Weekend Roundtable: Favorite Time Travel Movies

I’ve been waiting for a good excuse to do a Roundtable about favorite time travel movies, and this week’s theatrical release of ‘Looper’ is just the ticket. So hop in your Delorean and pop in your favorite Huey Lewis cassette, because we “Gotta get back in time, Gotta get back in time…” Whoo!

This week, we’re joined by one of High-Def Digest‘s newest staff members, Shannon Nutt. Some of you may recognize his name as a frequent commenter on this blog and in our forums. Shannon was recently brought on board to help us with Blu-ray review coverage, which he started this week with a review of ‘WarGames‘. Please give him a warm welcome.

Mike Attebery

I’d like to be creative on this one, but to me, the obvious choice is the ‘Back to the Future‘ trilogy. I adore these movies. They’re funny, they’re clever, and they basically invented the rules of time travel as we know them. They made me want one of these. They’re perfect movies. Every time I start to watch them, I’m completely pulled in by the time the dog food splatters in Einstein’s bowl.

Shannon Nutt

My favorite film of all time just happens to involve time travel. 1980’s ‘Somewhere in Time‘ is loosely based on a novel by Richard Matheson. It’s the story of a playwright (Christopher Reeve) who becomes obsessed with a young actress (Jane Seymour) from the early 1900s, and becomes determined to go back in time to meet her. Granted, the time travel method here is the least scientific of virtually any other time travel movie (it’s a journey back to the past via the power of the mind), but that’s part of what makes the movie so wonderful. It’s a science-fiction film, a fantasy, a romance and a period piece all rolled into one. Directed by Jeannot Szwarc (‘Jaws 2’) with a beautiful and haunting score by John Barry (his finest work in a career of fine work) and a great performance by Christopher Reeve, ‘Somewhere in Time’ may not be the most logical movie that deals with traveling through time, but it’s the most touching. Now if only Universal would give it the Blu-ray release it deserves!

Brian Hoss

In a world where Confederate gold shipments are stolen though time in order to finance arms deals, and the 1929 stock market crash is manipulated daily to fund political campaigns, only one man has the high kicks necessary to stop unauthorized time travel in its tracks. As a time enforcement officer, Max Walker (Jean-Claude Van Damme) is entirely jaded and almost completely withdrawn from society. He spends his off time morosely wishing for his hot wife (Mia Sara) to still be alive.

While Van Damme’s role was blessed with more character depth than, say, ‘Bloodsport’ or ‘Universal Soldier’, ‘Timecop‘ wastes little time measuring characters’ reactions to different time periods, which is the thrust of most movies involving time travel. The flick is about Van Damme versus the nefarious Senator McComb (Ron Silver) in the not-too-distant-future, and it spins a yarn about secret government agencies, VR sex, suicidal time travel vehicles, coldware and the dangers of same matter. ‘Timecop’ is a B-movie, a movie for guys who like movies, an ’80s throwback and a Van Damme vehicle. By borrowing elements of various genres, this comic book adaptation, sci-fi actioner is more fun and does more with time travel and with one-liners than countless other movies even attempt.

“Stay here, Walker. In my future, you’re dead.” That’s Senator McComb not long after Van Damme has kick-shattered a bad guy’s frozen arm, causing said bad guy to stumble in agony over a railing and down into a coldware chip-producing machine.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

Twelve monkeys and precisely zero half-man/half-pig creatures. Where’s the fun in that?

Time Bandits‘ is my favorite of Terry Gilliam’s jaunts through the past, present and future. Crafting the fabric of the universe in six days wound up being kind of a tall order, and that rush job led to a few gaping holes scattered around the space/time continuum. A few of the Supreme Being’s pint-sized contractors have gotten their mitts on a map of those rifts and are trying to use ’em for trans-dimensional high robbery. As plans go, swiping history’s most legendary treasures and ducking into a time portal before anyone can blink twice works for me. Turns out there’s kind of a learning curve when leaping through space and time, though, and the would-be bandits instead wind up in a British tyke’s bedroom. As Kevin and his new kinda-sorta friends wreak havoc through history, the embodiment of evil schemes to use them as his ticket out of an eternal prison.

A rote plot summary like that can’t really prepare you for ‘Time Bandits’, a stream-of-consciousness explosion of everything bobbing around in Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin’s imaginations. There’s no movie-logic or three act structure to get in the way. It’s a heckuva lot of fun, startlingly inventive, gently twisted and a family movie in the truest sense of the word.

Tom Landy

I know some people think that it’s the lesser of the ‘Evil Dead’ films, but I’ve always been a big a fan of Sam Raimi’s ‘Army of Darkness‘. Continuing where we left off at the end of ‘Evil Dead 2’, our hero, the wise-cracking S-Mart employee Ash (cult fave Bruce Campbell), has been sucked through a vortex that transports him back to medieval times. Ash’s only hope in returning back to the present is to recover the Necronomicon (otherwise known as the Book of the Dead). What follows is a hilarious romp filled with slapstick comedy, quotable one-liners (“This… is my BOOMSTICK!”) and old-school special effects. It’s a delight to watch. ‘Army of Darkness’ is always one of my go-to staples every Halloween.

M. Enois Duarte

A fascinating recent movie (well, if you consider eight years ago recent) about the complexities and paradoxes involving time-traveling is ‘Primer‘. The micro-budgeted sci-fi drama (made with a total cost of only $7,000) is one of the most intricate, philosophical ruminations on the science behind time-traveling. The film’s writer, director and producer Shane Carruth is a mathematical engineer, so the guy filled his script with actual theoretical possibilities and mind-bending technical jargon. The film is the story of two friends, Aaron and Abe, who accidentally create a time-traveling machine and discover the life-altering power associated with the knowledge they gain during their experiments. This fantastic, ultra-small independent film has an incredibly complicated and challenging finale.

Aaron Peck

I went back and forth on writing about this movie, but after seeing ‘Looper‘ last week, I have to put it right up there with my favorite time travel movies. ‘Looper’ not only has a great gimmick (really, who can say no to a time travel/hitman movie?), but also doesn’t have to rely on that gimmick to remain interesting. The key here is that all of the characters that Rian Johnson has created are interesting on their own. The fact that they exist in a great story simply adds to the entertainment. It’s a time travel movie that isn’t obsessed with explaining how everything works. Instead, the movie is focused on its characters, their lives and relationships. It’s one of the best movies of 2012 so far.

Josh Zyber

‘The Terminator’. Duh.

OK, that one’s perhaps too obvious. In fact, I asked the staff to shy away from really obvious titles like ‘The Terminator’ and ’12 Monkeys’ (though I apparently forgot ‘Back to the Future’, grrr…). My off-the-beaten path pick is director Brad Anderson’s ‘Happy Accidents‘, in which Marisa Tomei finds herself falling for an eccentric guy (Vincent D’Onofrio) who may be a time traveler from 400 years in the future or may just be nuts. She isn’t sure and neither are we. The movie is both a rom-com and a sci-fi flick rolled up in one. It has a little something for both women and men. Unfortunately, due to the studio’s inability to market it, the film fell through the cracks back in 2000 and is virtually unknown today. However, of everyone who has seen it, I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like it.

I know that we’ve missed plenty of good time travel films here. (Where are Bill and Ted, dude?) Tell us your favorites in the Comments.


  1. Alex

    Big fan of Star Trek: First Contact. Time travel in the Star Trek universe is handled rather inconsistently. Nobody ever seems to have too much trouble getting back in time through whatever means are necessary to move the plot forward (going really fast around the sun? honestly?), but First Contact was a blast. There’s something about seeing Data announce that the earth now has a population of 10 billion, all Borg, and hearing what sounds suspiciously like fear in his voice that is just awesome.

  2. Ted Yoytch

    Nacho Vigalondo’s “Timecrimes” is an excellent low-budget time travel/horror flick, one that’s apparently already in the process of receiving the obligatory big-budget American remake. It’s scary, mind-bending and surprisingly hilarious at times. It ranks right up there with Primer for old-fashioned ingenuity on a shoestring budget. While I don’t like it anywhere near as much, “The Jacket” is a fairly unconventional time-travel flick, and has enough twists and good scenes to necessitate a watch. Also, while it isn’t strictly a time-travel movie, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban!

  3. C Boyer

    Time After Time (1979) was an unusual and interesting take on time travel with H.G Wells and Jack the Ripper center stage, and is always the first movie I think of with this theme. Love The Time Machine with Rod Taylor as well.

  4. Ryan

    I can’t stand Time Travel movies with paradoxes….so no matter how “fun” BTTF is, it’s still a HORRIBLE time travel movie. Nothing in it makes logical sense.

    Just saw Looper, and I’m still trying to figure that one out!

    As far as pure time travel goes…. 12 Monkeys and Timecrimes are my favorites.
    I wouldn’t consider it a time travel movie, but many people seem to…so I’d have to throw in Groundhog Day as well

  5. If Stephen King’s “11/22/63” gets a great adaption then that one will definitely skyrocket up the board of my favorite time travel movies. You better do it justice Mr. Demme.

    • flskydiver

      Just finished this novel and I have to agree — it is awesome. And it’s getting a movie already? Sweet!

  6. Chaz

    Wow Happy Accidents? How did I miss that one? I’m a fan of Brad Anderson and had no idea about that one, you are definitely right that it fell through the cracks, will definitely have to find that one and check it out.

    But I’m a fan of about all those mentioned, have always loved time travel movies, Time Bandits and Back to the Future are probably my faves if I had to pick 🙂

  7. I’d have to say the George Pal version of The Time Machine. I always enjoyed it as a kid, and it still stands up today (well, I enjoy it, anyway). It’s fascinating to watch thoughts of how the future would go, from a time travel perspective, rather than the usual “Let’s go back” scenario from most time-travel films.

    As for others… hmmm… Well, the usuals, but as an unusual choice I’m going to go for Warlock. I love the out-of-place Richard E. Grant trying to cope with the modern world while hunting the warlock/witch from his own time.

    I like the sounds of Happy Accidents, Josh. Just the type of story I think I’d enjoy, but I’d never heard of that one. I’ll give it a go!!

  8. Kevin

    Well, most of the obvious choices have already been mentioned (Back to the Future, Terminator 1&2, Time Bandits, Star Trek: First Contact), so I’ll go with 2009’s “Star Trek” directed by J.J. Abrams.

    I, for one, thought the use of time travel as the cause of the creation of an alternate timeline in order to reboot the “Star Trek” franchise without pissing all over what came before (unless you’re one of those fanboys who just HAS to complain about everything that doesn’t perfectly match up with what it says in the Okudas’ “Star Trek Encyclopedia”) was absolutely brilliant. And while, yeah, the scene where Kirk just happens to encounter Nimoy-Spock in the ice cave might be a little “convenient”, it (and the later scene with Nimoy and Quinto together) was just plain fun.

  9. William Henley

    So many good ones have been listed already, but no one has listed my favorite two.

    Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures has got to be my favorite, hands down. This was the movie of my preteen years. I have no clue how many times I have seen this, but I love this movie!

    Second has got to be Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. It’s just funny! “Double dumb ass on you!” “Hello computer”.

  10. Mark Luty

    I have to say my all time favorite time travel movie is (1980) The Final Countdown.
    “It’s about An American nuclear aircraft carrier and its crew are caught in a classic dilemma when a supernatural storm sends them back in time just before the Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor.”