The 10 Best Time Travel Movies

By: Wes Walcott

Time travel has always been an alluring concept for filmmakers. The thought of going back in time to change the past or forward into some far-flung distant future holds a lot of charm because it affords the opportunity to play around with all types of “what if” scenarios. Although real life science has yet to validate any of the outlandish methods of time travel depicted in cinema, movies probably wouldn’t be any fun if the people making them didn’t let their imaginations run wild every now and again. So grab your flux capacitor and prepare to disrupt the space-time continuum, here are ten of the best time travel movies to ever grace the silver screen.


10. Army of Darkness

Before his big-budget Spider-Man movies hit the screen, Sam Raimi achieved superstar status in the cult film world with the Evil Dead trilogy — a series of horror-comedy movies featuring a hero named Ash (played by the lovable Bruce Campbell) who is haunted by a series of demons released from the Necronimicon, also known as the Book of the Dead. In Army of Darkness, the third installment of the series, Ash is sent back to the year 1300 A.D. where he gets caught up in a medieval war. He’s told that the only way he can return to his own time is if he goes on a quest to retrieve the Necronomicon. But when he finally gets to it, he fudges that magic words and accidentally unleashes a army of undead on the world. Eventually, Ash uses his trademark sawed-off shotgun and chainsaw to kick ass and vanquish the evil forces. Instead of living like royalty in the past, he goes back to his own time to live out his seemingly-boring life as a discount store employee — hail to the king, baby.

9. 12 Monkeys

Directed by Terry Gilliam, 12 Monkeys gives audiences a vision of a not-so-distant dystopian future where a killer virus has wiped out 99-percent of the human race. To save civilization, a convicted felon, played by Bruce Willis, is sent back in time to the 1990s to locate the virus before it mutates into a strain that can spread to humans. Unfortunately for him, he goes back to an earlier period in time than intended and ends up getting locked in an insane asylum. From there, the story takes a lot of intense twists and turns as the mystery surrounding the epidemic’s outbreak unravels. 12 Monkeys is a fascinating and riveting movie that takes the concepts of time travel and weaves them into a dark, and somewhat humorous, thriller.

8. The Time Machine (1960)

The adaptation of H.G. Wells 1895 book was a remarkable milestone in cinema. Director George Pal did a seamless job of blending Wells narrative from the book with his own animation skill to create a powerful and memorable film that still stands up today. Also, it’s so much better than the atrocious 2002 remake.

7. Source Code

In this refreshingly imaginative mystery, time travel isn’t accomplished through the use of an elaborate machine, but rather through complicated software that allows one person’s consciousness to be transferred to another person’s body at a point in the recent past. Jake Gyllenhaal’s character uses this technology to enter the body of a dead commuter to uncover the identity of a bomber who blew up a passenger train. Source Code is an ambitious movie that features action, romance, and a fascinating look at the ethical concerns that surround tampering with the past to alter the future.


6. Groundhog Day

Typically, time travel movies will see the protagonist embark on a fantastic journey going decades or even centuries into past or future. Groundhog Day isn’t that type of time travel movie. There are no wormholes or fancy computer programs or plutonium powered sports cars. There’s just a man trying to get through the day — the same day — again and again and again. When Bill Murray’s character Phil Connors realizes he’s trapped in a time loop with no apparent way out, he starts living dangerously and repeatedly attempts to commit suicide. It’s only after using the loop to better himself and find real love that he’s released from the temporal prison. Groundhog Day is one of Bill Murray and Harold Ramis’ greatest collaborations, and it carries a message as poignant today as it ever was — don’t be a jerk.

5. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

To this day, there is still no time travel movie as fun-loving as Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. The 80s classic about a pair of dimwitted high-schoolers trying to pass history class doesn’t even try to set up any sort of realistic explanation for the basis of time travel. But sound science and historical accuracy tend to fly right out the window when you’re talking about a movie that sees Socrates bonding with Billy the Kid over Sigmund Freud’s failed attempts to pick up women.

4. Looper

Looper takes place in the year 2044 where time travel exists, but has been outlawed. The only people who seem to be utilizing the technology are part of a criminal organization that sends people back in time to be killed — thereby making the murders untraceable. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character earns a nice living as one of these contract killers. However, things take a turn when he one day finds himself pointing a gun at the future version of himself (played by Bruce Willis). As the pair team up and attempt to fight their own fate, the ending seems written in stone; but time travel just has a way of messing up the assumption that anything is pre-determined. Ultimately, Looper is a story about growing up and the way events shape the person you become. It’s an excellent science fiction movie that perfectly blends time travel with modern action.

3. Primer

When most people think of time travel movies, they probably imagine a big budget Hollywood production with expensive period-appropriate sets and impressive visual effects. Which is why it’s hard to believe that Primer — one of the greatest time travel movies ever made — was an indie film that cost a mere $7,000 to produce. In the movie, a team of entrepreneurs stumble upon the ability to time travel while conducting physics and engineering experiments in their garage. Once they realize what they have in their possession, some bold schemes are hatched and things quickly start to spiral out of control with people betraying each other and even leaving behind doubles of themselves. Primer is a science fiction movie with most of the emphasis on the science, as it looks at the practical and logistical ramifications of time travel. It’s an effective philosophical thriller that is both modest and thoroughly compelling, with a narrative you could spend weeks dissecting.

2. Terminator 2: Judgement Day

Terminator 2: Judgement Day isn’t just a movie. It’s an action, sci-fi, post-apocalyptic, father-son, effects-laden spectacle — and it’s also got some time travel. In James Cameron’s super-sequel, Arnold Schwarzenegger gets a role reversal and plays John Connor’s protecter instead of his would-be killer. Like all time travel movies, some inevitable paradoxes arise; such as, if they succeed and prevent the launch of Skynet, would anyone or anything ever even get sent back in time in the first place? But it’s best not to think about that and just enjoy the ride, because T2 is a cinematic masterpiece in every sense.


1. Back to the Future

Let’s face it. This list just wouldn’t be complete without including the movie that immediately comes to mind when anyone mentions time travel — Back to the Future. This film is so ingrained in pop-culture that everyones baseline concept of a time machine is a stainless steel DeLorean powered by Libyan terrorist plutonium. But it’s not just a legendary science fiction movie, it’s also a heartfelt comedy as it revolves around Marty McFly travelling 30 years into the past and trying to make sure his parents hook up so he exists in the future. It’s a truly timeless classic with stellar performances from the whole cast and an awesome soundtrack. Seriously, just try listening to “The Power of Love” without jumping up out of your seat. You can’t do it.