Probable Futures And Alternate Realities:
What Movies Can Teach You About
Achieving Your Dreams

The following movies all explore the idea that every action you take has consequences.

Some do this by placing the characters in situations where they can travel back in time and perform an action that will change their present day realities. Others show characters intersecting with probable versions of themselves who have chosen a different path.

Here are 10 examples of movies that do a great job of examining this theme:

  1. It's A Wonderful Life – James Stewart (1946)

    wonderful life A box office flop when it was initially released in theatres, It's A Wonderful Life became a favorite of television viewers in the 1970s and maintains its popularity to this day. Both director Frank Capra and star James Stewart regard it as their favorite film project, and it's often mentioned as a favorite film by people from all walks of life.

    The plot is a classic alternate reality story. An angel reveals to the depressed and disheartened protagonist the fate of everyone in his home town if he had not been born. It's a traditional "count your blessings" theme, but the high quality of the writing and performances makes it a memorable experience.

  2. Back To The Future – Michael J. Fox (1985)

    back to the future In contrast, this time travel fantasy was the highest grossing film of its year, spawning two sequels, an animated series, comic books and a theme park ride.

    In the first movie, the hero, Marty McFly (played by Michael J. Fox), travels to the past and inadvertently (and later deliberately) changes his present day life as a result of something he does. Each film in the trilogy explores the power of a single action to shape the events that follow. In other words, each action leads to a different probable future.

  3. Groundhog Day – Bill Murray (1993)

    groundhog day Groundhog Day is a slightly different twist on the alternate reality theme. In this movie, Bill Murray's character is forced to relive the same day over and over until he changes his priorities.

    The movie examines the consequences of each action he takes based on his newfound knowledge, often leading to unexpected results. But as he changes for the better, he uses the opportunity of reliving the same day to put things right and choose more worthwhile actions.

  4. 12:01 – Jonathan Silverman (1993)

    12:01 Released on television in the same year as Groundhog Day, but based on an earlier (1990) Showtime short film, 12:01 is a brilliantly written movie that features both humor and steadily mounting tension.

    The hero, played by Jonathan Silverman, relives the same day over and over, but in this story he must prevent the murder of the girl he loves from afar. It's one of my favorite movies ever and I'm sorry it didn't get theatrical release. A great examination of consequences.

  5. Sliding Doors – Gwyneth Paltrow (1998)

    sliding doors This movie examines two probable futures simultaneously.

    In one scenario, Gwyneth Paltrow's character arrives home early to catch her lover with another woman. In the second, she misses the train and continues living with him, unaware of his duplicity.

  6. Me Myself I – Rachel Griffiths (1999)

    me myself i This is a great little movie about the path not taken. Rachel Griffiths wonders if she's left it too late for marriage and wonders why she let handsome Robert Dickson drift out of her life. Then she meets her alternate self, who is married to Robert and has three troublesome children. She gets temporarily 'stuck' in her probable self's life and gets to actually live her "what if" question.

    Entertaining and well done.

  7. Frequency – Dennis Quaid (2000)

    frequency<=""> One of my all time favorites. Jim Caviezel's character makes contact with his dead father (played by Dennis Quaid) who's still living in the world of 30 years ago. The movie follows the various changes wrought by the father as he uses his son's knowledge to deliberately alter both their futures.

    A taut thriller but also an excellent examination of the power of a single action.

  8. The Kid – Bruce Willis (2000)

    Bruce Willis's shallow, cynical advertising exec meets his dorky eight-year-old self, which changes both their shared past and Willis's present day reality.

    Very similar to a Richard Bach story (author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull) on the same subject, even down to the fact that Bach flies biplanes and they often feature in his novels. In the movie, a red biplane is a recurring motif.

  9. The Family Man – Nicholas Cage

    This is almost a male version of the Rachel Griffiths movie, Me Myself I. Bachelor businessman Nicholas Cage wakes up to find himself married to Téa Leoni, the girl he left behind.

    Not a favorite of mine but well done.

  10. The Butterfly Effect – Ashton Kutcher

    butterfly effect Somewhat disturbing movie starring Ashton Kutcher. His character discovers he can go back into the past and change it, leading to increasingly disastrous consequences.

It's easy to dismiss these stories as figments of the writers' imagination. As far as we know, no one can actually time travel, nor has anyone linked up with a probable self or a younger version of themselves (except perhaps in a visualization exercise). But in reality, the underlying premise is very real. We DO change our destinies with a single decision, whether it's choosing the person we'll marry or the city we'll live in. If we choose differently, we'll experience a completely different life.

In other words, you can change your life in an instant. You don't need to accept anything about your present day reality if it's not what you want for yourself. You can set yourself on a new path by taking one small action in the direction you want to go. Every single day.

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