The 14 Best Time Travel TV Shows Ever
By Michael Rougeau on
It's a temporal week in entertainment.
Here at GameSpot, we love good sci-fi, especially of the time travel variety. That's what makes this week so exciting: Not only does Happy Death Day 2U, the sequel to the Groundhog Day-like slasher movie, hit theaters this Wednesday, February 13--Netflix's Umbrella Academy, about a quirky team of superheroes that includes a time traveling 15-year-old, releases on Friday, February 15. That's a lot of temporal displacement.
Happy Death Day 2U and Umbrella Academy succeed on the backs of a long history of time travel fiction on the big and small screens. To celebrate, we're going to look back at both--click here for the best time travel movies, and read on for the greatest time travel TV shows of all, uh, time.
Note: These are presented in no particular order, because ranking them would just take too much time. ;)
1. Umbrella Academy (2019)
Netflix's Umbrella Academy isn't technically out yet as of the time of this writing, but we've seen the first season, and suffice to say it does the time travel genre proud. Based on comics by artist Gabriel Bá and My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way, the dark, quirky show follows a team of powered individuals who reunite for the first time in years after their adoptive father/team leader passes away. We won't spoil what that has to do with time travel, but it will be clear from the first episode for those who watch. Umbrella Academy's release date is February 15 on Netflix, so check it out then.
2. Doctor Who (1963-present)
Doctor Who has a long and complicated history, but whether you love or hate the new Doctor, Jodie Whittaker, it's undeniable that she's made waves. Regardless, there are decades of Doctor Who history that prove the quintessentially British production is the most lasting time travel show ever. Doctor Who follows the Doctor, an alien who traverses space and time with the help of a police call box that's bigger on the inside and a rotating cast of human companions. The Doctor changes actors every few seasons for wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey reasons, but the fundamentals always stay the same.
3. Future Man (2017-present)
From Executive Producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg--the team behind AMC's Preacher and more--this funny Hulu original follows Josh Futturman (get it?), a janitor who gets called to travel through time and save the world thanks to his skill at the video game Biotic Wars. Except it turns out, contrary to what The Last Starfighter would have us believe, being good at video games isn't really helpful in most real life situations. If that doesn't sound like your cup of tea, I'm not sure what you're doing reading this website.
4. Travelers (2017-2018)
Travelers is a Netflix original in which a team of time traveling special agents jump into the past to inhabit the bodies of the recently deceased and work together to stop large scale disasters. It's a pretty out there concept--the organization the agents work for can send them into any host as long as they know the time and cause of death, but that leaves plenty of room for error, such as agents suddenly finding themselves in a body with a heroin addiction. The show wrapped up after three seasons, and it's worth watching to the end.
5. Russian Doll (2019)
Russian Doll is basically an artsy, gonzo take on Groundhog Day co-created by Amy Poehler, actress and star Natasha Lyonne, and writer/director Leslye Headland. Lyonne kills it as a black hole of dark comedy who gets stuck in a time loop in which she dies in increasingly outrageous ways, only to appear back at her own bohemian birthday party. The Netflix original expands on this concept in smart, interesting ways, and ultimately draws its eight short episodes to an emotional, satisfying conclusion.
6. 12 Monkeys (2015-2018)
Not to be confused with the 1995 movie of the same name, this TV adaptation launched on Syfy in 2015 and concluded with its fourth and final season in 2018. The show's plot is similar to the movie's: A future agent is sent back in time to stop "The Army of the 12 Monkeys" from releasing a deadly virus that will decimate humanity. It may lack Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt, but the show wound up carving its own path and being worthy of the movie's legacy.
7. Outlander (2014-present)
Based on Diana Gabaldon's historical time travel/romance novels of the same name, and developed for Starz by Ron Moore (of Battlestar Galactica fame), Outlander is surprisingly cool for something that at first glance seems to exist mostly so fans can fawn over Highland heartthrob Jamie Fraser, played in the show by Sam Heughan. The series sends protagonist Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) back in time to various points, most notably to 18th century Scotland, and also stars Game of Thrones' Tobias Menzies.
8. Quantum Leap (1989-1993)
Quantum Leap aired on NBC for five seasons in the late '80s and early '90s, way before time travel and sci-fi in general were really cool like they are today. Scott Bakula starred as Dr. Sam Beckett, a physicist who becomes stuck in the past, where he temporarily inhabits the bodies of other people. Over the course of the series, he must alter history to make it back to the present.
9. Lost (2004-2010)
Most viewers agree that Lost eventually, err, lost the thread of what made it great at the start, but no one can deny its cultural influence during the early aughts when it aired. What began as a disaster drama following the survivors of a plane crash on a mysterious island eventually sent those survivors hurtling through time on various poorly conceived hijinks and adventures. But fans remember the good times, not the bad, and the importance of Lost's legacy in pop culture and how we collectively watch TV can't be overstated.
10. The Flash (2014-present)
Part of the CW's slate of DC superhero shows, The Flash follows Barry Allen (Grant Gustin), a crime scene investigator who gains the power to move at supernatural speeds thanks to a botched science experiment. Part of that ability involves jiggling so fast that he moves through time. This always has dire consequences for Barry and his entourage, but he can't seem to stop himself from doing it anyway, and over the show's many seasons so far, time travel has become one of its main driving forces.
11. Legends of Tomorrow (2016-present)
Another of the CW's DC shows, Legends initially followed castaways from The Flash and Arrow, plus a cadre of new characters, on their adventures through time. It's unabashedly goofy, involving things like "Time Masters" and a "Thanagarian invasion," but that's partially what people love about it. The time travel ramped up in Season 3, when former Time Master Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill) formed the Time Bureau to help the Legends fix the anachronisms their hijinks have created throughout history.
12. Dark (2017-present)
Dark is Netflix's first German language original, and if you can read--which, hopefully you can, if you're reading this right now--it's worth watching with subtitles on. The time travel thriller takes place in a fictional German town called Winden, where children are disappearing. We quickly learn that at least one of those children has been sent to the past, and things continue to get crazier from there. Dark is probably the most nail-biting drama on this list, and now's the perfect time to catch up, as Season 2 is expected out some time soon.
13. 11.22.63 (2016)
Based on the Stephen King book of the same name, the Hulu miniseries 11.22.63 starred James Franco as Jake Epping, a divorced English teacher who travels back in time to try and prevent the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. But he can only go back to 1960, and over the three years before his mission culminates, he makes a pretty good life for himself, which throws a wrench in the plan. The miniseries spans eight episodes, so it's perfect for a time travel binge.
14. Steins;Gate (2011)
Steins;Gate is a time travel anime that follows self-proclaimed mad scientist Rintaro Okabe and his friends as they discover the ability to send text messages to the past. They use this newfound power exactly how you'd expect: to change the present by saving lives, uncovering conspiracies, and doing general temporal hijinks. If you're into anime and time travel, Steins;Gate is a must-see. Just don't ask us why there's a semicolon in the title.