Gotta Get Back in Time: Time Travel Movies for Every Mood

Anyone who has seen the recent Avengers movies knows that there are always consequences for dabbling in the timestream, but the Avengers aren’t the only fearless heroes who have taken a risky trip through time’s doorway.

There have literally been hundreds of movies that have explored the twists, turns, paradoxes, and conundrums of time travel. One of the great things about these movies is that they all approach time travel in different ways. Some are upbeat and funny, while others are more grounded and serious; but no matter what mood you’re in, there’s a time travel movie for you.

The best time travel movies almost always leave viewers with a sense of wonder and astonishment. Even with what might seem like an overabundance of sci-fi stories of this type, there are some true gems in the bunch. Here’s our list of the classic and soon-to-be classic time travel movies that every aspiring geek should see:

Back to the Future

Back to the Future is time travel at its most inspirational. Marty McFly is a typical kid living in the 1980s until he befriends the off-kilter Doc Brown and his DeLorean time machine. Together, they make a journey to the past. Now, instead of living his own life of teenage troubles and high school drama, he has to help his future parents become the people they are destined to be.

Back to the Future is smart, funny, and full of thrills; and its popularity has only grown over the years. The two sequels that followed are equally as exciting and deliver a complete story that’s worth watching from beginning to end…but where it begins is for you to decide.

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure follows two good-natured slackers as they trip through time. Unlike other time travel movies, the only threat that our heroes face is an upcoming history presentation that they must ace. Otherwise, Ted is going to be shipped off to another school and their band, the Wyld Stallyns, will never live up to its full potential. As it turns out, the music of the Wyld Stallyns is that catalyst pushes humanity to its greatest highs.

Time travel with a sense of humor, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure follows the duo as they encounter historical figures and prepare for their presentation. In contrast to the dark, dystopian futures that other time travel movies explore, Bill and Ted remind us that the secret to a blissful future can be summed up in five words: “Be excellent to each other.” While the sequel didn’t quite live up to expectations, there is yet another excellent adventure featuring Bill and Ted slated for release in the near future.

Planet of the Apes

This movie has gone through a series of remakes over the years, but the original 1968 version of Planet of the Apes starring Charlton Heston reigns supreme. This isn’t the typical time travel movie that we’re used to seeing on the screen. In fact, the movie never mentions time machines or introduces any of the typical themes found in similar films. Instead, Planet of the Apes focuses on a team of astronauts who are jettisoned to a strange and unfamiliar planet, a planet ruled by an ape civilization with its own laws and culture.

As our hero explores his new surroundings, he encounters the apes and makes some chilling discoveries about his new home. Plant of the Apes is as much a mystery as it is a sci-fi adventure, and both elements combine to create a memorable viewing experience. Four additional sequel movies followed Planet of the Apes. Since then, the series has been reimagined twice, most recently with the 2011 Rise of the Planet of the Apes and its two sequels.


You’ll need a pen, paper, charts, diagrams, and possibly a calculator to keep up with what’s happening in Primer. On the surface, this is a small indie flick about a group of young tech entrepreneurs. But as the story unfolds, the complexity of Primer becomes apparent. With a mind-boggling script that was written and directed by Shane Carruth, a former software engineer with a degree in mathematics, the movie puts a realistic spin on the time travel genre.

Pushing the limits of non-linear storytelling, Primer is a movie that will satisfy anyone who demands scientific accuracy in their sci-fi tales. Even as the movie follows a more realistic narrative, it also shows that there are always consequences for tinkering with time.

The Terminator

The future is bleak in the world of The Terminator. An artificial intelligence called Skynet has become self-aware, setting off a chain of events that nearly ends humanity. But humanity isn’t going down without a fight. In the future, a militant resistance group led by a man named John Connor challenges Skynet’s dominance.

Skynet has calculated that the best way to eliminate this threat is to go back in time and terminate the woman who will become John Connor’s mother. So, Skynet sends back a relentless T-800 robot that will stop at nothing to complete its mission. In response, John Connor sends his trusted friend and ally Kyle Reese back in time to stop the deadly robot.

Time travel is a one-way trip in this world and there are no do-overs, so the stakes are high on both sides. What follows is an action-packed battle to the death between man and machine that has captivated audiences for generations. While the movie spawned a sequel that was equally as good, other attempts at exploring the Terminator universe have been mixed. Even so, The Terminator and its sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, continue to be highly influential in the realm of sci-fi cinema.

Time Bandits

Time Bandits puts an existential spin on time travel. The action begins when a group of miscreants steal a map of the universe from the Supreme Being that allows them to travel through time. Instead of using the map for its intended purpose, they have decided to use the map to travel to distant times to line their pockets with riches.

A young boy named Kevin gets caught up in their plans and is taken along for the ride as the group falls through time in an attempt to evade the Supreme Being. Meanwhile, the powerful and deadly Evil also wants the map so that he can use it to reshape the universe. Time Bandits is a story about time travel, but it’s also a story about good and evil and the nature of the universe. It’s a great movie for anyone who wants a side of philosophy to go along with their popcorn and nachos.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

The Avengers weren’t the first Marvel superhero team to test the boundaries of time in the movies. The X-Men started flipping through time several years earlier. X-Men: Days of Future Past loosely follows the classic comic book storyline of the same name in which the X-Men live in a bleak future where mutants are hunted by deadly Sentinel robots. The Sentinels have overtaken the world, and their calculating approach to exterminating mutants has resulted in complete devastation.

With only a few X-Men remaining, they make a final, desperate attempt to save all of humanity, transferring Wolverine’s consciousness back in time so that he can alter the flow of events that lead to the Sentinel takeover. Primarily set in the 1970s, what follows is superhero action on a grand scale. With impressive special effects and a story full of twists and turns, X-Men: Days of Future Past is bound to capture the imaginations of audiences long into the future.

Do you have a favorite time travel movie that we didn’t mention? Let us know in the comments below.