The Best Time Travel Movies

By

Time travel movies are one of the overarching sci-fi genre’s greatest gift to moviegoers. It’s a subgenre of movies that manages to successfully merge reality and fantasy into one riveting, mind-bending experience. Whether it’s an acclaimed classic like Back to the Future or a quirky newcomer like Safety Not Guaranteed, a great time travel movie has the power to transport you into a brand new world of wonder and mystery—and that’s exactly why audiences love watching them.

The first movie of the genre, a silent film adaption of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, happened all the way back in 1921. In the decades to come, the niche area of filmmaking would become more commonplace with George Pal's 1960 adaptation of The Time Machine eventually becoming the first time travel film to win an Oscar. Then, in the early ‘80s, filmmakers like James Cameron (The Terminator)  and Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future) produced megahit movies with time travelers that mainstream audiences loved. Their secret? Don’t get lost in the nuances of time travel science—just focus on making a movie that is fun and entertaining to watch.

Both films were massive hits, and the popularity of the genre has boomed into new heights. Since those two films, we’ve seen a number of great time travel stories come to life: Looper, Hot Tub Time Machine, Timecop, Donnie Darko—just to name a few. We’ve gone ahead and put together a list of the best time travel movies for you to watch.

We made sure to select some titles the span the corners of the genre—some land in the sci-fi thriller category while others veer into absurdist comedy. But most importantly, they’re all great movies that will have your mind working to figure out the logistics of it all. Lastly, it’s worth noting that some many spoilers may lurk ahead. Unfortunately, this is just the nature of time travel movies, so don’t be too mad. After all, we did warn you.

Related: Best Sci-Fi Movies Streaming on Netflix
Related: All Time Best Sci-Fi Movies

 

Timecop

When time travel has become a reality, the government decides to create a specialized police agency to ensure that no time-warping criminal activity occurs. Max Walker (Jean-Claude Van Damme), one of the department’s officers, soon finds himself traveling through time to save his wife and thwart the plans of a corrupt and violent politician.

Safety Not Guaranteed

When three pessimistic magazine employees respond to a bizarre classified ad, they meet an affable, but unusual man named Kenneth who tells them he’s discovered the science behind time travel—and is looking for a partner for the journey. The group embarks on a hilarious and heartfelt journey to see if Kenneth’s far fetched dreams can become a reality. The offbeat comedy features stellar lead performances from Mark Duplass and Aubrey Plaza.

Looper

Set in a futuristic society, Looper tells the story of a world where time travel exists—but only if you can afford to pay the black market price for it. The mob eventually decides to use time travel to their advantage and hires commissioned killers called "loopers" to kill their targeted victims. Unluckily for one hired killer, the mob bosses decide it’s finally his turn to be eliminated—and sends his future self back in time to do one last job.

Back to the Future

The time travel movie of all time travel movies. Set in a small California town in the 1980s, a teenager is thrown back decades when he gets caught up in the experiments of an unconventional scientist. As he travels throughout time, he meets the young version of his parents, and must ensure they fall in love as planned, or he’ll cease to exist. Back to the Future is a staple of the genre and lives up to every ounce of hype.

Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko follows the bizzare adventure of the namesake character as he wrestles with the meaning behind the haunting visions he keeps having. The angsty teenager soon discovers he has the power to alter time and destiny while dealing with the mundane aspects of his suburban life: nagging parents, newfound romance, and bossy teachers. Featuring a stellar performance from a young Jake Gyllenhaal, this is perhaps the time travel movie that has most earned its cult classic status.

Hot Tub Time Machine

When four friends head to a ski-resort for a much needed vacation from their boring lives, they accidentally discover a portal to the past through a time-traveling hot tub. Their trip starts with a night of heavy drinking, but quickly shifts gears once the group travels back to 1986. The buddies do their best to make the most of the situation and decide to better their futures by altering their pasts.  

Groundhog Day

One of the great comedies from acclaimed director Harold Ramis, Groundhog Day centers on a weatherman (played by Bill Murray) who is announcing the annual emergence of the groundhog from its hole. Unfortunately for him, he stumbles into a time warp and is trapped to repeat the same day over and over again—until he finally gets it right. The daily do-over provides him the opportunity for hijinks, and ultimately, gives him the chance to reexamine his life and priorities.

The Terminator

A cyborg assassin disguised as a human known as a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) travels throughout time to kill Sarah Connor, whose son will one day become a defender against all machines in a looming post-apocalyptic future. A human soldier is sent to protect Sarah from harm to ensure the unchallenged birth of her son. With the ruthless Terminator on a quest for murder, Sarah and Kyle must do everything in their power to escape.  

Midnight In Paris

A nostalgic writer discovers a time portal while vacationing in France with his fiancee. After spending the day at various Parisian landmarks, Gil (Owen Wilson) slips away into the night and is taken to the glamorous past, where he hangs out with various icons of the art and literature worlds. Gil soon finds himself wanting to spend more and more time in past and starts to lose interest in his present-day life.

Latest in Pop Culture