Probable Futures And Alternate Realities:
What Movies Can Teach You About
Achieving Your Dreams
The following movies all explore the idea that every action you take has consequences.
Some do this by placing the characters in situations where they can travel back in time and perform an action that
will change their present day realities. Others show characters intersecting with probable versions of themselves
who have chosen a different path.
Here are 10 examples of movies that do a great job of examining this theme:
It's easy to dismiss these stories as figments of the writers' imagination. As far as we know, no
one can actually time travel, nor has anyone linked up with a probable self or a younger version of
themselves (except perhaps in a visualization exercise). But in reality, the underlying premise is very real.
We DO change our destinies with a single decision, whether it's choosing the person we'll marry or the city
we'll live in. If we choose differently, we'll experience a completely different life.
It's A Wonderful Life – James Stewart (1946)
||A box office flop when it was initially released in theatres, It's A
Wonderful Life became a favorite of television viewers in the 1970s and maintains its
popularity to this day. Both director Frank Capra and star James Stewart regard it as
their favorite film project, and it's often mentioned as a favorite film by people from
all walks of life.
The plot is a classic alternate reality story. An angel reveals to the depressed and
disheartened protagonist the fate of everyone in his home town if he had not been born. It's a
traditional "count your blessings" theme, but the high quality of the writing and performances
makes it a memorable experience.
Back To The Future – Michael J. Fox (1985)
||In contrast, this time travel fantasy was the highest grossing film of its year,
spawning two sequels, an animated series, comic books and a theme park ride.
In the first movie, the hero, Marty McFly (played by Michael J. Fox), travels to the past and
inadvertently (and later deliberately) changes his present day life as a result of something he
does. Each film in the trilogy explores the power of a single action to shape the events that
follow. In other words, each action leads to a different probable future.
Groundhog Day – Bill Murray (1993)
||Groundhog Day is a slightly different twist on the alternate reality
theme. In this movie, Bill Murray's character is forced to relive the same day over and
over until he changes his priorities.
The movie examines the consequences of each action he takes based on his newfound knowledge,
often leading to unexpected results. But as he changes for the better, he uses the opportunity
of reliving the same day to put things right and choose more worthwhile actions.
12:01 – Jonathan Silverman (1993)
||Released on television in the same year as Groundhog Day, but based on an
earlier (1990) Showtime short film, 12:01 is a brilliantly written movie that
features both humor and steadily mounting tension.
The hero, played by Jonathan Silverman, relives the same day over and over, but in this story
he must prevent the murder of the girl he loves from afar. It's one of my favorite movies ever
and I'm sorry it didn't get theatrical release. A great examination of consequences.
Sliding Doors – Gwyneth Paltrow (1998)
||This movie examines two probable futures simultaneously.
In one scenario, Gwyneth Paltrow's character arrives home early to catch her lover with another
woman. In the second, she misses the train and continues living with him, unaware of his
Me Myself I – Rachel Griffiths (1999)
||This is a great little movie about the path not taken. Rachel Griffiths wonders
if she's left it too late for marriage and wonders why she let handsome Robert Dickson
drift out of her life. Then she meets her alternate self, who is married to Robert and
has three troublesome children. She gets temporarily 'stuck' in her probable self's life
and gets to actually live her "what if" question.
Entertaining and well done.
Frequency – Dennis Quaid (2000)
||One of my all time favorites. Jim Caviezel's character makes contact with his
dead father (played by Dennis Quaid) who's still living in the world of 30 years ago. The
movie follows the various changes wrought by the father as he uses his son's knowledge to
deliberately alter both their futures.
A taut thriller but also an excellent examination of the power of a single action.
The Kid – Bruce Willis (2000)
||Bruce Willis's shallow, cynical advertising exec meets his dorky eight-year-old
self, which changes both their shared past and Willis's present day reality.
Very similar to a Richard Bach story (author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull) on the same
subject, even down to the fact that Bach flies biplanes and they often feature in his novels.
In the movie, a red biplane is a recurring motif.
- The Family Man – Nicholas Cage
This is almost a male version of the Rachel Griffiths movie, Me Myself I. Bachelor businessman Nicholas
Cage wakes up to find himself married to Téa Leoni, the girl he left behind.
Not a favorite of mine but well done.
The Butterfly Effect – Ashton Kutcher
||Somewhat disturbing movie starring Ashton Kutcher. His character discovers he
can go back into the past and change it, leading to increasingly disastrous
In other words, you can change your life in an instant. You don't need to accept anything about your present day
reality if it's not what you want for yourself. You can set yourself on a new path by taking one small action in
the direction you want to go. Every single day.
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