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20 Best Time-Travel Shows Ranked

If you could travel back and forth through time, where would you go? What would you do? Who would you talk to? Even better, if you were writing a book, making a movie, or working on a television show about time travel, what would you include? The best TV shows about time travel all feature characters who visit other eras for various compelling (or even life-threatening) reasons. Maybe it's to prevent a coming apocalypse, maybe it's just to save one person's life — but as many of these shows teach, small changes can have big effects, and many of these characters learn that their time-traveling can change the world.  

Now, there are some great time travel-adjacent shows that don't quite fit this list. A fun romp like "Early Edition," for example, utilizes a time-traveling newspaper and potentially a time-traveling cat, but doesn't in and of itself feature a lot of time travel. Likewise, something like "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" is rooted in a time travel premise, but stays mostly in one time. With all that said, here's a look at our choices for the 20 best time travel shows on TV.

20. Heroes

Save the cheerleader, save the world. That's what future Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka) tells present-day Hiro when he appears to him from the future, and that's what establishes "Heroes" as way more than just a superhero show.

The NBC series follows a group of regular people who develop special powers, not unlike mutants in the "X-Men" series, after a mysterious worldwide eclipse. Each character gains their own individual abilities. Claire Bennet (Hayden Panettiere) develops the ability to heal from any injury. Senator Nathan Petrelli (Adrian Pasdar) gains the ability to fly, while his brother Peter (Milo Ventimiglia) can temporarily absorb others' powers. Still, few of these characters have cooler abilities than Hiro, who can influence the space-time continuum. This means he can teleport, slow down time — and, of course, time travel.   

Understandably, Hiro's power set becomes a serious asset throughout the series, and his path to perfect his abilities is one of "Heroes'" strongest story arcs. The first few times he travels through time don't go as planned, and throughout the series, things can get in the way of him ending up where he wants to go or when he wants to be. While Hiro's time-traveling is just one part of the larger story, it's definitely one of the show's highlights – especially since Oka is so darn charming as the character.

19. 11.22.63

One of the best Stephen King TV series out there, the eight-episode "11.22.63" follows a man named Jake Epping (James Franco). He's a relatively normal guy who receives a chance to change history when his friend Al (Chris Cooper) tells him he's found a way to travel back in time. Al tells Jake that the portal he's discovered goes back to the year 1960 and that he's been working on a plan to stop the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Al's age and advancing cancer diagnosis prevent him from following through on the plan, however, and he asks Jake to take over for him. Jake agrees, but soon his quest is met with pushback from a mysterious source. As it turns out, the past doesn't want to be changed, and every step Jake takes toward preventing JFK's assassination leads to more cracks in the timeline. 

A charming and exciting time travel drama, "11.22.63" is a well-executed, twisty tale that only ranks so low on this list because it's in such great company. If you're looking for a quick, self-contained time travel miniseries that revolves around one of modern America's most notable events, this show is well worth a watch. 

18. Lost

When Oceanic Airlines Flight 815 crash lands on a deserted island, wacky and scary things start happening to the survivors. ABC's "Lost" deals with flashbacks, flash-forwards, mysterious groups that already have a presence on the island, a black smoke monster — and, as it turns out, an ancient battle between good and evil. One of the great appointment television shows before streaming broke through, "Lost" had fans talking about it and theorizing about its mysteries on a weekly basis.

The sci-fi drama captivated viewers for six seasons, and though time travel is referenced throughout the entire series run, it plays the biggest role in Season 4. As the island itself leaps from place to place and from time to time, the main group of characters jumps with it, encountering previous versions of themselves and island events that occurred in the past, and suffering from the effects of temporal displacement. The most beloved episode dealing with time travel is undoubtedly "The Constant," in which fan-favorite Desmond Hume (Henry Ian Cusick) figures out a way to stop his consciousness from jumping through time by finding his constant — his true love, Penny (Sonya Walger).

Of course, "Lost" is not just a time travel show, and famously covers such a wide variety of mysteries and sci-fi concepts that viewers might find it hard to keep up. As such, it ends up with this relatively low ranking. 

17. Fringe

Like "Lost", "Fringe" is considered one of the most binge-worthy sci-fi shows of all time but the fact that it isn't exclusively about time travel means it lands near the tail end of this particular list. The ABC show revolves around a science-fiction conglomerate that dabbles with interdimensional travel, wormholes, and alternate realities. Anna Torv stars as FBI Agent Olivia Dunham, who heads up the bureau's Fringe Division. With the help of "mad scientist" Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble), his estranged son Peter (Joshua Jackson), and their lab assistant Astrid Farnsworth (Jakisa Nicole), Dunham explores cases involving fringe science — be they about time travel, mind control, experiments gone wrong or any other strange and obscure criminal activity.

Time travel is more of a looming presence early in "Fringe," particularly present in the character of the Observer (Michael Cerveris), a bald, pale, genetically advanced human from the future. While Season 1 and Season 2 deal with the battle between two dimensions and realities, time travel really becomes an element in Season 3. Seasons 4 and 5 then deal with alternate timelines and the Observers that infiltrate the world from the future, intent on wiping out humanity. As you might expect, things can get a bit confusing, but the show sure is fun.

16. The Umbrella Academy

You have to respect a show that's so high-concept that time travel doesn't even get top billing. "The Umbrella Academy" boasts mysterious events, family drama, dance numbers, a talking chimpanzee, some of the cleverest superpowers in superhero shows, and a robot mom — and that's just scratching the surface. Based on "The Umbrella Academy" comics created by Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance fame, the Netflix show is a saga that exploits everything from the butterfly effect to the grandfather paradox for emotional and comedic impact.

The central Hargreeves family consists of a group of kids all born on the same day, adopted by the same eccentric billionaire (Colm Feore). He has trained them to protect the world with their various superpowers, but they aren't particularly great at it, and their strict upbringing has left them with a wide array of issues and deep rifts between them. The dysfunctional bunch starts out fairly estranged, but slowly bonds to save humanity from an apocalyptic event ... only to cause another potential apocalyptic event by sprinkling themselves across time.

In between the tears in the space-time continuum, "The Umbrella Academy" is ultimately an ensemble story about found (and re-found) family, as well as a truly unique superhero show where personal failure and the side-effects of costumed crimefighter life play a huge role. However, since Season 1 largely approaches time travel through Number Five (Aidan Gallagher) and the Temps Aeternalis agency, and much of Season 3 focuses on a present-day alternate reality, only the 1960s-themed Season 2 goes truly all in on the concept of sending all main characters to a different era. 

15. Sliders

"Sliders" is a 1990s sci-fi adventure series that features Jerry O'Connell and friends getting lost across the multiverse. O'Connell ("Stand By Me") plays boy genius Quinn Mallory, inventor of the Timer — a device that lets him and his friends "slide" through a wormhole vortex into different versions of Earth. The thing about wormhole vortexes, though, is that they like to misbehave, meaning Quinn and his buds never know where they're headed next on their adventures. This makes their quest to get back home to their own Earth a tricky one.

"Sliders" starts off fun and strong, and is at its best when having bonkers fun — like when Rembrandt (Cleavant Derricks) discovers a world where he could have been Elvis-level famous — and when it's exploring real-world issues in a high-concept dimension, like when the crew visits an Earth that treats men worse than women. Even if you've seen it before, it's definitely worth a re-watch, because "Sliders" is one TV show that's better than you remember.

14. Continuum

On "Continuum," Kiera Cameron (Rachel Nichols) is a Protector – think futuristic government agent from even more futuristic equipment — from the year 2077. She gets transported to the year 2012 along with a group of murderous terrorists, forcing Kiera to remain in the past as she chases them down. Fortunately, her gadgets and knowledge of the past soon come in handy and she finds loyal allies. Unfortunately, her enemies also know their history and plan on altering it for their own gain. 

"Continuum" milks the premise for all it's worth, while avoiding the pitfall of becoming a run-in-the-mill procedural with an unchanging status quo. While Kiera does handle her share of case-of-the-week story arcs, they're often connected to the group she pursues, and she never lets go of her primary target of stopping the terrorists. In order to avoid disrupting the timeline, she also has to go to great lengths to avoid revealing that either she or her targets are time travelers — and when their actions inevitably end up changing the future, she has to deal with the consequences. 

13. Timeless

If ever there was a time travel show that was canceled too soon, it's Eric Kripke and Shawn Ryan's "Timeless." The NBC sci-fi series stars Abigail Spencer as the historian Lucy, Matt Lanter as the soldier Wyatt, and Malcolm Barrett as Rufus, a scientist who makes up a team trying to prevent a mysterious organization from altering the courses of history through time travel. They're up againsts Garcia Flynn (Goran Višnjić), who travels throughout history intending to influence major events like the Hindenburg disaster. However, the team soon realizes that the villain they thought they were fighting is much larger and infiltrates the historical timeline in ways they never imagined. 

Instead of focusing on the usual historical suspects, "Timeless" often highlights forgotten people of color, women, and lesser-known historical figures, giving them their due and celebrating their contributions to society. This element of the show can be seen in the way Rufus, for instance, is reluctant to join the team because he knows how Black people are treated in the eras they visit. 

Despite its intriguing concept, the show was canceled after Season 1, but fans caused such an uproar that NBC reversed the decision of canceling "Timeless" and renewed it for another season. After Season 2, NBC pulled the plug once more, and again, the fans cried foul. In a kind of compromise, NBC greenlit a special two-hour series finale that ties up loose ends and gives much-needed closure to the story. 

12. 12 Monkeys

The "12 Monkeys" SyFy series is based on the 1995 film of the same name that stars Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt — though the series makes a fair few changes to stretch the plot into a four-season sci-fi drama. The series stars Aaron Sanford as James Cole, a scavenger from the year 2024 who's tasked with traveling to 2015 in order to stop the release of a biological weapon. In the movie, James is helped by a psychologist named Kathryn Railly played by Madeleine Stowe, but here, he befriends a virologist named Dr. Cassandra "Cassie" Railly (Amanda Schull). Pitt's character, Jeffrey Goines, is also gender-swapped here, with Emily Hampshire playing Jennifer Goines.

Like the movie, the series deals with the Cassandra Complex, the idea that we have a hard time believing concerns about the future, no matter how likely and provable they are. It also deals with circular time and the idea that past events can be affected by future ones. If those aspects of the film lift your time travel antennae, the four-season show dives even deeper.

11. Paper Girls

"Paper Girls" is a brilliant time travel show that was canceled way ahead of its time. Based on the comics by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang, this Amazon series tells the story of a group of 1990s tween girls who get attacked by futuristic invaders. They manage to escape into the future, where one of the girls, Erin (Riley Lai Nelet ), meets her adult self (Ali Wong).

The show dispenses with grandfather paradox hand-wringing and instead uses the concept of the girls confronting their past and future selves, to brutally honest and hilarious effect. Young Erin is horrified to find out how much of herself she's abandoned by the time she turns into Old Erin, and refuses to let life work out that way. It motivates Erin to want to return to her home time even more — this kid has a clock to beat. However, there are two sides to the coin, and Old Erin is also able to care for her young self in ways she never felt able to when she was younger. It's a beautiful and potent visual metaphor that other characters also make good on. 

All in all, "Paper Girls" is a feast for the eyes as much as its ensemble cast is a feast for the soul. Plus, Jason Mantzoukas playfully chewing scenery as the ominous Grand Father? This show could have lasted until the end of time — or at least until Season 2.

10. Timewasters

"Timewasters" is a time travel comedy about a Black British jazz band that accidentally time-slips back to 1920s London, among other timelines. The quartet stumbles into an earlier time perod via a disgusting elevator that, yes, doubles as a time machine. Once the crew shows up in the past, they're treated like freaks, but they gain some measure of success as musicians. While the crew eventually tries to return to the present, they also have a "Back to the Future" moment when they seemingly get stuck in the 1950s.

"Timewasters" is full of funny jokes and great music, and it's a groundbreaking show in a number of ways. "People like us never get to time travel — it's what white people do, like skiing or brunch," creator Daniel Lawrence Taylor told the Royal Television Society. "For me, race is so important." Taylor also stars in "Timewasters," along with Kadiff Kirwan ("Slow Horses"), Adelayo Adedayo ("Some Girls"), and Samson Kayo ("Our Flag Means Death"). The show is also an excellent destination if you're into spotting a variety of British actors and comedians ... including Joseph Quinn, who went on to rise to fame as Eddie Munson on "Stranger Things."

9. Outlander

Based on the series of novels by Diana Gabaldon, Starz's "Outlander" follows the story of a World War II nurse named Claire (Caitriona Balfe) who finds herself thrown back in time after visiting a circle of mysterious Druid stones. She arrives in 18th Century Scotland and, after being taken in by a band of gruff Scots, she marries the dashing young Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) in order to avoid being taken prisoner by her real husband's (Tobias Menzies) apparent evil ancestor, Black Jack Randall (Menzies). Claire lives through a time of great upheaval in Scotland when tensions with British control are rising and history-making battles loom in the near future. Despite being initially reluctant to stay, she and Jamie fall deeply in love, and their romance remains the backbone of the series.

The entire "Outlander" timeline takes some time to explain, what with several 20th-century characters taking the trip to the 18th century and the show covering versions of notable real-world historical events. Without further spoilers, all there is to say is that if you enjoy time travel shows that lean heavily toward historical drama, "Outlander" is where it's at. Also, if you view Tobias Menzies as an incorrigible dweeb due to his performance as Edmure Tully on "Game of Thrones," his monstrous "Outlander" villain is guaranteed to erase that image.

8. Quantum Leap

"Quantum Leap" stars Scott Bakula as Dr. Sam Beckett, a physicist who invents a way to travel through time. When the corporation funding his project threatens to shut it down, Sam uses himself as a guinea pig to test out the method. He finds himself thrown back in time, but in another person's body. The only other entity aware of his 'leap" is a hologram of his colleague and best friend, Admiral Al Calavicci (Dean Stockwell). Al tells Sam that he must correct things that went wrong in the past before being allowed to leap back to his own time and body, and can only use the resources of the project's supercomputer, Ziggy.

With Sam leaping back and forth into different bodies at different times, the show uses a variant of the traditional procedural set up. New characters turn up to guest star and Sam gets to save the day, have a fling, and learn something new before leaping to the next destination, which just might be home one of these days.  

The series ran on NBC from 1989 to 1993, but its combination of time travel and case-of-the-week antics has proved enduring enough that "Quantum Leap" even gets a shout-out in "Avengers: Endgame." Despite being over three decades old, it remains a cool time travel series worth checking out.

7. The 4400

In the opening scenes of "The 4400," an enormous ball of light drops 4,400 people at the foot of Mount Rainier in Washington. They soon realize that they were all taken from some other point in time and deposited into the year 2004, unaged and without any memories of where they'd been. At first, everyone assumes that these people have been abducted by aliens. However, it soon turns out that the truth is far more time travel-related.

The returned people soon start developing "Heroes"-style powers that range from telekinesis to telepathy and super-strength, which people from the future have entrusted with to prevent various catastrophic events that they want to avoid in their timeline. Unfortunately, the 2004 government considers the powered folks a threat, and inhibits their powers with a neurological drug. 

The stories that unfold from this setup are exactly as complex and entertaining as you'd imagine, with various members of the titular group treating their powers in different ways and society having a hard time dealing with them. Unfortunately, "The 4400" ended abruptly after four seasons on a somewhat ambiguous note, but even so, it's a fun show to revisit.

6. Travelers

In Netflix's "Travelers," time-traveling operatives from a post-apocalyptic future are tasked with preventing certain events that have led to the downfall of society in their own present day of 2018. The travelers' consciousness takes over a person in the desired time who's just about to die, and the operative then lives out the rest of that person's days though with the mission in mind ... and a strict set of rules they must follow. Apart from a list of ways they're not allowed to interact with the past, they're also strictly forbidden from communicating with other known travelers outside their team, save for special circumstances dictated by the Director, who communicates by temporarily taking over children. 

It's a unique and complex premise, and the way the travelers scope out potential targets for takeover and learn to live as them is as timely as it comes — they use social media, GPS locations, and other readily available online information for their time-travel tricks. This adds a layer of present-day dread to the show's fascinating take on time travel. 

5. Loki

Loki Laufeyson (Tom Hiddleston) meets his match when he comes up against the Time Variance Authority in one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's most ambitious Disney+ shows, "Loki." The TVA is so dedicated to maintaining a particular sacred timeline that they purge all alternate realities where someone made a choice they deem wrong, which might not always make sense, but precision isn't the point here. It's the idea of playfulness versus control. 

The Loki we see here is an alternate-timeline variant of the one the audiences are familiar with, and thus starts the show in full "The Avengers" villain mode before life — and time — starts grinding him down. Working with TVA agent Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson), he starts redeeming himself by tracking down an apparently evil version of himself, Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) ... and ultimately tackling the biggest challenges time can offer.  

The God of Mischief's surprisingly human path of reckoning is the heart of a show that's deliciously stylish, silly, and sometimes scary. "Loki" takes a cops-and-robbers crime caper into time travel territory and explores hefty themes with a light touch, from mindless compliance to self-serving overseers to criminalizing anyone deemed different. "Loki" isn't just a time travel show — it's a show about everything time can offer and more, with characters dancing between eras as you might step from room to room. Also, it has Alligator Loki, who's objectively the best Loki of all. 

4. Dark

If "Loki" is too light-hearted for you, Netflix's "Dark" might be your jam ... provided you can make sense of its incredibly convoluted time travel storyline. Four families weave a tangled web of time travel in this German-language psychological thriller about missing kids, a rotten town, and how almost all of our secrets come out in time. In other words, it's a good time travel show, but it's definitely not a feel-good time travel show. 

"Dark" follows its many characters over the course of their lifetimes and, at one point, has three timelines going at once. Part of the intrigue and challenge of watching the show is trying to understand how (and when) each timeline threads into the other. If you decide to watch it, it's best to have an evidence board and plenty of red yarn ready to chart the relationships and betrayals the town of Winden sees over the years.

While "Dark" is as much a show about human connection and how frayed it can become as it is about time travel, it's also the MVP of using as many time travel paradoxes as possible during its three-season run. "Dark" is also an innovator in the field of wormhole placement. Wormholes are already not to be trusted, but a wormhole underneath a nuclear power plant? No, thank you.

3. Beforeigners

What happens when a bunch of Viking-era warriors, 19th-century figures, and Stone Age people pop up in modern-day Oslo? "Beforeigners" attempts to answer that question while navigating twisty murder mysteries with such efficiency that the Norwegian series may be best described as "crime travel." Adding to the intrigue is the way it focuses more on the present-day relationship between the time refugees and their modern counterparts than on how they showed up in the first place.

"Beforeigners" centers around the odd-couple partnership between hardened police detective Lars Haaland (Nicolai Cleve Broch) and eager new Viking police recruit Alfhildr Enginnsdóttir (Krista Kosonen), who investigate things like the murder of a Stone Age victim and even look into crimes with possible ties to Jack the Ripper.

The metaphor of time migration is an apt one for immigration, and this sci-fi show explores tricky real-life issues with plenty of scope. Creators Anne Bjørnstad and Eilif Skodvin got their start in comedy writing, and their commitment to the bit is evident in the show, including the language used. "Early on, I contacted researchers, professors who helped us. We also constructed the language that Stone Age people spoke, and even with the language from the 19th century: We worked on it to make it sound right," Bjørnstad told Variety. "Why not invest in language, which is such a big part of a person's identity?"

2. Russian Doll

"Russian Doll" could be pitched as "Natasha Lyonne's 'Groundhog Day,'" but that still wouldn't hint at half of the show's charm and emotion. This Netflix offering is a mind-bending time loop dramedy that's a stylish and surreal exploration of life, death, and all the trauma in between. Season 1 of "Russian Doll" features Nadia (Lyonne) stuck reliving her 36th birthday until she inevitably dies and resets back to her friend's bathroom. Later in the season, she discovers a fellow time traveler (Charlie Barnett). They quickly realize that the way out of their dead ends and into a new life is through helping each other.

Season 2 takes some departures from the recursive reality set up in the first season, bending viewers' minds even more thoroughly. "Russian Doll" goes deep, but keeps a sense of humor even as it twists the knife in its characters' hearts — and their timelines. The show keeps audiences just oriented enough by linking its time loops to recognizable spaces and sound cues. You will never look at the subway the same way again, and you will probably never get Harry Nilsson's "Gotta Get Up" out of your head.

1. Doctor Who

Really, could any other show top a list like this? The untold history of "Doctor Who" goes all the way back to 1963, when the show premiered on the BBC. The series follows the adventures of a Time Lord who calls themselves the Doctor — an alien being from the planet Gallifrey who travels through space and time on a craft called the TARDIS, which is charmingly disguised as an old-fashioned British police call box and is famously bigger on the inside. Every Doctor has their own companions – humans who follow the Doctor throughout space and time, helping people, battling new and recurring villains, and dealing with the assorted wibbly-wobbly stuff on the Doctor's timeline.

The original series ran from 1963 through 1989 and established the neat trick of recasting the Doctor every few years or so, thanks to the premise that the character has multiple lives and can reincarnate himself into different physical bodies. The modern series was revived in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor, and talented actors like David Tennant (twice), Matt Smith, Peter Capaldi, Jodie Whitaker, and Ncuti Gatwa have followed in his footsteps. Even without the fact that no other show has time travel quite as integrated into its very premise as "Doctor Who," the show's sheer longevity and cultural impact are more than enough to make it the king of the time travel hill.