Comingsoon.net is traveling throughout film history to determine which time travel devices are the most effective. Check out our picks in the gallery below!
Time travel is one of the most confounding plot devices in film—it rarely makes sense and it often ends up creating more questions than answers. Filmmakers do their best to try and avoid any paradoxes or inconsistencies in the logic they’re establishing, but they aren’t always successful at this. That’s why, whenever a filmmaker comes up with a device to make their time travel story convincing, it’s worth celebrating.
More often than not, it seems that a comedic or otherwise lighthearted take makes the most sense when telling a time travel story. Making a joke out of something so complex leads to a whole new level of accessibility—“How does this work?” “I don’t know!”—that’d be unreachable with a more dramatic take. Still, some dramatic filmmakers have managed to achieve this accessibility, as well. Of all the time travel devices in all the time travel movies, these are the ones that get the job done the best.
Time travel movies
About Time (2013)
Of all the time travel movies out there, 2013’s
About Time has one of the most ingenious ways of explaining things: the film makes it all about genes. In the filmm, the main character’s family passes the ability to time travel through their bloodline. The patriarch explains the rules to their young, and so on. It’s really clever.
Back to the Future (1985)
The DeLorean, the need to get up to 88 miles per hour, the all-important plutonium—all of these things come together for the eccentric Doc Brown, who is then able to create one of the most iconic time travel devices in all of film. As it happens, it’s also one of the most accessible. Enter the date you want to travel to, get the car up to the right speed, and you’re there.
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)
Taking a page out of the
Doctor Who time travel rulebook, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure has its two leads travel through time using a phone booth. It helps to have both leads be complete airheads, which allows for a dumbing down of the time travel logic that makes things pretty accessible for all.
Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
There are plenty of time loop stories in this compilation, but none do it like
Edge of Tomorrow. The film opts for what is more or less video game logic, similarly to a theme explored later on in Groundhog Day: you die, you get to go back and start over from a fixed point in time. As an alien invasion action film, Edge of Tomorrow is excellent. As a time travel movie, Edge of Tomorrow is even better.
Groundhog Day (1993)
Harold Ramis’s 1993 film
Groundhog Day is a perfect example of how to do time travel the right way: there’s no science involved, there’s no device that needs fixing, there’s no world-ending urgency to the plot. It’s all about Bill Murray’s character and the way he treats other people. Ultimately, it’s a matter of morality instead of a matter of heady, scientific terms.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
You’d think that the time travel device used in
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban would’ve come in handy more often than it does. Dubbed a Time Turner, the stopwatch-looking device allows Hermione to go back in time to take more classes at school. Why wouldn’t they use it throughout the rest of the series to try and defeat the Dark Lord? Who knows. All we know is that it’s enough to be impressive whenever it’s featured in this third entry in the franchise.
Rian Johnson’s 2012 film
Looper is nothing short of spectacular, especially in the way it handles its time travel. In the world of Looper, time travel is primarily used for nefarious purposes. Like Groundhog Day and Edge of Tomorrow, Looper utilizes the concept of a time loop to explain its main character Joe’s ability to go back 30 years in the past.
Source Code (2011)
The Jake Gyllenhaal-led sci-fi movie
Source Code explains its time travel by transporting a military man into another’s body in the time leading up to a terrorist attack in Chicago. It’s another really unique way of doing things, and it works well within the context of the film.
The Terminator (1984)
Looper, The Terminator’s use of time travel is mostly reserved for those who want to use it for evil instead of good. Skynet is able to send killer cyborgs back and forth in time to do their bidding, keeping the logistics as secret as the rest of the Terminator universe’s lore. Sometimes no explanation proves to be the best explanation, it seems.
Time Bandits (1981)
Terry Gilliam’s fantasy adventure film
Time Bandits is one of the more family-friendly entries here, which—like Bill & Ted or Back to the Future—allows for a general simplification of the way things work. Here, random portals spread throughout time are kept track of via a map.