Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd star as an unlikely pair of best friends: a 17-year-old high school student and a mad scientist. Image source: Letterboxd

Watch These Films and Take a Trip Through the Space-Time Continuum

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With everyone focused on Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” — and the streaming popularity of “Bill and Ted Face the Music” — time travel is back in a big way on the big screen, and it shows no signs of slowing down. If you’re hungry for more, here are 10 gems featuring time-travel, both popular and hidden, to scratch that itch. Please note that time loop films like “Run Lola Run,” “Groundhog Day,” “Palm Springs,” etc., belong in a separate category for our purposes here — but we’ll get to those later.

Back to the Future (1985) (Netflix, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play, Amazon Prime, YouTube)

Still from "Back to the Future."
Still from “Back to the Future.” Credit: Universal Pictures.

Well, of course, we have to start with “Back to the Future,” the most beloved time travel movie in movie history, featuring a classic screenplay with quotable lines packed into every scene. Michael J. Fox became a star as Marty McFly, who rides a DeLorean back to the ’50s only to tamper with his parents’ past in unexpected ways. As rewatchable as they come, this movie went on to inspire two sequels and countless pop culture references.

Donnie Darko (2001) (Vudu, iTunes, Tubi, iTunes, Amazon Prime)

A young man and woman stand on a street at night. Behind them are two onlookers.
This sci-fi psychological thriller was filmed over 28 days, aligning perfectly with the film’s timeline. Source: Valley Advocate.

Though it bombed in theaters in the wake of 9/11, this novel take on time travel starring a young Jake Gyllenhaal is one for the oddball kid in all of us, as a freak plane accident stands at the center of a time rupture that affects him and everyone he knows. Set in 1988, the film itself is a time machine of sorts thanks to its throwback soundtrack and eerie period detail. Be sure to watch the theatrical version instead of the ill-advised director’s cut, which swaps out songs and explains far too much. 

Happy Accidents (2001) (Amazon Prime, Sling TV)

A man reaches to tenderly kiss a woman.
Vincent D’Onofrio and Marisa Tomei star as lovers who cross paths in New York. Source: Letterboxd.

A diamond in the rough still waiting to find its cult following, this is the ideal time travel date movie. Constantly striking out in love, Marisa Tomei thinks she’s found her dream man with Vincent D’Onofrio — except he claims he’s come from the future and can’t prove it, which sets up a paradox that pays off in a genuinely feel-good finale.

Hot Tub Time Machine (2010) (Hulu, Vudu, Amazon Prime, iTunes, Sling TV, Google Play, YouTube)

Four men stand shoulder-to-shoulder dressed in casual clothing and talking to someone off-camera.
Three friends facing dead-end futures reconnect for an unlikely adventure sparked by a mysterious hot tub repairman. Source: Enterprise.

One for all you nostalgic ’80s kids out there, this rude and crude comedy features John Cusack, Craig Robinson and Rob Corddry sent back in time thanks to, well, the device you see in the title. Chevy Chase and Crispin Glover are a few of the throwback ringers thrown in for a gag-filled ride that’s a lot wittier and smarter than it has any right to be.

Looper (2012) (Amazon Prime, Vudu, iTunes, YouTube, Google Play)

An older man and a younger one have an intense conversation in a diner booth.
Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt star as two differently-aged versions of the same man. Source: NPR.

Seven years before he revived the whodunit with “Knives Out,” writer-director Rian Johnson took a twisty stab at time travel with this sci-fi mind-bender. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis play two different incarnations of the same man, a time-skipping assassin whose mission to kill his older self goes wildly off course.

Somewhere in Time (1980) (YouTube, Amazon Prime, iTunes, Vudu)

A man and woman in Victorian-era clothing stand together next to the sea.
In “Somewhere in Time,” a playwright uses self-hypnosis to connect with the woman of his dreams. Source: Devo Tudo Ao Cinema.

Tearjerkers don’t come much more powerful than this gorgeous time-skipping romance starring Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve, with an all-time classic score by the great John Barry accompanying the tale of a playwright who sends himself back to find his true love in 1912. Keep the Kleenex handy.

The Terminator (1984) (Hulu, Vudu, iTunes, Amazon Prime, YouTube, Sling TV)

A tall man in a coat aims a gun at someone off-camera.
The future governor of California found his stardom portraying an assassin sent from the future. Source: Letterboxd.

Debate rages on whether this groundbreaking action/sci-fi classic by a young James Cameron is superior to the Oscar-winning sequel that followed in 1991, but there’s no doubt the cinematic landscape would be very different without it. Arnold Schwarzenegger found his most iconic character as the unstoppable future assassin sent to kill Linda Hamilton, leading to a breathless chase across L.A. and a powerful, unsettling final scene that might be even more potent today.

Time After Time (1979) (iTunes, Amazon Prime, Vudu, Google Play)

A man in Victorian-era clothing examines a pocket watch in his hand.
Malcolm McDowell portrays a time traveler bent on tracking down Jack the Ripper. Source: Letterboxd.

The godfather of time travel literature, H.G. Wells, becomes the star of his own ingenious sci-fi story as the writer — played charmingly by Malcolm McDowell — travels to ’79 San Francisco in pursuit of Jack the Ripper. An endearing love story and a genuinely suspenseful thriller, this film deserves to be rediscovered by each moviegoing generation.

Time Bandits (1981) (Hulu, HBO Max, Vudu, iTunes, Amazon Prime, Google Play, YouTube)

Six eccentrically-dressed dwarves hold up a large paper map and gold goblets while grinning.
Credit: Handmade Films/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock.

Monty Python alum Terry Gilliam presents a wickedly subversive take on time travel as a young boy is swept up in a centuries-bounding heist that not only touches on different points in history but also explores the underlying nature of the cosmos itself. Both hysterically funny and shockingly unflinching for a family film, it’s the one that really set the stage for Gilliam’s future classics, including a later take on time travel of a very different kind with 1995’s “12 Monkeys,” which also comes highly recommended.

The Time Machine (1960) (Amazon Prime, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play)

A soot-covered man operates a time-travelling machine.
A time traveler discovers mankind’s descendants after transporting himself to the future. Source: YouTube.

Back to H.G. Wells again, as this movie remains the best adaptation of his pioneering saga about a 1900s inventor (Rod Taylor) whose creation flings him far into the future, where he witnesses a world split between the docile Eloi and the monstrous, predatory Morlocks — a metaphor that continues to be evoked today. The Oscar-winning special effects are just the icing on the cake in a sci-fi classic that still delivers the goods all the way to its perfect final shot.

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