One theme that runs through many time travel stories is that of the Butterfly Effect. Most famously demonstrated in Ray Bradbury’s short story “A Sound of Thunder” where time travelers go back to prehistoric times on a dinosaur safari and inadvertently change the future by carelessly killing a butterfly in the past. The most recent example of the Butterfly Effect is in Stephen King’s newest literary release 11/22/63; in that book the assassination of John F. Kennedy is prevented resulting in a radically altered timeline.
This list will cover some of the best Butterfly Effects presented on several media that I’ve seen or read (sorry haven’t read Lest Darkness Fall or The Time Ships yet), and are based on Effects directly due to time travel and the amount of time spent exploring those altered worlds.
10. “Storm Front, Part I & II” from Star Trek: Enterprise; the fourth season opener concluded the maligned and confusing temporal cold war storyline. Captain Archer and the Enterprise crew are trapped on Earth during World War II in a timeline altered by aliens. This resulted in the Nazis being more technologically advanced and occupying parts of the U.S.
9. “Turn Left” from Doctor Who; the episode examines what would have happened if Companion Donna Noble never met the Doctor. It’s a grim timeline that features the deaths of the Tenth Doctor, Martha Jones, Sarah Jane Smith, Torchwood and Britain under martial law.
8. “Year Of Hell, Part I & II” from Star Trek: Voyager; the crew of the lost starship Voyager stumble upon an obsessed alien intent on using time as a weapon in his region of space then as a means to restore his wife after utilizing the weapon erases her from history. The Voyager crew literally go through hell as they try to track down the alien and restore the timeline. It was so well done many fans grumbled when things went back to normal!
7. Flashpoint; The DC Comics mini-series and its spin-offs has the Flash preventing his mother’s death while time traveling, which forever alters the DC Universe. First the Flash is trapped in a nightmarish, violent version of the DC Universe with many altered heroes and villains then the storyline concludes with the creation of the New 52 titles running today with updated versions of the DC heroes.
6. “The Hanged Man” from Journeyman; it’s a short-lived series from 2007 that in a similar vein to Quantum Leap had the hero (reporter Dan Vasser-played by Kevin McKidd) uncontrollably time traveling and changing history. In this episode, Dan leaves behind a digital camera in 1984 that is reverse engineered. When he returns, not only is technology more advanced but his young son is erased and instead has a daughter, leaving him with a deep moral dilemma.
5.” Profile In Silver” from The Twilight Zone of the 1980s; the late Lane Smith portrays a history professor who goes back in time to study the assassination of his ancestor, John F. Kennedy, and winds up saving him. This of course begins a cataclysmic chain of events due to time trying to compensate for the alteration. In other words World War III is about to erupt. In true Twilight Zone fashion, the ending is a real twist.
4. The Guns Of The South; Harry Turtledove’s masterpiece is about what happens when Confederate soldiers are armed with AK-47s by time-traveling racist white South Africans. Obviously this turns the tide of the Civil War in the Confederate’s favor and readers learn that Lincoln loses re-election, Robert E. Lee becomes president of the C.S.A., the U.S. gets into a war with Britain and the Confederacy becomes a technologically advanced nation.
3. The Age of Apocalypse Storyline from the X-Men books; Professor X of the X-Men is accidently killed in the past by his son. This chain reaction leads to the villainous mutant Apocalypse conquering America and committing genocide on non-mutants. For months the crossover X-books featured alternate versions of mutants such as a heroic Magneto leading the X-Men, Wolverine with a missing hand and teams with different members some of whom are villains in the regular books like Sabretooth.
2. The Nantucket Trilogy comprised of S.M. Stirling’s books Island In The Sea Of Time, Against The Tide Of Years and On The Oceans Of Eternity; the storyline has the island of Nantucket, its modern-day inhabitants and a Coast Guard ship sent back in time to the Bronze Age. Their necessary interactions with the people in that time period lead to early introductions to gunpowder, primitive air travel and increased global trade and contact. Naturally trouble starts when renegades leave Nantucket and begin to carve out their own kingdoms leading to armed conflict.
1. The Back To The Future Trilogy; Robert Zemeckis’ three films about a time-traveling teenager and his buddy scientist is actually a fantastic examination of the Butterfly Effect. In the first film, Marty McFly travels from the 1980s in a DeLorean to the 1950s and prevents his parents from falling in love. The obvious effect is that he and his siblings are being erased so he has to restore the timeline (audiences are helped by the rapid fire explanations of Doc Brown about the nuances of time travel). He succeeds for the most part. While his parents do wind up together they are changed due to their future son’s influence and this results in Marty’s family being better off when he returns to the ’80s.
In the second film, a trip to 2015 results in a more dire Butterfly Effect. The trilogy’s villain Biff Tannen steals the DeLorean and travels to the ’50s to make his younger self rich. When Marty McFly and his friend Doc Brown return to the ’80s, their hometown has been transformed into a nightmarish vision. Seedy casinos and chemical plants are everywhere,
crime is rampant and even Richard Nixon is still president while the Vietnam War rages on. Marty’s family life is radically changed as his father is dead and his mother is married to Tannen. In the third film, the Butterfly Effect is reflected in the duo’s adventures in the 1880s; chiefly with their confrontation with Tannen’s murderous ancestor which could lead to their premature deaths. The Effect is last touched upon in the end when we see a landmark renamed and Marty McFly altering an event in the ’80s that has an unknown yet hopeful alteration to his future.