Time Travel is a common element of sci-fi where the ability to visit the past and future is a component of every-day existence. The time travel trope is less common in horror, but when it does appear, it’s rarely presented in the same adventurous spirit as its sister genre. Rather, horror movies explore the potential terrors associated with the ability to time travel, presenting allegorical warnings against meddling with the fabric of time space.
The fact that time travel is such a complicated concept, fraught with paradoxes, makes it a challenging trope to express through horror, but when done successfully, it’s incredibly effective. The idea of time travel is seductive and harrowing, hinting at a metaphysical universe of nearly unfathomable rewards and peril.
Below, in no particular order, are my favorite recent horror movies that tackle the complicated and potentially terrifying aspects of time travel. Have a read and let us know what you think in the Comments section. Do you have a favorite time travel themed horror movie that you think should have made the list?
Donnie Darko (2001, Directed by Richard Kelly)
Official Synopsis: Donnie is a troubled high school student: in therapy, prone to sleepwalking and in possession of an imaginary friend, a six-foot rabbit named Frank, who tells him the world is going to end in 28 days 06 hours 42 minutes and 12 seconds. During that time he will navigate teenage life, narrowly avoid death in the form of a falling jet engine, follow Frank s maladjusted instructions and try to maintain the space-time continuum.
One of the most complicated sci-fi/horror movies ever committed to celluloid, Donnie Darko has fascinated and perplexed fans for over a decade and a half. While films this opaque are often shunned by moviegoers looking for a more straight-forward viewing experience, there’s something about this one that’s so compelling, the challenging search for answers is a fantastic joy.
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Army of Darkness (1993, Directed by Sam Raimi)
Official Synopsis: “Army of Darkness” is a story about a man who goes through a time warp and finds himself in England in the 1300s. With fighting going on all around him, he must locate the Book of the Dead in order to return to the present day.
The most outlandish installment in the Evil Dead franchise sees Ash (Bruce Campbell) battling Deadites in the Dark Ages.
The Jacket (2005, Directed by John Maybury)
Official Synopsis: The Jacket is a 2005 American psychological thriller/horror film directed by John Maybury that is partly based on the Jack London novel of the same name. Massy Tadjedin wrote the screenplay based on a story by Tom Bleecker and Marc Rocco. A Gulf war veteran is wrongly sent to a mental institution for insane criminals, where he becomes the object of a Doctor’s experiments, and his life is completely affected by them.
The Jacket is low-tech, metaphysical sci-fi at its most engrossing; a film that delves into challenging time travel tropes with an incredible amount of genuine human drama and a hefty helping of social commentary. This one is also a great example of hospital/asylum horror that’s sure to unhinge anyone with a case of claustrophobia.
The Butterfly Effect (2004, Directed by Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber)
Official Synopsis: Evan Treborn suffers blackouts during significant events of his life. As he grows up, he finds a way to remember these lost memories and a supernatural way to alter his life by reading his journal.
The Butterfly Effect is a vastly underrated film from the early 2000s. In this case, it’s not impossible to imagine that Ashton Kutcher’s reputation as a stoner comic and the prankster behind MTV’s Punk’d. The truth is, The Butterfly Effect proves Kutcher has vast untapped dramatic potential. Anyone who can get beyond the hard-sell will find an exceptionally emotional reimagining of Ray Bradbury’s seminal short story The Sound of Thunder.
Triangle (2009, Directed by Christopher Smith)
Official Synopsis: The story revolves around the passengers of a yachting trip in the Atlantic Ocean who, when struck by mysterious weather conditions, jump to another ship only to experience greater havoc on the open seas.
Groundhog’s Day meets Ghost Ship in Christopher Smith’s Triangle, a metaphysical sci-fi that echoes The Shining. You may think you’ve seen this time-loop set-up in all its variations, but this one is exceptionally presented, complete with a slasher and exquisite gore FX.
Related Article: Sam Raimi to Explore the Horrors of The Bermuda Triangle
Coherence (2013, Directed by James Ward Byrkit)
Official Synopsis: Strange things begin to happen when a group of friends gather for a dinner party on an evening when a comet is passing overhead.
This one might be a bit of a stretch as there is no traditional time travel per se. But Coherence is an absolutely unnerving metaphysical nightmare wherein characters find themselves launched into different realities on the night a comment passes Earth. In this case, time travel tropes are presented as supernatural pitfalls that could trap anyone at any time.
The Final Girls (2015, Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson)
Official Synopsis: A young woman grieving the loss of her mother, a famous scream queen from the 1980s, finds herself pulled into the world of her mom’s most famous movie. Reunited, the women must fight off the film’s maniacal killer.
Director Todd Strauss-Schulson reinvented the somewhat played-out retro-horror subgenre by taking modern millennials and sending them back in time to a 1980’s era simulacrum of Camp Crystal Lake. It’s a great horror comedy, a meta-film, and a sweet blast of nostalgia. This one made quite a splash and was named on many Best Horror Movies of 2015 lists.
The Caller (2011, Matthew Parkhill)
Official Synopsis: A troubled divorcee (Rachelle Lefevre) becomes the object of a terrifying revenge when she tries to put an end to a series of mysterious phone calls.
An ordinary telephone, a land-line no less, provides a terrifying connection to the past; unfortunately, the voice on the other end is a psychopath with malicious intent. Imagine Frequency, except someone is trying to blackmail you—by abusing your younger self.
Blood Punch (2014, Directed by Madellaine Paxson)
Official Synopsis: A young man is lured into a dangerous love triangle that begins to take a series of shocking and grisly supernatural turns.
If you liked Milo Cawthorne as the love-struck metal head who unwittingly initiates a worldwide apocalypse in Deathgasm, you’ll definitely enjoy the actor in Blood Punch; he absolutely brings his signature brand of goofy sincerity, his boy-next-door charm and approachability. Blood Punch is like Groundhogs Day by way of Christopher Smith’s Triangle, a mind-bending metaphysical repetition that traps both characters and viewers in a challenging maze. Can you solve the riddle?
Related Article: 15 More Underrated Horror Movies from the 2010s You Probably Missed
Haunter (2013, Directed by Vincenzo Natali)
Official Synopsis: Lisa Johnson, the ghost of a teenage girl who becomes aware that she is dead, haunts a house somewhere in northern Ontario. Along with her parents and brother, who are unaware that they are dead, she is stuck on the same day they were murdered in 1985.
In a nutshell: Groundhog’s Day with ghosts. Haunter is a rare merging of haunted-house and time-travel tropes, wherein murdered spirits find themselves trapped in a never-ending repetition. The only way it is to face a supernatural villain who wants nothing more than to keep the family trapped and complacent. Haunter is very entertaining and relatively unknown, so treat yourself to this surreal and engrossing saga.
The House at the End of Time (2013, Directed by Alejandro Hidalgo)
Official Synopsis: Dulce is a mother of two who experiences terrifying encounters with apparitions inside her old house, a place where a tragedy occurs. Thirty years later, an elderly Dulce returns home to decipher the mystery that has tormented her for so long.
This film is absolutely fantastic, combining the Gothic aesthetic of Guillermo del Toro with mind-bending metaphysics. Again, we’re presented with a reality wherein time traps exist, and falling into one can have to do with luck, fate, or a mixture of both. This one is anchored by a gut-wrenching tale of family dysfunction and a metaphor for the past’s influence on the presence.
Blair Witch (2016, Directed by Adam Wingard)
Official Synopsis: After discovering a video showing what he believes to be his vanished sister Heather, James and a group of friends head to the forest believed to be inhabited by the Blair Witch.
A common complaint of 2016’s underwhelming Blair Witch was that it didn’t add anything new to the narrative/mythology launched in 1999. I wonder if these people actually saw the same movie I did. Adam Wingard and Simon Barret’s sequel included many innovations, the most obvious of which is a metaphysical time-travel conundrum that befalls the latest group of documentarians looking to find the truth regarding legendary Blair Witch. It was a bold and creative enhancement with vast implications that seems to have flown completely over the heads of the masses.
Millennium (1989, Directed by Michael Anderson) [Featured Image]
Official Synopsis: Two jetliners collide, and Bill Smith (Kris Kristofferson) is put in charge of investigating the accident. But something isn’t adding up about the crash — from the strange comments on the flight recorder to the unidentifiable object found in the wreckage. What Smith doesn’t know is that time travelers have taken the ill-fated passengers to repopulate the future. To ensure their mission’s success, they send a gorgeous operative, Louise (Cheryl Ladd), to the past to hamper Smith’s work.
Millennium is a film that explores the link between time travel and plane crashes. The inclusion of air disasters gives this predominantly sci-fi offering truly horrifying undertones. Ultimately, it’s a nice popcorn flick that will appeal to fans of late 80s/early 90s cinema with mind-bending complexities.
Paranormal Activities: Ghost Dimension (2014, Directed by Gregory Plotkin)
Official Synopsis: Using a special camera that can see spirits, a family must protect their daughter from an evil entity with a sinister plan.
The Paranormal Activities franchise takes place in several eras (as the original has both sequels and a prequel), but The Ghost Dimension, the supposedly final installment, opens a temporal portal that connects them all. It was a creative and necessary innovation for the bare-bones supernatural films that had otherwise exhausted all elements of the source material.
The Terminator (1984, Directed by James Cameron)
Official Synopsis: A Cyborg has been sent from the future on a deadly mission, it has been programmed to kill a young woman named Sarah Connor. Sarah has no idea that her life will have a staggering effect on the fate of mankind and that she is in danger of being killed at the hands of an inescapable machine known as the Terminator. Kyle Reese has also been sent from the future, but his mission is to protect the unknowing mother of a future leader. Is there any way to stop the death of an innocent when the relentless Cyborg is set on his course…
“Not a horror movie,” blah blah blah. Still, The Terminator franchise gets mad love from Horror Freaks for its apocalyptic themes and nihilistic musings about the future of technology. The idea that machines could be sent back in time to annihilate targets is plenty unnerving, and the franchise has always boasted gleefully explosive destruction. The nuclear holocaust scene in T2 is horrifying by any measure.