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Groundhog Day and beyond: the best time-looping TV shows and films to watch before The Lazarus Project

These time-hopping tales will make your brain hurt - in a good way. By Katie Rosseinsky

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Paapa Essiedu as George in The Lazarus Project

Paapa Essiedu as George in The Lazarus Project

Sky UK Ltd

Paapa Essiedu as George in The Lazarus Project

Imagine waking up and living the same day over and over again - an incredibly tedious fate, surely? And yet, as a slew of films and TV series have proven, the constraints of a time loop can actually provide the building blocks for brilliant stories, from romantic comedies to nerve-shredding thrillers.

The latest show to dabble in high-concept time-travelling is The Lazarus Project, which arrives on Sky Max on June 16. Written by Giri/Haji’s Joe Barton, it stars Paapa Essiedu as George, a man who wakes up to find he’s reliving a day that happened months before - and that everything that’s happened to him since then has been completely undone. So of course he is singled out to work as part of a secret organisation who turn back time every time the world is faced with extinction, staffed only by those who can still remember what happened before the timeline was reset.

Intrigued? Confused? Time-hopping stories like this tread a fine line between keeping viewers on their toes with a head-scratchingly clever concept and alienating them entirely with esoteric twists and chat about quantum physics (we’re looking at you, Tenet). Spanning the genres from classic comedy to sweeping period drama to horror, the following are stories we’d happily watch over and over and over…

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Caroline Quentin as Wes & Anjli Mohindra as Archie in The Lazarus Project

Caroline Quentin as Wes & Anjli Mohindra as Archie in The Lazarus Project

Caroline Quentin as Wes & Anjli Mohindra as Archie in The Lazarus Project

Palm Springs

One of the most absorbing, intelligent time loop conceits we’ve seen on-screen recently, 2021 release Palm Springs also happens to be one of the best rom-coms we’ve watched in a while. Andy Samberg’s Nyles hits it off with the sister of the bride, Cristin Milioti’s Sarah, at a slightly insufferable hipster wedding. So far, so normal rom-com - but Nyles is condemned to experience this big day ad finitum, and after he and Sarah sneak away from the reception into the desert and they’re both dragged into a time vortex. The film wears its cleverness lightly, and watching Nyles and Sarah attempt to work their way out of the loop together is a delight.

Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

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Groundhog Day

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Bill Murray in Groundhog Day

Bill Murray in Groundhog Day

Bill Murray in Groundhog Day

The OG time loop film, and still one of - if not the - best. Bill Murray is grouchy local weatherman Phil Connors, whose contempt for his annual trip to cover the Punxsutawney Groundhog Day festivities is palpable - especially when he is forced to spend an extra night in the small town due to an unexpected blizzard. When he wakes up (to the strains of Sonny and Cher’s I Got You Babe playing on the radio) he soon realises he’s stuck repeating the events of that day, February 2, over and over again, until he gradually falls for the people of Punxsutawney - and his producer Rita (Andie MacDowell).

Streaming on Now and available to rent on Amazon Prime Video

Russian Doll

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Natasha Lyonne as Nadia Vulvokov in Russian Doll

Natasha Lyonne as Nadia Vulvokov in Russian Doll

COURTESY OF NETFLIX

Natasha Lyonne as Nadia Vulvokov in Russian Doll

Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) lives out the day of her 36th birthday party again and again - and keeps dying at the end of it - in this series co-created by Lyonne, Amy Poehler and writer-director Leslye Headland. With each reincarnation, people and things start to disappear - Nadia’s reality seems to be shrinking with every repetition, like a nest of matryoshka Russian dolls. Gloriously genre-defying, simultaneously crammed with existential musings and dark humour, it’s dazzling proof that time loops needn’t mean repetitive storytelling.

Streaming on Netflix

Looper

The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson proved he had the sci-fi nous to helm a Star Wars film with this ingenious 2012 release, which skilfully dances between genres and, crucially, feels character-driven, rather than focusing on joylessly laying out the rules of its specific brand of time-travelling (cough, Tenet, cough). Set in a future where it’s become impossible to dispose of a body due to high-level surveillance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as a young contract killer, or ‘looper’, who works for a dodgy syndicate that sends its victims back in time to bump them off. Emily Blunt, Bruce Willis, Paul Dano and Jeff Daniels round out the cast.

Streaming on Netflix

The Map of Tiny Perfect Things

This likeable teen rom-com stars Kathryn Newton (who you might recognise from her turn as Reese Witherspoon’s on-screen daughter in Big Little Lies) and Kyle Allen as two high-schoolers who realise they’re stuck in the same time loop. Their idealistic escape plan involves finding and appreciating every perfect moment that occurs in the day - but real life keeps intruding. A bit schmaltzy, yes, but very sweet all the same.

Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

Life After Life

Kate Atkinson’s uniquely structured novel is the sort of book usually deemed ‘unadaptable’, but the recent BBC miniseries starring Thomasin McKenzie as Ursula Todd and Sian Clifford and James McArdle as her parents, made the transition from page to screen feel effortless. Ursula lives out many iterations of her life: every time she dies, she is always reborn on the same night in 1910, then able to navigate her existence in new ways each time. A lingering sense of déjà vu helps her navigate the era between the two World Wars, including a run-in with Hitler in the 1930s.

Streaming on BBC iPlayer

Edge of Tomorrow

Live, die, repeat was an alternative title for this Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt vehicle, which feels very Ronseal, given it’s about an army major, William Cage, who is stuck playing out a disastrous battle between human forces and alien invaders known as the Mimics. Cage (Cruise) keeps dying over and over again and waking up at Heathrow airport - a truly sorry fate - but a meeting with war hero Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Blunt) helps get him on the right track, with Cage eventually harnessing his knowledge of what’s gone before to help hone his tactics. High concept, high octane stuff.

Streaming on Now and available to rent on Amazon Prime Video

Bandersnatch

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Fionn Whitehead in Bandersnatch

Fionn Whitehead in Bandersnatch

Stuart Hendry/Netflix

Fionn Whitehead in Bandersnatch

OK, it’s not your traditional time loop, but it’s certainly easy to get trapped travelling through different iterations of this choose your own adventure-style twist on Black Mirror, which lies somewhere between a video game and a movie. Things get meta very quickly as we meet programmer Stefan (Fionn Whitehead), who is adapting a book (called Bandersnatch) into a computer game while grappling with grief over the death of his mother. What follows is fourth-wall breaking, self-referential and a bit messy, but it’s undoubtedly an impressive feat of storytelling and interactivity.

Streaming on Netflix

The Final Girls

Here’s a clever twist on that old horror movie trope where a bunch of screaming teens get picked off one by one. A bunch of high school students are dragged into the world of an Eighties slasher movie, moving through the film’s hour-and-a-half run time over and over, attempting to save as many of their group as possible as they go. As well as playing loving homage to the classic scary movies of the era (and their clichés), the soundtrack is packed with Eighties synth-pop.

Available to rent on Amazon Prime Video

Happy Death Day

Another horror spin on the time loop concept that’s not for the faint of heart, Happy Death Day follows a college student who’s killed off on her birthday, then starts reliving the day again and again, using each iteration to observe different suspects and finally work out the identity of the murderer. Filmed on a relative shoestring, it was a huge box office hit for horror supremos Blumhouse Productions (the outfit behind watch-through-your-fingers hits like Paranormal Activity and Get Out) upon its release in 2017.

Available to rent on Amazon Prime Video

Source Code

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Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan in Source Code

Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan in Source Code

Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan in Source Code

Jake Gyllenhaal plays a pilot who is sent into a recreation of a terrorist attack on a train (by inhabiting another passenger’s body, in case that premise sounded too pedestrian for you) in this clever thriller, directed by Duncan Jones. He relives the same eight minutes on the train, with the aim of tracking down the bomber and prevent another similar attack from happening. Michelle Monaghan, Jeffrey Wright and Vera Farmiga also star.

Available to rent on Amazon Prime Video

The Lazarus Project is on Sky Max and Now


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