As you get ready to indulge in the time travel shenanigans of Terminator Genisys (not that we recommend it), you may find yourself considering your favorite time travel movies, and wanting to check them out on some of the many online streaming services to which you have subscribed. You may also find out that most of the great time travel movies are not currently available on those services, except for an additional fee.
Don’t worry, Now Streaming has come to the rescue. We’ve scoured the libraries of the major streaming services – Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus and Crackle – to bring you the five best time travel movies that are currently available at the click of a button. And as always, we are also going to highlight one of the best films that isn’t available for streaming at all, proving once again that as convenient as instant streaming can be, it still behooves all of us to invest in hard copies of our very favorite films.
Check Out: Now Streaming: The Best of Mark Wahlberg
The Visitors (Netflix)
American audiences probably know Jean Reno best from his badass roles in films like Leon: The Professional and Ronin, but this French actor has had a wide and varied career in multiple genres, even though not all of them were big hits in the United States. One of Reno’s best family friendly roles is in The Visitors (Les Visiteurs), a 1993 comedy about a medieval knight (Reno) and his servant (the great Christian Clavier), who get in a heap of trouble and ask a wizard to send them back in time to fix it. The wizard screws up and sends them to 1993 instead, where they are hopelessly befuddled by the modern world, destroying cars because they think they are monsters and making a mess out of the most basic of bathroom appliances.
The plot is a silly little thing about magic seals and other such nonsense, but sometimes the simple set-ups are the ones that work best. Reno and Clavier are wonderful in The Visitors, and they reprised their roles in the American remake Just Visiting nearly ten years later. That version is pretty amusing too, but fortunately Netflix has the original currently available instead.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (Netflix)
Many of the best Star Trek stories are about time travel, including multiple episodes of multiple series and two other great films: Star Trek: First Contact and J.J. Abrams’ rebooted Star Trek. But the fourth film, directed by the late Leonard Nimoy (who, obviously, also co-stars as Spock) is the most playful and entertaining. The crew of the Starship Enterprise returns to Earth after their adventure in Star Trek III only to discover that it is under attack by an alien race that can only – for fairly ridiculous reasons – be stopped if they hear a whale song. Unfortunately, whales have been extinct for centuries, so the Enterprise slingshots back to the 1980s to steal a whale.
What follows is one of the better fish out of water tales, as enlightened heroes from the future find themselves repeatedly befuddled and stymied by the backwards ways of (at the time) contemporary America. The smart screenplay builds unsuspected situations that challenge every single member of the crew (a rarity in the Star Trek movies), and Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a utopian future gets thrown into sharp relief when it’s placed side by side with the ignorant present day, reminding us all that our civilization has a long way to go before we can rightfully call ourselves civilized.
Filmmaker Shane Carruth (Upstream Color) burst out onto the independent scene with his impossibly complicated time travel yarn Primer, about a pair of inventors whose accidental discovery of time travel has mind-blowing repercussions. Unlike most sci-fi movies, which strive to make every scientific advancement have relatable emotional consequences, Carruth is far more interested in the intellectual quandaries of mucking about in the time stream, and he doesn’t seem to care if you understand all of Primer in your first viewing. Fortunately, the mysteries of Carruth’s story reward multiple viewings, and if you’re willing to take him up on the challenge, you will be rewarded by trying to figure it all out for yourself.
If not, there are multiple websites dedicated to explaining just how Primer works. Most of them are of very little help unless you have a degree in physics. But in a culture where practically everything gets dumbed down to play to the lowest common denominator, watching a film like Primer, which respects and expects a lot of your intelligence, is a refreshing change of pace.
Timecrimes (Amazon Prime)
Nacho Vigalondo’s low-fi head trip Timecrimes is one of the most complicated and yet, unlike Primer, easy to comprehend time travel movies ever made. The story starts small, with an unassuming man named Hector (Karra Elejalde) spying a sexy woman undressing in the woods behind his house, but when he goes off to investigate, he is stabbed by a mysterious figure wearing bright pink bandages over his face. Hector flees to a nearby laboratory, where he accidentally winds up in a time machine, sending himself an hour back in time. Soon he finds himself trapped in a never-ending loop of circumstance, as he experiences the exact same situations from different perspectives, powerless to make them change in any way.
Vigalondo, who co-stars as the inventor of time travel, constructs Timecrimes like an elaborate puzzle that gradually solves itself. You’ll be amazed to find out where exactly this movie goes, and what our poor bastard hero ultimately gets out of his fantastic, horrifying experience.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Netflix)
James Cameron’s big budget follow-up to his low-budget classic The Terminator is still one of the best action movies ever made. Like most sequels the story rehashes the original plot pretty closely, but Cameron wisely subverts practically every familiar scene so that it has a new emotional and thematic meaning. The story now follows young John Connor (Eddie Furlong) who winds up targeted by an all-new Terminator that’s made out of liquid metal, the T-1000 (Robert Patrick). Fortunately, he’s got a friendly Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his mentally unhinged mother Sarah (Linda Hamilton) by his side.
The action and visual effects are still astounding, and the story remains as impactful and exciting as ever. Terminator 2 works as a time travel story, exploring the ramifications of the sci-fi conceits at every turn, and also as a balls-to-the-wall thriller. You won’t find a better time travel film on instant streaming… at least, not without paying extra.
Not Streaming: Time Bandits
Most of the other great time travel movies are available for rent, at least, on various streaming services. So for a nominal fee you can still watch Back to the Future, La Jetee, 12 Monkeys, Time After Time or even Looper without the hassle of leaving your couch. Terry Gilliam’s classic 1981 comedy Time Bandits is a different story. This mischievous fairy tale, about a group of heavenly underlings who traipse through history, stealing valuable loot from famous historical figures like Napoleon Bonaparte (Ian Holm), Robin Hood (John Cleese) and Agamemnon (Sean Connery), is a clever and wicked hoot. The performances are funny, the production design is incredible and the film’s conclusions is among the most dastardly ever conceived. But if you want to see it, you’re just going to have to get the DVD or Blu-ray.