With the release of “Doctor Strange 2: Multiverse of Madness” on May 6, Marvel fans will doubtlessly flock to movie theaters for the MCU’s latest foray into parallel universes (and for pretty much anything that the studio produces).
Parallel universes represent an age-old trope, especially in comics, where the device has been used countless times to explore new versions of old characters and alternate timelines. Essentially a plot device that allows creators to justify any experiment they can imagine, it’s more often an excuse for off-the-wall antics than an actual exploration of this classic sci-fi concept.
In many ways, the parallel universe is a slightly different version of the doppelganger, in which the protagonist meets an alternate version of themselves. It’s the very definition of “meta,” a word, trope and now a universe (thanks Facebook) that dominates much of modern popular culture.
Yet the concept has a rich pedigree in film. Human beings, with our self-awareness and constant questioning of the nature of time and free will, have long been fascinated by the idea of meeting alternate versions of ourselves. Who hasn’t wished they’d made different decisions, potentially resulting in an entirely different life?
Hollywood has examples of classic versions of this subgenre, like the endlessly popular “Back to the Future” franchise from Robert Zemeckis, and the uber-popularity of “Spiderman: No Way Home,” shows that the concept is perhaps even more relevant today than ever.
If you’ve already seen “Doctor Strange 2” or you’re just looking for some more examples of this diverting science-fiction subgenre, here are a few more examples to check out.
For those who can enjoy a good film without dozens of explosions or pop-culture references, “Another Earth” is definitely worth checking out.
This 2011 indie drama focuses on the melancholy of a woman trying to cope with a mistake so terrible she can never make up for it. After she’s released from prison, the young woman (played by Brit Marling) seeks out the man whose life she ruined in a car accident that killed his wife and child.
Also, a giant duplicate Earth suddenly appears in the sky. This movie isn’t “Interstellar,” with its cerebral explorations of scientific concepts. It’s a movie about loss and grief and the way we wish we could go back in time and change choices, or live in a world without our worst mistakes.
It’s moving, memorable and worth watching.
It’s available to stream on Hulu.
Spiderman: Into The Spiderverse
This Oscar-winning animated movie most likely inspired the colossal hit “Spiderman: No Way Home.”
While the latter was destined to be a hit (how could it not with a film that aspires to the greatest fan service of all time?), this predecessor from Sony is weirder, funnier and more committed to the parallel universe concept than most films in the genre.
It shouldn’t work, yet it does, thanks to the freshest animation in years, stellar voice-acting, and one of the most moving superhero stories of all time. You may have seen this one already, but it’s worth a mention for breathing new life into Spiderman and the concept of parallel universes. As Thom Yee wrote for GOO Reviews:
“Spider-Verse’s essential premise explores the most salient types of stories made possible by multiversal storytelling, focused primarily on exploring the roads more and less travelled in other universes to allow the heroes of this one to find a path to growth and salvation, but it still takes the time to briefly look at some pretty weird alternatives.”
Everything Everywhere All At Once
From A24, the studio that brought us 2021’s excellent “Green Knight,” comes another gem of a film that explores parallel universes and offers both entertainment and a memorable story.
“Everything Everywhere All At Once” stars Michelle Yeoh as Evelyn, a woman in a strained relationship with her husband and daughter whose laundromat business is also on the verge of bankruptcy. Then an interdimensional rupture shatters reality, and now Evelyn must use new powers to fight bizarre enemies from across the multiverse.
It’s funny, fresh, looks incredible and might be one of the best performances from Michelle Yeoh. Many critics, including Canadian filmmaker Bardya Ziaian, have already called it one of the best films of 2022.
“I was so pleasantly surprised by how incredibly moving and agile this movie is in juggling so many different genres,” Ziaian said. “It will stay with you for days afterwards. I can’t recommend it enough.”
Between these great flicks and “Doctor Strange 2,” the multiverse will clearly be a part of popular culture for many years to come.