13 Timeless Time-Travel Films
The Time Traveler’s Wife hit theaters this week, and the film tells the tale of a couple in an unusual relationship: Clare (Rachel McAdams) never knows when her librarian husband Henry (Eric Bana) is going to disappear into the past or future. Can it stand the test of time (travel)? Here are 13 other classic films whose characters won’t stay put in their own era.
The Time Machine: Time-Travel Like a Gentleman
Londoners of the Victorian Age already had time-travel figured out, almost. This early take on the theme, based on the 1895 novel by H.G. Wells, predicts a nuclear war in 1966, and imagines a distant future—the year 802,701—in which England has reverted back to a Garden of Eden. Starring Rod Taylor, the 1960 film won an Oscar for its time-lapse photography and special effects, as Taylor speeds forward in one of the coolest looking time machines pre-DeLorean.
Twilight Zone: The Movie: Scary Time Travel
Easily the most terrifying take on time travel, this movie’s backstory is even more frightening. Vic Morrow, father of Jennifer Jason Leigh, was killed during the filming, along with two young children. In the 1983 film, Morrow plays an angry anti-Semite who walks out of a bar and finds himself in France during WWII, where he is hunted down by a group of Nazis. Time to go back to the future.
Back to the Future: Time-Travel in Style
Marty McFly may hang out with crazy old scientists, but he’s no loser (he drives a DeLorean!)—and don’t even think about calling him chicken (unless you want a mouth full of manure). The 1985 movie has Michael J. Fox stuck in the 1950s, racing to play Cupid and bring his parents back together before he fades into oblivion. There’s no need to try to make logical sense of all this, and it only gets more confusing in the two sequels. 1.21 Gigawatts!
Planet of the Apes: Damn, Dirty Time Travel
It should come as no surprise that Rod Serling, the man behind The Twilight Zone series, had a hand in two of the films on this list (see also the eponymous movie); he wrote the original 1968 Planet of the Apes screenplay. The only moment in the movie more memorable than Charlton Heston’s encounter with those “damn, dirty apes” is the shocking twist of an ending, where this spaceman is looking to go home and realizes he’s been here whole time.
12 Monkeys: Time Travel or Mental Illness?
It’s the year 2035, and the world has been nearly wiped out by a deadly virus released in 1996. Fortunately, we all get a second chance when convict James Cole (Bruce Willis) goes back in time to stop the attack. Unfortunately, he ends up locked in a mental institution with Brad Pitt. (Some people might not find this situation so terrible.) Is it mere madness or a true futuristic cleanup job?
Donnie Darko: A Time-Travel Tragedy
Is he a superhero or just a disturbed teenager caught in a worm hole? We doubt even the screenwriter knows. But the 2001 film features a vulnerable Jake Gyllenhaal and darkly hilarious Maggie Gyllenhaal (the dinner scene is pure gold), so it doesn’t matter all that much. This movie also introduced us to the most terrifying rabbit we have ever seen, and proved that you are never safe, not even in your own bed.
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure: Time Travel Made Simple
If you aren’t perpetually looking for an excuse to shout “San Dimas High School football rules!” at a public gathering, you haven’t seen Bill and Ted. It keeps time travel simple by not attempting to explain anything and letting you enjoy the improbable ride.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home: Time Travel With Whale
How easily Melville could have resolved Moby-Dick if he’d only allowed the Pequod to have time-travel capabilities! Unlike the outmatched Ahab, Captain Kirk scores his whale through the convenient use of time travel, and uses it to take on a violent futuristic space probe in this 1986 film.
Superman: Global Time Travel
Superman’s experience with time travel is pretty dubious, even for the likes of a guy from Krypton. In the 1978 film starring Christopher Reeve, the unthinkable happens: Superman fails! He breaks down when he can’t save Lois Lane, but all he has to do is fly around the Earth to turn back time. Unfortunately, this solution, if used too often, wouldn’t make for a very interesting sequel. Superman got a do-over, so maybe the writers should get one too?
The Terminator: Nude Time Travel
The Terminator puts forth a version of time travel in which people and robots can leap through the ages but somehow Arnold Schwarzenegger’s clothes cannot. In this 1984 film, he comes for Sarah Connor, promising that he’ll “be back.” And he was again and again, even starring in 2003’s Rise of the Machines. But who would have thought this futuristic killer would ultimately end up running the state of California?
The Philadelphia Experiment: Time Travel, the Conspiracy
In 1943, the U.S. government conducted a secret “Philadelphia Experiment” that successfully rendered a navy ship invisible—or so some conspiracy theorists would have you believe. Forty one years later, a film by the same name took this mystery to a new level, sending two of the ship’s sailors into the future along with enough low-budget ‘80s special effects to render any truth to the invisibility myth nonexistent.
Timecop: Time Travel at Its Cheesiest
Timecop, made in 1994, was set 10 years in the future, 2004, which makes us wonder: Did the creators of Timecop at any point think to themselves, “Time travel…I give it 10 years.” Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a Time Enforcement Agent who is tasked with preventing a corrupt politician from going from past to president.
The Butterfly Effect: The Trouble With Time Travel
If a butterfly flaps its wings in Africa, are the effects felt around the world? Maybe. If Ashton Kutcher stopped making movies about time travel, would the world be a marginally better place? Almost certainly. In this 2004 film, Kutcher jumps back and forth through time when he reads passages from his childhood journals (too early for Twitter) and keeps changing the future—not always for the best.