Total Recall

Total Recall: Our Favorite Movie Time Machines

With Hot Tub Time Machine hitting theaters, we take a look at various cinematic methods of transcending the space/time continuum.

by | March 25, 2010 | Comments

Hot Tub Time Machine

The concept of time travel has fascinated people for generations, contributing to the storylines of classic fiction in all formats — including, of course, the movies, where filmgoers have watched centuries vanish in the blink of an eye. Protagonists have used all sorts of methods to leave the present, from the outlandish to the relatively mundane; this Friday, for example, John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, and Clark Duke will travel back to the 1980s in a Hot Tub Time Machine. To celebrate Hollywood’s latest temporal journey, we decided to take our own trip into the past, and have a look at some of our favorite movie time machines!

Of course, movies about time travel don’t necessarily contain time machines. Sometimes, this distinction is easy to make — think Christopher Reeve in Somewhere in Time — and sometimes it’s a little trickier. For example, you won’t find the Tardis from the mid-1960s Dr. Who movies, since those were basically just expanded TV episodes. In addition, we disqualified the Starship Enterprise, for instance; it may have skipped across the space-time continuum on occasion, but those trips were the result of special circumstances. Likewise the spaceship from The Planet of the Apes… and, undoubtedly, one or two of your own personal favorites. So which ones made the cut? It’s, uh, time to find out!


[tomatometer]MuzeID=1158167[/tomatometer]

The remote, Click

Okay, so there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about Click‘s weak Tomatometer, but still — who wouldn’t love to have a remote he could use to pause, rewind, and fast-forward through time? We might ask for a sharper script once we got our hands on the gizmo, but would you complain if you befriended a permed, bow-tied Christopher Walken? Yeah, didn’t think so.

PROS: Battery-powered, pocket-sized, covered in cool buttons

CONS: Malfunctions often, excessive unfavorable comparisons to It’s a Wonderful Life, heightened risk of Hasselhoff


[tomatometer]MuzeID=1021061[/tomatometer]

The TDE, The Terminator movies

It’s hard not to be a little ticked off at Skynet’s Time Displacement Equipment — after all, it allows our future machine overlords to continue sending ever-more-sophisticated death robots into the past, thus making the last two Terminator sequels possible — but as time machines go, it’s really pretty neat, at least if you appreciate lightning-covered bubbles and gratuitous nudity.

PROS: Allows for stylish entrances, seems to gives users access to an endless series of quotable quips

CONS: Mandatory nudity makes cold weather problematic; machine was created by a Skynet, which is bent on the destruction of the human race


[tomatometer]MuzeID=1055272[/tomatometer]

Time machine car thing, Timecop

On one hand, the Timecop time machine was sort of lame — it only went back in time, for one thing, and then there was the fact that if things didn’t work just right, the driver ended up zooming into a giant wall. But on the other hand, how many time machines are simple enough for Jean-Claude Van Damme to use, let alone allow him to go back in time and team up with a younger version of himself to reduce Ron Silver to a quivering mound of goo?

PROS: No steering required, machine conveniently disappears after each journey, that whole Ron Silver thing

CONS: Future off-limits, looming possibility of death, risk of multiple Van Dammes


[tomatometer]MuzeID=1132921[/tomatometer]

The time-turner, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Most of the time travel devices on our list are big enough for the user to sit or stand in, but we’re willing to make an exception for the nifty pendant used by Hermione in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Sure, her original use of the Time-Turner was predictably square — she used it for nothing more exciting than fitting more classes into her schedule — but it was eventually instrumental in saving Sirius and Buckbeak. And besides, who couldn’t use a time machine that fits on a pendant?

PROS: Extremely portable, easy to use, matches most outfits

CONS: Very fragile, doesn’t allow user to alter events, mildly Flavor Flav-ish


[tomatometer]MuzeID=1093782[/tomatometer]

The Omega 13, Galaxy Quest

Thirteen seconds might not seem like a terribly long period of time, but when you’re talking about a device capable of pushing a reset button on the universe, it’s worth owning regardless of the limitations — just ask General Sarris, the reptilian nasty who blew up a planet to get at the Omega 13. Or, for that matter, ask the Galaxy Quest crew, which ultimately used the Omega’s brief rewind to get the drop on Sarris and save the universe. Now if we could only get a sequel — and a device powerful enough to erase Tim Allen’s involvement in Crazy on the Outside

PROS: Cool name, nifty glowing blue lights, zero risk of getting marooned in the distant past or future

CONS: Attractive to alien overlords, inability to prevent planetary destruction or Sigourney Weaver bleach jobs

[tomatometer]MuzeID=1137313[/tomatometer]

The box, Primer

Unlike most cinematic time machines, Primer‘s time-warping device doesn’t come with any cool lights, levers, or gull-wing doors — it’s just a box, albeit one with all sorts of intricate circuitry inside. It might look less impressive than most time machines, but the implications of its use are far more complicated than anything H.G. Wells dreamed up; in fact, it’s probably safe to say that most people that have seen Primer haven’t really understood it. It isn’t as exciting as taking a DeLorean to 88, in other words, but if time travel is ever really invented, it’ll probably be just as confusing and dangerous as it seems here.

PROS: Doesn’t need nuclear waste or alien technology to work, can easily be hidden in ordinary business park environment

CONS: Quickly destroys friendships, causes comas, weaves plotlines so tangled that viewers may weep in frustration


[tomatometer]MuzeID=1014559[/tomatometer]

The “gizmo,” My Science Project

It might have looked suspiciously like something out of a Sharper Image catalog, but this extraterrestrial orb did more than just look cool — it enabled its users to wreak havoc on dimensional boundaries, turning the space-time continuum into little more than a plaything. Sadly, critics were less than impressed with My Science Project‘s power, but c’mon — where else can you witness the combined might of Dennis Hopper, Dean Stockwell, and Fisher Stevens?

PROS: Plugs into any available power outlet, vaporizes bothersome authority figures, also functions as dorm-worthy light source

CONS: Inconvenient tendency to attract inter-dimensional clutter and create scary, world-destroying vortices; can’t fix Dennis Hopper’s hair


[tomatometer]MuzeID=1021500[/tomatometer]

The time machine, The Time Machine

You can’t talk about time machines without mentioning the name H.G. Wells — and although the 2002 remake of The Time Machine boasted niftier special effects, not to mention direction from Wells’ great-grandson Simon, it still doesn’t hold a Morlock-banishing candle to George P�l’s 1960 original. And okay, so Wells’ design may have been a little clunky compared to some of the time machines that followed (including 1979’s Time After Time, which featured a similar contraption), but you have to admire the scope of his vision — where most travelers contented themselves with a journey of a few decades, Wells took his audience hundreds of thousands of years into the future.

PROS: Simple to operate, comfy padded chair, can travel seemingly infinite distances without refueling

CONS: No stereo, cup holders, or GPS; open design is inconvenient in inclement weather


[tomatometer]MuzeID=1002377[/tomatometer]

The phone booth, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

No matter how many features your smartphone has, it isn’t as cool as the old-fashioned phone booth. Bill S. Preston Esq. and Theodore “Ted” Logan used it to usher in an era of utopian peace and ensure their destinies as the world-famous leaders of the hard-rocking/vowel-confused Wyld Stallyns. Until the iTunes store includes an app that’ll put us in a room with Freud, Beethoven, and Genghis Khan, this booth will remain most excellent.

PROS: Big windows, slim design, excellent long-distance rates

CONS: No place to sit, lack of cool ringtones, poorly spelled graffiti


[tomatometer]MuzeID=1001537[/tomatometer]

The DeLorean, Back to the Future

Looking at the souped-up DeLorean that Emmett “Doc” Brown used to zip around more than a century of history, it’s hard not to wonder whether you’re looking at a time machine or a time capsule, but this plutonium-powered beauty did exactly what it was supposed to…most of the time, anyway, and whenever Doc and Marty found themselves in a pinch, all they needed to do was come up with 1.21 gigawatts of power to get the DeLorean moving again. Who doesn’t have a spare 1.21 gigawatts lying around?

PROS: 12,000-mile warranty, fiberglass underbody, heaps of retro chic

CONS: Low MPG, AM/FM cassette stereo system, lack of qualified mechanics


Take a look through the rest of our Total Recall archives, including our countdown of John Cusack’s best-reviewed movies. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Hot Tub Time Machine.

Finally, for those who like some science with their science fiction, here’s a clip on the principles of time travel:

Tag Cloud

NYCC hollywood Black History Month Creative Arts Emmys Animation Starz worst french Character Guide directors Television Critics Association CBS All Access Britbox USA Network jurassic park renewed TV shows Awards Tour WGN game show canceled DGA Focus Features LGBTQ teaser Pop Elton John hist Columbia Pictures indie Classic Film Neflix 72 Emmy Awards boxoffice Reality Competition TIFF leaderboard TNT political drama 2019 Apple TV+ Superheroes award winner live action blockbusters scary MCU First Look Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt tv talk sitcom Exclusive Video romance transformers Oscars VOD superman Legendary franchise Interview Drama broadcast action-comedy slasher OWN Star Trek streaming Travel Channel Photos Lucasfilm Summer WarnerMedia concert spain Tubi mission: impossible scorecard 1990s strong female leads TBS wonder woman japan hispanic finale SXSW 2022 new zealand The Witch Disney+ Disney Plus comic book movies Discovery Channel Freeform A&E Crunchyroll dreamworks Certified Fresh dceu ID godzilla Thanksgiving GoT Opinion HBO Max technology Pride Month high school Winners Pixar Hallmark Nominations President comic book movie USA Sundance TV Rock young adult Wes Anderson Cannes Extras Trailer new star wars movies spinoff Disney Plus Paramount Network Disney Channel popular Emmys 99% cats Sci-Fi sopranos PlayStation RT History Emmy Nominations films police drama cops Sony Pictures miniseries TLC Infographic suspense APB serial killer National Geographic BBC One Anna Paquin new york American Society of Cinematographers First Reviews Marvel 73rd Emmy Awards CW Seed Winter TV Fox Searchlight Captain marvel Set visit cancelled TV series IFC Films Apple TV Plus cooking Pacific Islander spanish spy thriller FX target scene in color marvel cinematic universe harry potter Fargo spider-man animated Paramount Plus based on movie kaiju TCA theme song Marvel Television science fiction adaptation South by Southwest Film Festival BBC America The Academy Lionsgate Hear Us Out king arthur halloween tv Polls and Games Amazon Studios 94th Oscars king kong deadpool stop motion Comedy Central blaxploitation doctor who robots werewolf criterion 21st Century Fox Musical Rocky ABC Family comiccon Best Picture TV HFPA TCA 2017 joker period drama Ellie Kemper biopic Trophy Talk politics comic Television Academy Star Wars Celebration Best Actor 93rd Oscars obi wan olympics Calendar Musicals Lifetime Christmas movies blockbuster Holiday thriller docudrama Walt Disney Pictures remakes Stephen King fresh IMDb TV Horror VICE NBC Red Carpet critics The Walt Disney Company DC Comics kids witnail Image Comics Black Mirror Paramount Pictures TruTV TV movies gangster crossover MGM streamig summer preview Chernobyl Esquire sag awards stoner FX on Hulu festival trophy revenge Schedule independent disaster Universal superhero reboot Super Bowl Martial Arts Sundance video on demand anthology Year in Review Indigenous boxing cancelled TV shows legend TV One Pet Sematary south america rom-coms Comic-Con@Home 2021 Fox News Brie Larson kong Tokyo Olympics ghosts biography Film Festival obituary A24 Kids & Family Prime Video Action unscripted justice league adenture YouTube Red SDCC target natural history Pop TV scary movies mockumentary MTV stand-up comedy Best Actress dragons The Purge Epix cancelled toronto space YA Oscar foreign San Diego Comic-Con rotten movies we love worst movies australia dramedy women 24 frames Lifetime Adult Swim all-time hidden camera scene in color series 71st Emmy Awards streaming movies ViacomCBS dexter TCA Winter 2020 documentaries Teen Hollywood Foreign Press Association free movies supernatural quibi Podcast FOX psychological thriller richard e. Grant mob Broadway Spring TV debate latino know your critic book 2016 Comic Book Turner TCA Awards dc E! Universal Pictures Crackle halloween twilight facebook Shondaland cancelled television zombie news Western movies batman venice Bravo Mary poppins TV renewals The Walking Dead Toys movie nbcuniversal canceled TV shows GLAAD E3 Peacock travel Mary Tyler Moore 2018 SXSW Trivia satire HBO laika Mary Poppins Returns Academy Awards Mudbound marvel comics AMC ABC Signature adventure screenings Sundance Now Apple Awards 2015 Netflix Christmas movies Biopics fast and furious Nickelodeon LGBT best vs. Tumblr Chilling Adventures of Sabrina black universal monsters heist movie Hallmark Christmas movies toy story royal family ESPN Fall TV Superheroe Song of Ice and Fire book adaptation aliens comic books Geeked Week Video Games talk show Vudu 2017 Dark Horse Comics cinemax hispanic heritage month Marathons video FXX scene in color film series Spectrum Originals indiana jones YouTube Premium emmy awards Acorn TV HBO Go Heroines romantic comedy spider-verse 79th Golden Globes Awards Country BET Awards rt archives Box Office international DC streaming service TCM 20th Century Fox AMC Plus cults monster movies Avengers DC Universe diversity Women's History Month Marvel Studios sequels Quiz CMT festivals Star Wars lord of the rings social media medical drama mutant 2021 vampires The CW Hulu 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Countdown jamie lee curtis Baby Yoda japanese Sony ITV 45 Watching Series art house CNN critic resources saw TV Land Holidays series 2020 psycho Food Network Paramount Premiere Dates discovery slashers football Amazon Prime Nat Geo crime name the review Rocketman binge golden globe awards children's TV Comics on TV screen actors guild feel good anime interviews docuseries Alien sports classics trailers basketball die hard comedies PBS BET singing competition History NBA Music prank Instagram Live black comedy parents PaleyFest Netflix nature IFC Film ratings RT21 Reality crime thriller dark summer TV preview GIFs Christmas golden globes 007 archives razzies OneApp rt labs Ghostbusters Sneak Peek green book spanish language El Rey X-Men live event Best Director Warner Bros. CBS BBC child's play VH1 Funimation pirates of the caribbean genre Tomatazos 90s cartoon nfl summer TV Syfy what to watch zero dark thirty television SundanceTV aapi Amazon game of thrones See It Skip It a nightmare on elm street BAFTA Showtime true crime casting Spike cars Rom-Com breaking bad Disney Grammys elevated horror war Amazon Prime Video composers Arrowverse historical drama MSNBC Best and Worst chucky documentary Cosplay Tags: Comedy dogs versus crime drama Tarantino YouTube Family rt labs critics edition Turner Classic Movies Masterpiece james bond Comedy Native Mindy Kaling posters Binge Guide mcc christmas movies sequel ABC Mystery zombies Pirates reviews comics Election Writers Guild of America Valentine's Day Disney streaming service The Arrangement Ovation rotten Endgame Shudder asian-american Cartoon Network New York Comic Con italian telelvision Logo Fantasy 4/20 scene in color DirecTV