Newtonian laws of physics.
The curvature of space or spacetime.
Those words will either have you scratching your head in puzzlement or bouncing up and down with excitement. I mean, the word quantum alone would generally have sent me running for the hills, physics; in fact science as a whole, was never my forte. I was happy passing science at school with C/B grades and putting the whole ordeal behind me after GCSE. I was happier spending my time writing lyrics and recording videos than memorising formulas; and yet, I could narrate most of The Time Machine (1960) by the age of 9, knew I wanted a DeLorean from even before then and could explain what ‘spacetime’ referred to before I’d even memorised my times tables.
In case you’re wondering, spacetime =
The four-dimensional “fabric” that results when space and time are unified. (Although I couldn’t explain it that well as a kid).
How did I use this natural curiosity in time travel and everything associated with it?
I watched a hell of a lot of films; that’s how, and you know what?
I’m OK with that.
So, how much of a time-travel movie buff are you? We’re leaving TV shows, comic books and novels out of the equation … for now. Here’s all the time-travel films I would say are worth your time. I’ve probably forgotten some along the way, either that or I didn’t want to add them to the list for some reason, feel free to give me a shout and let me know what you think is missing.
Time Travel 101
Everyone needs to start somewhere and we won’t be too judgemental, but seriously if you haven’t watched these films, then you really have some catching up to do. We would advise you don’t proceed until you’ve ticked them all off, you obviously don’t have the basics down and that could result in some pretty devastating effects, who knows, you might just erase yourself from existence … or worse.
The Time Machine (1960) – The film that turned a generation of nerds into even bigger nerds based on a book that did the same, way before being a nerd was a thing. A man creates a time machine and goes forward in time. What could possibly go wrong? Well, the remake wasn’t that great for one thing, but if you’re feeling adventurous you could give the 2002 version a go too, it stars Guy Pearce and well… it’s just a bit depressing to be honest.
The Terminator – A humanoid cyborg from the year 2029 is sent to the year 1984 to assassinate a waitress. It stars Arnold Schwarzenegger; and there’s a bunch more stuff you should probably know, but why ruin the ride? I suggest watching the initial trilogy, then if you become a die hard fan and don’t mind ruining every memory you ever had of the franchise, you could watch the later releases.
Groundhog Day – If this film teaches you one thing it’s this; you really don’t want to get stuck in a time loop. Bill Murray play a weatherman, unfortunately, he finds himself living the same day over and over, and over, and over … you get the idea. It’s a fun ride and a film you should definitely watch, unfortunately, it was also one of my father’s favourite films growing up, I’m not sure I can handle watching it through again, I’ve just done it too many times.
Back To The Future – I doubt I need to tell you much about this film, but just in case, here it is. A 17 year old boy goes back in time and it’s one hell of an adventure. Plus, there’s a time travelling DeLorean. Have I said enough? Once you start, you just can’t stop, so you might as well polish off the trilogy whilst you’re at it, but be warned, things get a bit shaky during the third instalment.
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure – Two dumb teens, a history assignment and a time machine. Excellent! Did I mention it also stars Keanu Reeves as one of the teens? The sequel is also 100% recommended. You won’t regret it.
Time Traveller’s Apprentice
Congratulations, you survived the initiation. You’ve not only shown an interest in time and space, you are also aware of the basic rules and perils involved in travelling through time; basically, don’t get stuck in a time loop and don’t mess up the past because the future can get hella scary. Now it’s time to end with the cute charades and show you the scary side of it all, I mean, things can get really fucked up. Don’t give up though, once you’ve got these down, you’re on the road to being a pro.
Tomorrowland – Yes, it’s a Disney film, it stars George Clooney and Hugh Laurie; it hasn’t had much hype and yes; it sounds like a theme park ride at Disneyland, but it’s actually pretty good! A teen and a former boy genius try and find a place that exists somewhere is space and time… or in their memories, you figure it out.
When We First Met – One of the newbies to the list, it’s a Netflix original film starring Adam Devine (Workaholics). A guy gets ‘friend-zoned’ and has to watch the girl he loves get married. He ends up finding a time machine, going back to the night they met and trying to win her heart over and over again. It’s a fun watch, if not an entirely original idea.
Click – Adam Sandler teaches you what NOT do if you find a remote that can fast forward time. It sounds dumb, but it’s a genuinely deep film that might even make you shed a tear, oh and there’s Christopher Walken.
Land of the Lost (2009) – I know it’s a remake and yes, I would still recommend watching the original which came out in 1974, however, the remake is such a fun film! I mean, how could it not be, Will Ferrell just knees me in the funny bone most of the time. He plays a Doctor who; along with his research assistant and a survivalist, get sucked into a space-time vortex. It’s pretty silly, but highly enjoyable.
Looper – In 2074, the Mafia has a pretty outlandish approach to getting rid of unwanted people. They send them back to the past where someone else kills them. Needless to say, things obviously get complicated. This is a great film starring Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon Levitt and overall, an outstanding cast and a trippy ride. I was going to show you the trailer, but it seriously makes the film look crap, so I didn’t.
Flight Of The Navigator – Another one of those films I watched to death as a kid, unlike some of the others though, I’m actually not bored of it yet. In 1978 a boy travels 8 years into the future and has an adventure with an alien spaceship. I mean, you really can’t go wrong with an 80’s family sci-fi film can you?
Source Code – A soldier (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up inside someone else’s body. He is told he’s part of a special program and his task is to identify a bomber who blew up a commuter train just outside of Chicago that very morning. Unfortunately, this task also involves re-living the 8 minutes prior to the explosion over and over again. It’s like Groundhog Day meets Mission Impossible, minus Tom Cruise, what’s not to like?
Hot Tub Time Machine – I think the title pretty much sums it up nicely; but, in case you need further persuasion. A man (John Cusack), two of his friends and his younger cousin go to a ski resort. They end up in a hot tub which takes them back to 1986 where they relive events from their youth. It’s stupid, it’s fun and it’s probably not family friendly. Oh and there’s a sequel, so you have double to fun.
The Time Traveller’s Wife – Time-travel might sound like an amazing power, but when you’re born with a gene that causes you to involuntarily travel through time, things obviously get complicated. Add marriage into the equation and it all begins to get pretty teary.
Star Trek (2009) – Trek fans are no newbies when it comes to time-travel and this reboot proves it. James T Kirk (Chris Pine) tries to live up to his father’s legacy, Mr Spock tries to keep him in line and an angry Romulan opens a black hole from the future to fuck stuff up.
If this is your first step into the Star Trek universe, it’s still completely enjoyable as a stand alone film; so don’t be put off, although we would definitely suggest watching the sequels and then going back and watching as many of the originals as you can, you will absolutely learn a tip or two when it comes to time-travel.
Edge Of Tomorrow – Tom Cruise plays a soldier who, whilst off fighting aliens, ends up stuck in a time lop reliving the same day over and over. It might seem like an overused plot line, especially within the confines of this list, but I’ve actually heard the book this is based on is pretty damn good too!
13 Going On 30 – A teenage girl makes a wish on her 13th birthday and wakes up as her 30 year old self. Starring Jennifer Garner and Mark Ruffalo, it’s a feel good family film that is actually pretty re-watchable.
17 Again – Kind of like the film above, other than it’s a man wishing he was… you guessed it, 17 again. It’s worth a watch for Zac Efron alone and it’s a great family film, but don’t expect it to be that memorable. Friends star, Matthew Perry stars as a grown-up Efron, making for a healthy hit of Chandler Bing nostalgia.
Happy Death Day – Another newcomer and another Groundhog Day-esque film, however, this time it also pays tribute to films like Scream, Final Destination and I Know What You Did Last Summer. It’s a fun film that actually manages to take a tired story line and manages to keep it pretty interesting.
Certified Time Traveller
You’ve done it! You are now a certified time traveller, not only are you aware of the dangers involved in time-travel, you can also navigate round them. Well, at least 50% of the time. You can also explain complicated narratives, foresee upcoming plot twists and every once in a while, actually have a good time, you know, dinosaurs and stuff! I think it’s time we push things up to the next gear, what’s the worst that can happen!
WARNING: PASSING THIS POINT MAY LEAD TO ADDICTION
12 Monkeys (1995) – In the future; a convict is sent back in time to gather information about a man made virus which wiped out most of humanity. This is a great film with an outstanding cast, including, Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe and Brad Pitt and directed by Terry Gilliam, who is no stranger to time travel themes.
Donnie Darko – If you can wrap your head around this film, then you are truly on your way to becoming a time lord. This was one of my favourite films for an incredibly long time and it’s probably best I don’t give too much away. It star Jake Gyllenhaal, it has a man in a bunny suit and it features a weird series of events. I guess it’s kind of like Marmite, you’ll either love it, or you’ll hate it, either way, the cast is great, the soundtrack is gorgeous and it’s worth at least giving a go. P.S. Don’t ruin the experience by attempting to watch the sequel, it’s really not worth it.
The Butterfly Effect – A teenage boy grows up suffering from terrible blackouts, as he gets older he learns he can access those memories and change everything. Another one of my favourite films growing up, probably because it stars Ashton Kutcher and as a teenager I was obsessed with That 70’s Show (shame it’s been tarnished so much with time).
P.S. If you’re expecting a family film, you are going to be disappointed. Your children might end up crying or learning words you might want to avoid them know for another few years.
Timecrimes – An incredible film that some people will have missed simply because it’s Spanish and subtitles are hard work. Don’t, it’s actually really good and you will be missing out. A man accidentally gets in a time machine, travels back about an hour and… everything goes wrong.
ARQ – I really don’t want to give much away with this film, it’s really worth watching, at least once. It involves a time loop and a couple trying to protect an energy source that could save humankind.
The Jacket (2005) – I found this an absolute headfuck the first time I watched it, then grew to love it after subsequent re-watching. A gulf war veteran (Adrien Brody) is wrongly sent to an insane asylum and gets experimented on. I won’t give much more away, but give it a watch.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time – Anime film in which a high school girl gains the power to travel through time. Far from being a children’s film, it really plays with your emotions, asks some pretty important questions and is incredibly good. There’s also a live action version of this, it’s worth a watch, but only after the anime.
Time Bandits – Directed by Terry Gilliam; and, although one of his most straight forward films, still a strange and wonderful journey. A boy joins a gang of time travelling dwarves and they jump around time stealing treasure, what’s there not to love? This is a cult status 80s fantasy movie, so a must-watch regardless.
Midnight in Paris – This is a great film, has a great cast and is utterly beautiful to watch; and yet, it never got as much recognition as it probably deserved. Whilst on a holiday to Paris, a screenwriter (Owen Wilson) finds himself travelling back in time to 1920’s everyday at midnight, mingling with iconic artists of the day including Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and Salvador Dali.
The Forbidden Kingdom – A Kung Fu obsessed teen from the States gets transported back to ancient China, joins a band of warriors lead by Jackie Chan and ends up on an adventure to save the imprisoned Monkey King. Super fun film that you don’t have to take too seriously, which is kind of refreshing after some of the other films in this section.
Frequency (2000) – A father and son find a way to communicate through time via a radio. It all gets pretty emotional, things go wrong, mistakes are made. It’s worth a watch and quickly became one of my father’s favourite films (which unfortunately means I’ve watched it to death).
Expert Time-Lord: Achievement Unlocked
OK, I think you might want to slow down a bit, you might just be becoming addicted to time-travel. What the hell am I talking about, let’s just see this through, I’m sure it will come in handy someday.
Time After Time (1979) – H.G. Wells has built his infamous time machine, but before he can use it, Jack The Ripper beats him to it, escaping into the future. I mean, I was convinced as soon as I read the synopsis and you should be too. Starring a few faces you might recognise.
Primer – Ever wanted to start a business with friends? Well, it all goes wrong for these four budding entrepreneurs when they accidentally, maybe, kind of, well … build a time machine? A great example of low-budget cinema done well.
Safety Not Guaranteed – A guy places a classified ad seeking a companion for time travel. I know what you’re thinking. We would both jump at the opportunity. Instead, three magazine employees get sent out to interview him, because, obviously he’s crazy, right? [EDITORS NOTE: Watched 20 seconds of trailer, how have I not watched this before!?]
Dimensions (2011) – A young man becomes obsessed with finding a way back to his past. It’s based in Cambridge, England and set in 1921. It’s probably best not to give much more away, but it’s certainly worth a watch.
Predestination – Ethan Hawke play an agent who’s about to carry out his final assignment. We know how that goes right? Add time-travel into the equation and things get interesting to say the least.
Lucid Dream – A newcomer from South Korea, one you’ve probably missed but definitely shouldn’t have. We don’t want to give much away, but a journalists son goes missing and he will do whatever it takes to get him back. It’s like a Korean sci-fi ‘Taken’, just minus the sexy sounding phone calls.
Fetching Cody – Jay Baruchel fans! Have you watched this one? If you’re expecting a barrel of laughs and maybe a Seth Rogen guest appearance; well, let’s just say you’re in for a surprise. A drug addicted dealer finds his girlfriend overdosed on heroin, so he travel back in time and tries to save her.
About Time – At age 21, Tim finds out he can travel-in time, so he does what every guy his age would do and tries to get a girlfriend. I wonder how that will work out? This is a funny film with a great cast and it definitely deserves some more attention.
Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel – If you’re after something a bit more light-hearted, this might just be it. Three guys in a British pub attempt to solve a time-travel conundrum. We’ll leave it at that and you can let us know what you thought afterwards.
Time Lapse (2014) – This has no relation to the 2001 film with the same name. Sorry to disappoint any die-hard thriller fans hoping for a revamp. This film focuses on three friends who discover a time machine which can take photos twenty-four hours into the future. They obviously try and use it to further their own gain and, it obviously goes wrong.
If you’ve made it this far and have watched most of the films mentioned; then you, like us, have the time-travel bug. In fact, there’s a slight possibility that by this point you might just be your own father; or, be about to disappear from existence all together. We will give you one thing though, you know how to navigate your way around a wormhole. Got any recommendations for a fellow traveller?
I will keep this updated with new films that come out as and when I can. Next on the list is A Wrinkle In Time, I’ll let you know what I think once I’ve watched it. For more film and television recommendations visit this category page on this site.
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