Celluloid Diaries: 43 Best Time Travel Movies

Monday, February 24, 2020

43 Best Time Travel Movies

time travel movies

Messages from the future, precognition, the Butterfly Effect, the Grandfather Paradox, time loops, multiverses, wormholes... There seems no end to the variations on the time-traveling theme. Yet filmmakers were slow to recognize its dramatic potential. Despite several screen versions of Mark Twain’s novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889) and H.G. Well's novella The Time Machine (1895), and time travel being adopted as a recurring device in 1960s TV shows such as The Twilight Zone and Star Trek, it remained a marginal phenomenon on the big screen, chiefly confined to experimental or arthouse films (La Jetée, Je t'aime, je t'aime, Idaho Transfer). But the floodgates finally opened in the 1980s blockbuster era with The Terminator (1984) and Back to the Future (1985), mainstream entertainment that hit the sweet spot between science and fiction. Henceforth, time travel, bolstered by increasingly sophisticated special effects, would be a familiar element in Hollywood's SF arsenal.

This year, the Offscreen Film Festival is doing an entire strand on time travel movies, serving up not just crowd-pleasers such as Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, Looper and Interstellar, but some of the lesser-known and alternative examples of the genre, from rip-roaring B-movies such as Trancers (1984) to brain-scrambling cult favorites such as Timecrimes (2007) and Triangle (2009).

Here's an overview of the more than 40 films that they will be screening.

a connecticut yankee

A Connecticut Yankee (1931)

Will Rogers, famously from Oklahoma rather than Connecticut, plays a radio repairman who gets a bump on the head, propelling him back through time to the court of King Arthur, where he uses his knowledge of modern technology to convince everyone he is a magician. This Pre-Code adaptation of Mark Twain’s novel also features Myrna Loy as evil Morgana Le Fay.

portrait of jennie

Portrait of Jennie (1948)

An impoverished painter’s encounters with an ethereal young girl in Central Park inspire his art, but their relationship takes on tragic dimensions as he discovers they are separated by time. Dieterle’s haunting romance was shot in black and white, but bursts into color at the end.

the time machine

The Time Machine (1960)

Rod Taylor travels into a future where the gentle Eloi are menaced by scary Morlocks in this classic adaptation of H.G. Wells’ seminal time travel novella. George Pal’s film waters down the author’s sociopolitical message but compensates with game-changing visuals.

beyond the time barrier

Beyond the Time Barrier (1960)

Of the three low-budget SF films shot by B-movie maestro Edgar G. Ulmer at the end of his career, this is the grimmest. A military test pilot is catapulted from 1960 into 2024 and discovers an underground dystopia where almost the entire population has been rendered deaf-mute and infertile by a cosmic plague.

la jetée

La jetée (1962)

A prisoner obsessed with a childhood memory is sent back in time from a post-apocalyptic Paris. Chris Marker’s avant-garde short film, comprised almost entirely of still images with voice-over narration, has subsequently been a huge influence on time travel cinema - not least on Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys.

planet of the apes

Planet of the Apes (1968)

“Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!” Classic SF adaptation of Pierre Boulle’s novel, starring Charlton Heston as an American space pilot whose ship crashlands on a strange planet, where he learns there’s no such thing as human rights in a world ruled by talking simians.

je t'aime je t'aime

Je t'aime, je t'aime (1968)

A suicidal man agrees to take part in a time travel experiment, only for a technical glitch to leave him ping-ponging hopelessly around in his own memories. Alain Resnais’ SF conundrum, filmed in Belgium, is as haunting and enigmatic as you’d expect from the director from Last Year at Marienbad.

slaughterhouse five

Slaughterhouse-Five (1972)

Billy Pilgrim becomes “unstuck in time”, flung around between old age and childhood, marriage and fatherhood, life on the alien planet of Tralfamadore, and the firebombing of Dresden. This adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s cult novel features a Bach soundtrack played by the legendary Glenn Gould.

idaho transfer

Idaho Transfer (1973)

After an ecological catastrophe, youngsters are sent via a time machine into the future to rebuild civilization in this prescient SF fable with a hippy-ish vibe and a devastating ending. Peter Fonda’s second film as director, shot in spectacular volcanic landscapes, is a genuine rarity, not to be missed!

tomorrow i'll wake up and scald myself with tea

Tomorrow I'll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea (1977)

Delightful Czech comedy set in a future that looks exactly like 1977, but with commercialized time travel, anti-aging pills and an aerosol that turns faces green. Some neo-Nazis decide to go back in time and give Hitler the H-bomb, but their scheme is complicated by identical twins and temporal paradoxes.

time after time

Time After Time (1979)

To escape capture in 1893, Jack the Ripper (David Warner) steals H.G. Wells’ time machine. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) pursues him to modern San Francisco in an effort to stop the killer’s continuing atrocities and bring him to justice. Clever, beguiling time travel thriller with a lovely romantic subplot.

somewhere in time

Somewhere in Time (1980)

Christopher Reeve plays a playwright who becomes obsessed with the actress in a vintage photograph and hypnotizes himself into traveling back through time to 1912 so he can meet her. Classic time travel weepie, adapted from a novel by Richard Matheson and featuring an exquisite John Barry score.

the final countdown

The Final Countdown (1980)

The modern aircraft carrier USS Nimitz is sucked through a time tunnel to December 1941, just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. Should Captain Kirk Douglas warn the US forces and use his superior weapons against the enemy fleet? Or will that trigger a temporal paradox?

time bandits

Time Bandits (1981)

Young Kevin falls in with a bunch of delinquent dwarves who have stolen a spacetime map, and skips through history with them in the first of what the filmmaker has called his “Trilogy of Imagination”. Anarchic, subversive mischief from the director of Twelve Monkeys, with John Cleese as Robin Hood and Sean Connery as Agamemnon.

il mondo di yor

Yor, the Hunter from the Future (1983)

Yor, a prehistoric warrior with shaggy blond hair, tackles zombies, dinosaurs and sexy cave dwellers before discovering the shattering truth about himself and his world. This rip-off of cult pics like Conan the Barbarian is such a hoot it ended up becoming a cult favorite itself.

the terminator

The Terminator (1984)

A perfectly cast Arnold Schwarzenegger plays an unstoppable killer robot sent from the future to murder the waitress destined to give birth to humanity’s last best hope in James Cameron’s peerless SF thriller. Crammed with action and great quotes, including "I’ll be back."

the philadelphia experiment

The Philadelphia Experiment (1984)

In 1943, a US Navy experiment to render its fleet invisible to enemy radar goes pear-shaped, hurling two sailors 41 years into the future. Nancy Allen helps one of them (80s dreamboat Michael Paré) evade the authorities, sort out his "drifting molecules" and save the planet.


Trancers (1984)

"Jack Deth is back… and he’s never even been here before." Square-jawed Tim Thomerson stars in this smashing B-movie as a future cop who pursues a time-tampering villain back to 1980s Los Angeles, where he’s turning folk into zombielike "trancers". Future Oscar-winner Helen Hunt shows Deth the 1980s ropes.

back to the future

Back to the Future (1985)

The comic fantasy that put time travel on the mainstream map stars Michael J. Fox as young Marty McFly, who is zapped back into smalltown America of the 1950s by his mad scientist friend’s time-traveling DeLorean. Stuffed with smart gags, Oedipal complications, and a nail-biting race against the clock.

peggy sue got married

Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)

Coppola’s time-slip movie, named after a Buddy Holly song, showcases Kathleen Turner on peak form as an unhappily married mother who is transported back to high school in 1960, where she has to confront her life choices all over again. Also featuring a Nicolas Cage performance which is eccentric even by Cage standards.

the navigator a medieval odyssey

The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey (1988)

Villagers from 14th century Cumbria fend off the Black Death by casting a holy cross and digging a tunnel – only to emerge into a terrifying big city in 20th century New Zealand. Vincent Ward’s blend of medieval fantasy and time travel confirmed his status as one of cinema’s most visionary directors.

bill and ted's excellent adventure

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)

Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter play metalheads who use a time machine to bring historical personages (Socrates, Napoleon et al) to present-day California so they can ace their school history test. Also includes air guitar, complicated interaction with future selves, and the great George Carlin.

back to the future part two

Back to the Future Part II (1989)

Marty McFly and Doc Brown travel 30 years into the future, muck up their present (1985) and then have to zip back to 1955 to set things straight in this mind-bending sequel. All this, while avoiding their past selves and ensuring that nothing happens to change the plot of the original Back to the Future!


Millennium (1989)

Kris Kristofferson plays a plane crash investigator perplexed by weird anomalies in the deaths of hundreds of airline passengers. Could it have something to do with Cheryl Ladd as a chainsmoking punk-haired chick from the future? Timequakes galore in this daft but diverting adaptation of John Varley’s novel.

back to the future part three

Back to the Future Part III (1990)

Marty has to travel even further back in time – to the Old West of 1885, where he has to channel his inner Clint Eastwood to save Doc from being shot dead by an ancestor of the tyrannical Biff. And how can they get the DeLorean back to the future when gasoline has yet to be invented?


Timescape (1992)

Widower Jeff Daniels and his daughter are bemused when a bunch of weird tourists insists on staying in their half-built guest house on the outskirts of a small American town. But where are they from, and why are their passports stamped with April 18, 1906 – the date of the San Francisco earthquake?


Orlando (1992)

In Elizabethan England, the dying queen bequeaths land and money to an androgynous young nobleman who switches gender as he/she traverses history. A playful adaptation of the novel by Virginia Woolf.

les visiteurs

Les visiteurs (1994)

Jean Reno and Christian Clavier play a medieval squire and his servant transported by a bungling wizard into the 20th century, where they wreak slapstick havoc. One of the highest-grossing French films ever made – unlike the 2001 Hollywood remake (Just Visiting), in which Reno and Clavier reprised their roles in English.


Timecop (1994)

See The Muscles from Brussels doing the splits on his kitchen worktop! Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a cop whose job is to travel back through time to arrest any time-travelers who try to alter history. But can he stop an evil Senator from tampering with the past to make himself President in the present?

twelve monkeys

Twelve Monkeys (1995)

Bruce Willis plays a psychiatric patient who claims he has been sent back from the year 2035 to save mankind from being wiped out by a virus. Terry Gilliam’s ambitious epic stirs La Jetée and Vertigo into an intoxicating brew of time travel, romance, red herrings, and derring-do.

donnie darko

Donnie Darko (2001)

Jake Gyllenhaal plays a sleepwalking high school student who has visions of a giant demonic rabbit telling him the world will end in 29 days. Kelly’s directing debut is a twisted, darkly humorous teen movie with a uniquely ominous mood. Tears For Fears’ Mad World will never sound the same again.


Primer (2004)

In an ingenious and engrossing lo-tech debut, writer-director-producer-editor-designer-composer Shane Carruth plays one of two nerds confronted by temporal paradoxes and mounting paranoia after they accidentally invent a time machine in the garage. Scientifically rigorous and extremely mind-boggling.

the butterfly effect

The Butterfly Effect (2004)

Not the lighthearted teen movie you might expect with Kutcher topping the bill, but a surprisingly dark time travel yarn in which a college student stumbles across an almost Proustian method of traveling back in time – he reads his old diaries. The problem is, each time he tinkers with the past to try and fix the future for himself and his friends, he only succeeds in making things worse. Much worse.


Idiocracy (2006)

When a military experiment goes awry, an average Joe (Luke Wilson) wakes up 500 years in the future to find himself the smartest man in a dumbed-down dystopia. Mike Judge’s SF satire looks more like a documentary every day: big-ass fries, garbage mountains, "Ow, My Balls!" on TV, and a world run by imbeciles.


Timecrimes (2007)

Hector spots a woman undressing in the woods behind his house in Nacho Vigalondo’s superb debut, a low-budget SF thriller with no flashy effects but a meticulously worked-out screenplay involving doppelgangers, murder, and intersecting timelines. Guaranteed to tax your brain in all the right ways.


Triangle (2009)

Survivors from a capsized yacht seek refuge on an apparently derelict ocean liner, which is when the nightmare really begins in this brilliant SF chiller with a devastating pay-off. Melissa George is superb as a single mother who was trying to take a day off from the stress of caring for her autistic son.

the time traveler's wife

The Time Traveler's Wife (2009)

Erica Bana and Rachel McAdams play Chicago librarians who meet, fall in love and marry – though not necessarily in that order, since the romantic relationship at the heart of this adaptation of Audrey Niffenegger’s bestseller is complicated by a time-traveling disorder that makes him appear and disappear at random. A bittersweet time-travel weepie in the tradition of Somewhere in Time.

quartier lointain

Quartier lointain (2010)

A middle-aged man is transported back through time to relive the pivotal moments of his teenage years – first love, the loss of his father - in this poignant, affecting adaptation of Jirô Taniguchi’s acclaimed manga about youth, memory, and nostalgia, filmed in France and Luxembourg.

midnight in paris

Midnight in Paris (2011)

Every midnight, an American writer, on a visit to Paris with his fiancée, is whisked back to the Left Bank of the 20s, where he hobnobs with Hemingway, Scott and Zelda, Gertrude Stein and other expat legends. A partial return to form for Allen, with plenty of shameless intellectual name-dropping, but also a few barbs lurking amid the cozy nostalgia.

camille redouble

Camille redouble (2012)

In this French variation on Peggy Sue Got Married, a middle-aged mother whose husband has left her finds herself 16 years old again. Will she fall in love with him the second time around, even though she knows how their story will end? Or should she try to change things?


Looper (2012)

In the future, the mob disposes of victims by sending them back through time to be shot dead by "loopers". Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a looper who one day finds himself required to kill his own future self (Bruce Willis). The writer-director of Knives Out juggles multiple timelines in this enthralling SF thriller.


Interstellar (2014)

With Earth becoming uninhabitable, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) bids a bittersweet farewell to his children and leads a team of astronauts through a wormhole to a distant galaxy in search of new planets to colonize. But time works in mysterious ways in this ambitious SF spectacular from the director of Inception.


Predestination (2014)

The Spierig Brothers (Daybreakers) tackle Robert A. Heinlein’s story All You Zombies, with results that will make your head explode. The ultimate time-traveling paradox is brought to life thanks to great performances from Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook, currently killing it in HBO’s Succession.

What is your favorite movie about time travel?

tijdreizen film


  1. Donnie Darko had such a great twist. Made a decent movie into an excellent one.
    The Terminator films probably rank as my favorite. I remember really liking The Final Countdown as well.

    1. I also liked The Final Countdown was released on mobdro and many of the movies I just knew the name in this article. I will spend my free time to see them all, I really like them.

  2. I had no idea there were so many time travel movies.

  3. it's surprising how many of the movies I've seen

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  9. I haven't seen most of these. But- I have seen all the Back to the Future movies, Bill and Ted and Terminator. Oh- and The Time Traveler's Wife. Great to see so many movies that involve time travel that I haven't seen. I have a long list of movies to catch up on at some point. :)

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  11. Donnie Darko had such an extraordinary wind. Made a better than average film into a brilliant one.

    The Terminator films most likely position as my top choice. I recall truly loving The Final Countdown also. Dissertation Help UK Service

  12. For me, the best film about travel is the Cheavy Chase comedy, Family Vacations, it is an excellent comedy and every time I see it I get laughs at how good it is

  13. I was really excited to go see Interstellar at the movies. Nolan writing and directing a film about special exploration? It had so much potential! And I can happily say that most of that potential has been fulfilled.

    No, "Interstellar" is not a perfect film: it has a few gaps in the plot, poorly developed characters and problematic dialogues, but in general it is a very intelligent film, undeniably entertaining, visually spectacular and, like many of the works Nolan's previous ones, a production that leaves one full of questions and the desire to discuss. This is not a film that underestimates its audience, rather the opposite: you need to use your brain and pay the most attention when watching Interstellar.

  14. they were Universal's strongest bet to close the 1980s and start the 1990s. A bet that had already been settled in 1989 with results far below those expected for 'Back to the Future Part II' ('Back to the Future Part II', Robert Zemeckis) and that the end of the saga could not improve.

    If I already pointed out with 'Back to the Future II' last week that the inability to rescue the "charm" of the first part played very against the final perception of the film, with "Back to the Future III" ("Back to the Future Part III ', Robert Zemeckis, 1990) this incapacity, together with other factors that I will be commenting on in the course of this entry, make up a panorama that further distances the film from the experience that it had been to see the original film five years earlier As much as, in reality, this trip to the Wild West by Marty McFly is nothing more than a dusty mock and a spectacular climax of the scheme

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  21. Time travel movies are very good, they have an unexpected and entertaining plot, from traveling to our beginnings, to traveling 2000 years in the future

  22. Although, all these movies are very popular and interesting, I haven't watched any of them. It may sound ridiculous, but I haven't even watched Back to the Future and Interstellar.

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