Special Report

23 Best Sci-Fi Movies About Time Travel

The concept of time travel has been used in literature centuries. Whether it is used to enhance a plot and gain a glimpse into the past or present, or whether it is the main theme of the story, films have eagerly adopted the concept.

While the theme of time travel appears in films of all genres, it is perhaps most common among science fiction movies. 24/7 Tempo has identified the 23 sci-fi films that explore the fluidity of time travel, based on user and critic ratings from IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes.

Time travel allows filmmakers to take audiences to worlds both new and old. Moviegoers are drawn to films that explore not only the philosophical implications of time travel — including a number of potentially frightening, unintended consequences — but also the technology that could bring about such a possibility.

Similarly, filmmakers are drawn to the topic for different reasons. James Cameron brought a fairly bleak vision of a future with access to time travel in “The Terminator” and “Terminator 2.” Those living in the future try to change catastrophic events from unfolding via time travel.

Some of these movies will be familiar to almost anyone, while others are more obscure but well worth discovering. The films on the list are also not necessarily among the best productions coming from Hollywood, but they are among the best movies with time travel as a major part of the plot. For the best movies ever made, click here.

Click here to see 23 best sci-fi movies about time travel

To determine the best time travel movies of all time, 24/7 Tempo identified the top rated sci-fi movies in which time travel was a major part of the plot. We ranked the movies based on an index we developed of three measures from the Internet Movie Database and Rotten Tomatoes: IMDb rating, Rotten Tomatoes audience score, and Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score. 

All ratings were weighted equally. Only films with at least 25,000 reviews on IMDb, 5,000 audience reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, and 10 Tomatometer critics reviews were considered. Data was collected mid-March 2021. Supplemental data on domestic box office and production budgets by movie came from industry data site the Numbers. 

Source: Courtesy of New Line Cinema

23. The Butterfly Effect (2004)
> Director: Eric Bress
> Cast: Ashton Kutcher, Amy Smart, Melora Walters
> Domestic box office: $57.9 million

“The Butterfly Effect” centers on a college student (Ashton Kutcher) who suffers from headaches so terrible he blacks out. While he is unconscious, he is able to travel back in time and change the past. Though it was received well by audiences — with 81% of audiences giving the film a positive review on Rotten Tomatoes — “The Butterfly Effect” failed to impress critics.


Source: Courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures

22. Deja Vu (2006)
> Director: Tony Scott
> Cast: Denzel Washington, Paula Patton, Jim Caviezel
> Domestic box office: $64.0 million

In “Deja Vu,” ATF agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) joins a top secret investigation into the bombing of a ferry. Carlin is able to travel four days back in time to try to prevent the attack. The time travel aspect of the thriller was described as “too preposterous” by Rotten Tomatoes’ Critics Consensus. About 73% of audiences liked the movie, compared to 56% of critics.

Source: Courtesy of Alameda Entertainment

21. Time Lapse (2014)
> Director: Bradley King
> Cast: Danielle Panabaker, Matt O’Leary, George Finn
> Domestic box office: N/A

“Time Lapse” follows three friends who discover a machine that shows pictures 24 hours into the future and decide to use it for personal gain. The horror movie is one of a few on this list that was less liked by audiences than critics. “Time Lapse” has a Tomatometer score of 78%. The movie’s audience score is 64%.

Source: Courtesy of DreamWorks Distribution

20. The Time Machine (2002)
> Director: Simon Wells
> Cast: Guy Pearce, Yancey Arias, Mark Addy
> Domestic box office: $56.7 million

“The Time Machine” follows a 19th century inventor who builds a machine to travel to the past but instead travels 800,000 years into the future when people are divided into two groups — hunters and hunted. The film “has all the razzle-dazzles of modern special effects, but the movie takes a turn for the worst when it switches from a story about lost love to a confusing action-thriller,” according to Rotten Tomatoes’ Critics Consensus.


Source: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

19. Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
> Director: Tim Miller
> Cast: Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis
> Domestic box office: $62.3 million

“Terminator: Dark Fate” brings back the stars from the most popular Terminator movies — Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger). This time, they are helping a hybrid cyborg human sent from the future to save a young factory worker believed important to the human race. The action movie was well received by 70% of critics and 82% of fans.

Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

18. Tenet (2020)
> Director: Christopher Nolan
> Cast: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki
> Domestic box office: $57.9 million

“Tenet” is a Christopher Nolan-helmed thriller about espionage in which a man time travels to prevent World War III. The name of the protagonist, the secret agent (John David Washington), is never revealed throughout the movie. About 70% of critics gave the film a positive review, compared to 76% of audiences.


Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

17. Back to the Future Part II (1989)
> Director: Robert Zemeckis
> Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson
> Domestic box office: $118.5 million

The sequel to the runaway success of the first film reunites Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, and Lea Thompson. According to Critics Consensus on Rotten Tomatoes, the sequel is filled with “madcap highs” that outweigh its “overstuffed plot.” “Back to the Future Part II” holds a Tomatometer rating on Rotten Tomatoes of 66%. However, 85% of audience members gave the sequel a positive review.

Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

16. Back to the Future Part 3 (1990)
> Director: Robert Zemeckis
> Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Mary Steenburgen
> Domestic box office: $88.1 million

Released just a year after the second — and lowest rated — Back to the Future movie, the third and last part of the sci-fi series has a Freshness score of 80%. Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) travels back to 1885 to save Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd) from imminent death. The two have to find a way to repair the DeLorean and escape before Brown is murdered.

Source: Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

15. The Time Machine (1960)
> Director: George Pal
> Cast: Rod Taylor, Alan Young, Yvette Mimieux
> Domestic box office: N/A

The 1960’s version of “The Time Machine” follows a scientist who travels into different time periods of the future to observe various outcomes, including a post-apocalyptic world. The movie was better received than the 2002 version, directed by Simon Wells, with 76% of critics and 79% of audiences giving it a positive rating. The movie won an Oscar for special effects.


Source: Courtesy of Sony Pictures Releasing

14. Predestination (2014)
> Director: Michael Spierig
> Cast: Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, Noah Taylor
> Domestic box office: $70,000

A temporal agent (Ethan Hawke) accepts a final assignment to travel in time to prevent a crime that may result in thousands of people killed. The sci-fi film has a Certified Fresh status on Rotten Tomatoes, with 84% of critics giving it a positive review, compared to 75% of audience members.

Source: Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

13. Timecrimes (2007)
> Director: Nacho Vigalondo
> Cast: Karra Elejalde, Candela Fernández, Bárbara Goenaga
> Domestic box office: $40,000

“Timecrimes” is a low budget sci-fi thriller about a man who travels back in time just a few hours. The main character (Karra Elejalde) observes himself as he spies on a woman he is obsessed with and is attacked by a man. The Spanish movie is Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and has a Tomatometer rating of 89%.


Source: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

12. Interstellar (2014)
> Director: Christopher Nolan
> Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain
> Domestic box office: $188.0 million

In “Interstellar,” the future of the planet is in danger due to a global crop blight and a second Dust Bowl. A team of researchers are sent to three planets through a wormhole in space to see if these planets can sustain human life. Directed by Christopher Nolan, ths sci-fi adventure movie has a 72% Freshness score and 86% audience rating.

Source: Courtesy of Newmarket Films

11. Donnie Darko (2001)
> Director: Richard Kelly
> Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Mary McDonnell
> Domestic box office: $1.5 million

Troubled teenager Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) survives a freak accident after which he starts to have visions of a man in a rabbit suit who tempts him to alter time and commit crimes. The film holds a Certified Fresh status on Rotten Tomatoes, with 86% of critics and 80% of fans giving it a positive rating.

Source: Courtesy of TriStar Pictures

10. Looper (2012)
> Director: Rian Johnson
> Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt
> Domestic box office: $66.5 million

“Looper” is about a hitman who the mafia tries to kill by sending him to the past where a hired gun awaits. The film combines thrilling action with a stimulating time travel-based narrative. Director Rian Johnson proved his action direction mettle with Looper and would go on to direct “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (2017) and “Knives Out” (2019).


Source: Courtesy of United Artists

9. Sleeper (1973)
> Director: Woody Allen
> Cast: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, John Beck
> Domestic box office: $18.3 million

“Sleeper” is a comedy about a nerdish health store owner (Woody Allen) whose family cryogenically freezes him after he dies during surgery. He is revived two centuries later to help fight an oppressive government. The movie has a perfect Tomatometer score on Rotten Tomatoes.

Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

8. 12 Monkeys (1995)
> Director: Terry Gilliam
> Cast: Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, Brad Pitt
> Domestic box office: $57.1 million

Scoring an 89% Freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes and earning an audience score of 88%, this time-travel story is full of violence and plot twists. The film follows a convict sent back in time to gather information about a virus that will exterminate most of humankind.


Source: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

7. X Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
> Director: Bryan Singer
> Cast: Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman
> Domestic box office: $233.9 million

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” is among the highest grossing movies in the X-Men series. Hugh Jackman plays Wolverine, who is sent by the X-Men into the past to change history and prevent an event from causing catastrophe for humankind. Critics on Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a Freshness rating of 90%, and audiences awarded it a score of 91%.

Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

6. Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
> Director: Doug Liman
> Cast: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton
> Domestic box office: $100.2 million

“Edge of Tomorrow” follows a soldier (Tom Cruise), whose life restarts back to the same day every time he dies. Though he had no prior combat experience, he is now tasked with fighting aliens. The action sci-fi movie has a Freshness score of 91%. About 90% of audiences gave the film a positive rating.

Source: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

5. Star Trek (2009)
> Director: J.J. Abrams
> Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg
> Domestic box office: $257.7 million

The Star Trek movie franchise was launched in 1979 based on the television series that first aired in 1966. A new cast starring Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto reenergized the franchise with the film “Star Trek” (2009) getting a Freshness score of 94%.


Source: Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

4. 2001 A Space Odyssey (1968)
> Director: Stanley Kubrick
> Cast: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester
> Domestic box office: $59.9 million

More than 50 years after its release, “2001: A Space Odyssey” is still one of the most thought-provoking science fiction films of all time. The film is Stanley Kubrick’s look at the arc of mankind’s existence, from the earliest humans to space travelers, with the implied question of what does it all mean? As perplexing as the movie remains, critics gave it a Freshness rating of 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, and 89% of filmgoers liked it.

Source: Courtesy of Orion Pictures

3. The Terminator (1984)
> Director: James Cameron
> Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn
> Domestic box office: $38.0 million

“The Terminator” was an early directorial effort from James Cameron. The film quickly became an iconic action movie thanks to its inventive plot. A human soldier and a killing cyborg are sent back from the future — one to protect a woman and her unborn child, the other to kill them. The movie has a perfect 100% Freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has spawned several sequels and a short-lived television series.


Source: Courtesy of TriStar Pictures

2. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
> Director: James Cameron
> Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong
> Domestic box office: $203.5 million

James Cameron’s “Terminator 2” excels in many of the aspects that action movie fans appreciate most, such as visual effects and tense action sequences. It stands apart from the average action flick thanks to its refined characters and philosophically intelligent storyline. The movie — which received a 93% rating from critics and a 94% rating from audiences on Rotten Tomatoes — is a haunting tale of post-apocalyptic possibilities and a perfect popcorn action movie rolled in one.

Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

1. Back to the Future (1985)
> Director: Robert Zemeckis
> Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson
> Domestic box office: $212.3 million

Michael J. Fox stars as Marty McFly, a time-traveling high school student, in this 1980s comedy classic from director Robert Zemeckis. The movie is loved by both critics and audiences for its humor, science fiction-based inventiveness, and irresistible energy. The first installment of the Back to the Future series is also the highest rated — 96% of critics and 94% of fans gave it a positive review.

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