Top Twelve Time Travel Movies
This list will prove that this enjoyable genre isn’t afraid to let things get multi-hyphenated and is more than fertile ground for anything from comedy, to horror, to action, to romance, to social commentary.
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Jess: ‘I feel like I know this place….’
From the director of Severance comes this tale of an unmanned boat, a time paradox and a murderer. With a huge kill count and fervent pace, this ‘murder on the Marie Celeste’ type tale is just spooky enough to make the list. Melissa George stars.
11. The Time Machine
Filby: ‘If that machine does what you say it can do, destroy it, George! Destroy it before it destroys you!’
H.G Wells’ kitsch classic sees him travel forward in time to face the savage Morlocks and pacifist Eloi. Winning an Oscar for its timelapse photography in 1960, its effects may not amaze today but it remains a great yarn and the lightbulb eyed Morlocks still frighten. Not the Stephen Spielberg one.
10. Happy Accidents
Ruby: ‘Religion goes out of favour in 2033 when science discovers the gene that regulates fear.’
Some time travel films don’t exactly contain a lot of time travel; now there’s a paradox for you! This gentle tale from purveyor of genre oddities Brad Anderson beats the time-displaced socks off The Time Traveller’s Wife. After a string of ne’er-do-wells and broken boyfriends, Ruby (Marisa Tomei) meets the perfect guy in Sam (Vincent D’Onofrio).
There’s just one problem: he’s convinced that he’s travelled back in time from the year 2470. Terrified by everything from small dogs to vegetables (neither of which exist in the future), is Sam just an increasingly odd kook, boyfriend material or just plain crazy? Can Ruby break her unlucky streak with men? Can her therapist help? A charming indie comedy with a clever dose of sci-fi, set in New York.
Big Bob: ‘Up until now everything around here has been, well, pleasant. Recently, certain things have become unpleasant. Now, it seem to me that the first thing we have to do is to separate out the things that are pleasant from the things that are unpleasant.’
Through the teevee screen and into the alternative 1950s sitcom Pleasantville via magical remote, modern teenagers David (Toby Maguire) and Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) must pretend to be Bud and Mary Sue Parker while they try figure a way out.
In a beautiful achievement of cinematography, gradually David and Jennifer’s influence on the quiet town see things change from black and white to glorious Technicolor. But are the repressed ways of the old fashioned town preferable to the kids’ liberal ’90s existence? A wonderful satire of America’s moral convictions.
8. Army of Darkness
Arthur: ‘Are all men from the future loud-mouth braggarts?’
Ash: ‘Nope. Just me baby… Just me.’
The finale to Raimi’s Cult Trilogy isn’t everyone’s cup of Necronomicon Ex-Mortis but if zany violence, body horror and Bruce Campbell are your bag, Army of Darkness won’t steer you wrong. Transported to the year 1300 AD, Ash continues his battle against the Deadite army with the help of his chainsaw arm and trusty boomstick.
7. La Jetée
Narrator: ‘They begin again. The man doesn’t die, nor does he go mad. He suffers. They continue.’
Not the original time travel talkie (that award goes to the obscure but recently rediscovered Frank Lloyd film Berkeley Square) but perhaps one of the most significant.
The inspiration behind many time travel films, including most obviously Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys, this French art film is a startlingly effective 28 minutes long. In a post-apocalyptic present, scientists experiment on prisoners, sending them to different points in time hoping that they find something that can help.
Our protagonist (Davos Hanich) remembers something from his childhood; a woman, a man, murder, sent forward and back in time he falls in love, but can he escape his captors? Told solely through narration and photographic montage, La Jetée remains entrancing today.
6. Donnie Darko
Donnie: ‘I made a new friend.’
Dr. Lilian Thurman: ‘Real or imaginary?’
Time travel is full of paradoxes with no film illustrating it more so than Donnie Darko. This clever sleeper hit has a spectacular cast including Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Noah Wyle, Drew Barrymore and the late, great Patrick Swayze. Key words: Teen Angst, Time Travel, Cellar Door.
5. Bill and Ted
‘History is about to be rewritten by two guys who can’t even spell.’
Be it their Bogus Journey or Excellent Adventures, the films of Bill S. Preston Esq. And Ted Theodore Logan comprise some of the most fun time travel flicks out there. Along the way they meet Billy the Kid, The Grim Reaper, Joan of Arc, Socrates, Abraham Lincoln and Genghis Khan. There’s even rumour of a 3rd film. Most Triumphant!
4. Groundhog Day
Phil: ‘I’m a god.’
Rita: ‘You’re God?’
Phil: ‘I’m a god. I’m not *the* God… I don’t think.’
Pugnacious weatherman Phil Connors travels to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania for its annual Groundhog Day but can’t seem to leave. With Phil waking up to the melodious strains of Sonny and Cher’s ‘I Got You Babe’ on the same day in an unending loop, Groundhog Day treads a tightrope between nihilism and heart not commonly found in cinema. Cuddly curmudgeon Bill Murray learns the error of his ways in this cult classic.
3. Run Lola Run
Herr Schuster: ‘The ball is round, a game lasts 90 minutes, everything else is pure theory. Off we go!’
Run Lola Run may not strictly be time travel, but it certainly plays with the idea of time, and even includes a clever homage to La Jetée in its photo-montage extrapolations of future events.
In this fast paced film, Franka Potente as Lola runs through three possible scenarios with a plethora of different outcomes in order to help her boyfriend Manni (Morritz Bliebtreu) retrieve 100,000 Deutsch Marks before his criminal boss finds out. They don’t come more high octane than this.
Héctor: ‘It’s okay, we still have a while before it starts raining.’
This Spanish thriller from Oscar nominated director Nacho Vigalondo starts out in lazy humdrum domesticity but quickly escalates into a thriller as taut as anything Hitchcock has ever offered. Karra Elajalde plays Héctor, a middle aged man who’s just moved abode into the
Spanish countryside with his wife Clara when things begin to go awry. Who’s the mysterious woman in the woods? Or the man with the bandaged face? When Héctor accidentally travels back in time, what can he do to stop the terrible things that have occurred? Without a plot hole to be seen, everything in Timecrimes is wrapped up so tight it’s almost astonishing.
1. It’s a Wonderful Life
George Bailey: ‘I wanna live again!’
Not strictly time travel, you say? Well, much of a metaphysical muchness between that and a journey into how a possible past that doesn’t include you would turn out, guided by an amusing angel on the eve of your attempted suicide, says I.
Often as dark a film as it is heart-warming Jimmy Stewart out Jimmy Stewarts himself as banker George Bailey who fights to keep the Bailey Building and Loan company out of the hands of the unscrupulous Mr Potter.
A parable about greedy bankers versus community values and more than enough to see anyone through a recession, interestingly enough were it not for a slip of a pen (or rather a oversight by a clerk in Republic Pictures), it wouldn’t have accidentally fallen into the public domain in 1974 (years after its original debut) enabling TV studios to air it sans charge and ushering it in as a Christmas classic.