We’ve all had déjà vu. You feel like you’ve been somewhere before, experienced something already, or met someone, perhaps in a past life. That feeling of a living loop has become common fodder for movies and TV series over the years, often depicting a character repeating the same day, or general time period, over and over. The theme can be ominous, centered around a terrible situation or a bit more humorous, like a reporter reliving the same small-town weather report.
Either way, it’s become a go-to concept, often used in creative ways over the years. As such, we’ve rounded up some of the best movies and TV moments that focus on the phenomenon. Sure, the theme sounds like it would be snore-worthy over time, but the results are often thoroughly — and repeatedly — entertaining.
Groundhog Day (1993)
In this classic example from the late Harold Ramis that helped spawn the phenomenon, TV weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) keeps reliving the same mundane day, February 2, when he’s tasked with repeatedly reporting on the annual Groundhog Day event in the small town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. He spirals, believing that since the day will start again anyway, he might as well binge-drink, live dangerously, and have a series of one-night stands. He knows he’ll get a do-over anyway, right? He eventually resorts to desperate measures to end the curse, until finally realizing how to take his repetitious lemons and make lemonade.
Happy Death Day (2017)
Being stuck in a time loop is terrifying, but being stuck on your birthday sounds like reason to celebrate, right? That is, unless you come to the realization that it’s also the day you’re brutally murdered over and over again. Each morning, college student Theresa (Jessica Rothe) wakes up trying to escape death and figure out who keeps trying to kill her. Given the film’s success — it earned $125 million worldwide on a paltry $4.8 million budget — it was no surprise to see a sequel to this black comedy/slasher film, which has been described as Groundhog Day meets Scream.
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (2018)
In this thrilling and unique interactive film set in the 1980s, the audience controls the time loop through a choose-your-own-adventure-style series of choices. In true meta form, young programmer Stefan (Fionn Whitehead) is trying to get his choose-your-own-adventure video game off the ground, but with every decision he (or rather, you) makes, the path to success or failure changes dramatically. Make the wrong choice and the game is a roaring failure, and Stefan must begin his journey again, either from the beginning or from a pivotal point in the story. The time loop commences as many times as necessary until you get to some kind of ending.
Russian Doll (2019)
Created by Amy Poehler, Leslye Headland, and star Natasha Lyonne, this series focuses on software engineer Nadia (Lyonne), who keeps dying on her own birthday, then waking up to relive the day and its terrible circumstances over and over. The high praise this Netflix comedy has received since its February 1 release, including an impressive 97-percent Certified Fresh rating on review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, suggests that Nadia may be stuck in that loop a little longer.
Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
In this sci-fi stunner, Tom Cruise plays Major William Cage, a public relations officer who finds himself embroiled in a mission to stop an alien invasion in Europe despite having no combat experience. His lack of training doesn’t matter since he keeps getting killed, then sent back to the day before the battle, giving him time to train and become a true warrior. Set in the future, the film, which co-stars Emily Blunt, is based on a screenplay adapted from the Japanese light novel All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. Stay tuned for a reported sequel, Live Die Repeat and Repeat, though a release date has yet to be confirmed.
Charmed (season 1, episode 22, Déjà vu All Over Again)
In this aptly named episode, the Charmed Ones must fight an inspector who has summoned the demon Tempus (David Carradine) to turn back time so he can try (and keep trying) to kill them until he succeeds. As they dodge murder multiple times over, the sisters can’t shake this strange feeling that this has all happened before.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (season 6, episode 5, Life Serial)
More humorous than ominous, this episode finds Buffy (Sarah Michelle Geller) stuck in a time loop that causes a mummy hand she’s retrieving for a customer at The Magic Box store to attack her over and over, forcing her to kill it. When she finally finds the solution, all is right again in the world (or as right as it ever gets in Sunnydale).
Source Code (2011)
Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a U.S. Army pilot who struggles with his identity as he finds himself reliving the same 8-minute period before the train he’s on explodes, killing everyone on it. He’s brought back again and again in this mission, tasked with figuring out how to stop the accident — no matter how many times he has to die to do it.
The X-Files (season 6, episode 14, Monday)
Mondays, am I right? This is no ordinary Monday, though, due to a bank robbery and bomb explosion. Written by Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul), this excellent X-Files episode sees this fateful day repeating over and over, each time with slight changes to the way things go down. Only one woman, Pam (Carrie Hamilton), realizes what’s happening. As with all other supernatural happenings in the series, Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) find themselves caught up in the situation.
Star Trek: The Next Generation (season 5, episode 18, Cause and Effect)
Even the future isn’t immune to the loop. When the Enterprise is caught in a time loop that sees the ship destroyed again and again after colliding with the USS Bozeman, those aboard start to experience déjà vu and catch on to what might be happening. How will they escape the loop and boldly go, well … anywhere? It’s going to take more than a “Make it so” from Captain Jean-Luc Picard.
Supernatural (season 3, episode 11, Mystery Spot)
Imagine having to relive the death of your brother over and over again, trying in vain each time to prevent it. Despite the dark subject matter, this Supernatural episode brings some comedy to the mix through the strange and creative ways that Sam’s brother, Dean (Jensen Ackles), kicks the bucket, from getting shot, to getting hit by a car, choking on a sausage, and even getting electrocuted by his razor.
In this Netflix original sci-fi film, engineer Renton (Robbie Amell) creates ARQ, a perpetual motion machine that allows time to loop. The goal? Save his former lover Hannah (Rachael Taylor) from being killed during a home invasion. In the process, though, he must also find out what the mysterious group known as the Bloc is after and why, and how his love Hannah might be involved in all this mess.
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