Best Time Travel Movies (Updated 2021)

Nerd Culture Buyer’s Guides Time travel movies are often some of the most charmin. If…

Time travel movies are often some of the most charmin. If you’re looking for light-hearted fare, here are the best time travel movies.

Everyone has a moment they wish they could take back. If only there was a time machine we could step into and revisit the past to undo the things that need fixing! While science hasn’t quite caught up to our desires, we can still live vicariously through characters in the best time travel movies who get to travel through the ages.

Time travel is a fun device used in a great many movies. In some, time travel is a necessity used to save the world by a strapping young hero. In others, time travel is used to comedic effect and either occurs by accident or by chance. Time travel can either be the essential piece to a story or as a side plot that’s only brought up for a few scenes. Some time travel scenes make us yell at the screen that these events aren’t scientifically correct, while the best time travel movies successfully convince us to suspend our disbelief and never make us doubt for a second that time travel is possible.

Whether you’re interested in time travel from a scientific perspective or you’re someone who simply enjoys some interesting hijinks, you’re in luck. We’ve done the research and compiled for you a list of the ten best time travel movies, all guaranteed to make you wish you had your own time machine.

Back to the Future is a heartfelt, funny, and all-around enjoyable film to watch that certainly deserves a spot on the list of best time travel movies ever made. Directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, and Lea Thompson, this PG-rated movie was released in 1985. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Original Screenplay, Best Sound, and Best Original Song, and won for Best Sound Effects. It was also selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2007.

Back to the Future follows Marty McFly, a teenager living in Hill Valley, California in 1985. Marty watches his parents, George and Lorraine, who are both unhappy with their lives and fears that he may someday become like them. One night, he meets up with his friend, an eccentric scientist named Emmett “Doc” Brown in a mall parking lot. Doc shows Marty a time machine built from a modified DeLorean car. While attempting to escape a group of Libyan terrorists from whom Doc stole plutonium to power the time machine, Marty is sent back to 1955. There, he meets younger versions of his parents and must get them to fall in love, lest he cease to exist.

Back to the Future is an iconic film featuring memorable scenes and dialogue that are still quoted to this day. With strong storytelling, good comedic timing, and a heartfelt plot, this film is perfect for all ages. Though it received mixed reviews for its ending, we think it’s still an all-around great film. At the end of the day, it is definitely one of the best time travel movies ever made.

Key Features

  • Released in 1985
  • Directed by Robert Zemeckis
  • Starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, and Lea Thompson
Specifications

  • Run Time: 1h 56min
  • Language: English
  • Rating: PG
  • Studio: Universal Pictures
Pros

  • Iconic scenes
  • Strong storytelling
  • Good comedic timing
  • Suitable for all ages
Cons

  • Received mixed reviews for its ending

Hot Tub Time Machine is a ridiculous and hilarious film that provides a refreshing take on the genre, making it one of the best time travel movies ever made. Directed by Steve Pink and starring John Cusack, Clark Duke, and Craig Robinson, this R-rated film was released in 2010. The film was a box office success, opening at number three and grossing $64.6 million worldwide. A sequel was released in 2015 that didn’t feature John Cusack and was panned by critics.

Hot Tub Time Machine follows four friends, Adam, Lou, Nick, and Jacob. Adam was just dumped by his girlfriend; Jacob, Adam’s nephew, does nothing but play video games in his basement; Nick is working a dead-end job and is neglected by his wife, and Lou is a 40-year-old party animal who had just been hospitalized for carbon monoxide poisoning. The group plans a trip to Kodiak Valley Ski Resort, where Adam, Lou, and Nick had all previously partied in their youth, and spends the night drinking in their hotel room’s hot tub. Yet, when they accidentally spill an illegal Russian energy drink on the hot tub’s panel, they wake up to find themselves transported back to the 1980s.

Hot Tub Time Machine is a fun movie with a great cast, hilarious writing, and strong pacing. Though it received mixed reviews for numerous reasons, there are interesting satirical elements of bro comedies within this film that sets it apart. Add in the fact that the plot is laugh-out-loud funny, and you’ve got a recipe for one of the best time travel movies of all time.

Key Features

  • Released in 2010
  • Directed by Steve Pink
  • Starring John Cusack, Clark Duke, and Craig Robinson
Specifications

  • Run Time: 1h 38min
  • Language: English
  • Rating: R
  • Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Pros

  • Great cast
  • Funny script
  • Strong pacing
  • Interesting satirical elements

13 Going on 30 is such a fun feel-good movie that carries a great message with it. In short, it’s obviously one of the best time travel movies of all time. Directed by Gary Winick and starring Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo, and Judy Greer, this PG-13-rated film was released in 2004. The film was a box office success, grossing over $96 million, while the film’s soundtrack charted on the top 50 of the Billboard 200. Jennifer Garner was praised by critics for her performance and the film’s overall nostalgic tone. Garner was also nominated for an MTV Movie Award and a Teen Choice Award for her role.

13 Going on 30 follows Jenna Rink, a geeky young girl who wishes she was popular like the “Six Chicks”, the clique that rules her middle school. On her 13th birthday, Jenna is given a pink dollhouse and a packet of magic wishing dust by her best friend Matty. After being humiliated by the Six Chicks, who only attended her birthday party on the promise that she does their homework for them, Jenna makes a wish to grow up and be 30. The following day, she gets her wish and must navigate her new life while figuring out what went wrong in her old one.

13 Going on 30 is a lovely film that won over the hearts of critics and audiences alike. With iconic scenes that are still quoted and remembered to this day, it’s no wonder this film is so beloved. Add in strong acting, a unique premise, and a heartfelt story, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for an amazing film. Though it can be occasionally sappy or saccharine at times, we think this is, without a doubt, one of the best time travel movies ever made.

Key Features

  • Released in 2004
  • Directed by Gary Winick
  • Starring Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo, and Judy Greer
Specifications

  • Run Time: 1h 37min
  • Language: English
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Studio: Columbia Pictures
Pros

  • Strong acting
  • Unique premise
  • Iconic scenes
  • Heartfelt story
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Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is a laugh-out-loud funny film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, making it the perfect candidate for one of the best time travel movies of all time. Directed by Stephen Herek and starring Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, and George Carlin, this PG-rated film was released in 1989. The film was a box office success despite receiving mixed reviews and spawned two sequels, two spin-off TV series, a comic book series, several video games, and a theme park event.

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure follows two dim-witted teens, Bill Preston and Ted Logan. The pair are unknowingly the inspiration behind a future utopian society, which is based entirely on their music and philosophy. In order to ensure that the future of the utopia remains secure, one of the future citizens, Rufus, is sent back in time to 1988 to help the boys pass their history class. If Rufus should fail, Ted’s father plans to ship him to a military academy, ending the boys band the “Wyld Stallyns” and forever changing history.

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is simply a fun movie. Suspend your disbelief and enjoy the silly humor and the entertaining plot. With a strong cast of actors that would go on to become Hollywood superstars and a fun hard rock soundtrack, this movie is a joy to watch. Even though it was considered rather shallow and one-note by critics, you can still have fun watching it with the family. If you’re looking for one of the best time travel movies ever made, look no further.

Key Features

  • Released in 1989
  • Directed by Stephen Herek
  • Starring Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, and George Carlin
Specifications

  • Run Time: 1h 29min
  • Language: English
  • Rating: PG
  • Studio: Orion Pictures
Pros

  • Silly humor
  • Strong cast
  • Enjoyable plot
  • Fun hard rock soundtrack
Cons

  • Rather shallow and one note

Looper is a fascinating and thought-provoking film that is certainly one of the best time travel movies ever made. Directed by Rian Johnson and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, and Emily Blunt, this R-rated film was released in 2012. The film won several awards, including the National Board of Review Award for Best Original Screenplay and several local Film Critics Association Awards for Best Original Screenplay. It was also a box office success, grossing $176 million on a $30 million budget.

Looper follows a hitman named Joe and is set in 2044, where time travel is possible, and it is used by a Kansas City crime syndicate to dispose of victims’ bodies. Joe works as a “looper” for the mob, whereby he kills and disposes of such victims. While Joe is good at his job and is considered an asset by his bosses, one day, Joe’s future self is sent back in time to be killed by him, thereby “closing the loop” and ending his contract with the mob.

Looper is a unique film with an original premise and a thought-provoking plot. Add a strong cast and an interesting blend of genres, including action, drama, and science fiction and you’ve got a fantastic movie. Though some critics claimed it didn’t live up to its dramatic potential, among other minor criticisms, we think it’s still an incredible film that’s certainly worth watching. In the end, this is simply one of the best time travel movies of all time.

Key Features

  • Released in 2012
  • Directed by Rian Johnson
  • Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, and Emily Blunt
Specifications

  • Run Time: 1h 58min
  • Language: English
  • Rating: R
  • Studio: Endgame Entertainment
Pros

  • Original premise
  • Thought-provoking plot
  • Strong cast
  • Unique blend of genres
Cons

  • Critics claimed it didn’t live up to its dramatic potential
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Groundhog Day is a funny film with a lot of heart and a unique moral message. In short, it’s certainly one of the best time travel movies of all time. Directed by Harold Ramis and starring Bill Murray, Richard Henzel, and Andie MacDowell, this PG-rated film was released in 1993. The film was nominated for several awards, including a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, and it won the BAFTA Award for Best Original Screenplay, the British Comedy Award for Best Comedy Film, and a Saturn Award for Best Actress. It also tied for runner up for Best Screenplay for the New York Film Critics Circle Awards.

Groundhog Day follows Pittsburgh TV weatherman Phil Connors, who, on February 1, travels to Punxsutawney with his producer and cameraman to cover the Groundhog Day festivities. Phil is cynical and rude, wishing that he had better assignments and more entertaining work to do than to cover puff pieces in a small town. Though he had assured his viewers that a blizzard would miss Western Pennsylvania, the blizzard strikes the area and prevents Phil from traveling out of Punxsutawney. The next day, Phil wakes up and experiences the same day as before, quickly realizing that he is trapped in a time loop that only he is aware of.

Groundhog Day is such a fun movie and a total classic. With fantastic comedic timing and a unique plot, it’s no wonder this film was beloved by audiences and critics alike. The strong directing and cast certainly overpower the mixed reviews the film received about the moral of the story. In fact, we think it is, without a doubt, one of the best time travel movies ever made.

Key Features

  • Released in 1993
  • Directed by Harold Ramis
  • Starring Bill Murray, Richard Henzel, and Andie MacDowell
Specifications

  • Run Time: 1h 41min
  • Language: English
  • Rating: PG
  • Studio: Columbia Pictures
Pros

  • Good comedic timing
  • Unique plot
  • Strong directing
  • Great cast
Cons

  • Mixed reviews about moral
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Primer is a philosophical and scientific masterpiece that will stay with you long after you’ve finished watching it. Because of this, it certainly deserves a spot on the list of best time travel movies. Directed by Shane Carruth and also starring Shane Carruth and David Sullivan, this PG-13-rated film was released in 2004. The film won the Grand Jury Prize and the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at Sundance Film Festival, along with the Best Feature Prize at the London International Festival of Science Fiction.

Primer follows two engineers named Aaron and Abe. They supplement their day jobs with tech projects that they work on with their friends and spend much of their time in Aaron’s garage, tinkering with technology. One day, they accidentally invent what they believe to be a time machine. Abe builds a stable time-apparatus capable of transporting a human subject and puts their invention to the test. When things seem to work, the pair begin to obsess over their creation, revealing dark consequences to their actions.

Primer is a fascinating film that will certainly provoke deep discussions with your fellow movie watchers. With a unique premise and a thought-provoking plot, this intellectual and scientific film features realistic characters too. Though many criticized it for being too dense at times, it’s still worth a watch. If you’re looking for a movie that will make you think and be fun to see, look no further, because this is one of the best time travel movies ever made.

Key Features

  • Released in 2004
  • Directed by Shane Carruth
  • Starring Shane Carruth and David Sullivan
Specifications

  • Run Time: 1h 17min
  • Language: English
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Studio: StudioCanal
Pros

  • Thought-provoking plot
  • Unique premise
  • Intellectual and scientific
  • Realistic characters
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The Terminator is an iconic film that spawned one of the best film franchises of all time. For this reason and more it belongs on the list of best time travel movies of all time. Directed by James Cameron and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, and Lance Henriksen, this R-rated film was released in 1984. The film helped launch the careers of James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger and led to a series of sequel films, a TV series, a comic book series, a series of novels, and a video game series. It was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2008.

The Terminator follows a cyborg assassin known as a “Terminator”, as it travels back in time from 2029 to 1984 on a mission to kill a woman named Sarah Connor. Arriving shortly after the Terminator, Kyle Reese is a human soldier sent back in time to protect Sarah. Kyle explains that an artificial intelligence system known as Skynet is coming and that it will spark a nuclear holocaust. Skynet has targeted Sarah in the hopes of killing her, as they have discovered that her unborn son will someday lead a rebellion against them. Though chased and attacked by the seemingly unstoppable Terminator, Kyle attempts to keep Sarah safe.

The Terminator is a fantastic science fiction film with a compelling story, a unique premise, and strong acting from the entire cast. With iconic scenes that are infinitely quotable and incredible action sequences, it’s forgiven that the special effects are a tad dated. In the end, we know this is, without a doubt, one of the best time travel movies ever made.

Key Features

  • Released in 1984
  • Directed by James Cameron
  • Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, and Lance Henriksen
Specifications

  • Run Time: 1h 47min
  • Language: English
  • Rating: R
  • Studio: Orion Pictures
Pros

  • Compelling story
  • Strong acting
  • Iconic scenes
  • Fantastic action sequences
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Star Trek is a refreshing take on one of TV’s most beloved series that became an instant success for its blend of humor, action, and romance. It definitely belongs on the list of best time travel movies ever made. Directed by J. J. Abrams and starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Zoe Saldana, this PG-13-rated film was released in 2009. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Sound Editing, Best Sound, Best Visual Effects, and Best Makeup. It even became the first Star Trek film to receive an Academy Award when it won for Best Makeup. It was also nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture.

Star Trek follows two members of the Starfleet Academy, a young rebellious officer named James T. Kirk and a logical and intelligent Vulcan named Spock. When a distress signal is broadcast from planet Vulcan, the pair joins Captain Christopher Pike and a small crew aboard the USS Enterprise, a sophisticated starship on its maiden voyage. Unfortunately, this mission will bring them head to head with a Romulan commander named Nero and his ship Narada. Nero plans to destroy several planets and all of humanity in the hopes of getting revenge for the murder of his family.

Star Trek is a near-perfect reboot of an iconic series with a strong plot, incredible special effects, and fun action sequences. Add in great humor, and even diehard fans of the original series can get on board. Though not every fan was pleased with the changes, we believe this film is still simply one of the best time travel movies of all time.

Key Features

  • Released in 2009
  • Directed by J. J. Abrams
  • Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Zoe Saldana
Specifications

  • Run Time: 2h 6min
  • Language: English
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Studio: Paramount Pictures
Pros

  • Strong plot
  • Incredible special effects
  • Fun action sequences
  • Good use of humor
Cons

  • Might not live up to original Star Trek fans’ expectations
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Safety Not Guaranteed is a weird little film that has a whole lot of heart. For its unexpectedness, humor, and more, it deserves a spot on the list of best time travel movies of all time. Directed by Colin Trevorrow and starring Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, and Jake Johnson, this R-rated film was released in 2012. The film was inspired by a joke classified ad that ran in Backwoods Home Magazine in 1997. It was nominated for several awards, and won an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay. It also won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance Film Festival.

Safety Not Guaranteed follows Darius Britt, a disaffected college graduate working as an intern for Seattle Magazine while living at home with her widowed father. When one of the magazine’s writers proposes an investigation of a newspaper classified ad that calls for someone to go back in time with the writer, Darius is asked to join the team. The group travels to the seaside community of Ocean View where they find Kenneth Calloway, the grocery store stock clerk who wrote the ad. Darius is tasked with getting to know Kenneth in the hopes of profiling him.

Safety Not Guaranteed is an incredible film with strong acting, a heartfelt story, and a unique premise. The emotions you will feel during the duration of this film are powerful and range from laughter and happiness to melancholy and embarrassment. Though some complained of the occasionally slow pacing, it’s still a fantastic film that is certainly worth watching. If you’re into a more indie take on the genre, look no further, because this is one of the best time travel movies ever made.

Key Features

  • Released in 2012
  • Directed by Colin Trevorrow
  • Starring Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, and Jake Johnson
Specifications

  • Run Time: 1h 25min
  • Language: English
  • Rating: R
  • Studio: Duplass Brothers Productions
Pros

  • Strong acting
  • Unique premise
  • Fun and funny
  • Heartfelt story

Time travel movies are fascinating for so many reasons, the primary of which is that so many of us wish we could go back in time or forward to see our futures. While it’s sad that we might never have the opportunity to experience time travel for ourselves, the good news is that we get to see all of the joy and fear and heartbreak play out on the big screen.

Elements of Time Travel Movies

There are so many special elements of time travel movies that make them intriguing and entertaining to us. One of the biggest and most important elements is that the main character must learn a lesson from his or her time travel experience. While it might be entertaining to simply watch a person travel through time without any consequences, it’s much more rewarding to watch said character mess up and learn something. For example, many time travel movies explore the consequences of someone abusing time travel power. The ability to travel through time is a godlike power and has to be used respectfully and in a way that won’t mess up the original timeline. Therefore, if the character does fool around and make a mistake, they have to learn their lesson and work to fix what they’ve broken.

Another possible lesson to be learned through a time travel movie is “be careful what you wish for”. Many time travel movies involve a character wishing to travel through time and then experiencing what that’s like (spoiler alert: it’s almost never what they expected it to be). In this case, the character must work to get back to their original timeline, usually doing so only after they’ve fixed their mistakes and learned to appreciate their original life.

Science of Time Travel Movies

While time travel is fun to think about and hope for, the reality is that it’s a lot more complicated than just poofing a character to another time and teaching them a lesson. Time travel is a tricky plot device to use because we aren’t completely sure about the science behind it yet. For the most part, nearly all of the movies that feature time travel would cause catastrophic damage to the fabric of time because characters go back and interact with others (even their former or future selves). Even if a character does something as small as moving a chair or delaying a train, it can trigger a butterfly effect that causes horrible accidents or prevents important people from being born.

In order to have true and sound time travel in a film, the character would have to do nothing and interact with no one, only appearing as a silent observer of the past or future events. Yet, this wouldn’t make an interesting film, now would it? Therefore, for the purpose of time travel movies, we all must suspend our disbelief. And while it might be hard, in the end, it’s certainly fun, because time travel movies are a blast to watch.

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