Time travel has long been one of those fantasies that everyone has had in their life at some point or another. In true Hollywood form, there have been countless films over the years that explore the concept in many different ways. Sometimes it is funny, sometimes it is adventurous, sometimes it’s romantic, sometimes it’s just for a moment and sometimes forever, sometimes they are in control and sometimes not. Regardless, the film has given us an opportunity to play out something we might not be able to do in our everyday life. Of all the films made, here is a ranked list of the absolute best time travel movies of all time.
#30 The Lake House
A guy gets love letters in a mailbox from a woman living in the same house at a different time? Concept alone gets this one on the list. This cheesy rom-com brings together the great Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock after they had great careers but were cooling off just before they would go off to do John Wick and Blindside respectively.
We are still in the cheesy zone with this family film with a lot of heart, but we are not ashamed. Christopher Walken even appears as a mad scientist who operates in the “Beyond” section of a Bed, Bath and Beyond if that tells you anything. Basically a tv remote can fast forward or rewind life, it starts out all fun but then gets really heavy. It actually elicits emotion and even though it is more late Sandler than early, you do get some of the comedy that made everyone love him.
#28 Philadelphia Experiment
If you are looking for strong production value, keep looking this is not it. This 1984 action/adventure/sci-fi film wins for a strong concept and a great performance by the great actor Michael Paré. In a military experiment that is supposed to turn a sub invisible, two men are transported 40 years into the future, which given the age of this film is about now. Super dated but fun to watch.
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#27 Men in Black 3
The beloved franchise isn’t all about time travel but in an effort to keep cranking out MIB films, time travel was introduced into the third film as the catalyst for the plot and to help build out the universe (for future theme parks or something like that probably). Sure it was cheesy, but it was on brand and we love the brand. Who doesn’t love seeing Will Smith fight aliens with his funny one-liners, and given the plot we got Josh Brolin instead of Tommy Lee Jones.
#26 X-Men: Days of Future Past
Another franchise that was running out of plot options and brought in time travel was the 7th installment in the X-Men universe (or the 2nd film in the 2nd main trilogy). This one really focuses on the characters Magnito (played by Michael Fassbender) and Mystique (played by Jennifer Lawrence) who are arguably the best part of the franchise. It is well made and there are some great moments.
#25 Austin Powers: Goldmember
Our first comedy on the list and the third sequel that needed a plot to sustain another movie. This one is a little different in that it is actually very funny and arguably the best film in the trilogy, a hard feat. This one has Beyonce and a bigger focus on Mini-Me / Dr. Evil, one of the funnier aspects of the franchise. In this one, Dr. Evil goes back in time to start an evil empire before Austin can interfere and so he must go after him. They do a very good job of poking fun at time and the passing of time to make for a well put together comedy.
People like to pan this one but for the early 90s it was pretty awesome and it had the all-star line up of Emilio Estevez, Mick Jagger, Rene Russo, Anthony Hopkins. Basically bounty hunters from the future pull desirable people out of the past just before they are about to die in a heinous (something like a massive car crash explosion like our protagonist Emilio Estevez experiences) and gives their bodies to dying billionaires. It definitely does not hold up to time, like any movie about technology, but fun to watch.
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#23 Source Code
This Jake Gyllenhaal ticking clock thriller brings us back to the old “secret military experiment” arena, where a helicopter pilot has the ability to live the last few moments of the life of a man who died in an accident so he can identify the bomber. Nothing amazing but with a strong performance from Jake G and solid direction from director Duncan Jones, this one is a solid watch.
#22 Star Trek: First Contact
One of the later, flashier, JJ Abrams Star Trek’s also deal with time, but we are going to give it to this one for the originality and great writing of how everything was handled and how worlds collided all while not upsetting the Star Trek universe, without screwing it up. All very difficult to do. The stakes are high and you are on the edge of your seat the entire time earning a spot on in best time travel movies discussions for years.
#21 Hot Tub Time Machine
Another comedy, this one is just so ridiculous it is hard not to enjoy. I mean the name of the film is “Hot Tub Time Machine”, you cannot get more ridiculous than that. This one uses time to give us a movie that completely makes fun of / celebrates (depending on who you talk to) the 80s. While the lead John Cusack appears to be phoning it in, the supporting cast of Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson and Clark Duke are very funny and at a time when all of their careers were taking off and rising to new heights.
#20 Butterfly Effect
With a 33% RT score and mediocre performances by Aston K and Amy Smart, this one wasn’t really set to win any Oscars but the unique premise makes this one worth a watch. The manipulation of time has been handled very different over the years, but never like this. Ashton’s character was given different opportunities to go back to random points in his life and change one little thing about. Then he would go back to the present and see how that affected the present (Hence the name of the movie). The plot interweaves with some dark moments in some really refreshingly surprising ways. Also, do your self a favor and watch the director’s cut vs the theatrical cut, it is very simple things but it makes for a different movie with a different ending.
#19 About Time
Another romance film on our list, this one follows a 21-year-old guy Tim who discovers he can travel through time. With that knowledge he prioritizes getting a girlfriend, and this of coarse turns out to not be as easy as it sounds. This feel-good film with an all-star cast is from the same people as Notting Hill and Love Actually, and continues that same romantic tradition.
This one is a smaller film that is a little less well known, but it is worth a watch because it really does a good job of checking all the boxes, it has love, fate, identity and all those great little time travel taboos. Basically a government agent who uses time has to track down one last criminal before retirement in the action / phycological thriller. And who doesn’t love Ethan Hawk.
#17 Time After Time
One of the older films on the list is Time After Time from 1979. It is basically a take on HG Wells using his Time Machine to hunt down Jack the Ripper. It is a little out there but very well told and very groundbreaking for the time. Interesting fact, it was the directorial debut of big-time screenwriter Nicholas Meyer.
Christopher Nolan really set a high bar for style and storytelling with his 2010 film Inception. The anticipation of his follow up (outside of finalizing the Dark Knight trilogy of coarse) Intersteller was very high. He did not entirely disappoint, he delivered a stylish, thought-provoking epic. Though a little more convoluted and not as tidy as everyone would have hoped. Matthew McConaughey is a farmer in the not too distant future, on a planet running out of resources. He and a crack team must travel through space and a wormhole for any hope of saving humanity.
This one gets props for not only being good and original but for being made on an incredible shoestring budget while not cheating the audience out of anything. Different from the others on the list as this one is more about the process of building a time machine. It is perfect though when you don’t have flashy garbage to fall back on, you tend to make sure you have a great story. The most innovatively made on our list of best time travel movies.
#14 Time Cop
Lets open with the fact that at one point during this film, the lead Jean Claude Van Damme jumps in the air in his kitchen to do the splits across his counter to avoid an electrical weapon being fired at a ground that is covered with some spilled water. We should just stop there but we will give you some of the obvious plot to get you excited. JCVD is a cop in the future tasked with chasing down criminals that mess up the timeline. Probably one of his better films actually. Also being from 1994, this is one of the only early 90s films on the best time travel movies list. This absence is probably a good thing since all technology from that time became immediately dated (see “The Net”), though this holds up.
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#13 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
This Harry Potter film is the black sheep of the franchise due to the fact that it was directed by the incredible one-of-the-best-directors-of-the-modern-age Alfonso Cuarón, and it has such a different look and feel than the rest of the films. People either love it or hate it, but like all of them, it is a masterpiece. Time is used in a very eloquent ways and it helps reveal some of the backstory that allows viewers to fill in necessary gaps.
#12 Edge of Tomorrow
Many films have tried to utilize the “Groundhog Day” formula where someone repeats the exact same day over and over, but no one else is aware, and Edge of Tomorrow is about the best option out there outside of the original. This takes that archetype and applies it to a futuristic day of what and contains great performances from Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt.
#11 Midnight in Paris
This one is a little more serious and artistic than the others on the list but none less magical. This one is an award-winning Woody Allen film that uses time travel to transport us to the old roaring 1920s Paris, where protagonist writer played by Owen Wilson gets to meet his heroes like Ernest Hemingway.
#10 Bill and Ted Franchise
Whoever had the confidence to greenlight a movie about two California valley bros who are destined to save the world with their music so they are given a phone booth time machine so they can gather up the greatest historic figures ever to pass a history final, bravo.
From the start this title had some hot buzz on it. Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Emily Blunt, and it sounds cool, AND IT LOOKS FANTASTIC!! It may not have been the instant classic everyone was hoping for but it was a really solid watch. They play with time in an interesting way, where hitmen basically clean up their mess by killing in the past. When they are eventually run their coarse, kill themselves to close their “loop”. Things of coarse go wrong setting epic stakes, and bonus, JGL plays a young Bruce Willis so they gave him prosthetics and tried to have him mimic his mannerisms as much as possible.
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#08 Donnie Darko
This one is not your traditional time travel movie, but they’re technically is time travel. And we will take an opportunity to raise the awareness of this very far out there cult classic about a young Jake Gyllenhaal sleepwalking to discover a giant rabbit monster who tells him the world is going to end. You never really know what is real and it is all very much a mind-f**k. An earned place in best time travel movies history.
#07 The Time Machine (1960)
The 1895 H.G. Wells classic has been made a few times, but none better than the 1960 version, which also holds the title as the oldest film on this list. An inventor in Victorian England constructs a car-like vehicle that lets him travel through time. He goes to the distant future where he discovers humans have evolved into different races and it gets all sorts of sci-fi. This one was a trailblazer of its time, it won the Best Special Effect Oscar in 1960 for how it used time-lapse photography to show the progression of time. Big Shout to director/producer George Pal who was one of the best of his time.
#06 A Christmas Carol (1984)
The classic Charles Dickens story has been made into movies a few different times, but honestly the 1984 version did it best (with The Muppets Christmas Carol taking second). This is a classic tale and staple of the best time travel movies genre that everyone knows about where three ghosts (past, present, future) visit a miserable old man to try and get him to change his ways. This has been spoofed endlessly, probably because it is such a solid story archetype.
#05 Time Bandits
The only director to make this list twice is the great Terry Gilliam. Terry’s movies are always a bit out there, meaning he really has a way of imagining things that you cannot imagine. That is probably why he does so well in this genre, it is all about the unimaginable. This is very high ranking on the best time travel movies list because of its incredible cult classic status. And its a cult classic for a reason. If you need more than that, it is about a young boy who accidentally joins a traveling band of dwarves, humor and adventure ensues.
#04 12 Monkeys
The second film on our list from out there visionary director Terry Gilliam brings us a very out-there movie about a desolate future. One that sends mental patients and criminals back in time to try and gather research about the past to help the powers at be determine where it all went bad. Starring a top of their game and deep in their prime Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt, the performances are great but the writing will blow your mind. There are amazing twists and turns all leading up to an ending you never see coming.
#03 Groundhog Day
It is not often that a movie title can become a thing, a term, a part of our culture, especially 15+ years later. The great Bill Murray film about a guy who lives the same day over and over and over again has created its own film genre and has become more of a phenomenon that the actual holiday. It is also incredibly funny, some of Bill Murray’s best, sweet and well written. One that makes all best-of lists, not just best time travel movies.
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#02 Terminator 1 & 2
You may notice a trend on this list, great directors. This one is no different, this is where the legendary James Cameron (the guy who directed the two highest-grossing films of all time) got his start. The acting and how groundbreaking it was at the time made this an instant classic and a bar that no one has been able to get to in the action time-travel movie world. Do yourself a favor only watch 1 & 2, James Cameron was no longer involved after that and it shows.
#01 Back to the Future Franchise
The first BACK TO THE FUTURE has tons of mistakes, you can see booms and other equipment, there are continuity issues, the list goes on. It all doesn’t matter, BTTF is taught in film schools as a perfect movie. Between the producer/director team of Spielberg and Zemeckis, the amazing cast led by super charismatic Michael J Fox, to the perfectly fitting music created by Huey Lewis in the News, the story and execution were flawless. This is the epitome of a movie about time travel. Everyone in the game recognizes this is the gold standard. The third is not the greatest but just the fact that it wraps up the amazing setup from 1 & 2, it helps finish a very well put together trilogy. Most people will agree this tops the list of best time travel movies ever.