12 Time Travel Movies That Will Make You Question Everything
We’ve rounded-up the best sci-fi action adventures, comedies, and romances so you can grapple with the big question: Would you change the past if you could?
This action film melds “time travel” with “crime thriller” to make audiences ask all the big questions. If you had the chance to stop a tyrant, would you? And what if you are the bad guy? Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt star as the same hit man at different ages. The movie gets good when the two unexpectedly meet up after they crash the same timeline. Emily Blunt rounds out the cast in this intriguing look at how trauma in the past can have devastating consequences on the future.
About Time (2013)
This charming love story follows Domhnall Gleeson as he learns about the talent he’s inherited from the men in his family—the ability to time travel. But there’s a catch: He can only go back to a time he has been to before. This skill makes for gleeful living as he romances love interest Rachel McAdams, but things get harder when he has to face the rules and consequences of seriously altering timelines. He can only go back so far or face desperate loss. Tear-jerking, sweet and thought-provoking, this film is everything you need to contemplate life. Check out the best tearjerkers to watch when life gets emotional.
12 Monkeys (1995)
This Bruce Willis action film is based on the famous French art film, La Jetee, a film composed only of still photographs. Time travel can be powerful, but it’s also bittersweet. Both films look at how to alter time, especially to avoid epic tragedy. Willis is trying to prevent a major health epidemic with dire consequences. All his zipping through time has allowed him to witness his desperate future. But if you see violence happen in advance, are you still able to prevent it? Especially if you’re the victim?
The Terminator (1984)
This science-fiction classic made Arnold Schwarzenegger a star, but it was also a time-travel epic about the villain trying to alter future outcomes. Schwarzenegger plays the cruel robot assassin sent back to prevent the young hero of a future rebellion from even being born. The timeline gets loopy since the future kid’s dad also travels back in time to save that kid’s mom, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). And they fall in love, with the Terminator on their trail, and things get even more tangled!
Somewhere in Time (1980)
Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour moved audiences in this romance about an actress and a playwright brought together in a hotel that seems to offer a portal through time. Reeve plays the modern man who feels a sense of déjà vu when he gazes on Seymour’s photo—she’s the actress from a bygone era. He finds himself obsessed with meeting her and gets the chance after researching time travel via hypnosis. Watch out for your heartstrings when the two meet up in the past (and present) in ways that you won’t expect no matter how many times you watch this romantic story. (Beautiful period costumes may make you want to look at more movies to watch just for the clothes.)
Source Code (2011)
Jake Gyllenhaal plays a man on a train who relives a desperate accident over and over. He’s trying to figure out the source of the terrible event before it can happen again. But he keeps running out of time. Another passenger, Michelle Monaghan, becomes part of this plan. Soon mysterious off-screen voices seem to be conducting an experiment of the event with alternate timelines. Watch out for the unexpected twist at the end. How do the experiments work and how is Gyllenhaal able to travel back in time? The revelation is a dark surprise.
Déjà Vu (2006)
Denzel Washington stars as New Orleans detective investigating a terrorist attack through new satellite technology that allows a look at past events. But it also unleashes some kind of time travel portal. Meanwhile, Paula Patton, a woman who died in the attack, catches his eye as he watches her still alive in the past. The timeline gets twisty when Washington heads to the past and tries to alter history, prevent the attack, and save the girl.
The Lake House (2006)
This beautiful love story involves a magic mailbox where two homeowners can communicate with each other beyond time and space. Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock shine as the lost souls desperate to find each other. They each live in the same lovely lake house, but during different time periods. This is a beautiful romance with the two leads turning in great performances that capture the mystery at the heart of this film.
This complicated science-fiction film is famous for being hard to understand. But you’ll enjoy giving it a try as it layers on the different realities with space ships, portals, wormholes and a cool tunnel thing where you can peer into rooms and try to send messages. The twists and turns are anchored by the father-daughter relationship between Matthew McConaughey and Jessica Chastain who communicate (despite huge barriers in time and space) about a technology that can save the planet.
Back to the Future (1985)
This ’80s classic is forever beloved and always watchable. Everyone has fun watching Marty McFly (played by the ever-charming Michael J. Fox) come face-to-face with his parents back when they were in high school. Because that idea sounds both intriguing and scary to all of us! Things get awkward when his own mom (Lea Thompson) starts to fall for him. This trip back to the ’50s offered nostalgic fun and Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown plays up crazy scientist antics perfectly.
Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
This funny indie film stars Mark Duplass and Audrey Plaza as two hipsters who get caught up in an unlikely romance over a time travel machine. Duplass’ oddball character places a personal ad looking for someone to accompany him on a time travel mission where they have to bring their own weapons, and “safety not guaranteed.” Plaza plays the journalist who answers his ad, looking to write up a good story. Instead, she discovers that he just might be on to something—and she has her own reasons for wanting to change to the past.
Midnight in Paris (2011)
This nostalgic love story stars Owen Wilson as a writer who idealizes the past. Wilson walks around Paris, all depressed because modern life is so bland compared to the movers and shakers of the past. Soon, he’s transported to Paris in the 1920s and finds himself hobnobbing with great artistic minds. He meets Gertrude Stein, Salvador Dali and hangs out with F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. This is a charming and melancholy look at always longing for a place and time beyond the one you’re in. Wilson has some hard lessons on learning to live happy right where you are.