The Best Time Travel Movies You've Never Seen

(Welcome to The Best Movies You've Never Seen, a series that takes a look at slightly more obscure, under-the-radar, or simply under-appreciated movies. This week we go time-hopping with some underappreciated movies about time travel!)

Time travel is a peculiar thing. In movies, I mean, not real life where we all do it every single day from one second to the next. The story ideas built on its back have resulted in several of our favorite films over the years including Back to the Future, Predestination, Edge of Tomorrow, Time Bandits, Primer, Edge of Tomorrow, The Terminator, Looper, and Edge of Tomorrow. The very concept, though, is prone to all manner of inconsistencies, plot holes, and head-scratchers, and you'd be hard-pressed to find an example of a time travel movie without at least a single frustrating paradox.

So why bother trying? Instead, we're going to take a look at six more great time travel movies that entertain despite not catching on with the general public. They're lesser known but not less worthy of your time. See what I did there? You're welcome.

The Amazing Mr. Blunden (1972)

A woman and her kids are temporarily rescued from squalor after she's mysteriously hired as housekeeper at a remote country estate. Her kids quickly discover the truth behind it all when ghosts from the past come asking for help. The two dead children recruit the living, and using a smelly concoction as a liquid time machine the children are whisked backward one hundred years in the hopes of saving their new dead friends' lives.

Sound grim, doesn't it? Well that's the beauty of "kids" movies from the 1970s – they may be G-rated, but they didn't mind being disturbing as hell when the situation called for it. Here our hero kids are tasked with preventing two other children from burning to death, and it won't be easy as an extra layer of terror exists in the realization that the fire will be no accident. Some nasty people are planning to off the kids in pursuit of their inheritance, and the callousness of their intentions darkens the already bleak and oppressive situation even further.

The Mr. Blunden of the title is the one who hires their mom on in 1918, but he's also present in 1818. What sorcery is this you might ask, understandably, and I can only say your question is answered in the film itself. He lends the story a character that wouldn't feel out of place in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, and while there's no Christmas Day here there are ghosts, men in stockings, and good old-fashioned redemption.

The Amazing Mr. Blunden is available to stream on Amazon.

Lee's Adventure (2011)

Temporal Dilation Disorder affects a person's perception of time, and it's no joke. Just ask Lee after he heads out to the park for lunch one day and returns a full year later. He finds comfort in a woman who suffers from the same illness, but when she dies in an accident his hopelessness leads to a different kind of time distortion – that's right, time travel baby!

Jackie Chan's son Jaycee takes lead here, but even that royal cinematic connection couldn't stop this endlessly creative gem from getting lost in time seven years ago. It's a damn shame too as the film's energy level is through the roof. There's no lack of creativity either as dinosaurs, Albert Einstein, Nazis, and Nicolas Cage – in anime form – all make an appearance too. Of course, more than a few of these elements and others come in the form of animated sequences, but while budget is to blame it leads to some crazy visuals and ideas so it's no negative.

It's a "kitchen sink" kind of sci-fi movie as everything is thrown into the mix, but the core of it all remains a very human need for connection and love. Chan gives a strong performance teasing his dad's charisma and sense of humor while, dare I say it, showing better acting chops. He's the heart of the movie, and that familiar humanity keeps us connected through the insanity that follows both in live action and animation.

Lee's Adventure is not currently available.

Retroactive (1997)

A criminal psychiatrist on a drive across Texas sees car trouble land her in a world of hurt when she's picked up by a brute and his timid wife. Domestic violence rears its ugly head, and when she runs for her life she does so straight into a science experiment that sends her back in time with a chance to save the other woman's life. Things don't quite go as planned.

I'll be honest. This is the movie that made me theme this week's column towards time travel in the first place. I'd never heard of it before, let alone seen it, but after watching it recently I fell instantly in love with its peculiar blend of crazy story turns and action chops. Frank Whaley is the scientist behind the science, Jim Belushi goes full tilt as the violent brute, and M. Emmet Walsh stops by as a confused shop-keeper too. The dialogue is increasingly nutty, and her attempts to save the woman lead to more and more deaths each time. That's right, she tries more than once, and the body count keeps growing.

And the car stunt/action is legitimately good too! It has the feel of (far better) movies like The Hitcher and Breakdown in its vehicular carnage as big American gas guzzlers duke it out on otherwise deserted roads. They smash and crash with abandon, and the time factor means they plow into the same gas station to the point of explosion more than once. A kid sees his parents blow up before dying himself... it's the kind of late-90s madness home video was made for!

Retroactive is available on Blu-ray from Amazon.

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

A journalist and a pair of interns head to a small Washington community to investigate an intriguing "help wanted" ad in a magazine. The writer is looking for someone to travel back in time with him saying "This is not a joke. You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. Safety not guaranteed." It promises to be an interesting and fun article, but what if the ad's telling the truth?

The promise of time travel is the sci-fi thread holding everyone together here, but it's ultimately a film about finding the value in today. Mark Duplass does endearing work as the ad's writer while Aubrey Plaza is the disaffected twenty-something who sees the worth in his broken (and maybe a bit loony) personality. Jake Johnson, meanwhile, is rougher around the edges but still plenty lovable.

The film's the feature debut from director Colin Trevorrow and writer Derek Connolly, and while it was a mere indie success it was enough to launch them into the world of Hollywood blockbusters with the likes of Jurassic World and Star Wars. Perhaps you heard the universal rejoicing across the land? Regardless of your thoughts on that career move, though, you shouldn't hold it against their first movie. It's a sweet, funny, and ultimately uplifting tale brought to life with wit and warmth.

Safety Not Guaranteed is available on Blu-ray and to stream on Amazon.

Time After Time (1979)

H.G. Wells wrote about time travel, but what many people don't know is that he also actually time traveled. Or not. Who knows really, but here he's forced to head into the future after Jack the Ripper steals his tech and zips forward to modern-day San Francisco. Wells follows Jack in order to stop another murder spree, but his mission grows complicated when he falls in love.

Okay, fine, odds are a few of you have seen this one, but if I can get just one person to watch it for the first time its inclusion here will be worth it. The setup is sheer perfection as we start with Wells enjoying a late 19th-century dinner party with friends and discussing the appeal of a utopian society, but little does he know he has terrible taste in friends. One is a surgeon who also happens to be the Whitechapel Murderer himself. The film quickly moves both Victorian personalities into modern America allowing for terrifically entertaining character beats and culture clashes. It's fun stuff, but as the story builds the terror ramps up with suspense and thrills.

As fantastic as the premise and execution are, the film's key ingredient is in the casting of its three leads. Malcolm McDowell plays Wells with a terrific innocence and curiosity, and it's a damn delight seeing him play a "normal" good guy. The eternally great David Warner is once again cast as a villain, but he's just perfect as history's most infamous serial killer. His glee at landing in a world where his actions can continue to go unnoticed is palpable. Finally, last but far from least, the wonderful Mary Steenburgen personality and light as a modern woman in love with a man many decades her senior.

Time After Time is available on Blu-ray and to stream on Amazon.

Young Gun in the Time (2012)

Young Gun is a private eye in serious need of business. His desperation means he's open to oddball cases, but he draws the line at murder when a young, hoodie-wearing scientist asks him to find a mysterious watch and kill the person wearing it. She's killed before his eyes just minutes after he turned her away, and overcome with guilt and curiosity he investigates the case anyway. Murder, time travel, the return of the dead woman, and lots of Magnum P.I. shirts follow.

The genre-oriented plot brings the sci-fi antics, action beats, and mystery, but just as engaging are the character elements and humor. It's a funny flick with visual gags, quick dialogue, and even the occasional aside – Young Gun gives a thumbs up to the camera after solving an early case – and Hong Young-geun is a charismatic guy. Part of it comes from his size-to-energy ratio, but he also manages some memorable looks and deliveries.

Oh Young-doo's (Invasion of Alien Bikini) second sci-fi feature is leaps and bounds beyond his first and makes ridiculously good use out of its $30k budget. Yes, that's thirty with a K. It's still very much an indie film, but Oh makes it feel like it cost four or five times that with some snazzy editing effects and legitimately thrilling action. The latter includes lots of running and some surprisingly good fight scenes with a brawl in a moving van standing out as a real highlight. It's an exciting, weird, and vibrant little movie, and it's a damn shame Oh hasn't followed it up yet.

Young Gun in the Time is available to stream on Amazon.

Check out more of the Best Movies You Haven't Seen.