An important part of any good time travel movie is a creative way for getting back in time. There's really no limit for the type of vehicle that we can use to make the trip. Even a hot tub can be a time machine in the right situation. There are some examples where people take the Journeyman approach and simply leap or fade into time. There's also the Quantum Leap effect where the consciousness moves, but the physical bodies remain in the same place. Those are interesting variations, but they don't really catch the spirit of the time machine. This list includes some classic examples from the genre's diverse history.
Honorable Mentions, Time After Time, Primer
This was a tricky list where even the also-rans were great picks. I'll start with Time After Time, which sent H.G. Wells into San Francisco in the late 1970s to stop Jack the Ripper. It's an ingenious premise, and the time ship shown above meshes perfectly with Wells' aesthetic. On a much different plane is the box in Primer, Shane Carruth's wonderfully confounding low-budget film. This simple device is just what you'd expect from these guys as they invent time travel in a suburban garage.
5. The Time Car, Timecop
Even though many give Timecop the back-handed compliment of calling it Jean-Claude Van Damme's best movie, I believe this adventure film isn't given its due. Although he does perform a few high-flying moves, the action star underplays the role of a time travel regulator. One of the best touches is the time car (my choice of words), which heads rapidly towards a wall. The riders better have faith that the wormhole appears, or they won't be around to see their future.
4. The Telephone Booth, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure
I was 13 years old in 1989, and this was just the right age to appreciate the fun of Bill and Ted's journey through time. Boarding a confined phone booth, they dial up time periods to steal historical figures for their presentation. It's hokey fun in the best way possible, and the phone booth is just one of many great touches. I haven't watched this movie in years, but I expect it would still provide the right amount of goofball humor to stay entertaining.
3. The Time Sled, The Time Machine
The greatest part of the time sled from H. George Wells is his creation of a miniature version to convince his friends. Unfortunately, it disappears in time because no one's around to stop it. George needed a little furry pal to assist with the experiment. I just caught up with this classic last week for this marathon, and it provided a fun ride. The time machine is an intriguing contraption because it allows George to watch time as it passes. The excellent stop-motion animation really sells the rapid movement of time as he ventures into the future.
2. The Delorean, Back to the Future
What more can be said about the Delorean? It's one of the best parts of a movie filled with clever touches that somehow remain timeless more than 25 years later. Giving Marty McFly the chance to speed ahead into the future (or the past) brings energy to what's typically a static activity. Like each of the movie's main characters, the Delorean has a great entrance. It arrives through the mist as the back of Doc's truck reveals its stylish exterior. This vehicle is cool without the time travel, and that bonus puts it near the top of this list.
1. The TARDIS, Doctor Who
This may be a cheat, but I just couldn't leave off the signature time machine that beats them all. Disguised as an innocent police box, the TARDIS has its own consciousness and a giant space inside. I've only joined the Doctor Who bandwagon since the reboot arose in 2005, but it's become one of my favorite shows. My favorite thus far is David Tennant, but the vibrant Matt Smith is performing wonderfully as the current Doctor. A key part of the excitement comes from the TARDIS, which can traverse both time and space to the furthest reaches of the universe.
Next week, I'm switching gears and looking at the romantic side of time travel with The Time Traveler's Wife. I haven't read the popular book, so this will be a new one for me.