While many of these films are immensely entertaining, it’s a curious trend that shortchanges female characters and, by extension, female viewers. At first glance, you could simply put this down to the historical dominance of male heroes in cinema. It’s a patriarchal world and mainstream movies aren’t always quick to reflect advancements in equality. But while other areas of sci-fi were making progress – take Sigourney Weaver beating her many-jawed foes in the Alien films – the time-travel genre, ironically, stood still. Yes, as far back as 1984 The Terminator gave us a groundbreaking action heroine in Linda Hamilton, but the bouffe-haired damsel in distress was still confined to the here and now, chased by one time-traveller and bedded by the other (in order to give birth to a future saviour). And the men didn’t just get to time-travel: they got to go naked, too.
This weekend in London, there’s a whole festival dedicated to feminist sci-fi films. Called Women on the Edge of Time, it promises futuristic “worlds free of sexism”. Tellingly, time-travel movies are absent from the programme. Some might argue that the theme is just more appealing to men. But I’m sure I’m not the only woman who fell in love with time-travel movies as a kid – and I wanted to be Marty McFly, not his unfortunate girlfriend. A time-travelling heroine would have been very welcome. Nor is it just action films. In the 1980 romance Somewhere in Time, Christopher Reeve rewound to woo a bygone Jane Seymour; in 2001’s Kate & Leopold, a 19th-century Hugh Jackman raced forward into the arms of a present-day Meg Ryan.
Of course, it is still incredibly hard to get funding for a mainstream film with a female lead. This might explain why two recent movies that gave women at least a look-in at time travel were independents. Safety Not Guaranteed saw a female newspaper intern responding to a mysterious man’s ad for a time-travel buddy; the whole movie turns on whether she will make the leap. Meanwhile, The Sound of My Voice featured two documentary-makers investigating a cult leader called Maggie, who claims to have come from the future to warn us about environmental issues.
Whatever the merits of these semi-exceptions, it’s worth pointing out that women just don’t get to have fun with time travel like men do; it doesn’t seem to get them anywhere.