The 10 Greatest Time Travel Movies Ever

By Rob Bricken in Daily Lists, Movies
Thursday, September 17, 2009 at 8:05 am
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By Adrian Beiting

Make no mistake about it: we here at Topless Robot know the treacherous path we're marching down in even attempting to make a list like this. Considering how important these movies are to the geeksphere, one wrong choice could create a rift in the space-time continuum large enough to fit two displaced Tyrannosauruses through and doom us to an endless eternity spent watching Keanu Reeves seduce Sandra Bullock by time traveling mail in The Lake House. But let's be honest here--we know we can't please everyone. So, since this is a list of 10, we think it's important to lay down one major ground rule: because most trilogies or film series are typically extensions of a singular idea, we're only allowing one entry per series to keep things fair. Of course, we hope this list breeds discussion and discovery of more time travel goodness (Je T'aime, Je T'aime anyone?) Which time trekking adventures made the cut? To find out, simply click Read More to initiate time warp -- and beware, there are potential spoilers ahead.


10) Flight of the Navigator

While at first glance the story of Disney's Flight of the Navigator seems to be about a boy and his super awesome robot/ship hybrid, there's thankfully a lot more to the movie than the trailer might lead the uninitiated viewer to believe. The film's story centers around a 12 year old boy named David Freeman who despite receiving what might be some of the worst/most irresponsible parental advice on girls ever ( David's Dad: "You know, if you're gonna learn to swim you just gotta jump in the water." Yeah, just jump right in there David, 12's a great time to start a family!) lives happily with his Mother, Father, and younger bro in Florida. After falling into a ditch while looking for his brother on the evening of July 4th, 1978, David awakens to find that 8 years have passed, and he hasn't aged a day. Indeed, it's how time travel is presented in FotN that makes it so memorable--imagine waking from a dream only to find yourself to be the centerpiece of a seemingly impossible puzzle and surrounded by people you once knew who all thought you were dead...pretty remarkable stuff, especially for a kids movie. While the movie clearly takes a healthy sum of its aesthetic and storytelling cues from E.T., the world polo-clad David enters into is both frightening and charming and the movie does manage to stand (hover?) on its own two feet at the end of the day.

9) Star Trek: First Contact

Star Trek: First Contact begins by throwing audiences, along with the unfortunate crew of the Starship Enterprise-E, into a tense Romeroesque Borg-induced claustrophobic nightmare, and culminates with an action packed finale between Captain Picard and the Borg Queen, only stopping the action to inspire would be fan fiction wordsmiths with a little cyborg on cyborg titillation along the way. While other Star Trek features like The Voyage Home and J.J. Abrams' 09 relaunch have made good use of time travel, ST:FC is the most complete full length Trek adventure that uses time travel as its plot centerpiece. While it's fun to watch Kirk and crew's goofy whale-searching hijinks in modern day San Francisco in STIV:TVH, the many watercooler moments ST:FC offers make it a lock here, be it Captain Picard blowing away a team of Borg with a Tommy gun on the holodeck, Counselor Troi getting drunk while visiting the past or Worf's utterance of the phrase "Assimilate this!" before doling out some extreme Klingon justice, Star Trek: First Contact is sure to satisfy both people who like their film chronology jumbled and Trek junkies alike by mixing in just the right combination of engaging action, lucid pacing and time travel goodness.

8) The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

While staring down the business end of a horrible train accident waiting to happen, high school student Makoto Konno inadvertently discovers that she can return to the past or "time-leap" at will and is able to avoid her near-certain death. Having escaped the train debacle, Makoto immediately begins using her abilities for pithy personal gains-such as extending Karaoke time- eventually learning that the rabbit hole behind her powers is deep--very deep. Far separated from the more traditional time travel methodology that most may associate with, the time travel in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time doesn't seem to involve any technology at all; to the contrary, it appears to be a more mystical superpower than a feat of technology, or perhaps a fusion of psyche and man made achievement, as Makoto does see red countdown numbers whenever she time leaps and has a numbered tattoo on her arm that decreases by one each time she uses her new ability. Of course, at the heart of all of this time-sliding around is a rewarding coming of age tale coupled with memorable visuals and characters, making it one time adventure worth checking out.

7) 12 Monkeys

This haunting, heartbreaking and unforgettable film by notoriously hard-luck director Terry Gilliam, (director of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, popular time travel flick Time Bandits, and the upcoming The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus) always seems to leave an impression with audiences, and makes for good time travel discussion fodder. Inspired by the French short film La Jetée, 12 Monkeys, like a few of the other movies on this list, examines the relentless omnipresence and cruel persistence of time. Bruce Willis plays James Cole, a survivor and convicted criminal in a nightmarish future where 5 billion people have been wiped out by a plague and humans have been forced underground, leaving the surface to be taken back by animals. He is chosen by the powers that be to travel back in time to attempt to learn enough about the plague in order to find a cure. Along the way he encounters Brad Pitt's deranged Jeffrey Goines and Dr. Kathryn Railly who eventually becomes convinced that he is telling the truth about the plague. To sum it all up, the movie's performances, imagery and score make it a trip that any time jockey should consider taking.

6) Timecrimes

If you haven't seen Nacho Vigalondo's Timecrimes, we implore you: take in the least pub on this movie as possible and watch it for yourselves. Skip the trailer above, avoid the reviews and see it first--trust us, it's the kind of movie that warrants that degree of spoiler avoidance. Keeping with the theme of nondisclosure, we're not going to go into much detail here -- suffice to say, it's a solid piece of chrono-craziness that's low on budget but high on quality.

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