cord. Look, I understand the butterfly effect, but if you can't manage to make a single improvement in your life when the base is you being a murderer forced into a child porn, you are a bad time traveler.