Time Travel is a tricky tool in fiction. Step on a butterfly, and what happens to the future? Just because it’s tricky doesn’t mean it’s not popular, both film, television, and prose have long used time travel to the great delight of fans. We’re not here to argue the specifics, or the real-world possibilities and different styles often provided for audience enjoyment.
We’re only going to highlight some of the most fun and successful films that have, as part of their plot, used time travel in one way or another to tell a great story. Here are the ten best according to Rotten Tomatoes.
10 Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure – 79%
One of the most successful time travel films of all time worked particularly well because it was a comedy. Who didn’t laugh watching two airheads (including superstar Keanu Reeves) as they traveled back through time to visit the many historical figures they’d been learning about—and failing to remember—in school. In Bill and Ted, the travel is all in service to keeping the duo’s band together, as they need to get their grades up to do so. Besides the laughs, part of the film’s success was not taking the time travel mechanics too seriously and bogging down the story.
9 Predestination – 83%
When most movie fans hear about a film where a special agent works to stop crimes before they happen most jump straight to Minority Report, but 2015 offered up another excellent addition to the genre with Ethan Hawke‘s Predestination. Rather than depending on “precogs” Hawke’s a Temporal Agent, who hops through time to prevent killers from going through with their crimes. Predestination sees him on his final assignment, tasked with stopping a killer who puts not one but thousands of lives at risk.
8 Star Trek IV – The Voyage Home – 85%
Often viewed as the most fun of the early Star Trek films, The Voyage Home offered up a number of fun moments as the Enterprise crew found themselves in a world very much like our own (because it really was).
The crew (in short because of a probe trying to destroy earth) uses the gravity slingshot time-warp effect to travel back in time to 20th-century earth in an attempt to bring back humpback whales (really, it all makes sense on screen). Watching Kirk and company try and make their way through 1980s California is almost as hysterical as Bill and Ted, though the Star Trek film has much more heart to offer than Keanu Reeves did.
7 Timecrimes – 89%
Hector is just trying to enjoy some time in the country when he spots a beautiful lady in Timecrimes. When he reaches her, she seems to be dead, and Hector is attacked. He runs off and hides in a research facility where he is closed in a futuristic closet which (spoiler alert) ends up being a time machine. What happens when Hector exits and finds himself back in the moment of the woman’s death, watching himself stand over her body? The low budget 2007 film gets high marks from time travel fans.
6 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – 90%
Time Travel has never been all about scientists and aliens. In the third Harry Potter film, Hermione Granger uses time travel for the most pedestrian of purposes, to make it to all her classes. Of course, she is later able to use the Time-Turner (the magical time travel necklaces) to help Harry save two innocent lives.
The Time-Turner comes with its own rules (like don’t let yourself see yourself) that Hermione forces Harry to follow (as any good time traveler would) and the dangers and limitations of the device are fully appreciated.
5 Edge of Tomorrow – 90%
Think Groundhog’s Day but with heavy sci-fi action and Tom Cruise, and you have some idea what Edge of Tomorrow’s time travel concept looks like. Tom Cruise is killed, day after day, on the same mission, only to wake up and have to live the battle (and his death) all over again. In terms of good news, every time he wakes up, he comes back with his new experiences and skills from the days he has already “lived” through. If he can learn enough, perhaps he can live through the battle and move beyond a single twenty four hour period.
4 Twelve Monkeys – 90%
In the year 2035, Bruce Willis can earn parole from his prison term if he agrees to travel back in time to stop a devastating plague. That’s quite a tall order, but what else was he going to do? His first jump isn’t so successful, landing him in a mental ward because his ravings about a plague make him sound… well, insane. Eventually, he’s able to return to 2035 and make a second time-jump. Time travel can certainly make a person feel crazy, whether or not they actually are.
3 Looper – 93%
Again, if you want to see a well-reviewed time travel movie, picking one that stars Bruce Willis seems to be a safe choice. In 2012, Willis starred alongside Joseph Gordon Levitt in Looper. In the movie’s universe, time travel has been outlawed and is only available on the black market where mob bosses use it to send rivals and targets into the past where they will be met and murdered by hired guns known as Loopers. The real trick comes when Levitt’s hired Looper is asked to murder Willis, who is really the grown-up version of Levitt himself.
2 Back to the Future – 96%
Time Travel is right in the title, and Back to the Future is perhaps the most recognized time travel movie of all time. This first in the Back to the Future trilogy sees Michael J. Fox‘s Marty McFly accidentally end up back in the 1950s after using a Delorean time machine built by his friend/mentor Doc Brown. Back to the Future works through many of the serious time travel questions of the day with heart and comedy. Is it possible to mess around so much in the past that you change the future so you don’t exist? McFly finds out.
1 The Terminator – 100%
1984’s James Cameron masterpiece tops the list with a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes. While many fans believe that Terminator 2: Judgement Day is the superior film, The Terminator is the original and the one that deals most directly with time travel. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as the Terminator himself, who is sent back in time to murder Linda Hamilton before she can give birth to the boy/man who will bring down the cyborgs in the future. An excellent concept with excellent sequels.
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