How Hot Tub Time Machine's Time Travel Works

The gang reacts to their younger selves in Hot Tub Time Machine.
(Image credit: MGM)

Time travel is pretty amazing, isn’t it? One moment, you’re explaining how the 2009 reboot of Star Trek’s time travel works, and the next you’re a year in the future to discuss the Hot Tub Time Machine movies! Yes, that’s right friends, the reason I’ve finally returned to discuss time travel is that I’ve travelled roughly a year into the future. It worked, and what felt like a couple seconds to me was a little over a year for you. We can discuss the ins and outs of what went down later, as it’s time to go from here to there in the then and now with John Cusack, Craig Robinson, and their hysterical temporal-exploring friends. 

Before we get too deep into the time stream though, I’d like to say thank you to everyone who enjoys our time travel rundowns. There’s plenty more exciting examinations ahead, and if you want to brush up on the ones we’ve already done, the time travel archives are open for your perusal. Now put on your bathing suits, pop a can of Chernobly, and say hello to our brand new Hot Tub Time Machine

The Hot Tub Time Machine from Hot Tub Time Machine

(Image credit: MGM)

The Time Travel In Hot Tub Time Machine

If it wasn’t for a weekend trip down memory lane, the extended universe that is Hot Tub Time Machine would never have existed. Even stranger is the fact that a random energy drink is technically what makes it all possible.  

Who's Time Traveling
The main cast of Hot Tub Time Machine’s time travelers is mostly the same through both movies. Nick Webber (Craig Robinson), Lou Dorchen (Rob Cordry), and Jacob (Clark Duke) are the core handful of participants who find themselves ping ponging throughout the space-time continuum. The only variable is which member of the Yates/Yates-Stedmyer family are along for the ride. In Hot Tub Time Machine, Adam (John Cusack) takes the ride; while his son Adam Jr. (Adam Scott) joins up for the sequel. 

From When To When
Hot Tub Time Machine’s main timeline runs between 1986 and 2025. The first film sees these gents travel from 2010 back to 1986, while Hot Tub Time Machine 2 starts in the year 2015, and jumps to an alternate 2025. Which, to be fair, was already rather skewed after the events of the trip back to 1986.

The Purpose Of Their Trip
Time travel was a purely accidental occurrence in the original Hot Tub Time Machine, as a drunken bender in the decrepit Silver Peaks Ski Lodge sends Adam, Lou, Nick, and Jacob back in time at random. One could even say, the trip was intended to straighten their lives and improve the past, which they absolutely did. 

However, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 has more of a purpose to sending Nick, Lou, and Jacob into the future. As it turns out, the element to time travel hadn’t been invented yet in 2015, and someone from the future traveled back to that very year to fulfill a prophecy. In other words, a would-be murderer shot Lou in the dick with a shotgun, which oddly enough was how he described his ideal suicide attempt in 2010. 

The gang looks in a mirror at their younger selves in Hot Tub Time Machine.

(Image credit: MGM)

How Time Travel Happens In Hot Tub Time Machine

That drunken bender in 2010 couldn’t have been more of a blessing to the scientific community. Thanks to Lou spilling his precious energy drink, Chernobly, into the hot tub console, time travel was born! In Hot Tub Time Machine, all one has to do is have a functioning model of this special hot tub, pour some Chernobly into the console, and wait for the wormhole to open. 

Apparently, the exact hot tub from Silver Peaks is a localized wormhole that allows the user to go not where they want, but where they need. At least, that’s the case until Hot Tub Time Machine 2, when a newly rich Lou Dorchen upgrades the antique of aquatic luxury with some fresh lighting, and a touch screen console. In either scenario, when you travel backwards or forwards in time, you leap into your very body in that time period. Or, if you’re Jacob in 1986, you merely exist as yourself out of time. 

Much like Doc Brown’s DeLorean time machine in Back to the Future’s chain of events, there’s a bit of a fueling issue when it comes to the hot tub. The gang got lucky with the Chernobly in Hot Tub Time Machine, but that’s because it possessed the vital chemical for time travel: Nitrotrinadium, or “Nitro” for short. As Rob Corddry explained in a 2015 interview with Yahoo for Hot Tub Time Machine 2: 

If you pour a combination of Nitrotrinadium in a basin of water that has been heated to a specific temperature, it causes the conditions that are favorable to time travel.

So, if you don’t have that, then have fun being subjected to the debasing tasks you’ll take part in on Choozy Doozy, the most popular game show in 2025! Here's a hint: you don't want to get stuck in either alternate 2025 or 1986. 

Rob Corddry dressed like a retired rocker in Hot Tub Time Machine 2.

(Image credit: MGM)

Can History Be Changed As A Result Of Time Travel In Hot Tub Time Machine?

Time travel can absolutely change history in the Hot Tub Time Machine franchise. While Nick, Lou, and Adam Sr. try not to change their pasts, thanks to the memory of The Butterfly Effect’s time travel mechanics firmly in place, they eventually abandon the path of safe time travel. As a result, everyone’s lives change in major ways. 

Adam Sr. is no longer a divorced wreck, Lou is a multi-millionaire who invented Google (and many other modern marvels) after staying behind in 1986, and Nick “wrote” the Black Eyed Peas’ “Let’s Get It Started” on that fateful weekend in Kodiak Valley. That’s all at the end of Hot Tub Time Machine, with a lot of interesting dealings involving knowledge of the future in the sequel to come.

The most important unanswered question after Hot Tub Time Machine is where exactly Chernobly comes from. That loose end is highlighted even further after Lou is revealed to be the accidental inspiration for Nitrotrinadium’s creation, thanks to mouthing off in front of his beleaguered staffer Brad (Kumail Nanjiani.) A silver lining in the whole thing is Brad becomes amazingly rich, and our sequel’s time travelling team find their way home. 

Clark Duke hangs out with Marilyn Monroe in Hot Tub Time Machine 2.

(Image credit: MGM/Paramount)

What Are The Consequences Of Time Travel In Hot Tub Time Machine?

There are some major consequences of time travel in the Hot Tub Time Machine saga, with each character feeling it through some bespoke alterations. If a particular course of action is threatening to the existence to any of the participants on the journey they’ll “flicker” like a hologram with bad signal. 

How Adam Sr.’s Life Changes Through Time Travel
In 2010, Adam Sr. is a divorced wreck who specifically remembers breaking up with his supposedly perfect girlfriend Jenny (Lyndsy Fonseca). Living through the events of 1986 again, Adam Sr. is actually dumped by Jenny, which in turn leaves him free to pursue April (Lizzy Caplan), a woman he doesn’t even remember meeting back in the day.

The two are married in the new timeline caused by Hot Tub Time Machine, and they have a son, Adam Jr., who eventually fills his father’s vacancy in the 2025 journey. Though, depending on which cut of Hot Tub Time Machine 2 you watch, he comes back to kill the “bad Lou” we followed throughout the sequel. 

How Adam Jr.’s Life Changes Through Time Travel
If it wasn’t for time travel, Adam Jr. would have never met his fiancée Jill (Gillian Jacobs), nor would he have actually let loose with drugs and publicly humiliating experiences on television. Then again, if it wasn’t for time travel, Lou would have never been enticed to sleep with Jill, as part of her drunken rebellion on her wedding day. So while Adam Jr. discovered the love of his life in the corrected timeline, he does try to kill Lou in 2015, thus causing the tangent 2025 we see in Hot Tub Time Machine 2.  

How Lou Dorchen’s Life Changes Through Time Travel
In the original events of 1986, Lou is supposed to get his ass beat by The Winter, I mean preppy patriot Blaine (Sebastian Stan). With a vastly altered past, and a fateful hookup having taken place, Lou beats Blaine in order to retrieve the Chernobly required to travel through time. Sending his friends home to 2010, Lou stays behind, and pulls the ultimate Biff Tannen.

By time we see him in Hot Tub Time Machine 2, Lou has become an ex-member of Motley Löu, the inventor of Lougle, and a man shot in the dick with a shotgun. Solving his murder in 2025, and learning he can’t keep sleeping with people’s significant others “as a joke,” Lou eventually vows to get clean for himself and his wife, Kelly. This Lou is then killed by either Adam Sr. or “Patriot Lou,” both of whom claim that our Lou was the “Bad Lou.”  

How Nick Webber’s Life Changes Through Time Travel
Originally, Nick Webber went through life wondering what things would have been like if he actually succeeded in his burgeoning music career. Failing at his chosen passion in 1986 put him on the path to marrying Courtney (Kellee Stewart) who would eventually cheat on him. Thanks to a “Johnny B. Goode” scenario, and a rage-filled phone call to 9-year-old Courtney, Nick becomes a huge star after Hot Tub Time Machine.

Stealing songs from Hanson, Alanis Morrissette, and Lisa Loeb (who actually became a cat wrangler in the alternate 2015), Nick eventually feels like a fraud and tries to do something original. It becomes a flop that eventually endears itself as nostalgia, and the entire experience convinces Nick to focus more on his family than his career. 

How Jacob Dorchen’s Life Changes Through Time Travel
Jacob Dorchen’s life is literally ensured thanks to the events of 1986. Mimicking the ontological paradox at the heart of The Terminator’s time travel story, Jacob tells us that he never knew who his father was. Eventually, the audience learns that a random hook up between Lou and Adam’s sister Kelly (Collette Wolfe) resulted in Jacob’s conception. In Hot Tub Time Machine 2, he eventually steps into his father’s shoes as the head of the Dorchen family empire. 

Which means that Jacob himself starts to become a drugged out/sexed up menace himself. Driving a wedge in his marriage to Sophie (Bianca Haase), Jacob goes back to 2015 and admits flat out that the future’s going to be a mess, but it’ll be a ride. This apparently makes the difference, as the woman who initially rejected him in alternate 2015 accepts him after his emboldened pitch. Oh, and thanks to Patriot Lou, the entire gang of idiots (minus Adam Sr.) "make America happen," and change a bunch of historical events. 

Craig Robinson makes a deadpan face in Hot Tub Time Machine.

(Image credit: MGM)

Have You Ever Seen Timecop?

Once again, thank you all for witnessing CinemaBlend’s first actual time travel demonstration. Though, I have to be honest with you, this wasn’t my first stop before returning to this timeline. Because of such shenanigans, I’ve been to the future and seen an upcoming adventure that’s going to require a very important movie that, as luck would have it, gets namechecked in the first Hot Tub Time Machine. Which allows me to ask you all the following question: have you ever seen Timecop

Trust me, Jean-Claude Van Damme’s 1992 sci-fi cult classic is required viewing for the future. So, let’s meet back here next week, and discuss how time travel works in Timecop, in order to really dig into our future presentation. Until next time, dear readers, I have some insane splits to practice, and you have your homework. 

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.