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The 10 best time travel movies, ranked

Time travel movies are fun, just try not to forget what year it is

Avengers Endgame Best Movies
Marvel Studios / Walt Disney Productions

Many people try to live in the present in order to obtain happiness. Worrying about the past or the future is pointless since we can’t travel back or forward in time. That doesn’t mean movies haven’t tried to grapple with time’s continuum, though. Sci-fi films have used time travel to explore themes and storylines in post-apocalyptic wastelands and high-tech dystopian futures. Fantasy plots revolve around using magic to navigate the passage of time. And even comedies use time travel to put forth social experiments and hilarious hypotheticals. Whatever subject time travel movies focus on, they often make us think about the world in a brand new way. These are the 10 best time travel movies, ranked.

10. Groundhog Day (1993)

10. Groundhog Day
101m
Genre Romance, Fantasy, Drama, Comedy

One of Bill Murray’s best movies places him in the shoes of a meteorologist who gets trapped inside the same 24 hours over and over again. The fantastical scenario at the base of the plot is an incredible device that allows filmgoers to imagine their reactions if placed in such a loop. The tone stays pretty lighthearted despite the horrifying reality of the plot, and it’s one of the iconic movies of the 1990s.

9. Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

9. Edge of Tomorrow
114m
Genre Action, Science Fiction
Stars Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton
Directed by Doug Liman

Combining alien tropes with time travel, Edge of Tomorrow is a spin on the usual action movie stuff Tom Cruise typically associates himself with. William Cage is a nice addition to the Cruise character canon as he attempts to break out of a time loop and defeat the invaders primed to take over humanity forever. Emily Blunt is great in the supporting role of Rita Vrataski.

8. Tenet (2020)

8. Tenet
150m
Genre Action, Thriller, Science Fiction
Stars John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki
Directed by Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan’s most confusingly plotted movie has lots of good time travel tropes and revelatory nuggets for even the most veteran of movie fans. John David Washington plays an unnamed agent who uses the passage of time and its malleability to save the world. Nolan’s usual high-level production values are in place here, but the movie is relatively unknown due to its release during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

7. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

7. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
141m
Genre Adventure, Fantasy
Stars Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón

Most of the third Harry Potter movie isn’t about time travel, just the last half-hour that remains one of the series’ finest segments. Harry and Hermione’s journey to save Sirius Black from near-certain death at the film’s climax is a wonderful, emotional mashup of time-loop fiction that doesn’t make complete sense, but it’s executed so well that it doesn’t have to add up. This film also brought a more mature, dense tone to the series that set up further films in the franchise for success. Gary Oldman gives one of his most memorable supporting performances.

6. Looper (2012)

6. Looper
118m
Genre Action, Thriller, Science Fiction
Stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt
Directed by Rian Johnson

One of Rian Johnson’s best works (after the Breaking Bad episode “Ozymandias”), Looper is about a man who kills criminals from the future. The paradox of the film lies in the realization that the main character, Joe, must kill himself in the future when his future self is the next target. It sounds a little odd, but it’s thematically rich and full of time travel quandaries. 

5. Interstellar (2014)

5. Interstellar
169m
Genre Adventure, Drama, Science Fiction
Stars Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain
Directed by Christopher Nolan

Many consider Interstellar to be Christopher Nolan’s best film, and much better than the aforementioned Tenet. Matthew McConaughey is an astronaut with a daunting mission: travel through a wormhole in an experiment of epic proportions. The movie engages the audience by making them think about what lengths they would be willing to go to if life was no longer a hard reality on this planet.

4. Avengers: Endgame (2019)

4. Avengers: Endgame
181m
Genre Adventure, Science Fiction, Action
Stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo
Directed by Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

The time travel in Marvel’s biggest film is more of a plotting necessity. The Avengers are in a race against time to destroy Thanos after he destroys the world as we know it. Whether you love or hate the oversaturation of the blockbuster experience presented by Disney in this franchise, there is no denying the magnitude and overwhelming pop culture command of Avengers: Endgame. Marvel hasn’t quite gotten back to this point of relevance in the last five years since its release.

3. Twelve Monkeys (1995)

3. Twelve Monkeys
129m
Genre Science Fiction, Thriller, Mystery
Stars Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, Brad Pitt
Directed by Terry Gilliam

Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt team up for the iconic and relevant time travel story Twelve Monkeys. Willis’ character has to save the world from a disease forty years in the past. The film probably saw a spike in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic as the next global disaster is just one germ away, it would seem.

2. The Terminator (1984)

2. The Terminator
108m
Genre Action, Thriller, Science Fiction
Stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton
Directed by James Cameron

Arnold Schwarzenegger stars in the ultimate James Cameron classic about a cyborg sent from the future with one goal in mind: kill Sarah Connor. The Terminator endures because it was so ahead of its time. Linda Hamilton’s casting as Sarah Connor made her one of the preeminent action heroes of her generation and a symbol of a female badass. Several sequels haven’t been able to completely capture the thrill of this first masterpiece, although Terminator 2: Judgement Day is also excellent.

1. Back to the Future (1985)

1. Back to the Future
116m
Genre Adventure, Comedy, Science Fiction
Stars Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson
Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Robert Zemeckis’ legendary time travel franchise kicked off with a classic time travel dilemma: what happens to a person if they interfere with their parents’ lives in the past? With Doc Brown’s help, Marty McFly must make his parents fall in love all over again, leading to poignant and comical results. The plot is relatable, understandable, and easy to digest, making the film the defining time travel story ever put to screen. 

Editors' Recommendations

Movie images and data from:
Shawn Laib
Shawn Laib is a freelance writer with publications such as Den of Geek, Quote.com, Edge Media Network, diaTribe, SUPERJUMP…
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