Advertise here with Carbon Ads

This site is made possible by member support. โค๏ธ

Big thanks to Arcustech for hosting the site and offering amazing tech support.

When you buy through links on, I may earn an affiliate commission. Thanks for supporting the site! home of fine hypertext products since 1998.

๐Ÿ”  ๐Ÿ’€  ๐Ÿ“ธ  ๐Ÿ˜ญ  ๐Ÿ•ณ๏ธ  ๐Ÿค   ๐ŸŽฌ  ๐Ÿฅ”

Time Travel Movies, Ranked

For Ars Technica, science writer Jennifer Ouellette and theoretical physicist Sean Carroll review time travel used in 20 popular movies, ranging from The Terminator to Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure to Interstellar. Each movie is rated on scientific accuracy and how entertaining the use of time travel is. Here’s part of their review of Superman (1978).

Our standards are admittedly lax when it comes to the physical mechanism by which cinematic heroes journey through time, but “flying really fast around the Earth so that it reverses the direction of its rotation and sends it back to a previous moment” is such thoroughgoing lunacy that one must almost pause in admiration. Then we return to our senses and ask, “Why does Superman’s flight have any effect on the rotation of the Earth? And what does that rotation have to do with the direction of time? Do I get younger if I start twirling counterclockwise?” No, dear reader, you do not. Indeed, by the rules handed down by Einstein, Superman’s near-speed-of-light journey would actually send him into the future, not into the past.

To its dubious credit, Superman pioneers two different flaws that will frequently recur in movies to come. First, time travel is portrayed as a miraculous cure-all, which is then never used again. Superman essentially goes back in time to save his girlfriend. This is admirable, but aren’t there other, more historically significant global disasters that could be averted by the same strategy? This is a narrative problem, not a scientific or logical one, but it rankles.

Then, of course, there is the flaw that almost always accompanies stories in which the past gets changed by time-travelers: Where did those time-travelers come from? We, the viewers, see a sequence of events that seems to make sense if we don’t think too hard. Lois Lane dies, Superman gets upset, he travels back in time, stops the events that led to Lois dying, and we live happily ever after. But at the end of this sequence, Superman still has the memory of Lois dying the first time around. Yet because he changed history, that event he remembers never happened. Lois certainly doesn’t remember it. How does he?

See also The Various Approaches to Time Travel in Movies & Books.

Discussion  4 comments

Mike Riley

Has anyone else read The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August? It's not time travel in the sense that you can pick a time and travel there, but fans of movies and books that mess with time lines might love it. The audiobook version read by Peter Kenny is my favorite audiobook of all time. It takes a bit to get used to the speed and accent of Peter but he does an amazing job. He flows thru so many character voices seemingly effortlessly. And the writing is great too. The plot is not the pinnacle of story telling buts it works well enough to make everything else go.

Sorry for the run-on, but I do love this book.

Also, Primer is a very good time travel story that melted my brain.

Todd Lemoine

It's not a movie, but one time travel story that gets to live in my head rent-free is an episode of The X-Files, where Mulder and Scully encounter a possible time traveler. Without giving the plot, I'll just say I think about it a lot because with AI and DeepFakes and the easy invention of mis- and disinformation and the feeling like everything is up for question, the episode feels relevant.

Wiki link in you just want the plot:

Jim Cairl

Wait tho, Superman doesn't actually "make the earth rotate backwards and that's what makes time go backwards" Superman flies so fast he - breaks the arrow time* - and we're seeing the effect of his flying out of time, i.e., the flow of time coming to a stop and reversing, through the only other moving thing on screen - the earth.

And right before he does that the memory of Jor-El's words โ€“ that it's forbidden to interfere in history โ€“ means that there is a precedent here and he is knowingly violating it. So Supes understands why he shouldn't go back and change the outcome of other events, but this is too personal to not interefere. That's not a narrative problem, that's clearly part of the dramatic stake in that moment.

And, yes, it's still definitely not science, but a lot of the issues they bring up are addressed on the screen. My big question was how many other people die because in Superman's round 2 because he prioritized Lois's survival.

*which, i will not dispute, is hand-waving magic

Scott M

It was needing to leave this comment that got me to renew my membership: The History of Time Travel (2014) is a favorite time travel movie of mine and likely to be appreciated by readers, if I do say so myself. If you have not seen it, stop and watch it.

Hello! In order to leave a comment, you need to be a current member. If you'd like to sign up for a membership to support the site and join the conversation, you can explore your options here.

Existing members can sign in here. If you're a former member, you can renew your membership.

Note: If you are a member and tried to log in, it didn't work, and now you're stuck in a neverending login loop of death, try disabling any ad blockers or extensions that you have installed on your browser...sometimes they can interfere with the Memberful links. Still having trouble? Email me!