The 10 Greatest Time Travel Movies Ever

By Rob Bricken in Daily Lists, Movies
Thursday, September 17, 2009 at 8:05 am
5) Donnie Darko

While there's a lot more going on in Donnie Darko besides some simple emo time adventure, the concept of time travel is expertly woven into the movie's plot and opens up yet another, ahem, portal to the film's ever-raging fanbase dialogue. Since it's probably futile to attempt to sum up the adventures of one Donnie Darko in just a few lines, we'll just say that it's a movie about a troubled high school student growing up in 1980's suburbia whose life experiences, which involve a large talking bunny, time tunnels, and a missing jet engine, differ from any that we ever expect to have and leave it at that. The movie's eerie atmosphere, fueled largely by its unique, eclectic soundtrack and puzzlecentric storytelling that begs for multiple viewings make this a time travel fairy tale that belongs in everyone's viewing library.

4) Groundhog Day

There's little doubt that Groundhog Day is a non-traditional choice for a time traveling picture, but we contend that the Harold Ramis directed Bill Murray classic qualifies, since it still revolves around a man stuck in a time loop, even if he didn't intend to time travel in the first place. Of course, the movie is about a lot more than just a man with one day of his life stuck on repeat, as it is essentially a parable for what we all may go through in different parts of our lives: finding ourselves stuck somewhere until we learn to change ourselves, evolve and see things differently. In his 2005 Great Movies revisitation of Groundhog Day, Roger Ebert may have put it best when he remarked, "But there are a few films, and this is one of them, that burrow into our memories and become reference points. When you find yourself needing the phrase This is like "Groundhog Day" to explain how you feel, a movie has accomplished something."

3) Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Standing today as a testament to fine time travel craftsmanship just as it did in 1991 when theater audiences first heard Arnold Schwarzenegger immortalize the term "Liquid Metal" while cruising on his new motorcycle with young Edward Furlong in tow, the perfect meld of brain and brawn, Terminator 2: Judgment Day is still arguably the greatest time travel actioner of them all. Try as we may, it's hard to pinpoint the exact root of Terminator 2''s distinct brand of awesomeness; It could be the huge step up in visual effects it took from its 1984 predecessor, which still look great today. It could be the story's high tension pacing that keeps us enthralled at every turn. Or, how about the ridiculous action sequences? Or the epic ending? The timeless score? It's pretty safe to say that we'd travel to the future just to get to see another movie this amazingly good sooner.

2) Back to the Future: Part II

Sure, we know that without the first film in Robert Zemeckis' epic trilogy, Back to the Future: Part II would fade faster than Marty in his family photo at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance, but we're trying to be honest with ourselves here. While Back to the Future: Part II by nature doesn't possess the originality of the first film, nor the quaint Western charm of the third, so many of the series' most iconic elements made their first appearance or were really put to use in this venerable 1989 sequel, such as the Hoverboards, Flying DeLorean, Marty's power lace Nikes, Griff Tannen, a virtual Michael Jackson as your retro diner's waiter and Jaws 19 at the Holomax that we would have a hard time looking at ourselves in the mirror if we didn't give them their just due. Did we mention that we finally got to see the future in this one? The future we say! Plus, you have to love BttF: Part II for how effectively it voltrons together with the story of the original to create a powerful space robot of time travely goodness, making both movies better and fighting off evil robeast memories of painful time travel movies past.

1) Primer

Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at 2004's Sundance Film Festival and shot on a tiny-by-movie-standards $7,000 budget, Primer is easily the most "indie" of the entries on this list--but reduced budget does not a bad time travel movie make. To the contrary, what the complex and technically robust Primer excels in most is allowing its audience to share in the excitement of discovery by following the story of a team of young engineers from their humble beginnings as garage experimenters to the height of their manufactured power. Another film that benefits greatly from multiple viewings, Primer is definitely exhibit A for why movies should value the journey over the grand finale or twist endings -- despite the fact that Primer's somewhat open ending, while keeping with its real world approach, may have accounted in part for its light box office haul. Life is rarely fair for time travelers.
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