The Rules of Time Travel

10 best time travel movies ever, ranked

The complicated history of time travel in 10 movies.

Originally Published: 
Universal Pictures
10. Primer

Time travel is so confusing as a concept that most sci-fi movies gloss over the finer details. Primer is on the exact opposite side of the complexity spectrum, layering on scientific jargon that remains untranslated and largely incomprehensible for most viewers. Unraveling its twisty plot is the main appeal of Primer.

IFC Films
9. Looper

Looper toys with the paradoxical implications of time travel without getting bogged down in the mechanics. Instead, it focuses on the mind-bending premise of an aging assassin meeting his younger self — and fighting him to the death.

Sony Pictures
8. Palm Springs

Groundhog Day may be the best-known time loop movie ever, but Palm Springs gives the concept a new twist. This comedy features two charming characters stuck in a loop, working out how to make their endlessly repetitive life worth living.

7. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

Time travel doesn’t need to be complicated, or particularly serious, to be great. Packed with stellar performances, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is the imaginative tale of two charming doofuses playing with the fabric of time to ace a history test.

Orion Pictures
6. 12 Monkeys

12 Monkeys stars Bruce Willis as a time traveler whose sanity is questioned when he arrives in the ‘90s to stop a deadly plague. Under Terry Gilliam’s direction, it’s an incredibly bizarre movie with great performances from Willis and Brad Pitt.

Universal Pictures
5. La Jetée

The inspiration for 12 Monkeys is worth seeing on its own. La Jetée is a photo roman, using still images rather than video. Its themes are similar to 12 Monkeys, but it conveys a more personal story through gorgeous black-and-white photos.

Argos Films
4. About Time

Accomplished rom-com director Richard Curtis added sci-fi to the mix for About Time. This sweet romance movie follows a man who can time travel and uses it to construct the perfect life before zeroing in on the idea that regret and acceptance may be healthier than perfection.

Universal Pictures
3. Edge of Tomorrow

Tom Cruise is caught in a time loop in Edge of Tomorrow, reliving the day of his death at the hands of alien invaders. It’s not the deepest time travel movie, but it’s stylish, clever, and lots of fun.

Warner Bros.
2. Terminator 2

Time travel is core to the entire Terminator franchise, but T2 used it best. Thanks to timeline shenanigans, the first movie’s villain comes back as a hero giving Sarah and John Conner a chance to survive against an even more futuristic threat.

Tri-Star Pictures
1. Back to the Future

Be honest: Back to the Future is the first movie you think of when time travel comes up, isn’t it? This 1985 comedy does time travel right, with a fun way of cruising through timelines and a story that’s more about personal growth than theoretical physics.

Sunset Boulevard/Corbis Historical/Getty Images

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