The 10 Best Time Travel Movies of All Time

Jun 25, 2004

The Bottom Line Time travel is a fascinating subject, and when a movie uses it as a main premise to the story, anything is possible.

Now in order to be a great time travel movie, a couple of things either have to happen, or have the chance to happen. First, if you travel in to the past, the opportunity has to exist to change the future. Such as, if you were do go back and do something different, the timeline needs to shift to equate itself. Second, if you are going into the future, you have to come across events that had not happened yet. They sound like simple rules, but often movies that involve time travel break the rules of reality to come up with their own plot. To go through this list, we also have to assume that time-travel is possible in films, but we won't require that the movie adhere to specific rules for how it is done. Each movie usually has its own take on what type of machine, or method is used to go to a different time, so we will just take that at face value.

Here is my list of the 10 Best Time Travel Films of All Time:

10. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) -- Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley

In the 4th Star Trek movie, Earth is being threatened by an alien probe that seems to speak the language of the humpback whale. Unfortunately, the whales have been extinct for a while, and unless they come up with one to talk back, it is feared that the probe will destroy Earth. Captain Kirk and his crew must go back in time to 1986, find humpback whales, and transport them to the 23rd century, so that they can talk back to the probe. In a stretch for the Star Trek cast, they are asked to deal with real world issues rather than that of the 23rd century. At times this film is a little preachy about saving whales, but the idea of sending the crew back to a different culture of the 1980's was very original and came off well.

9. Star Trek: First Contact (1996) -- Starring Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, and LeVar Burton

In the first movie with the Star Trek: The Next Generation crew by themselves in the story, we encounter the group aboard the Enterprise, as a Borg cube is heading towards Earth. The Borg is a species that wants nothing but to take over the entire Universe by making every alien race into a single perfect being. The assimilation crew has to deal with the Enterprise though that sets out to stop them. While fighting and nearly destroying the Borg cube, they send off a smaller craft, that creates a rift in time and heads back to the past. The Enterprise follows them back to around the time when man was going to use the Warp Drive (really fast) for the first time and come into contact with an alien race known as the Vulcans. The Enterprise must stop the Borg from destroying this important part of humanities past, while at the same time making sure that the ship meets with its destiny. It is a very good film, about making sure that you do not negatively change the past because it can have consequences.

8. Event Horizon (1997) -- Starring Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, and Kathleen Quinlan

A rescue ship dispatches a crew to investigate a spaceship that had disappeared into a black hole and has now returned. But the ship is not empty... When they board the ship, the crew learns that the ship has been somewhere beyond space and has brought something back with it that is beyond comprehension. This is a fine film about what could possibly happen in a Black Hole, and it delves into the psyche of anyone who views it. It is very intense, and some would even classify it as a horror film.

7. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) -- Starring Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold returns in this sequel to Terminator, but this time as the good-guy in an effort to serve as the protector of John Conner. He has an important role in our future, and machines have sent back the new and improved T-1000 Terminator to make sure that he dies in the past. By doing this, he will no longer have an impact on the future. This is the most action-packed of the time-travel movies out there, and it has a very strong story that improves upon the first part in this series of movies. Arnold is at his best as the Terminator who will stop at nothing to protect John Conner, and Robert Patrick does well as the T-1000 who will stop at nothing to kill him.

6. Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) -- Starring Gary Oldman

In the newest film on my list of time-travel movies, I list this one, because time-travel is what makes this movie so great. When things go wrong within the movie, the audience is left at a loss as to how they will be righted, but little do we know that one of the students has a time-travel device that allows her to go back in time. This allows her and Harry to go back and fix what went wrong the first time around. The only problem, is that they must make sure not to interfere with their past selves as they are doing that. This is a very innovative plot within the Harry Potter series, and I thought that they used time travel very well in the story.

5. 12 Monkeys (1995) -- Starring Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt

Bruce WIllis plays a convict who is sent back in time in an effort to stop a plague that is devastating the population of Earth. The only problem, is that he is sent too far back, and ends up being hospitalized for his perceived insane behavior. Sent back 6 years too early, he must now figure out what causes the deadly virus, and what must be done to stop it. Along the way he meets up with Brad Pitt (In his best role ever in my opinion), who is the insane son of another famous scientist and an expert on viruses. Things are not quite what they seem, and Bruce Willis must fight for his own life, and then that of another before ultimately dealing with what caused the virus. This is a great movie with lots of twists and turns that was one of the better science fiction movies of the 90's

4. Back to the Future (1985) -- Starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, and Lea Thompson

In the biggest blockbuster involving time travel, a scientist played by Christopher Lloyd has come up with a way to travel back in time, and plans to use it as an experimental tool. Unfortunately the plans are altered, and Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), is instead sent back in time to 1955. When he arrives, he accidentally alters the time line that would lead to him existing, and must seek the help of the Doc from 1955 to help him get back to his own time. This film is the one that helped explain time travel and the effects of what changing something in our past can do to our own futures. It spawned 2 sequels, and was a great film that will stand the test of time.

3. The Butterfly Effect (2004) -- Starring Aston Kutcher and Amy Smart

Ashton Kutcher plays a character who has gone through his life having blackouts of stressful events that happened during his life. Grown up, he realizes he has the ability to go back to those moments, and change the events that happened. The most important part of the story, is that he does not remember why the blackouts happened, or what they are blocking out of his mind. Instead, he is going back to the moment to see what happened, and hope that he can change it to perfect his current life and save his girlfriend who has died. His thought is that if he can change just one small moment of their past, that he can end up saving her. This is a very dark time-travel movie, and shows just how evil people can be, but at the same time showing how much one person can love another. Kutcher, even with bad acting, carries the strong story, and extremely interesting plot to a climactic conclusion that makes it one of the best time-travel movies ever.

2. Timecop (1994) -- Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and Mia Sara

In a movie that I feel redefined the time-travel movie genre, Van Damme serves as a timecop who lost his wife 10 years ago when she was murdered. Now as a security agent of "time", he comes across a case that sends him back to when she is still living. Now he has the opportunity to set things straight and make sure that she survives this time. But is that the right thing to do? This movie dives into all of the possibilities of time travel and expounds upon the story of two versions of the same person existing in the same time. With events such as stealing gold in the 1800's, buying stocks in the early 1900's, and even dealing with computer chips, the movie runs the gambit of things that can happen in time travel. Though Van Damme is not the greatest of actors, he makes the movie strong with the addition of his action-moves. This is by far his best film in my opinion, and the modern day version of what we accept time travel to be like.

1. The Time Machine (1960) -- Starring Rod Taylor

In the film that started our love with time travel, Rod Taylor stars as an Englishman who creates a time machine that can take him into the future. He uses it for only moments of time at first, but ends up going too far into the future one time by accident. Now in a time where humans no longer run the Earth, a new race has taken over as the main carnivore. He must now decide if he wants to stay and fix the way things are, or go back to his own past. H.G. Wells wrote the novel that this movie was based on, and while it did not go headfirst into explaining how the time travel worked, it gave a general overview of the topic. The thing that this movie did do, was create a buzz, and a following for all things that involved the manipulation of time like this. All the time-travel movies that we now see, owe their ideas to this film, and the imagination of H.G. Wells.

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