November 28, 2020

Model Desac

It’s Time to Fly

The best sci-fi time travel movies on Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Max

5 min read

Thirty years after their last time travel adventure, Bill and Ted are back in their most excellent journey yet. Bill and Ted Face the Music, starring Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter in their iconic slacker-metalhead roles, is out in theaters and on VOD now.

As a genre, time-travel movies can encompass a lot of different styles. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is a silly, fluffy time-jumping adventure, which stands in stark juxtaposition to the hard sci-fi 12 Monkeys or the melancholy, contemplative About Time. What they all have in common is time travel as a major plot point, whether the creators do their best to explain the science or just kind of hand wave. (A time travel movie is different from a time loop movie, though, which is why you won’t find Groundhog Day, Happy Death Day, or Palm Springs — all excellent films — on this list.)

Below, we’ve rounded up 11 of our favorite time travel narratives you can watch on streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Max right now. Party on, dudes.


12 Monkeys

Bruce Willis kneels in a time travel suit

Photo: Universal Pictures

If you can stomach a narrative about a viral pandemic knocking out most of humanity, Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys is a compelling adaptation of Chris Marker’s legendary short film, La Jetée (which you can stream on Criterion Channel). The feature remake is mostly notable for its incredible performances — Bruce Willis! Christopher Plummer! An Oscar nomination for Brad Pitt! Willis stars as James Cole, one of the pandemic’s survivors, who’s sent back to 1996 to track down the origins of virus. He overshoots and ends up in 1990, where he’s involuntarily committed to a mental institution. Pitt plays his fellow inmate who, Cole discovers back in the future, may or may not be responsible for the virus.

As far as time travel movies go, 12 Monkeys is firmly in the grim, twist-y, hard sci-fi camp. If that’s your thing, it’s an excellent watch.

12 Monkeys is streaming on HBO Max.


About Time

Domhnall Gleason looks on while Rachel McAdams holds their baby

Photo: Universal Pictures

All of the marketing around About Time made it seem like a fun, fluffy rom-com in which Domhnall Gleeson uses his magical time traveling abilities to woo Rachel McAdams. But master of the British rom-com, Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Bridget Jones’ Diary, Knotting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral), makes About Time a lot deeper. I won’t spoil the twist that throws a wrench into the time travel mechanics, but I’ll just say that it’s more about the anxieties of parenthood than getting a fairy tale ending.

About Time is streaming on Netflix.


Avengers: Endgame

black widow, nebula, and tony stark walk in their time travel suits in avengers: endgame

Marvel Studios

Avengers: Endgame satisfyingly wraps up its core characters arcs and made room for the next chapter while also balancing humor, emotional weight, and huge choreographed set pieces. It also features a surprisingly well executed time travel storyline! If you haven’t seen this one since last summer, dive back into its mind-bending middle act.

Avengers: Endgame is streaming on Disney Plus.


Back to the Future trilogy

Marty (Michael J Fox) and Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) stare into the distance

Photo: Universal Pictures

The story of Marty McFly’s (Michael J. Fox) travels through time in a souped-up DeLorean, aided by his friend Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd), is a classic for good reason. The first movie, in which Marty has to make sure his parents fall in love lest he be erased from existence, is always a hit, but it’s especially fun to revisit Back to the Future Part II just to see what people in 1989 thought 2015 would look like.

Back to the Future, Back to the Future Part II, and Back to the Future Part III are streaming on Netflix.


Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) face each other in front of the Circle K

Photo: Orion Pictures

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure was one of those movies that, if you grew up in the ’90s or early 2000s, you’d catch in bits and pieces because it aired constantly on cable. The format was perfect for that kind of disjointed viewing, since it mostly consists of silly scenes in which Bill and Ted get into historical hijinks strung together to form a tiny thread of narrative. But what Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure lacks in plot, it makes up for in heart. The core ethos of Bill and Ted is “Be excellent to each other,” a philosophy that the boys consistently embody. It’s just nice, okay?

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is streaming on Starz.


Hot Tub Time Machine

Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, John Cusack, and Clark Duke drink beers in thee Hot Tub Time Machine

Photo: MGM

If you’re the type of person who hears a title like Hot Tub Time Machine and thinks, “Ugh, that sounds stupid,” Hot Tub Time Machine is probably not for you. But if you’re the type of person who hears a title like Hot Tub Time Machine and thinks, “Hell yeah, that sounds stupid,” you’re gonna have a good time.

Hot Tub Time Machine is streaming on Hulu with Live TV.


Looper

Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) walks away from an explosion

Photo: TriStar Pictures

If you only know Rian Johnson from Star Wars: The Last Jedi and/or Knives Out, it’s worth going back through his filmography before he helmed one of the biggest franchises in the world. Looper, his last film before The Last Jedi, stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis as two different versions of the same man, a time-traveling assassin, known as a “looper,” named Joe. It’s both a compelling time travel narrative and a slick action movie with neat visual effects. In the wise words of Elijah Wood, long live Rian Johnson.

Looper is streaming on FuboTV.


Safety Not Guaranteed

Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass sit in a car

Photo: FilmDistrict

Before he helmed the Jurassic World franchise, gave us the fascinating flop that is The Book of Henry, and was booted from Star Wars: Episode 9, Colin Trevorrow directed Safety Not Guaranteed. The indie comedy stars Mark Duplass as Kenneth, a paranoid, lonely guy who places a classified ad looking for a partner to join him on a time travel mission. He finds that partner in Darius (Aubrey Plaza) who, unbeknownst to him, is a newspaper intern working on a story about him. Duplass excels at playing these kind of weirdos who live on the border between sad and creepy, and it’s an energy that works well with Plaza’s disaffected schtick. Whether or not Kenneth actually built a working time machine is simultaneously the key to the story and also not really the point, and Trevorrow leaves us hanging until the very end.

Safety Not Guaranteed is streaming on Netflix.

Timecrimes

timecrimes guy in hood making binoculars with his hands

Image: Karbo Vantas

Years before directing his breakout English-language feature Colossal with Anne Hathaway, Spanish filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo made this thriller about a man who uses a short-span time travel device to discover the identity of a masked attacker. Small-scale and twisty, Timecrimes revels in disorientation and has the dark comedic edge that has come to devine Vigalondo’s films. A whodunnit for the seasoned time-travel movie-watcher.

Timecrimes is streaming for free on Tubi TV with ads.


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