Everyone has thought about going back or forward in time at least once. It would be crazy to say the thought has not crossed your mind. Travelling through time is a concept of movement that has been readily discussed for decades (even centuries). Since time travel does not exist (or cannot be proven at this moment), theorists have been able to create many different scenarios on how time travel might be achieved. Black holes, time machines, cosmic strings, space-time vortexs, time jumps; it could be its own list.
However, reading scientific journals on time travel gets boring fast. Thankfully, we have filmmakers to make time travel fun. As previously stated, there has been no definitive findings on the proper way to travel through time which allows each filmmaker to make time travel their own. The results see protagonists trapped reliving the same day, crossing paths with their younger selves, creating time loops, and using sleek devices to achieve the impossible. It doesn’t always make sense, but when it does man is it worth it.
This is the 50 Greatest Time Travel Movies of All Time.
20. Planet of the Apes (1968)
Charlton Heston’s discovery of the mostly buried Statue of Liberty in the final shot of Planet of the Apes remains one of the most iconic time travel scenes of all time. Despite the dramatic reveal, the film mostly stays away from any time travel territory though. It is primarily an exploration of the role reversal of man and ape — time travel merely supplies the critical punch that this could be the far-off future of the world we know.
19. Palm Springs (2020)
Yet another spin on the Groundhog Day concept, Lonely Island’s Palm Springs pivots nicely with two people who, for most of the movie, just don’t care about anything and treat the loop as their own personal playground. The great innovation of the movie is having Nyles already trapped in the loop for some eternity of time before Sarah finally joins the situation. This gives a great opportunity for chemistry and dialogue about the situation compared to watching someone stuck in the loop by themself. JK Simmons adds a special treat as Nyles’ enemy after being trapped in the loop with him. The ending opts to use some bogus science to escape the loop, but it works within the world of the movie.
18. The Endless (2017)
The Endless is a very different time travel movie. The time loops are confined to specific areas, and the length of the time loop varies by location. It’s absolutely mind-bending, for better or worse. The story follows two brothers who return to the cult they were raised in, which happens to be within the loop. The movie takes an odd direction with the cult worshipping a mysterious supernatural figure who seems to control the loops and also … likes to play tug of war? Yeah, like I said it’s a strange beast of a film.
17. Timecrimes (2007)
Based on the accompanying image, I thought Timecrimes was going to be a time travel slasher film with the pink bandaged man being the killer. However, the film is actually a thriller that follows a man as he attempts to stop his other selves from continuing to exist. Timecrimes makes up for its low-budget by focusing on the characters and plot details over expensive and fancy time time special effects. Every time the main character Héctor travels back in time, we see him become more unhinged and desperate. Some critics theorize that the film is an allegory about adultery, but I’ll leave that up for you to decide. Either way, Timecrimes is a must watch.
16. Time Lapse (2014)
When three 20-something flatmates discover their neighbor’s time travelling camera in Time Lapse, it tests their character as they figure out ways to use it to their advantage. Although the characters do not time travel, the future-seeing cameras leads them to ponder whether the future is inevitable or whether it can be changed, and whether they can make their past self take a divergent path by communicating backwards from the present. The character studies in this film are flawless and the ending is a gut punch you won’t see coming.
15. Source Code (2011)
Time loop films succeed best in the scenes that seemingly repeat with only the main character realizing this has all happened before. Source Code adapts this well to a mystery confined to a recurring eight minutes on a Chicago train. Further complicating the matter is that Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) functions as an involuntary time detective to solve an explosion on the train, but is living the event through one of the passenger’s memories. Exactly how this version of time travel works is never greatly explained but it mostly stays out of the way for the thrills of the mystery. A budding romance between Stevens and another passenger, played by Michelle Monaghan, adds to the investment in Colter’s success.
14. Looper (2012)
Once you can get past the prosthetics Joseph Gordon-Levitt wears to make him look closer to Bruce Willis, Looper is a fun film that proved Rian Johnson was a director to keep an eye on. I love the idea that criminal syndicates use time travel to dispose of bodies, so that they are impossible to find. Also, a “looper” killing his future self to complete his loop is a great idea. There’s some great scenes that make use of this loop premise such as Seth, another looper, not killing his future self. The crime syndicate begins cutting and severing younger Seth in order to bring his older self out of hiding. It’s a gruesome, but fascinating scene that lets the audience know what to expect when older Joe (Willis) comes a knocking. The time travel gets a bit confusing at the end when Joe takes himself out of the equation, but up ’til that point, Looper rides high.
13. Midnight in Paris (2011)
Exploring themes of nostalgia and modernism, Midnight in Paris follows Gil (Owen Wilson), a screenwriter who finds himself travelling back in time each night at midnight while on his trip in Paris. He eventually befriends a 1920s woman named Adriana while at the same time having his debut novel critiqued by Gertrude Stein. The film also features a rotating cast of famous early 20th century artists like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Salvador Dali. What makes Midnight in Paris so special is that the main character realizes that despite the allure of nostalgia, getting too much of it can eventually become dull. It’s a film about embracing your actual present and not living through the past.
12. Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Based on the Japanese light novel All You Need Is Kill, this time loop action film takes place in a future where most of Europe is invaded by an alien race. Tom Cruise, in one of his best roles of the 2010s, plays Cage, a recently demoted U.S. Major who finds himself thrust into the battle against the aliens with no actual combat experience. He dies in his first battle, but not until after he kills one of the large blue Mimics and its blood enters his mouth. This causes Cage to restart the same day. Cage, still having practically no combat experience, hunts down the “Angel of Verdun” (Emily Blunt), who reveals that she once had the power to restart days that Cage now has. Cage comes to her every reset to continue his training. Cruise and Blunt have great chemistry, and it’s hard to find any criticisms about the story. It also features a scene-stealing Bill Paxton. Seriously, this film has it all.
11. The Time Machine (1960)
One cannot understate how important H. G. Well’s 1895 novella The Time Machine was when it was first released. It popularized the concept of time travel we are most familiar with and coined the term “time machine”. The 1960 adaptation is a gorgeous adaptation of his work. I was blown away by the time-lapse photographic effects, which show the world changing rapidly around the time traveller as he ventures into the future. The rest of the film may look and feel a bit dated, but it is still exciting to watch sixty years later. Rod Taylor is great as the time traveller, and the time machine itself is a work of art.
What do you think of the selection so far? What are some of your favorite time travel movies? Maybe they will show up further on the list!