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File:The butterfly effect 001 45.jpg

The Butterfly Effect is a 2004 American Science Fiction Psychological Thriller film starring Ashton Kutcher, Amy Smart, Eric Stoltz, and others, directed and written by Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber and distributed by New Line Cinema.

It's about a guy who can travel back in time by reading journals and change what happened, and uses this ability to try to undo various traumatic events he and his friends suffered as children. Despite his best intentions, the results aren't always good. What's more, his brain suffers from trying to assimilate all the new memories.

The title is a reference to the butterfly effect, which theorises that a change in something seemingly innocuous, such as a flap of a butterfly's wings, may have unexpected larger consequences in the future, such as the path a hurricane will travel.

It was followed by two largely unrelated Direct to DVD sequels, 2 and 3: Revelations.

This movie contains examples of:

  • All Just a Dream: Subverted. At one point near the end of the film it looks like the story is gonna go out with a Twist Ending. As Evan's doctor explains that there are no journals, he asserts that everything that we've apparantly seen so far is a delusion that Evan created to cope with the guilt of killing Kayleigh, describing alternate universes with colleges, prisons, and paraplegia. Then it turns out that the mental time travel was real when Evan goes back one last time.
  • An Aesop: Similar to that of The Time Machine remake; to attempt to undo the mistakes of the past is futile. Sometimes, you just have to accept things the way they are.
  • Beard of Sorrow: It's subtle, but there. In the futures that Evan loses Kayleigh in he's always grown out a full beard. When he's still with her in the "frat-boy" future he's shaved it down to a goatee, but it isn't until the very end of the movie, when he's put her being a part of his life behind him that he's clean-shaven.
  • Bittersweet Ending: But only in the theatrical cut.
  • Butterfly of Doom
  • Blessed with Suck
  • Blofeld Ploy
  • Blond Guys Are Evil: Tommy. Even in a reality where he turns out alright, his hair is brown. Lenny also depending on the reality.
  • Burn, Baby, Burn: Turns out this is what originally happened with the dynamite. Also The ending. (Although that was hinted at throughout).
  • Butt Monkey: Taken to the extreme.
  • Crapsack World: It starts here and gets worse.
    • And worse, and worse, and worse...
  • Creepy Child: Tommy, who is a total sociopath.
    • Except when he's not, and then he's arguably MORE creepy. He's more of a creepy adult then, though.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: This is the least sad part about the ending.
  • Driven to Suicide
  • Downer Ending: The director's cut.
  • Exact Words: "Here, take this rusty spiky thing. You've got to stop Tommy! Cut the rope!"
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: Kayley's hair colour changes depending on how happy she is in whatever timeline. It's brown and mousy in the timelines where she's miserable and it's blonde when she's happy. Her hair is blonde at the end.
  • For Want of a Nail: A rusty, spiky nail, in all likelihood.
  • Groundhog Peggy Sue
  • Hair of Gold: Kayley.
  • Heel Face Door Slam: Tommy in one reality. Evan manages to convince him not to kill his dog and invoke his Big Brother Instinct...only for Lenny to stab him from behind.
  • Heel Faith Turn: Tommy in an alternate timeline.
  • Heroic BSOD: One character has this after the dynamite incident.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Strangling yourself as a fetus?!
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Deconstructed, nay, vivisected.
  • Hollywood Law
  • In Spite of a Nail: Evan goes back in time just to stab his own hands on the teacher's spiky desk top note-pad in seventh grade so he can re-live his whole life, land up in the same jail about to be raped by the same prison gang, and prove to his cellmate that he has magical powers in the form of stigmata.
    • As if the movie wasn't enough of a Mind Screw, every single other time Evan changed the past, no one else noticed ANYTHING different, but that ONE time his cell mate suddenly notices the "new" scars that should have been there the whole time from his PoV.
  • Incest Is Relative
  • Instant Win Condition
  • It Got Worse: and worse and worse and worse.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy
  • Kavorka Man: Evan's roommate Thumper, who's seen making out with an array of hot girls despite being an obese guy in goth clothing.
  • Kids Are Cruel
  • Meaningful Name: "Evan Treborn" = "event reborn", alluding to Evan's and his father's power.
    • His name was originally going to be "Chris Treborn", but the writers feared the wrath of religious groups.
  • Mental Time Travel
  • Mind Screw
  • My Sister Is Off-Limits
  • Next Sunday AD: The epilogue takes place eight years in the future, which would be 2010.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Every single goddamn time he goes back to "fix" something. The first time, he seems to get it right and has the perfect life when he gets back to the present. But then he manages to screw it up by murdering his girlfriend's psychotic brother and getting put in prison. Brilliant.
  • Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant: Subverted, but still disturbing.
  • Not Quite the Right Thing: The reason It Got Worse. Any time Evan tries to go back and do what seems to be the right thing. Any time.
  • Plot Hole: Time travel inconsistencies aside, there's no mention of Evan ever having a trial before being sent to prison after he kills Tommy nor is their any mention about why he didn't plead self-defense when the murder was clearly witnessed as such and could have avoided any kind of stay in jail.
    • Concerning the second example: it's easy to extrapolate from his mother's visit that he did plead - and is still pleading through his lawyer - precisely that, but the court was unwilling to believe him because a) his force was excessive (was beating Tommy to death strictly necessary when he was already subdued with spray, on the ground?) and b) his girlfriend was the only witness; it's possible she argued against him. She didn't really like him doing that to her brother.
  • Prison Rape: A very brutal example.
  • Relationship Reset Button: The ending.
  • Ret-Gone: Evan nullifying his own existence in the director's cut.
  • Revised Ending
  • Rewriting Reality
  • Ripple-Effect-Proof Memory: Memories from the "new" timeline hit Evan in a rush, giving him a nosebleed... caused by brain hemorrhaging.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: Very subverted.
  • Shoot the Dog: Tommy burns Evan's puppy to death right in front of him.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: at least in the director's cut, Evan and Kayleigh just aren't meant to be together.
  • Tap on the Head: Done quite realistically.
  • Time Is Dangerous: The directors cut reveals that Evan suffers minor brain damage every time he majorly changes the past, resulting in severe migraines and nosebleeds as he gets the extra memories (often 20 years worth) burnt onto his existing ones. On the other hand, he's Genre Savvy enough to realise that repeated time travel might ultimately kill him, causing him to intentionally think through what he wants to change before each trip.
  • Timey-Wimey Ball
  • Train Station Goodbye
  • When She Smiles: Evan has this reaction to Kayley in the first alternate reality. He's seen her sad and messed up so many times that when he sees her smile he's convinced he wants to marry her.
  • Where It All Began
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Evan unintentionally becomes one of these.
  • World Half Empty