Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Best Time Travelers In Movies And TV

If there's one thing movies and TV shows have taught us, it's that time travel is a really bad idea. What starts out as a simple joyride to the past quickly escalates into a major catastrophe that can alter history, create dystopias, and erase your loved ones right out of existence. When stepping on the wrong prehistoric butterfly can create a future where humanity evolves into lizard men, you know you have to be careful about how you tread through time.

That said, there are a select group of people who can navigate the time stream with minimal negative consequences. Thanks to special foresight, predestination, or billions of years of experience, these guys know which way to swerve to avoid a nasty paradox. From genius scientists to a couple of teenage rockers, these are the folks you want as the designated drivers of your time machine when the timeline starts branching.

Doc Brown

The "Back to the Future" trilogy is famous for introducing mainstream audiences to the concept of temporal paradoxes and alternate timelines. A lot of this is thanks to the film's main protagonist Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), who drives a DeLorean time machine back to 1955, screws up his parents' first meeting, and nearly prevents himself from being born.

As if this wasn't bad enough, Marty next travels to the future and buys a sports almanac, hoping it'll help him place some winning bets. Instead, he inadvertently helps creates a dystopian 1985 that ruins hundreds of lives.

Thankfully, while Marty may constantly screw-up the time stream, the time machine's inventor — Emmett "Doc" Brown (Christopher Lloyd) — is always there to set things right. While Doc did make a potentially fatal mistake with some plutonium and Libyan terrorists, his mind is still second-to-none at fourth-dimensional thinking.

It's a past version of Doc who helps Marty get back to the future despite having minimal knowledge of time machines. It's also Doc who explains to Marty how the alternate 1985 was created and develops a plan to erase the corrupt timeline.

Granted, Doc worries he may have seriously damaged history when he falls in love with doomed school teacher Clara (Mary Steenburgen) in "Back to the Future Part III" (1990), but everything turns out okay. He might fret about breaking the space-time continuum, but when it comes to time travel, few people are better suited for the task than Doc Brown.

Doctor Who

When an alien from a species known as the "Time Lords" invites you aboard his TARDIS time machine, you're in for an experience that goes beyond imagination. Since 1963, "Doctor Who" has shown various regenerations of the Doctor has been taking multiple Companions to various historical hotspots — including many not confined to Earth.

What makes the Doctor such an engaging time traveler is that he doesn't just take you on impromptu jaunts through the time stream. Instead, the TARDIS tends to deposit the Doctor and his Companions when and where they're most needed. This can mean traveling to World War II to help Winston Churchill navigate a Dalek plot or dropping into Queen Victoria's reign to protect her from a savage werewolf.

Granted, traveling with the Doctor is dangerous and requires a lot of running — but at least you'll have the satisfaction of knowing your time trips accomplish some good. And give you plenty of cardio.

Doctor Sam Beckett

While temporal paradoxes and alterations to the timestream are typically seen as bad things, the hero of the 1980s TV show "Quantum Leap" Doctor Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula), regularly shows they can also be beneficial. In fact, the show's opening narration reveals that Sam's job is "to change history for the better" and "to put right what once went wrong."

Sam's method of time travel is unique. Where most time travelers traverse the time stream in a machine, Sam involuntarily "leaps" into other people's bodies during moments of crisis. Aided by his holographic guide Al (Dean Stockwell), Sam learns about the person he's leaped into and how he needs to help. While he can make mistakes, he ultimately steers these people onto a path that improves their lives and the ones around them. Some episodes even reveal he how he inspired a young Stephen King, Sylvester Stallone, Michael Jackson, and even Martin Luther King Jr.'s ancestor!

One nice thing about "Quantum Leap" is that Al is able to let Sam know exactly how he changed history by referencing future news clippings and records. Through Al, Sam learns of the families he brought back together, the careers he helped start, and even the women who chose not to have silicone breast implants after he warned them about the health hazards. Nice job, Dr. Beckett!

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

For many people, being able to travel through time offers the chance to perform "do-overs" in key moments in your life. That's what Makoto Konno (Riisa Naka) decides to do with her time travel ability in the Japanese anime film "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time" (2006). And the amazing thing? It actually works really well — at least at first.

Inexplicably gifted with the power to "time-leap" or relive different parts of her day, Makoto decides to use her ability for frivolous reasons. She aces a test by taking it twice, avoids an embarrassing cooking mishap, and even sings karaoke for 10 hours straight by repeatedly reliving the same session. However, when her friend Chiaki (Takuya Ishida) confesses feelings for her, she wastes several leaps going back in time to avoid dealing with the situation.

Unfortunately, Makoto soon encounters some genuinely serious problems that require her time traveling ability — just as she learns she has a limited number of "time-leaps," meaning some of her activities will have lasting consequences. Forced to accept responsibility for her actions, Makoto luckily proves up for the task, although she does have to pay a pretty steep price to help the ones she loves.

Henry DeTamble

Unlike most of the time travelers on this list, Henry DeTamble (Eric Bana), the protagonist of "The Time Traveler's Wife" (2009) can't alter history beyond its predestined path. Blessed and cursed with a rare genetic condition that causes him to involuntarily travel across his own personal timeline, Henry basically lives his life out of order. This comes with plenty of downsides ... but there are some perks to this existence as well.

Thanks to his time traveling abilities, Henry's future wife Clare (Rachel McAdams) is already madly in love with him when he first meets her, thanks to some trips his future self will make in Clare's past. While their marriage is not without problems, Henry can also provide for his wife in unique ways — first by purchasing a winning lottery ticket and then by picking out the home of their dreams (since he's already visited it multiple times in the future).

Of course, possessing knowledge of the future — including the inevitable tragedies — can weigh heavily on a time traveler. Still, Henry and Clare agree they wouldn't choose to live their lives any other way or change a thing about their love. Not everyone can deal with being married to a time traveler, but these two manage to own it.

Tim Lake

Some people time travel to save lives, study historical events, or uncover the secret of existence.

Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson) of 2013's British comedy-drama "About Time," just wants to find a girlfriend.

After being informed by his father James (Bill Nighy) that the men in their family can travel to different points in their history simply by climbing into a closet and concentrating, Tim sets out to find "Ms. Right" by exploiting his unlimited supply of do-overs. And it works: he meets, falls in love, and successfully woos Mary (Rachel McAdams, who attracts a lot of time travelers) after some targeted alterations to the time stream ensure a successful courtship.

Tim's ability comes with some other bittersweet benefits as well — he can travel back in time to hang out with his father even after James dies of cancer. Eventually, his dad discloses a unique secret to happiness for time travelers — live each day twice to appreciate all the little surprises and events that you missed the first time. It's a simple but profound lesson that shows you don't have to radically alter the timeline to enjoy time travel.


The X-Men constantly struggle to improve relations between humans and mutants, but when things go horribly wrong in a possible future, only Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) can set things right. "X-Men: Days of Future Past" (2014) sees Logan sent back to the 1970s, where he teams up with a younger Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to stop the rogue mutant Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating a bigoted scientist and starting a chain of events leading to the end of all mutants.

In typical Wolverine fashion, saving the future involves beating up a lot of people in the past. However, Logan is smart enough to know when he needs help, so he allows Xavier to use his mind as a bridge to the future, enabling the older Professor X (Patrick Stewart) to reawaken a sense of hope in his younger self. Thanks to this inspired move, Xavier comes up with a diplomatic solution to the impending catastrophe, resulting in a paradisiacal new future (at least until "Logan" (2017) came along...)

The Enterprise Crew

Time travel has been a staple in "Star Trek" ever since the original TV series. By the time the movies came around, most starships could easily navigate the time stream as long as you had someone like Mr. Spock performing the right time travel calculations.

What's most impressive, however, is how the Enterprise crew makes beneficial alterations to the timeline. In "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" (1986), the original Enterprise crew goes to 1986 San Francisco in order to retrieve a pair of humpback whales and restart the extinct species in the future. During a side mission, Scotty (James Doohan) shares the secret formula for "transparent aluminum" to the man credited with inventing the material, thereby tying everything in a neat causal loop.

Things aren't quite so clean for the Enterprise's next crew in "Star Trek: First Contact" (1996). After the villainous Borg assimilate Earth by preventing Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell)'s historical first contact with an alien species, the Enterprise travels back to 2063 to stop them. Although the Enterprise destroys the Borg vessel, their engineers need to work around the clock to make sure Cochrane's damaged warp ship is ready for its date with history. Meanwhile, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart), has to prevent the Borg from assimilating the Enterprise and using it as their weapon. Fortunately, things turn out okay, showing Gene Roddenberry's utopian vision of the future must be protected at all costs.

Captain America

"Avengers: Endgame" (2019) played fast and loose with the rules of time travel by having the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) explain that changing the past doesn't affect the future — it merely causes an alternate timeline to branch out from the original. Nevertheless, after performing a cross-time scavenger hunt for six Infinity Stones through four separate timelines, the Avengers decide to do the responsible thing by returning the stones after they help set things right in their time. And who better for the task than the Sentinel of Liberty, Captain America (Chris Evans)?

Only Cap has his own agenda. After returning the stones (and Thor's hammer), he decides to remain in the 1940s and live a full life with his soulmate Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) before returning to the present as an old man. It's a major alteration to at least one timeline that could potentially spawn a wildly different variant reality.

Except ... everything seems to turn out fine. The mainstream MCU timeline appears to be unaltered and Steve retains decades of happy memories from his temporal retirement. Granted, the Disney+ show "Loki" later suggests that the Time Variance Authority (TVA) may have been cleaning up after Steve by "pruning" or vaporizing the rogue timelines, but maybe they took it easy on this one. It is the home of Captain America, after all.


Much has been written about the climactic scene in Richard Donner's 1978's "Superman" movie. When one of Lex Luthor's (Gene Hackman) rogue missiles hits California's San Andreas Fault Line, Superman (Christopher Reeve) must deal with the fallout from a massive earthquake. Using his great strength and speed, the Man of Steel saves a falling school bus, repairs a train track with his body, and saves a town from an incoming flood. However, he's too late to save Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), who dies after her car falls into a giant crevice.

Devastated, Superman screams in anguish and begins flying around the planet so fast that he reverses time — healing much of the earthquake's devastation and bringing Lois back to life. While some audiences mock the scene for making Superman too powerful (surely someone who could fly that fast could have caught the missile before it started the earthquake), they miss the point about what this time travel scene shows about Superman's character.

At his core, Superman is a god who wants to be a man. Where other superheroes need to push themselves to the limit to save the day, Reeves' Superman is ordered by his father (Marlon Brando) to not use his full power, lest he alter humanity's destiny. For the most part, Superman submits to this — but when the woman he loves dies, he breaks the rules and defies time itself. It's a fantastic display of god-like power ... yet it's his most human act as well.

Bill & Ted

Okay, let's get one thing out of the way: anyone who can stuff eight historical figures into a phone booth like Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted "Theodore" Logan (Keanu Reeves) totally deserves a spot on this list just for that feat.

Still, "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" (1989) deserves props for more than its silliness. After learning that Bill and Ted's rock band "Wyld Stallyns" might break up if the teenage slackers can't pass their history class, time traveler Rufus (George Carlin) is tasked with saving the boys' music career. Seems Bill and Ted's music is supposed to inspire a future utopia, making it vital to humanity's survival.

Given access to Rufus' phone booth-shaped time machine, Bill and Ted travel to multiple points in history to get the real inside scoop on important historical events from Billy the Kid, Socrates, and Joan of Arc. However, the two also use time travel in other innovative ways — by getting their future selves to set up events so they can pull off brilliant escapes and other impossible feats in the present. Time travel may be hard for some people to grasp, but these two dim-witted rockers show they have an intuitive understanding of it. Excellent!

Hermione Granger

Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), the genius witch of the "Harry Potter" franchise, loves school and studying. In fact, she loves it so much that Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith) loans her a "Time Turner" — a special magical device that lets the user travel through time — in "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" (2004) just so Hermione can take extra classes that happen to be scheduled at the same time.

Of course, this being a magical adventure, Hermione decides to use the Time Turner for more altruistic reasons when she transports Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and herself back in time so they can relive a potentially tragic day and save Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), while also stopping the execution of hippogriff Buckbeak. It's a tricky time travel mission, but Harry and Hermione manage to pull it off without causing any universe-ending paradoxes.

Interestingly, the fact that Hermione kept reliving so many of her school days with the Time Turner means she's physically several months older than Harry or Ron by the end of the movie. Some might find this disconcerting, but for a scholar like Hermione, it was still time well spent.

The Time Traveler

You didn't think we'd leave the most iconic time traveler of literature and film off of this list, did you? First appearing in H.G. Wells' 1895 novel "The Time Machine," this scientist protagonist is literally called "The Time Traveler." Using his steampunk time machine to journey into the far future, the Time Traveler discovers a disconcerting truth — humanity will split into two species, the childlike Eloi and the subterranean Morlocks who eat them. Continuing his journey through time, the Time Traveler discovers other inevitable truths about the final fate of the world and the ways technology can foster humanity's decline.

Considered an iconic time travel story, "The Time Machine" has been adapted into various movies over the years. Many of these movies, like 2002's "The Time Machine" starring Guy Pearce, take liberties with the original plot. The Eloi are often depicted as more intelligent in the films, while the Time Traveler becomes more of an action-oriented hero in his battles with the Morlocks.

One interesting thing about the story is that the Time Traveler doesn't actually change history. Although he gets to travel farther forward in time than most "time tourists," he remains more of an observer than a meddler. This makes him far more responsible than other time travelers, who can't seem to help but litter the time stream with paradoxes. Temporal tourists may be careless people, but at least a few of them know what they're doing.