13 Must-Watch Time Travel Movies
So you have many good hours of time to kill, no pun intended. Bored, nostalgic, wanna boggle your mind a wee bit till that delicious pizza arrives? Fret no more! Skim through this list of some amazing time travel movies and take your pick to a higher dimension.
1. Back to the Future trilogy (1985, 1989, 1990)
A downright classic series of films, Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future trilogy starring the inimitable Michael J. Fox and loveable Christopher Lloyd is arguably the most famous time travel feature to hit the silver screen. Riddled with wonderful writing, memorable performances, nostalgic music and pop-culture references, Back to the Future stole moviegoers’ hearts everywhere and left us wanting more of Marty McFly and Doc Brown’s adventures in time.
Theme: if you’re gonna make a time machine, build it into a DeLorean!
Predictions: we may not have flying cars but at least the hoverboard and power-laced Nike are on their way.
2. Interstellar (2014)
Typically cerebral as all Christopher Nolan films tend to be, Interstellar was destined to be a classic from the word go. Inspired from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Nolan embarked on a spectacular spiritual journey documenting the last days of humanity on Earth, before either going interstellar or taking the plunge into extinction. Brilliant performances and realistic science framed the feature in perfect harmony between sci-fi and suspense, adding a thought-provoking bridge in the next step of human and scientific evolution.
Theme: embrace the unknown... with science.
Predictions: we haven’t mastered gravity yet but thanks to the movie, the paranormal will be perceived differently.
3. Terminator 1 & 2 (1984, 1991)
Before James Cameron drowned people in oceans, he was busy killing off the world with murderous artificial intelligence and making Arnold Schwarzenegger a star. When The Terminator (1984) hit cinemas, the idea of a predatory time-travelling robot hunting waitresses in big cities was unheard of. The fact that the film’s protagonists were mere, weak mortals made the nemesis even more invincible. By the time the sequel Terminator 2: Judgement Day released in 1991, the plot had deepened, new standards for visual effects were set by Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), and the theme was expanded beyond limitations the sci-fi genre previously imposed.
Theme: if you see a suspicious Arnold look-alike asking for Sarah Connor… run!
Predictions: no killer robots yet but artificial intelligence is an annihilative threat to humanity according to Stephen Hawking.
4. Timecrimes (2007)
Nacho Vigalondo’s spanish mystery proves that big budgets aren’t necessary to create intriguing stories. With hardly four characters and a twisted but clever plot, the film craftily juggles suspense and a bored peeping Tom’s demise into sinister curiosity. What follows is nothing but crimes executed in time, hence the title. The seemingly ordinary is anything but and nothing is what it seems. A friggin’ must-watch before Hollywood ruins it with a big-budget remake.
Theme: mind your own business.
Predictions: some cats do not have nine lives.
5. Coherence (2013)
Not exactly time travel in linear definition, James Ward Byrkit’s indie sci-fi flick is still an unexpected mind-bender. While the premise of what happens when a bunch of people are locked in a single location has been done to death, you are otherwise unprepared for the world of intrigue Coherence throws at you. Spontaneous performances and a maze-like story structure pulls you into a world where space and time warp around eight eccentric friends, while an eerie comet with undesired consequences passes overhead.
Theme: stay put and don’t be a jerk.
Predictions: do carry glow sticks.
6. Planet of the Apes (1968)
From Moses to lost astronaut, Charlton Heston’s performance in Franklin J. Schaffner’s Planet of the Apes was far more memorable than expected. Based on Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel of the same name, this sci-fi drama finds the protagonist stranded on a supposed planet dominated by "talking monkeys” while humans are treated as soul-less animals. As if the plot isn’t intriguing enough in itself, the ending of the film proved to be the mother of all cliffhangers in cinematic history, forcing us to rise beyond the genre and consider where humanity is heading on its present destructive course.
Theme: we are the architects of our own destiny.
Predictions: the apocalypse may be upon us sooner than we realise.
7. Star Trek (2009)
J.J. Abrams has produced his share of interesting films, often blending sci-fi and mystery with a nod to the nostalgic 1980s. His directorial tribute to the original Star Trek arrived in the form of a carefully crafted reboot. Star Trek (2009) honoured the original TV series and movies by creating a new timeline where all the characters we loved from the past are explored in their younger avatars. Thus, through Spock Prime’s time travel anomaly, we boldly go where Hollywood franchises had not gone before - a cinematic parallel universe that comfortably dips into the past while warping into the future.
Theme: no matter which timeline we are born into, the crew of the starship Enterprise is there to greet us.
Predictions: so far into the future that The Beastie Boys' Sabotage is labelled "classic music".
8. Donnie Darko (2001)
Executed in a style reminiscent of David Lynch, troubled time-traveling teenager gets more than he bargains for in surreal sci-fi drama mystery, Donnie Darko. Helmed by Richard Kelly, the film may have failed at the box office but quickly and unsurprisingly became a huge cult phenomena. With acclaimed performances by Jake Gyllenhaal and Patrick Swayze, the film effortlessly cruises through the lives of seemingly ordinary but psychologically damaged suburban folks.
Theme: avoid scary, talking bunnies.
Predictions: you must be time traveling if large airplane parts start to fall through your roof.
9. Groundhog Day (1993)
Eternal comedic director Harold Ramis managed to squeeze humour, love, sci-fi and even non-actor Andie MacDowell into Groundhog Day. The funny and impossible-to-hate Bill Murray plays a weather man who winds up repeating the same day on loop, every day, until he learns to value life and the world around him. Being stuck in time takes him on a roller coaster ride, first through extremes of euphoria, then boredom and indifference, and finally teaching him the importance of valuing relationships and people. Watch it for Murray - he’s a gem of an artist.
Theme: don’t mess with time!
Predictions: Andie MacDowell still can’t act.
10. Primer (2004)
While Shane Carruth’s indie flick cost next to nothing to make, it set new standards for indie film makers globally. An ambitious sci-fi flick with clever framing and cinematography, Primer focuses on a Frankenstein-ish tale of what happens when the desire to discover and invent overwhelms humanity’s limited understanding of its own psychological trappings. It’s not an easy to follow plot, so pay close attention to detail.
Theme: don’t build anything you can’t easily take apart.
Predictions: so far no one has invented a time machine in their garage, but hey, at least we have Steve Jobs' Apple.
11. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
How can we exclude a classic feel good teenage movie that just reeks of skiving school days and tosser behaviour? Before Bill and Ted can become legendary rockstars in the future, they have to complete high school assignments in the present. Instead of dropping in at the local library, they enter a magical phone booth and time travel the heck out of the past to introduce historical figures to their class. Director Stephen Herek popularised a young, upcoming actor named Keanu Reeves who would later go on to star in a sequel. Rumours say a third instalment is in the works.
Theme: believe in yourself, even if you're half-baked.
Predictions: only one that came true - Keanu's stardom.
12. The Butterfly Effect (2004)
Before Ashton Kutcher realised his forte in comedy, he rightly experimented in this intense flick about a chicken called Chaos Theory crossing a dangerous road named Time. Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber’s disturbing feature about a man desperately trying to fix one small time travel glitch after another will get you to visual how karmic dominos fall. There are a few sequels that nobody saw, but the original is definitely worth a watch.
Theme: with great time travel comes great responsibility.
Predictions: chaos theory extends into every dimension.
13. The Time Machine (1960)
Last but not least, the classic movie based on H.G. Wells’ novel of the same name published in 1895, inspired stories by other time-obsessed geeks world over. In fact, Wells is the man who coined the term “time machine”. In George Pal’s adaptation, an inventor in Victorian England journeys forward in time into various periods of future history to see humanity’s progress. Dismayed by his dystopian findings and fuelled by curiosity, the scientist travels further into the future where evolution has split the human specie into two distinct groups. All sounds very archetypal and symbolic, making it a fascinating watch or read, if you're inclined to grab the book.
Theme: humanity’s collective actions will determine its survival and evolution.
Predictions: the notion that time travel will be invented in the 20th century didn't quite materialise.