With the release of yet another time travel movie this week (Terminator Genisys), it’s time for us to look back at the great time travel movies of our past. Here are all the major time travel movies ever, ranked.
Here are the rules: No animation. No short films. And no movies that where someone is frozen (or something) and then they wake up in the future (so Mel Gibson’s Forever Young, Encino Man are OUT).
A boy named Marty and his best friend a disgraced scientist named Doc build a time machine that takes Marty back to when his parents met. But then Mary messes it all up and his Mom falls in love with him and somehow he must foist her emotions onto his young father, or he will never be born. This is, the best time traveling movie ever made.
A complicated and very messy look into time travel. The premise is simple: two friends build a time machine. But the result is infinitely more complicated.
Bill Murray is stuck forever in a time loop in the small town Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. And we all become better people for it.
Marty and the Doc reteam to go BACK TO THE FUTURE where everything is Nike, Pizza Hut, Pepsi Cola awesome.
Terry Gilliam gives time travel a real sense of adventure when a young boy takes up with a crew of renegade space-time repairmen who cruise through history in order to steal riches — only to get caught up in the plot of a reality-manipulating sorcerer. And young Kevin reminds us that a good time tourist never leaves the present without his camera.
A human-killing robot is sent back in time to save John Connor, but another one is sent back as well, and this one can turn into liquid.
One day, Donnie Darko wakes up in a tangent universe, one that will collapse in on itself in a few weeks and potentially destroy the world in the process. Donnie has to learn about time travel theory and God’s plan for him in order to save the world and find some inner peace. It’s one of those movies that requires a diagram to fully understand, but not to enjoy.
Set in the future where time travel is outlawed, but still used by the mob. A Looper is a hit man in the past who waits for future bosses to send back whomever they want to kill. But the Looper’s job is a short one as they all eventually end up “closing their own loop” and killing their future selves to keep things tidy for the people in charge. But eventually one gets away, and it’s up to the younger version of the target to hunt him down.
Based on the french short film La Jetée, Terry Gilliam’s super dark dystopia is set in the 2030s, where humanity has all been almost wiped out. Their only hope is to jettison future prisoners on possibly suicide missions back to the 1990s in hoping of stopping the plague that took out most of the world’s population. Also, almost everyone is just a little bit crazy.
A gigantic, human-hating killing machine is sent back in time to kill the woman who will one day give birth to the savior of humanity in the future human vs. robot wars. Don’t worry, the humans send back their own warrior, Michael Biehn, for sexy times and fighting.
Gene Kelly stumbles upon the magical town Brigadoon in the Scottish Highlands. This little city seems to be a time capsule, but really it’s been blessed (or cursed depending on who you are) and only appears one day every 100 years.
Two high school kids are gifted a time traveling phone booth from the future, so they can ace their school project.
Owen Wilson is a struggling writer who looks for solace on the streets of Paris. Through a series of inexplicable events he winds up back in the Jazz age of Paris with all his literary heroes including F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.
Jean-Claude Van Damme is a member of the future time traveling crime fighting organization Time Enforcement Commission (TEC). At one point he does the splits in his kitchen to avoid getting shot at. The end.
Nacho Vigalondo’s exceptionally creepy time travel thriller that all starts when a man catches a bandaged bandit in the woods spying on a woman undressing.
The father of the time travel story himself, Herbert George Wells (Malcolm McDowell) is the hero of this film, in which he pursues Jack the Ripper to the year 1979, like one does. The serial killer decides he quite likes the future and starts up his murders in San Francisco. While Wells works to stop the Ripper, he also finds something in the future to love: a bank employee played by Mary Steenburgen.
A little boy is abducted by a UFO and jettisoned into the future where everything sucks and his big brother is now a teenager and no one understands him. So what does he do? Escape with a bad ass spaceship and a new best friend alien.
Bruce Campbell’s Ash fights the Deadites in 1300 AD after getting sucked through a time portal. And sure, his chainsaw and “boomstick” come in handy, but they’re not nearly as useful as the science textbooks in the trunk of his car. Knowledge is always power, but it’s especially powerful in an era when people are still trying to turn lead into gold.
A 14th-century boy believes he can save his fellow townsfolk by tunneling into the Earth. When they emerge on the other side, the ancient people have been transported to 1988 New Zealand. Naturally, they lose their shit. It’s so great.
Possibly the most beautiful time machine ever created. Ever.
Tom Cruise is trapped in a deadly and doomed invasion against an alien oppressor that landed on Earth. But every time he dies, he’s sent back to the day before the big battle, thus allowing himself to become a skilled and deadly warrior. And hopefully save humanity on top of it all.
Four friends get drunk in a hot tub in their old ski resort high school stomping grounds. The next day they wake up in the bodies of their old selves back in the ‘80s. And they take advantage of this in really wonderfully horrific ways.
In a twist, an ape from the Planet of the Apes future is sent back in time to the human world. It does not go well. (Planet of the Apes could ALSO be included here if we want to but we thought this was more time-traveling back in time being aware of it so we chose to highlight Escape.)
While most time-travel movies focus on, well, traveling through time, Safety Not Guaranteed focuses on the sort of person who wants to travel back in time. After Kenneth puts an ad in a newspaper looking for someone to travel back in time with him, magazine intern Darius poses as an aspiring time traveler for a story. But the pair gradually bond over their dissatisfaction with their lives and the aching wish that things had turned out differently.
A young man discovers that he belongs to a family of time travelers. And while this seems pretty simplistic, the way in which this drama/romantic comedy uses the time paradox is pretty great. As the character gets older, there are certain times in existence he cannot cross or he will forever change the his own future. For example, crossing past the birth of your child might mean you come back to the present and discover you have an entirely new child.
According to the legend of the 1943 Philadelphia Experiment, the US Navy managed to render the USS Eldridge invisible to enemy devices. But in the film, the alleged Philadelphia Experiment has a much stranger result: it catapults to of the sailors to the year 1984, when scientists are trying to replicate the experiment.
Wonderful franchise Back to the Future runs out of ideas and decides, “Fuck it, let’s just make a Western.” And it’s almost worth it just for the ZZ Top old-timey band.
For all the crying the time travel aspect, this movie was both intriguing and had an enticing bit of time travel on the water planet. It also uses the long and arduous time gap between Earth and the wormhole world quite beautifully.
A sad little drama about what it might be like to be married to a time traveler - including witnessing your own husband’s death right before your eyes and knowing that there’s nothing you can possibly do to stop it. Also it’s a little bit creepy, because time traveler Eric Bana kind of ends up spending a borderline uncomfortable amount of time with his wife (Rachel McAdams) as a child.
Peggy Sue heads to her high school reunion and gets a second chance when she’s sent back in time to her high school days for a do-over.
Okay, on its face, a movie where Ethan Hawke travels through time to pursue a time-hopping terrorist sounds very ho-hum, been there, did that, got the t-shirt emblazoned with Jean-Claude Van Damme’s face. But this movie’s based on one of the weirdest time travel stories ever: Robert Heinlein’s “—All You Zombies—.” The movie version will seriously screw with your brain.
Wolverine goes back in time and tells everyone to stop acting like total assholes. It works, sort of.
A modern aircraft carrier goes back in time to 1941, just hours before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. What do you think happens next? UPDATE: Apologies sorry this wasn’t on the first list, added!
Denzel Washington traveling back in time to stop a woman from being murdered should be an easy win, but maybe not when he’s saddle with thudding lines like, “For all of my career, I’ve been trying to catch people after they do something horrible. For once in my life, I’d like to catch somebody before they do something horrible.” We’ll just rewatch Man on Fire again, thanks.
The less exciting sequel to Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure where Ted and Bill are murdered.
Christopher Reeve is approached by an alderwoman in his present time (1979) who tells him to “come back to me.” Intrigued, he does a little detective work and traces the woman back to an old photograph of a famous actress from 1912. He then proceeds to fall in love with that picture and wills himself back to the past where the two meet and fall in love. Unfortunately Reeve finds a modern-day penny in his pocket which rockets himself back to the present day. So naturally, he decides to force himself into a coma and wills himself back into the past. Also probably starving himself, because it appears that Reeve doesn’t go back in time but to heaven. So... yeah. Love, I guess.
A toy is sent back in time to gather human DNA to save the future. Cool toy hon, *scooches away*
Adrien Brody plays a struggling veteran who is mistakenly blamed for a murder and imprisoned in a mental hospital where the doctor runs odd experiments on him by tying him up in a jacket and locking him in a morgue shelf. Imprisoned in the jacket, Brody begins to travel to the future… or does he?
The Star Trek Enterprise crew travels back in time to save some whales.
Peter Cushing’s Doctor Who time traveling TARDIS movie.
A remake of the original Time Machine movie, and while it’s not bad… it’s not very good either.
Super sweet motorcycle racer Lyle Swann is sent back into the Wild West. Everyone freaks out because he has a motorcycle.
Possibly the best plot premise ever created. Rich people from the future are kidnapping folks from the past (right at their moment of death) to harvest their bodies for themselves. Race car driver Emilio Estevez is taken and escapes his future captors. But now he has to survive in the future world. Also, Mick Jagger is in this movie.
A 13-year-old’s consciousness travels from the year 1987 into the body of Jennifer Garner, who, despite being rich, successful, and looking like Jennifer Garner, is having an unfulfilling life. The day is saved by Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” terrible candies that turn your tongue blue, and the fact that her childhood best friend grows up to be Mark Ruffalo. Sure, it’s sweet, but too many viewings will make your teeth hurt as badly as Razzles do.
This time it’s a FEMALE TERMINATOR sent back to kill John Connor. WHAAAAT!
Michael Meyers plays a spy who travels back in time to have sex with a bunch of people, and also, solve crime.
All movies that bring people back in time to fictional realms of the past are all equally terrible.
We’re convinced that the only reason that Will Smith’s Agent J goes back in time to stop an alien from killing a young Agent K in the third Men in Black movie is because someone realized that Josh Brolin does a brilliant Tommy Lee Jones impression and just had to commit it to film. It certainly wasn’t because they had a stockpile of great time-travel jokes lying around.
A love story about two people so selfish they are ready to rip apart the time continuum to be together. Hugh Jackman plays blue blood Leopold from the 1870s who follows Liev Schrieber back through time by jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge. Once in the new world, all the elevators stop because it turns out Leopold invented elevators. Leopold is a genuine dick to everyone he meets, screaming about bad tasting non-fat butter and flirting with other people’s crushes. But eventually he settles on Kate (Meg Ryan). Thankfully, Kate loves Leopold back and decides to give up her entire life and family to travel back in time to be Leopold’s wife, and also possibly irreversibly changing the world’s future. But who cares? They’re in love!
Based on the Michael Crichton novel, a group of archaeology students travel through a man-made wormhole to save their professor from medieval France. For a movie about wormholes and time travel, it is criminally boring.
Actually an American remake of the 1993 French film Les Visiteur. A French nobleman and his servant time travel from the 12th century and wind up in Chicago in the ‘90s. Christina Applegate takes care of them; it’s terrible.
It’s the future and ALL THE ANIMALS ARE DEAD. Meanwhile, rich people get their kicks traveling back in time to kill a real-life dinosaur. The tour group that runs the show picks a specific T-Rex that is going to die anyway (so as not to disturb the future), but on one trip back a guest steps on a butterfly, thus changing the future into what could only be described as a Jumanji world.
Ashton Kutcher learns that he can travel back in time by reading. So he does that, and mostly just fucks up the lives of everyone around him, until one day he blows off his own hands in the past and then no longer has any journals to read. But it’s OK, because old home movies work too. Sooooooooo........ yep. Oh, and all the other Butterfly Effect movies can go here too.
Adam Sandler finds a magical remote control in the “beyond” section of Bed Bath and Beyond. This magical remote allows him to fast forward through his life. But the remote is broken (for reasons) and just jumps ahead, destroying Sandler’s life. In the end we all learn a lesson that you shouldn’t buy magical remotes from Christopher Walken.
The movie we hate so much but continue to watch every time it’s on TNT. Why? WE DON’T KNOW WHY. It’s a devil movie. Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock stay at the same lake house two years apart and communicate through letters passed by a time portal mailbox. A mailbox.
Additional writing from Lauren Davis.
This article originally appeared back in January 2015.