Best time travel movies

Written by:
May 27, 2021
Universal Pictures

Best time travel movies

Many films come with an escapism element, the ability to separate ourselves from our current timeline and reality to imagine an alternate time or place. It is a common feature in entertainment, which can serve as an outlet to explore our fears, dreams, and hopes for the future. Many movies take their characters on a journey to the past or future in hopes of teaching profound lessons, offering new perspectives, or simply presenting a challenge or a solution to a problem that they are facing in their current timeline. They expand the reach of what we think is possible in our current lives.

To celebrate these innovative and time-twisting tales, Stacker compiled data on the top time travel movies to come up with a Stacker score—a weighted index split evenly between IMDb and Metacritic scores. To qualify, the film had to involve some sort of time travel (be it literal, like "Back to the Future," or metaphysical, like "Donnie Darko"), have a Metascore, and have at least 5,000 votes. Ties were broken by Metascore and further ties were broken by IMDb votes. These films are some of the most memorable and culturally significant time-travel adventures in American cinema.

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1 / 25
Paramount Pictures

#25. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

- Director: Leonard Nimoy
- Stacker score: 82.3
- Metascore: 71
- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Runtime: 119 minutes

The famous space travel franchise’s fourth film takes well-known USS Enterprise crew members Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and others into an interesting mission. The crew, living in 2286, must travel back in time to 1986 to find humpback whales. The extinct animals are the only species that can understand messages from a foreign probe threatening Earth.

2 / 25
Screen Australia

#24. Predestination (2014)

- Directors: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig
- Stacker score: 82.3
- Metascore: 69
- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Runtime: 97 minutes

Ethan Hawke plays a time traveler who races against time to keep a foe from killing innocent people. The film spans through several points in the 1960s and 1970s, taking its protagonist on a twisty trip that brings up surprises until the last minutes. “Predestination” is based on “All You Zombies,” a science-fiction short story by Robert A. Heinlein, about paradoxes that happen due to time traveling.

3 / 25
New Line Cinema

#23. Pleasantville (1998)

- Director: Gary Ross
- Stacker score: 83.4
- Metascore: 71
- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Runtime: 124 minutes

This comedic film takes brother and sister duo David (Tobey Maguire) and Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) on a strange trip. David’s love for 1950s television leads to him meeting a man who is able to put him and his sister inside an ongoing program. Jennifer stirs up drama among the cookie-cutter people to the chagrin of David.

4 / 25
Summit Entertainment

#22. Source Code (2011)

- Director: Duncan Jones
- Stacker score: 85.1
- Metascore: 74
- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Runtime: 93 minutes

A military pilot (Jake Gyllenhaal) sees the last minutes of a man’s life during a mission that takes him back to that point in time. He’s supposed to deduce who the responsible party is in the train accident to bring him to justice. But, the pilot takes things to the next level, going against the clock to attempt to prevent things from going awry in the first place.

5 / 25
HandMade Films

#21. Time Bandits (1981)

- Director: Terry Gilliam
- Stacker score: 85.1
- Metascore: 79
- IMDb user rating: 7.0
- Runtime: 110 minutes

Kevin (Craig Warnock) is a preteen history lover who meets dwarves in his room. The tiny beings work for a Supreme Being and are slipping through holes in time to take treasures. Kevin goes with them as they hop around and meet famous historical people while trying to stay two steps ahead of the Supreme Being.

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6 / 25
Warner Bros.

#20. Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

- Director: Doug Liman
- Stacker score: 85.7
- Metascore: 71
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Runtime: 113 minutes

Tom Cruise stars as William Cage, a military officer who dies and ends up in a time loop. He continues to relive his terrible (and deadly) final moments until he levels up his knowledge and skills. Cage slowly moves towards the initial mission to fight aliens threatening Earth. Emily Blunt stars opposite Cruise as a sergeant who understands what he is experiencing and works with him.

7 / 25
Renaissance Pictures

#19. Evil Dead II (1987)

- Director: Sam Raimi
- Stacker score: 85.7
- Metascore: 72
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Runtime: 84 minutes

Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) continues his battle against demons as his girlfriend Linda (Denise Bixler) becomes possessed by an evil spirit. He realizes that he may be stuck in this remote cabin in the woods and must fight foes who arise from a mysterious audiotape. Towards the end of the film, Ash and his car travel through a portal and end up in 1300 A.D. for a bizarre ending that no one could predict.

8 / 25
Columbia Pictures

#18. Groundhog Day (1993)

- Director: Harold Ramis
- Stacker score: 86.9
- Metascore: 72
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Runtime: 101 minutes

What would you do if you had to live the same day over and over again? This is what happens to Phil Connors (Bill Murray), a TV weatherman covering Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney who ends up in a time loop. He begins to realize some things about himself, and others, while stuck in this seemingly endless day. The film’s popularity led to the term “groundhog day” becoming synonymous with being stuck in a time loop.

9 / 25
X-Filme Creative Pool

#17. Run Lola Run (1998)

- Director: Tom Tykwer
- Stacker score: 87.4
- Metascore: 77
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 80 minutes

Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu), a Berlin criminal, brings stolen goods to his boss and loses money he owes him. The boss gives him 20 minutes to conjure the funds, leading Manni to enlist his girlfriend Lola (Franka Potente) to come up with the money in a race against the clock, which keeps running through that same period as she makes choices.

10 / 25
Dovemead Films

#16. Superman (1978)

- Director: Richard Donner
- Stacker score: 87.4
- Metascore: 80
- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Runtime: 143 minutes

Based on the iconic DC Comics character, this film follows Kal-El’s (Christopher Reeve) journey from his home planet, Krypton, to becoming Superman, an all-American hero. He goes from being adopted by Midwestern farmers to discovering his powers and fighting an evil force while working undercover as a reporter. At one point, Superman flies around the world so quickly that the Earth spins another way, making time go back so he can undo events with tragic consequences. 

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11 / 25
Universal Pictures

#15. 12 Monkeys (1995)

- Director: Terry Gilliam
- Stacker score: 88
- Metascore: 74
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Runtime: 129 minutes

Bruce Willis plays James Cole, an incarcerated man living in the 2030s. Humans live underground after an apocalyptic event nearly kills everyone. He’s given a chance to travel back to the ’90s and gather information about a plague that will have big future consequences. The goal is to find out more information about the Army of the Twelve Monkeys, who may have been responsible for this earth-shattering event. But things don't go as expected, a classic trope in time travel tales.

12 / 25
Twentieth Century Fox

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

- Director: Bryan Singer
- Stacker score: 88
- Metascore: 75
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Runtime: 132 minutes

Wolverine, played by Hugh Jackman, goes back in time to 1973 to gather past X-Men to change a moment in time to help save them from the Sentinels. The latter group is a killing collective eradicating anyone who possesses a mutant gene. The film gained an Oscar nomination for its visual effects.

13 / 25

#13. Palm Springs (2020)

- Director: Max Barbakow
- Stacker score: 89.7
- Metascore: 83
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Runtime: 90 minutes

Two strangers meet at a wedding in Palm Springs and end up stuck in a time loop. They relive the same day over and over again with weird circumstances taking over while they eventually fall in love with each other. The pair have to find a way to get out of this wedding day circle so they can resume their lives once again.

14 / 25

#12. Midnight in Paris (2011)

- Director: Woody Allen
- Stacker score: 90.3
- Metascore: 81
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Runtime: 94 minutes

Writer Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) is on vacation in Paris when he decides to traverse around the city. Gil runs into a strange collective who take him back in time every night at midnight. He meets iconic people from yesteryear and starts to reevaluate his life, and romance with his fiancée.

15 / 25
TriStar Pictures

#11. Looper (2012)

- Director: Rian Johnson
- Stacker score: 90.3
- Metascore: 84
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Runtime: 113 minutes

In this film, time travel is a commodity that only certain people can afford. People like Joe, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, capitalize on it by using their hitman skills to complete jobs for a crime group. Set in 2044, Joe goes back several times in the past before his employer aims to stop his loop by sending future Joe (Bruce Willis) to kill his younger self. “Looper” is written and directed by Rian Johnson of “Star Wars” and “Knives Out” fame.

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16 / 25
APJAC Productions

#10. Planet of the Apes (1968)

- Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
- Stacker score: 90.9
- Metascore: 79
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Runtime: 112 minutes

A group of astronauts crash onto a planet in the far future where apes have the upper hand over humans. The primates can walk, talk, and have a complex social system that includes enslaving humans. The group finds themselves having to switch roles and become the “lesser” species. “Planet of the Apes” sparked a film franchise years later and was inducted into the Library of Congress’ Film Registry in 2001.

17 / 25
Paramount Pictures

#9. Interstellar (2014)

- Director: Christopher Nolan
- Stacker score: 91.4
- Metascore: 74
- IMDb user rating: 8.6
- Runtime: 169 minutes

Set in 2067, this film shows Earth on the brink of destruction from storms and farming woes. Professor Brand, played by Michael Caine, plans to save the planet by sending people into a wormhole to another place. A few researchers test this travel plan and end up in different places and times to see where people can possibly inhabit.

18 / 25
Carolco Pictures

#8. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

- Director: James Cameron
- Stacker score: 91.4
- Metascore: 75
- IMDb user rating: 8.5
- Runtime: 137 minutes

Linda Hamilton returns as Sarah Connor, who aims to protect her young son John (Edward Furlong) from yet another (and more dangerous) Terminator. The cyborg intends to kill John, thereby preventing him from his future role in a resistance movement. Sarah, John, and T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) work together to keep John, and the future resistance, alive.

19 / 25
Warner Bros.

#7. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

- Director: Alfonso Cuarón
- Stacker score: 92
- Metascore: 82
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Runtime: 142 minutes

Titular hero Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) continues his studies at the magical Hogwarts School. He realizes Sirius Black, an escaped prisoner, wants to kill him. Harry and his friends Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) must work together to defend the school while Harry realizes his true connection to Black.

20 / 25
Paramount Pictures

#6. Star Trek (2009)

- Director: J.J. Abrams
- Stacker score: 92
- Metascore: 82
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Runtime: 127 minutes

A modern take on the classic space traveling series, this film goes back in time to show James T. Kirk, Spock, and Uhura’s (Zoe Saldana) journeys in their younger days. Kirk, portrayed by Chris Pine, inadvertently makes his way onto the USS Enterprise and rises to power while they fight dangerous threats. Spock’s (Zachary Quinto) future self makes an appearance to aid him in making a sage decision.

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21 / 25
Marvel Studios

#5. Avengers: Endgame (2019)

- Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
- Stacker score: 92.6
- Metascore: 78
- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Runtime: 181 minutes

Five years after Thanos eliminated half of the living beings across the universe, the remaining Avengers band together to bring everyone back. The film includes the Quantum Realm, where time does not pass as it does on Earth and time travel is possible. Things end with a battle royale between the purple genocidal titan and all the super beings on Earth. The film marked the penultimate offering from the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase Three of its release/storytelling schedule.

22 / 25
Cinema '84

#4. The Terminator (1984)

- Director: James Cameron
- Stacker score: 93.7
- Metascore: 84
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Runtime: 107 minutes

The current year is 2029. A killer cyborg known as a “Terminator” goes back to 1984 to hunt Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). The killing machine (Arnold Schwarzenegger) stays on Connor’s tracks as she uncovers the truth about her role in affecting humanity’s future. Sarah must protect her family and stay alive so her son can fulfill a specific role.

23 / 25
Pandora Cinema

#3. Donnie Darko (2001)

- Director: Richard Kelly
- Stacker score: 96
- Metascore: 88
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Runtime: 113 minutes

In 1988, the title character (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a teenager dealing with sleepwalking episodes. He goes outside one night to encounter a massive, scary rabbit who tells him that the world will end in 28 days. Donnie, unsure of what is real or not, starts to go into a dark direction as time seems to go into flux for him, taking him into a different timeline.

24 / 25
Universal Pictures

#2. Back to the Future (1985)

- Director: Robert Zemeckis
- Stacker score: 98.3
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 8.5
- Runtime: 116 minutes

Michael Fox stars as Marty McFly, a teenager in 1985 who is friends with a strange scientist (Christopher Lloyd) named Doc. The latter’s latest experiment goes wrong, throwing him back into 1955. He must find a young Doc and try to help him figure out how to get back to his correct timeline. Meanwhile, Marty also encounters his parents as their younger selves. The film has become a sci-fi classic, spawning its own franchise.

25 / 25
Liberty Films

#1. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

- Director: Frank Capra
- Stacker score: 100
- Metascore: 89
- IMDb user rating: 8.6
- Runtime: 130 minutes

George Bailey is a man who is in over his head with family and general life problems. He considers dying by suicide but his family’s prayers reach the heavens. His life is shown in flashbacks and an angel comes down to show him how much he matters to those closest to him. The now-iconic Christmas film was shot during the summer—in a heat wave, no less.

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