Top 20 movies that have tinkered with time

In celebration of Back to the Future Day, we’ve taken a look at 20 movies that have also tinkered with time travel.

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Time travel is one of the most intriguing sci-fi concepts explored on the big screen, but it’s also such a complex subject that even Earth’s brightest minds have trouble agreeing on its feasibility.

It’s one of the most exciting topics that sci-fi can explore. Not only is it supported by quantum mechanics theory, but once you jump the infinitely mind-boggling “how it works” hurdle (or at least circumnavigate it), the possibilities are truly endless.

Some titles, like Back to the Future, use time-travel purely as a backdrop for an entertaining blockbuster, whereas others, like Primer, take the science of paradoxes, multiverses and time dilation very seriously.

In the years since Back to the Future, countless films have taken a shot at the impossible task of making time travel plausible (or at least entertaining). Below are our top 20.

Interstellar

1. Interstellar


  • Year: 2014
  • Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin

A sci-fi epic, Interstellar takes place in a dystopian future where humanity is struggling to survive. As a result, a group of astronauts travel through a wormhole in search of a new home for humanity. The movie is thought-provoking and visually stunning. More importantly, the time-travelling aspect is done so well that you’ll be glued to the screen for the duration of the film.

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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban


  • Year: 2004
  • Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Gary Oldman, David Thewlis

Not a time-travel movie per se, but you have to admit that the time-travelling sequence in this one is beyond memorable. Prisoner of Azkaban takes place during Harry’s third year at Hogwarts, when he learns that the dangerous criminal Sirius Black has escaped from the wizard prison and might be planning to kill him. The movie is full of magic and wonder, with the time travel only the icing on the cake. This is also when the Harry Potter franchise starts to appeal to adults as well, with the narrative becoming more complex and compelling.

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X-Men: Days of Future Past

3. X-Men: Days of Future Past


  • Year: 2014
  • Cast: Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy

As the title suggests, X-Men: Days of Future Past relies heavily on time travel. We follow Wolverine as he travels back in time to 1973 to change history and prevent an event that results in doom for both humans and mutants. One of the best entries in the X-Men franchise, the movie is fast-paced and engrossing, seamlessly combining the cast of two different eras to spectacular results.

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The Time Traveler’s Wife

4. The Time Traveler’s Wife


  • Year: 2009
  • Cast: Eric Bana, Rachel McAdams, Ron Livingston

Based on the popular book of the same name, The Time Traveler’s Wife centres around a librarian who suffers from a rare genetic disorder that sends him hurtling through time. Needless to say, the condition really takes a toll not only on himself, but also his loved ones. If you’re a fan of epic romances, this is one not to miss.

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Hot Tub Time Machine

5. Hot Tub Time Machine


  • Year: 2010
  • Cast: John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Clark Duke, Crispin Glover

Hot Tub Time Machine may not be a cinematic masterpiece, but we’d be remiss to exclude it for a list that focuses on time-travelling flicks. The movie follows a group of friends who, after a crazy night of drinking in a ski resort hot tub, wake up in the past. They decide to take advantage of their predicament and hopefully change their future for the better. Consistently enjoyable from start to finish, this comedy is silly and hilarious. It's well worth giving a stream.

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Doctor Strange

6. Doctor Strange


  • Year: 2016
  • Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong

Following a devastating car crash, famous neurosurgeon Stephen Strange loses the ability to use his hands. In the quest to heal himself, he just happens to become a great sorcerer – and might even be able to save the world from death and destruction using some awesome time-bending abilities. Add some mesmerising fight sequences into the mix and you’ve got yourself and engaging crowd-pleaser.

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Edge of Tomorrow

7. Edge of Tomorrow


  • Year: 2014
  • Cast: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt

Live, die, repeat. That’s the premise behind Edge of Tomorrow, an intelligent action film that takes place in a future where most of Europe is invaded by an alien race. The story revolves around a public relations officer who is killed in battle but finds himself in a time loop. He teams up with a Special Forces warrior to improve his fighting skills and defeat the invaders. Fun!

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Groundhog Day

8. Groundhog Day


  • Year: 1993
  • Cast: Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, Chris Elliott

Speaking of time loops, Groundhog Day has become a classic for a reason. The movie follows a self-centred weatherman forced to relive the same day over and over again, to the point where something even more unusual happens: he starts to care about other people. Inventive and sweet, Groundhog Day stands the test of time and boasts a marvellous performance from Murray. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’ll be in for a treat.

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Avengers: Endgame

9. Avengers: Endgame


  • Year: 2019
  • Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth

Simply including Endgame on this list might be considered a spoiler. However, given that it smashed all box office records to become the highest-grossing film of all time, we bet you already know how the action unfolds. Following the events of Infinity War, the remaining Avengers band together to undo the devastating effects of Thanos’s actions. A superhero epic for the ages, the movie is emotionally impactful, funny, action-packed and thrilling. All in all, a worthy conclusion to a story more than a decade in the making.

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About Time

10. About Time


  • Year: 2013
  • Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy

A delightful dramedy, About Time follows a man with the ability to time travel who tries to change his past in the hopes of improving his future – and maybe his love life. However, time travelling comes with consequences, as the hero will spend most of his life trying to understand. The movie is sweet and moving, to the point where even the most cynical of viewers might find themselves shedding a tear. Consider yourself warned.

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Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure

11. Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure


  • Year: 1989
  • Cast: Alex Winter, Keanu Reeves, George Carlin

Released only four years after Back to the Future, Bill and Ted took the chains off the whole time-travelling adventure-comedy premise and went full goofball. Bill and Ted is excellent in its own right. Not only did it add a dash of historical education to the mix, but it also gave us Keanu Reeves and introduced younger audiences to George Carlin (albeit, in a fairly timid role as the time-hopping mentor, Rufus).

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Terminator 2: Judgement Day

12. Terminator 2: Judgment Day


  • Year: 1991
  • Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick, Edward Furlong

When a time-travelling T-800 tells you they’ll be back, you better believe it. Sure, The Terminator had a time-travelling Arnie, but Judgement Day is where the timeline really begins to get messy. Awesome, but messy. After the original film – where a time traveller sent by John Connor protects Sarah Connor from The Terminator, and along the way impregnates Sarah Connor to create John Connor – the future John Connor sends The Terminator back to protect a younger John Connor from another shape-shifting Terminator. Try saying that all in one breath.

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12 Monkeys

13. 12 Monkeys


  • Year: 1995
  • Cast: Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, Brad Pitt

Before it was a subpar SyFy series, 12 Monkeys was a superb film by Monty Python mastermind Terry Gilliam. Bruce Willis plays Cole, a man who is sent back in time to prevent a deadly virus from circulating, as it all but wipes human civilisation from the face of the Earth in 2027. Claiming to be from the future, Cole is immediately institutionalised when he reaches 1990. There, he meets a group of radicals (led by Brad Pitt) who he suspects to be responsible for the outbreak.

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Primer

14. Primer


  • Year: 2004
  • Cast: Shane Carruth, David Sullivan, Casey Gooden, Anand Upadhyaya

Many movies gloss over the science behind their time travel mechanics, and who could blame them? It’s a hotly debated topic and sometimes avoiding any explanation is the only way to keep the Internet trolls at bay. The creators of Primer said “fudge that” and hypothesised one of the most logical rationales for time travel to ever appear in a work of fiction. Granted, the characters in Primer play it safe by only travelling six hours into the past. But what they do with that six hours is nothing short of genius.

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The Butterfly Effect

15. The Butterfly Effect


  • Year: 2004
  • Cast: Ashton Kutcher, Amy Smart

The Butterfly Effect may not be the greatest time travel movie to exist – in fact, it may not even be a good movie – but it’s hard to deny the appeal of this 2004 thriller featuring Lenovo pusher Ashton Kutcher. A 20-year-old college student with the ability to transport his conscience through time and into his younger self uses his abilities to preclude a series of traumatic events that had lasting effects on his group of friends. As we learned from The Simpsons episode Time and Punishment, making small changes to the past is almost never good – as poor Kutchy finds out.

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Futurama: Bender's Big Score

16. Futurama: Bender's Big Score


  • Year: 2007
  • Cast: Billy West, Katey Sagal, John DiMaggio

The feature-length movie that returned Fry and the Planet Express crew to our screens begins with Bender utilising a “time code” tattoo on Fry’s butt to steal a number of treasures from different moments in history. It starts off with the usual laughs you’d expect from an episode of Futurama, but once the time travel and multiverse themes kick in, Bender’s Big Score reveals itself as one of the most touching and poignant additions to the Futurama canon – right behind Jurassic Bark.

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Source Code

17. Source Code


  • Year: 2011
  • Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright

Imagine waking up as Jake Gyllenhaal. Every. Single. Day. Sounds like a dream, right? Well, there’s a catch. You also die in a fiery explosion at the end of every. Single. Day. In Source Code (the second movie from David Bowie’s progeny Duncan Jones), Jake Gyllenhaal plays a marine whose conscience is transported into another man’s body in the final eight minutes before a bomb explodes. Colter (Gyllenhaal) must relive this eight minutes over and over again until he discovers the identity of the bomber.

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Safety Not Guaranteed

18. Safety Not Guaranteed


  • Year: 2012
  • Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Jake Johnson, Mark Duplass

Safety Not Guaranteed sure uses time travel as its central theme, but whether or not time travel actually exists in this universe is the film’s central conflict. Jeff (New Girl’s Jake Johnson) and Darius (Parks and Rec’s Aubrey Plaza) are two reporters from Seattle investigating a newspaper classified ad for a wanted time travel companion. They travel to a quiet seaside town to track down the self-purported time traveller, Kenneth (Mark Duplass), only to find that he is slightly unhinged. Are his claims full of hot air or does he have the technology to travel through time? You’ll have to find out.

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Looper

19. Looper


  • Year: 2012
  • Cast: Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt

Bruce Willis just can’t stay put in the one timeline. Looper tells of a dystopian future where time travel is very much a reality, but as quickly as it’s discovered, it’s made illegal. This doesn’t stop criminal organisations from utilising the technology to pull off complicated assassination contracts. In the present day, young Joe (Joseph Gordon Levitt), is given one last contract before retiring. Only, the man who arrives to be assassinated is himself from 30 years into the future (Bruce Willis). Old Joe manages to outwit Young Joe, kicking off the most twisted game of cat and mouse to ever grace the screen.

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Predestination

20. Predestination


  • Year: 2014
  • Cast: Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, Noah Taylor

We love time travel movies for two reasons: one, the sheer adventure, and two, the way they can mess with the viewer’s mind like no other sub-genre. If it’s mind-melting you’re after, then Predestination is where it’s at (was at… will be at?). It’s way too hard to explain Predestination without giving too much away, but the basic gist of it is: an agent who works for Temporal Corps (a kind of timecop agency) is given one last mission to travel back in time and stop an enigmatic criminal known as “the Fizzle Bomber” from killing thousands. Make sure you watch this completely sober. It’s the only way to keep up.

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