Movies and TV shows love to time travel. Unfortunately, no matter how society evolves or to what extent our technology matures, human beings are destined to repeat the same mistakes. Over and over and over again.
Is it possible to travel back in time and fix the wrongs we’ve done before, or will we just create more chaos by messing with something we’re not meant to? Whether characters spend the whole film traveling multiple times or just talking about it, the following films give us insight into the fascinating facets of being human that drive us to believe in the impossible.
The following list is just a list of movies based on Time Travel. There is ranking as such. Just a compilation of films.
Director: Christopher Nolan
A classic Christopher Nolan puzzle box, Tenet is like Inception at first glance. The central conceit that powers it is mind-bending and requires undivided on-screen exposition. Nolan’s films always have at least one person trying to get their head around what is happening. The film’s viewers would be as confused as the Protagonist, especially early on. Also, as with Inception, Tenet is a series of smaller puzzle boxes within the larger one. While the viewer may not precisely understand the big picture, they find the action swiftly paced and compellingly presented. Still, despite a remarkable performance from Kenneth Branagh as antagonist Andrei Sator, the cerebral underpinnings and even the exact mechanics of this particular puzzle may demand more from the filmmaker than the audience. None of this rests on Washington. Past Nolan protagonists like Pearce (Memento), DiCaprio (Inception), and McConaughey (Interstellar) not only had actual names, they had relatable motives.
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Director: Bryan Singer
Has time travel ever been used for a noble cause? We’re not talking about preventing a future dystopia that’s standard time traveling fare. No, Director Bryan Singer’s merging of X-Men old and new served a much more significant role: eliminating the horrifying events of X-Men: The Last Stand from the collective timeline. It just never happened. All thanks to Time Travel. Thank you time travel. Thank you.
The year 2014
Director: Christopher Nolan
Whether he’s making blockbuster puzzles of box office or superhero movies, Christopher Nolan doesn’t usually bandy with emotion. But Interstellar is a nearly three-hour-long ode to the power of love. Interstellar wants to uplift us with its visceral strengths, weaving a myth about the great American spirit of invention gone dormant. It’s an ambitious paean to ambition itself. The film begins in a not-too-distant future, where drought, blight, and dust storms have battered the world down into a regressively agrarian society. Textbooks cite the Apollo missions as hoaxes, and children are groomed to be farmers rather than engineers.
This is a world where hope is dead, where spaceships sit on shelves collecting dust, and which former NASA pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) bristles against. He’s long resigned to his fate but still despondent over mankind’s failure to think beyond its galactic borders. But then Cooper falls in with a troop of underground NASA scientists, led by Professor Brand (Michael Caine). They plan on sending a small team through a wormhole to explore three potentially habitable planets and ostensibly secure the human race’s continued survival.
But the film succeeds more as a visual tour of the cosmos than as an actual story. Nevertheless, the rah-rah optimism of the film’s pro-NASA stance is stirring. On some level, that tribute to human endeavor keeps the entire yarn afloat.
Edge of Tomorrow
Director: Doug Liman
A time machine is never used, but the concept is alive and well in Tom Cruise’s latest sci-fi action film. Tom Cruise is a soldier who inadvertently finds himself fighting on the front lines during an alien invasion that threatens to take over Earth. After being exposed to the alien’s blood, he is caught in a time loop, repeatedly stuck repeating the same day, growing into a ruthless killing machine with each passing “day.” This idea is used for both comedic and thrilling effects, as Cruise must interact with the other soldier Emily Blunt, and a swarm of ever-growing alien life forms that he has to cut through each day to defeat them. Unfortunately, the Groundhog Day comparisons don’t do enough justice to director Doug Liman’s handling of such a high-concept fiasco. It is, in other words, just plain fucking awesome.
5. Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Years: 1984 and 1991
Director: James Cameron
The Terminator and its sequel introduce us to perhaps pop culture’s longest-lasting, most archetypal time travel plot. Of course, James Cameron didn’t always have the budget to make things like Titanic or Avatar. Still, even at the start of his career, his ideas were always larger than life. It is debatable whether Terminator 2 is one of those rare cases where the sequel is better than its predecessor. However, Cameron takes what made his first film a hit and enhances everything. From the sophistication of effects and action to the depth of the characters to the complexity of its narrative.
There are doctoral theses to be written about how The Terminator has shaped our modern imagination, and there are lengthy debates to be had about how Terminator 2 is the most perfect action movie ever created. Regardless: one cannot stress how influential Cameron’s films are. They seem to defy space-time, reaching deep into the past and far into even our future to define every facet of modern science-fiction filmmaking.
6. Back to the Future I, II, III
Years: 1985; 1989; 1990
Director: Robert Zemeckis
This was a given. The three-part epic journey of Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and his legitimately insane mentor Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) not only provides the crucible through which practically every comedy adventure made since must pass, but it also proves that even one insignificant kid’s actions make a universe of difference. There is little to add to a widespread discussion of these films besides pointing out their diminishing returns with each successive entry, but that hardly takes away from the brilliance of Zemeckis’s storytelling.
No plot point is wasted, and no shot is infused with anything less than humor and emotional breadth. If this sounds a bit schmaltzy or a bit overboard with praise, then stop to consider how cherished these films are in the course of American cinema. As they mess with history, so too do they make history. From that standpoint, it’s hard to imagine anyone feeling the need to go back to make this trilogy any better.
7. Hot Tub Time Machine
Director: Steve Pink
Three friends tired of their lives joined by one nerdy nephew go on a weekend trip to their old vacation getaway to remember what life was like before everything went sour. Sounds like a normal premise, until you add a hot tub that is also a time machine if you get drunk enough. After a night of wild partying full of illegal Russian energy drinks, men in bear suits and Chevy Chase, the tub takes them back to 1986, a pivotal year for the crew.
In trying to keep things the way they should be and not disastrously alter their “present” the guys go off to recreate their fondest memories, making new ones along the way, and stealing at least one Black Eyed Peas song (humanity is fine with this). The humor may be on the raunchier side for most viewers, but then again, those are the funniest parts. It’s kind of like Grosse Point Blank if Martin got the do-over he wanted: It’s high time the hot tub was given its time-travelin’ dues.
8. About Time
About time is undoubtedly the most emotional entry on this list. Writer/director Richard Curtis had previously melted hearts with Pirate Radio and Love Actually. However, about time brought the filmmaker back to his Four Weddings and a Funeral roots, which he has written. The time-travel genre offers the opportunity to wax philosophical about death and regret, and About time seizes it uniquely by focusing on a genuine relationship between a father and a son. Then, of course, the romantic comedy portion between Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams is the hook. Still, this film’s tear-jerking heart is the relationship between time-traveling father and son Gleeson and Bill Nighy.
9. Star Trek
Director: J.J. Abrams’
Thanks to Director J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot of the Star Trek franchise. His idea sidestepped the problem of “erasing” the legacy of the films/TV shows that came before using one specific device: time travel. This genius idea allows Abrams’ wildly entertaining film to both exist in the same universe as the previous Star Trek movies with Kirk and Spock and the whole gang while also opening up new possibilities for the future even though Abrams’ Trek focuses on Young Kirk, he exists in a new and changed timeline. Hence, the future is not 100% set. The film can explain this concisely while also serving as an incredibly entertaining adventure. All its own is a minor miracle that is Star Trek (2009). While the sequel Star Trek Into Darkness hampered some of that goodwill, Abrams’ initial film still stands as one of the most effortlessly rewatchable blockbusters of the 21st century.
10. 12 Monkeys
Director: Terry Gilliam
Filmmaker Terry Gilliam is not a stranger to time travel movies; his film 12 Monkeys remains one of the most memorable entries in the sci-fi genre. This sci-fi drama combines Gilliam’s more odd sensibilities with gritty and time travel, resulting in an unforgettable dirty experience. Brad Pitt delivers a pretty fantastic performance as a maybe-crazy mental institution patient. At the same time, Bruce Willis plays a future prisoner sent back in time to discover the origins of a deadly virus that took over the Earth. Gilliam keeps things delightfully strange throughout.