The 14 greatest time travel movies ever made

Not one, but two time travel movies are on the horizon – and they're set to tackle the ever-popular concept in wildly different ways.

First up: intriguing horror/sci-fi Antebellum, from the producer of Get Out. The movie stars Moonlight's Janelle Monae as an author who is mysteriously transported back to the days of the American slave trade, with the very concept of time becoming completely scrambled.

Then we have Tenet, the latest movie from Christopher Nolan, who has always enjoyed deconstructing and re-sculpting time in acclaimed films like Memento, Inception and Interstellar. BlacKkKlansman's John David Washington plays the lead role in this mysterious and cryptic epic, shot on multiple continents with a premise that seems to revolve around espionage and temporal manipulation. The film is currently scheduled for release in July.

In anticipation of both movies, we're recapping the 14 greatest time travel movies ever made.

1. The Time Machine (1960)

H.G. Wells popularised the concept of time travel with his landmark story, first published in 1895. However, it was another 65 years before the movies could do justice to Wells' ambition – a clear sign of how remarkably ahead of the curve he was.

Rod Taylor (later to star in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds) is the Victorian gentleman who invents a time machine and uses it to divine mankind's eventual fate. He witnesses a terrifying battle between the passive Eloi and the animalistic Morlocks, with the film's effects still holding up reasonably well in the modern era.

2. The Terminator (1984)

James Cameron's classic sci-fi action movie is riddled with all manner of time travel paradoxes. Namely, if one travels back from the future to change the past, wouldn't that effectively unwrite their very existence? However, the movie is so entertaining that one overlooks these foibles, instead accepting them as germane to all time travel mythology.

Arnold Schwarzenegger shot to fame as the monotone, unstoppable cyborg, a terrifying killing machine whose ruthlessness brings this first Terminator movie closer to the realm of a horror film. However, the story's heart belongs to Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, mother of the human race's eventual saviour, who falls in love with the man sent back in time to protect her, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn).

3. Back to the Future (1985)

Best time travel movie ever made? It has to be the first Back to the Future. It spawned a hit trilogy of films, but the original is the one that hits the sweet spot between comedy, pathos and head-scrambling time travel hijinks, which are just about obscured by the film's barrelling pace and utter joyousness.

Co-written and directed by Robert Zemeckis, the film tells the story of Marty McFly (an endearing Michael J. Fox), an '80s teenager who is transported back to the 1950s courtesy of a time-travelling DeLorean. The friendship Marty develops with the car's creator, scientist Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) is one of the best in movie history.

4. Flight of the Navigator (1986)

There's a genetic link between time travel movie Flight of the Navigator and the earlier Back to the Future: both films were scored by Alan Silvestri. However, whereas the former got a rambunctious, fully orchestral treatment, the latter gets a moodily atmospheric synth accompaniment.

It strikes the perfect tone for a story in which a young kid is transported to an alternate timeline where his family don't recognise him. The only solution is to team up with spaceship operator Max to travel back in time and restore the balance.

5. Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)

Not all time travel movies are reliant on hardware. The concept has occasionally been tweaked for more heartwarming purposes, as in this gentle romantic drama from The Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola.

Kathleen Turner plays the eponymous Peggy Sue, a lonely housewife who is transported back to the glory days of her senior high school year in 1960. The film ripples with undertones of mournful regret (aided by John Barry's lovely score) and is an example of a decidedly lo-fi time travel conceit.

6. Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)

We're soon to be reunited with Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter as slacker airheads Bill and Ted in Bill and Ted Face The Music. But before we do (the movie is scheduled to arrive in August), let's revisit their big-screen debut.

Given Reeves' status as a contemporary action icon, it's something of a shock to go back and rediscover how funny he is in both Bill and Ted films. In the first, the two loveable dolts travel back through time, interviewing a host of historical figures for the purposes of their high-school history presentation. Their meeting with philosopher Socrates (pronounced "So-Crates") is a comic highlight.

7. Groundhog Day (1993)

Is this classic comedy a time travel movie, strictly speaking? If one were to be picky, it's really a time-loop film, in which the same stretch of a particular character's life is repeated over and over again to assist in their personal growth. But, since everyone loves Groundhog Day, we're including it here anyway.

Bill Murray is on splendidly acerbic form as the grumpy weatherman who's forced to relive the same day over and over again. The film is directed by his Ghostbusters cohort Harold Ramis, and although they reportedly had many disagreements on the set, it's hard to argue with the thought-provoking and delightful end result.

8. Timecop (1994)

There was a time when Jean-Claude Van Damme was a mainstay in action cinema. Truthfully, he never broke out in the manner of, say, Arnold Schwarzenegger, but JCVD still has some guilty pleasures on his CV.

One of them is Timecop, the enjoyably brainless story of a policeman turned federal agent whose involvement in time travel brings him into conflict with a shady politician. The film is based on a story that appeared in Dark Horse Comics, and one most admire JCVD for keeping a straight face throughout.

9. Donnie Darko (2001)

Jake Gyllenhaal shot to stardom with his role as the troubled and tormented Donnie Darko, a hormonal teen who discovers a rift in the time-space continuum. Oh, and there are regular interventions from Frank, a man in a demonic bunny outfit who seems to be guiding Donnie along the way.

Directed by Richard Kelly, Donnie Darko is intentionally murky and confusing, which, ironically, makes it as authentic a portrayal of adolescent angst as one could expect. A flop on its initial US release, the film has since attained the status of a cult classic, compelling viewers to return and discern the enigmatic truth at the heart of its time travel conundrum.

10. Source Code (2011)

Jake Gyllenhaal doesn't have a lot of luck with time-loops and temporal shifts. In Duncan Jones' propulsive and gripping sci-fi thriller, he plays a commuter on a train who is seemingly forever destined to die in a terrorist explosion. 

But there's a twist: Gyllenhaal is actually Captain Colter Stevens, a man who is being artificially placed into the past via a program known as the 'Source Code', which will help locate the identity of the bomber. It's a delirious conceit that only grows more complicated, in both a technical and ethical sense, as the film proceeds. Gyllenhaal's sweaty determination well matches the expression of the viewer as they endeavour to stay on track with the twisty storyline.

11. Looper (2012)

Before he directed Knives Out and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson exerted his creative muscle on this darkly compelling and intricate sci-fi thriller. It tells the story of assassins tasked with executing individuals who are sent back to the past from the future. 

However, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's central character Joe faces a dilemma when he's confronted with his older self, played by Bruce Willis. This sets up a minefield of philosophical questions as the very essence of time itself is scattered to the four winds. The scene in which the two versions of the same character confront each other is spine-tingling and emotionally resonant, with both stating their case from either side of the time travel divide.

12. Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

Director Colin Trevorrow may be more famous for Jurassic World (the third, Dominion, arrives in 2021). But he started out with this quirky time travel indie comedy, starring Parks and Rec's Aubrey Plaza and Creep's Mark Duplass.

The film centres on a group of reporters who seek to expose a most unusual individual: a man who placed a classified advert seeking a companion for time travel. The film's deadpan approach effectively messes with our heads, as we're forced to confront the issue hovering around the edge of the story: is time travel actually possible?

13. About Time (2013)

Like the earlier Peggy Sue Got Married, this schmaltzy Richard Curtis rom-com uses notions of time travel in service of something far fluffier. Domhnall Gleeson is the gawky young Brit who's informed by his dad (a superb Bill Nighy) that all the men in his family have the ability to time travel. All they have to do is find a dark corner, clench their hands, close their eyes and concentrate.

This being a Richard Curtis movie, the main character initially uses the ability to further his chances with Rachel McAdams' love interest. But as the logical fallacies pile up, the movie loops back around to that central father-son relationship, digging out real pain and emotion amidst the contrivances.

14. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

Not even the X-Men are immune to a spot of time-travelling. Days of Future Past is arguably the last truly great movie in the series, and finds the Marvel mutant heroes at their wits' end, hunted in a dystopian future by machines known as the Sentinels.

There's only one thing for it: send Hugh Jackman's Wolverine back in time to the 1970s to help prevent the catastrophe that threatens to obliterate mutant-kind. This means he has to persuade frenemies Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to work together. But the show is stolen by Evan Peters' Quicksilver, whose lightning-quick abilities help get our heroes out of one especially sticky situation.

What are your favourite time-travelling movies? Let us know @Cineworld.