The Coolest Time Machines In Movies And Television

By David Wharton | Published

We here at GFR decided to put our heads together and make our picks for the best time machines we’ve seen in film and television. After some spirited debate, we decided on some ground rules to help narrow the field. First, our selections have to use a specific, physical device, machine, or prop to make the time leap, so that rules out the Terminator flicks because we only ever saw the result, not the device.

They have to literally take you from one point in time to another, so that rules out every story where somebody is frozen and then thawed out in a different era. And finally, we wanted our list to have some variety to it, so any time there are two well-known time machines that are variations on a theme, we’ve picked the one we think is better or more iconic (see entry #2 below). Ready? Let’s go.

Back to the Future: The DeLorean DMC-12

back to the future delorean

As a wise man once said, if you’re going to build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?

We love every iteration of the DeLorean, from the classic original to the hover-converted fusion-powered model to the dusty old Wild West version.

Okay, well maybe not that last one so much. Regardless, when this baby gets up to 88 miles per hour…you’re gonna see some serious shit.

Doctor Who: The TARDIS

This one was easy. Along with the DeLorean up above, the Doctor’s TARDIS is easily one of the most iconic and recognizable time machines ever. Plus, it’s single-handedly responsible for a portion of Americans actually knowing what the hell a police box is.

And if you’re planning to do a lot of time traveling, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more comfortable ride. Sure, the DeLorean looks badass, but the TARDIS has a freakin’ swimming pool. (Bill & Ted’s phone booth was also in contention, but we yielded to the TARDIS ’cause she’s got the years behind her.)

The Time Machine: Time Machine

time travel movies

H.G. Wells obviously deserves major credit for inspiring both the original story and pretty much everything else on this list, but the design from George Pal’s 1960 film that will always be the definitive version of the machine for me.

It looks like some sort of crazy steampunk Santa sled, but it will also make one hell of a conversation piece in whatever era you decide to settle. Just keep an eye out for Morlocks.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home: HMS Bounty, The Klingon Bird of Prey

Technically you could argue that the Klingon Bird of Prey (dubbed the HMS Bounty by Doctor McCoy) wasn’t designed as a time machine and that Kirk and company could have used any old ship to slingshot around the sun and back to 1996.

But in a franchise chockablock with time travel, the sequence in Star Trek IV is easily the most memorable purely from a visual standpoint, what with the trippy floating heads and all. And really, you automatically earn points for time traveling in a vehicle you stole. Just ask the Doctor…

Star Trek: The Guardian of Forever

As we said, Star Trek has done a lot of hopping back and forth through time over the years, but the franchise introduced one of its most unforgettable time machines way back in 1967. Is it a machine? Is it alive?

Even the Guardian itself wouldn’t answer that question, but it would happily fling Kirk, Spock, and McCoy back to 1930 and face Kirk with a true no-win scenario when one woman had to die to preserve the timeline.

Quantum Leap: The Quantum Leap Accelerator

Quantum Leap reboot

You know, for a time-traveling tech that looks so pretty, what with the blue light and the smoke and the wind in your hair, the Quantum Leap Accelerator sure turned out to be a pain.

Poor Dr. Sam Beckett just wanted to prove his device worked, and then boom, it was unstuck in time. On the upside, he got to literally walk a mile in numerous other people’s shoes. We’d like to reiterate that this isn’t a list of Best Time Travel Machines We’d Like to Use Ourselves…

Lost: The Island/Frozen Donkey Wheel

Like a lot of Lost‘s elements, nobody seems to have any clue how the hell the Frozen Donkey Wheel worked. Benjamin Linus gave it a spin, the Losties started bouncing around in time, and the island relocated to another location.

Later, John Locke gave it another spin which stopped the time hops. Who the hell built such an unreliable time-travel machine, and why? Like many of Lost‘s questions, we still don’t have a freakin’ clue. But it’s definitely unforgettable.

Hot Tub Time Machine: The Hot Tub Time Machine

time machine

On the surface of it, making a movie about a time-traveling hot tub is idiotic. Thankfully, Hot Tub Time Machine not only acknowledged that truth, it reveled in it. And in spite of those misguided origins, Hot Tub Time Machine managed to be really damn funny.

If we were in the mood to travel back to our glory days with some buddies, we’d totally prefer to do so in a hot tub time machine. Bonus points if we get to watch Crispin Glover lose an arm.

Futurama: Professor Farnsworth’s Only-Forward Time Machine

futurama time machine

Given Professor Farnsworth’s track record, Fry and Bender probably should have known better than to climb aboard his new, untested time machine. As should probably have been expected, they soon discovered a problem, in that the machine could only travel forward in time.

Stranded ever further in the future, they’re forced to keep traveling forward until they reach a time when someone has invented a backward time machine. And then things get complicated.

Primer: The Box

time machine

Primer is one of the best time-travel movies you’ll never quite understand. Of all the time-travel movies we’ve ever seen, Primer is one of the only ones with true verisimilitude. Thanks to the over-our-heads techspeak and the convoluted and specific workings of the time displacement, Primer demands at least two viewings to fully understand, but it also gives the impression that if anybody ever did build a real-time machine…this is what it would probably be like.