Time travel is a fascinating subject. It’s no coincidence that films that do it well often become classics. Rian Johnson‘s Looper has, only a few days after release, immediately taken its rightful place among the best time travel films ever made. That’s no easy feat, much less when considering that a majority of time travel films underestimate their subject matter, or just aren’t up to the task. For every amazing time travel flick, we get our fair share of bad ones. But ranking them based on quality is not what this list is all about. We’ll be taking a look at the specific methods of time travel the movies below employ and what kind of experience you would be in for should you be lucky or, well, unlucky enough to be taken for a spin.
Most people would kill for the chance to travel through time. If you’re an inhabitant of the world of ‘Looper’, however, killing to avoid time travel is the best bet. In a future where time travel is outlawed, organized crime uses it to send their victims to the past where they are summarily blown to bits by so-called Loopers. In most cases, no matter how rough things get, characters can at least take solace in the fact that they got to see the past or future. Not so much, in ‘Looper’. Mobster barge in to your home and put a sack over your head. Before you even know what’s going on, you’re getting your chest pumped full of lead thirty years earlier.
It’s not even a fancy sack.
Ah, the time loop. The cruel, heartless bastard of time travel. Most people know the feeling of wanting to relive a certain moment in their lives, maybe even an entire day. It would be fantastic at first. You could break all the rules and face none of the consequences. But once you’ve lived that day a couple of thousand times, odds are you’re a little… miffed. The same, dull small talk, the same annoying people, the same weather, the same everything. Every day. It would only be a matter of time before you’re desperately looking for new and creative ways to throw yourself off a cliff. Sure, Bill Murray‘s character in Groundhog Day survived the whole ordeal, even becoming a better person in the process. But then, if we were half the man Bill Murray is, things would be different around here.
The ability to travel through time without any sort of machinery is definitely alluring. But, as with Groundhog Day, being able to control it would go a long way in making it more than a living hell. Henry, Eric Bana‘s character in The Time Traveler’s Wife, has a gene that causes him to involuntarily time jump. He has no way of knowing where, or when, he’s going to show up. Also? He can’t take anything with him on these time jumps, so wherever he lands, he’ll be landing there in all his buck naked glory. Sounds innocent enough until you find yourself in the middle of some kid’s 6 year old birthday party. Bonus points if it’s your own.
As an added bit of trivia, this movie is based on a novel of the same name. In said novel, at the age of 15, Henry travels a couple of months into the future and gets freaky with his “older” self.
Like you wouldn’t.
2. The Jacket
Looks cozy, doesn’t it?
In the 2005 thriller The Jacket, Adrien Brody plays a Gulf War veteran who gets wrongly sent to a mental institution for the criminally insane. There he meets a wonderful (read: psycho and scary) doctor who begins experimenting on him. So far, so fucking frightening. The experiment results in Brody’s character being transported to the future, so you can’t really say it’s a failure. In order for him to time travel, however, he gets put in a straitjacket and locked in a morgue drawer. Not being huge fans of straitjackets, mental asylums, confined spaces or other nightmare scenarios, we’re relatively sure we’d give this one a pass.
Then again, he does meet Keira Knightley in the future.
We have to give it up for Twelve Monkeys, a movie that single-handedly turned us off time travel for years. In this sci-fi classic, Bruce Willis plays a convict in a world ravaged by a man-made virus. He is sent into the past to discover the origins of, and hopefully a cure to, the virus. Sounds pretty heroic so far, right?
What follows is one of the most uncomfortable scenes in a time travel film ever. Willis’ character is poked, prodded and damn near violated by a swarm of creepily clad doctors, all the while hooked up to machinery I still have nightmares about. And once he actually travels through time… well, let’s just call the time machine from Twelve Monkeys “inaccurate” and leave it at that.
Willis is flung back and forth through time and starts completely losing his mind. We can’t blame the guy. Going back in time to save the entire human race is nowhere near worth the terrifying experiences found in this flick.
Then again, he does meet Brad Pitt in the past. We’re all about equality.
Honorable Mention: The Terminator
Much like in The Time Traveler’s Wife, only living tissue (with the exception of the Terminators themselves) can travel back in time in the Terminator series. This is all fine and dandy if you are an actual Terminator. But if you’re a mere mortal, this just means you’re a naked crazy person raving about robots and the apocalypse. Not the best way to travel through time but a fantastic way to travel to the nearest jail cell.
Honorable Mention: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
In this 1949 comedy, a mechanic played by Bing Crosby gets, for lack of a better term, knocked the fuck out. He wakes up in medieval England, and, like in the countless similar movies that followed, hilarity ensued. Call us sissies, but we don’t favor travel methods, time or otherwise, that run on us getting smashed in the head. Or almost drowning. Or crashing our car into trees. Or fainting at proms.
Really, anything that could result in our deaths or a penis getting drawn on our face.
Honorable Mention: Superman
Yeah, you remember this one.
Superman, in a fit of rage, flew around the Earth so fast it spun on its axis, reversing time. We believed a man could fly, we believed he could lift a helicopter with one hand, we believed he could shoot fire out of his eyes, but this is the point where most people stood up and called bullshit. And for good reason. But even so, it’s pretty impressive. Superman isn’t even traveling through time. He’s making the entire Earth travel through time for him. He makes the Earth his bitch.
Honorable Mention: Somewhere in Time
Alright, we admit it, Somewhere in Time may not be the most riveting time travel movie ever made. But its method of time travel almost makes up for it. Christopher Reeve plays a young playwright who falls in love with a vintage portrait of a woman he has never met. Upon discovering she was an actress before he was even born, he travels back in time using self-hypnosis. That’s right, he decides to time travel so he… does. Both of these honorable mentions are courtesy of Reeve, the one man who can be more badass in a Victorian setting than when playing Superman.
Say what you will about Bill and Ted, they get a time machine and they use it for homework. To prevent them from failing their history class and help them fulfill their quite bitchin’ destiny, a future dweller named Rufus travels back in time in a phone booth. The two teens are whisked away on an adventure through time, rallying around them some of history’s greatest figures. Some may point out that the good Doctor Who also time travels in a phone booth. A cooler one, to boot. Why pick our friends Bill & Ted, then? The answer is quite simple.
One comes with George Carlin, the other does not.
Now this we can get on board with.
There are few things in this life that rival opening an ice-cold beer, throwing on some trunks and hitting the tub. Got your best buds with you? Even better. Better still would be drinking an entire country’s worth of alcohol and zipping back in time for a spell. There are no straitjackets, no nightmare-inducing devil-machines, no Loopers emptying their guns into your belly. Just… bubbles.
In the spirit of full disclosure, though, we are hoping that the tub water is yellow because of time-magic, not… well.
As far as time machines go, the time-turner featured in the third Harry Potter flick is pretty handy. Given to Hermione to help her attend overlapping classes, the time-turner resembled an hourglass on a necklace. The number of times one turned the hourglass corresponds to the number of hours one traveled back in time. So, while it’s not a great pick if you’re looking to travel years or centuries, its size is a definite plus. It’s a small piece of jewelry you can wear around your neck, completely bypassing perils such as getting stuck in a particular time due to lack of Wonder-Element X. It also helps that having this means you’re a wizard.
I just want to wash Hagrid’s beard, is that weird?
Here we have the original, the vintage time machine. Sure, it’s a bit clunky and kind of looks like Santa’s sleigh, but goddamnit it’s old and that means it’s cool. You roll up in this baby and the cave-ladies will be all over you, you stallion. In the 1960 classic, our hero benefits from a mannequin whose clothes change to mirror the fashion of whatever time he’s in. So, to recap, you’re going to look suave as hell and you get a free mannequin that’s only a little bit creepy. Honestly, this one is hard to beat.
The iconic, beautiful, amazing, badass DeLorean is the definitive time machine. This bad boy can take you to the past, the future and everywhere in between. Want to kill Hitler? Just get in and rev it up to 88 mph, leave behind a pair of burning tire tracks and you’re there. Missed your favorite tv show and don’t want to wait for the rerun? 88 mph. Burning tire tracks. Came back from the supermarket only to drop an egg?
88. Miles. Per. Hour.
And you’ll look damn good doing it.
If we had one of these we’d travel back in time to when it was made just so we could have two. This is probably the only time machine on this list people would kill to own, Flux Capacitor and all, even if it didn’t work. The coolest time machine in film history and one of the coolest movie cars of all time. Still not good enough for you?
It fucking flies.
Now go watch Back to the Future, you know you want to.