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The Most Underrated Time Travel Movies You Need To Watch

Time travel stories have a long history, with H.G. Wells' classic "The Time Machine" being published in 1895, and stories of travelers from the future having existed in folklore for centuries. Some of the most fascinating real-life mysteries and urban legends have involved stories of time travel, too. So it should come as no surprise that time travel movies have long been a favorite of the sci-fi genre.

Over the years, some of sci-fi's best movies have involved time travel, be they family adventures like "Back to the Future," thrillers like "12 Monkeys," action movies like "The Terminator," or even comedies like "Groundhog Day." While audiences are well-acquainted with time travel through these big blockbuster films, there are a lot of other, lesser-known movies that employ the same sci-fi concepts. Many of these films have gone under-appreciated, whether because they got lost on streaming, were given initially bad critical scores, or simply weren't marketed well. 

Well have no fear, temporal explorers, because even if you can't go back to see them when they were first released, you can see them now, with our helpful list of underrated time-travel movies.


A Netflix original, the unusually titled "ARQ" came and went with little fanfare in 2016. This isn't your ordinary time travel adventure though, like the straightforward thrillers that send heroes back and forth through time. Instead, the film is centered on a young couple who become inadvertently trapped in a repeating loop of time. But unlike "Groundhog Day," they're not stuck in a pleasant little midwestern village — they're stuck in the throws of a robbery gone wrong.

The film stars Robbie Amell ("Upload") and Rachael Taylor ("Jessica Jones") as Renton and Hanna, a husband and wife living in a dark future where oil has become scarce and energy supplies are dwindling. Renton once worked for one of the world's major corporations and made off with his greatest invention, the ARQ — a powerful device capable of generating infinite energy. But when agents of his company's rival come to steal it from him, he switches it on and they become trapped in a deadly time loop.

A gripping thriller and borderline horror movie, "ARQ" is a time loop story done right, where despite events repeating, you're still left guessing what will happen next. Though it did spur some amount of discussion upon its initial release, the film has sadly faded into obscurity since.


A low-budget indie movie that's become a cult favorite among sci-fi cinephiles, the highly experimental 2004 film "Primer" has remained largely unnoticed by those who don't go digging for hidden gems. Written, directed by, and starring Shane Carruth, the film follows a pair of friends who unwittingly invent a time machine that allows them to return six hours into the past.

At first, their trips backward in time are for little more than experimentation, but they quickly escalate to interference as the friends use the box to invest in short-term stocks that they already know the outcome of. The more they use their machine, though, the more they see the rapid deterioration of their physical and mental states. Repeated experiments soon lead to terrifying consequences when they discover that someone else has been using — and is going to use — the box to irrevocably alter the timeline. But an attempt to activate a fail-safe and end the experiment before it ever started leads to a fateful confrontation with their future selves.

A haunting time-travel tale unlike any other, "Primer" won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and made Carruth one of the most talked-about emerging filmmakers in the industry.

Time After Time

In the mid-1970s, author Karl Alexander approached filmmaker Nicholas Meyer with an early draft of his next book, "Time After Time," and the director was so impressed he snatched up the feature film rights before it was even published. In 1979, the film hit theaters starring Malcolm McDowall ("Clockwork Orange"), David Warner ("The Omen") and Mary Steenburgen ("Back to the Future Part III").

Set in the latter half of the 19th century, the film tells a fictional story centered on real-life sci-fi author H.G. Wells, the man behind the all-time classic "The Time Machine." Here we learn that the time travel contraption from Wells' book was no mere fiction, and is in fact very real. But when serial killer Jack the Ripper steals his machine and escapes to the 'present day' of 1979, it's up to Wells to follow him and prevent him from continuing his murder spree in the 20th century. While there, Wells is equally amazed and horrified by the world he witnesses, where he finds technologies beyond his wildest dreams but a society that's far from the utopian future he'd always imagined.

A satisfying crime drama with a moral message and plenty of time-travel hijinks, "Time After Time" has been mostly forgotten, though it was the subject of a short-lived TV spin-off in 2017.


Starring the MCU's own Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan ("Fifty Shades of Grey"), "Synchronic" is more than just a time-travel thriller. It's a story of love, friendship, and redemption — a powerful tale that uses time travel to prop up a deeply personal character story. With a pair of big-name stars, there's no reason it should have gone overlooked, but while reviews were strong, the film didn't elicit the wider recognition it deserves.

The movie follows Steve and Dennis, a pair of EMS partners and best friends troubled by a recent rash of fatal overdoses of a new designer drug gripping their city. When Dennis' daughter Brianna becomes involved and disappears, it leads him down a road of despair, while Steve decides to look for answers. When he finally tracks down the illegal drug called Synchronic, he learns that it has the power to send users into the past. Determined to find Brianna, he embarks on a harrowing journey through time that he may never return from.

A brilliant sci-fi thriller with time travel that uses its own unique set of rules, "Synchronic" succeeds at being both an engrossing, mind-bending roller coaster and a moving character drama.


Starring Emilio Estevez ("The Mighty Ducks"), Anthony Hopkins ("The Silence of the Lambs"), Rene Russo ("Lethal Weapon 3"), and Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger, the 1992 sci-fi action flick "Freejack" is a long-forgotten relic, overshadowed by bigger sci-fi movies of the era. But with a twisted time-travel premise and a strong cast, it's also an underrated adventure that needs to be revisited.

In the dystopian future of 2009, society has found a new way of achieving immortality, with those wealthy enough hiring time-traveling agents to steal victims from the past to become host bodies for their brains. One such future mogul in need of a new, more vital body is Ian McCandless (Hopkins), who hires a time tracker named Victor Vacendak (Jagger) to find him one. Arriving in 1992, Vacendak spirits away Formula One driver Alex Furlong (Estevez) seconds before he was to die in a devastating race crash. But when he escapes Vacendak he becomes a Freejack — a time-displaced fugitive with nowhere to go. With the help of his former fiancee Julie (Russo), he must fight powerful forces to stay alive. 

Though the film has a fair amount of schlock and low-budget goofiness, it's also a heck of a lot of fun. It's a movie that almost nobody seems to remember despite its big-name cast and high-concept premise, and it's definitely still worth revisiting today.

The Jacket

Just two years after winning an Academy Award for his performance in the World War II biopic "The Pianist," Adrien Brody appeared in a small indie sci-fi film called "The Jacket." Co-starring Kiera Knightley, the film also features Daniel Craig, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Kris Kristofferson (whose 1989 time travel adventure "Millennium" narrowly missed this list). Inspired by a 1915 short story called "The Star Rover" by "White Fang" author Jack London, the film takes the premise of a convicted murderer who learns how to send his consciousness through time and space and turns it into a compelling thriller.

Brody plays Jack Starks, a Gulf War veteran who's implicated in the death of a police officer after returning home. Deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial due to amnesia, Starks is placed in a psychiatric hospital where he's abused by the staff. After being given an experimental serum, Starks is strapped into a straitjacket and sealed in a morgue drawer. He then discovers that the horrific treatment has sent him 15 years into the future, where he meets Jackie — a young woman from his past. After earning her trust, Starks and Jackie work together in an attempt to manipulate time and get him released from his bizarre captivity.

Gut-wrenching and truly strange, "The Jacket" got mixed reviews upon release, but there's no time like the present to check it out.

Star Trek: First Contact

The "Star Trek" franchise needs no introduction, and even the most casual fans may be aware that time travel is a common trope for "Trek" stories. In addition to "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home," which sees Kirk and the Enterprise visiting the "present day" of 1986 to rescue a pair of whales, another time travel "Trek" film released a decade later has been a bit forgotten by time.

"Star Trek: First Contact" sees Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D out to stop the Borg from destroying Earth. On the verge of defeat, the cyborg conquerors travel back in time more than 300 years in an effort to change history. Picard follows them and discovers that the Borg have taken them to 2063 in the aftermath of World War III, where they try to stop Dr. Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell) from making the first warp drive flight that leads directly to Earth's first contact with Vulcans.

While critics and fans have lauded "First Contact" for its high-stakes adventure, it rarely gets its due for also being one of the best time travel stories in the franchise. When you're done, be sure to check out the "Star Trek: Enterprise" Season 2 episode "Regeneration" too, as it serves as a direct sequel that adds even more layers to the time-travel fun.

Fetching Cody

A romantic drama of love and obsession, "Fetching Cody" might remind you of the better-known time-travel thriller "The Butterfly Effect." But as a super-low-budget indie movie that blends sci-fi with teen romance, it went mostly unseen in 2005 and only gained some attention later after its star, Jay Baruchel, became a bigger name. If you're only familiar with Baruchel from his more comedic roles like in "Knocked Up," though, seeing him here might take a bit of time to get used to.

"Fetching Cody" follows a small-time drug dealer named Art (Baruchel), who lives on the streets with his girlfriend Cody (Sarah Lind). But when she overdoses and winds up in a coma, Art decides to do whatever it takes to make things right — which just so happens to include travelling back in time with a makeshift time machine that takes the form of a living room recliner. Determined to alter her past so that the tragedy never occurs, Art attempts to undo her overdose but only makes things worse, until he's finally forced to do the unthinkable.

"Fetching Cody" wasn't well-received, with critics unhappy with its mish-mash of tones. But the premise is a good one and the cast is terrific, so if you can overlook its rough edges, you'll find a strong story about true love and how all of our fates intertwine.


When it premiered in 1994, "Timecop" was seen more as a sci-fi action movie vehicle for Jean-Claude Van Damme — perhaps even a direct answer to Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Total Recall" – than the clever time travel adventure it really is. In some ways, though, the intriguing mystery at the heart of the film is more similar to 2002's "Minority Report," even if it lacks that film's style and flare. 

Set 10 years into the "future" in 2004, the film follows Van Damme as Max Walker, an agent of the Time Enforcement Commission tasked with stopping time-traveling criminals. His latest case sends him back to 1994, the same year his wife was killed in a deadly bombing. While there, he uncovers a dark conspiracy that leads directly to a politician from his own time who may be using time travel to orchestrate his rise to power. When he returns to 2004 and discovers history has changed, he realizes he's the only one who can restore the timeline. But his plans are complicated when he encounters his wife in the past, and he has the opportunity to prevent her death.

To be sure, "Timecop" is every bit the action movie it was originally billed as, but it's always been undersold for its suspenseful thriller elements and clever temporal twists. It may never be a true time travel classic, but it's definitely worth a watch.

Mr. Nobody

Receiving just a limited European release in theaters in 2009, "Mr. Nobody" has gotten a bit more attention via streaming in the years since. Nevertheless, it's remained mostly a cult favorite and under-the-radar movie that's been sorely underrated. What most people do know of it stems from its cast, led by controversial thespian Jared Leto and featuring Sarah Polley, Diane Kruger, Rhys Ifans, and Linh Dan Pham.

The film centers on the titular Nemo Nobody (Leto), the last mortal man living at the end of the 21st century when humanity has achieved immortality. At the ripe old age of 118 he faces his final days, and with the help of a psychiatrist, he's able to recall the many forgotten events of his life. As he looks back and reflects, Mr. Nobody explores different possible routes his life could have taken. In each timeline, Nemo makes different choices that affect the outcome of his long life in different multiversal realities. 

An esoteric film about choice and family, "Mr. Nobody" isn't a time travel movie in the traditional sense, but it operates under the same basic rules. By showing the many timelines in Mr. Nobody's troubled life be affected by each decision he makes, the film builds out an interesting world and a unique nonlinear story

The Last Mimzy

Before "A Wrinkle in Time" adapted a beloved time-traveling children's book for the big screen, another kids' adventure made its way to theaters but was largely overlooked. Starring Rhiannon Leigh Wryn, Chris O'Neil, Kathryn Hahn, Timothy Hutton, Rainn Wilson, Joely Richardson, and Michael Clarke Duncan, "The Last Mimzy" hit theaters in 2007 but was swallowed up by bigger family-friendly blockbusters like "TMNT" and "Meet the Robinsons" that released around the same time.

Based on a sci-fi short story from the 1940s, the film makes changes to the original version but retains its core concept, with a scientist in the far future testing a time machine by sending what appear to be children's toys into the past. The film ups the stakes a bit, with the world of the future in dire peril and the time travel having a much bigger mission: To recruit children in the past to help save the future. The "toys" — actually complex futuristic tools — are discovered by siblings Noah and Emma Wilder, who gain incredible psychic powers thanks to their special properties. Once discovered, however, they become the targets of government agents.

A story with a powerful message, "The Last Mimzy" might not be the best sci-fi family film out there, but it's a fun and underrated one that's worth checking out.

Idaho Transfer

Another indie movie filmed on a shoestring budget, the 1973 science fiction film "Idaho Transfer" is only known thanks to being directed by Hollywood great Peter Fonda ("Easy Rider"). Filmed with a cast of mostly unknowns and non-actors, it was only released for a few weeks in theaters before the movie's distributor went bankrupt and has since fallen into obscurity.

The film stars Kelly Bohanan as Karen Braden, a disturbed young woman who's taken to a research facility in Idaho by her father. There, a team of government scientists working on an unrelated project have inadvertently discovered time travel. Peering into the future, they learn that mankind will be mostly wiped out by an ecological disaster, prompting them to send Karen and other young men and women forward in time to help repopulate the planet. 

Driven more by an interesting story than by any stunning visual effects or standout performances, "Idaho Transfer" is an under-seen, under-appreciated time-travel tale that deserves better than to be lost to the dustbin of history. Reviews at the time were mixed, but Time Magazine praised its "slow, severe beauty that makes its quiet edge of panic all the more chilling." With a "Twilight Zone" style twist ending, it's also a startling story that explores mankind's worst impulses.

In the Shadow of the Moon

Just a few years before helming the hit Netflix fantasy series "Sweet Tooth," filmmaker Jim Mickle directed the time-travel movie "In the Shadow of the Moon," starring Boyd Holbrook, Cleopatra Coleman, Bokeem Woodbine, and Michael C. Hall. A seriously underrated sci-fi adventure, the film has unfortunately been glossed over in most discussions of the genre.

The film opens in 1988 with Detective Thomas Lockhart (Holbrook) investigating a series of connected but unexplainable deaths that appear to have been caused by a mysterious woman. Nearly a decade later in 1997, an apparent copycat killer surfaces, and in 2006, Lockhart puts the pieces of the puzzle together and realizes he may be tracking a time-traveling serial killer with a personal vendetta. But Lockhart may be tempting fate by looking for answers, as his investigation brings him face-to-face with a ghost from his own past, and future.

A grizzly crime drama with a time-hopping premise that spans more than six decades, "In the Shadow of the Moon" is distinct and affecting. Receiving mediocre reviews, it escaped notice when it was released to Netflix in 2019, but if you're looking for a diamond in the rough, look no further. 


Many renowned films have toyed with non-linear storytelling, with director Christopher Nolan's movies being particularly famous for the use of such devices in recent times. Time-travel stories are especially perfect for playing with nonlinearity, and the 2020 sci-fi horror movie "Intersect" does just that. 

At the fictional Miskatonic University, a group of researchers cracks the code for time travel using a system called Q42 (a computer voiced by renowned evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins). Their experiments with sending material into the past yield startling results, with one of the scientists realizing that the project may be connected to unusual occurrences in his own childhood. But none of them anticipate the truth about the dark forces who've orchestrated their work, or the terrifying ends of their experiments.

The film does have its issues. It's a tad too long, a bit more of a melodrama than it's billed as, and its low budget shows. But "Intersect" is still a fresh take on time travel, mixing in downright Lovecraftian elements that make it something else entirely and a final act that's not to be missed. It won't win any awards, but it works as a nice diversion after you've cycled through the best that the sub-genre of time-travel movies has to offer.