My Top 5 Time-Travel Movies

With the release of Looper last weekend I have been on quite the time-travel kick as I have been thinking about some of my very favorite movies on time-travel. I’ll make no bones about it; I love time-travel movies. Even if they are absolutely terrible I’ll at least give it a watch because the concept is so intriguing to me. I highly recommend everyone who get a chance to check out Looper because more so than most time-travel movies, it gets it right. How time-travel works is generally not what the point of time-travel movies are, but it is the stories that become possible because of the time-travel. Whether it be meeting your parents when they were younger, saving the world from disease, or trying to get rich off of foreknowledge, time-travel movies have given us some great movies. Here are 5 of my absolute favorite takes on time-travel(this list excludes Looper which would easily crack the list)

The Time Machine(1960 &2002)

Both of these movies are adaptions of the classic novel of the same name by by H.G Welles. The 1960 is by far the superior adaption and film as it is more consistent in its vision. The 2002 version is actually a mess, but there is actually quite a few things that I really like about it. In the 2002 film starring Guy Pierce, the main character Alexander loses the love of his life and in attempt to get her back he becomes obsessed and eventually succeeds in building a time machine that he hopes to use to save her. Initially he succeeds, but his love Emma is killed in a different way even after he saves her. In an attempt to figure out if he can save her he travels to the future. I find this motivation for a man building a time machine far more convincing than the original film in which a man inexplicably invents a time machine. The 2002 adaption also had many really cool ideas that unfortunately need to be tighter and more refined. The movie is actually pretty solid until you reach the morlock ruled future where the movie essentially jumps ship in terms of storytelling. The original film however does an excellent job at exploring the ideas of human evolution, social class, and even human nature. The poor go underground to survive events of apocalyptic proportion while the wealthy stay in shelters on the surface. Eventually after thousands of years of evolution the poor have evolved into strong powerful beings known as morlocks while the wealthy evolved into a very soft and weak species. This is a great story about the evolution of human beings that hasn’t quite been tapped into by any other time-travel movie as well as these two have.

12 Monkeys

12 Monkeys is a terrific time-travel movie that not only explores the concept, but also explores how time-traveling can affect the psychology of the traveler. In the movie, Bruce Willis plays James Cole who travels back in time to investigate what caused the disease that killed billions and forced the human race to move underground. When Cole is sent back he tries to warn people in the past of the attack(allegedly staged by the Army of the 12 Monkeys) as he is simultaneously looking for evidence. This talk doesn’t give him long before he is sent to an insane asylum because of his seemingly insane claims. For most of the movie Cole is trying to figure out whether he is really from the future or if he is just crazy, and while the movie obviously points out which is true, it is interesting to see Cole struggle with his mission and identity as he is being bounced around in time. Another really cool aspect of the time-travel used in this movie is that it is shown to be imprecise as Cole actually misses the date he was supposed to be sent to multiple times sometimes bey more than sixty years. If you take this incredibly rich idea and bring in Terry Gillaim’s always odd but provoking direction and mix it with the performances of Willis and Brad Pitt(who plays a psychopathic son of a politician) you have a really great movie that is deep enough to give incentive to second viewings. This is a film any fan of science-fiction or time-travel should consider an absolute essential.


Primer is an independent film that was first released in 2004 that was written/directed/produced by a software designer with an undergrad degree in mathematics. His unique background made for a very interesting take on time-travel that lead to a very complex yet seemingly sound take on how time travel might work. While the movie does spend quite a bit of time on the inner workings of time travel it also explores some of the ethical implications of what it should or should not be used for. The movie follows a couple of engineers who accidentally discover a way to time-travel and initially decide to use it to make money off of stock trade among other things. Eventually the agreement these guys have breaks down and what they decide to use the machine for gets more and more questionable. The movie is super complex and is actually filled with lots of jargon which makes it incredibly difficult to fully understand on the initial viewing, but the movie also lends itself to some great ideas and thought. This is without a doubt a movie for a person who really likes to think. This is a movie I would definitely recommend for hardcore fans of science-fiction or for people who really like to think deeply about any philosophical idea or concept.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day

Terminator 2 is less about time travel and more about the relationship between John Conner and his protector the T-800(played by Arnold Schwarzenegger). This is yet another great example of time-travel being used a plot device as opposed to an overly complicated concept. It is simple; John Conner is the son of a man sent back from the future to protect his mother, Sarah Conner. If you spend all of your energy worrying about how that makes sense then you are blatantly missing the point of either of James Cameron’s movies. The point isn’t how John Conner was conceived, it is how John Conner and his mother Sarah fight to survive to see the future. In Terminator 2 the T-800 is sent back not to kill John Conner, but to protect him from a more advanced T-100(played by Robert Patrick). This is a great twist on the first movie where the T-800 was an evil unstoppable killing machine. Cameron takes this image that the audience has and turns it it into a far more memorable and and lovable character that is John Conner’s guardian that he builds a relationship with. This is a great movie that would not be possible without time-travel and what makes it even more of an accomplishment is how accessible it is to people who aren’t fans of the series or avid sci-fi fans.

Back to The Future(Part 1 only)

The sequels to Back to the Future may have failed to use time-travel properly, but this classic sci-fi comedy from 1985 popularized the concept in a way no other movie before had done. The base concept behind this movie is a kid encountering his parents when they were his age. The movie has a lot of fun with the concept and really isn’t into trying to over explain the time-travel, but is trying to see what fun could be had if Marty McFly were to reunite his parents before he is erased from existence. The movie plays with the clash of cultures with Marty constantly making references of things that did not come until after the 1950s. This may not be the deepest movie out there, but there is plent yo fun to be had and classic characters like Doc Brown to watch. The nicest thing about this movie is that it is accessible to pretty much anyone fan of sci-fi or not as it really deals more with human beings in a humorous manner than it does science or the logistics of the concept.

Honorable Mentions

Donnie Darko(2001)

Groundhog Day(1993)

Star Trek(2009)

Time Bandits(1981)

Source Code(2011)

Planet of the Apes (1968)


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2 Comments Add yours

  1. austin says:

    So glad to see primer on here. That movie does not get enough attention.

    1. bigcalkenobi says:

      It’s a great movie I’d gladly own so that I could show it to other people, but because of its low-key status it pretty much impossible to find.

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