The 5 Best (and Worst) Cinematic Time Travel Machines

Published 4 years ago by , Updated August 6th, 2012 at 5:28 pm,

time travel header The 5 Best (and Worst) Cinematic Time Travel Machines

With the upcoming release of a movie about a Jacuzzi that allows its occupants to traverse back through time (read: Hot Tub Time Machine), we thought this might be a good opportunity to see what other devices have been used throughout cinematic history for time travel – so we’ve compiled a list of of the 5 best and 5 worst time machines depicted in movies.

The ability to relive our past has been something that most (if not all) people have thought about at some point in their lives. Oftentimes, the wannabe time traveler just wants to go back to high school and capture some past glory that eluded them. Others may want to go back and change some horrific event in their lives, thinking that the future will be better for them if they do. I, for one, can think of a couple of things I would like to go and erase from my chronological database (like the time I decided to date my first girlfriend in high school).

Whatever the reason, the scientific means to make it possible to become a jet setter cruising through time just doesn’t exist, but that doesn’t stop people from dreaming up ingenious, and often ridiculous, ways to imagine how it could be done. So join me, if you will, as we take a look back at the best and worst time travel devices conceived in movies.

The Top 5 Cinematic Time Machines

#5: Hot Tub - Hot Tub Time Machine

hot tub time machine header The 5 Best (and Worst) Cinematic Time Travel Machines

The movie that inspired this article (read our Hot Tub Time Machine review), gives us one of the most fun, wettest ways to experience a temporal shift. The best part is that it comes with its own repairman, liquor and mascot. Seriously, why did it take so long for someone to come up with the idea to travel in a device full of wet people wearing minimal clothing? I can’t wait to see the film that gives us the Karaoke Time Machine.

Time Traveled: 24 years

#4: DeLorean - Back to the Future I/II/III

back to the future montage The 5 Best (and Worst) Cinematic Time Travel Machines

It would be difficult to write an article about movie time machines without mentioning the famous modified defunct car and its “flux capacitor.” Anyone who enjoys 80’s films will immediately answer “Back to the Future” when asked the question “What movie has the most popular time machine ever?” In the sequels, Doc Brown further modifies the vehicle to run off of garbage and fly. By the time the third installment rolled around, Brown had found a way to make a locomotive engine both fly and travel through time. If only Amtrak were that efficient.

Time Traveled: 60 years

#3: Phone booth: Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

bill and ted phone booth The 5 Best (and Worst) Cinematic Time Travel Machines

Like its fish ’n chips cousin, the 1960’s American style phone booth became a time traveling sensation in this 1989 comedy starring a pre-kung fu Keanu Reeves.  This cramped mode of travel was more than sufficient to allow our two intrepid chrono-voyagers to visit the past and return well into the future. It can also be repaired with bubblegum, so that’s a plus as well. Wyld Stallyns… EXCELLENT! *air guitar*

Time Traveled: 3100 years

#2: The Tardis – Doctor Who

the tardis The 5 Best (and Worst) Cinematic Time Travel Machines

OK, granted this time machine shaped like a 1950’s style London police box comes from a TV show, but I’ll remind you that there is also rumor of a feature length Doctor Who movie in the works, so let’s just say it counts. The Doctor is an alien being called a Time Lord and can move back and forth through time as he wishes using the Tardis, which is itself a living object capable of much power. Being much larger on the inside than it is on the outside, the Tardis definitely deserves a spot in the top 5 of all time travel devices.

Time Traveled: 100 trillion years

#1: The Time Machine – The Time Machine (1960/2002)

time machine The 5 Best (and Worst) Cinematic Time Travel Machines

I would be remiss if I didn’t make the number 1 time travel device the one that inspired two movies from the book of the same title. The Time Machine was written by H. G. Wells, who many sci-fi experts consider to be the father of time travel.  First published in 1895, it was the precursor to all time traveling explorers to come. With the ability to move in small increments or large spans of time, Wells’ time machine is an all-time classic that any sci-fi aficionado would be proud to own.

Time Traveled: 30 million years

Honorable Mentions: The following films don’t quite explain exactly what device is used that allows their characters to travel time but their contribution to the time traveling genre can’t be ignored:

The Terminator I/II, Timecop, Time Bandits, A Connecticut in King Arthur’s Court, Frequency, Donnie Darko, Flight of the Navigator, Twelve Monkeys; The Philadelphia Experiment, The Final Countdown

Continue reading to see the 5 Worst Time Travel Machines

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  1. wow… i was waiting to see TIME BANDITS on here somewhere… i dont care what list it was on, whether it be bad or good, cuz i know i love it for its ridiculousness… but come on… a map from God's workdesk with every “door” or hole in the stucture and timing it right to get into it… and they travel through time… i mean… its no “machine” but they still time-travel. hahaha oh well… better luck next time.

  2. The Voyage Home was using the sun as a solar slingshot if I remember correctly, accelerating beyond the speed of light and therefore allowing the Bird Of Prey to travel back in time.

    I often wondered how exactly the Borg created their temporal wake, I imagined it was an advancement of their transwarp systems, and the Enterprise was caught in the temporal wake ( always loved that term!), allowing them to see that nightmarish vision of Borg infested Earth, Picard followed them in. I always found it a bit convenient that Data managed to recreate the wake though to return the ship to their time?

  3. I could have sworn there was more than 60 years traveled in Back to the Future… Didn't they go back to the 1800's in part III?

  4. One of my favourite time travelling devices that isn't on the list is the men's bathroom in F.A.Q about Time Travel (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frequently_Asked_Q…)
    it's a damn good British comedy with some good time/space continuum hiccups.

  5. Do you mean the episode “Naked Time” when they were hurtling towards Psi 2000 and used a cold start of the warp engines or Trek 4 when Spock used his knowledge of the aforementioned event to slingshot around the sun, or maybe you mean the episode “Tomorrow is Yesterday” when the Enterprise had to pull back from a black star to get away from the gravitational pull? I would have to say I like them all but I'm just a little bit biased. :-)

  6. You put the Primer time machine on the worst 5 list? Primer is by far, and I do my FAR, the most intriguing, unique, believable, and coolest time machine that has ever graced film. And by reading your description of it, I have to wonder if you even watched the movie. If you did, you certainly didn't pay any attention.

  7. The 2002 Time Machine kinda sucked……I like Guy Pierce, but Samantha Mumba?

  8. Primer sounds like Mystery Science Theater 3000 fodder, right in there with “Laserblast”……..

  9. The Final Countdown was tight (maybe a re-make is….what am I saying). But I props for 'Timecop' starring Jean Clown Van Damme. This guy manages to get the director to work a scene in that has him doing the splits somewhere in all of his films even if it's unnecessary for the plot….

  10. I was actually referring to the last movie. The TV show did have a time machine. I think it was in 'The City on the Edge of Forever'.

  11. haha good list and article — and it's the 3rd time I read about PRIMER and how awesome it is in the last few days — curiosity is killing me right now

  12. I don't know…..There are alot of movies out there that people say are 'awesome' and the film has more in common with a milkshake straw…..

  13. …AND I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE!!! Sorry.. had to do it..

  14. Basically I meant the movies suck…..

  15. I put it at the top of the worst list though and I explain why I put it in the bottom 5. Makes me wonder if you even read my article. If you did, you certainly didn't pay attention.

  16. According to the portal, it was a machine yet not a machine, alive yet not living. My head hurts. :-)

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  18. If it was up to me I would say that my favorite would have to be the Tardis.

  19. Great data worth reflecting on. Keep posting good content.

  20. information is very useful for me, thank you ……

  21. very interesting article…

  22. I have to agree with an earlier poster, Paul Young is clearly not intellectually astute enough to understand the realistic (and thus far uncontested) scientific accuracy of the box’s design in Primer, let alone put it on the 5 WORST? time machines. How about it was the best time machine any filmmaker has yet to conceive of? The box operates the same way people are used to real machines operating: it has limitations, it can be used or misused and the latter has serious consequences. Were a time machine ever to be truly built, it would more likely appear more similar to the Primer box than any other conceptualization of the technology ever presented in previous movies. Simple, sterile and unremarkable. Paul should stick to creating lists that are within his depth.

    • @Abe – It was a box with wires in it therefore it was dumb. The premise of the move isn’t on trial here, just the concept of the time machine. If you aren’t happy with my list feel free to start up your own list and post it on Facebook or crank out your own blog.

      Thanks for reading

      Paul Young

  23. Star Trek First Contact was a good movie and it only used time travel in a minimal sense. If you want to bash Star Trek, start with their over reliance on transporters.