The doomsday clock is nearing its end, and one of the fascinating multiverse movies we’ll ever see is about to explode all over the screen. Marvel and Kevin Feige have conjured some alchemy to make miracles happen, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness will not disappoint. The Infinity Saga was their first triumph. Daring to open another saga with Eternals was another. And now, they are gently perfuming the inner thigh of the “Multiverse.”
Many nerds began searching for a definition, etymology, and the origin of the very idea. And, if you visit any groups of card-trading gaggles during the COVID crisis, the odds are that was the center of the conversation. While the subject of the multiverse seems like a newish talking point, it’s been around longer than you think.
And that got us thinking about another listicle and what other films have done the multiverse idea well. There are a few to choose from, so…
Here are the Top 10 Multiverse Movies of All Time.
10. The Butterfly Effect (2004)
No, this Geek Vibes Nation listicle on multiverse movies doesn’t start with Tenet, Looper, or even The Chronicles of Narnia. All of those were good films with plenty of fantasy and sci-fi effects, but The Butterfly Effect did all that in 2004. To add to the realization of a parallel universe, this film set out to play with Chaos Theory, a principle in mathematics and scientific theory that states patterns are not as random as you believe.
The Butterfly Effect’s underlying foundation is chaos ripples through time–“a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can cause a tornado in Texas.” Here’s Evan (Ashton Kutcher), who has experienced memory loss and blackouts throughout childhood. It turns out the blackout is some wormhole where Evan can relive points in his life that he “missed.” But what he doesn’t realize is that what you jack with in the past will affect your future and really screw with your present.
If you haven’t seen this film, watch it. The seedy underbelly of the multiverse learned to roll here, and it’s a jacked-up ride.
9. Coherence (2013)
What the what?! Yes, before comic-book talent decided we were ready to absorb the dense material of multiverse movies, there was this indie film that played with the idea of a parallel landing point because of a comet dividing everything we see on screen in two. That’s all it took to avail us of this sci-fi trope (causing most people who saw it to groan). The movie can be schmaltzy in places, but you notice our stars aren’t alone. It begins to look like a family reunion from hell.
If you saw Us and liked it, Coherence may seem familiar and pretty solid. However, it’s a guarantee that Jordan Peele watched this film several times to understand how to manage diabolical doppelgangers, which is to say, “Kill them fast because this world isn’t big enough for the both of us.” Give this film a chance. It’s better than you may think.
8. Source Code (2011)
Yes, that’s Jake Gyllenhaal. And no, this isn’t Donnie Darko. You call yourself a fan, huh? Source Code starts with the premise that “Joshua” from War Games would be like if it were all growed up. Imagine a computer system simulating a surrealist timeline based on the memories of dead people. Now that a ruthless terrorist is roaming the land, the military is racing to find the mad bomber’s identity.
That’s when all hell breaks loose. The only possibility the military has is using one of its brains. (He’s dying, so he won’t need his brain for long.) The Source Code machine gets the juice it needs–and then some. You already know about this film if you have seen The Lawnmower Man. Alternative reality. Simulated other lifeways. Before you know it, you’re loving this movie. (Really. Try it.)
7. Doctor Strange (2016)
This movie was everything you thought it could have been. Scott Derrickson remembered what it was like to watch Pink Floyd’s The Wall the whole way through…and possibly under the influence of some foreign substances. This was a trip to psychedelia as Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) learns to tangle in the Dark Dimension and eventually becomes face-to-face with Dormamu. Thank God for auto-rewind because that VHS feature whooped Dormamu’s behind!
Doctor Strange was years past when we first began to see the idea of the multiverse and intergalactic travel, but this was the movie where it cracked the code in terms of VFX, plot twist, and overall mind screwing. It was also years ahead of where we thought a movie about a parallel universe could look. The MCU way was in full view for everyone to behold, and no one has looked back since. Until the Multiverse of Madness shows up.
6. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Much as is the M.O. (modus operandi for those scoring at home) for Kevin Feige’s team, they have known for years that multiverse movies would be a big deal. It’s 2022 when people act like they’re experts on the subject, and this marvel of a film (yes, pun intended) back in 2018 was kicking open the door to a multiverse.
This had as much fan service as some live-action flicks, and it was twice as entertaining as some. Casual fans dove into the depths of Stan Lee’s cornerstone creation, and serious fans finally were able to exhale by seeing their guilty pleasure characters on the screen. (Spider-Pig, anyone?) Going into the Spider-Verse made them certain for those who weren’t sure about the possibility of a parallel universe.
5. Avengers: Endgame (2019)
For most fans of parallel universes, this was the movie that made it acceptable to investigate. There’s a reason they call the people at Disney “Imagineers.” Maybe that mojo leaked on the Marvel Studios team because something as abstract as multiverse movies suddenly became understandable.
Avengers: Endgame could have been an utter flop for two-and-a-half acts, but from the moment Steve Rogers whispers “Assemble” right after the skies begin looking like a sheet of Swiss cheese, the multiverse was amazeballs! Heroes from places past, present, and future stepped in the way of Thanos’ universal domination and whooped his Barney the Dinosaur ass!
The real power of the Infinity Stones was resurrecting the idea of multiverse movies.
4. The One (2001)
Having one Jet Li in a movie is bad enough. But, several of them in parallel universes could be too much to handle. Fortunately, Jet Li needs to find them all–in 125 universes. The entire film is based on traveling into multiverses to find these variants of himself, ranging from mischievous to sinister.
In a little like Highlander, “there can only be one!” If Jet Li finds all the other versions of himself and kills them, he will be the Neo before the Matrix. Imagine someone with his natural skill imbued with deity-like powers. The fight choreography by Corey Yuen of Chinese Wuxia fame has to show Li gaining supernatural strength and agility with every fatal blow.
Seeing how the multiverse was only a thing made up in comics, seeing this in 2001 was innovative and unthinkable. This movie set the ball in motion for multiverse movies. Now, does it hold up is another story altogether? That’s why this is only about “multiverse movies” and not “better movies.”
3. Star Trek (2009)
You may be all lathered up thinking about the latest CBMs that have prepared you to behold the mesmerizing journey of Dr. Stephen Strange throughout these multiverse movies. And you may have gotten to this film and put more wrinkles in your forehead than stretch marks on J-Lo’s yoga pants. Yet, JJ Abrams went straight to the multiverse to reboot Star Trek.
A gigantic ship creating black holes in space as its portal to destroy specific planets. Beneath this mythos: we get a connection to the original Star Trek team, specifically Mr. Spock. The old one rolled out the carpet to the classics. The new one opened the door to a future of Captain Logical. All the same, this film worked so well, and it was harmonious–and the momentum behind the film’s plot. And it was great.
I don’t think Marvel didn’t watch this movie on auto-rewind dozens of times to learn how to do it. Welcome to the wormhole, Marvel.
2. Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
This film personifies the “Bang-to-Hype” ratio (copywritten says me). When a movie is hyped to a Level 11, then the BANG it makes must match. And this–you already know where this is going–banged three times as loudly as anyone thought. Spider-Man is a character we can’t get enough of, so there have been three.
The different villains. Plot holes for fun. And all of Peter’s spider gals. But they weren’t in one movie, so how can that happen? Well, now we know. When Andrew Garfield stepped inside that family room, audiences worldwide lost their minds. Then, Tobey Maguire showed up. At that moment, this “multiverse” mess all made sense, and all was right with the world.
The MCU, with significant help from the Sony Spidey-Verse, just perfected the idea of multiverse movies.
1. Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)
Yes, this ranks above anything Marvel has done (yet) on the multiverse. It is a psychotropic journey that never ends, following Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) trying to connect the dots of herself across parallel universes she never knew existed to obtain abilities she never knew she had. To add to her stress level of time travel, she can save the world, but only if she connects with herself in past and future lives.
When you thought Hollywood could only churn out reboots, remixes, and requels, here comes another indie darling to remind us how some people still strive to deliver high-quality content. Directed by “The Daniels” (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert), this is a film that recreates what all the multiverse movies didn’t know they could have been.
What is so welcoming about Everything Everywhere All At Once, Michelle Yeoh is nowhere near the Wuxia genre and still owns this film. What is a refreshing surprise is Jamie Lee Curtis, who plays Deidre Beaubeirdra and gets to enjoy this wild and inventive trip down Amnesia Lane. If you don’t believe this ranking, see the movie for yourself. Multiverse movies do not have to be full of VFX and superheroes to be great. This film proves it.
Since he saw ‘Dune’ in the $1 movie theater as a kid, this guy has been a lover of geek culture. It wasn’t until he became a professional copywriter, ghostwriter, and speechwriter that he began to write about it (a lot).
From the gravitas of the Sith, the genius of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, or the gluttony of today’s comic fan, SPW digs intelligent debate about entertainment. He’s also addicted to listicles, storytelling, useless trivia, and the Oxford comma. And, he prefers his puns intended.