Time travel films easily rank among my favorite through out the genres. Most of the time these movies are presented in a science fiction film foundation (but not all of the time). A film like the comedy “Groundhog Day” is proof of that. With over 200 films created that deal with time travel, trying to create a “top 10 list” is a rather difficult task. Though as they say, things are subjective. I feel these 10 are the best match for a site like ours that covers horror and related-genre films. I will also add that there have been as equally compelling time-related stories that were included in anthologies and TV series over the years. I might point you in the direction of the “Outer Limits” series (1995), that has a DVD set dedicated solely to the time related episodes…very cool stuff indeed. I will also add that the film “Somewhere in Time” ranks among my favorite time based film (of all time…), though I’ve always considered it more of a love story, drama (and so was left off this list)
The following 10 have had great impact in the science fiction AND horror genres as (in many cases) “mainstays” of cinematic achievement. I hope that you take the time to visit them all if not already (or perhaps some time in the future).
(not in ranking order)
1- The Terminator (1984)
Kyle Reese travels back in time to impregnate Sarah Connor so that John Connor can lead the future resistance movement over the evil entity Skynet. The concept caught us all by surprise when we set out to watch Arnold go berserk on screen. “The Terminator” has always been an important mainstay in cinema about how the future can change the past so that the future will prevail. We’ve seen quite a bit of this in the “Back to the Future” franchise, however “The Terminator” was perfect science fiction for our 1984 minds. Or maybe we just like seeing Arnold kick everybody’s ass??
2- The Butterfly Effect (2004)
The idea of “the butterfly effect” can be summed in this Wiki entry “In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions, where a small change at one place in a nonlinear system can result in large differences to a later state. The name of the effect, coined by Edward Lorenz, is derived from the theoretical example of a hurricane’s formation being contingent on whether or not a distant butterfly had flapped its wings several weeks before.”
That idea has been used before, however the 2004 release of the movie “The Butterfly Effect” (ya, I know….Ashton Kutcher,) was such a great way to present this. Evan manages to change time by changing the course of 1 particular event. The event has amazing repercussions to his and his friends future existence. If the above more scientific explanation doesn’t sink in, then this film will.
3- Planet of the Apes (1968)
Director Franklin J. Schaffner probably had no idea at the time how iconic his Planet of the Apes debut would have on our movie culture featuring the early talents of Charlton Heston and Roddy McDowall. Society would have a new vision of “what” our future might be or “could” be. Perhaps our future holds some truth to this idea as time changes and we obliterate our own species??? In any case, the POTA franchise was an important addition to science fiction spawning several sequels and remakes.
4- The Time Machine (1960)
You might prefer the remakes, but its this 1960 George Pal directed release that really put things into perspective. A simple idea and yet somehow it managed to influence the scientific community past the point of fiction into a potential realization. Still today we talk of potential time machines and quantum leaps. Was H.G. Wells a prophet or was he simply a man with imagination that surpassed our technological future?
5- The Philadelphia Experiment (1984)
A great film for its time. While its purpose is to analyze and attack the whole controversial “Philadelphia Experiment”, it also does a great job with time travel and its complications. One of actors Michael Paré’s greatest performances..yep and it came right after the “Eddie and the Cruisers” gig. The FX at the time were limited, however, I think any astute viewer will see past that and find the purpose here.
6- Twelve Monkeys (1995)
A clever film directed by Terry Gilliam that has James Cole (Bruce Willis) being sent back in time to correct a lethal virus that wiped out 5 billion in 1996. It has a great story with a twist ending that has earned it a fan favorite “choice” for time travel films. Hey, you get to see Brad Pitt as a nut bag with a scary foreshadow of potential things to come!
7- Stargate (1994)
This idea has been copied a few times in other films and shows. The ever popular time portal device that can send folks back to a adjacent time portal. “Stargate” though is the one to remember. We’d later see this device used in the TV series Terra Nova”. One of Kurt Russell’s better roles as Col. Jonathan ‘Jack’ O’Neil. The team travels back to 1920 Egypt and encounters RA. Of course this went on to become a pretty lengthy TV series as well.
8- Donnie Darko (2001) (and follow up “S. Darko” (2009) )
A unique play on time travel, our central character is presented with a divine intervention of potential doomsday events (his in particular). The film is not as straight forward as these others. It asks questions and then lays them out in a sequence of events. Donnie even gets to slip into a wormhole to jump back to his “choice” decision that prevents his one alternate dimension from transpiring.
9- Time Bandits (1981)
It’s all about time, traveling thru time, encountering strange time portals, and historical periods. Though any viewer would recognize it moreso for its wacky Terry Gilliam flavors. A young boy hops from time to time with a merry band of dwarves in search of treasure. It’s quite visual and bizarre..but in a good way.I especially like the play on good and evil with the “Supreme Being” at one end and the “Evil Genius” at the other. While it fits into a fantasy / science fiction category…I’ve always thought of it more as a cult film.
10- Army of Darkness (1992)
Not your usual time-jumping style of film, we have to call this one out for its horror genre contribution. Ash gets sucked into a 1300 A.D. time portal and ends up fighting demons and what not. Ash’s 20th century attitude makes for great entertainment as this misplaced buffoon handles things his way.
A Sound of Thunder (2005)
One that I just really liked but might be considered lower on the radar. It takes the “butterfly effect” on again with some amazing results. Hey, what can I say, I’m a sucker for anything “butterfly effect” purpose driven.
A newer film that many have yet to see. It does so in the whole cinema verite style that some love and some loath. Here’s the thing…this film will make you think!!
Back to the Future (1985)
If this list went to #11, then this film would be #11. It’s a fantastic trilogy of time weaving and comedy, but because it feels more like science fiction comedy, I didn’t “really” think it fit “this” list in the same capacity of the other titles. None the less – there is alot of great “time” theories interwoven if you are paying attention.
Top 10 Genre Time Travel Movies