It turns out that making a great time travel movie is no easy task. Many films have tried and failed in between for various reasons. There’s logic, which can be a problem, but a novel can also rely too heavily on plot mechanisms, resulting in a lack of rich or memorable characters. However, some genuinely brilliant time travel movies take the notion and create unique and original stories, many of which have stood the test of time.
With that in mind, I’ve combined the canon of time-travel movies and compiled a list from the best to the greatest. Some are goofy, some are good, and some are just downright amusing. As with all lists, this one is subjective, and one or two of your favorites will probably miss the cut, but I’ve done my best to argue that these 15 movies, notably the best of all time, Why are travel movies ever made?
1. Back To The Future Trilogy
“Back to the Future” is a trilogy of American science fiction adventure comedy films directed by Robert Zemeckis and written by Zemeckis and Bob Gale. The film stars Michael J. Fox as teenager Marty McFly, who is sent back in time to different eras by the eccentric scientist Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown, played by Christopher Lloyd. The first film, “Back to the Future,” was released in 1985; the second film, “Back to the Future Part II,” was released in 1989; and the third film, “Back to the Future Part III,” was released in 1990. The trilogy is widely considered a classic of the 1980s and is known for its humor, memorable characters, time travel movie, and storyline.
2. The Terminator Series
The Terminator series is a collection of science fiction action films created by James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd. The series began with the film “The Terminator” in 1984, directed by James Cameron and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a cyborg assassin sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor, played by Linda Hamilton. The film was a critical and commercial success, and it led to several sequels, including “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991), “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” (2003), “Terminator: Salvation” (2009), and “Terminator: Genisys” (2015).
The franchise also includes a television series, “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” (2008-2009). The series explores themes of technology, artificial intelligence, and the potential consequences of advanced technology. The series is known for its action-packed sequences, iconic imagery, and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s portrayal of the cyborg assassin.
3. Donnie Darko
“Donnie Darko” is a 2001 science fiction psychological time travel movie thriller written and directed by Richard Kelly. The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as the titular character. This high school student begins to experience strange visions and hallucinations after being visited by a mysterious figure in a rabbit costume. The film explores themes of time travel Movie, mental health, and the nature of reality.
The film was not a commercial success when it was initially released, but it has since gained a cult following and is considered a genre classic. The film’s unique blend of science fiction and psychological horror, as well as its thought-provoking story and strong performances, have contributed to its enduring popularity.
4. Groundhog Day
Groundhog Day is a 1993 American romantic comedy-drama film directed by Harold Ramis and written by Ramis and Danny Rubin. The film stars Bill Murray as Phil Connors, a weatherman who finds himself living the same day over and over again.
The story follows Phil Connors, a cynical and arrogant weatherman, as he travels to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to cover the annual Groundhog Day festival. However, when he wakes up the next morning, he discovers that it is still Groundhog Day, and he is living the same day repeatedly.
As Phil becomes increasingly desperate to break the cycle, he begins to use his newfound knowledge of the day to improve his life and the lives of those around him. He becomes a better person, learning to appreciate the small things in life and developing a deeper understanding of the people around him.
The film was a critical and commercial success, receiving positive reviews for its humor, performances, and themes of existentialism and redemption. It has since become a cult classic and is often cited as one of the most excellent comedy time travel movie of all time.
5. Source Code
Source Code is a 2011 American science fiction psychological thriller time travel movie directed by Duncan Jones and written by Ben Ripley. The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Captain Colter Stevens, a U.S. Army helicopter pilot who is sent on a top-secret mission to identify the bomber of a Chicago commuter train.
The story begins with Colter Stevens, a helicopter pilot, awakened on a train heading toward Chicago. He is confused and disoriented and soon discovers that he has been placed in a virtual reality program called the “Source Code” that allows him to enter a person’s mind in the last eight minutes of their life. He is tasked with identifying the train’s bomber, who is planning to blow up the city.
As Colter relives the same eight minutes repeatedly, he begins to form a connection with a passenger on the train, Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan). He starts questioning the nature of his mission and decides to use his time in the Source Code to save her and prevent the bombing.
The film received positive reviews for its unique storyline, strong performances, and thought-provoking themes of time travel and the nature of reality. It grossed $147 million worldwide. It is considered one of the most mind-bending films of all time.
Interstellar is a 2014 American science fiction film directed, co-written, and produced by Christopher Nolan. The film stars Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, and Jessica Chastain. It tells the story of a group of astronauts who travel through a wormhole in search of a new home for humanity as Earth is on the brink of collapse due to environmental changes.
The story begins with a near-future Earth suffering from a severe drought and food shortage, forcing the former pilot and engineer Cooper (McConaughey) to leave his family behind and join a team of scientists on a mission to find a new habitable planet. The team, led by Dr. Amelia Brand (Hathaway), travels through a wormhole to a distant galaxy, where they encounter a series of challenges and make shocking discoveries about the nature of time, space, and the fate of humanity.
Interstellar received widespread critical acclaim for its ambitious narrative, visuals, and themes of love, sacrifice, and the human spirit. It grossed over $677 million worldwide and was nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Original Screenplay. It is considered one of the greatest science fiction films of all time.
7. About time
About time is a 2013 British romantic comedy-drama film directed by Richard Curtis and written by Curtis himself. The film stars Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, and Bill Nighy. It tells the story of a young man named Tim who discovers that he can travel through time and uses it to improve his relationships and overall life.
The story follows Tim (Gleeson) as he learns that the men in his family can travel through time. With the guidance of his father (Nighy), Tim uses his newfound power to improve his relationships and make the most of his life. He uses his power to change small moments in the past, such as getting a better grade on a test or meeting the girl of his dreams, Mary (McAdams), earlier in life. As he becomes more experienced with time travel, Tim learns that it’s not all fun and games and that every action has consequences.
About time received positive reviews for its charming performances, heartwarming story, and how it handled the complex concept of time travel. It was a commercial success and is considered one of the most romantic films.
8. The Butterfly Effect
The Butterfly Effect is a 2004 American psychological thriller directed by Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber, written by Bress and Gruber, and starring Ashton Kutcher, Amy Smart, and Eric Stoltz. The film tells the story of a young man named Evan Treborn (Kutcher) who discovers that he can travel back in time and change his past, only to discover that his actions have severe consequences on his present and future.
The story follows Evan as he discovers he can return to his childhood memories. Initially, he uses his ability to change small things, such as avoiding a childhood accident. Still, as he starts to change more significant events, he realizes that his actions have unintended consequences on his present and future. As he continues to change his past, Evan finds himself in a darker, more violent reality, and he must race against time to fix the damage he’s done before it’s too late.
The Butterfly Effect received mixed reviews upon its release, with some praising the film for its engaging story and strong performances. In contrast, others criticized its convoluted plot and lack of coherence. Despite this, it was a commercial success, grossing over $96 million worldwide, and has since become a cult classic.
Timecrimes (Los Cronocrímenes) is a 2007 Spanish science fiction thriller directed by Nacho Vigalondo. The film tells the story of a man named Hector (Karra Elejalde) who accidentally travels back in time and becomes embroiled in a series of events that spiral out of control.
The story begins with Hector, a man who witnesses a strange figure in the woods near his house. He investigates and finds a mysterious laboratory where he accidentally travels back in time. As Hector tries to return to the present, he becomes embroiled in a series of events that spiral out of control. He must make a series of decisions that will profoundly impact his future. He finds himself stuck in a loop of time travel, where he is forced to make the same choices repeatedly.
Timecrimes received widespread critical acclaim for its clever storyline, inventive use of time travel, and strong performances. It was a commercial success and is considered one of the best time travel films of all time. It’s known for its minimalistic approach and the way it handles complex subject matter with a simplicity that makes it accessible to a broader audience.
Primer is a 2004 American independent science fiction film directed, written, produced, and edited by Shane Carruth. The film tells the story of two engineers who stumble upon a method of time travel but soon find themselves caught up in a dangerous and complex web of cause and effect.
The story follows Aaron (Carruth) and Abe (David Sullivan), two engineers working on a project in their garage. One day, they accidentally discover a method of time travel. Initially, they use their newfound power for personal gain. Still, as they continue to experiment with time travel, they encounter unexpected consequences, and their actions have a dangerous ripple effect on their future. As they dig deeper into the time-traveling mystery, they find themselves caught in a web of cause and effect, and they must race against time to fix the damage they’ve done before it’s too late.
Primer received widespread critical acclaim for its inventive storyline, complex and thought-provoking themes, and low-budget production. It was a commercial success, grossing $48,482 despite its minor release. It’s considered one of the best independent science fiction films of all time, known for its unique and mind-bending approach to time travel.
11. The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Time Traveler’s Wife is a 2009 American romantic science fiction drama film directed by Robert Schwentke and written by Bruce Joel Rubin, based on the 2003 novel of the same name by Audrey Niffenegger. The film stars Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams and tells the story of a man named Henry DeTamble (Bana), who is a “time traveler,” and his wife Clare Abshire (McAdams), who has a complicated and unique love story due to his condition.
The story follows Henry, a dashing, adventuresome librarian who lives involuntarily with a rare genetic disorder that causes him to time travel unpredictably, and Clare, an artist whose life takes a natural sequential course. Despite the complications it creates for their relationship, the two eventually fall deeply in love and decide to have a child together.
However, their unique situation creates a series of challenges, as Henry’s constant disappearance disrupts the timeline of their lives. They struggle to maintain a relationship and a sense of normalcy while dealing with Henry’s condition’s emotional and physical toll.
The Time Traveler’s Wife received mixed reviews upon its release; some praised the performances of its lead actors and the story’s emotional depth, while others criticized its pacing and changes to the original novel. Despite this, it was a commercial success and is considered one of the best romantic science fiction films.
12. Hot Tub Time Machine
Hot Tub Time Machine is a 2010 American science fiction comedy film directed by Steve Pink and written by Josh Heald. The film stars John Cusack, Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, Clark Duke, and Chevy Chase. It tells the story of a group of friends transported back to 1986 after using a malfunctioning hot tub time machine.
The story follows Adam (Cusack), Nick (Robinson), and Lou (Corddry), who are three friends who have grown apart in their adult lives. They take a trip to the ski resort, where they spend their wild youth, and find an old, worn hot tub. After getting drunk and into the hot tub, they wake up to find themselves transported back to 1986. They use their knowledge of the future to try to change the past, but their actions have unforeseen consequences. Along the way, they rekindle their friendship, discover new perspectives on life, and learn that even the smallest choices can impact the future.
Hot Tub Time Machine received mixed reviews upon its release, but it was a commercial success grossing over $64 million worldwide. It’s known for its slapstick humor and comedic handling of the time travel concept. It’s considered one of the best time travel comedy films of all time.
13. Project Almanac
Project Almanac is a 2014 American science fiction thriller film directed by Dean Israelite and written by Jason Harry Pagan and Andrew Deutschman. The film stars Jonny Weston, Sofia Black-D’Elia, Sam Lerner, Allen Evangelista, and Virginia Gardner. It tells the story of a group of high school students discovering a time machine and using it to change their past but soon realizing that their actions have unforeseen consequences.
The story follows David Raskin (Weston) and his friends, who discover a time machine in his basement. They decide to use it to change their past and improve their lives. At first, they use the machine to improve their grades, win a school science fair, and even change the outcome of a school dance. However, as they change their past, they begin to experience strange and dangerous side effects and soon realize that their actions have unforeseen consequences. They must race against time to fix the damage they’ve done before it’s too late.
Project Almanac received mixed reviews upon its release, with some praising the cast’s performances and the story’s concept. In contrast, others criticized its pacing and lack of originality. Despite this, it was a commercial success, grossing over $64 million worldwide. It is considered one of the best time travel films that deals with the consequences of changing the past.
Timecode is a 2000 American independent film written and directed by Mike Figgis. The film is shot in real-time and tells four parallel stories simultaneously in four quadrants of the screen. The film features an ensemble cast, including Salma Hayek, Stellan Skarsgård, Kyle MacLachlan, Saffron Burrows, Xander Berkeley, and Jeanne Tripplehorn.
The film is set on a single day in the offices of a Hollywood movie studio, where a group of characters, including a studio executive, a casting agent, and a security guard, navigate their personal and professional lives. Each of the four stories takes place in a different quadrant of the screen and runs simultaneously, with the lines between the stories often overlapping. The film explores love, jealousy, and power themes, as the characters struggle to balance their personal and professional lives.
Timecode received mixed reviews upon its release, with some praising the innovative use of the split-screen format and the strong performances. In contrast, others criticized its lack of coherence and the lack of a straightforward narrative. Despite this, it was a commercial success, grossing over $6 million worldwide. It is considered one of the most experimental and innovative films of all time, known for its unique approach to storytelling and the way it tackles the complexity of human relationships.
15. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is a 1989 American science fiction comedy film directed by Stephen Herek and written by Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon. The film stars Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter as Bill S. Preston and Ted Theodore Logan, two slacker high school students who travel through time with the help of a time machine to complete a history report.
The story follows Bill and Ted, two slacker high school students struggling with their history report. They are visited by a time traveler named Rufus (George Carlin), who gives them a time machine to complete their report. They travel through time and meet historical figures such as Napoleon Bonaparte, Socrates, and Abraham Lincoln and bring them back to the present to help them complete their report. However, they also have to deal with their problems, like Bill’s dad, who wants him to attend military school, and Ted’s father, who wants him to join the police academy.
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure movie received positive reviews for its humor, performances, and fun approach to time travel. It was a commercial success grossing over $40 million worldwide and has since become a cult classic. The movie also spawned a sequel, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991).