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The 16 Best Movies About Time Travel

by The Playlist Staff
September 28, 2012 1:58 PM
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“Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" (1989)
Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Ted “Theodore” Logan are Wyld Stallyns in Stephen Herek’s minor classic, a sprightly, irreverent time-travel comedy about two slackers who couldn’t do anything right until hooking up with the otherworldly Rufus. The time-hopping chuckster gifts them with a phone booth that allows them to complete their class project on time, as they leap from one period to another, procuring history’s greatest figures, from Socrates to Joan of Arc. The history lessons are straight out of Mad-Libs, but the film skates by on the noted charm and chemistry of Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter as the title’s somewhat brain-dead rockers, two best friends who are united by both their love of rock, but also their unspoken support system keeping either of them from falling into an abyss of bad grades, unsupportive parents, and dead-end futures. [B+]

“Timecrimes" (2007)
Sort of a dizygotic twin to Shane Carruth's no-budget "Primer," Nacho Vigalondo's "Timecrimes" retains some of the smarts but keeps things from getting too talky/dry in a way that only someone named Nacho can do. Starring "Biutiful's" schlubby Karra Elejalde as Hector (who's more Joe the Plumber than the actual Joe the Plumber), this Spanish micro-indie kicks things off sleazily, having the protagonist pursue a naked vixen he glances in the woods surrounding his property. Suddenly attacked by a bandaged man on his way in, Hector escapes into a mysterious lab and is swindled by its resident scientist into a time-traveling gizmo. Emerging an hour earlier in the timeline, things get a bit complicated: this Hector must force Hector #2 to follow the same path he did, thus making a full-circle. Of course, nothing's that easy, and eventually another Hector appears to disorder things further. With three now vying to be the one-and-only, you've got yourself a fairly immersing thriller and one of the more fun examples in the genre. Vigalondo could've used the multiple Hectors as some sort of insight into a single human being's various facets, but he'd rather play than philosophize. Thankfully, the typically convoluted plot elements are easy enough to keep track of but hard enough to invoke that good ol' problem solving self-satisfaction as you figure it out. Polished with breezy pacing and an occasionally goofy sense of humor, the filmmaker is no Duncan Jones or Neill Blomkamp, but will probably be helming smart genre pictures just the same in due time. [B]

“Happy Accidents" (2000)
The third film from director Brad Anderson proved to be his first excursion into the kind of flawed, fascinating genre oddities that have dominated his career ever since. Sold as the kind of quirky rom-com that was ten-a-penny in the indie world even a decade ago, it comes as something of a surprise when the major flaw of Sam (Vincent D'Onofrio), the charming new lover of Ruby (Marisa Tomei), turns out to be that he claims to be a 'back-traveler,' from the year 2439. The film fully embraces its science-fiction elements, sketching out a future world that owes a little to Woody Allen's "Sleeper," but it's blended with a genuinely sweet romance. Both leads are charming -- D'Onofrio in particular makes you lament that he's spent so long in the "Law & Order" wasteland -- and there's a psychological realism that lifts it above other rom-coms. It might be a minor work, but it's also one of Anderson's most satisfying. [B]

“The Jacket" (2005)
Surviving the Gulf War despite major head trauma, veteran Jack Starks (Adrien Brody) tries to go to a home that may not exist. Instead, he finds himself involved in a hoary shooting incident that gets him sentenced to a mental institution, where he is locked in an experimental straightjacket at night that allows him to jump forward in time to romance the daughter of one of the victims of his violence. Long in-development as some sort of big studio film, the small, intimate, often willfully incomprehensible “The Jacket” spotlights a jagged series of connections between violent acts that features no direct answer as to what Starks is experiencing. Brody is suitably haunted in the lead, and Keira Knightley is affecting as the lonely woman he romances, but look out for a very pre-Bond Daniel Craig as one of the paranoid, disturbed institution members eager to get a look into Starks’ head. [B+]

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  • ChrisCool | February 23, 2013 6:33 PMReply

    Sorry to comment an old post, but how can the article's autor or the commenter didn't talk about The Butterfly Effect, which is a real time travel movie masterpiece for me. I think this movie should have been listed as well among the 16 others.
    Sorry for my bad english, not my native langage.

  • Jhonny | November 16, 2012 12:38 AMReply

    "Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel" is a simple fun nerd time travel movie, probably the one time travel movie i have watched over and over the most. Also "12:01", "Retroactive", "Run Lola Run", and "Triangle"all are more like time loops and events keep repeating.

  • KalKat | October 2, 2012 7:04 PMReply

    "Superman" The time travel plot that reversed the Earth's spin, which is ridiculous, and "Superman II" in which the director's cut uses the same gimmick.

    "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" used time travel.

    "Hot Tub Time Machine" although silly, tells of modern slackers visiting the 1980s via an obvious and weird McGuffin.

    "Primer" Did you mention that?

    "Groundhog Day" Bill Murray's lousy day repeats itself.

    "Millennium" cheesy 90s flick about a plane crash prevented by time travel, or maybe not.

    Some other time travel, reincarnation flick similar to but before Peggy Sue and it starred Glenn Close or something.

    "13 Going On 30" A modern 21st century version of Peggty Sue but in reverse, although not a great, is watchable on video.

  • kalkat | October 2, 2012 6:54 PMReply

    "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" was also a time travel musical, so there was at least one more. The couple enter 'another world long ago' in Transvestite Transylvania. It's in the so bad it's good category.

  • Gnat | October 2, 2012 5:13 PMReply

    Ahem...Doctor Who anyone?

  • Andhika | October 1, 2012 10:47 PMReply


  • Ed Griffiths | October 1, 2012 9:23 AMReply

    'THE TIME MACHINE' (1960); ahem! The clue is in the title...

  • DMC | September 30, 2012 12:11 PMReply

    Futurama: Benders Big Score was a pretty awesome time travel movie.

  • Lindhagen | September 29, 2012 10:24 PMReply

    While not a huge fan of the movie on a whole, The Time Traveler's Wife handles the concept well I think.

  • hellointernet | September 29, 2012 4:16 PMReply

    you've ruined planet of the apes for anyone who hasnt seen it
    primer is the best time travel film

  • Burnsy | September 29, 2012 8:46 AMReply

    Safety Not Guaranteed which of course isn't your normal time travel movie definitely should be noted. You honestly don't know what's up with this guy but by the end your amazed by his world and you start rooting for him.

  • happy happy joy joy | September 29, 2012 7:25 AMReply

    what about the classic time machine. George Orwell

  • ndg | September 28, 2012 8:05 PMReply

    More obscure but more entertaining than most on your list: Summer Time Machine Blues, Tomorrow I'll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea.

  • ted | September 28, 2012 5:45 PMReply

    Of course, "La Jetée" is probably the greatest time travel movie and it should have been given it's own entry, rather than just a mention under 12 Monkeys. I think Resnais' "Je t'aime, Je'taime" is superior to the other films you have listed. The only film I'd add is Hosoda's "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time," it's a wonderful anime. I wouldn't call myself a big fan, but I did enjoy Source Code and Safety Not Guaranteed.

  • callumq | September 28, 2012 3:42 PMReply

    La Jetee! Only 30 minutes long, later to be remade into 12 monkeys.

  • padre | September 28, 2012 2:59 PMReply

    "Somewhere In Time". I know some woman on your staff had to put forward that one, because guys always forget its existence. But EVERY woman ever loves that movie. Men just do not appreciate the power of that movie. It's bigger than Avatar and Titanic together to women. It is the Mt. Everest of Romantic movies. I'm kind of shocked it never got remade, since 3 generation of women would mob movie theaters, fighting to get in.

  • Archer Slyce | September 28, 2012 2:45 PMReply

    Again I'll try to avoid lengthy debates. So kudos to whoever picked Army of darkness (gutsy move indeed) but most of all thanks a lot for pointing out Time After Time ... what an great movie. It really should have been a classic.

  • rotch | September 28, 2012 2:11 PMReply

    worth noting that Primer's Shane Carruth worked as a "time-travel consultant" of sorts in Looper.

  • owdl114 | September 28, 2012 2:04 PMReply

    No Source Code? Shame about that. A terrific film that (I feel) too few people have seen.

  • DNM | September 29, 2012 4:46 AM

    Source Code was indeed an awesome movie for about 95% of its running time. But an awfully corny and irrational ending (an obvious last-minute marketing decision) makes it a barely above-average action movie, as a whole.

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