20 Movies About Time Travel Ranked Worst To Best

The notion of time travel is both inherently human (who wouldn't want the opportunity to see what the world will be like after they're gone, or to revisit the cherished memories of the past?) and intensely cinematic. So, it makes sense that it's a theme we see revisited in film time and time again. 

However, while time travel is rooted in science fiction, time travel movies embrace a variety of different genres. We're not limited to just sci-fi action-adventures (there are plenty of those, though, if that's your cup of tea.) Filmmakers have used time travel for romances, family dramas, stoner comedies, and even serial-killer thrillers. By using time travel, we can reckon with both our fixation on the past and our constant anxieties about the future. Besides, time travel is a whole lot of fun. If you're looking for a new time travel movie to watch, these are some of the best.

20. When We First Met

Throughout movie and TV history, we've seen DeLoreans, phone booths, and police boxes turned into time machines, but "When We First Met" may be the very first time we've gotten a time-traveling photo booth. When Noah (Adam DeVine) goes into the photo booth at his favorite piano bar, he gets the opportunity to go back to the night when he first met Avery (Alexandra Daddario), the "girl of his dreams" who is engaged to another man. Whatever Noah does on that fateful day causes ripples, and when he wakes up, it's in a slightly different version of the present. 

So, naturally, Noah takes as many chances as he can to engineer a happily ever after between himself and Avery. But "When We First Met" challenges the notion of the "perfect" girl who's just out of reach, and offers a parable about the dangers of letting an idealized version of someone take root in your brain, no longer letting you see them for who they really are. If nothing else, "When We First Met" deserves heaps of credits for featuring Adam DeVine at his most endearing.

19. Your Name

In Makoto Shinkai's "Your Name," Mitsuha and Taki are two ordinary high school students who live separate lives in different parts of Japan. Then, one day, the two strangers begin to switch bodies. "Your Name" begins as a classic gender-bending comedy, where Mtsusha and Taki are forced to live through each others' daily lives, fumbling through classes, interpersonal relationships, and unfamiliar gender expectations. This body swapping happens intermittently, without warning, and over time the two learn how to communicate with each other by leaving messages on paper, their phones, even their skin. 

Then, "Your Name" raises the stakes by revealing that the teens aren't just from different towns — they're from entirely different time periods. Taki is living in a world three years older than Mitsuha's, and learns about a freak accident that caused untold devastation in her hometown. But can he warn everyone in time? "Your Name" is a gorgeously animated time-traveling romance that creates a genuine bond between its two central figures, who are bound together by a unique ability that ends up being their salvation.

18. Kate & Leopold

What happens when a hunky man from the 19th century ends up in modern-day New York? This is the important question that "Kate & Leopold" dares to ask. When Stuart (Liev Schreiber) discovers a time portal above the Brooklyn Bridge, he is eager to go back in time and explore. What he does not count on is Leopold, the 3rd Duke of Albany (played by an especially dreamy Hugh Jackman), following him back through the portal. 

After Stuart gets severely injured falling down an elevator shaft (if Leopold isn't around to invent elevators in the 1800s, they can hardly be expected to exist in the 2000s), his ex-girlfriend Kate (Meg Ryan) is stuck taking care of the anachronistic duke. Obviously, they fall in love — look, it's Hugh Jackman and Meg Ryan. Why would you even bother putting them in a movie together if they weren't going to become romantically involved? 

Anyway, "Kate & Leopold" is a very sweet rom-com, even if it is sort of depressing that Meg Ryan ends up going to live in a past where she has no rights. Oh well. Love conquers all, right?

17. Palm Springs

"Palm Springs" follows in the footsteps of "Groundhog Day," with Andy Samberg serving as a natural successor to fellow "Saturday Night Live" alum Bill Murray. Trapped in a never-ending time loop and forced to relive his friend's wedding day over and over, Nyles has long since given up any hope of escaping his own personal prison. But unlike Phil in "Groundhog Day," who suffers in isolation, Nyles is joined by Sarah (Cristin Milioti), who follows him into the mysterious cave at the heart of the time loop and gets herself stuck as well. 

"Palm Springs" offers us two perspectives: one from a veteran time-looper who has lived the same day for potentially hundreds of years, and the other from a fresh-faced newbie experiencing it all for the first time. What's interesting about "Palm Springs" is that it fully leans into the devastating ennui that's the natural result of this sort of situation. The time loop isn't just a set-up for a bunch of jokes, it's a reality where hopelessness is only briefly staved off by mindless distractions. That this movie would come out in 2020, a year when most of us were facing the monotony of life in quasi-quarantine, only adds to its emotional resonance.

16. Back to the Future Part III

Ah yes, the much maligned final chapter in the "Back to the Future" series. But you know what? This movie gets so much more hate than it deserves. No, it doesn't reach the dizzying heights of the first and second Back to the Future movies, but that doesn't mean it isn't a good film. 

After Doc Brown's DeLorean is struck by lightning and he ends up back in the old West of 1885, Marty discovers Doc's tombstone, which shows that he died just a few days after writing a letter to Marty asking not to be rescued. Obviously, Marty does just that. The romance between Doc and Miss Clara Clayton (Mary Steenburgen) is absolutely adorable, allowing the Back to the Future crew to explore a different side of Doc's character. And this outing is just as clever with its callbacks to jokes from the other two films, especially when Marty gets to have his classic Clint Eastwood moment. Plus, Michael J. Fox doing an Irish accent to play a McFly ancestor? Totally worth the price of admission.

15. The Map of Tiny Perfect Things

Structured much like "Groundhog Day," "The Map of Tiny Perfect Things" revolves around Mark (Kyle Allen), who has been living in a time loop for ages. He knows every single thing that's going to happen — that is, until he meets Margaret (Kathryn Newton), who has been stuck in the same time loop. Together, they set out to build a map of all the strange, beautiful moments that occur in their town, the kinds of things that you'd only notice if you had several lifetimes to catalog them all. 

"The Map of Tiny Perfect Things" is unique in its subtlety, and the way it brings out a time loop's smaller implications. For example, on this particular day, Mark's mother went into work early and did a double shift, which means that he hasn't seen more than a glimpse of her in years. Margaret's own relationship with her terminally ill mother means that she's hesitant to get out of the time loop and sever that connection. These tiny moments help "The Map of Tiny Perfect Things" stand out in the increasingly crowded time-loop genre.

14. 12 Monkeys

"12 Monkeys" is part traditional time travel story, part post-apocalyptic action thriller. Set initially in the 2030s, after a deadly plague has ravaged the planet, James Cole (Bruce Willis) is sent back in time to the '90s in order to prevent the devastating epidemic before it starts. 

Creatively directed by Terry Gilliam, the master of eccentric science fiction, "12 Monkeys" also has the honor of being one of the first films that would make people begin to take then-young heartthrob Brad Pitt seriously as an actor. His manic performance as Jeffrey Goines, the unstable leader of the eco-terrorist organization called the Army of the Twelve Monkeys, is one of the most memorable elements of the entire film. Performances aside, "12 Monkeys" also lays claim to a unique visual style that would influence several other science fiction films of the late '90s, and occupies a darker space than many other time travel films dare to enter.

13. Meet the Robinsons

Here, we take the opportunity to shout from the rooftops that "Meet the Robinsons" is perhaps the single most underrated Disney film of all time. Much like its lead character Lewis, a brilliant orphan whose inventions have a knack for getting him into trouble, "Meet the Robinsons" is tragically misunderstood. Lewis struggles to find an adoptive family, partially because his inventions often go haywire at the most inopportune times, but also because he's entirely focused on the past and, in particular, finding out the identity of his biological mother. 

When a kid named Wilbur Robinson turns up and takes Lewis 30 years or so into the future, not only does Lewis get to see how far humanity progresses, but he is exposed to an eccentric family that is loving, empathetic, and entirely devoted to one another. "Meet the Robinsons" is genuinely hilarious; more importantly, it's also a heart-warming tale about building a family of your own.

12. Peggy Sue Got Married

Probably the most common question asked of any adult staring down middle-age is, "If you could go back in time to relive your high school years, would you?" This hypothetical becomes a reality in "Peggy Sue Got Married," when Peggy Sue (Kathleen Turner), recently divorced and looking back on a life she thinks she's wasted, attends her 25th high school reunion. Her morose contemplation is interrupted, however, when she is suddenly thrust back in time to her senior year of high school in 1960. 

There, Peggy Sue faces certain choices. Given the opportunity to do it all over again, will she make the same decisions? Most notably, will she stick with Charlie (Nicolas Cage), her high-school sweetheart, even though she knows that their relationship is ultimately doomed? "Peggy Sue Got Married" is a bittersweet exploration of nostalgia, of growing older, and of looking back on your misspent youth with equal parts dissatisfaction and longing.

11. Somewhere in Time

Before we even get into the time travel elements of "Somewhere in Time," it's important to address the elephant in the room: Have there ever been two people on earth more preternaturally beautiful than Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve? Together, they star in this time travel romance, in which Reeve's playwright, Richard Collier, falls in love with a portrait of an actress (Seymour) nearly a century older, and learns how to use self-hypnosis to send himself back in time to 1912 so that they can be together. 

"Somewhere in Time" is a dreamy, fanciful production, with a gorgeously winsome score from John Barry. Reeve and Seymour have tremendous chemistry together, which makes their beautiful but ultimately doomed romance all the more compelling. Set against the backdrop of the historic Grand Hotel in Mackinac Island, Michigan, "Somewhere in Time" is a charming, whimsical, and heartbreaking tale of love across the ages.

10. Time After Time

It's surprising, really, that HG Wells, the enormously imaginative science fiction writer who dreamt up "The Time Machine" (along with dozens of other sci-fi classics) has rarely featured in time travel stories himself. But he does star in "Time After Time," a pulpy thriller in which Wells (Malcolm McDowell) has his time machine stolen by Jack the Ripper (David Warner), who uses it to evade the police and travel to '70s San Francisco. 

Wells gives chase, and must track Jack down before he murders again (in the meantime, he falls in love with a bank teller played by Mary Steenburgen, as one does). This was remade recently as a fairly lackluster network drama that got pulled from the airwaves before it was halfway through its first season, but the original film is a lot of fun, featuring a battle of wits between these two famous historical figures.

9. La Jetée

"La Jetée" is a French short film directed by Chris Marker. It's approximately 28 minutes long, consisting mostly of still photography with voiceover narration. It is magnificent. 

"La Jetée" tells the story of a man imprisoned in the post-apocalyptic future, where scientists are working on devising methods of time travel to avert the calamity that has befallen humanity. He has a particularly strong memory from childhood of himself standing on a pier, witnessing a man being killed. This window to the past allows him to withstand the mental shock of time travel. 

Once safely in the past, the man meets a woman, whom he falls in love. But in the end, when he has finished his mission and is allowed to live out his days in the past, he realizes that the man he saw murdered was the adult version of himself. By utilizing still photography, Marker places tremendous importance on the power of images — in this case, visuals are so strong that they literally allow one to travel through time. But Marker also sends an unmistakably clear message: you cannot escape your destiny, and despite our fixations on the past and the future, you can only ever live in the present.

8. Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day is not our most beloved national holiday, but it is the backdrop of a time-travel comedy classic. Acerbic weatherman Phil (Bill Murray) reluctantly travels to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover a local ceremony in which a groundhog decides whether we'll end up having a longer winter or not. He is not happy about this assignment (to be fair, he's not happy about much of anything). But it gets even worse when Phil is forced to relive the same day over and over and over again. 

"Groundhog Day" does an amazing job of showing how Phil's emotions progress as he adapts to his situation: first, he's bemusemed, then angry, then depressed, and then finally comes to accept it. Once his new reality sets in, and all the fun of being able to do whatever you want with absolutely zero repercussions fades away, Phil lives a terribly isolating experience. No one he knows grows or changes; he can't have a single conversation with someone that they'll remember in the morning. It's to the credit of "Groundhog Day" that the horror of Phil's life is apparent even as it's mined for humor, giving Phil a genuinely hilarious existential crisis.

7. The Terminator

In terms of awkward conversations with your buddies, telling your best friend that he needs to go back in time to seduce your mother so that she'll get pregnant and give birth to you has to be right up there. But that's pretty much the central conceit behind "The Terminator." The future is an apocalyptic hellscape controlled by sentient machines, and the Terminator (a super-buff Arnold Schwarzenegger) is sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor before she can have her son John, who will grow up to become the leader in the fight against the machines. 

Although it's set almost exclusively in the '80s, the time travel element is baked into "The Terminator" from the very beginning. It's also an unusually intelligent science fiction action film. It has plenty of violence, fight scenes, and gore to keep adrenaline junkies happy, but some thoughtful subtext lurks just beneath the surface. Also, Linda Hamilton is note-perfect as Sarah Connor, going from a perfectly ordinary waitress to a warrior who battles killer robots in a matter of minutes.

6. Mirai

When Kun, a spoiled young boy used to being the center of attention, suddenly has to share his parents with his new baby sister Mirai, he's not a happy camper. But one day, Kun goes into his family's garden, and he is given the opportunity to meet not just the older version of his sister, but also his mother as a child, and his great-grandfather as a young man. 

This is the magic of "Mirai": It creates a separate metaphysical plane where Kun, a child whose worldview is entirely self-centered, is given access to all of the different branches of his family tree, giving him a greater understanding of the people he loves most by showing them at different points in their lives. It also teaches Kun that he's one small component of a much larger whole, a legacy that goes on unending forever. But although "Mirai" touches on philosophical themes, it is presented with a great sense of fun and whimsy; Kun's travels are adventures, not dry family history lessons.

5. Back to the Future Part II

"Back to the Future Part II" picks up right where the first film left off. Marty reunites with Jennifer (whose actress has mysteriously changed between films), then Doc Brown bursts on the scene, frantically warning them that they need to travel to the future to fix the lives of their children. 

A huge selling point of "Back to the Future Part II" are the scenes set in the future world of 2015, which are so detailed and imaginative that they still feel futuristic, even though the real 2015 passed us by long ago. The way Hill Valley changes from 1955 to 1985 to 2015 is beautiful, showing the transformation of the California suburb over the decades. But "Back to the Future II" also revisits all of the original film's greatest hits, especially when Marty ends up having to travel to the '50s again to avoid Biff's incredibly Trump-esque rise to power. Some may claim that a large portion of the film is just a rehash of the first, but hey, why mess with what isn't broken?

4. The Time Machine

The classic HG Wells science fiction novel "The Time Machine" has had a few live-action adaptations, the best of which is directed by George Pal and stars Rod Taylor. George, an inventor at the turn of the century, is feverishly working to complete his time machine, a steampunk contraption that will allow him to see the future. He makes a few stops in the 20th century, where he sees the devastation of the first and second World Wars as well as the ever-present fears of nuclear attacks that would destroy humanity as we know it, before being knocked unconscious and travelling many thousands of years into the future. 

By then, humanity has recovered from nuclear blasts, but has split into two subspecies: the gentle surface-dwelling Eloi, and their subterranean predators, the Morlocks. "The Time Machine" is a clever, thought-provoking adventure that highlights many of the anxieties of both 1960, the year that this film was made, and the 1890s, when HG Wells wrote the original book. What will become of humanity in the long-term? Will we ever be able to curb the violent instincts that will likely lead to our downfall? "The Time Machine" provides answers to both.

3. About Time

Time travel movies can make you feel a lot of things, but they don't usually make you cry ugly tears. Apparently "About Time" didn't get the memo. When Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) turns 21, his father (Bill Nighy) sits him down and tells him the family secret: all of the men in their family have the ability to travel back to any point in their own timeline. 

Initially, Tim uses this as an opportunity to have a second chance with a girl (Rachel McAdams) he struck out with. However, Tim's story takes on a much more poignant tone after his father unexpectedly dies. Suddenly, the moments they shared become unbelievably precious, especially when Tim realizes that there will come a point when he can't see his father without causing serious, permanent changes to the people he loves (after Tim's daughter is born, for example, any trip to the past could threaten her existence). "About Time" is billed as a romantic comedy, but it's so much more than that. It's a wonderful story about the love between a father and son, and a reminder to the viewer to embrace the beauty of every single day.

2. Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure

It's hard to think of two more lovable airheads than Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted "Theodore" Logan, the stars of "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure." They're on the verge of failing their high school history class, which is majorly bad news for the future, given that Bill and Ted need to stick together long enough to write the song that will lead humanity to a peaceful utopian society. So, Rufus (George Carlin) springs into action, bringing the kids a time machine in the form of a phone booth that they can use to travel to the past and complete their history presentation. 

What follows is a madcap adventure through time. Bill and Ted end up packing their phone booth full of historical figures like Billy the Kid, Socrates, Joan of Arc, and Genghis Khan. "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" is tremendously creative in its use of these famous people: having Napoleon get way too invested in an ice cream eating challenge, for example, might not be an obvious choice, but it makes perfect sense.

1. Back to the Future

"Back to the Future" is the gold standard when it comes to time travel films. When Marty ends up stuck in 1955 using his best friend Doc Brown's time machine, he has to fight to get back to his original time without causing too much disruption, an endeavor that is significantly complicated when Marty's mother starts to fall in love with him, jeopardizing his entire existence (also, he invents rock music? Marty is a busy kid). 

The dynamic between Marty and Doc Brown is probably the most endearing aspect of the film in both the 1985 and 1955 segments. But it's also incredibly fascinating to watch Marty see his own parents when they're teenagers themselves. Crispin Glover and Lea Thompson are perfectly cast as Marty's father and mother, somehow able to play the younger and older versions of their characters with equal dexterity. Also, the entire movie is so tightly written and expertly crafted that it's hard to think of a single thing to say against it. Is "Back to the Future" a perfect movie? It's certainly possible!