Greatest Time Travel Films of All Time


I'm in love with time travel stories. Something about the improbability mixed with the situational hilarity, plus a dash of reality bending. I think it makes for a wonderful mix of satire and sci-fi. What better way to make fun of the present than by showing how bad it could make future?

I love how there's really no way to wrap logic as we know it around the changing past events to change the present. Frankly, although I'm no scientist, I can't figure out how it could possibly work. But that's why I love time travel stories, especially movies. Attempting to explain away how A affects B, and B in turn affects C is almost impossible. It takes a great imagination.

Here's my Top 5 list of Time Travel Film Epics, in all their ridiculous glory:

1. The Back to the Future Trilogy – First up, Back to the Future II takes the prize. The way this story uses the future to change the past is simply elegant. Instead of an apocalyptic future, we end up with an apocalyptic present. And how great is the scene where Marty gets the letter from Western Union? This whole movie provides a fully fleshed out past, present, and future. As for Back to the Future I - it's all about the cliffhanger, baby. The scenes from the 50s are fun, and so is Doc's murder. But there's next to no use of the future. As for the third film, well that's more of a vanity project in my opinion.

2. The Bill & Ted Films – Bogus Journey. Not only does this deal with the present and the future, this story steps outside the framework of linear time to provide a snapshot of the afterlife. Although the protagonists move through time in a much more subtle manner than the supporting characters, the use of time as a story setting is flawless. Excellent Adventure is almost as good, but it lacks some of the more inventive imagination of its sequel. It’s essentially a satire of the present by way of the past. Still, you couldn't have Bogus without Excellent.

3. Groundhog Day – Not time travel in the traditional sense, but that makes it great. More like a lack of time progression. Still the notion of time is played with, and the results are impeccably astounding. Bill Murray's character repeats the same day over and over again until he can elevate himself to a higher level of consciousness.

4. The Terminator – Just the first one. Yeah, that's right. I said it. But I'm not talking about visuals. I'm strictly talking story. The other two are interesting in a “Whoa, the Matrix!” sort of way, but they lack the immediacy of the first film: the concept of future refugees toying in the present to change their own past to in turn to change their present (which is our future). Plus the whole idea of a son sending his friend back in time to get his mother pregnant is pretty messed up (and awesome).

5. TIE!!! Idiocracy + the 2002 version of The Time Machine – Idiocracy. No doubt people will take issue with this movie making it on the list. But this does what many others lack: provides a feel-good resolution to a bad situation. Some of the more action oriented time travel stories don’t have obvious satire, as well as characters working towards a permanent resolution. This has both, and does them well. Plus the vision of the future (and President Camacho) are excellent. The Time Machine (2002) sucks as “cinema”, but its bold attempts to capture 802,701 AD is admirable. The way the story shows the futility of attempting to undo what time has already done is also beautiful.

There are notable exceptions from my list, such as Twelve Monkeys, Planet of the Apes, and even Meet the Robinsons. But some of those films, in my opinion, lack creditable use of time satire. In other cases, some simply do well what other films have done better. Again, I know you might disagree – but that's why this is my list. Make your own list and prove me wrong. Only time will tell who's right...

P.S. Check out this comprehensive list of time travel concepts and films involving time travel. It might turn you onto some great films I've omitted.

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