Top 10 Fictional Time Machines

Time travel. It’s something that exists in a narrow region between science and fantasy. Maybe it’s theoretically possible, maybe it’s nothing more than wishful thinking.

Who knows.

But in the realm of fiction, anything can happen.

So here’s a list of my top ten fictional time machines, in a somewhat specific order.

10. The Ancient Japanese Scepter

“Do you think they had pizza back then?”

Oh, that’s an odd one. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III was terrible. I didn’t completely realize it at the time (I was young), but it just never set well with me, not compared to the first two films.

Later, I’d come to understand why (thank you Angry Video Game Nerd), but you know what?

I still think the design of the ancient Japanese scepter is very cool. It’s what transports the turtles back in time to feudal Japan, where they…do stuff. I don’t remember too much past that, honestly. But the scepter gets a comfortable position on my list.

9. The Backstep Sphere

“Someday I’m gonna form a chrononauts’ union…”

If you’ve never seen the television series Seven Days, here’s a brief synopsis:

A secret branch of the NSA retrieves the wreckage of the 1947 Roswell, New Mexico UFO crash and uses it to create a time machine, called the Chronosphere (or Backstep Sphere).

Thing is, the machine’s fuel is limited, so it can only travel back seven days. So, whenever something bad happens, chrononaut Frank Parker jumps into the machine and travels one week back in time. Each episode consists of Parker heading back and attempting to, well, fix things…even though he’s always the only one aware that a backstep has occurred.

It’s a really cool show, and the Chronosphere would rank higher if I could buy the series on DVD. You heard me.

8. The Epoch

Chrono Trigger Epoch
Image: The Epoch from Chrono Trigger (1995)

“The past is dead. It was all just a dream…”

What? A time machine from a video game? What the…

Well, Chrono Trigger for the Super Nintendo is regarded as one of the best RPGs ever made, and it’s got a cool story: when an accident at the Millenial Fair sends one of Crono’s friends back in time, it’s up to him to travel back and rescue her. But wait, there’s more: they wind up visiting the future, only to find that the world has been ravaged by the evil Lavos.

So they journey to the End of Time, acquire the time machine Epoch (also called the Wings of Time, which you can see above), and it’s off to the past to prevent Lavos from gaining power and destroying the world.

There’s another popular SNES RPG that involves time travel, but maybe we’ll talk about that one later…


Doctor Who - "TARDIS sighting"
Image: Isaac Wedin/Flickr via CC by 2.0

“…it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey…stuff.”

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue…at least, I think that’s how it goes.

Bigger on the inside than on the outside, the TARDIS serves as The Doctor’s vehicle through time and space in the television series Doctor Who.

TARDIS stands for Time and Relative Dimension in Space, by the way, and it looks like a police box because its environmental-blendy-thingy glitched out. It happens.

Really, everything about Doctor Who is pretty cool. I like how it can go from whimsical to dramatic on the turn of a dime. Who’s my favorite Doctor? I’m gonna have to go with David Tennant.

6. The Phone Booth

“Billy, you are dealing with the oddity of time travel with the greatest of ease.”

Ah, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

Maybe it’s a slight rip-off of the TARDIS, maybe it’s not, but Ted “Theodore” Logan and Bill S. Preston, Esquire like to do their history research using a time traveling telephone booth, bestowed upon them by their temporal guide, Rufus.

With it, Bill & Ted take an (ahem) excellent adventure to various points in history, picking up such legendary figures as Socrates (that’s So-crates) and Joan of Arc. They even visit the future…where they learn their music will one day lead to world peace.

5. The Time Turner

Harry Potter's Time Turner
Image: allnightavenue/Flickr via CC by 2.0

“Mysterious thing, time. Powerful, and when meddled with, dangerous.”

Oh, yeah, Harry Potter. Weren’t expecting that, were you?

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was the first Harry Potter movie I ever saw (well, the first one I ever paid attention to). As some kind of twist of fate, I ended up seeing it opening night in Orlando. People were dressed up as the characters, wearing long robes and wielding wands, and I thought, “Well, this is weird.”

But surprise, surprise…I thought the movie was pretty good, and the time travel themes were cool, too.

The movie specifically plays with causality loops — whatever happens was always going to happen. And the Time Turner…like a watch, its user must “wind-up” the device, with a single turn equaling one hour back in time.

4. The Ocarina Of Time

The Ocarina of Time - "Link Cosplay pt. 6"
Image: Joshua Hurd/Flickr via CC by 2.0

“The flow of time is always cruel…its speed seems different for each person, but no one can change it…”

In The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for Nintendo 64, Link uses a mystical ocarina to reach the sacred realm within the Temple of Time, where he travels seven years into the future.

In the game’s sequel, Majora’s Mask, he uses the same ocarina to repeat a three day cycle over and over again, until he can find a way to stop the mischievous (and possessed) skull kid from destroying the world.

Both games stand as two of my all-time favorites. Their somewhat dark aesthetics, music, and time travel themes — not to mention the impact they had on me as a kid — to this day stand the test of time…

3. The Box

The Box
Image: “The Box” from Primer (2004)

“Man, are you hungry? I haven’t eaten since later this afternoon.”

If time travel ever becomes a reality — and if any crackpot scientists accidentally build a working time machine — I imagine it’ll be a lot like the strange boxes found in Primer.

The movie may seem like a convoluted mess the first time you watch it, but it’s actually the most compelling time travel film I’ve ever seen.

Without giving anything away, the two protagonists, Aaron and Abe, can only travel so far back as when the machine was built. As the movie progresses, we see the bizarre effects that time traveling has on not only the timeline, but on personal relationships…

2. The DeLorean Time Machine

You built a time machine...out of a DeLorean?
Image: Rob Schwarz

“The way I see it, if you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?”

Perhaps the most obvious (and famous) time machine on this list, the DeLorean time machine from Back to the Future is iconic.

Doctor Emmett Brown “discovered” time travel after he slipped and hit his head on his bathroom sink (while hanging a clock, no less) on November 5, 1955. That’s when he had the idea for the flux capacitor, the device that makes time travel possible.

He then spent years working on the invention, until finally testing it out in 1985 at the Twin Pines Mall parking lot. Just crank that baby to 88 mph and, well, you know the rest.

You’d think this would be #1 on my list, really, given that Back to the Future is one of my all-time favorite movies. But no…there is another…

1. The Power Of The Mind

“Come back to me.”

Based on Richard Matheson’s novel Bid Time Return, Somewhere In Time tells the peculiar story of Richard Collier. After seeing a photograph of the beautiful Elise McKenna at Michigan’s Grand Hotel, Collier becomes obsessed with the prospect of time traveling to 1912 and meeting her.

He eventually accomplishes this very act through self-hypnosis…the power of the mind.

It’s funny, really, because this movie is what brought me to the John Titor story in the first place, and really sparked my interest in time travel. As soon as I finished watching it, I hit the Internet to see if there was any information out there about time travel and…well, there was and there is.

But it’s not just that. I found Somewhere In Time genuinely haunting, and I’ve only seen it once. While there are differences between the film and the novel (the novel leaves the reality of the time travel ambiguous), something about it feels…possible.

Like lucid dreaming, which can feel very authentic…if only you can hold on to the illusion. Or perhaps time traveling in our minds is very real, indeed.

So there you go. That’s my list. Have any favorite time machines I didn’t mention? Share them in the comments!

Rob Schwarz

Writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. Editor-in-chief of Stranger Dimensions.