The genre of time-loop stories is such a famous subgenre within science fiction that it actually tends to have a name. If you say something is doing a "Groundhog Day" premise, its synonymous with a time loop story, which is kind of shocking when you try to find parallel examples. Despite the existence of Russian Doll and Palm Springs, the subgenre of the time loop story belongs to this near-perfect comedy, written and directed by the late Harold Ramis (better known to Ghostbusters fans as Egon Spengler).
In the same way that the novel Dracula created the standard by which all subsequent vampire stories were measured, Groundhog Day became the ultimate time-loop story. And, it honestly hasn't been topped since. Here's why you should give this fantastic film a rewatch before it leaves Netflix at the end of August 2020.
Without spoiling the twists and turns within Groundhog Day, here's the premise really quick: Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, a local news reporter who essentially loathes the small-town citizens who get excited about celebrating Groundhog Day. Andi McDowell plays Rita Hanson, a producer who works with him, and is relatively new to the town. In contrast to Phil, Rita has a much more big-hearted view of everyone's smalltown ways. Murray plays Phil as a sympathetic snob who certainly crosses the line of decency very early in the movie. Depending on how you look at it, Phil is either a slightly better person than Frank Cross in Scrooged or a slightly worse version of Peter Venkman from Ghostbusters. Regardless, there's no way this movie could exist without Bill Murray. It's like imagining someone else other than Jeff Goldblum playing Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park. It's just not possible.
Notably, Groundhog Day was released in 1993, which is a full four years after Harold Ramis and Bill Murray both did the mostly-panned sequel, Ghostbusters II. This matters only because armchair critics tend to believe that the creative people behind Ghostbusters clearly lost their touch after the first film in 1984. The existence of Groundhog Day in 1993, nearly a decade after the first Ghostbusters proves this incorrect. Imagine if Ramis had managed to write a third Ghostbusters movie in 1994, right after Groundhog Day had been a hit — could a hypothetical 'busters sequel have been amazing?
Watching the effortless magic of Groundhog Day will make you answer that question with a very loud yes. Like Ghostbusters, part of the magic of the screenplay (co-written by Rami with Danny Rubin) is watching Phil figure out the rules of the time loop. Does anyone else remember anything? (No.) Is there a way he can break out? (Yes, but he doesn't know what it is.)
The attempt to break out of the time loop does not have a science fiction explanation. Groundhog Day is not Doctor Who or Star Trek or even Ghostbusters. Instead, it's more like Scrooged, minus the Dickensian ghosts. You don't get out a temporal rift with tech, the solution relies on magical realism. Instead of becoming a better person by being haunted by ghosts, Groundhog Day haunts its central Scrooge by creating a perpetual present. If you've been thinking really hard about Palm Springs or Russian Doll recently, you'll notice that these same themes are there. Whenever you do a time loop story in a mainstream movie, the script will head toward Groundhog Day.
This is the power of Groundhog Day's time loop. It created an uber-time loop that encompasses all the other time loops. We'll never escape this loop, and that's because it was nearly perfect the first time.
Watch Groundhog Day on Netflix until August 30.