If you can't do the time, dont do the err... time
At its core, the time travel narrative is all about exploring the big 'what-if?'. What-if Hitler hadn't been such a major douche? What if Charlie Chaplin had agreed to kidnap and impersonate Hitler? What if Hitler had somehow become Chaplain, kidnapped himself, and impersonated... er... himself? These are just some of the many 'paths not taken' that continue to intrigue and excite mankind. Of course, cinema is full of such questions, from the simple jaunt into dino times to more complex and paradoxical adventures.
What follows are 50 of the best damn time travel flicks in history. So come along won't you, and for the love of God, don't step on any bugs, kiss your own granny, or shoot yourself directly in the face. It never ends well.
50. The Butterfly Effect (2004)
Where Do They Start? The present day, where Evan (Ashton Kucher) is studying psychology.
Where Do They End Up? Re-reading journal entries enables him to return to the scene of hitherto unexplained childhood blackouts.
Biggest Culture Clash: Evans adventures keep affecting the present, turning him in one timeline into an armless paraplegic.
Unresolved Paradox: How come Evan always has blackouts at the same points in his childhood no matter how crazily the timeline gets changed?
49. The Lake House (2006)
Where Do They Start? Alex Wyler (Keanu Reeves) moves into a lake house in 2004; Kate Forster (Sandra Bullock) does the same in 2006.
Where Do They End Up? Moving normally through time except they can communicate via a mailbox that bridges the two-year gap.
Biggest Culture Clash: Whenever they want to meet, Alex has to wait two years for the rendez-vous. For Kate, its more like a day. Hardly fair, is it?
Unresolved Paradox: Kate changes the timeline by warning Alex about his impending death.
48. The Jacket (2005)
Where Do They Start? In 1992, where Gulf War veteran Jack Starks (Adrien Brody) is locked up in a mental institution.
Where Do They End Up? Jacks straitjacket somehow enables him to travel 15 years in the future, where he starts a friendship with unlucky-in-life Jackie Price (Keira Knightley).
Biggest Culture Clash: Jack goes from being locked up as a crazy to being a free man in the future.
Unresolved Paradox: Jack shares his knowledge of the future with Jackies mother, changing her daughters fate.
47. A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court (1949)
Where Do They Start? The present-day where mechanic Hank Martin (Bing Crosby) gets a knock on the head.
Where Do They End Up? In King Arthurs court, funnily enough.
Biggest Culture Clash: Hank pretends he can match Merlins magic by using matches to make fire come out of his hands.
46. The Time Traveller's Wife (2009)
Where Do They Start? Sticking to the chronology of the film, Henry DeTamble (Eric Bana) lives the 1970s.
Where Do They End Up? All over the shop, much to the confusion of Clare Abshire (Rachel McAdams).
Biggest Culture Clash: The icky ethics of a time-hopping relationship that, depending on where they are in the timeline, involves Henry being in love with a girl.
Unresolved Paradox: Clare gives Henry a diary to help him keep track of their meetings, which he then gives back to a younger Clare so she can write the diary in the first place.
45. Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)
Where Do They Start? Los Angeles 2010, where Adam (John Cusack) and his mates head off to an old ski resort hang-out.
Where Do They End Up? Via a hot tub and some dodgy Russian energy drink, they are transported to their 1980s youth.
Biggest Culture Clash: The biggest thing in rock music is Poison.
Unresolved Paradox: Lou (Rob Corddry) stays behind to relive his life, inventing search engine Lougle and pretty much changing the entire world.
44. Timecop (1994)
Where Do They Start? In 2004, where Max Walker (Jean-Claude Van Damme) is an agent of the Time Enforcement Commission.
Where Do They End Up? Various trips: its in his job description to hunt down rogue time-travellers.
Biggest Culture Clash: Van Damme looks very out of place in 1929.
Unresolved Paradox: The 2004 version of arch villain McComb (Ron Silver) touches his 1994 counterpart and melts into a gloopy, gory mess.
43. Midnight In Paris (2011)
Where Do They Start? Hollywood screenwriter Gil (Owen Wilson) is on a working vacation in present-day Paris.
Where Do They End Up? A magical bell rings at midnight; next thing, Gil is living in the 1920s and hanging out with Hemmingway and Picasso.
Biggest Culture Clash: Gil getting seduced by the nostalgic glamour of becoming mates with artistic geniuses.
Unresolved Paradox: Gil discovers that Picassos mistress Adriana (Marion Coutillard) loves him by reading her old diary in 2010.
42. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999)
Where Do They Start? 1999, where Dr Evil (Mike Myers) hatches a fiendish plan to steal the mojo of Austin Powers (Myers).
Where Do They End Up? 1969, where Austin chases Dr Evil in a time machine disguised as a psychedelic VW Beetle.
Biggest Culture Clash: Dr Evil holds America to ransom for $1 billion a sum the U.S. Government simply doesnt have.
Unresolved Paradox: Austin travels back in time again, meets up with himself, and defeats Dr Evil.
41. Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)
Where Do They Start? 1985, where Peggy Sue (Kathleen Turner) attends her high school reunion.
Where Do They End Up? 1960, when Peggy Sue was actually at high school.
Biggest Culture Clash: Peggy Sue indulges in all the things she always wanted to say and do, such as shagging the most popular boy.
Unresolved Paradox: Almost the opposite of a paradox. Peggy Sue never bothers to prevent her future husband (Nicolas Cage) from becoming an adulterer.
40. Galaxy Quest (1999)
Where Do They Start? The cast of TV show Galaxy Quest ends up in space aboard a working version of the series ship, The Protector.
Where Do They End Up? 13 seconds back in time, thanks to a real-life version of the shows Omega 13 device.
Biggest Culture Clash: That whole fiction vs reality thing. Hard to tell apart if youre a fan.
Unresolved Paradox: Even in 13 seconds, you can change a lot. Thats all the time star actor Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen) needs to save his crew from being killed.
39. Deja Vu (2006)
Where Do They Start? On Fat Tuesday, during the New Orleans Mardi Gras, where Special Agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) is investigating a terrorist attack.
Where Do They End Up? Via the revolutionary 'Snow White' program, Doug can see - and eventually visit - the past up to four days previously.
Biggest Culture Clash: Doug gets romantically attached to Clare (Paula Patton), one of the victims of the bomb blast.
Unresolved Paradox: Doug saves Clare at the expense of his own life... and then the next person Clare meets is Doug's past self.
38. Somewhere In Time (1980)
Where Do They Start? 1980, where Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve) becomes obsessed with a photo of actress Elise McKenna (Jane Seymour).
Where Do They End Up? 1912, when the photo was taken.
Biggest Culture Clash: Richard buys a vintage suit which he thinks will help him blend in, which proves to be out-of-date by 1912 fashion.
Unresolved Paradox: Richard's romance starts when the elderly Elise gives him a pocket watch. Trouble is, she only has it because he gave it to her younger self.
37. Meet The Robinsons (2007)
Where Do They Start? The present-day, where orphan Lewis meets Wilbur Robinson, a time-traveller from the future.
Where Do They End Up? Living with the Robinsons, where Lewis realises he is Wilburs dad.
Biggest Culture Clash: Between Lewis future family stability and his childhood friend Goobs descent into bowler-hatted villainy.
Unresolved Paradox: Goob creates an alternative future where the Robinsons dont exist. Lewis solution is to change Goobs entire life from childhood. Cue major temporal headaches.
36. Pleasantville (1998)
Where Do They Start? Siblings David and Jennifer (Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon) are watching telly in the present-day when they get zapped by a dodgy remote control.
Where Do They End Up? In the 1950s, albeit in a fictional TV show, Pleasantville.
Biggest Culture Clash: David and Jennifer's modern attitudes literally add colour to Pleasantvilles black-and-white production.
Unresolved Paradox: Although this isn't time travel per se, could developments in the show change the history of television?
35. Les Visiteurs (1993)
Where Do They Start? 1123, where Count Godefroy de Papincourt (Jean Reno) and his servant Jacquouille la Fripouille (Christian Clavier) ask a wizard to send them back in time.
Where Do They End Up? A mistake in the spell sends them forwards in time to 1992.
Biggest Culture Clash: Arrested by the police for destroying a Devils chariot (in reality, a car).
Unresolved Paradox: Jacquouille switches places with modern-day descendant Jacques-Henri Jacquard, who ends up living in the past.
34. Slaughterhouse Five (1972)
Where Do They Start? Billy Pilgrim (Michael Sacks) is a POW in Dresden during WW2.
Where Do They End Up? Coming unstuck in time, he finds himself in the future living on an alien planet, Trafalmadore.
Biggest Culture Clash: The Trafalmadorans can experience every moment of their lives, past and future.
Unresolved Paradox: Not a paradox, exactly, but it's never made explicit if Billy really time-travelled or is just insane.
33. Triangle (2009)
Where Do They Start? When single mother Jess (Melissa George) goes on a boating trip.
Where Do They End Up? In an inescapable time loop.
Biggest Culture Clash: Jess is driven to madness and murder by the endless repetition.
Unresolved Paradox: There isnt even a hint of a way to break the cycle.
32. Frequency (1999)
Where Do They Start? In 1999, where John Sullivan (Jim Caviezel) makes an unusual contact on his radio.
Where Do They End Up? John stays in the 90s, but his words travel back to 1969, where he can communicate with his late father Frank (Dennis Quaid).
Biggest Culture Clash: Frank can leave evidence that John can find and have forensically examined 30 years later.
Unresolved Paradox: John gives Frank knowledge that changes his timeline, but remembers everything that has happened.
31. The Philadelphia Experiment (1984)
Where Do They Start? Aboard the USS Eldridge in 1943, subject to an experiment to make it invisible to radar.
Where Do They End Up? Sailors David (Michael Pare) and Jim (Bobby Di Cicco) jump overboard but are sucked into a time vortex to 1984.
Biggest Culture Clash: Seeing that movie star Ronald Reagan is President.
Unresolved Paradox: Jim travels back to 1943 and has to live out the interim years diagnosed as a madman but David doesnt.
30. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
Where Do They Start? 2286, where a probe will destroy the Earth unless a humpback whale answers its call.
Where Do They End Up? The Enterprise crew slingshot around the Sun in a stolen Klingon ship to travel back to San Francisco, 1986.
Biggest Culture Clash: Spock (Leonard Nimoy) gives a Vulcan nerve-pinch to an antisocial punk.
Unresolved Paradox: Scotty (James Doohan) trades the secret of yet-to-be-discovered transparent aluminium for a whale tank.
29. Run Lola Run (1998)
Where Do They Start? With Lola (Franka Potente) getting a panicky call from boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu), who needs to find a shitload of cash within 20 minutes.
Where Do They End Up? In three parallel universes, depending on what happens to Lola as she tries to help.
Biggest Culture Clash: The ramifications of every single action and reaction, which deliver a vastly different outcome in each story.
Unresolved Paradox: Which of these events actually happened? And does this even count as a time travel movie?
28. Flight of the Navigator (1986)
Where Do They Start? 1978, where 12-year-old David Freeman (Joey Cramer) is kidnapped by aliens.
Where Do They End Up? 1986, although due to travelling faster-than-light Joey doesnt realise hes been away.
Biggest Culture Clash: The Trimaxians have filled Davids brain with scientific data that NASA now wants to tap into.
Unresolved Paradox: Joey is allowed to return to 1978, presumably in time to take out shares in Microsoft.
27. Source Code (2011)
Where Do They Start? In the aftermath of a terrorist attack on a train.
Where Do They End Up? War veteran Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is forced to relive the eight minutes leading up to the tragedy in order to identify the perpetrator.
Biggest Culture Clash: Colter appears to fellow passenger Christina (Michelle Monaghan) as her boyfriend Sean but Colter behaves quite differently.
Unresolved Paradox: According to Colters handlers, this isnt time travel but memory manipulation, but who knows what damage to the timeline their meddling might cause.
26. Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
Where Do They Start? The 24th Century, where Picard (Patrick Stewart) and the Enterprise crew fight off a Borg attack.
Where Do They End Up? 2063, when pioneer Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell) made the historic first contact with aliens.
Biggest Culture Clash: Cochrane is a grumpily down-to-earth geezer who doesnt like the way the Enterprise fanboys fawn over him.
Unresolved Paradox: The Enterprise crew ends up helping Cochrane make his inaugural warp-drive flight.
25. Army of Darkness: The Medieval Dead (1992)
Where Do They Start? Ash (Bruce Campbell) is whisked away from the present-day by the Necronomicon
Where Do They End Up? and arrives in Medieval England.
Biggest Culture Clash: Ashs attitude to romantic etiquette isnt quite what Medieval folk are used to: Gimme some sugar, baby!
Unresolved Paradox: Ash defeats the Army of the Dead using modern-day textbooks from the boot of his car.
24. Time After Time (1979)
Where Do They Start? 1893, where H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) realises his best friend (David Warner) is Jack The Ripper.
Where Do They End Up? Wells chases the Ripper to 1979 in his time machine.
Biggest Culture Clash: Present day London isnt quite the utopia Wells was expecting, but its great for a killer like Jack.
Unresolved Paradox: Wells takes love interest Amy (Mary Steenburgen) into a future where she has become a victim of the Ripper.
23. Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 AD (1966)
Where Do They Start? Present day London, where local bobby Tom Campbell (Bernard Cribbins) is whisked away in the TARDIS by Doctor Who (Peter Cushing).
Where Do They End Up? 2150, where the Daleks are in charge!
Biggest Culture Clash: An eerily deserted London.
Unresolved Paradox: The Doctor takes Tom back to a point before he entered the TARDIS, preventing the sequence of events that caused him to get involved in the first place.
22. The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey (1988)
Where Do They Start? In the 14th Century, where the visions of a medieval boy cause English villagers to tunnel into the earth
Where Do They End Up? In present-day New Zealand.
Biggest Culture Clash: Griffin (Hamish McFarlane) is confronted with a bank of televisions in a shop window.
Unresolved Paradox: Does the earth tunnelling method work both ways?
21. Escape From The Planet of the Apes (1971)
Where Do They Start? The 40th Century, where the Planet of the Apes - aka Earth - is blown to bits.
Where Do They End Up? Apes Cornelius, Zira and Dr Milo flee through a time warp that takes them to 1973.
Biggest Culture Clash: What happens to talking monkeys? They become celebrities.
Unresolved Paradox: The apes presence in the present-day inadvertently sparks the eventual rise of the monkeys.
20. Back to The Future Part 3 (1990)
Where Do They Start? Specifically, in this film, 1955. However, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) has done a lot of time-travelling by this point.
Where Do They End Up? 1885, where Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) is stuck.
Biggest Culture Clash: Marty adopts the non de plume of Clint Eastwood to get by.
Unresolved Paradox: If Doc Brown got stuck in 1885, and left his DeLorean for Marty to travel back to rescue him, that means there must be two DeLoreans in the Wild West now.
19. Superman: The Movie (1978)
Where Do They Start? After Superman (Christopher Reeve) has failed to save Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) from being killed.
Where Do They End Up? Before the tragedy, as a result of Supes flying really fast around the earth.
Biggest Culture Clash: Superman breaks his fathers code of non-interference.
Unresolved Paradox: Why doesnt the act of reversing time actually reverse Supermans own flight path and send him back to Earth arse-over-tit?
18. Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1988)
Where Do They Start? 1988, where slackers and future world leaders Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) are about to flunk their history exam.
Where Do They End Up? Open the history book; pick a page. These guys need the help of Napoleon, Billy The Kid, Abe Lincoln and So-crates.
Biggest Culture Clash: At Waterloo, Napoleon did surrender. Except here it's a water park.
Unresolved Paradox: The film's central premise. Bill and Ted only rule the world through their music, because their older selves convince them to do so.
17. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
Where Do They Start? Just another fun-filled day at Hogwarts for Harry and Hermione.
Where Do They End Up? Three hours ago, thanks to Hermiones time-turner.
Biggest Culture Clash: Wondering why nobody ever uses the time-turner again in the films.
Unresolved Paradox: Harry saves himself by throwing a Patronus charm, which he only knew he could do because he realises it was himself who threw it.
16. Time Bandits (1981)
Where Do They Start? In the contemporary, suburban home of Kevin (Craig Warnock).
Where Do They End Up? After being kidnapped by dwarves, Kevin travels around time meeting Robin Hood, Napoleon and Agamemnon.
Biggest Culture Clash: Discovering Robin Hood (John Cleese) is a bit of a prick.
Unresolved Paradox: Does Kevin's time travelling cause his family to be killed, or was he simply dreaming?
15. La Jetee (1962)
Where Do They Start? An unnamed prisoner (Davos Hanich) living in the aftermath of the Third World War.
Where Do They End Up? Various trips to the pre-apocalyptic past of his childhood, and also into the future.
Biggest Culture Clash: A brief visit into the future reveals that mankind sorts out the mess eventually.
Unresolved Paradox: The man falls in love with a woman he first saw as a child who was witnessing his own future death.
14. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Where Do They Start? Ebeneezer Scrooge (Michael Caine) is enjoying - if thats the word - the end of a financially successful fiscal year on Christmas Eve.
Where Do They End Up? In his past, present and future, escorted by various Muppet ghosts.
Biggest Culture Clash: The happy Yuletide festivities going on in the present-day, from which Scrooge has exiled himself.
Unresolved Paradox: Scrooge mends his way, ensuring that his Christmas Future never happens.
13. The Time Machine (1960)
Where Do They Start? 1900, where George, aka H.G. Wells (Rod Taylor), decides to try out his prototype time machine.
Where Do They End Up? 1917, 1940, 1966 and then 802,701.
Biggest Culture Clash: Humanity in the future is split into the primitive Eloi and the savage Morlocks.
Unresolved Paradox: George tells his friend all about World Wars 1 & 2. They could've passed on the message.
12. Star Trek (2009)
Where Do They Start? The 23rd century, where Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Nero (Eric Bana) got caught in a black hole.
Where Do They End Up? The 22nd century, where Spock (Zachary Quinto) is young and only just starting out.
Biggest Culture Clash: Nero is out for revenge against people who don't know what the hell his problem is.
Unresolved Paradox: Whether 'reboot' Spock is going to be permanently emailing old Spock to ask what was meant to happen in the original timeline.
11. Time Crimes (2007)
Where Do They Start? Hector (Karra Elejalde) is having a nice quiet day in a cabin in the woods.
Where Do They End Up? Very confused.
Biggest Culture Clash: Hector finds himself forced to become a vicious thug simply to keep the timelines going.
Unresolved Paradox: Where does the time machine come from, anyway?
10. Planet of the Apes (1968)
Where Do They Start? Taylor (Charlton Heston) and crew set out into space 1972.
Where Do They End Up? In the year 3978, although the journey only appeared to take 18 months because they were travelling at light speed.
Biggest Culture Clash: Clue's in the title. They've finally made a monkey out of Chuck.
Unresolved Paradox: What's never explained is how all of this happened. For that, you need to check out Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
9. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
Where Do They Start? 2029, they being the T-1000 (Robert Patrick) and a reprogrammed T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger).
Where Do They End Up? 1991, to respectively assassinate/rescue John Connor (Edward Furlong).
Biggest Culture Clash: The original audience's discovery of the T-1000's gobsmacking effects, achieved (as far as we known) without time travel.
Unresolved Paradox: Skynet is founded using bits of the Terminator that it won't invent until much later.
8. Its A Wonderful Life (1946)
Where Do They Start? Bedford Falls, 1946, where George Bailey (James Stewart) lives but wants to die.
Where Do They End Up? A potted history of Bedford Falls in a parallel universe where George never lived.
Biggest Culture Clash: The alternative to Bedford Falls - Pottersville - a seedy metropolis run by crooked banker Mr Potter (Lionel Barrymore).
Unresolved Paradox: Why George's beautiful wife Mary (Donna Reed) would end up a spinster librarian if he'd never existed.
7. Groundhog Day (1993)
Where Do They Start? Phil Connors (Bill Murray) spends 2nd Feb in Punxsutawney for 'Groundhog Day.'
Where Do They End Up? 6am, the same day. Over and over again.
Biggest Culture Clash: Between misanthropic city boy Phil and the gormless but jovial townsfolk he initially despises but comes to love.
Unresolved Paradox: The obvious one: who or what is causing all of this? And let's ignore the original script idea that it's a voodoo curse.
6. Back to The Future Part 2 (1989)
Where Do They Start? 1985, of course.
Where Do They End Up? 2015, then an alternative 1985, and finally 1955. Keep up.
Biggest Culture Clash: A literal clash, as Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson) recasts Hill Valley in his own image.
Unresolved Paradox: When Marty and Jennifer travel to 2015, surely they cease to exist in the interim years. So how are they able to have kids?
5. 12 Monkeys (1995)
Where Do They Start? James Cole (Bruce Willis), post-apocalyptic future, year unspecified.
Where Do They End Up? 1996, via 1990 and the First World War.
Biggest Culture Clash: What would the authorities do with a man claiming to be a time-traveller? Lock him up in an asylum, of course.
Unresolved Paradox: It's just possible that Cole pushes the villain into unleashing the planet-destroying virus.
4. Primer (2004)
Where Do They Start? Sunday, 23rd September 2003.
Where Do They End Up? Oh, if only it were that simple to explain.
Biggest Culture Clash: The gap between usual time travel glamour and the grim reality of hiding out in hotels or lying in a box in a storage shed.
Unresolved Paradox: The film ends with five simultaneous timelines. Confused? This diagram probably won't help.
3. Donnie Darko (2001)
Where Do They Start? Tricky one this. The time-travelling is done by a jet engine, which breaks off a plane on 30th October.
Where Do They End Up? It crashes into Donnie Darko's (Jake Gyllenhaal) bed on 2nd October.
Biggest Culture Clash: Donnie gets stuck in a parallel dimension whose only guide is a bloke called Frank in a Hallowe'en bunny costume. Helpful.
Unresolved Paradox: Sadly, the explain-it-all Director's Cut more or less closes the loop.
2. The Terminator (1984)
Where Do They Start? 2029, 'they' being The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn).
Where Do They End Up? 1984, to respectively assassinate/rescue Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton).
Biggest Culture Clash: A robot from a post-Internet world has to use the phone book to track down Sarah.
Unresolved Paradox: John Connor is only born because his adult self sent Kyle back in time. Lucky, huh?
1. Back to The Future (1985)
Where Do They Start? Marty McFly hits 88mph in Doc Brown's customised DeLorean in 1985...
Where Do They End Up? ...and drives into 1955.
Biggest Culture Clash: "Can I get a Pepsi Free?" asks Marty, sparking shop owner Lou to insist, "You wanna Pepsi, pal, you gotta pay for it."
Unresolved Paradox: The biggie: if Marty has such an impact on his future parents' lives, how come they don't twig they're bringing up a son who looks just like 'Calvin Klein'.