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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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The Terminator

“The Terminator" (1984)
James Cameron’s iconic sci-fi action thriller is not strictly a time-travel oriented film but the adage does factor significantly into the entire saga. For those who have not seen the film, this writer is about to spoil the franchise. Scrappy and resourceful Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) is sent back in time to save one Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), mother of John Connor, the leader of a human resistance in a desolate future where artificial intelligence has blossomed and corrupted into a death factory bent on the eradication of humanity. What follows is a series of brilliantly escalating set pieces as Kyle and Sarah are pursued by The Terminator (future governor Arnold Schwarzenegger), a full-on killing machine. Time travel is rarely mentioned in the film, but the echoes of Kyle’s trip reverberate throughout the films that followed and permanently impact the fate of Sarah and her unborn child. Also, the glimpses of the future that Cameron does show are nifty, though eclipsed by the sequel’s massive visual overhaul. [A-]

Time After Time

“Time After Time" (1979)
Having already teamed Sherlock Holmes and Sigmund Freud with his script for "The Seven-Per-Cent Solution," writer Nicholas Meyer paired another duo of Victorian figures for his directorial debut, sending H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) to San Francisco in 1979 in pursuit of Jack the Ripper (David Warner) for "Time After Time." It's a thoroughly odd picture, the kind that would be unlikely to be greenlit today -- a strange blend of fish-out-of-water comedy, romance and serial-killer thriller. Meyer can't always make the tones work together, but for the most part it's a rather charming concoction, aided in no small part by its cast. McDowell, now best remembered for his villainous roles, is a noble, gentlemanly hero, Mary Steenburgen, as his liberated love interest, is quite lovely, and David Warner turns in the first of his two great time-hopping villains as Ripper, who is much more home in the 1970s, where he declares "90 years ago, I was a freak. Now... I'm an amateur." Few films make better use of San Francisco as a location as well. Not a classic. by any means, but a firmly enjoyable way to spend a rainy afternoon. [B]

Time Bandits

“Time Bandits" (1981)
Of all the remakes on the horizon, the recent announcement that Terry Gilliam's "Time Bandits" was to be re-envisioned as an 'action franchise' is perhaps the most depressing, simply because the original is such a distinct, never-to-be-repeated piece of work, one that would be noted to death if put through today's development process. Following 11-year-old Kevin as he's thrust onto a quest with six thieving, time-traveling dwarfs, who've stolen a map of time from their former employer, the Supreme Being -- a map also desired by the simply-named Evil (David Warner). The time travel aspect is principally an excuse for a series of wonderful A-list cameos from the likes of John Cleese and Sean Connery, but the film's really a fairy tale, and one with as much wonder (the giant's appearance remains a thrill to this day) and darkness (the ending, which sees Kevin's parents exploding, leaving him alone) as you'd hope for. The performances across the board are gems, particularly Warner's hilarious villain, as is the who's who of diminutive actors that play our heroes (particularly the much-missed David Rappaport as their leader, Randall). It's a little rough around the edges, to be sure, but in this case it's firmly part of the charm. [A]


“Timecop" (1994)
Based on the obscure, Dark Horse comic line, this Sam Raimi-produced actioner takes place in a near future, where a time-travel agent must regulate the usage of the deadly technology, only to see it fall into the wrong hands of a slimy politician. As far as Jean Claude Van Damme action pictures go, this is one of the better ones, with an inventive premise and a solid director in Peter Hyams, who knew how to best spotlight Van Damme’s prehensile athleticism and reptilian sexuality. The highlight of the fairly campy actioner -- which inspired a failed TV show and DVD franchise -- is the late Ron Silver as the twisted Senator McComb, a standout in a crowded field of icky '90s-era bad guys, his sinister coif of hair and designer suits showcasing a character actor reveling in his shot at action movie immortality. [B]

Honorable Mentions: The birth of the genre can be traced back to two pieces of fiction: H.G. Wells' “The Time Machine" and Mark Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court." Both have seen a number of screen translations -- George Pal's 1960s version of the former holds up well, certainly far better than the 2002 Guy Pearce-starring take (directed by a descendant of Wells himself), while a 1949 take on the Twain tale is also worth a watch. The Martin Lawrence vehicle "Black Knight," which cribs from the story? Not so much.

“Berkeley Square" was perhaps the first true time-travel film, but remains virtually unseen today, while "Brigadoon" has the honor of being perhaps the only time-hopping musical. Alain Resnais' "Je t'aime, Je t'aime" is pretty terrific as well, while Peter Fonda's "Idaho Transfer" is something of an oddity, let down by the performances, but still worth a watch.

The French rom-com "Peut-etre" looks beautiful, but doesn't quite work, while both 1951's Tyrone Power vehicle "I'll Never Forget You"/"The House on the Square" and "Il Mare" make valid contributions to the romantic time-travel sub-genre. The "Star Trek" movies frequently play with the concept, most notably in "The Voyage Home," "First Contact" and J.J. Abrams' 2009 reboot. What have we missed? Send us an email last week, we'll add it before we publish it.

-- Cory Everett, Oliver Lyttelton, Kimber Myers, Gabe Toro, Christopher Bell, Danielle Johnsen, Mark Zhuravsky

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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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