The Adam Project (L to R) Walker Scobell as Young Adam and Ryan Reynolds as Big Adam. Credit – DOANE GREGORY—© 2022 Netflix, Inc.
In Netflix’s The Adam Project, Ryan Reynolds plays Adam Reed, a fighter pilot from 2050 who heads back in time to stop the development of time travel. His mission only gets harder after he crash-lands in his childhood backyard in the year 2022 and is forced to team up with his video game-loving 12-year-old self (portrayed by Walker Scobell).
This isn’t Back to the Future: There are no DeLoreans or high-flux capacitors in sight. (Though Mark Ruffalo, as Adam’s inventor dad, does make for a worthy Doc Brown surrogate.) Instead, Adam hops into a wormhole and traverses the space-time continuum to let his preteen self know that the ability to time-hop is a privilege, not a right. It’s a rather heady concept for a family film, but most time-travel movies are about more than just joyriding through history. Whether it’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing a time-jumping hitman in Looper or Jennifer Garner aging 17 years with help from magic fairy dust in 13 Going on 30, movies featuring transtemporal travel often show why we should err on the side of caution when spanning time and space.
If you’re craving more time travel, here’s a list of 11 movies to watch after The Adam Project. A couple quick notes: Since Back to the Future is undeniably the greatest time-travel movie of all time, it’s omitted from this list to make room for lesser-known choices. The prototypical time-loop film Groundhog’s Day was also passed over in lieu of a more recent selection.
You won’t need a science degree to enjoy any of the movies included here. But you might walk away from your viewing experience feeling as if the future is coming sooner than you think.
13 Going on 30 (2004)
Jennifer Garner gives Tom Hanks a run for his money in this Big-esque coming-of-age dramedy about a girl who wakes up from her traumatic 13th birthday party to find she’s 30, flirty, and thriving. She quickly learns growing up is hard to do, especially when you do it overnight.
Donnie Darko (2001)
After Jake Gyllenhaal’s titular sad boy narrowly survives a freak accident, he’s left with disturbing visions of a 6-foot-tall rabbit named Frank, who tells him the world is going to end in 28 days. If you don’t totally understand this time-bending film, don’t worry: its stars don’t either. Donnie Darko’s perplexing final moments are part of its charm.
Rian Johnson’s sci-fi action thriller takes place in a not-so-distant future where mobsters punish those they don’t like by sending them back in time to be killed by a futuristic assassin known as a “looper.” When one of those hired guns (a prosthetic nose-wearing Joseph Gordon-Levitt) comes face-to-face with his older self (Bruce Willis), he ends up on a wild goose chase to save his future without unraveling his past.
About Time (2013)
When Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) learns he has the power to travel back in time, he can’t resist making a few tiny tweaks to his past. He soon discovers that even the smallest changes have big consequences in this weepy Brit rom-com directed by Love Actually helmer Richard Curtis.
Happy Death Day (2017)
In this slasher film, often described as “Groundhog’s Day meets Scream,” a college student, played by Jessica Rothe, must solve her own murder if she wants to live to see the next day.
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) hurtle through time and space in a cosmic phone booth, meeting historical dudes who can help them ace their high school history paper. The best part is that when you’re done with this one, you can keep the adventure going with its sequels: 1991’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey and 2020’s Bill & Ted Face the Music. Pretty excellent, right?
Run Lola Run (1998)
Lola (Franka Potente)—who stands out with fire engine-red hair—only has 20 minutes to secure enough money to save her boyfriend from a Berlin crime boss. This German experimental thriller isn’t your typical time-loop film, but Lola’s ability to learn from her past mistakes to save her love will make you happy that she’s running a marathon, not a sprint.
See You Yesterday (2019)
In this Spike Lee-produced film, high schooler C.J. Walker (Eden Duncan-Smith) uses a backpack time machine to save her brother from being killed by a police officer. But altering the events of the past have consequences that not even a science prodigy can anticipate.
Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
This sweet sci-fi rom-com starts with a classified ad from Kenneth (Mark Duplass), a grocery-store worker looking for a partner to travel back in time with. “Safety not guaranteed,” he warns. While some write him off as crazy or paranoid, disillusioned college grad-turned-alt weekly intern Darius (Aubrey Plaza) might be willing to risk it all for a chance to roam the universe with him.
Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi drama, which stars Amy Adams as a celebrated linguist trying to communicate with an intelligent alien race, plays with time in ways we won’t dare spoil here. Suffice to say that the film’s twist ending will make you rethink the entire movie.
Palm Springs (2020)
Nyles (Andy Samberg) and Sarah (Cristin Milioti) found love in a hopeless place: a Palm Springs wedding that they’ve been forced to relive over and over again after getting stuck in a time loop. Both darkly hilarious and sweetly nihilistic, Palm Springs is a unique rom-com for those who don’t want to admit they like rom-coms.