From Sliders to Avengers: the best multiverse movies and TV shows of all time

6th Dec 2023
From Sliders to Avengers: the best multiverse movies and TV shows of all time

If in the 90s, Sci-Fi cinema was hooked by the ideas of an alien invasion and the Earth’s collision with a killer asteroid, then in the 21st century, they gave way to the multiverse theme. The great Marvel multiverse saga and DC heroes’ adventures are breaking popularity records in cinemas and on TV. However, these are not the only movies about parallel universes worth your attention.

In this article, we explore the concept of the multiverse, and its origins, and introduce you to the TOP 13 multiverse movies and TV shows of all time according to the sages at Orbital Today. So, let our journey to the infinite multiverse shows begin!

What is the original multiverse theory?

You might be surprised, but the idea of multiverses dates back to before our age. The philosopher Chrysippus, who lived in the 3rd century BC, assumed that the Universe constantly dies and is born again, that is, it has an infinite number of states.

The first modern scientist to suggest the existence of parallel realities was the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger. In 1952, he introduced the concept of superposition, a phenomenon in which a particle simultaneously exists in several different states. Remember the legendary experiment with Schrödinger’s cat, which is both alive and dead? That’s what it’s about.

In 1957, Hugh Everett III proposed the Many Worlds Interpretation (MWI) of quantum mechanics. This theory suggests that each quantum event with multiple possible outcomes actually results in the creation of a parallel universe for each possible outcome.

However, physicists did not stop there. In 1970, independently from each other, Yoichiro Nambu, Holger Nielsen, and Leonard Susskind proposed the Quantum String theory. According to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, the universe contains four dimensions: length, width, depth, and time. According to the string theory, there may be 6, 10, or even 26 dimensions. But we are aware of only four. The remaining dimensions collapse, but parallel universes can fit in there. Want more details on that? Watch one of the best space movies about the multiverse of the 21st century — Interstellar. It perfectly depicts the idea of the Quantum String theory.

In 1983, British scientist, physicist and astronomer Stephen Hawking, together with American astrophysicist James Hartle, developed a new theory of the Universe’s origin based on the inflationary model (infinite expansion of the Universe). In it, scientists came to the conclusion that the Big Bang most likely created not one but an infinite number of universes. However, shortly before his death, Hawking rethought his earlier opinion. He criticised the inflationary theory and took the Quantum String theory as a basis. Hawking’s new findings don’t disprove the idea of multiverses, but they do reduce it to a much smaller number.

We must say that none of the multiverse theories have yet been proven or refuted in real life, but we can enjoy their endless intricacies in comics, novels, multiverse films and TV shows.

What made the multiverse so popular?

It started in the mid-30s of the last century. It was then that the first DC comics were released. To them, we owe them the appearance of the first superheroes — Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman, etc. At first, these were separate stories, but in the early 40s, the heroes began to appear in comics together, starting to share a common universe, which was later called the DC Universe. The concept of DC Multiverses was first established in 1961, in the Flash of Two Worlds storyline, when it was revealed that the Golden Age Flash and the Silver Age Flash live in two parallel universes. Barry Allen, with the help of his abilities, was able to overcome the barrier between two parallel worlds and move from the universe of Earth-1 to Earth-2.

A year after that, the multiverse saga of Marvel, DC’s eternal competitor, began. In Strange Tales #103 (1962), the Fantastic Four’s Johnny Storm travels to an alternate reality, the Fifth Dimension (later named Earth-6212), for the first time in Marvel history.

However, the term Multiverse itself was introduced only in the late 60s. The idea was first used by the English new-wave sci-fi writer Michael John Moorcock. In his books, he created the image of the Eternal Champion, who is embodied in different heroes existing in different worlds that do not intersect with each other. Although Moorcock’s works were not reflected in multiverse screen adaptations, they are still a standard for many admirers of the parallel worlds concept.

Who started using multiverse in movies?

The idea of combining characters from different fantasy worlds in one movie appeared almost immediately with the advent of colour cinema. In 1943, director Roy Neal made the horror movie Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, in which he managed to successfully cross two classic horror movies. This film project is still considered not only a horror classic but also a forerunner of crossover films. Of course, such a mixing of characters hardly fits into the modern concept of the multiverse. Rather, it was a way to introduce new characters into movies, refresh the popularity of franchises, and simply attract new fans. But stories about the multiverse did not take long to develop. 

How many multiverse movies are there?

According to the IMDB website, over 250 multiverse films and TV Shows have been filmed so far. The list includes Marvel and DC multiverse pictures, anime shows, and completely separate stories, describing the idea of travelling between parallel worlds. Here are the best movies, in our opinion.

13 best-ever multiverse movies and TV shows to watch

Doctor Who

Dr Who screenshot
David Tennant as the iconic Doctor Who
  • 1963-till now
  • 13 seasons
  • IMDB: 8.4
  • Watch on BBC, Amazon.

In 1963, the BBC presented a sci-fi TV show about a humanoid alien who calls himself the Doctor and travels through time and space in a Tardis spaceship, which, from the outside, looks like a 60s police box. The Doctor constantly changes his appearance, he is extremely eccentric and has incredible knowledge of technology, history, and science. Travelling with his companions, he restores justice, saving entire civilisations and people from space villains.

The series became the longest in history (39 seasons filmed) and a cult favourite in the UK and many other countries. If you’re not yet familiar with Doctor Who, it’s high time you familiarise yourself!

Sliders

Sliders film poster

The science fiction series tells the story of physics student Quinn Malory, who, based on the Einstein-Rosen-Podolsky paradox, conducted experiments to study gravity, but instead of a gravitational machine, he ended up with a portal that allowed him to move (‘slide’) into parallel worlds. Quinn, along with his teacher Professor Arturo, and his girlfriend Wade (and Rembrandt Brown, who accidentally fell into the portal), set off on a journey to a parallel world. However, as they travel through different worlds, they mess up the timer that controls their slides. And now, the heroes cannot return home and do not know which world they will slide into next…

In one of these worlds, the characters encounter the Kromaggs, a race of ape-like creatures that are technologically more advanced than humans, which allows them to capture other parallel worlds. The Sliders learn that on one of the many Earths, scientists have invented weapons that allow them to repel the Kromaggs. Their new task is to find this world to save humanity in all the worlds.

Event Horizon

Event Horizon poster

In 2047, the Lewis and Clark expedition, led by Dr. Weir (Sam Neill) and Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne), is sent to investigate the sudden reappearance of the spaceship Event Horizon, lost in deep space seven years ago. Miller’s team discovers that the ship has been transported to another dimension filled with unspeakable horrors and has brought back something with it.

The original movie version shocked the test audiences with so much violence and fear that director Paul Anderson had to cut its length from 130 to 90 minutes; otherwise, Universal simply refused to accept the movie. Despite a lot of cut episodes, Event Horizon remains one of the scariest movies on the multiverse concept.

The Family Man

The Family Man quote

This romantic Christmas movie about multiverse tells the story of Jack Campbell (Nicolas Cage), who is going to London for an internship. At the airport, he says goodbye to his beloved girlfriend Kate, who has a bad feeling and asks him to stay, but he still flies away. Thirteen years go by. In the movie, Jack has already built a career, he is the president of an investment company and a very rich man who lives a lonely and, as it seems to him, happy life. But, one day, fate surprises him. He wakes up to a new life in which he did not leave his girlfriend for a trip to London. In this version, he is married to Kate, has two children, lives in New Jersey and… is an ordinary tire salesman. Jack is desperate to get the life he’s worked for 13 years back. But Jack gradually realises that he likes being a family man, and a good family is worth any career. However, the happiness turns out to be short-lived.

One day, Jack wakes up and discovers himself in yet another reality. This time, Kate has made a career, is very successful and wealthy, has no husband or children, and flies to Paris for a well-paid job. Jack realises that he can try to start a family with Kate in this life, too. He rushes to the airport to persuade Kate not to fly to Paris…

Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko screenshot from the movie
Jake Gyllenhaal as Donnie Darko

This is one of the most mysterious and confusing multiverse theory movies. 16-year-old Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) lives with his parents and sisters in a small American town. One day he wakes up and leaves the house on the mental order of a man dressed as a huge rabbit with an ominous grin, who introduces himself as Frank. Frank says that in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, and 12 seconds, the world will end. In the morning, Donnie wakes up on the golf course and, upon returning home, discovers that a huge airplane engine fell on his house during the night, smashing straight into his room.

This movie depicts the Tangent Universe along with the real world. Donnie Darko gets the opportunity to take the world through a wormhole by rewinding time a certain number of days back. Frank, an alien in a rabbit suit from another world, helps him with this. Frank died in the tangent world and can only communicate with Donnie. Frank tries to convince Donnie of the need to sacrifice himself to save the world. And Donnie does sacrifice himself, wanting to save his parents from death and resurrect his beloved girl, although he understands that in the real world, not its tangent version, she will not even remember meeting him. At the end of the movie, it is explained that with the successful completion of a space-time loop, people only remember what happened in tangential reality when they dream. However, they sometimes see something vague even when they are awake.

The One

The One screenshot
Jet Li and Jason Statham in The One
  • 2001
  • IMDB rating 5.9
  • Watch on Netflix

Imagine that there are many parallel universes and an organisation called MVA that regulates the order between them and this Universe. Only its agents can travel from one world to another. One day, MVA agent Gabriel Yulaw (Jet Li) accidentally kills another version of himself in self-defence and discovers that it has made him and his other versions stronger. Yulaw sets out to kill all 123 versions of himself in parallel universes in order to become the One and gain incredible power. Yulaw is pursued by a fellow MVA agent Funsch (Jason Statham), who desperately tries to stop him. At the same time, in one of the worlds, Gabe Law gradually gains powers that he does not understand. Law is the last on the list of Yulaw’s doubles and his most difficult opponent. The brilliant idea of The One movie is perfectly enhanced by Jet Li’s magnificent fights with himself.

Coherence

Coherence movie poster

The events of this picture happen to four married couples gathered together for dinner on the night of a comet impact. While enjoying conversation, they gradually become involved in a chain of strange and mysterious events that distort reality. Will friends find answers to their questions, and what will this lead to?

Coherence is shot in a minimalist, almost arthouse style. There are no special effects or action. Eighty per cent of the film is dialogues based on the concepts of “quantum uncertainty,” “Schrödinger’s cat,” etc. In physics, the very term coherence means the consistency (correlation) of several oscillatory or wave processes in time, manifested when they are added together.

Coherence forces us to question ourselves: do we have a dark side, and what if this dark side currently prevails? Of course, there is another version of this movie, but that’s a completely different story.

The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle TV series poster

If you are interested not only in DC and Marvel movies about multiverses, but also in an alternative view of history, watch The Man in the High Castle. Based on Philip K. Dick’s 1962 novel of the same name, the series takes you to an alternate reality in which Franklin D. Roosevelt was assassinated in 1933, and the United States never truly recovered from the Great Depression. As a result, the country did not enter World War II. The Axis powers of Germany, Japan and Italy conquered most of Europe, the USSR, and the USA.

One might think that this is a series about the Nazis, where the good and the bad are clearly depicted. However, as in life, the plot of this alternate history is much more complex.

Avengers: Endgame

Avengers Endgame poster

Avengers: Endgame is one of the highest-grossing movies in the Marvel multiverse saga timeline and perhaps the most spectacular.

After the Titan Thanos manages to collect all the Infinity Stones from the previous Marvel movies, half the universe lies in ruins. The remaining Avengers and their allies must gather once more to undo Thanos’ actions, putting an end to the chaos in the universe, no matter what or whom they may have to face. This movie brought together almost all the characters of the Marvel Universe, and the final battle with Thanos and his army is so epic that it captivates even the most sophisticated imagination of movie fans.

By the way, Avengers: Endgame does not end the game at all. The two upcoming superhero team-up pictures, Avengers: The Kang Dynasty and Avengers: Secret Wars, will culminate the multiverse saga and will be released in 2026 and 2027, respectively.

Spider-Man: No Way Home

Spider-Man No Way Home poster

This part of the MCU multiverse saga is perhaps the icing on the cake of the entire Spider-Man franchise. Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) identity as Spider-Man is suddenly revealed to the world, so he enlists the help of Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to take it all back. Strange’s spell goes wrong (thanks to Peter), and a rift opens in the multiverse. Beloved heroes and villains from every Spider-Man movie since 2002 come together as Peter 1 (Holland), Peter 2 (Tobey Maguire) and Peter 3 (Andrew Garfield), trying to set things straight and save all the worlds from chaos and destruction.

Interestingly, in the closing credits of this movie, there is a scene where Eddie Brock, Peter Parker’s childhood friend, and Venom, another famous character from the Marvel universe, are talking to a bartender. As the order is restored, Brock and Venom are transported back to their respective worlds, leaving behind some of the symbiote.

Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness

Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness poster

Following the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home, Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) unwittingly casts a forbidden spell that accidentally opens a rift in the multiverse. Now, with the help of Wong and the Scarlet Witch, he is forced to confront different versions of himself as he travels through worlds and works to restore reality as he knows it. At the same time, he tries to protect teenager America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) from someone who wants to take her power.

You’ll probably wonder what are the movies to watch before the Multiverse of Madness? According to multiverse saga timeline, this movie is a sequel to Doctor Strange (2016), but considering that the main character often appears in other MCU movies, his adventures in this film are a continuation of many different stories.

Everything Everywhere All At Once

Everything Everywhere All At Once poster

Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) is a woman whose personal and professional life is falling apart. Suddenly, she learns about the existence of other universes, each of which has its own version of Evelyn, all living completely different lives. She also learns that there is someone in one of the worlds who wants to destroy everything, and Evelyn must borrow skills and powers from other, more successful versions of herself in order to save everything and everywhere from destruction. This movie is somewhat like a female version of The One. Like Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh uses all her martial arts skills to defeat evil.

Despite some chaotic absurdities in the movie plot, Everything Everywhere All At Once definitely deserves the attention of people who love multiverse time travel movies.

Flash

Flash movie poster

We complete our selection with the new multiverse movie by DC, essentially going back to the characters that started this whole movement. Flash 2023 is based on the crossover series of DC comics Flashpoint. The movie continues the story of Barry Allen, who was struck by lightning but, instead of dying, received a unique ability — the Speed Force. In this story, Barry Allen travels back in time to prevent his mother’s death. By doing so, he changes the course of history and remains in an alternate past where Bruce Wayne did not become Batman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman started a war between their nations, and Cyborg assembled his version of the Justice League. Barry creates a world without heroes, and General Zod, the archenemy of Superman and Earthlings, returns. The only hope of defeating him lies in the hands of a former Batman, another Barry and an imprisoned… Supergirl.

This movie features many different guest appearances. Almost all of them are character versions from previous DC Comics adaptations — Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Jeremy Irons (Alfred the Butler). The real surprise, however, was Michael Keaton and George Clooney returning as Batman, and Nicolas Cage as Superman, whom he was supposed to play in Tim Burton’s unmade Superman Lives. With such a gorgeous ensemble cast and a dashingly twisted plot, Flash 2023 is definitely worth watching.

Is the multiverse concept overused and is it worth worrying about?

The concept of multiverses has indeed become too common in recent years, and, to a certain extent, this is a bad thing as it challenges our uniqueness. After all, if our world has copies, it ceases to be unique, and, along with it, so do we. And it can cause the feeling of claustrophobia, even though it magnifies our concept of physical reality to an almost unimaginable size.

On the other hand, the versatility of the idea means that it can serve different genres and contexts and can continue to inspire new, interesting stories. And our selection of multiverse movies proves this. By the way, which of the cinematic multiverses do you prefer?

Sources:

  • Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. “Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics”. 2002-2021
    https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/qm-manyworlds/
  • Nadia Drake. “What is the multiverse—and is there any evidence it really exists?” 2023 https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/what-is-the-multiverse
  • IMDB. Most Popular multiverse Movies and TV Shows
    https://www.imdb.com/search/keyword/?keywords=multiverse
  • Multiverse movies and franchises on RT
    https://www.rottentomatoes.com/search?search=Multiverse%20movies
  • Alex DeGeorge. “A Brief History of DC Comics” 2022
    https://lindynews.org/13978/uncategorized/a-brief-history-of-dc-comics/
  • Patricia Sarkar “The History of Marvel Studios”. 2018
    https://vocal.media/geeks/the-history-of-marvel-studios

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