Our 10 Favorite Time Travel Movies

Published 9 months ago by , Updated November 9th, 2013 at 12:20 pm, This is a list post.

Best Time Travel Movies List No matter how far technology progresses, or what impossibilities science makes possible, one fact remains: a human being can't change the past. But that doesn't mean movies can't show what might happen if they could. Over the years, the 'time travel' genre has swelled to include hundreds of films, ranging from adventure (Back to the Future) to psychological horror (The Jacket), with this week's About Time using the notion of time travel to put a spin on romantic comedy. What better time to look back at the genre as a whole, highlighting not simply the most acclaimed films that happened to include the concept, but stories that added a new dimension to leaping backwards in time. Here are Our 10 Favorite Time Travel Movies.

Groundhog Day (1993)

Groundhog Day Time Travel Movie Admittedly, it might be more accurate to describe the endless loop endured by weatherman 'Phil Connors' (Bill Murray) as the result of a curse, not time travel. But we'd make the case that Groundhog Day is absolutely a time travel story: albeit one in which time travel is unintentional, and repeated to the point of torture. Strangely enough, given that description, it also happens to be one of the few comedies on our list. Unlike most other time travel tales, the movie poses the question of what a person would do if forced to live the same day over and over again, without any clear idea of what he was meant to change (if anything). Dieting would no longer matter, all consequences would be thrown out the window, and the ability to predict events would border on clairvoyance. Oh, and the day is February 2nd in a tourist trap, so some suicide attempts are also going to result. We'll never listen to Sonny & Cher the same way.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

Star Trek 4 Voyage Home Time Travel Movies As the years continue to pass, the legend of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home continues to grow; the fact that it was not just a legitimate Trek film, but one of the better ones, becomes more astounding. When a mysterious probe shuts down Earth's defenses and power grids, emitting a strange signal, Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and his crew must find a humpback whale to answer the call. That means traveling back in time to 1986 (before humpback whales went extinct). The chance to see Kirk and Spock (Leonard Nimoy) embrace the '80s culture is worth a viewing alone, but the crew's complete disregard for preserving the timestream makes the fact that they traveled back in time the least far-fetched aspect of the story. It wasn't the last time the Trek series would have a brush with time travel, but it is by far the most memorable. Let's hope J.J. Abrams has plans for a remake.

Source Code (2011)

Source Code Time Travel Movie As a general rule, most time travel tales are ones that we would count ourselves lucky not to get wrapped up in. Paradoxes, unforeseen consequences, and general risk of injury are things to be avoided at all costs - but passing up the chance to solve a mystery is one few can resist. While Duncan Jones' Source Code may not be as revered as the director's other work, we can't help but appreciate the attempts made by the story. Mainly, to bring sci-fi time travel together with a suspenseful detective story. The role of detective falls to 'Colter Stevens' (Jake Gyllenhaal), able to re-live the last minutes of one terrorist attack's victim. His task is simple: repeat the process until he's gained enough information to discover who was behind the attack. The film may stray from the basic premise, but it's strong enough to deliver not only an entertaining - and easy to follow - thriller, but bring something new to the notion of a 'time loop.'

Deja Vu (2006)

Deja Vu Time Travel Movie Since the film rested in the hands of director Tony Scott, movie fans knew they were going to get something stylish with Déjà Vu. As yet another collaboration between Scott and leading man Denzel Washington, the film also followed an ATF agent's attempts to uncover the man behind a shocking terrorist attack. But instead of using traditional time travel, Washington's character 'Doug Carlin' is only able to look into the days leading up to the bombing; but deciding where to look is the real challenge. The mental seeds of time paradoxes are planted early, but the fact that the movie actually managed to include a chase scene between two cars traveling days apart is a testament to its originality. Like many of Scott's films, Déjà Vu may not have attained 'classic' status, but proves that the late director never failed to thrill, no matter how outlandish the plot.

12 Monkeys (1995)

12 Monkeys Time Travel Movie Bring up the topic of time travel among serious cinephiles, and it won't be long before 12 Monkeys enters the conversation. Although the premise is fairly generic - a crumbling future society sends someone back to acquire information on what brought the collapse - director Terry Gilliam ensured that the movie would be one for the ages. With starring performances by Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt (for which the latter was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar), the pair's eccentric characters mesh perfectly with Gilliam's larger-than-life style. No time travel movie has ever, or likely will ever be more surreal than 12 Monkeys, blurring the lines between dreams and reality, sanity and insanity, or past and future with ease. Gilliam's trademark visuals may not be for everyone, but it's hard to argue that they're a perfect match for the nonlinear plot of the film.

Frequency (2000)

Frequency Time Travel Movie The premise of Frequency seems to have the makings of a Disney-approved, heartwarming take on sci-fi: a strange phenomenon allows John Sullivan (Jim Caviezel) to speak - via ham radio - with his father Frank (Dennis Quaid) thirty years in the past. The chance to make up for lost time takes a turn when John - a police officer - realizes that his father could offer insight into the cold case he's currently working (with the murders still yet to take place in Frank's timeline). But with every bit of information that passes from father to son, the future is changed. The story isn't a conventional time travel tale, since only the pair's words are actually crossing from one timeline to the other. But the idea of two men solving a crime thirty years apart is an inspired twist on 'changing the past.' The family ties add an emotional element as well, making Frequency one underrated movie.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2 Few film franchises have proved as reliable for drawing in audiences - or hard to kill - as the Terminator series. Many claim the the original following Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is the best of the bunch, and while that's a fair argument, the first chapter functioned as a monster movie with a clever time travel twist; time travel took center stage in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. There's a laundry list of reasons why T2 will forever be cherished by a generation: recasting a mindless villain as a hero is nearly impossible to pull off, Linda Hamilton embodied the transformed Sarah Connor like few modern actresses would, and the film's special effects are a blend of groundbreaking and ingenious. Action aside - and there was plenty of it - it was T2's final moments that sealed it as one for the ages. To this day, we're not sure if the claim that "there is no fate but what we make" means Sarah Connor was a hero, or just plain wrong.

Timecrimes (2007)

Timecrimes Time Travel Movie It's a statement often made by those in the midst of time travel: "I know I can do it, because I already did." At this point, it's even been used in the Harry Potter series. But what happens when the things that must be done - because they already have been - are morally wrong, or downright criminal? Can they be changed, or is there no choice? That's the question raised by the Spanish film Timecrimes (originally titled Los Cronocrimenes), the most likely entry on our list to have slipped by even devout time travel junkies. Written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo, the 'less is more' theme runs through all elements of the film, with a total cast of just four players. The less said about the plot the better, but believe us when we tell you that the many twists and turns will leave any moviegoer hoping that they never find themselves sent backwards in time.

Primer (2004)

Time Travel Movies Primer It's been hailed as one of the best independent films of all time (and made for just $7,000, one of the cheapest), and there's no question Primer is among one of our favorites. The brainchild of writer, director, producer, editor, composer and star Shane Carruth is so unique mainly due to its core objective: to tell a believable story of two friends who accidentally create a time machine. With a razor thin-budget, mathematical and physical jargon pouring out of every scene, and a plot twist that we're happy to wager nobody will understand on their first viewing, Primer is simply a different breed of sci-fi. It's also one of the only films that tries to give a scientific explanation for how time travel works. Stumbling onto time travel seems most likely in the real world, so Primer could be seen as the most accurate film in our entire list. Which is terrifying.

Back to the Future (1985)

Back to the Future Time Travel Movie There are only a select number of '80s films which can claim to be timeless, with Back to the Future chief among them. While the debate over which was better, the original or Back to the Future 2 will rage on for all time, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) is beyond immortal to more than one generation. It's hard to say how much his time machine of choice is to credit for that, since Doc Brown's DeLorean puts the rest of our list to shame. But most of the credit sits squarely on McFly's shoulders for deciding that forever altering the course of the future was too good to pass up. By inventing rock and roll, giving a busboy the drive to become mayor, and giving his father an idea that would make him a wealthy novelist, Marty proved time travelers who worry only about 'saving the world' are missing the point entirely.

Conclusion

Best Time Travel Movies List That's just 10 entries in a genre that seems to grow by the year, but there are plenty more to choose from. What films on our list are some of your favorites? Are there any you think should be added that haven't been mentioned? Feel free to make your case in the comments. _____ Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce.
TAGS: 12 monkeys, about time, back to the future, source code, terminator 2, timecrimes

76 Comments

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  1. I know this is a list for movies…but seriously…Lost broke time travel. That show…man.

  2. I, for one, sure hope that JJ Abrams never reboots “Star Trek: The Voyage Home”. That movie was perfect and with Wrath of Khan, is one of the 2 best Star Trek films ever made. No need to remake it.

  3. Russ Stillman

    SOmewhere in Time, Frequency, Timecop, Looper, and the original Time Machine.

  4. and the time machine, the original
    ¿¿¿¿¿¿¿

  5. Technically,Source Code isn’t really a time travel movie,if you think about it.

    I typically hate time travel movies because I usually can’t get over the obvious paradoxes that they inevitably present.That said,how is The Jacket and The Butterfly Effect not on this list?

    • because both are crappy, skeevy movies that suck?

      • Uh,says you!

        The Jacket was awesome,and The Butterfly Effect was pretty good as well,especially the Director’s Cut.

        Both were better than half the list.

        • I disagree. So did most of the movie goers that year. Though I agree they’re better time travel movies than some of the list…Because one or two aren’t actually time travel movies.

        • Any movie starring Kelso is “NOT GOOD”.

        • I totally agree with the Director’s Cut of The Butterfly Effect. That movie was dark and tragic, and the young actors who played the main characters as children were amazingly talented. That version’s ending stays with you.

          How about Time After Time? That film was an endless looping story filled with humor and horror. Yay for Malcolm McDowell and David Warner.

          And never have a list like this and not mention George Pal’s The Time Machine, which was the best time travel movie ever made. Maybe someone will go back and correct the glaring errors on this list, because he or she “has all the time in the world”. “One cannot choose but wonder.”

  6. This list and these comments are seriously missing… Time After Time! Malcolm McDowell, David Warner, Mary Steenburgen. Jack the Ripper steals H.G. Wells’ time machine to flee the London cops, H.G. then chases him through time. Brilliant movie!

    • I agree totally.

  7. Does the original planet Of The Apes films count? With the 3rd film anyways? Plus Burton’s remake film.

    • I think it does. One and Three do, for sure….and the original is one of the biggest time travel twists in the history of movies.

      • Thought so. The original Planet Of The Apes franchise is amongst my favorites aswell.

  8. Donnie Darko should have been in this list.

    • +10000000000

  9. Also Frequently Asked Questions about Time Travel is a wonderful funny little British movie about a pub and time travel, check it out.

    • I was going to say the same thing. Glad there is more than one person here who thinks this.

  10. Voyage Home is actually one of the worst of the original Trek movies. Very hokey and cheesy, undercutting the serious more substantial parts 2 & 3.

  11. Wow, great list. So glad Source Code and Frequency made the cut. I love both of those movies. Of course Terminator 2 will be in there, I mean, come on, lol. :-P

    I’ve seen Frequency dozens of times and it never gets old. Wonderful movie.

    • agree about Source Code, absolutely loved it. Haven’t seen Frequency. Would you consider Donnie Darko, time travel ?

  12. Hath thou not learned of the sacred documents that are the excellent adventures of one William and one Theodore?

    • +10000000

  13. Glad to see “12 Monkeys” on this list. One of the best performances by Brad Pitt. Really an excellent movie. Though I also love “The Time Machine” & “Butterfly Effect”

  14. Edward Hernandez

    back to the future

  15. My favorite is Run Lola Run!

    • Not a time travel movie,I don’t think.Seemed more like just presenting alternate scenarios.

  16. Great list, tho imo, Deja Vu, was horrid.

  17. Butterfly Effect!!!! :-)

    • And Donnie Darko!!!

      But great list

  18. Timecop, pretty underrated. I know it’s Van Damme, but this has to be one of, if not his best film.

    • - Oh yeah, forgot about Planet of the Apes and Looper.!

  19. Wow!!! no mention of the “Time Machine” original or remake.

  20. If you take films into consideration where not literally time travel is performed, e.g. Source code, I definately miss Donnie Darko in first place! ‘The time machine’ itself (original version of course) is surely a milestone too.

  21. It is too bad this is just movies…

    these are not necessarily may favorites, just some I have seen.

    Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
    The Lake House
    Time Bandits
    Timeline

    interesting reading here: http://gizmodo.com/5994682/a-flow-chart-explaining-all-time-travel-in-movies

  22. Source Code is not actually about time travel. And once you realize this, the movie becomes extremely horrific.

  23. It’s technically not a time travel film (though, of course, not all of these are), but The Man Who Fell To Earth deserves credit for its (somewhat) subtle implications that the protagonist lives in multiple time frames.

  24. Can’t believe Slaughterhouse Five was never mentioned by anyone- thoughtful story, great message.

  25. What about the the movie Safety Not Guaranteed? In my favorites for time travel movies

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