Top 25 Time Travel Movies

With the release of my latest book, “Tempus Machina: A Short (Time Travel) Story” (available now on Amazon, Kindle, and Audible), I figured it would be a good opportunity to take a look back at some of my favorite Time Travel movies so far!

Honorable Mentions

Before we dive in to my personal favorites however, I wanted to give a quick shout out to a few movies that didn’t quite make the list: “The Time Traveler’s Wife” (2009), “Hot Tub Time Machine” (2010), “Jumanji” (1995), “Flight of the Navigator” (1986), “12 Monkeys” (1996), “Donnie Darko” (2001), “Lost in Space” (1998), “Synchronic” (2020), and “Totally Killer” (2023). None of these movies are bad, in fact some of them are great, but I just didn’t have room (and time) for all of them.

I also decided to not include certain franchise movies where time travel isn’t necessarily a central aspect to the overall story, like “Superman: The Movie” (1978), “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (2004), and “Men in Black 3” (2012) – all of which are absolutely worth watching and each do interesting things with the concept, in their own way. And last but certainly not least: Time Travel shows like “Quantum Leap”, “Doctor Who”, “Loki”, and Stephen King’s “11/22/63” are all fantastic, but not movies.

Lastly, I’m also excluding movies that are more about ‘The Multiverse’ rather than ‘Time Travel’ specifically, because otherwise it’d be a much longer list – and yes “Everything Everywhere All At Once” (2022) would absolutely be at the very top!

25. Time Cop (1994)

On a technical level, this movie is straight up terrible… but this is a case where a movie is so incredibly bad that its kinda genius!

This is by far one of the cheesiest Jean Claude Van Damme action movies, which is really saying something considering “Street Fighter: The Movie” exists. (see our hilarious movie commentary on Podcasters Assemble here!)

The weird thing is: there’s entire scenes that feel like they belong in a better movie. Not everything in the film is terrible – there’s a pretty interesting subplot involving criminals making money by robbing the past, but if there’s one thing that’s consistent throughout it’s that the tone is ALL over the place! And the more you think about it, the less it makes sense. Plus we get one of the most hilariously inaccurate portrayals of 2004 with a couple of totally out of place “futuristic” (windowless?!) armored, self-driving electric cars that look like they were designed in the early 70’s.

That said, if you enjoy bad movies, it doesn’t get much better (or worse) than “Time Cop”

24. Primer (2004)

If you’re a fan of the time travel genre, than this is an indie film that’s worth watching at least once.

“Primer” is a really dark, disturbing, and somewhat perplexing thought experiment. The movie really delves into some of the more disturbing implications of the time travel concept and why it’s maybe not such a good idea. Even if you don’t have a degree in temporal mechanics or theoretical physics, you can at least tell that they really thought it through.

23. Looper (2012)

“Looper” – Directed by Ryan Johnson of “Knives Out” and “Glass Onion” fame, starring Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Here’s another cautionary tale about time travel, with some deeply unsettling concepts about how ruthless mobsters might take advantage of time travel tech. It’s basically a gritty dystopian crime thriller where one guy is hunting an older version of himself from the future who’s trying to kill a kid in the past to save his wife in the future. The plot is very convoluted, but (unlike “Time Cop”) it all makes sense, even if there’s a few unresolved questions by the end…

While this one is certainly worth mentioning in the conversation, I do think its a bit overrated.

22. Edge of Tomorrow: Live. Die. Repeat. (2014)

That one movie where everyone forgot the title but remembered the tagline.

Directed by Doug Liman, starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, “Edge of Tomorrow”, or better known by its tagline: “Live. Die. Repeat.” – was based on the Japanese manga, “All You Need is Kill” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. While its very much a typical sci-fi action thriller set in yet another grimy dystopian future, the movie definitely does some interesting things with its time-loop premise. It almost feels like someone took the experience of what it’s like to play a really tough first-person-shooter video game (where you keep dying constantly until you “git gud”), and put that up on the big screen with some of the best cinematic cut scenes since “Mass Effect”.

Think “Groundhog Day” meets “Independence Day” by way of “Halo: Reach”. If nothing else, it’s a fun popcorn movie!

21. TENET (2020)

Like me, Christopher Nolan is clearly obsessed with time – as seen in the themes and non-linear storytelling found in basically all of his movies…

2020’s “TENET” (starring John David Washington as ‘The Protagonist’ and Kenneth Branagh as the villainous ‘Sator’) is basically Nolan’s take on a James Bond movie, but with time travel… kinda. The movie is based around a concept called ‘time inversion’. I don’t really have time to explain what that is or how it works, but it gives us a mind-bending plot with some pretty incredible visuals and effects, with some of the most confusing action scenes ever made. Unlike “Looper”, I actually think that “TENET” is rather underrated.

However, I do highly recommend watching this one with subtitles – yes it’s in English, but the sound mixing is a bit questionable at times, so I had a hard time following it during certain scenes.

20. Timeline (2003)

A fun movie where scientists and historians travel back in time to medieval France (the year 1357 to be exact), but it’s worth pointing out: the original Michael Crichton book was even better!

19. Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel (2009)

A really fun / nerdy British comedy that uses the time travel trope in a really inventive way!

18. Palm Springs (2020)

Another “Groundhog Day” inspired ‘time loop’ movie, this one with more of a Rom-Com twist – equal parts hilarious and heart warming.

17. A Brief History of Time Travel (2018)

An extremely entertaining indie ‘mockumentary’ where history (and the narrative) keeps shifting as the documentary goes on…

16. Planet of the Apes (1968)

Yes that’s right, the original “Planet of the Apes” is technically a time travel movie!

Now I *love* the newer Planet of the Apes movies (Rise, Dawn, War, and now Kingdom), but even though the older sequels from the 70’s don’t hold up all that well – the original one absolutely does! This classic sci-fi movie (starring Charlton Heston) opens with astronauts crash-landing on what they assume is an alien world far in the future, thanks to an extreme case of time dilation (which at the time was a theoretical concept, which real life astronauts and scientists have now proven as an actual phenomenon). The whole movie is an extremely clever social commentary, playing on the themes of race and man’s hubris. It’s also one of the few time travel movies that plays up the idea of a post-human world centuries into the future, where nature has reclaimed the planet from the ashes of a nuclear holocaust.

And of course we get that epic final scene reveal…

15. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023)

While not a perfect movie, the fifth and final Indiana Jones movie (Starring Harrison Ford, Directed by James Mangold) was a huge step up from “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”!

“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” not only featured a plot involving time travel, it did so in a really interesting and unexpected way that felt intrinsic to the style of the series, made some logical sense, and even helped to reinforce the emotional character arc of an older man who himself feels like a relic of the past, realizing that he still matters to the people in his life.

*Minor Spoilers Ahead*

The movie opens with a sequence that feels like a bit of real life time travel with a de-aged Harrison Ford (set during WWII, in 1945) that feels like it ripped from a lost Indy adventure! (The original trilogy was set in the 30’s.) The main portion of the movie takes place in 1969, but the macguffin this time around is a mysterious ancient device that is used to calculate naturally occurring time rifts in the atmosphere – designed by Archimedes (inspired by the real life Antikythera Mechanism), that the Nazi bad guys use to try and alter history, but instead they end up in Ancient Greece, during the Siege of Syracuse in 213 BCE!

For more on all that, check out our review of all the Indiana Jones movies on Podcasters Assemble!

14. Arrival (2016)

Directed by Denis Villeneuve, and starring Amy Adams, “Arrival” is easily one of the best UFO / Alien encounter movies ever made, with a sophisticated and cerebral plot involving attempts at communicating with a Non-Human-Intelligence. It also just so happens to have one of the most profound and emotional time travel twists in cinematic history. Seriously, bring a box of Kleenex for this one.

Click here for 8 Mysterious UFO / UAP Encounters from History (218 BCE – 1945)

13. Frequency (2000)

Speaking of emotional time travel movies…

“Frequency” (starring Dennis Quaid) is an incredibly profound and moving story about a father and son reconnecting across time thanks to a strange phenomenon involving solar flares and radio waves! Separated by 30 years, a son is able to talk to his late father thanks to an antique radio, and the two realize that they can actually change the future. Between the incredible acting, writing, and filmmaking, this is the closest thing we have to a “Time Cop” movie done right! It’s a story that really plays up the universal themes of time that we all experience: change, memory, aging, regret, loss, and family.

It’s also one of the most believable time travel stories to date!

12. The Butterfly Effect (2004)

Another fantastic warning against meddling with the past…

“The Butterfly Effect” (starring Ashton Kutcher) is a dark and disturbing look at the possibility of being able to relive past events and the unintended consequences of altering history. Inspired by the “Butterfly Effect” concept first conceived of by Ray Bradbury in his 1952 story, “A Sound of Thunder”, this movie is an excellent portrayal of worst-case-scenarios playing out each and every time you try and change the past to ‘set things right’, reinforcing the idea that every choice and action we make in our day-to-day lives can have repercussions far beyond what we could possibly imagine or predict…

It’s basically a “Choose Your Own Adventure” story where every ending is bad, including the movie’s ridiculously depressing alternate ending!

11. Groundhog Day (1993)

The ultimate time loop movie?

Quite possibly Bill Murray’s best performance, “Groundhog Day” is without a doubt a classic. There’s a reason so many movies emulate it (like “Edge of Tomorrow” and “Palm Springs”), it’s the time loop movie to end all time loop movies! It’s also incredibly rewatchable, and just as funny and relevant as it was 30 years ago.

10. The Time Machine (1960 / 2002)

While H.G. Wells’s 1895 novella, “The Time Machine” wasn’t the first science fiction story featuring a time machine (that would be Enrique Gaspar’s “El Anacronópete”), it is still one of the most popular early forays into the concept. In fact, there have been a number of adaptations, but the two adaptations that most closely follow the book are the 1960 version, starring Rod Taylor, and the 2002 one with Guy Pierce (somewhat ironically directed by Simon Wells, the great-great-grandson of H.G. Wells!)

Both movies hold up rather well! While the effects in the original are (understandably) a bit dated, it also includes a rather hard-hitting message about the proliferation of war and not learning the lessons from history. The newer adaptation includes a subplot about the main character not being able to change the past, unable to save his fiancé, because otherwise he would not have invented the time machine in the first place. Both versions however, like the book, feature a post-apocalyptic wasteland ruled by the inhuman Morlocks thousands of years in the far future!

9. Time After Time (1979)

An extremely clever and charming love story inspired by “The Time Machine” where a Victorian era H.G. Wells (played by Malcolm McDowell) chases Jack the Ripper through the streets of San Francisco in the 1970’s!

It’s absolutely ridiculous, but it’s also one of the most fun time travel movies I’ve ever seen!

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

Speaking of fun and ridiculous time travel movies…

While this movie is very much of its time, it also never gets old! “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” is a teenage stoner comedy about two knuckle-headed dudes (Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter) who use a magical phone booth to kidnap several prominent historical figures (Napoleon, Socrates, Joan of Arc, Genghis Khan, President Abraham Lincoln, etc) for their history presentation?!

This movie was also a big inspiration for the Epik Fails of History blog and podcast!

7. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) / Star Trek: First Contact (1996) / Star Trek (2009)

This entry may seem like cheating, but I didn’t want the list to be entirely made up of franchise movies, and I couldn’t just pick one Star Trek movie with time travel, so I’m listing all three!

Since its inception, the Star Trek franchise has had some of the best Time Travel stories of all time, from “The City on the Edge of Forever” (TOS) and “All Good Things” (TNG) to “The Visitor” (DS9) and “The Year of Hell” (Voyager). These movies however are what sparked my Trek fandom.

“Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” (Starring William Shatner as Admiral James T. Kirk, Directed by Leonard Nimoy) is a ridiculous 80’s movie that somehow totally works as both a time travel rom-com and a serious sci-fi movie about whale conservation! (That’s right, it’s the one with the whales.) The former 23rd Century crew of the USS Enterprise use a hijacked Klingon Bird of Prey to go back in time to the 1980’s to “save the whales” in order to stop an alien probe from wiping out the Federation in the future! And if that sentence doesn’t sell you on the concept, than nothing ever will.

“Star Trek: First Contact” (Starring Sir Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard, Directed by Jonathan Frakes) on the other hand is one of the darkest entries in the franchise! The 24th Century TNG crew must travel back in time to 2063 to stop The Borg from assimilating Earth before First Contact with the Vulcans (aka the origin story of the entire ‘Star Trek’ franchise)! And finally there’s the 2009, J.J. Abrams reboot, “Star Trek” – starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, and Zoe Saldaña – which features an alternate timeline caused by a renegade Romulan from the future!

For more on all that, check out my article on Every Star Trek Movie Ever… So Far!

6. The MCU: Doctor Strange (2016) / Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Again, another franchise where it’s kinda impossible to mention just one entry…

Two of my favorite Marvel movies ever made both just so happen to feature time travel: “Doctor Strange” (starring Benedict Cumberbatch), and “Avengers: Endgame” (starring… everyone?). In ‘Doctor Strange’, Dr. Strange gets ahold of ‘The Time Stone’ (one of six ‘Infinity Stones’, long story), which allows him to control time itself, leading to one of the most innovative endings to a comic book movie, where Stephen Strange sacrifices himself over and over again in an infinite time loop to stop an evil interdimensional entity from destroying reality. While ‘Endgame’ features a ‘Time Heist’ that culminates in an epic climactic battle against the forces of Thanos for the fate of the universe, wrapping up a story arc 10 years and 20 movies in the making!

Worth mentioning: the Disney Plus series “Loki” (starring Tom Hiddleston) also heavily features Time Travel throughout with the TVA (Time Variance Authority).

Click here to check out my multi-part article series recapping the entire MCU Timeline!

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

The follow-up to Matthew Vaughn’s “X-Men: First Class” (which was a prequel set during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962), was another one of the best X-Men movies ever made – and possibly one of the best comic book adaptations of all time: 2014’s “Days of Future Past”!

Directed by Bryan Singer, Starring: Hugh Jackman (Wolverine), Jennifer Lawrence (Mystique), Michael Fassbender (young Magneto), James McAvoy (young Professor X), Sir Patrick Stewart (old Professor X), Sir Ian McKellen (old Magneto), Evan Peters (Quicksilver), Elliot Page (Kitty Pryde), Nicholas Hoult (Beast), and Peter Dinklage (Dr. Boliver Trask). In a dark timeline, where Sentinels have all but wiped out the mutant population, Kitty Pryde is able to send Wolverine back in time into his younger body, to 1973, in order to recruit help from a young Charles Xavier and Magneto (back when they were bitter enemies), in order to save the future from extinction! A fantastic action movie, with amazing effects, tons of deep symbolism, lots of clever period references, and a whole lot of hard-hitting emotional beats.

Click here for more on the X-Men movies!

4. Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

Another charming / quirky romantic-comedy with time travel! (Starring Aubrey Plaza!)

I don’t really want to spoil this one, if you haven’t seen it, just go watch it. It’s great.

3. Interstellar (2014)

Not only is this one in the running for best Christopher Nolan movie, it’s also one of the best time travel movies of all time!

“Interstellar” is a ‘hard science’ approach to time travel, really leaning into the concept of time dilation, with the gravitational effects of celestial bodies like dense planets and black holes causing time to move much faster for Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway while their loved ones back on Earth age and die. Again, there will be tears, prepare accordingly…

2. The Terminator (1984) / T2: Judgement Day (1992)

Of course, no time travel movie list would be complete without mentioning the Terminator duology…

Again, these two are practically equal in my book. The first two Terminator films, directed by James Cameron and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, are each amazing movies in their own right, even though they’re very different. “The Terminator” is a sci-fi horror movie, while “T2” is a straight-up action movie with sci-fi elements.

“The Terminator” is a really interesting example of the ‘Bootstrap / Grandfather Paradox’ in action, because in the future (post-apocalyptic 2029), just before John Connor (the leader of the human resistance) can ‘unplug’ Skynet (an evil AI that nearly destroyed the world by engineering a nuclear war), the machines send a T-800 cyborg back in time to 1984 to eliminate John Conner before he’s born by killing his mother, Sarah Conner, but by doing so – they cause the resistance to send Kyle Reese back in time who sacrifices himself to save Sarah, inadvertently becoming John’s father, *and* ensuring both Skynet’s creation and defeat, because a surviving chip from the T-800 is then used by Cyberdyne Systems to reverse-engineer the technology that gives rise to Skynet in the first place!

Funny enough, in “Terminator 2: Judgement Day”, the entire premise of the first movie is somewhat undermined by the idea that the future is not set, because Sarah and John Connor (with the help of a re-programmed T-800) help to avert the creation of Skynet by destroying the future tech. Still, it’s a fantastic movie and builds off of the first film in a really interesting way, and packs a wallop of a gut punch at the end! Most people consider T2 even better than the first movie, but like with Ridley Scott’s “Alien” vs James Cameron’s “Aliens”, I think they’re both very different and equally on par with one another.

And while T2 is often heralded as one of the best sequels ever made, it was then followed up by 4 other movies of varying quality (that continue to retcon and undermine the whole concept) – none of them come close to the first two.

For the entire history of Computers, Robotics, and AI, check out my 3-part timeline series here!

1. Back to the Future (1985) – Trilogy

And finally, we have the “Back to the Future” Trilogy! Directed by Robert Zemeckis, Produced by Stephen Spielberg, and Starring Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly, with Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown!

The first movie is of course a masterpiece, and while the sequels aren’t quite on that same level, the whole trilogy is really a complete package with a beginning, middle, and end, so if you’re gonna watch the first one, you need to watch all three.

“Back to the Future” is *still* the best time travel movie this side of Hill Valley. The original film is a pretty straightforward story, with Marty McFly hopping in Doc Brown’s time-travelling DeLorean (in 1985) and ending up stranded in 1955, where he has to convince a younger Doc Brown to help send him… uh, back to the future, and nearly causes himself to be erased from history by accidentally interrupting his parents from ever meeting! Part 2 features a hilariously optimistic / inaccurate version of 2015, as well as a dark alternate timeline of 1985, while Part 3 follows Marty and Doc back in time to the Wild West in 1885!

To me, the Back to the Future Trilogy is just a perfect encapsulation of what makes time travel so endlessly fascinating!

Do you agree with my list? Feel free to tell me why I’m wrong in the comments below! And if you’re like me and can’t get enough time travel stories, check out “Tempus Machina: A Short (Time Travel) Story” by Erik Slader – which includes a timeline of “The History of Time Travel” as a bonus!

Erik Slader

Erik Slader is the creator of “Epik Fails of History” a blog (and podcast) about the most epic fails… of history. With Ben Thompson, Erik is the co-author of the Epic Fails middle grade book series, including The Wright Brothers: Nose-Diving Into History and The Race to Space: Countdown to Liftoff. His latest book, “2299” is a sci-fi / noir novella. Erik is also an editor on Podcasters Assemble and a co-host on 2 Young 4 This Trek, as well as a contributor to Geek to Geek Media and! He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Digital Media, once managed a comic book shop, has a weakness for fancy coffee as well as retro video games, and currently lives in Green Cove Springs, Florida with too many cats.

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