The ‘butterfly effect’ is the phenomenon whereby what seems to be a very minor change in circumstances can have, or cause, a number of larger and more chaotic  changes in an alternate future outline or outcome. The term is sometimes used regarding popular media related to the concept of how unrelated events of a time-traveler, can later future as a very small ripple that has a chaotic effect on the distant future. Unfortunately, they’re usually inaccurate.

Simply put; The butterfly effect is the phenomenon whereby a minor change in circumstance to a specific timeline can cause a larger change, creating an alternate reality as an outcome of that change, in the distant future.

Most time travel scenarios simply fail to address what is has been coined as the ‘butterfly effects.’ According to the actual theory, if history could be ‘changed’ at all, which in theory would disrupt a fixed self-consistent timeline, the mere presence of the time travelers to the past would in effect cause enough of a to change short-term events (such as the weather) and would also have an unpredictable impact on the distant future. Therefore, no one who travels into the past could ever return to the same version of reality he or she had come from and could have therefore not been able to travel back in time in the first place, which would create a phenomenon known as time paradox.

Film: The Butterfly Effect

In many cases, minor and seemingly inconsequential actions in the past are extrapolated over time and can have radical effects on the present time of the main characters. In the movie The Butterfly Effect (2004), Evan Treborn (Ashton Kutcher), when reading from his adolescent journals, is able to essentially ‘redo’ parts of his past. As he continues to do this, he realizes that even though his intentions are good, the actions he takes always have unintended consequences. Despite its title, however, this movie does not seriously explore the implications of the butterfly effect; only the lives of the principal characters seem to change from one scenario to another. The greater world around them is mostly unaffected. Furthermore, the changes made in the past of the principal character are far from minor and in that sense the title of the film is a misnomer. An element of the butterfly effect in general terms is that differences in start conditions for different scenario outcomes are virtually undetectable, and consequences are not related to cause in a directly apparent way.


Kutcher plays 20-year-old student Evan Treborn, with Smart as his childhood sweetheart Kayleigh Miller. He finds he has the ability to travel back in time to inhabit his former self and change the present. Having been the victim of several childhood traumas aggravated by stress-induced memory losses, he attempts to set things right for himself and his friends, but there are unintended consequences for all. The film draws heavily on flashbacks of the cast’s lives at ages 7 and 13, and presents several alternate present-day outcomes as Evan attempts to change the past, before settling on a final outcome.

The film received a poor critical reception, but was nevertheless a commercial success, producing gross earnings of $96 million from a budget of $13 million. The film won the Pegasus Audience Award at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival, and was nominated for Best Science Fiction Film at the Saturn Awards and Choice Movie: Thriller in the Teen Choice Awards.


The Butterfly Effect 2 was released on DVD on October 10, 2006. It was directed by John R. Leonetti and was largely unrelated to the original film. It features a brief reference to the first film in the form of a newspaper headline referring to Evan’s father, as well as using the same basic time travel mechanics.

The third installment in the series, Revelations, was released by After Dark Films in 2009. This sequel follows the life of a young man who journeys back in time in order to solve the mystery surrounding his high school girlfriend’s death. This film has no direct relation to the first two and uses slightly altered time travel mechanics.

Film: Frequency

Frequency is a 2000 science-fiction film that contains elements of the time travel, thriller and alternate history film genres. It was directed by Gregory Hoblit and written by Toby Emmerich. The film stars Dennis Quaid and James Caviezel as father and son, Frank and John Sullivan respectively. It was filmed in Toronto and New York City. The film gained mostly favorable reviews following its release via DVD format on October 31, 2000.


In the 2000 movie Frequency, a son, John Sullivan (James Caviezel), has an opportunity to prevent the death of his father, Frank Sullivan (Dennis Quaid), through a miracle of nature in which they were both able to communicate across time 30 years using the same ham radio, transmitting the signal via a freak occurrence of the Northern Lights. This one action, however, had several undesirable consequences, including the murder of his mother by a vicious killer known as the Nightingale who was supposed to have never been caught. In the original timeline, when the killer is lying unconscious in the hospital, he dies from a reaction of two medicines that were administered intravenously into his system. This was due to an oversight on his medical chart, in which the attending male nurse overlooked the fact that it stated that the patient had received a certain medication which could not be mixed with the other. In the alternate timeline, Frank visits his wife, a nurse, at the hospital immediately after surviving the fire in which he was supposed to die. She alters her routine slightly to see him, and of all things she then sees the wrong medication being administered to the killer. She prevents this from happening, and so the killer survives to murder not only her, but several more people; all nurses. Also, this film illustrates a theoretical side effect of the butterfly effect, where John is able to remember the original future time, as well as other alternate futures that were created each time his father changed something in the past.

Film: Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel

FAQ About Time Travel is a 2009 SciFi comedy film directed by Gareth Carrivick from a script by Jamie Mathieson, starring Anna Faris, Chris O’Dowd, Marc Wootton and Dean Lennox Kelly.


The film follows two social outcasts and their cynical friend as they attempt to navigate a time travel conundrum in the middle of a British pub. Faris plays a girl from the future who sets the adventure in motion. The best part of the film is that you really don’t have to understand quantum mechanics, or even the ‘butterfly effect’ to enjoy it. Even though they make no attempt to use the principal of the butterfly effect, well effectively…they missed it by a good parsec, all in the name of good fun…

Originally released in the United Kingdom and Ireland on 24 April 2009, it aired on its television premiere on BBC Two on 1 August 2010, with the film being dedicated to its director Gareth Carrivick, who had died earlier that year.