EDITORIAL: The 10 best time travel movies

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The genre of science fiction movies has many splintered sub-genres and tangents.  One of the more thought-provoking, outrageous, and enjoyable science fiction sub genres is time travel movies. From Washington Irving's "Rip Van Winkle" to H.G. Wells, time travel has been a intriguing plot device in popular written fiction for centuries.  That "what if" appeal has carried over into creative medium of film, where many of those stories have played out on the silver screen.  With today's flashy computer-generated special effects and improved scientific logic, time travel movies have come a long way in just the century-old movie business.  In honor of the release of the new film Looper, here's my list of the ten best time travel movies of all-time, with a few bonuses along the way.  Enjoy!


A few good time travel movies didn't quite make to the cut to be part of my final Top 10.  All are worthy movie experiences if you're a time travel fan.  Some of those movies include Army of Darkness, The Final Countdown, 13 Going on 30, Flight of the Navigator, Kate and Leopold, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Déjà Vu, The Traveler’s Wifeand this past summer’s Safety Not Guaranteed, coming to DVD and Blu-ray this month, as a matter of fact.


Great time travel scenes have shown up in movies that weren't explicitly about time travel.  Some of the best of those scenes and moments include the fun automobile time machines and fish-out-of-water gags of the Austin Powers movies, the repeating time loop Bill Murray rides in Groundhog Day, the radio communication in FrequencyChristopher Reeve turning the world backwards in Superman, the layering of 2009’s new Star Trek, and the time travel location reveal of the classic Planet of the Apes with Charleton Heston from 1968.


10. (TIE)— Hot Tub Time Machine and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure— Not all time travel movies have to be serious science fiction to play on the themes of changing the past, interacting with the past, and changing the future.  The John Cusack-led vacationers get to be their 80’s selves with their present memories while Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves are legendary for their good times.  (trailer and trailer)

9.  The Time Machine— Here’s the grandfather of all time travel movies and stories.  Based on H.G. Wells’s 1895 classic novel, Rod Taylor stars as the author himself who invents his own time machine and mistakenly travels 800,000 years into the future.   The 1960 film is still dated, but holds up well and old-school entertainment. A decent modern remake, directed by Well's grandson in fact, starring Guy Pearce was released in 2000, to limited success.  (trailer and trailer)

8.   Somewhere in Time—On another angle from Hot Tub Time Machine and Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, not all time travel movies have elaborate devices.  This classic 1980 romantic drama uses hypnosis to send the dashing Christopher Reeve back to 1912 and the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island to romance Jane Seymour’s actress in forbidden romance.  Get your tissue box, ladies!  (trailer)

7.  12 Monkeys— With the presence of director Terry Gilliam, 12 Monkeys is easily the trippiest time travel movie on this list.  Bruce Willis plays a convict sent back through time to gather information and later thwart a virus that has sent the future U.S. population underground.  Madeline Stowe, Christopher Plummer, and an Oscar-nominated Brad Pitt round out the cast.  This certainly had to be Bruce's training for Looper.   (trailer)

6.  Midnight in Paris— Quite possibly the most casual movie on this list, Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris has a little science-free fun with time travel when modern man Owen Wilson travels back to 1920’s Paris after midnight to meet his literary idols in the form of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and more.  It’s a movie that will make you wish you paid better attention to Literature class in high school and college.  (trailer

5.  Looper— The new film from writer/director Rian Johnson that I just recently reviewed already lays a claim to the Top 5 of the master list.  That new film with Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing a younger Bruce Willis hitman is that good.  Check it out in theaters now.  (trailer)

4.  Source Code— My #3 movie of 2011 (the full Top 10), Source Code is a brilliant, thrilling, and clever thriller with time travel at the center of its plot.  Directed by Duncan Jones and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, the idea of time travel is twisted where the military can replay the last eight minutes of a person's life in an alternate timeline.  They engage Gyllenhaal to hunt down and identify a train-bombing terrorist in Chicago with the possibility of preventing the accident.  Source Code is one of the sharpest and smartest movies I've seen in a long time and a great play on time travel.  (trailer)

3. The Butterfly Effect— This may be the surprise of the whole list, but Ashton Kutcher has actually made one really good movie.  Ever since its 2004 release, this movie has never ceased to impress me.  Of all of the time travel movies on this list or any other, The Butterfly Effect does the best job, in my opinion, of really playing with the effects and ramifications that small changes in the past can do to the future, in this case through multiple attempts.  If you saw Ashton's face on the cover and dismissed this movie, give it another chance.  (trailer)

2.  The Terminator series— The gap between #3 and these top two on the podium is enormous.  #1 and #2 are the big ones and both series were treated as a whole to make more room on the whole list for more movies.  The futuristic and action-packed saga of the post-apocalyptic future of John Connor and the Arnold Schwarzenegger cyborg roles of assassin and defender are forever etched in movie history.  The Terminator series takes the ramifications of time travel on a true global scale.  The best of the series is easily Terminator 2: Judgment Day, not that the first one is bad.  Warner Brothers should have never made a third film or an attempted reboot a few years ago.  (trailer and trailer)

1.  The Back to the Future series— When it comes to time travel movies, that souped-up DeLorean will always be a moviegoer’s first imagery and vocabulary.  Say 1.21 gigawatts or 88 miles per hour to anyone over 30 and they will smile.  There’s no denying the excellent entertainment and genre-defining fun of Marty McFly and Doc Brown and this trilogy.  The first film is a true classic that audiences will enjoy for generations.  The second movie maybe bites off more than it can chew and the third movie is a joke, but 1985 fun beats the doom-and-gloom of Skynet and nuclear war from #2.  (trilogy trailer)

That’s my best crack at this list, everyone.  Share your thoughts and comments here on the site and let me know what your favorite time travel movie is.  While you’re looking for a movie, give Looper a shot while it’s in theaters now.  Enjoy the autumn season everyone!