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The 25 Greatest Time-Travel Movies Ever Made

time travel movies

It must say something, surely, about humans, how often time-travel movies are about returning to the past rather than jumping to the future. As Mark Duplass’s forlorn character says in Safety Not Guaranteed , “The mission has to do with regret.” With all the potential to explore the unknown world of the future, so often when our minds conspire to bend the rules of time it’s instead to rehash the old. It’s compelling to watch a character in a movie do what we cannot — right past wrongs or uncover the reason for or meaning behind the events in their lives, whether they be emotionally catastrophic or merely geopolitically motivated.

So absent is the future from the canon, in fact, that when it is involved, typically future dwellers are leaving their own time to come back to the present. Back to the Future Part II aside, it seems as if there’s something about going forward in time that just doesn’t track for humans. (Of course, you could argue that this is because the present-day concept of bidirectional time travel would infinitely multiply or change beyond recognition any future that may occur, but that’s a knot for another article.)

In any case, the time-travel stories deemed worthy of Hollywood budgets aren’t always straightforward in their mechanics. Some films on this list barely qualify as time-travel movies at all; others could hardly qualify as anything else. There are movies about trips through time but also ones about the bending and fracturing and muddying thereof; then there are those about, as Andy Samberg aptly puts it in Palm Springs , “one of those infinite time-loop situations you might have heard about.” There’s even a movie in which we get only 13 seconds’ worth of time travel, when it functions more like a joke whose punch line hits at the film’s climax.

What these films all do have in common is a fascination with changing the way time works. That being said, the list leaves out movies in larger, more extended franchises in which time meddling is a one-off dalliance thrown into a sequel with little by way of foreshadowing: think Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban , Avengers: Endgame , and Men in Black III . (It also leaves off perhaps the Ur-time-travel movie, Primer , and the quite good Midnight in Paris because their directors don’t deserve the column inches.) We’re looking at self-contained stories using time mechanics from the start, with preference given to those that involve themselves more intently with the ins and outs of time travel; that ask questions about time, aging, memory and so forth; and that try to succeed at it in new and interesting ways. So let’s get to it.

25. Galaxy Quest (1999)

Does Galaxy Quest really count as a time-travel movie? Some compelling reasons argue that it doesn’t: Time travel isn’t a major factor in the plot, and the time traveling that does occur is, yes, only a 13-second jump. But its use of time travel is meaningful insofar as the movie itself is a loving spoof of Star Trek , which makes use of time travel in three films ( one of which made this list ), not to mention dozens of episodes across its various TV iterations. Tacking on time travel as a deus ex machina for the actors in a Star Trek– like show pressed into service as an actual space crew by an endangered alien race is the exact right amount of ribbing in a movie that’s as on point as it is hilarious.

Galaxy Quest is available to rent on Amazon .

24. Happy Death Day (2017)

Pick away at the surface of a time-loop movie and you find a horror movie. Most of the entries on this list are covered in enough feel-good spin to land as comedies, but Happy Death Day stares the horror of the time-loop phenomenon right in the face. (It’s also quite funny.) Reliving the same day over and over is an unimaginably potent form of psychological torture, and adding murder to the equation does little to dull that edge. The film follows a college-age protagonist struggling to escape from a masked slasher hell-bent on killing her again and again while she tries to solve the mystery of how she got stuck in a time loop.

Happy Death Day is available to rent on Amazon .

23. Back to the Future Part II (1989)

Seriously, this may be the only good movie in which the film’s whole focus is using a time machine to travel into the future. The fact that it’s a sequel is telling — the characters already traveled into the past in the first movie , and the filmmakers decided to save “traveling even further into the past“ for the third film in the trilogy. Still, Back to the Future Part II is a fun time that makes great use of sight gags and references, recasting scenes from the first film in the distant future year of 2015 with all its hoverboards and self-lacing Nikes.

Back to the Future Part II is available to rent on Amazon .

22. See You Yesterday (2019)

It’s a dirty little secret of time-travel movies that they tend to be, well, pretty white. Tenet ’s Protagonist aside, if Hollywood’s sending someone through time, they’re almost certainly not a Black person, and for obvious reasons: Most of post-contact North American history is deeply unfriendly to people of color, and the problems a person running around out of time and place is going to encounter are deeply compounded if they’ll likely be the target of racist abuse or violence — which makes See You Yesterday all the more compelling. Produced by Spike Lee and featuring one of filmdom’s most famous time travelers in a cameo role, it follows a Black teenage science prodigy who uses a time machine to try to save her brother from being killed by a police officer.

See You Yesterday is streaming on Netflix .

21. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)

No offense to the Back to the Future franchise, but time travel never looks more fun on film than it does in the first Bill & Ted movie. It’s a concept that feels distinctly of a different era, so pure is its zaniness, that it’s hard to imagine anyone concocting it today. The titular duo, Californian high-school students in the ’80s, travel through the past looking for historical figures in order to ace a history project, then bring them all back to the present. High jinks ensue! We get Genghis Khan in a sporting-goods store and Mozart on an electric keyboard. What more could you want?

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is streaming on HBO Max .

20. Source Code (2011)

Time-travel-film aficionados know this won’t be Jake Gyllenhaal’s only stop on this list, but no matter. Source Code finds him repeating the same eight minutes over and over as he struggles to find the culprit in a train bombing — with each replay ending in his own death by explosion. For some reason, a romantic subplot is shoehorned into this, along with a bunch of frankly unnecessary technical mumbo-jumbo, but the core idea is a compelling mix of the time-loop movie and the train whodunit that Gyllenhaal is a perfect fit for.

Source Code is available to rent on Amazon .

19. 12 Monkeys (1995)

Some sort of law of nature dictates that every genuinely good idea and/or piece of true art has to at some point be turned into a Hollywood movie. Thank God La Jetée was adapted into something that can stand on its own feet artistically. 12 Monkeys may not retain its source material’s black-and-white look or stripped-down, static-image presentation, but it is a rollicking good time nonetheless. That’s in no small part due to director Terry Gilliam getting the best out of Bruce Willis and a young Brad Pitt, and recasting World War III as a planet-decimating virus. Which, like at least one other movie on this list , “speaks to the present moment,” or whatever.

12 Monkeys is available to rent on Amazon .

18. Run Lola Run (1998)

Unlike almost all of the other films on this list, the terms time travel and time machine don’t show up anywhere in Run Lola Run . Rather, it’s a sort of de facto time-loop scenario in which the protagonist tries repeatedly to pay a ransom to save her boyfriend’s life. In fact, if not for a few key details, it could easily be characterized (and often has been) as an alternate-endings movie rather than a time-travel film. But the fact that Lola seems to be learning from her past attempts with each successive one suggests that she is, indeed, using knowledge gained from previous loops to bring a satisfactory end to this situation.

Run Lola Run is available to rent on Amazon .

17. Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

One of the most striking things about Groundhog Day is the mutability and replicability of its core conceit. Perhaps the best case in point is Edge of Tomorrow , sometimes known as Live. Die. Repeat. after its original tagline. It’s the kind of physically grueling movie only an actor as genuinely unhinged as Tom Cruise could pull off. A noncombatant thrust into a war against invading aliens, Cruise’s character finds himself reliving day one of combat over and over, slowly but surely refining his techniques in order to survive the extraterrestrial onslaught. Like the central twosome in the much less violent Palm Springs , he winds up with a partner in (war) crime, teaming up with the similarly time-trapped Emily Blunt, and the explanation for the replay glitch here is actually pretty satisfying.

Edge of Tomorrow is streaming on Fubo TV .

16. Star Trek (2009)

If you could create some sort of an advanced stat to measure controversy generated per unit of interesting filmmaking decisions, J.J. Abrams would have to be near the top in terms of his ability to rig up movie drama from almost nothing. This is a guy whose filmography is like Godzilla rip-off, Spielberg homage, safe reboot of cherished IP, repeat. Star Trek may be his best film, though, a sure-footed reinvention of a dorky sci-fi franchise that made it, well, cool. Somehow, the beauty of Spock and Kirk’s bromance being woven through chance encounters with future selves kind of … works?

Star Trek is available to rent on Amazon .

15. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006)

There’s a relative dearth of time travel in animated film, which perhaps is a function simply of the fact that it’s less impressive to stage in a world that’s already unreal. If you can Looney Tunes your way through physics, what’s so special about grabbing the flow of time and tying it into a bow? Still, the original Girl Who Leapt Through Time deserves mention here. It’s a beautiful story that interlaces the complexity of time leaping with the intensity of teenage emotion and the thorny process of growing up where the opportunity to redo things leads, over time, to growth — a less shitty Groundhog Day , in a way.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is available to rent on Amazon .

14. Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

She may not be the most famous, decorated, or emulated actress of her generation, but Aubrey Plaza is someone whose personality spoke to the irony-soaked 2010s in a way that simply could not be denied. Her character on Parks and Recreation , April Ludgate, was, by all accounts, created specifically to channel Plaza’s real-life personality to the screen, and she plays essentially the same character in Safety Not Guaranteed . Here, she’s a sarcastic intern at a magazine working on a story about a would-be time traveler and using her feminine wiles to slowly gain his trust. The chemistry between Plaza and Mark Duplass is probably the film’s high point; the subplot about the FBI feels like it was clipped out of a bad X-Files episode.

Safety Not Guaranteed is streaming on Tubi .

13. La Jetée (1962)

At only a 28-minute run time, La Jetée is arguably too short to merit inclusion on this list. However, what it lacks in content (and in, well, moving images; it’s almost exclusively a collection of static black-and-white shots set to voice-over), it more than makes up for in inventiveness and influence, and it would be a travesty to leave it out in favor of more recent by-the-book fare. Tracing the tale of a man held prisoner in post-WWIII Paris being used in time-travel experiments as his captors seek to remedy the postapocalyptic state of the world, he’s sent into both the future and the past and ends up unraveling a lifelong personal mystery while he’s at it.

La Jetée is streaming on the Criterion Channel .

12. Planet of the Apes (1968)

Unlike the worse but more straightforwardly time-traveling Tim Burton remake, the relationship between the original Planet of the Apes and time travel is inexact — technically, the astronaut crew that lands on the titular planet does travel forward 2,000 years, but it’s not done via a time machine. The travel isn’t instantaneous: It literally does take them 2,000 years to get there; they’re just unconscious and on life support. Still, the way the film’s ending handles the iconic reveal is exactly in line with the best of the time-travel canon, the telescoping, mise en abyme feeling of the world shifting in front of your very eyes without your moving an inch.

Planet of the Apes is available to rent on Amazon .

11. Groundhog Day (1993)

The famous Bill Murray vehicle essentially invented the infinite-time-loop genre (and it’s hardly a movie that succeeds on the strength of its concept alone), but the idea at its core is so steeped in the casual misogyny of late-’80s and early-’90s cinema that it’s hard to watch today without cringing. Murray’s character employing what amounts to PUA-style techniques over and over and over in a desperate bid to fuck his hapless co-worker just doesn’t hit the way it did back then. If the story arc didn’t present a guy detoxifying himself of the worst aspects of masculinity in order to be worthy of a woman’s love as the primary way for a 20th-century white man to achieve full personhood, this would be much higher on the list.

Groundhog Day is streaming on Starz .

10. Predestination (2014)

This is probably the most complicated film on the list. Following a “temporal agent” (played by Ethan Hawke) who’s trying to prevent a bombing in 1970s New York, it’s based on a Robert A. Heinlein short story and features Shiv Roy herself, Sarah Snook, in a star-making turn as someone with a complicated backstory and a secret. Like the best sci-fi, the film’s premise raises all kinds of fascinating questions about the titular concept and throws in some interesting musings on sex, gender, and the self in the process.

Predestination is streaming on Tubi .

9. Looper (2012)

Wes Anderson gets a lot of flak for his overwrought twee visuals, but Rian Johnson has a knack for making movies that feel and function like dioramas even if they don’t look it. Narratively speaking, everything here is constructed just so — and there’s a certain beauty in that — but who ever had a profound experience of art by looking at a diorama? Looper was probably Johnson’s least precious pre– Star Wars film, which is nice because the temptation to drastically overmaneuver the mechanics of a time-travel story can lead to disaster. The tech used to Bruce Willis–ify Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s face is distracting, and the third act’s retreat from the postapocalyptic city of the future to the postapocalyptic corn farm of the future is a brave choice that the film struggles to land. Still, Johnson’s vision of a future in which organized crime runs time travel is compelling and well worth a watch.

Looper is streaming on Netflix .

8. Donnie Darko (2001)

Donnie Darko is a bit of a genre mash-up. Part high-school movie, part sci-fi flick, part bleak meditation on the soullessness of late-’80s America, it’s nevertheless a weirdly successful piece of filmmaking that makes fantastic use of a young Jake Gyllenhaal, a great supporting cast (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Drew Barrymore, Jena Malone, and Patrick Swayze among others), and an absolutely iconic haunting cover of Tears for Fears’ “Mad World.” Watching high schoolers navigate parallel universes, wormholes, and time travel is a dicey proposition, but director Richard Kelly makes it work, somehow.

Donnie Darko is streaming on HBO Max .

7. Back to the Future (1984)

While it’s clearly superior to the sequel (and leagues ahead of the final film in the trilogy), the original Back to the Future is a bit of a mess (John Mulaney was right , to be honest). Its racial and gender politics are cringey, and the incest subplot is weird (“It’s your cousin Marvin. Marvin Pornhub . You know that new plot element you’ve been looking for?”), but there’s a clear interest in time travel beyond its shimmering surface: the very real addressing of the “grandfather problem” in time travel via the slow disappearance of Marty from his family photo, the accidental invention of rock music, and a genuine curiosity about the nuts-and-bolts mechanics of time machines. Ahh, what the hell. It’s a romp.

Back to the Future is available to rent on Amazon .

6. Palm Springs (2020)

No offense to Gen-Xers and boomers, but the best time-loop movie of all time is Palm Springs . The film isn’t without its missteps, but it’s much more curious about life than Groundhog Day was through the eyes of Murray’s misanthrope. Cristin Milioti and Andy Samberg‘s characters, stuck in the loop together, are a perfect comedic match, and their shared humanity makes for a beautiful arc. The film raises questions about what’s worth doing in life when nothing lasts and how to stay sane when every day is the same. Of course, as a sort of polar opposite of Tenet , it benefited from coming out during the pandemic by speaking, as it does, to the experience of lockdown.

Palm Springs is streaming on Hulu .

5. Tenet (2020)

Interstellar wasn’t enough for Chris Nolan, apparently. Tenet ’s legacy may end up being little more than that of the COVID action movie no one saw — a bloated thriller that Nolan fought to get into theaters and bar from home viewing reportedly to swell the size of his own pockets. It really did suffer from bad timing, though, because this is genuinely a quintessential big-screen popcorn movie whose absurdity is all the more palatable when it’s given the audiovisual bombast it deserves. Ambitious in scope as it traces a war on the past by the future (yes, you read that right), Tenet is as enamored of action tropes as it is in bucking them, and its investment in rendering visible the brain-bendingly knotty mechanics of moving through time is laudable, even when the movie itself remains opaque — as impenetrable as the future, as hazy as the past.

Tenet is streaming on HBO Max .

4. The Terminator (1984)

A partner to Blade Runner in the mid-’80s invention of sci-fi noir, The Terminator is a stunning film in many ways, despite the third act’s now-iffy visual effects. While it’s not James Cameron’s debut, and it would go on to be bested by its sequel , it functions as an incredible showcase for an emerging young director who would exclusively make big stories for the rest of his career. Arnold Schwarzenegger is perfectly cast as the relentless, unemotional killer cyborg sent back from the future to terminate the mother of the eventual resistance leader, and the film’s romantic subplot has just the perfect amount of time-travel-induced cheesiness for it to work.

The Terminator is streaming on Amazon Prime Video .

3. Interstellar (2014)

It’s not inaccurate to say Christopher Nolan is a director who’s more interested in scale and scope than in expressing the minutiae of the human experience in its purest form. But in Interstellar, a Nolan movie in its titular ambitions, there’s a core element of time travel wrought not as sci-fi fireworks but as a paean to the sheer force and will of the power of love. It both does and doesn’t work, depending on your capacity for cheese in space, but even besides that, Nolan’s use of time as story arc — the way Miller’s planet functions, in particular — is conceptually masterful in the best kind of time-travel-movie way.

Interstellar is streaming on Paramount+ .

2. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Whereas the franchise’s first movie spends more time on the question of time travel, in the second it takes a bit of a back seat to the action itself. It’s hard to fault director James Cameron for this decision; T2 remains one of the best action movies of the ’90s and — along with Jurassic Park and The Matrix — one of the decade’s best when for special effects. The groundbreaking T-1000 would honestly be enough to get this movie on the list; a tween John Connor grappling with questions of predestination and the fact that he is vicariously responsible for his own conception feel almost like icing on the time-travel cake. Much as in 12 Monkeys , time travel here is mistaken for delusion, as valiant Sarah Connor, in a Cassandra-esque nightmare, has to battle against the future only she knows is coming. Of course, Cassandra never had access to any firepower stored in underground desert arsenals.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day is streaming on Netflix .

1. Arrival (2016)

It’s fair to wonder whether Arrival really is, in fact, a time-travel movie. The Ted Chiang short story it’s based on isn’t about time travel per se; rather, it’s an exploration of alternate forms of temporal understanding. The linguist protagonist, played by Amy Adams, doesn’t travel through time so much as come to experience it differently. Still, the plot ends up hinging on foreknowledge that she is granted not via visions but by actually experiencing her future simultaneously with her present and past. For our purposes, though, that’s time fuckery enough to merit inclusion, and boy howdy does the film deliver in overall quality. Partly, that’s simply a question of the source material. Chiang is arguably the most talented (and possibly the most decorated) American sci-fi writer of his generation. But the source story is not especially Hollywood friendly, and director Denis Villeneuve has adopted it lovingly, borrowing a plot device from another of Chiang’s stories, the more straightforwardly time-travel-based “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” in order to add some third-act blockbuster flavor. The result is a beautiful meditation on love, choice, and courage that packs art-film ethos into a genuine sci-fi blockbuster.

Arrival is streaming on Hulu and Paramount+ .

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The 50 All-Time Best Time-Travel Films

The ability to travel through time is by far my favorite movie storyline. Who hasn't, at least once in their lifetime, wished they could turn back the hands of time to buy a winning lottery ticket or to set something right that once went wrong? The movies listed below have a wide range of inventive ways on how the subjects are moved across time. Many of these films use either a mental ability, magical device or a time machine, some seem to have help from a higher power and sometimes the person just wakes up in a different time. If you love TV shows like Outlander, Timeless, Doctor Who or Quantum Leap, then this list of the best time-traveling films is for you.

  • Movies or TV
  • IMDb Rating
  • In Theaters
  • Release Year

1. The Time Machine (1960)

G | 103 min | Adventure, Romance, Sci-Fi

A man's vision for a utopian society is disillusioned when travelling forward into time reveals a dark and dangerous society.

Director: George Pal | Stars: Rod Taylor , Alan Young , Yvette Mimieux , Sebastian Cabot

Votes: 44,752

2. Back to the Future (1985)

PG | 116 min | Adventure, Comedy, Sci-Fi

Marty McFly, a 17-year-old high school student, is accidentally sent 30 years into the past in a time-traveling DeLorean invented by his close friend, the maverick scientist Doc Brown.

Director: Robert Zemeckis | Stars: Michael J. Fox , Christopher Lloyd , Lea Thompson , Crispin Glover

Votes: 1,303,923 | Gross: $210.61M

Also included are Part II and Part III, all three as one film.

3. The Terminator (1984)

R | 107 min | Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

A human soldier is sent from 2029 to 1984 to stop an almost indestructible cyborg killing machine, sent from the same year, which has been programmed to execute a young woman whose unborn son is the key to humanity's future salvation.

Director: James Cameron | Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger , Linda Hamilton , Michael Biehn , Paul Winfield

Votes: 922,384 | Gross: $38.40M

4. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

R | 137 min | Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

A cyborg, identical to the one who failed to kill Sarah Connor, must now protect her ten year old son John from an even more advanced and powerful cyborg.

Director: James Cameron | Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger , Linda Hamilton , Edward Furlong , Robert Patrick

Votes: 1,171,820 | Gross: $204.84M

5. Time After Time (1979)

PG | 112 min | Adventure, Drama, Sci-Fi

H.G. Wells pursues Jack the Ripper to the 20th Century when the serial murderer uses the future writer's time machine to escape his time period.

Director: Nicholas Meyer | Stars: Malcolm McDowell , Mary Steenburgen , David Warner , Charles Cioffi

Votes: 20,599

6. Donnie Darko (2001)

R | 113 min | Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi

After narrowly escaping a bizarre accident, a troubled teenager is plagued by visions of a man in a large rabbit suit who manipulates him to commit a series of crimes.

Director: Richard Kelly | Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal , Jena Malone , Mary McDonnell , Holmes Osborne

Votes: 848,663 | Gross: $1.48M

7. Planet of the Apes (1968)

G | 112 min | Adventure, Sci-Fi

An astronaut crew crash-lands on a planet where highly intelligent non-human ape species are dominant and humans are enslaved.

Director: Franklin J. Schaffner | Stars: Charlton Heston , Roddy McDowall , Kim Hunter , Maurice Evans

Votes: 192,649 | Gross: $33.40M

8. Groundhog Day (1993)

PG | 101 min | Comedy, Drama, Fantasy

A narcissistic, self-centered weatherman finds himself in a time loop on Groundhog Day.

Director: Harold Ramis | Stars: Bill Murray , Andie MacDowell , Chris Elliott , Stephen Tobolowsky

Votes: 683,710 | Gross: $70.91M

Living the same day over and over again for maybe a hundred or more years.

9. Run Lola Run (1998)

R | 80 min | Action, Crime, Thriller

After a botched money delivery, Lola has 20 minutes to come up with 100,000 Deutschmarks.

Director: Tom Tykwer | Stars: Franka Potente , Moritz Bleibtreu , Herbert Knaup , Nina Petri

Votes: 206,736 | Gross: $7.27M

10. Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

R | 86 min | Adventure, Comedy, Drama

Three magazine employees head out on an assignment to interview a guy who placed a classified advertisement seeking a companion for time travel.

Director: Colin Trevorrow | Stars: Aubrey Plaza , Mark Duplass , Jake Johnson , Karan Soni

Votes: 130,777 | Gross: $4.01M

11. Doctor Strange (2016)

PG-13 | 115 min | Action, Adventure, Fantasy

While on a journey of physical and spiritual healing, a brilliant neurosurgeon is drawn into the world of the mystic arts.

Director: Scott Derrickson | Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch , Chiwetel Ejiofor , Rachel McAdams , Benedict Wong

Votes: 803,155 | Gross: $232.64M

12. Arrival (II) (2016)

PG-13 | 116 min | Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi

A linguist works with the military to communicate with alien lifeforms after twelve mysterious spacecraft appear around the world.

Director: Denis Villeneuve | Stars: Amy Adams , Jeremy Renner , Forest Whitaker , Michael Stuhlbarg

Votes: 768,212 | Gross: $100.55M

13. Primer (2004)

PG-13 | 77 min | Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller

Four friends/fledgling entrepreneurs, knowing that there's something bigger and more innovative than the different error-checking devices they've built, wrestle over their new invention.

Director: Shane Carruth | Stars: Shane Carruth , David Sullivan , Casey Gooden , Anand Upadhyaya

Votes: 113,958 | Gross: $0.42M

14. Interstellar (2014)

PG-13 | 169 min | Adventure, Drama, Sci-Fi

When Earth becomes uninhabitable in the future, a farmer and ex-NASA pilot, Joseph Cooper, is tasked to pilot a spacecraft, along with a team of researchers, to find a new planet for humans.

Director: Christopher Nolan | Stars: Matthew McConaughey , Anne Hathaway , Jessica Chastain , Mackenzie Foy

Votes: 2,091,593 | Gross: $188.02M

There are all kinds of time-travel in Interstellar.

15. 12 Monkeys (1995)

R | 129 min | Mystery, Sci-Fi, Thriller

In a future world devastated by disease, a convict is sent back in time to gather information about the man-made virus that wiped out most of the human population on the planet.

Director: Terry Gilliam | Stars: Bruce Willis , Madeleine Stowe , Brad Pitt , Joseph Melito

Votes: 645,858 | Gross: $57.14M

Brad Pitt is so freaky crazy in this film and I love it!

16. La Jetée (1962)

Not Rated | 28 min | Short, Drama, Romance

The story of a man forced to explore his memories in the wake of World War III's devastation, told through still images.

Director: Chris Marker | Stars: Étienne Becker , Jean Négroni , Hélène Chatelain , Davos Hanich

Votes: 36,996

This short film inspired 12 Monkeys.

17. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006)

TV-PG | 98 min | Animation, Adventure, Comedy

A high-school girl named Makoto acquires the power to travel back in time, and decides to use it for her own personal benefits. Little does she know that she is affecting the lives of others just as much as she is her own.

Director: Mamoru Hosoda | Stars: Riisa Naka , Takuya Ishida , Mitsutaka Itakura , Ayami Kakiuchi

Votes: 70,740

18. Frequency (2000)

PG-13 | 118 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery

An accidental cross-time radio link connects father and son across 30 years. The son tries to save his father's life, but then must fix the consequences.

Director: Gregory Hoblit | Stars: Dennis Quaid , Jim Caviezel , Shawn Doyle , Elizabeth Mitchell

Votes: 115,582 | Gross: $45.01M

No humans travel in time in Frequency but thanks to a ham radio and a phenomenon that opens up a channel, John is able to communicate with his father, 30 years in the past.

19. Timecrimes (2007)

R | 92 min | Horror, Mystery, Sci-Fi

A man accidentally gets into a time machine and travels back in time nearly an hour. Finding himself will be the first of a series of disasters of unforeseeable consequences.

Director: Nacho Vigalondo | Stars: Karra Elejalde , Candela Fernández , Bárbara Goenaga , Nacho Vigalondo

Votes: 68,671 | Gross: $0.04M

20. Deja Vu (2006)

PG-13 | 126 min | Action, Crime, Sci-Fi

After a ferry is bombed in New Orleans, an A.T.F. agent joins a unique investigation using experimental surveillance technology to find the bomber, but soon finds himself becoming obsessed with one of the victims.

Director: Tony Scott | Stars: Denzel Washington , Paula Patton , Jim Caviezel , Val Kilmer

Votes: 327,159 | Gross: $64.04M

The second film on this list with actor Jim Caviezel, who is also in Frequency.

21. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

PG-13 | 132 min | Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

The X-Men send Wolverine to the past in a desperate effort to change history and prevent an event that results in doom for both humans and mutants.

Director: Bryan Singer | Stars: Patrick Stewart , Ian McKellen , Hugh Jackman , James McAvoy

Votes: 744,164 | Gross: $233.92M

22. Pleasantville (1998)

PG-13 | 124 min | Comedy, Drama, Fantasy

Two 1990s teenage siblings find themselves transported to a 1950s sitcom where their influence begins to profoundly change that colorless, complacent world.

Director: Gary Ross | Stars: Tobey Maguire , Jeff Daniels , Joan Allen , William H. Macy

Votes: 136,159 | Gross: $40.57M

23. Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

PG-13 | 113 min | Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

A soldier fighting aliens gets to relive the same day over and over again, the day restarting every time he dies.

Director: Doug Liman | Stars: Tom Cruise , Emily Blunt , Bill Paxton , Brendan Gleeson

Votes: 735,137 | Gross: $100.21M

Live. Die. Repeat.

24. The Philadelphia Experiment (1984)

PG | 102 min | Adventure, Drama, Romance

A United States Navy destroyer escort participates in a Navy "invisibility" experiment that inadvertently sends two sailors forty years into the future.

Director: Stewart Raffill | Stars: Michael Paré , Nancy Allen , Eric Christmas , Bobby Di Cicco

Votes: 16,722 | Gross: $8.10M

25. About Time (I) (2013)

R | 123 min | Comedy, Drama, Fantasy

At the age of 21, Tim discovers he can travel in time and change what happens and has happened in his own life. His decision to make his world a better place by getting a girlfriend turns out not to be as easy as you might think.

Director: Richard Curtis | Stars: Domhnall Gleeson , Rachel McAdams , Bill Nighy , Lydia Wilson

Votes: 384,984 | Gross: $15.32M

26. The Time Traveler's Wife (2009)

PG-13 | 107 min | Comedy, Drama, Fantasy

Henry DeTamble, a librarian, possesses a unique gene that lets him involuntarily travel through time. His wife, Claire Abshire, finds it difficult to cope with it.

Director: Robert Schwentke | Stars: Eric Bana , Rachel McAdams , Ron Livingston , Michelle Nolden

Votes: 157,758 | Gross: $63.41M

Rachel McAdams must love time-travel because she has been in 4 of them but she is never a time traveler in any of them. She was also in Doctor Strange and Midnight in Paris.

27. Somewhere in Time (1980)

PG | 103 min | Drama, Fantasy, Romance

A Chicago playwright uses self-hypnosis to travel back in time and meet the actress whose vintage portrait hangs in a grand hotel.

Director: Jeannot Szwarc | Stars: Christopher Reeve , Jane Seymour , Christopher Plummer , Teresa Wright

Votes: 32,435 | Gross: $9.71M

The most romantic film on the list.

28. Happy Accidents (2000)

R | 110 min | Comedy, Romance

New Yorker Ruby Weaver believes she has found the man of her dreams in Sam Deed, who is her best catch in some time--except that he assures her that he came from the future.

Director: Brad Anderson | Stars: Marisa Tomei , Vincent D'Onofrio , Holland Taylor , Mick Weber

Votes: 10,219 | Gross: $0.69M

An underrated film.

29. Time Bandits (1981)

PG | 110 min | Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy

A young boy accidentally joins a band of time travelling dwarves, as they jump from era to era looking for treasure to steal.

Director: Terry Gilliam | Stars: Sean Connery , Shelley Duvall , John Cleese , Katherine Helmond

Votes: 68,195 | Gross: $42.37M

30. Lucy (I) (2014)

R | 89 min | Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller

A woman, accidentally caught in a dark deal, turns the tables on her captors and transforms into a merciless warrior evolved beyond human logic.

Director: Luc Besson | Stars: Scarlett Johansson , Morgan Freeman , Choi Min-sik , Amr Waked

Votes: 533,294 | Gross: $126.66M

31. Sleeper (1973)

PG | 89 min | Comedy, Sci-Fi

A nerdish store owner is revived out of cryostasis into a future world to fight an oppressive government.

Director: Woody Allen | Stars: Woody Allen , Diane Keaton , John Beck , Mary Gregory

Votes: 44,784 | Gross: $2.91M

32. Midnight in Paris (2011)

PG-13 | 94 min | Comedy, Fantasy, Romance

While on a trip to Paris with his fiancée's family, a nostalgic screenwriter finds himself mysteriously going back to the 1920s every day at midnight.

Director: Woody Allen | Stars: Owen Wilson , Rachel McAdams , Kathy Bates , Kurt Fuller

Votes: 449,321 | Gross: $56.82M

33. Looper (2012)

R | 119 min | Action, Drama, Sci-Fi

In 2074, when the mob wants to get rid of someone, the target is sent into the past, where a hired gun awaits - someone like Joe - who one day learns the mob wants to 'close the loop' by sending back Joe's future self for assassination.

Director: Rian Johnson | Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt , Bruce Willis , Emily Blunt , Paul Dano

Votes: 602,249 | Gross: $66.49M

34. Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)

R | 99 min | Comedy, Sci-Fi

A malfunctioning time machine at a ski resort takes a man back to 1986 with his two friends and nephew, where they must relive a fateful night and not change anything to make sure the nephew is born.

Director: Steve Pink | Stars: John Cusack , Rob Corddry , Craig Robinson , Clark Duke

Votes: 186,173 | Gross: $50.29M

35. 13 Going on 30 (2004)

PG-13 | 98 min | Comedy, Fantasy, Romance

Unpopular schoolgirl Jenna Rink makes an unusual wish on her birthday. Miraculously, her wish comes true and the 13-year-old Jenna wakes up the next day as a 30-year-old woman.

Director: Gary Winick | Stars: Jennifer Garner , Mark Ruffalo , Judy Greer , Andy Serkis

Votes: 216,202 | Gross: $57.23M

13 Going on 30 is a fun and funny film.

36. The Time Machine (2002)

PG-13 | 96 min | Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

Hoping to alter the events of the past, a 19th century inventor instead travels 800,000 years into the future, where he finds humankind divided into two warring races.

Director: Simon Wells | Stars: Guy Pearce , Yancey Arias , Mark Addy , Phyllida Law

Votes: 130,255 | Gross: $56.68M

A really good remake of the original 1960 film and the coolest time-machine in any movie.

37. Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)

PG-13 | 103 min | Comedy, Drama, Fantasy

Peggy Sue faints at a high school reunion. When she wakes up, she finds herself in her own past, just before she finished school.

Director: Francis Ford Coppola | Stars: Kathleen Turner , Nicolas Cage , Barry Miller , Catherine Hicks

Votes: 40,722 | Gross: $41.38M

38. Next (2007)

PG-13 | 96 min | Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller

A Las Vegas magician who can see into the future is pursued by FBI agents seeking to use his abilities to prevent a nuclear terrorist attack.

Director: Lee Tamahori | Stars: Nicolas Cage , Julianne Moore , Jessica Biel , Thomas Kretschmann

Votes: 166,179 | Gross: $18.21M

Nicolas Cage was also in Peggy Sue Got Married.

39. Predestination (I) (2014)

R | 97 min | Action, Drama, Sci-Fi

As his last assignment, a temporal agent is tasked to travel back in time and prevent a bomb attack in New York in 1975. The hunt, however, turns out to be beyond the bounds of possibility.

Directors: Michael Spierig , Peter Spierig | Stars: Ethan Hawke , Sarah Snook , Noah Taylor , Madeleine West

Votes: 304,139 | Gross: $0.07M

This movie is trippy, no pun intended. Just when you think you have figured out the twist, the ending blows your mind.

40. The Lake House (2006)

PG | 99 min | Drama, Fantasy, Romance

A lonely doctor who once occupied an unusual lakeside house begins to exchange love letters with its former resident, a frustrated architect. They must try to unravel the mystery behind their extraordinary romance before it's too late.

Director: Alejandro Agresti | Stars: Keanu Reeves , Sandra Bullock , Christopher Plummer , Ebon Moss-Bachrach

Votes: 157,481 | Gross: $52.33M

Keanu has been in 3 time-travel movies.

41. Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)

PG | 90 min | Adventure, Comedy, Music

Two rock-'n-rolling teens, on the verge of failing their class, set out on a quest to make the ultimate school history report after being presented with a time machine.

Director: Stephen Herek | Stars: Keanu Reeves , Alex Winter , George Carlin , Terry Camilleri

Votes: 141,438 | Gross: $40.49M

42. Source Code (2011)

PG-13 | 93 min | Action, Drama, Mystery

A soldier wakes up in someone else's body and discovers he's part of an experimental government program to find the bomber of a commuter train within 8 minutes.

Director: Duncan Jones | Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal , Michelle Monaghan , Vera Farmiga , Jeffrey Wright

Votes: 548,936 | Gross: $54.71M

Jake Gyllenhaal has been in three time-travel films, including Prince of Persia (not listed).

43. The Jacket (2005)

R | 103 min | Drama, Fantasy, Mystery

A Gulf war veteran is wrongly sent to a mental institution for insane criminals, where he becomes the object of a doctor's experiments, and his life is completely affected by them.

Director: John Maybury | Stars: Adrien Brody , Keira Knightley , Daniel Craig , Kris Kristofferson

Votes: 119,175 | Gross: $6.30M

44. The Final Countdown (1980)

PG | 103 min | Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

A modern aircraft carrier is thrown back in time to 1941 near Hawaii, just hours before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Director: Don Taylor | Stars: Kirk Douglas , Martin Sheen , Katharine Ross , James Farentino

Votes: 26,849 | Gross: $16.65M

45. Frankenstein Unbound (1990)

R | 85 min | Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi

The ultimate weapon which was meant to be safe for the mankind produces global side effects including time slides and disappearances.The scientist behind the project and his car are zapped from the year 2031 to 1817's Switzerland.

Director: Roger Corman | Stars: John Hurt , Raul Julia , Nick Brimble , Bridget Fonda

Votes: 4,120 | Gross: $0.33M

46. Freejack (1992)

R | 110 min | Action, Crime, Sci-Fi

Bounty hunters from the future transport a doomed race car driver to New York City in 2009, where his mind will be replaced with that of a dead billionaire.

Director: Geoff Murphy | Stars: Emilio Estevez , Mick Jagger , Rene Russo , Anthony Hopkins

Votes: 17,430 | Gross: $17.13M

47. The Butterfly Effect (2004)

R | 113 min | Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller

Evan Treborn suffers blackouts during significant events of his life. As he grows up, he finds a way to remember these lost memories and a supernatural way to alter his life by reading his journal.

Directors: Eric Bress , J. Mackye Gruber | Stars: Ashton Kutcher , Amy Smart , Melora Walters , Elden Henson

Votes: 520,386 | Gross: $57.94M

Changing one thing in the past can cause chaos in the future.

48. Idiocracy (2006)

R | 84 min | Adventure, Comedy, Sci-Fi

Corporal Joe Bauers, a decisively average American, is selected as a guinea pig for a top-secret hibernation program. He is forgotten and left to awaken to a future so incredibly moronic that he's easily the most intelligent person alive.

Director: Mike Judge | Stars: Luke Wilson , Maya Rudolph , Dax Shepard , Terry Crews

Votes: 181,469 | Gross: $0.44M

49. Army of Darkness (1992)

R | 81 min | Comedy, Horror

When Ash Williams is accidentally transported to 1300 A.D., he must retrieve the Necronomicon and battle an army of the dead in order to return home.

Director: Sam Raimi | Stars: Bruce Campbell , Embeth Davidtz , Marcus Gilbert , Ian Abercrombie

Votes: 194,085 | Gross: $11.50M

50. Timecop (1994)

R | 99 min | Action, Crime, Sci-Fi

Max Walker, an officer for a security agency that regulates time travel, must fend for his life against a shady politician who's intent on changing the past to control the future.

Director: Peter Hyams | Stars: Jean-Claude Van Damme , Mia Sara , Ron Silver , Bruce McGill

Votes: 64,064 | Gross: $44.85M

Timecop 2 is not very good.

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Meet Cute (2022)

Kaley Cuoco and Pete Davidson co-star in Peacock's Meet Cute , a delightful and often dark rom-com based around time travel. Feeling suicidal, Sheila (Cuoco) finds a time machine in a nail salon and decides to go back in time 24 hours. While re-living her first date with Gary (Davidson) again and again, Sheila loses touch with reality and might have destroyed any chance she had with him.

A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

High schooler Meg Murry travels through time and space in search of her missing astrophysicist father (Chris Pine). On her journey, Meg meets Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), as well as a whole host of dangerous beings.

The Time Traveler's Wife (2009)

Based on Audrey Niffenegger's 2003 novel of the same name, The Time Traveler's Wife tells the story of Henry (Eric Bana), a librarian who is able to randomly travel through time. After meeting Clare (Rachel McAdams) as a child, Henry later develops a romantic relationship with her. HBO's recent adaptation starring Theo James and Rose Leslie has reignited the debate regarding whether or not the story promotes grooming , or if it's a timeless romance.

Back to the Future (1985)

'80s classic Back to the Future has stood the test of time, and spawned two equally entertaining sequels. In the first film, Marty McFly is sent to the 1950s in his friend Doc Brown's time machine, a super cool DeLorean. Marty meets his parents as teenagers, and his presence risks changing history forever.

See You Yesterday (2019)

Netflix's See You Yesterday follows science prodigy C.J. (Eden Duncan-Smith), who invents time traveling backpacks. Along with her best friend Sebastian, C.J. uses her invention to go back in time to stop her brother from being murdered by a racist police officer. However, she's also forced to face up to the limitations and consequences of time travel.

About Time (2013)

Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) inherits the ability to time travel from his father, and decides to use the gift to find love. After a failed attempt at romance, Tim meets Mary (Rachel McAdams), but due to several time travel-related mishaps, romance isn't instantaneous for the pair. Written and directed by rom-com aficionado Richard Curtis.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

James Cameron's follow-up to 1984's The Terminator was a smash-hit that cemented the franchise's popularity. In the sequel, a killer T-1000 Terminator is sent back in time by Skynet to kill the future leader of the resistance, the son of Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), John (Edward Furlong). At the same time, the resistance sends a reprogrammed T-800 Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) back to protect Connor.

Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)

Four miserable friends reunite after one of them nearly dies. To cheer themselves up, they decide to spend some time together at a ski resort. Unfortunately, the resort's hot tub isn't what it seems, and they accidentally end up traveling back to 1986. The four friends scramble to find a way back to present day. Starring John Cusack and Craig Robinson.

12 Monkeys (1995)

After a deadly virus destroys humanity in 1996, survivors are forced underground. Decades later, prisoner James (Bruce Willis) agrees to go back in time to find the original virus, so that scientists can work on a cure. However, he arrives too early in 1990, and is promptly institutionalized, where he meets Jeffrey (Brad Pitt), an anti-corporate environmentalist. From there, the mystery only gets more intriguing.

Looper (2012)

In the future, time travel is used by the mob to assassinate people, who are sent back in time and killed by assassins known as "loopers." Joe's (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) older self (Bruce Willis) is sent back to be eliminated, but manages to escape before he is killed. Thus begins a twisty time travel epic, that also stars Emily Blunt.

Tenet (2020)

The Protagonist ( John David Washington ), a former CIA agent, is tasked with stopping World War III. Learning to bend time, he attempts to prevent the destruction of the world. Robert Pattinson and Elizabeth Debicki co-star.

Last Night in Soho (2021)

Aspiring fashion designer Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) manages to travel back to the 1960s, where she meets singer "Sandie" ( Anya Taylor-Joy ). What starts as a glamorous encounter with the past soon becomings a horrifying nightmare. Co-starring Matt Smith.

Déjà Vu (2006)

A top secret organization has developed the ability to see four days into the past, in order to catch criminals. While hunting a terrorist, ATF agent Doug (Denzel Washington) realizes that this new technology might allow him to stop crimes from happening altogether.

Source Code (2011)

An unusual riff on the time travel movie, Source Code stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Army Captain Colter, who is trying to identify the person responsible for bombing a commuter train. Re-living an eight minute re-creation of the moments leading up to the explosion, Colter is stuck in a terrifying loop, until he can solve the mystery.

Mirai (2018)

A young boy called Kun runs away from home, as he feels neglected by his family after the arrival of his little sister, Mirai. Kun accidentally discovers a time travel portal in a magic garden, and is transported into the past, where he meets his mother as a child. Later, he travels to the future, where he finds his sister as an adult, and completely changes his outlook in the process.

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

Aubrey Plaza stars as an aspiring journalist whose latest assignment involves a mysterious classified ad about time travel. "You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED," the ad reads. Mark Duplass co-stars.

Groundhog Day (1993)

Although Groundhog Day is technically a "time loop" movie, it wouldn't feel right to leave it off the list. Phil (Bill Murray) is a disgruntled weatherman sent to cover the annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. When he wakes up the next day, he realizes that he's re-living February 2, which happens again and again, until he figures out how to stop it.

Needle in a Timestack (2021)

The wonderful Cynthia Erivo stars alongside Orlando Bloom, Leslie Odom Jr., and Freida Pinto in this romantic sci-fi flick. In the future, the wealthy are able to partake in "time jaunting," but the ripples from these changes often cause timelines to warp and change. Needle in a Timestack focuses on a happily married couple whose relationship is jeopardized by an ex intent on changing history.

The Lake House (2006)

Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves star in this completely cheesy but endlessly loveable rom-com that defies time. Architect Alex (Reeves) and doctor Kate (Bullock) write letters to one another via a mailbox at a lake house where they both live at separate times. Despite the time difference, they're able to communicate with one another and forge a relationship via this magical postal system that transcends time.

Predestination (2015)

Ethan Hawke stars as an agent tasked with stopping a deadly attack before it happens, via time travel. Traveling back to 1975, he attempts to find and stop a bomber in New York, but his mission is far from simple. When he returns to the future, his life only gets more complicated.

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The 20 best time-travel movies – ranked!

As Adam Driver accidentally winds up 65m years ago , facing not just dinosaurs but an asteroid, we count down the best films about going backwards, or forwards, through the ages

20. Timecop (1994)

Regardless of what anyone says, I believe in my heart that Timecop was greenlit because someone showed a studio executive a picture of Jean-Claude Van Damme and said the word “Timecop” out loud, at which point they had to throw a script together as quickly as possible. Nothing about Timecop makes sense. It is the most 90s film ever made.

19. Tenet (2020)

I have to be careful here, because Tenet might not be a time-travel movie. Certainly time passes in it and some of the people are going backwards in time in it. But I’ve seen this movie twice now, and it mainly just seems to be about people mumbling everything, except for Kenneth Branagh, who gets to shout very loudly three times. Anyway, here it is.

18. Cavegirl (1985)

Finally, a film that uses time-travel for the correct reason; to allow a horny 1980s high school student to go back to prehistory so that he can convince a smoking hot, bikini-wearing cavegirl to have it off with him. You will note I’ve ranked this above Tenet .

17. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999)

Heather Graham and Mike Myers in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.

Weird to think that Austin Powers was originally a fish-out-of-water comedy, in which the promiscuous titular character had to navigate the (then) uptight world of the 1990s. That all fell apart for the sequel, where Powers was sent back to the 60s to shout his catchphrases at people who actually appreciated them. That makes it a time-travel movie, right?

16. The Butterfly Effect (2004)

God, this film. In summary: Ashton Kutcher plays a man who experiences blackouts, only to learn some years later that he can travel back in time and inhabit his younger self’s mind during the blackouts. But in doing so, he unleashes a world of unintended consequences. He becomes a murderer and loses limbs. Seek out the director’s cut if you can, because it ends with Kutcher’s character deliberately strangling himself in the womb with his umbilical cord. No, really.

15. The Tomorrow War (2021)

Wherein Chris Pratt is drafted into a war that takes place 26 years later, because the invading aliens have already killed all the soldiers who were alive at the time. It’s a great premise for a film – we all pay the price for the actions of other generations – let down by a truly confusing ending. Admit it, you forgot this film even existed, even though it cost $200m to make and only came out 18 months ago.

14. The Time Travelers (1964)

A 1964 movie made on the cheap with genuinely terrible effects, The Time Travelers is about a group of scientists who travel to the future, fight some mutants and then return. What sets it apart, though, is its crazed ending. The film ends with the scientists venturing into the distant future, whereupon the film plays through again, faster and faster and faster until it cuts away to a still of the galaxy. Are they trapped in a loop? Is free will an illusion? Did the producers just run out of money? We may never know.

13. The Adam Project (2022)

A buddy movie where the buddies are the same person … Walker Scobell and Ryan Reynolds in The Adam Project.

In which a young boy’s life is turned upside down when he is visited by an older version of himself from the future. The good news? He grows up to be a fighter pilot. The bad news? He also grows up to have all the cadences and surface-level snarky patter of Ryan Reynolds. What follows is a buddy movie where the two buddies are the same person.

12. Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)

So seminal that it was namechecked in Avengers: Endgame . A flat-out comedy that primarily exists to allow a bunch of middle-aged men to act like teenagers, Hot Tub Time Machine is a film about an enchanted Jacuzzi that sends people back to the mid-1980s. Possibly a bit too bawdy for its own good, there’s a hint of a message about the unreliability of nostalgia here.

11. Flight of the Navigator (1986)

This family film involves a young boy who goes missing in a Fort Lauderdale ravine, only to show up eight years later having not aged. There are UFOs and rubbery little creatures and whatnot, but there’s a real emotional wallop to the moment when the boy realises that the world has moved on without him, right down to the scene (that plays out like a horror movie) where the boy realises that his parents have become unrecognisably ancient, even though they are probably only in their early 40s.

10. Primer (2004)

Some see Shane Carruth’s Primer as the gold standard of what a time-travel film should be. It’s the sort of movie that seems unnervingly realistic, from the down-at-heel engineers to the unshowy nature of time travel itself, where people in effect just get in and out of some boxes. Almost entirely unwilling to explain itself, for years Primer fans have come to rely on a series of graphs and charts to figure out what the film actually is.

9. Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

A time-travel movie that may or may not have any actual time-travel in it, Colin Trevorrow’s Safety Not Guaranteed is a delicate wonder of a thing. A man places an ad in a magazine asking for a time-travel companion – “Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before” – and the respondents slowly come to realise that all is not quite as it seems.

8. Planet of the Apes (1968)

Maurice Evans and Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes.

If you haven’t seen Planet of the Apes, then the fact that I’ve put it on a list of time-travel movies is probably quite a heavy spoiler, and for that I’m sorry. But what a reveal this is – what seems at first like a silly movie about Charlton Heston being persecuted by some monkeys quickly becomes something darker and much more sinister. That new Adam Driver movie probably could have achieved something similar, if it hadn’t blabbed its big secret in the trailer.

7. Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Endgame is a lot, so much so that it is effectively a time-travel movie bookended by two entirely separate movies. And, yes, it takes a lot of liberties with time-travel, from Tony Stark’s “Huh, I did it” invention to the lazy referencing of other time-travel movies as a shorthand for what the characters can do. Nevertheless, when they get to it, the film nails it. The Battle of New York is the obvious highlight, with Captain America fighting Captain America and the Hulk embarrassed by his unreconstructed former self, but the heart of the film really comes when Tony meets his father as a man and learns to let go of the past.

6. Interstellar (2014)

Interstellar is also a lot. But at its core is a simple ethical quandary: would you try to save the world if it meant missing your children’s entire lives? Matthew McConaughey has to touch down on a planet during a space trip. The problem is that every hour he spends there is equal to seven years on Earth. Is the trip important enough for him to miss seeing the wonder of his children grow into adults? Technically, if you want to be fussy about this, Interstellar is a time dilation movie rather than a time-travel movie. But it gets a pass, largely because McConaughey sells the agony of the moment so beautifully.

5. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)

A hilarious example of predestination … George Carlin, Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

There are times when Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure feels like it was written by a toddler off his face on pop. But that’s a deliberate ploy, a way to camouflage all the careful rigour that underpins the script. The lead characters are initially reluctant to embark on their time-travel adventure, until they’re visited by versions of themselves from the near future who compel them to do it; a beautiful and hilarious example of predestination in action. Extra points are awarded thanks to the film’s total lack of interest in consequences. Swiping Abraham Lincoln and Napoleon from their respective eras has no bearing on world history whatsoever, which is probably quite lucky.

4. Looper (2012)

One problem with time-travel movies is that the rules always need to be explained upfront. In lesser hands, this can lead to all manner of clunky, stilted exposition. But when Rian Johnson dabbled in the genre with Looper , he gave us a masterclass in “show, don’t tell”. The sequence where poor Paul Dano’s character is tortured at two different points in time simultaneously, with the older version following instructions carved into the younger version’s arm, is arguably one of the most inventive uses of time-travel in the entire history of cinema. All that plus this is Bruce Willis’s last truly great performance.

Bruce Willis as Joe in Looper.

3. The Terminator (1984)/Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

The lure of the first two Terminator movies were the killer robots running around murdering everyone. But they were very smartly built around a framework of pure time-travel. We only see the future in brief flashes, but what’s important is the present. It is very, very important that Kyle Reese (a guy from the future) has sex with Sarah Connor (a woman from the present), because only that will save humanity as we know it. It’s a hell of a pickup line, but the device also elevates what could have simply been a shonky B-movie into the realm of the classics.

2. Idiocracy (2006)

The smartest time-travel movies use the device as a mirror, telling us more about the times we live in now than the times the characters visit. Enter Idiocracy, Mike Judge’s stinging satire about modern times. An average person is cryogenically frozen and wakes up in the future, shocked to discover that the global IQ has fallen off a cliff in the intervening years. Surrounded by aggressive stupidity, he single-handedly saves the US from famine by suggesting that they use water – and not an electrolyte drink – to grow crops. We are conservatively 15 years from this happening in real life.

1. Back to the Future (1985)/Back to the Future Part II (1989)

Prescient … Michael J Fox and the Hoverboard Girls in Back to the Future Part II.

The only conceivable first choice. The first two Back to the Future films (the third, which is basically just a western, is far less imaginative) have come to define time-travel as a genre. They deliver a complex set of hard sci-fi rules about what can and cannot happen during time-travel and – miraculously – manage to do it in a way that kids can understand. Good music, cool clothes, a million catchphrases and, in the case of the second film, an unnervingly prescient prediction of how Donald Trump would turn out. Just perfect.

  • Science fiction and fantasy films
  • Back To The Future
  • Avengers: Endgame
  • Interstellar

Most viewed

The 15 Best Time Travel Movies Ever Made, Ranked

Trigger Warning: There are two 'Back to the Future' movies on this list.

Making a great time-travel movie, as it turns out, is not very easy. Quite a few films have tried and failed for a variety of reasons. There’s the logic, obviously, which can become an issue, but oftentimes a story might rest too heavily on the plot device, resulting in a lack of rich or memorable characters. But there are some truly phenomenal movies involving time travel that seize upon the premise and craft unforgettable and inventive stories, many of which have long stood the test of time.

With that in mind, I’ve looked back at the lexicon of films involving time travel and curated a list of the best of the best. Some are silly, some are sweet, and some are just a hell of a lot of fun. As with all lists, this one’s subjective, and there will undoubtedly be one or two of your favorites that don’t make this cut, but I’ve done my best to make the case for why these 15 films, in particular, are the best time-travel movies ever made.

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Most time-travel movies try to keep the actual mechanics of the time-travel simple, but that’s definitely not true of writer/director/star Shane Carruth ’s head-spinning 2004 film Primer . The indie drama revolves around two engineers who accidentally discover a mechanism of time travel while tinkering with entrepreneurial tech projects. Carruth doesn’t “dumb down” any of the science of the movie, and indeed charts have been made to explain the exact mechanics of what’s going on in this film, but it nevertheless remains one of the most scientifically intense time-travel movies ever made.

14. The Terminator

I mean, this has to be on the list right? Director James Cameron ’s groundbreaking 1984 sci-fi action flick is far more grounded and low-key than its sequel, but The Terminator still packs a punch all these years later. With a truly inventive premise, charismatic performance from Linda Hamilton , and proof that Arnold Schwarzenegger could act, The Terminator ’s influence reaches far and wide.

13. About Time

About Time is certainly the most emotional entry on this list. Writer/director Richard Curtis had previously melted hearts with Love Actually and Pirate Radio , but About Time brought the filmmaker back to his Four Weddings and a Funeral roots (which he didn’t direct, but he did write). The time-travel genre offers the opportunity to wax philosophical about death and regret, and About Time seizes it in a unique way by focusing on a very earnest relationship between a father and a son. The romantic comedy portion between Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams is the hook, but the relationship between time-traveling father and son Gleeson and Bill Nighy is this film’s tearjerking heart.

12. Back to the Future Part II

There are people who say Back to the Future Part II is a bad movie, and those people are wrong. Director Robert Zemeckis ’ original is untouchable, but for the first sequel the notoriously ambitious filmmaker doubles down on the time travel premise while also echoing the first movie in a brilliant way. First, we get a kitschy, Easter Egg-filled vision of the future, then we get to see the events of the first film recontextualized as Marty McFly has to go back in time once again to save the future—all while avoiding his other time-traveling self. It’s a tight rope walk of an extremely difficult sort, and one that only a director with this much vision and guts could pull off.

11. Idiocracy

You know, that movie that was ridiculous fiction until it kind of became reality. Filmmaker Mike Judge couldn’t have predicted just how spot-on Idiocracy would be over a decade after its release, but indeed Judge and co-writer Etan Cohen certainly had their finger on the pulse of what was happening in America at the time—enough to hit upon ugly truths that remain relevant today. While the central premise of a man being “frozen” for hundreds of years has been done before, the comedic precision with which Judge executes his dumbed-down vision of America’s future is what makes Idiocracy endure. And also the batin’ jokes.

Whether it’s in an indie noir-like Brick or a massive blockbuster like Star Wars: The Last Jedi , writer/director Rian Johnson has always showcased an impeccable mix of ambition and meticulousness, never allowing his reach to exceed his grasp. Looper marked Johnson’s first foray into the sci-fi genre, and he did so with vigor, offering up a twisty time-travel story rooted in character first and foremost. The film takes the premise of, “What would you do if you went back in time and met your younger self?” and spins it on its head, adding in terrifically tense action sequences and heady moral quandaries for good measure.

9. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

As the best movie in the franchise (fight me), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban also stands as one of the best time-travel movies ever made. Director Alfonso Cuarón shook up the aesthetic and narrative approach to the adaptation of J.K. Rowling ’s beloved book series, and while the foundation of the storytelling is all Rowling, Cuaron’s execution really makes this thing soar. From tremendous cinematography to aural motifs that clue the audience in to the shifting time scenarios, Azkaban is full of wonder, curiosity, and danger, and it’s an absolute joy to behold.

8. Star Trek (2009)

Director J.J. Abrams ’ 2009 reboot of the Star Trek franchise sidestepped the problem of “erasing” the legacy of the films/TV shows that came before by using one specific device: time-travel. This genius idea allows Abrams’ wildly entertaining film to both exist in the same universe as the previous Star Trek movies with Kirk and Spock and the whole gang, while also opening up new possibilities for the future—even though Abrams’ Trek focuses on Young Kirk, he exists in a new and changed timeline, so the future is not 100% set. That the film is able to explain this concisely while also serving as an incredibly entertaining adventure all its own is the minor miracle that is Star Trek (2009) , and while the sequel Star Trek Into Darkness hampered some of that goodwill, Abrams’ initial film still stands as one of the most effortlessly rewatchable blockbusters of the 21st century.

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7. 12 Monkeys

While filmmaker Terry Gilliam is no stranger to time travel ( Time Bandits just missed the cut on this list), his 1995 film 12 Monkeys remains one of the most memorable entries in the genre. The sci-fi drama combines Gilliam’s more odd sensibilities with gritty and grounded time-travel, resulting in a dirty and unforgettable experience. Brad Pitt delivers a pretty phenomenal performance as a maybe-crazy mental institution patient while Bruce Willis plays a future prisoner sent back in time to discover the origins of a deadly virus that ravaged the Earth. Never one for the traditional, Gilliam keeps things delightfully strange throughout.

6. Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow is the perfect cocktail—a dash of Tom Cruise action, a sprinkle of Emily Blunt strength, a swirl of writer Christopher McQuarrie ’s unique sensibilities, and a heavy helping of director Doug Liman ’s wild ambition. Many have tried and failed to imitate the “stuck in a loop” premise of Groundhog Day , but Edge of Tomorrow takes that nugget and runs with it, keeping every single scene fresh even if we’re watching the same day play out over and over again. The secret sauce is having Tom Cruise play an out-and-out coward, which stands in contrast to the public perception of his onscreen persona and results in a wonderfully refreshing viewing experience. Edge of Tomorrow is the White Whale of Hollywood: a genuinely unique and wildly entertaining blockbuster.

5. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

1989’s Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure combined the sci-fi genre with the teen comedy to result in a wonderfully inventive—and hilarious—adventure. Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter are perfect as a pair of burnouts who use a time machine to complete a history report. The whole thing is an incredibly silly affair, but it’s made with such affection for its characters that it’s impossible not to love. There are terrific jokes aplenty, especially involving historical figures, and George Carlin ’s Rufus remains an icon to this day. It’s a movie that probably shouldn’t work, but totally does. Be excellent to each other, indeed.

4. Planet of the Apes

So Planet of the Apes is technically a time-travel movie, even though audiences who first laid eyes on the 1968 film didn’t know it until that final, jaw-dropping scene. Charlton Heston ’s astronaut Taylor hasn’t simply stumbled upon a planet made of apes, he’s traveled into a future Earth where apes have actually taken over the planet. The film is rife with socio-political commentary, which continued throughout its underrated sequels, and features one of the best Jerry Goldsmith scores ever created. But that ending, which paints the rest of the film in a whole new light, is what solidifies it as a classic.

3. Terminator 2: Judgment Day

We should have known, given Aliens and The Abyss , that director James Cameron ’s Terminator 2 wouldn’t just be any old sequel. Indeed, the ambitious filmmaker made a very different movie than the original Terminator , weaving in shades of a buddy comedy, PTSD drama, and family story into this sci-fi actioner. Terminator 2 is a minor miracle of a film, turning its own premise on its head to present a time-travel story that’s similar to the first Terminator , but different in key ways. It also feels positively epic. This one ticks all the boxes.

2. Groundhog Day

Star Bill Murray and director Harold Ramis famously butted heads while making Groundhog Day . Murray reportedly wanted the film to be more philosophical, while Ramis was always pushing the comedy. But it’s the push-and-pull between these two ideas that makes Groundhog Day a stone-cold classic. It’s hilarious, featuring some of Murray’s best comedic moments, but it’s also profoundly sad. The film doesn’t disregard the inherent loneliness of the premise—being stuck in the same day over and over again. It goes to some surprisingly dark places, but Murray’s humanity always shines through, and Andie MacDowell does some terrifically understated work as his foil. It’s a classic, full-stop.

1. Back to the Future

But there’s really nothing like Back to the Future , is there? Filmmaker Robert Zemeckis ’ 1985 original takes a universal idea—the fact that we’re never able to truly know what our parents were like when they were our age—and adds his usual dash of insane ambition by playing that out as a time-travel story. And given the hardships during production, it’s crazy the movie turned out as great as it did. Michael J. Fox is a revelation, Christopher Lloyd is perfect, and Lea Thompson is so good you forget she’s actually playing Marty’s mom. It’s hilarious and new and different and inventive, but it’s also rooted in universal truths that make it so relevant throughout the decades. And yes, it’s also a movie about trying not to bone your mom.


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