Time After Time (1979 film)

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Time After Time
Promotional poster
Directed by Nicholas Meyer
Screenplay byNicholas Meyer
Story bySteve Hayes
Based on Time After Time
1979 novel
by Karl Alexander [1]
Produced by Herb Jaffe
Cinematography Paul Lohmann
Edited by Donn Cambern
Music by Miklós Rózsa
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • September 7, 1979 (1979-09-07)(TIFF [2] )
  • September 28, 1979 (1979-09-28)(United States)
Running time
112 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$13 million [3]

Time After Time is a 1979 American science fiction film written and directed by Nicholas Meyer and starring Malcolm McDowell, David Warner, and Mary Steenburgen. Filmed in Panavision, it was the directing debut of Meyer, whose screenplay is based on the premise from Karl Alexander's novel Time After Time (which was unfinished at the time) and a story by Alexander and Steve Hayes. The film presents a story in which British author H. G. Wells uses his time machine to pursue Jack the Ripper into the 20th century.



In 1893 London, popular writer Herbert George Wells displays a time machine to his skeptical dinner guests, and explains how it works, including having a "non-return key" that keeps the machine at the traveler's destination and a "vaporizing equalizer" that keeps the traveler and machine on equal terms. The police constables suddenly arrive, searching for Jack the Ripper. A bag with blood-stained gloves belonging to Wells' friend John Leslie Stevenson, a surgeon, leads them to conclude that Stevenson may be the infamous killer. Wells races to his laboratory, but the time machine is gone.

Stevenson escapes to the future, though without the "non-return" key, causing the machine to automatically reappear in 1893. Wells then pursues Stevenson to November 5, 1979, where the machine is now on display at a San Francisco museum. Wells finds the future deeply shocking, having expected an enlightened socialist utopia. Instead he sees chaos in the form of airplanes, automobiles and a history of global war, crime, and bloodshed.

At a bank, Wells exchanges some British bank notes for present-day currency. Hungry, he enters a McDonald's and is alternately puzzled and pleased with 1979 dining options.

Reasoning that Stevenson also needs to exchange British money, Wells visits various banks searching for him. At the Chartered Bank of London, he meets employee Amy Robbins, who directed Stevenson to the Hyatt Regency hotel. Smitten with Wells, she gives him her card, saying he should, “give her a ring”.

Confronted at the Hyatt by Wells, Stevenson confesses that he finds modern society pleasingly violent, stating: "Ninety years ago, I was a freak. Today, I'm an amateur."

Wells demands he return to 1893 to face justice, but Stevenson instead attempts to wrestle the time machine's key from him. Their struggle is interrupted by a maid and Stevenson flees, getting hit by a car during the frantic chase. Wells follows him to the hospital emergency room and mistakenly believes Stevenson is dead.

Wells meets up with Amy Robbins again and she initiates a romance. Stevenson returns to the bank to exchange more money. Suspecting that Amy led Wells to him, he frightens her into giving Wells a message and later discovers where she lives.

To convince a highly skeptical Amy that he is telling the truth, Wells takes her three days into the future. She is aghast to see a newspaper headline revealing her own murder as the "San Francisco Ripper's" fifth victim.

Wells persuades her that they must go back to prevent the fourth victim's murder, then prevent Amy's. Upon returning, they are delayed and can do no more than phone the police. Stevenson kills again, and Wells is arrested due to his knowledge about the killing. Amy is left alone, totally defenseless against Stevenson

While Wells unsuccessfully tries to convince the police of Amy's peril, she attempts to hide from Stevenson. When the police finally investigate her apartment, they find a woman's dismembered body. Believing him innocent, the police release a now-heartbroken Wells. Stevenson actually killed Amy's coworker, who was the dead body in Amy's apartment. He contacts Wells that he has taken Amy hostage and wants the time machine key from Wells.

Stevenson flees with the key – and Amy as insurance – intending a permanent escape in the time machine. Wells erratically drives Amy's car and follow them to the museum. While Wells bargains for Amy's life, she escapes. As Stevenson starts up the time machine, Wells removes the "vaporizing equalizer", causing Stevenson to vanish while the machine remains there. Stevenson has been sent traveling endlessly through time.

Wells proclaims he must return to his own time and destroy a machine that is too dangerous for primitive mankind. Amy pleads with him to take her along, saying she has no remaining ties in the 20th century. The film ends with the caption: "H.G. Wells married Amy Catherine Robbins, who died in 1927. As a writer, he anticipated socialism, global war, space travel, and women's liberation. He died in 1946."



According to Meyer from the commentary track for the DVD and Blu-ray release of the film, the author of the novel presented Meyer with 55 pages of his unpublished novel and asked Meyer to critique his work. Meyer liked the premise and immediately optioned the story so he could write a screenplay based on the material and develop the story his own way. [4]

McDowell was attracted to the material because he was looking for something different from the sex and violence in Caligula , in which he played the title character. [5]

While preparing to portray Wells, McDowell obtained a copy of a 78 rpm recording of Wells speaking. McDowell was "absolutely horrified" to hear that Wells spoke in a high-pitched, squeaky voice with a pronounced Southeast London accent, which McDowell felt would have resulted in unintentional humor if he tried to mimic it for the film. McDowell abandoned any attempt to recreate Wells's authentic speaking style and preferred a more "dignified" style. [5]

According to David Warner, the studio wanted Mick Jagger for the role of John Leslie Stevenson but director Nicholas Meyer and producer Herb Jaffe fought for Warner to get the role. [6]

It was one of the last films scored by veteran composer Miklós Rózsa, who received the 1979 Saturn Award for Best Music.

Time After Time was filmed throughout San Francisco, including Cow Hollow, North Beach, the Hyatt Regency hotel, Westin Bonaventure Hotel, California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, the Marina District, Ghirardelli Square, Fisherman's Wharf, the Richmond District, the Golden Gate Bridge, Grace Cathedral on Nob Hill, the Embarcadero Center, Chinatown, the Marina Green, the Palace of Fine Arts, Potrero Hill, and the Civic Center.


The film premiered with a gala presentation at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 7, 1979. [2]


Critical response

Time After Time received a positive response from critics. On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 88% based on 32 reviews. The site's consensus reads, "With the three principal actors clearly having fun with their roles, Time After Time becomes an amusing, light-hearted fantasy lark." [7]

Variety described the film as "a delightful, entertaining trifle of a film that shows both the possibilities and limitations of taking liberties with literature and history. Nicholas Meyer has deftly juxtaposed Victorian England and contemporary America in a clever story, irresistible due to the competence of its cast". [8] Janet Maslin of The New York Times similarly lauded, "Time After Time is every bit as magical as the trick around which it revolves". She continued:

Mr. Meyer isn't a particularly skilled director; this is his first attempt, and on occasion it's very clumsy. But as a whizkid he's gone straight to the head of the class, with a movie that's as sweet as it is clever, and never so clever that it forgets to be entertaining. The satisfactions Time After Time offers are perhaps no more sophisticated than the fun one might have with an intricate set of electric trains. Still, fun of this sort isn't always easy to come by, not after one's age has climbed up into two digits. There's a lot to be said for an adult's movie with the shimmer of a child's new toy. [9]

The interior scenes set in London borrow heavily from the 1960 film The Time Machine , which was based on the 1895 H.G. Wells novella of the same name. Commentators also noticed parallels between Time After Time and Back to the Future Part III in which Mary Steenburgen appeared. [10] She said:

Actually, I've played the same scene in that film (Time After Time) and in (BTTF) Part III... I've had a man from a different time period tell me that he's in love with me, but he has to go back to his own time. My response in both cases is, of course, disbelief, and I order them out of my life. Afterwards, I find out I was wrong and that, in fact, the man is indeed from another time, and I go after him (them) to profess my love. It's a pretty strange feeling to find yourself doing the same scene, so many years apart, for the second time in your career. [11]

The casting of Steenburgen for Back to the Future Part III appears to be deliberately intended to mirror the earlier role. [12] [13] In Time After Time, the woman lives in the 20th century and the time traveler is from the 19th. In Back to the Future Part III, the woman inhabits the 19th century and the time traveler is from the 20th. [13] In both films, the woman eventually goes back with the time traveler to live in his own time period. [14]

Some similar time travel incongruities as well as the modern San Francisco urban setting also appeared in 1986's Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home , for which Nicholas Meyer shared writing credit. The details of time travelers from distant eras obtaining and exchanging present day American currency were similar in both films. In Star Trek IV, a featured female character, Dr. Gillian Taylor, ends up joining her paramour, Captain James T. Kirk, living in the future, similar to the conclusion of Time After Time.[ citation needed ]


Nicholas Meyer won the Saturn Award for Best Writing, Mary Steenburgen won the Saturn Award for Best Actress, and Miklós Rózsa won the Saturn Award for Best Music. Saturn Award nominations went to Meyer for Best Director, Malcolm McDowell for Best Actor, David Warner for Supporting Actor, and Sal Anthony and Yvonne Kubis for Best Costumes, and the film was nominated for Best Science Fiction Film.

Nicholas Meyer won the Antenne II Award and the Grand Prize at the Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival and he was nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Motion Picture Screenplay and the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.

In other media


On May 12, 2016, the ABC television network announced that it had picked up a Time After Time television series to air in the 2016–2017 television season. The series, executive produced and written by Kevin Williamson, [15] [16] was cancelled after only five episodes. [17] [18]

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  1. "Detail view of Movies Page". Afi.com. Retrieved 2016-05-13.
  2. 1 2 Adilman, Sid (September 12, 1979). "Strong Opening For Toronto Festival". Variety . p. 7.
  3. "Time After Time (1979)". The Numbers . Retrieved December 3, 2016.
  4. Nicholas Meyer (2002). Time After Time audio commentary (DVD). Warner Home Video.
  5. 1 2 Malcolm McDowell (2002). Time After Time audio commentary (DVD). Warner Home Video.
  6. Harris, Will (2017-07-26). "David Warner on Twin Peaks, Tron, Titanic, Time Bandits, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II". The A.V. Club . Retrieved 2017-11-05.
  7. "Time After Time". RottenTomatoes.com. Fandango Media. Retrieved 19 May 2023.
  8. "Review: 'Time After Time'". Variety . December 31, 1979. Retrieved October 16, 2015.
  9. Maslin, Janet (September 28, 1979). "Screen: H.G. Wells Trails Jack the Ripper into 1979: Down the Years". The New York Times . Archived from the original on 2 July 2016. Retrieved 11 February 2023.
  10. Spencer Bennett (2 November 2015). "WHAT TIES THESE FIVE TIME-TRAVEL MOVIES TOGETHER? – [VIDEO]". mix979fm.com. I was noticing the time-traveling ties between Time After Time (1979) and another movie Back to the Future III (1990), a film also starring Mary Steenburgen. In Time After Time, she played Amy Robbins, a 20th Century woman who falls in love with a time traveller, H.G. Wells (played by Malcolm McDowell) from the 19th Century.... In Back to the Future Part III (1990), she played Clara Clayton, a 19th Century woman who falls in love with a time traveller (played by Christopher Lloyd), from the 20th Century.
  11. "Mary Steenburgen ("Clara Clayton Brown")". backtothefuture.com. Archived from the original on 2019-02-20. Retrieved 2019-02-20.
  12. Christopher Campbell (21 October 2015). "10 Movies to Watch After You See Back to the Future Part III". filmschoolrejects.com. Steenburgen was sought to play Clara in part based on her role in this movie where she plays the love interest of another time traveller. Instead of a man from the future who is a fan of a famed 19th century sci-fi and fantasy author, her leading man is from the past and an actual famed 19th century sci-fi and fantasy author, H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell)... he brings Steenburgen's character back to his own time period, just as Doc does with Clara.
  13. 1 2 "Ultimate Facts: back to the Future Part III". thefilmbox.org. Archived from the original on 2019-08-18. Retrieved 2019-02-20. The role of Clara Clayton was written specifically for Mary Steenburgen. – In the film, Clara Clayton is a 19th Century woman who falls in love with a time traveler from the 20th Century. In Time After Time (1979), Mary Steenburgen played Amy Robbins, a 20th Century woman who falls in love with a time traveler from the 19th Century.
  14. Sorcha Ní Fhlainn (1 August 2016). "'There's Something Very Familiar About All This': Time Machines, Cultural Tangents, and Mastering Time in H.G. Wells's The Time Machine and the Back to the Future trilogy". Adaptation. 9 (2): 164. doi: 10.1093/adaptation/apv028 . The conclusion to Back to the Future III (where both Doc and Clara travel to 1985 to meet with Marty once more, in a new time machine constructed within a steam-powered locomotive), intertextually connects this moment with the conclusion of Meyer's Time After Time, where H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) not only prevents Jack the Ripper (David Warner) from continuing his murder spree in San Francisco in 1979, but also brings Amy Robbins (also played by Mary Steenburgen) back to Victorian England with him. Thus, both women are positioned as a reward for the time traveller's dedication and emotional connection to the machine. Both Clara and Amy are permanently relocated by their respective masters of time, just as Wells's Time Traveller had intended with Weena.
  15. Petski, Denise (2016-01-28). "'Time After Time' Picked Up To Series By ABC". Deadline. Retrieved 2016-05-13.
  16. Posted 5:21 pm, May 12, 2016, by Alex Welch. "'Still Star-Crossed,' 'Conviction,' 'Downward Dog,' and more ordered to series at ABC for 2016-17 | TV By The Numbers by zap2it.com". Tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com. Archived from the original on 2016-05-13. Retrieved 2016-05-13.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  17. "ABC Cancels 'Time After Time'". Variety. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
  18. "ABC's "Match Game" to Replace "Time After Time" on Sunday Nights Beginning April 2". The Futon Critic. March 29, 2017. Retrieved March 29, 2017.