The Top 20 Time Traveling Movies of All Time

Time travel movies have been an interesting genre for decades. It’s thought provoking to imagine what it would be like to travel backward or forward in time. Would you be able to make a difference to the present? These science fiction movies are action thrillers, horrors, mysteries, romances and comedies. Whether it’s a scientist or a kid traveling in time to investigate or attempt change, the idea is intriguing. Here are the top 20 time traveling movies of all time.

Back to the Future

Robert Zemeckis’ 1985 time machine hit “Back to the Future” along with its 2 sequels remains a hit today. High School student Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) befriends an eccentric scientist, “Doc” Brown (Christopher Lloyd) and gets taken back in time. “Doc” Brown has invented a time machine in the form of a DeLorean sports car. Marty must go back in time via the DeLorean to 1955 to save his parent’s and his own future. Marty arrives in 1955 and encounters his parents when they were his own age. He realizes his parents may never get together and must fix it. Marty must also find a way back to 1985. He must work with the younger “Doc” Brown to get back to the future. “Back to the Future” is one of the few films that spawned 2 successful sequels. In the second film, Marty must go into the future to help his children. The final of the trilogy takes Marty and friends way back in time.

The Terminator

James Cameron’s hit film “The Terminator” is an iconic film. The movie led to two sequels and a television series years later. The 1984 science fiction thriller starred Arnold Schwarzenegger as a cyborg sent from the post apocalyptic future to prevent the birth of a future resistance leader. Schwarzenegger’s Terminator must stop at nothing to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), the woman would give birth to John Connor. Schwarzenegger’s most memorable line “I’ll be back.” is one his most famous lines. Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), a resistance soldier, is sent to 1984 to protect Sarah Connor and destroy the Terminator. It turns out Reese would become John Connor’s father. The movie is filled with action as the unstoppable Terminator continues to survive attacks as he searches for Sarah. In the end, Sarah survives and is pregnant with the future savior of the world. The Terminator sequel is as good as the first. Set 10 years after the first, Sarah must do everything to protect her young son from a second Terminator sent back to destroy him. Another Terminator is sent back as well to protect young John Connor. The second Terminator is played by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The Time Machine (1960)

“The Time Machine” is based on the 1895 novella by HG Wells. A sequel/documentary/short, “The Time Machine: The Journey Back”, was made in 1993 by Clyde Lucas and honors the classic 1960 science fiction film. “The Time Machine” won the Oscar for Special Effects for the films time lapse photography. The movie starred Rod Tyler as a Victorian era scientist, George. George has built a time machine and travels into the future. He stops in 1917 and is faced with war. He advances forward to 1940 witnessing London air raids. He goes further to 1966 as nuclear war breaks out. George continues into the future and ends up in the year 802,701. The post apocalyptic world has 2 races. The Eloi are naïve vegetarians who do not understand machines. They must hide at night from the underground Morlock race who are deformed cannibals. The Morlocks take George’s time machine underground, and he must find it and return to 1900 as soon as he can. In the end, George’s friends find that he and his time machine have again disappeared. “The Time Machine” was progressive at the time it was made and remains a classic time travel film today.

Looper

2012’s “Looper” is an action packed and thought provoking time travel movie. The premise is that sometime in the future time travel is invented but made illegal. However, a criminal syndicate gets a hold of the technology and uses it to send “Loopers” in time to kill. The plot of “Looper” focuses on a Looper named Joe in the year 2044. Young Joe is played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Old Joe is played by Bruce Willis. Joe is sent back in time to end the lives deemed by the mob and makes good money. However, as time goes on, the “loop” must end and Joe will be killed to tie up all loose ends in the killings. Old Joe must go back in time and kill young Joe. Fans of the sci-fi thriller love the thought the movie provokes as well as the action packed thrills. The show also tells the emotional story of Joe and love.

Groundhog Day

Harold Ramis directed the classic 1993 movie “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray. Murray has called the film one of his best. Murray plays Phil Connors, a television weatherman sent with his crew to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover Groundhog Day on February 2. Phil is egocentric and annoying to his crew, but while covering the story, he continues to wake up over and over again on February 2. He is continually taken back in time one day. At first he indulges on the extra day of life he is given, but eventually the monotony and the small town get to him and he goes on a suicidal streak but continues to wake up in the small folksy town on February 2. Phil finally decides to use the extra day to reexamine his life. He finds love, corrects his mistakes and ends up a happy man. The movie is celebrated for its comedy and its sense of retrospection. What would you do if you were given an extra over and over again? Would you want to relive the monotony or would you find out what you can do differently to lead a happier life?

12 Monkeys

12 Monkeys is a 1995 science fiction thriller that remains popular and spawned a television series. The movie is as thought provoking as it is action packed. Bruce Willis plays James Cole, a dangerous convict living in an underground post apocalyptic world in the year 2035. A mysterious virus killed all but 1% of the Earth’s population in 1996. The survivors have lived underground, but scientists determine that the virus is mutating and putting the remaining population at risk. They send convict James Cole back in time to 1996 to find and return the source of the virus. However, Cole is mistakenly sent back to 1990, arrested and placed in a mental institution where the insane son of a virus expert is also institutionalized. This movie is good on so many levels that watching it once to understand it is not enough.

Primer

“Primer” is a 2004 Independent film written, directed, produced and starring filmmaker Shane Carruth. It was a critical hit at the Sundance Film Festival when it premiered. The plot involves 2 engineers, Abe and Aaron who tinker at projects in the garage outside of work. They accidentally discover a time loop side effect in an experiment, tweak it, and build a time machine “The Box”. The device fits a human being and allows them to travel back in time 6 hours. Abe and Aaron experiment with the device and take turns travelling back in time 6 hours earlier in their day and see what they can do to make changes. One thing they do is play with the stock market to make money. Abe and Aaron’s differing personalities put strains on the experiment. They eventually soon discover a fault in the device when someone else accidentally uses the box to go back in time and learn that time travel can wreck havoc on the normal timeline. This is another film that teaches the dangers of using science to change the course of normal events.

Edge of Tomorrow

Doug Liman directed “Edge of Tomorrow”, the 2014 movie adapted from a Japanese screenplay. The movie was also called “Live. Die. Repeat.”. This is another interesting movie about a man who goes back to relive the previous day continually until he can figure out how to improve himself. In this case, he must improve his fighting skills because he continually dies in combat. “Edge of Tomorrow” is set in the future after an alien invasion of Earth. Tom Cruise is a combat and public relations officer in the army who is forced to confront the aliens. He dies, returns to the previous day in a time loop, and must train to use better combat skills to defeat the aliens.

Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen is one of the most prolific filmmakers in the world. “Midnight in Paris” is one of his better newer films. The 2011 fantasy piece follows a Hollywood screenwriter, Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), on a visit with his fiancé (Rachel McAdams) to Paris. Gil is writing a book on nostalgia and tells his fiancé that he would love to have lived in Paris in the 1920’s working on his novel. His fiancé and her friends think he’s being ridiculous. Each night Gil takes a midnight stroll and mysteriously goes back in time to 1920’s Paris where he meets his artistic idols including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso. Is it a dream? As Gil goes back in time each night, the film explores the theme of nostalgia vs modernism. “Midnight in Paris” is classic Woody Allen. The film won both the Academy and Golden Globe Awards for Best Screenplay.

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

As time traveling movies became popular in the 1980’s, “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” was a sci-fi buddy comedy released in 1989. The movie is about 2 high school slackers who find a way to go back in time through a telephone box in order to pass their school history presentation so they can graduate. Keanu Reeves starred as Ted and Alex Winter was Bill. George Carlin played the hippy who guides them through their adventure. Although the premise is silly, the movie was a commercial success due to its stars. It remains a cult classic.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5djX9LEb0yI

The Lake House

2006’s “The Lake House” explores time travel in a different way than most movies. The romantic movie centers on a Wisconsin lake house. The home is rented out by Dr. Kate Forrester (Sandra Bullock) and Alex Wyler (Keanu Reeves) 2 years apart. Somehow the 2 connect by leaving letters in the lake house mailbox, but because of the time difference they are unable to meet. Of course, this romance ends happily after several near misses. The 2 finally come together after Kate leaves a note begging Alex to wait 2 years to come back to the lake house when she is finally there at the same time. It also reunited the “Speed” stars.

Time After Time

1979’s “Time After Time” is a classic time travel movie that demonstrates the dangers of traveling in time. Directed by Nicolas Meyer, the movie stars Malcolm McDowell as Herbert George Wells. During a dinner party in 1893 London, HG Wells shows friends a time machine he has built explaining how it would work. The party is interrupted by the police who are searching for the notorious London serial killer, Jack the Ripper. They are led to the party because they found bloody gloves belonging to guest John Leslie Stevenson, a surgeon. Stevenson escapes through the time machine. The time machine returns and HG Wells uses it to follow Stevenson who has ended up in the future, 1979, in San Francisco. Wells finds that Stevenson is truly Jack the Ripper and continuing his killing spree where it is much easier to get away with than in Victorian London. HG Wells is dismayed by the future which he expected to be an enlightened social utopia. Wells has fallen in love, however, and Amy (Mary Steenburgen) decides to return with him to Victorian London where Wells destroys the time machine that turns out to be a dangerous scientific discovery.

Donnie Darko

The 2001 movie “Donnie Darko” was directed by Richard Kelly. The movie is as strange as it is interesting. The science fiction time loop involves a high school student, Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaul) who hallucinates that he sees a deranged large bunny figure “Frank” that tells him the world will end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds. Donnie returns home to find that a jet engine has fallen into his bedroom. Over the course of the next few weeks, Donnie has doomsday visions and his parents and teachers become concerned. He continues to have visions of “Frank” who encourages him to do things. Just as the time the world was predicted to end, Donnie awakens in his bedroom as a jet engine falls onto his house and kills him. In the meantime, he had gone into the past and been able to change things before his ultimate death.

Deja Vu

Could time traveling technology be used to investigate crimes and possibly prevent them from every happening? The 2006 science fiction thriller “Deja Vu” investigates the theory. The movie starred Denzel Washington as an ATF Special Agent and Val Kilmer as an FBI Special Agent. The 2 forces are investigating a disastrous attack on a US Navy ship. The bombing of the ship came in New Orleans on Mardi Gras with sailors and their families on board. A woman was killed when her truck was used to carry out the bombing. The FBI used an experimental surveillance unit. This used space folding technology to go back several days before the bombing to investigate. Denzel Washington’s Agent Douglas Carlin wants to use the technology to travel back in time and prevent the bombing and the murder of the woman whose truck was used to carry it out.

Somewhere in Time

“Somewhere in Time” is a classic science fiction romance about time travel. Christopher Reeve played playwrite Richard Collier in 1980 who becomes infatuated with an old picture of a beautiful lady at the Grand Hotel. Collier finds a way through self-hypnosis to go back in time and does so, to 1912, where he meets the young woman. Elise McKenna (Jane Seymore) is the beautiful young actress. Their romance develops but Elise’s manager (played by Christopher Plummer) tries to stop it because he believes it will derail the actresses career. The film is a lovely romantic story of true love despite different times.

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery

Mike Meyers’ spoof on James Bond films began with 1997’s “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” which was followed by 2 sequels. Mike Myers played both Austin Powers and his nemesis Dr. Evil. In 1967 secret agent Austin Powers thwarts an assassination attempt by Dr. Evil who escapes to the future. Powers volunteers to be cryogenically frozen in case Evil returns. When he does in 1997, Powers is unfrozen, but the jump in time is foreign to him. Powers is hopelessly stuck in the 1960’s and doesn’t blend well into the 1990’s as he tries to capture Dr. Evil. It’s silly time travel, but fun to watch.

Hot Tub Time Machine

“Hot Tub Time Machine” is a classic comedy that pokes fun at the time machine genre and helps us relive the 1980’s. The movie was directed by Steve Pink and released in 2010. A sequel would follow in 2015. John Cusack stars as Adam who has just been dumped by his girlfriend. He and his friends, Lou (Rob Corddry) and Nick (Craig Robinson) reconnect and find they are all going through hard times, so they take a ski trip together. After a night of heavy drinking in the resort’s hot tub, they awake to find themselves back in time in 1986. A mysterious hot tub repairman (Chevy Chase) warns them not to mess with anything or the future could be drastically changed. The movie is fun and nostalgic. Who wouldn’t want a hot tub time machine?

Butterfly Effect

Ashton Kutchner starred in 2004’s “Butterfly Effect”. The science fiction psychological thriller was not well received by critics but remains a good movie to fans of the genre. The movie looks at the “butterfly effect”, or if you could go back in time and change one small thing, how would the future turn out? In “Butterfly Effect”, Kutchner plays Evan, a young man in college who, as a child, lived through some horrible events along with his neighborhood friends. Unhappy with the terrible way the future turned out for his friends, Evan discovers a way to go back in time to his childhood. As a child he had blackouts, so these are the times he went back to try to change small things. Each time Evan returns to the past, he finds the alterations he makes only makes things worse in the end. Finally, Evan returns to the day he met his neighbor Kayleigh as a child. He upsets her so that she and her brother will move away and live with their mother. They never become friends and their futures are saved.

Peggy Sue Got Married

“Peggy Sue Got Married” came out at the height of time travel movies looking at how you could change your past if you got to go back in time. The 1986 movie was directed by Frances Ford Coppola and starred Katherine Turner as Peggy Sue Bodell. The movie begins in 1985 as Peggy Sue is about to go to her twenty-fifth high school reunion with a group of friends and her daughter. She is on the verge of divorce form her high school sweetheart husband Charlie (Nicholas Cage) because of his infidelity. At the reunion, Peggy Sue faints and wakes up in the spring of 1960, her Senior year of high school. She has the opportunity to reexamine her life. She spends time with the boys she wouldn’t have and contemplates making a future with one of them and not Charlie. In the end, Peggy Sue sees another side of Charlie and decides she made the right decision in marrying him. When she wakes up back in 1985, Charlie is repentant and they decide to try and reconcile.

Time Bandits

“Time Bandits” is a silly and fun British science fiction fantasy from 1981 featuring appearances by several celebrities. The story is about an 11 year old boy, Kevin (Craig Womack), with a huge imagination and a love of history. The boy finds himself traveling through time with a group of dwarves searching for treasure. The film’s stars include Sean Connery as King Agamemnon and John Cleese as Robin Hood. Time travel can be fun, especially for a child with a big imagination.

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