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17 Underrated Sci-Fi Movies About Time Travel

Updated May 2, 2021 599 votes 108 voters 3.4k views17 items

List RulesVote up the time-travel movies you should definitely make the time to see.

Everyone and their mother knows about time travel movies like Back to the Future and Avengers: Endgame, but what about the underrated time travel movies? It's a sci-fi subgenre with plenty of room to maneuver; there have been virtually countless time travel movies since the dawn of filmmaking. Some films fare better than others - the less said about 2002's The Time Machine, the better - but we're here to focus on some of the hidden gems and/or underrated films of the genre.

From low-budget gems like Primer and Timecrimes to big-budget blockbusters like Men in Black 3 and Deja Vu. From comedies to anime to the foreign arthouse, time travel keeps reliably cropping up. There's a lot of room to maneuver in this particular subgenre, so get ready to dive deep. Remember to vote up your favorite underrated films about time travel.

  • Does it count as time travel if the only thing traveling back and forth in time are voices? The answer is an unquestionable yes, and though Frequency uses its time travel to tell a by-the-numbers murder mystery, that doesn't make it any less worthy. Buoyed by grounded performances from Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel, Frequency ends up being more than the sum of its parts. 

    There's nothing wrong with a classic thriller, especially when there are time travel hijinks involved. And if you thought Quaid and Caviezel weren't enough, let's bring Andre Braugher and Noah Emmerich to the party. The fact that it was directed by Gregory Hoblit, a man responsible for two of the most underrated thrillers of the past 25 years (Fracture and Primal Fear) is just a bonus. If you're a fan of any of these Hollywood players or time travel in general, you should give Frequency a look.

    Worth your time?
  • Photo: THINKFilm

    Primer, Shane Carruth's 2004 sci-fi debut made on an estimated budget of around $7,000, was one of the first cult hits of the internet age. A cerebral tale of two men who accidentally discover time travel in a garage and subsequently try to exploit it to earn heaps of money, this micro-budget movie was less of a word-of-mouth success and more of a find-via-blog success. Still, Primer feels like an underseen classic in the age of endless streaming services.

    Perhaps that has something to do with the density of both the plot and the dialogue. Primer doesn't try to hold your hand, and it makes no apologies for it. To do so would be a disservice to both the film and the audience. More about humankind's ethical dilemmas and less about the time travel itself, Primer is a movie that is both hard to explain and impossible to forget.

    Worth your time?
  • It may be hard to imagine now, but there was a time not so long ago when the Walt Disney Company was floundering. Before Michael Eisner and Frank Wells came in to turn the company around in the mid-'80s, the House of Mouse was in serious financial straits and the creative side of the company wasn't faring much better. One of the first projects released during the duo's successful tenure was 1986's Flight of the Navigator. This was a few years ahead of The Little Mermaid and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids setting the box office on fire to bring Disney back to the top, but that doesn't make Navigator any less worthy.

    Flight of the Navigator is more a story of accidental time travel due to time dilation more than anything else, as the 12-year-old protagonist travels to a planet 560 light years away, and back, causing him to age just over two hours in a span of eight years. He sets off on an adventure to return back to his own time, and family-friendly fun is had by all. To be frank, it's heady stuff for a kid's movie and the special effects were top-notch for the time. A remake has been rumored for years, but for now let's stick with the undeniable charm of the original, thank you very much.

    Worth your time?
  • A few years before the iconic '80s song was released, The Final Countdown hit theaters. The film is about a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier that travels through time to the day before Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. It also stars two titans of cinema, Kirk Douglas and Martin Sheen, as they ham it up in a B-movie blockbuster. The Final Countdown doesn't take itself too seriously and it doesn't expect its audience to, either. 

    The real star of the show is the massive amounts of actual Navy aircraft aboard the real aircraft carrier the filmmakers got to use for the production. The USS Nimitz, which is astonishingly still in use to this very day, served as a shooting location for The Final Countdown and it is glorious to behold. There are more than a dozen genuine aircraft vehicles that appear in the film and it lends an authenticity that is hard to fabricate. Come for Douglas and Sheen, stay for some awesome Navy realism.

    Worth your time?