Inspired by QUEENBFLIX's list of favorite time travel films, I've decided to create my own list. Now, because this list is about time travel I've decided to place the films in the order in which they were released theatrically, unless the film is a sequel in which case it is listed beneath the original film.
This George Pal-directed classic of the science fiction film genre was based on H.G. Wells' famous novel. In the film version of the story an Englishman named H.G. Wells builds a time machine and travels into the future, where he witnesses the dissolution of human civilization during wars, then he finds an evolved Utopian race of people called the Eloi and a monstrous race known as Morlocks.
The film is a definite classic and features some wonderful special effects sequences.
As you will see, the entire Planet of the Apes series belongs on this list, but the time travel element is central to the plot mainly in the first three films.
This 1968 masterpiece of epic science fiction became one of the most successful and inventive franchises in cinema history. The film follows the adventures, or rather the misadventures, of an astronaut named Taylor (played by Charlton Heston) who awakes from hibernation along with his crew to find themselves stranded on a strange planet where apes have evolved to become dominant over human beings.
The film features one of the most memorable twist endings in history and it spawned four sequels (which also serve as prequels since the entire story is cyclical in its chronology), an animated television series, a live-action television series, a remake, comics, and more memorabilia than any primate can shake his or her fist at.
In this 1970 sequel to Planet of the Apes, a two-man search team is sent to find out what happened to Taylor, but they crash land on the planet of the apes. One of the crew is killed in the landing, but the search captain Brent survives and continues his quest to find Taylor. Along the way he encounters the apes (both good and not so good), primitive human slaves, and a subterranean mutant race that worships a doomsday warhead.
Much like the first film, Beneath the Planet of the Apes has a rather pessimistic twist ending that is both shocking and memorable.
This 1971 sequel in the Planet of the Apes series remains my favorite because of its use of human and social satire. Despite the apocalyptic ending of the previous film, it turns out that all hope is not lost for the Planet of the Apes. Three apes, Dr. Cornelius (played by Roddy McDowall), Zira (played by Kim Hunter), and Dr. Milo (played by Sal Mineo) are sent back in time to the Earth of 1973, where they are treated at first as freaks in a zoo setting, resulting in Dr. Milo's demise at the hands of a gorilla. However, when a group of scientists realize that Cornelius and Zira can speak, they become celebrities. Unfortunately, the apes accidentally reveal the future of the human race and find themselves public enemies and hunted down.
Undoubtedly the most sophisticated and humorous of the series, but also the film that has the most shocking ending because the first half of the film is so light that when the ultimate tragedy occurs, it seems unthinkable.
This 1972 sequel finds Caesar (also played by Roddy McDowall), the offspring of Dr. Cornelius and Zira living in America. The world's cats and dogs have mysteriously become extinct and as a result, human beings now keep apes as pets, but upon discovering their adaptability and intelligence the apes are soon used for slave labor. Meanwhile, Caesar grows up in the circus, but after witnessing the mistreatment and abuse of his fellow apes, plans a revolutionary movement in which the apes will rise against the humans.
This film had a much darker tone than any of the other ape films and is perhaps the most allegorical since it has often been seen as a parable for the militant groups of the Civil Rights movement.
After Caesar led his great revolution, the apes have gone on to form an agrarian civilization after a nuclear war. Caesar has struggled to keep a truce between humans and apes, but he is being undermined by a rebellious gorilla general. Not only does Caesar have to deal with betrayal from within the apes' society, but he must also lead his people in a defense against radiation-scarred mutants.
The final installment in the original Planet of the Apes series is perhaps the weakest, but it's also integral to the series since it sets forth the events that lead up to the first film (remember, the series has a cyclical chronology). Once again, the film features an unusual ending, which has been noted by critics and audiences for its ambiguity. The last shot of the film shows a statue of Caesar with a tear in his eye, but is it a tear of sadness or joy?
Perhaps the most underrated film on this whole list, Time After Time is a unique and charming 1979 film starring Malcolm McDowall, David Warner, and Mary Steenburgen. The story begins with science fiction novelist H.G. Wells revealing that, like the character in his novel, he has created a time machine, though his fellow academics and scientists disbelieve him. Before Wells can prove that his machine is not a fake, he discovers that one of the scientists among them is in fact Jack the Ripper. Jack the Ripper uses the time machine and travels to San Francisco in the late '70s, pursued by Wells. What follows is an exciting and imaginative adventure and romance that really must be seen.
Although the Terminator series relies more on action, thriller, and horror plot devices, it also utilizes some unique science fiction ones as well, namely the time travel paradox. Like the Planet of the Apes films, the Terminator franchise has no real beginning or end, though I do recommend viewing them in the order in which they were released. In the future machines with artificial intelligence have taken over the planet and only a small group of resistance fighters stands in their way. This resistance is lead in part by John Connor. In order to annihilate this threat to their supremacy, the machines use a time machine and send a cyborg assassin back in to the past to kill John Connor's mother, Sarah Connor, before John has even been conceived. To counter this scheme, John Connor sends fellow soldier Kyle Reese back in time to protect his mother from the cyborg.
After the events of the first film, Sarah Connor has been placed in a mental institution for having attempted to blow up a computer factory. Her son John, fathered by Kyle Reese, now ten, lives with foster parents. The machines send a new assassin, the dreaded T-1000, who can appear like any person, back in time to kill John. But again John is sent a protector: the T-800, the same model of terminator that had previously been sent back to kill his mother. John finds himself reluctantly dependent upon the terminator's protection and together they begin to bond and the terminator learns some lessons in what it is to be human. They rescue John's mother from the institution and then prepare an assault on a technology company that will be responsible for the artificial intelligence program that will one day cause the machines to wage war on the humans.
In 1985, director Robert Zemeckis, writer Bob Gale, and producer Steven Spielberg (who really wasn't that involved other than stamping his name on the credits) collaborated to spectacular effect on a science-fiction comedy called Back to the Future. The film would utilize numerous genre elements from romantic comedy to action to science fiction. It would also take up and coming TV actor and teen idol Michael J. Fox and turn him into a movie star. Back to the Future starts off in 1985 with cool teenager slacker Marty McFly and after a phone call from his eccentric inventor friend Dr. Emmett L. Brown, known affectionately as Doc. Doc asks Marty to meet him in the parking lot of a mall, where he unveils his latest invention: a time machine built out of a DeLorean. But things go horribly wrong and Marty ends up being sent back in time to 1955 where he accidentally interferes with history and endangers his own existence.
Back to the Future Part II picks up right where the first film ends off and it begins with the Doc coming to Marty and Marty's girlfriend Jennifer to warn them of their future family's misfortunes. Doc loads the two into the DeLorean and takes them 30 years into the future where they must try and stop certain events from taking place, but things become complicated when the time machine falls into the wrong hands and the past is altered turning 1985 into a hellish alternate history. In order to return reality to its original timeline, Doc and Marty revisit 1955.
Back to the Future Part III sees Marty traveling back to the Old West to rescue a stranded Doc from a ruthless and ultimately stupid gang of outlaws.
The film trilogy is a classic, although the third film is somewhat light on science fiction and lacks the complexity and thrills of the first two films.
See the full review, "Classic Comedy at 88 Miles Per Hour".
Flight of the Navigator is basically Walt Disney Pictures' response to Spielberg's E.T., but it never manages to capture the heart or originality of that film. However, the film does boast some wonderful special effects, a decent cast, and an interesting time travel dilemma. When young David, who is tired of fighting amongst his family, finds himself abducted by an alien ship in 1978 and delivered back home... only it's now eight years into the future. His parents have formed a new life without him and his annoying little brother has grown older and more mature than him. David must rely on the help of the alien ship that firs took him to return him to the past where he belongs, but along they way there's an amazing adventure in store.
Equal parts horror and science fiction, this 1987 film from director John Carpenter deals with many great genre elements including zombies, time travel, quantum physics, possession, and of course, Satan himself. When a priest discovers a strange, ancient cylindrical container which holds inside of it a mysterious evil force, he calls upon a physics professor and a group of student academics in various fields to study the container. However, things begin to go astray. It begins when they begin to experience bizarre and unsettling dreams, but then things become quite real and dangerous. A group of homeless people begin to gather outside of the church and block anyone from exiting. Meanwhile, inside people are becoming possessed and turning into zombie-like creatures. In the end, it becomes clear that the dreams they've been having are warnings sent from the future and that Satan is at work with plans to usher in the apocalypse.
This 1988 film marked the feature directorial debut of New Zealand director Vincent Ward who would later go on to direct the visually stunning afterlife romance What Dreams May Come. The film is reminiscent of other fantasy and medieval dramas that take place during the plague, but adds a uniquely modern time travel twist. In Medieval England, a young boy named Griffin with "second sight" (clairvoyant powers) tells his fellow villagers that they may be able to rid themselves of the plague if they create a giant cross and place it on the greatest church in all Christendom to appease God and earn themselves protection from the deadly disease. Together with the town's brave warrior, Connor, Griffin and the villagers make their way into an old cave tunnel where they intend to mine for the necessary metals to build their giant crucifix, however, they end up digging themselves too deep... much too deep. They resurface in modern day New Zealand, where misadventures abound.
The Navigator is a wonderfully original art film, with a nice combination of gloom and humor, that has to be seen.
Since science fiction comedies had proved to be very lucrative in the 1980s, with the Back to the Future films and John Hughes' Weird Science, it's unsurprising that the trend would continue into the late '80s and early '90s. In Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, a couple of high school dudes (Bill played by Alex Winter and Ted played by Keanu Reeves) and are told that they are flunking history and will be shipped off to military school if they do. So, from the future, comes Rufus (played by George Carlin) in a time traveling phone booth. Rufus comes to tell the two teenage rock star-wannabes that in the future they are the greatest rock group ever and that they must pass history. So, Rufus sends the two back in time for a more hands-on history lesson in which they meet Joan of Arc, Abraham Lincoln, Genghis Khan, Socrates, Billy the Kid, and Napoleon.
Easily the greatest time travel film that I've ever seen, 12 Monkeys is a masterpiece of filmmaking by director Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame. The film combines elements of science fiction and psychological thriller to create one of the most compelling, complex, and engaging films in either genre. In the future, the human race has been almost completely wiped out by a deadly virus and the survivors of the virus live underground in a massive prison structure where they are warded over by a group of scientists. Cole (played by Bruce Willis) is sent the surface to gather specimens for testing. After the success of his mission, he is chosen to go on another, more dangerous mission. He is sent back in time to find out information about the spread of the virus and to collect a sample of a pure strain of the virus so the scientists can create a cure. However, he is sent to the wrong year and finds himself placed in a mental institution where he must convince his beautiful female psychiatrist (played by Madeleine Stowe) that he is not insane and that the human race is doomed. He also seeks help from Geoffrey Goines (played by Brad Pitt), the lunatic son of a famous virologist. But can Cole stop the virus from being spread or will his presence only make things worse?
See the full review, "Beware the Army of the 12 Monkeys".
Frequency is an unusual time travel film because nobody actually passes through time, but rather information is sent back and forth through time via an old ham radio, which alters both the present and the past simultaneously. In 1999, New York homicide detective John Sullivan (played by Jim Caviezel) finds his late father's old ham radio and tries using it during the Aurora Borealis. To his amazement, John contacts his father Frank Sullivan (played by Dennis Quaid) back in 1969. Giving his father clues about the future, John manages to save his father indirectly from a warehouse fire. But this action has a horrific consequence: because Frank didn't die in the fire, a notorious serial killer ends up raping and murdering John's mother. Together, by trading information and doing some independent detective work, Frank and John must try to solve the murder and catch the killer both in the past and in the present in order to set things right.
If ever there was a cult classic about time travel, this is it. Donnie Darko is the directorial debut from Richard Kelly, who has yet to match the film's critical or commercial success. The film is part teen angst dramedy, part dark psychological thriller, and part science fiction/time travel story. The film follows high school student and schizophrenic (?) Donnie Darko and his family's life. While Donnie is out having a hallucinatory episode (?) about a giant rabbit who warns him of the end of the world, a jet engine mysteriously crashes into his room. Meanwhile, Donnie struggles with emotional outbursts at school and at home, arguments with his parents and the pangs and pressures of going to a public school. But when it turns out that his visions may be real, that the universe is splitting apart and that the end of the world is coming, Donnie realizes that only by traveling through time can he return things to normalcy.
See the full review, ""Where Is Donnie?"".