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15 Classic 1980s Time Travel Movies

May 26, 2023

The decade took the classic sci-fi premise that had been around for a while before and breathed fresh, outrageous new life into them.

The 1980s was an era of wild, free-wheeling, neon-lit adventures and cinema was no different. While action and romance movies were at a peak, perhaps no other genre benefited more from this experimental spirit than time travel films. The decade took the classic sci-fi premise that had been around for a while before and breathed fresh, outrageous new life into them.

Writers and directors saw time travel as a fascinating concept for both dreamers and nerds, not as a serious mechanical problem that needed to be eliminated but as an excuse for pure, pulse-pounding fun. If you've grown up loving these movies, sneaking into the theater to catch the latest twist on the possibility of changing one's past or future, then the 1980s was your golden age. The aughts may have given us time loops and complex multiverse theories, but the '80s went all in on leveraging simple analog technologies to spin time travel adventures.

Related: These are the Best Movies that Got Time Travel Right

These movies had all the ingredients, from flashing neon lights and Atari references to headset-wearing scientists in lab coats, that made them flavorful and enjoyable. There were also chatty memorable sidekicks and thrilling chase scenes through the past, present, and future. In the classic time travel movies of the '80s, stuff was simple (if ridiculous), the future was bright (if doomed), and anything was possible. So fasten your seatbelts because we’re about to go, well, back in time.

Fans of science fiction and war drama gather around because The Final Countdown is a movie that balances both genres with incredible ease. Starring Kirk Douglas and Martin Sheen, this movie follows the U.S.S. Nimitz aircraft carrier that is dispatched on a routine training exercise but it mysteriously enters a time warp and winds up transported back to December 6th, 1941 – the day before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Now the captain and the crew find themselves in a race against time to stop the inevitable tragedy while also trying to make it back to the future intact. As far-fetched as the idea may seem, director Don Taylor makes sure it is executed with an earnest spirit.

This crowd-pleaser features plenty of ‘80s cheese but also gives us some genuinely memorable and exciting sequences aboard a real-life Pacific aircraft carrier.

Set in 1972, Somewhere in Time follows the wistful love story of Richard Collier, a playwright played by Christopher Reeve, who is immediately entranced after seeing a picture of Elise McKenna, played by Jane Seymour. Physically, he's staying at the Grand Hotel in Mackinac Island in Michigan, but his heart wanders to about to know more about this stage actress. He comes across an old pocket watch given by someone who claims it possesses the power to transport him to the 19th century. He carries out self-hypnosis and travels back in time to meet the woman he believes is the love of his life.

The movie is overall wholesome and sweet, with the Arthurian-style romantic fantasy never feeling rushed. The lead actors give superb performances to elevate this retro story of timeless love.

As far as time travel goes, Time Bandits is among the most innovative and original movies ever made. The plot centers around a young boy and history nerd, Kevin, playing inside his wardrobe when he suddenly finds himself in the company of a band of time-traveling dwarves who have just stolen a map that allows them to hop around time and through history at will. Simply for adventure, Kevin tags along, with chaos following them as they bounce from the Napoleonic wars to the middle ages and end up in the lair of the supreme being himself. Now they must protect the map from him and his employees.

This satirical, madcap Terry Gilliam film reigns with anarchy and absolute ridicule, with every step on the time-traveling tour being more deliciously creative than the last.

Time travel movies are always about changing the history of going back to find something you’d lost. Jack Deth is a trooper from Angel City, and his job is to hunt criminals. He follows the trail of a serial killer through time, from 2247 to the year 1985 in Los Angeles. Only after arriving in the past does he realize that his nemesis, Martin Whistler, has the power to transform ordinary citizens into murderous 'Trancers' – zombie-like creatures that are always under his control. Now Deth must fight time in a new era to stop the Trancer outbreak before his arrival dooms history itself.

Trancers features a brilliant synth-pop soundtrack, and with its dimly lit ‘80s alleyways and liberal use of perm wigs, this absurd time travel slasher-comedy delivers plenty of unintentional laughs along with some truly strange scenes and mend-bending plot twists.

Directed by Stewart Raffill, The Philadelphia Experiment charts the actual events of a secret 1943 experiment that intended to make U.S. Naval warships invisible to radar sensors. But as the mission goes awry, two test subjects are sent 40 years into the future. Once rescued by the Navy in 1984, the time-tossed sailors find themselves in a suddenly frightening new era and now they must find and stop the experiment's creator from repeating the same catastrophic incident.

The plot itself is enough to peak interest, and with the fear and intrigue having unknowable consequences lurking overhead, the movie sure makes for an entertaining watch. Uneven and choppy but equally ambitious in nature, this conspiracy science fiction thriller features some really cool naval ship special effects, signature B-movie action, and a twist ending.

Related: Incredible Movies Based on True Stories

A movie that we’ve all watched and enjoyed as kids that further morphed into an astounding franchise, The Terminator is set in a post-apocalyptic future in a world ruled by tyrannical supercomputers. Amidst it all, a cybernetic organism called the Terminator is sent back in time to 1984 Los Angeles to systematically eliminate Sarah Connor, the woman whose unborn son will lead humanity's resistance. To fight back, the authorities also send a soldier back to protect the would-be mother.

Naturally, The Terminator thrives as a thriller, introducing us to a tech-noir vision of a dark future where machines have turned on their makers. Accompanied by groundbreaking visual effects, a pulse-pounding background score, and iconic performances by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton, this sci-fi action flick is an instant classic.

Mingling some elements of heartwarming comedy with its science fiction beauty, My Science Project is a teen time travel movie that follows a pair of high school misfits, Michael and Ellie, who raid a military junkyard and stumble upon a mysterious package that contains a strange glowing orb-like structure that absorbs electricity. Their newfound device is as dangerous as it is intriguing because it blends the past, present, and future and threatens mankind.

The movie uses elements of the plot familiar to the time, with characters jumping back and forth in time and creating massive loopholes. From cheap extraterrestrial costumes to wacky ‘80s hijinks, this goofy comedy manages to serve some sweet moments as well as an enjoyable, spirited celebration of youth and the little mischiefs of curious minds.

No list of time travel movies can be complete without the mention of Back to the Future. The movie, directed by Robert Zemeckis, is an absolute joy from start to finish. It is a brilliant comedy adventure that follows a teenager who is accidentally sent 30 years back in time, where he meets his teenage parents and unwittingly threatens his own experience by getting involved in their private lives.

The characters of Marty McFly and Doc Brown are hilariously adorable and have continued to stay with us for decades. Moreover, the movie's seamless special effects, lighting pace, and lots of the ‘80s and ‘50s charm to spare serve as a wildly imaginative tale that presents a vision of the small American town that is both celebratory and authentic. Back to the Future set the gold standard for ‘80s sci-fi and nostalgia, setting up the stage for a new generation.

Starring Nicolas Cage opposite Kathleen Turner, Peggy Sue Got Married weaves a wonderful and memorable tale of sweet nostalgia, love, yearning, and redefining one's self because it is never too late. The story revolves around Peggy Sue Bodell, a 43-year-old housewife who has decided to divorce her cheating husband, Charlie. But as she attends her 25th high school reunion and passes out there, she awakens in her own 18-year-old body in 1960, right before she meets Charlie. Having reconsidered and regretted all her life choices, she now has a second chance at senior year. And Peggy Sue must decide what to change and what to leave the same, all while dealing with the chaotic emotions of her teenage self.

Both the lead characters deliver a career-defining performance under Francis Ford Coppola's direction and create this funny and poignant comedy drama.

An underrated time travel classic that comes out on its own because of its immersive story and head-scratching plot twists, Flight Of The Navigator is a Disney adventure that follows 12-year-old David, who is stunned unconscious in the forest near his home. When he wakes up, he realizes that he has been transported to the future, from 1978 to 1986. But the strange thing is, he hasn't aged a bit. Meanwhile, a NASA scientist stumbles upon a UFO near town, giving David the opportunity to figure out what exactly got him here and how to get out.

The premise lets you believe that there are aliens out there with abilities unknown to man, which makes for an interesting watch. Moreover, the visuals, the overly silly humor, the ‘80s intro and David's confusion are perfect for a movie that deals with so many genres at a time.

Related: Underrated Sci-Fi Movies of the '80s, Ranked

It is the 23rd century, and it turns out that a dangerous alien power is threatening planet Earth by soaking up the oceans. Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise must travel back to 1986 San Francisco and find the humpback whales causing this disaster. From hysterical '80s culture clashes to the crew's ridiculous Cuban-heel-clad dash across the city, the movie packs an endless amount of laughs while also delivering a satisfying amount of space adventure.

Everything about this live-action cartoon feel-good adventure is simply flawless – from the exhilarating naval battle to action sequences to mind-blowing techno babble. One of the franchise's most delightful and remarkable installments, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, is all about having fun while saving the world.

Showcasing a refreshing and comical clash between people from the future and the present, Millennium follows Bill Smith as he tries to get to the bottom of an accident between two jetliners. Upon close inspection, he discovers a band of time travelers from a future Earth who have captured people from the present to repopulate it, leaving a series of disturbances and an unidentifiable object.

Based on the novel by John Varley, the movie features an intriguing game between Smith and Louise, a stunning operative from the future. Cheryl Ladd and Kris Kristofferson are pretty decent in their roles, and while Millennium does not have a ton of special effects compared to the rest of the movies, it so happens to offer a nostalgic glimpse of the late '80s.

Witch hunter Giles Redferne goes about his witch-hunting business in 17-th century England. He captures the warlock, but with help from otherworldly forces, the conjurer banishes himself to present-day Los Angeles, where he uses his dark powers to prey on victims and churn up trouble. Until Redferne follows him to the 1980s and tries to stop him. Julian Sands shines as the suave but sinister title character in this horror-action mashup.

Richard E. Grant portrays the confounded hunter trying to make sense of his surroundings with an effortless charm, while Lori Singer plays Kassandra, the beautiful woman who assists him on the quest. While formulaic, Warlock delivers a heavy dose of ‘80s excess alongside an engaging witch-vs-warlock dynamic and some innovative visuals that still hold up today.

Another classic science-fiction comedy, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, centers around two lovable metal-head dimwits, Bill and Ted, who are tasked with passing their history final or risk failing out of high school, with one having to get enlisted. They seek help from Rufus, a traveler from the future in possession of a time machine. Bill and Ted rack their brains and decide to go on an excellent adventure through history with the hopes of recruiting the perfect historical figures for their class presentation.

Effortlessly good-natured and sublimely stupid, this bizarre comedy helped redefine time travel movies, the theme of excess, and the kind of fun that became synonymous to the late ‘80s. What's more, is that it features breakout performances from Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter as the ultimate high school slackers.

Back to the Future Part II returns as a wacky sequel, and Marty and Doc Brown bless the big screens with more exciting adventures. In the movie, Doc Brown travels to the future to bring Marty up to speed on some heavy events coming his family's way. Soon, they are both off to 2015 to set things right, only for their meddling to make way for more risks. From Marty's future son almost being imprisoned to his father being murdered, the duo tackles problems right and left.

With its mind-bending multiverse anomalies, hoverboards, Jaws 19 references, and self-tying Nike sneakers, the movie delivers a more breathtaking time travel escapade that may not match the magic of the original, but it is still full of non-stop surprises.

Soniya Hinduja is a self-proclaimed cat lady and comedy connoisseur. When she's not busy bringing the entertainment industry to new heights, she can be found discovering new music artists, indulging in her love of all things funny, or gushing over her obsession with the moon. With a keen eye for aesthetics and a heart full of creativity, Soniya is a force to be reckoned with in both her personal and professional life.

1980s MOVIEWEB VIDEO OF THE DAY SCROLL TO CONTINUE WITH CONTENT The Final Countdown Somewhere in Time Time Bandits Trancers The Philadelphia Experiment The Terminator My Science Project Back to the Future Peggy Sue Got Married Flight Of The Navigator Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home Millennium Warlock Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure Back to the Future Part II