The Top 20 Time Travel Flicks

It's officially "Back to the Future" Day, so turn on the flux capacitor, and celebrate with our look back and forward of the best time travel movies ever.

By Chuck Walton

Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd in "Back to the Future."

© Universal Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

It's officially "Back to the Future" Day, so turn on the flux capacitor, and take a trip back, forward, and elsewhere on the timeline with our handy list of the best time travel movies ever.

  • 1Back to the Future

    © Universal Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

    It's odd to think that "Back to the Future," which traveled 30 years into the past from 1985 to 1955, is now a movie that came out 35 years ago. Say what? Still, the timeless tale of teen adventurer Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and his lovable oddball scientist best pal Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) is as endearing now as it was when first released. And we still love that DeLorean.

    Back to the Future

    Comedy / 1985 / PG

    In this 1980s sci-fi classic, small-town California teen Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) is thrown back into the '50s when an experiment by his eccentric scientist friend Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) goes awry. Traveling through time in a modified DeLorean car, Marty encounters young versions of his parents (Crispin Glover, Lea Thompson), and must make sure that they fall in love or he'll cease to exist. Even more dauntingly, Marty has to return to his own time and save the life of Doc Brown.

  • 2Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure

    © Orion/courtesy Everett Collection

    The original "Bill & Ted" movie, and its most excellent follow-ups "Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey" and 2020's "Bill & Ted Face the Music" are all great head-banging stupid fun, but the first installment is truly awesome. Our endearing heroes, Alex Winter's Bill S. Preston, Esquire, and Keanu Reeves' Ted Theodore Logan, somehow always retain their sunny disposition no matter the circumstance, and their motto throughout time always holds true - "Be excellent to each other. And...party on, dudes!"

    Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure

    Comedy / 1989 / PG

    Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) are high school buddies starting a band. However, they are about to fail their history class, which means Ted would be sent to military school. They receive help from Rufus (George Carlin), a traveler from a future where their band is the foundation for a perfect society. With the use of Rufus' time machine, Bill and Ted travel to various points in history, returning with important figures to help them complete their final history presentation.

  • 3Time Bandits

    © Twentieth Century Fox. All rights reserved./Courtesy Everett Collection

    Back in the good old days, Sean Connery was making movies, and had a nice change of pace as King Agamemnon, just one of the historical figures that young history buff Kevin (Craig Warnock) and his six dwarf time-traveling bandit buddies encounter on their adventures to grab treasures wherever and whenever they can find them. Brought to audiences by former Monty Python alum and supremely fantastical director Terry Gilliam.

    Time Bandits

    Fantasy / 1981 / PG

    Young history buff Kevin (Craig Warnock) can scarcely believe it when six dwarfs emerge from his closet one night. Former employees of the Supreme Being (Ralph Richardson), they've purloined a map charting all of the holes in the fabric of time and are using it to steal treasures from different historical eras. Taking Kevin with them, they variously drop in on Napoleon (Ian Holm), Robin Hood (John Cleese) and King Agamemnon (Sean Connery) before the Supreme Being catches up with them.

  • 4Safety Not Guaranteed

    © FilmDistrict/courtesy Everett Collection

    This eccentric and affable rom com from the director of "Jurassic World," Colin Trevorrow, has a crazy premise that finds an odd but intriguing young man (actor/filmmaker Mark Duplass) putting an ad out seeking a partner to join him on a trip through time, something he's only accomplished once before. A disaffected magazine intern (Aubrey Plaza) answers the call. The genius of the film is, you're never quite sure, is this guy for real?

    Safety Not Guaranteed

    Comedy / 2012 / R

    A disaffected magazine intern (Aubrey Plaza) befriends an unusual guy (Mark Duplass), who is looking for a partner to accompany him on a trip back through time.

  • 5Hot Tub Time Machine

    © MGM/Courtesy Everett Collection

    John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson and young buck Clark Duke star as party-hearty travelers who enter into a ski resort hot tub with alcohol, drugs and bubbles…and emerge right back in the '80s. What now? Keep the party going, and somehow locate the mystical energy drink "Chernobly" that can fix the tub and transport them back to the future. As an ode to all things motley, poison and otherwise poofy from the era of big music and big hair, this one's a non-stop riot, and includes great cameos from '80s staples Crispin Glover and Chevy Chase.

    Hot Tub Time Machine

    Comedy / 2010 / R

    Four pals are stuck in a rut in adulthood: Adam (John Cusack) has just been dumped, Lou (Rob Corddry) is a hopeless party animal, Craig (Craig Robinson) is a henpecked husband, and Jacob (Clark Duke) does nothing but play video games in his basement. But they get a chance to brighten their future by changing their past after a night of heavy drinking in a ski-resort hot tub results in their waking up in 1986.

  • 6Somewhere in Time

    © Universal Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

    For those romantically inclined, it's hard to do better in the genre than "Somewhere in Time," which finds a modest Christopher Reeve (our favorite "Superman") fixated on a portrait of a beguiling Jane Seymour at the turn-of-the-20th-century. Somehow, through hypnosis, he actually does end up in her time, and begins a passionate courtship that could keep them together throughout eternity.

    Somewhere in Time

    Science Fiction / 1980 / PG

    In 1972, playwright Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve) becomes fascinated by a photo of Elise McKenna (Jane Seymour), a turn-of-the-century stage actress, while staying at the Grand Hotel in Mackinac Island, Michigan. As Richard's obsession grows, he learns from a friend that time travel may actually be possible through hypnosis. Richard travels in time to meet Elise, and the two appear destined to be together. However, Elise's jealous manager (Christopher Plummer) attempts to keep them apart.

  • 712 Monkeys

    © Universal/courtesy Everett Collection

    Nowadays, "12 Monkeys" seems particularly relevant, as it outlines a scenario where a world-wide virus devastates the planet and forces the few human survivors underground. Decades after the pandemic, Bruce Willis is recruited by future leaders and scientists to travel back before the virus was unleashed, and gather data that can help mankind return to the surface. Among those he meets in the '90s are Brad Pitt's whack-a-doodle would-be environmental activist/terrorist, and Madeline Stowe's intelligent and empathetic psychiatrist, who slowly begins to appreciate Willis' grave backstory.

    12 Monkeys

    Thriller / 1995 / R

    Traveling back in time isn't simple, as James Cole (Bruce Willis) learns the hard way. Imprisoned in the 2030s, James is recruited for a mission that will send him back to the 1990s. Once there, he's supposed to gather information about a nascent plague that's about to exterminate the vast majority of the world's population. But, aside from the manic Jeffrey (Brad Pitt), he gets little in the way of cooperation, not least from medical gatekeepers like Dr. Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe).

  • 8Peggy Sue Got Married

    © TriStar/courtesy Everett Collection

    Nicolas Cage has taken on many out-there personas throughout his career, but it's safe to say, he's never adopted quite the same over-the-top accent he employs here as aspiring early '60s pinup/singer/teenager Charlie, whose future wife/current girlfriend Peggy Sue (Kathleen Turner) has traveled back in time to revisit their high school romance. Peggy knows that one day Charlie will grow distant and cheat on her, but maybe there is something in the beginning that can help this couple come out the other side. The film's directed with sensitivity and lots of good humor by Cage's famous uncle filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola.

    Peggy Sue Got Married

    Comedy Drama / 1986 / PG-13

    Peggy Sue Bodell (Kathleen Turner) attends her 25-year high school reunion after separating from her cheating husband, Charlie (Nicolas Cage). She regrets the decisions she has made in her life, such as getting pregnant by Charlie in high school. When she faints at the reunion, she awakens in 1960. Given the chance to relive her life, she changes many things. However, some choices are more complicated, as she begins to see young Charlie's charm and true feelings.

  • 913 Going on 30

    © Columbia/courtesy Everett Collection

    Sort of the female version of "Big" with an added time element, Jennifer Garner stars as a 13-year-old who'd very much prefer to get past the gawky stage of adolescence, and then wakes up as her 30-year-old self in 2004. Instead of moping about the predicament, she makes the most of it, and charms just about everyone in her path, showing that even grown-ups should take time-outs to lighten up and indulge their inner child-sides.

    13 Going on 30

    Romantic Comedy / 2004 / PG-13

    A girl who's sick of the social strictures of junior high is transformed into a grownup overnight. In this feel-good fairy tale, teenager Jenna (Christa B. Allen) wants a boyfriend, and when she's unable to find one, she fantasizes about being a well-adjusted adult. Suddenly, her secret desire becomes a reality, and she is transformed into a 30-year-old (Jennifer Garner). But adulthood, with its own set of male-female challenges, isn't as easy as it looks.

  • 10The Terminator

    © Orion/courtesy Everett Collection

    It's a little weird that we're closing in on the fictional time where John Connor, Sarah's warrior leader son in the post-apocalyptic future, will send back his trusty soldier Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) to the year 1984 to save his mom (Linda Hamilton) from the nearly indestructible Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger). James Cameron's breakthrough film is a sci-fi action/classic that sets a palpable mood of doom and tension where maybe humanity stands a chance if we're nimble and fleet enough to stay ahead of Schwarzenegger's cool killing machine.

    The Terminator

    Action / 1984 / R

    Disguised as a human, a cyborg assassin known as a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) travels from 2029 to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). Sent to protect Sarah is Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), who divulges the coming of Skynet, an artificial intelligence system that will spark a nuclear holocaust. Sarah is targeted because Skynet knows that her unborn son will lead the fight against them. With the virtually unstoppable Terminator in hot pursuit, she and Kyle attempt to escape.

  • 11Avengers: Endgame

    © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / © Marvel Studios / courtesy Everett Collection

    Granted, "Avengers: Endgame" is much more than a time-traveling movie (it's also the number one movie of all time), but time-traveling is key to its plot to recover the Infinity Stones and undo the effects of the "snap" wherein half of all life in the universe was destroyed. As such, it includes a clever explicit acknowledgement and debt to previous time-travel epics such as "Back to the Future." And as far as truly larger-than-large spectacles which encapsulate all the ups and downs and emotions of movie life and real life, it's hard to beat.

    Avengers: Endgame

    Action / 2019 / PG-13

    Adrift in space with no food or water, Tony Stark sends a message to Pepper Potts as his oxygen supply starts to dwindle. Meanwhile, the remaining Avengers -- Thor, Black Widow, Captain America and Bruce Banner -- must figure out a way to bring back their vanquished allies for an epic showdown with Thanos -- the evil demigod who decimated the planet and the universe.

  • 12Groundhog Day

    © Columbia/courtesy Everett Collection

    Time repeats itself…over…and over…and over…in this one-of-a-kind day-repeating comedy from the brilliant minds of filmmaker Harold Ramis and star Bill Murray (trapped here in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania as a sarcastic weatherman living Groundhog Day on a loop). The film was a groundbreaking triumph whose premise has been copied but never quite perfected.

    Groundhog Day

    Romantic Comedy / 1993 / PG

    Phil (Bill Murray), a weatherman, is out to cover the annual emergence of the groundhog from its hole. He gets caught in a blizzard that he didn't predict and finds himself trapped in a time warp. He is doomed to relive the same day over and over again until he gets it right.

  • 13Palm Springs

    © Hulu / Courtesy Everett Collection

    While most "Groundhog Day" successors are mere imitations, the recent release "Palm Springs" is both funny and affecting and has a unique twist on the G-Day premise. Here, wedding guests Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti are both stuck living that same wedding day over and over. However, there are a few secrets to be revealed…which of course we won't spoil since you should absolutely watch this one and discover.

    Palm Springs

    Romantic Comedy / 2020 / R

    Stuck in a time loop, two wedding guests develop a budding romance while living the same day over and over again.

  • 14Interstellar

    © Paramount Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

    Filmmaker Christopher Nolan always goes big, and this sci-fi/time-travel/ecological disaster film posits several fascinating ideas that make for compelling, interstellar drama. Matthew McConaughey's world-saving astronaut is torn between trying to save Earth and leaving his young children behind. But ultimately, he has no choice. To save them, he'll have to save the world, even if that means a few time paradoxes on the agenda. As much as this movie was a hit, it's still underrated in Nolan's filmography, and the ideas present are just as mind-blowing as anything in "2001: A Space Odyssey."

    Interstellar

    Action / 2014 / PG-13

    In Earth's future, a global crop blight and second Dust Bowl are slowly rendering the planet uninhabitable. Professor Brand (Michael Caine), a brilliant NASA physicist, is working on plans to save mankind by transporting Earth's population to a new home via a wormhole. But first, Brand must send former NASA pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and a team of researchers through the wormhole and across the galaxy to find out which of three planets could be mankind's new home.

  • 15Planet of the Apes

    TM & Copyright © 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved. / Courtesy Everett Collection

    The cool thing about "Planet of the Apes" is the surprise element of its story's time travel aspect. For most of its running length, it's an absorbing space adventure about a group of astronauts who crash land on a world where apes are the intelligent species and humans are just cattle. The power struggle between some of the apes, and the humans, plays out as suspenseful action adventure, but the real kicker is yet to come, and casts an intriguing shadow on everything that preceded it.

    Planet of the Apes

    Science Fiction / 1968 / G

    Complex sociological themes run through this science-fiction classic about three astronauts marooned on a futuristic planet where apes rule and humans are slaves. The stunned trio discovers that these highly intellectual simians can both walk upright and talk. They have even established a class system and a political structure. The astronauts suddenly find themselves part of a devalued species, trapped and imprisoned by the apes.

  • 16Edge of Tomorrow

    © Warner Bros. Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

    Another one of the great "Groundhog Day" follow-ups, Tom Cruise's "Edge of Tomorrow" finds his military man of the future living his first and only time in action against aliens and subsequently being killed by them. Thankfully, Emily Blunt as a fellow commando is on hand to help him earn a leg (and other body parts) up and hopefully win the war.

    Edge of Tomorrow

    Action / 2014 / PG-13

    When Earth falls under attack from invincible aliens, no military unit in the world is able to beat them. Maj. William Cage (Tom Cruise), an officer who has never seen combat, is assigned to a suicide mission. Killed within moments, Cage finds himself thrown into a time loop, in which he relives the same brutal fight -- and his death -- over and over again. However, Cage's fighting skills improve with each encore, bringing him and a comrade (Emily Blunt) ever closer to defeating the aliens.

  • 17Looper

    © TriStar Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

    As far as time loops go, this one from expert filmmaker Rian Johnson ("Knives Out") is a doozy. In the future, time travel does exist, but it's mainly for those operating on the black market to use as a weapon against their foes – sending targets they want to eliminate to the past to be killed by assassin "loopers" (e.g. – closing off the loop). All's well and bad for the mob until they send back Bruce Willis' criminal Joe back in time to be killed by his younger self, played by great Willis-impersonator Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

    Looper

    Action / 2012 / R

    In a future society, time-travel exists, but it's only available to those with the means to pay for it on the black market. When the mob wants to eliminate someone, it sends the target into the past, where a hit man known as a looper lies in wait to finish the job. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is one such hired gun, and he does his job well -- until the day his bosses decide to "close the loop" and send Joe's future self (Bruce Willis) back in time to be killed.

  • 18Source Code

    © Summit Entertainment/courtesy Everett Collection

    Once more into "Groundhog Day" time step and repeat, this underrated gem directed by Duncan Jones (son of David Bowie) finds Jake Gyllenhaal as a helicopter pilot drafted into living the last few moments of a man who died along with hundreds of others in a commuter train explosion. Inserted into that man's reality, it's up to Gyllenhaal to find out who was behind the bombing – and possibly do something about it.

    Source Code

    Action / 2011 / PG-13

    Helicopter pilot Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is part of a top-secret military operation that enables him to experience the last few minutes in the life of Sean Fentress, a man who died in a commuter-train explosion. The purpose of Colter's mission is to learn the identity of the bomber and prevent a similar catastrophe. As Colter lives Sean's final moments, he becomes more certain that he can prevent the first tragedy from occurring -- as long as he doesn't run out of time.

  • 19Predestination

    © Vertical Entertainment

    Filled with an intelligence to match the film's sci-fi action, this time-traveling suspense thriller stars Ethan Hawke as "temporal" who travels to 1975 New York to stop a madman known as the "Fizzle Bomber." He nearly succeeds but is injured in the process. Once he's recovered in the future, he's sent back again for one last mission in the 70s that will bring other important aspects of his role to light. For Hawke, this sci-fi cult classic is a great companion piece to his other landmark sci-fi film, "Gattaca."

    Predestination

    Action / 2014 / R

    A temporal agent (Ethan Hawke) embarks on a final time-traveling assignment to prevent an elusive criminal from launching an attack that kills thousands of people.

  • 20Primer

    © ThinkFilm/Courtesy Everett Collection

    "Primer" proves that you don't need a huge budget to create compelling, haunting time-travel science fiction. Two engineers work with their friends on error-checking technology. Accidentally, they develop what they think could be a time machine, and work to adapt it for human travel. As they go deeper down the rabbit hole, they begin to understand the dark implications of their creation.

    Primer

    Drama / 2004 / PG-13

    Intellectual engineers Aaron (Shane Carruth) and Abe (David Sullivan) build and sell error-checking technology with the help of their friends Robert (Casey Gooden) and Phillip (Anand Upadhyaya). But when Aaron and Abe accidentally invent what they think is a time machine, Abe builds a version capable of transporting a human and puts the device to the test. As the two friends obsess over their creation, they discover the dark consequences of their actions.

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