Timelines: time travel in popular film & tv

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

Here’s a visualisation of time travel plots in various films and TV programs. I had a lot of fun doing this!

It was particularly cool to highlight potential plotlines for “meta movies” where time travellers from different plots could meet and paradox it out. Charlie Kauffman are you reading this??

(By the way, I allowed myself a +1 / -1 year fuzz around the paradoxes. So knives away nerds!)

This is a straight data visualisation, rather than information design. That is, it’s not particularly useful, nor useable, nor meaningful. The inspiration was the coolness of the idea, really. I was excited to see what shape all the plots would make, and whether it could be shaped into something beautiful.

What I really love about this image, though, is the idea that this information has never been seen before. Despite the fact that it exists, in some way,somewhere, wrapped in various plots, it’s never been given form. I have to say, it was a joy to untangle it all :)

Big thanks to talented designers Alice Cho and Dominic Busby for their invaulable contributions. And Jeremy MacLynn for essential art direction.

Getting Ridiculous

I guess it’s no surprise that there are a helluva lot of time travel plots centered around our tranche of time (1900-2100). But does it have to be this ridiculous?

Timelines II: Time travel in popular film and tv

Here’s a zoom in.

Timelines II: Time travel in popular film and TV

This concentration of temporal dislocation is why the final image for the book took four months, 34 drafts and the work of three designers.

Timelines: Time travel in popular TV and film

So who wants to work with me on the Dr Who one? I’m serious. Email me.

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Show Comments ( )

  • Rich Otero

    Yikes; I suppose time and space would be a factor for the TARDIS.

  • Andre Cui

    Cool concept. No Army of Darkness? sniff sniff…

  • Mike

    @AJ In Red Dwarf Lister is his own father, it’s an endless circle of life. It means he is the last human alive, although 3 million years should technically be added into that particular loop.

  • Clement Cherlin

    So where’s Futurama? It has forward travel via deep freeze, backward travel via technological accident (Fry put metal in the microwave) and time travel via Robot Space God Thingy (Bender’s Big Score).

  • gifts for men

    This is very informative article.I was wondering this topic only.This is such a great visualisation.Thanks for sharing such a great post within us…

  • Mike Pedersen

    You left out some key time travel segments from the Stargate series of TV shows! One key episode has them using technology from the Ancients to travel back to ancient Egypt…

  • John Christie

    I am working on a Dr Who, simply a visualization using Photoshop…i’m up to the 10th doctor ….so all episodes from William Hartnel in it now, just need a way to make it look pretty!

  • Tortus

    In Austin Powers 1 it was deep freeze not “Unknown”
    and in Austin Powers 2 is was a time machine not “alien technology”.

    Just thought you should know.

  • Mike

    Amazing. I may have just missed it, but is there a link to the full image? I’d love to see it all!

  • sargon

    You missed: Voyagers TV Show, Quantum Leap, Stargate SG1 & Stargate Atlantus

  • Beth

    I think you left out:

    Star Trek TNG: Time Squared (force of nature)
    Star Trek TOS: All Our Yesterdays (alien technology)
    Star Trek TOS: City on the Edge of Forever (alien technology that is also a force of nature)
    Star Trek TAS: Yesteryear (the same alien technology/force of nature)
    Star Trek TAS: The Counter Clock Incident (force of nature)

  • Jimbo

    Shame after all that work, you´ve definitely had some “Key” problems, as the Back to the Futures are marked Unknown, and I think you could have opted for Wormholes to cover a few as well. An Hot Pink is NOT very sci fi…. but pretty curves

  • Richard

    The Red Dwarf part shown is from the episode where they interfere with Kennedys assassination, in season 7.

    It is missing the lines in from 3,000,000 years in the future for that episode.

    It should have some lines around 2300 for the Oroborus events.

    Also the events of the season 3 episode Timeslides too.

  • Zak

    This chart is incredibly inaccurate, I know a lot of this has been mentioned, but as follows:

    “Back to the Future” 2 and 3 should be red, they used the DeLorean or “time machine”
    “Time After Time” should also be red. They use the same time machine as “The Time Machine” in that one.
    “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” – Is this alien technology? I recall this just being a time machine (unless the government got the tech at Area 51 or something).
    “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century” shows Buck Rogers traveling to the 26th century. He should be in the early 2400′s not the 2500′s. Pretty amateur mistake.
    “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” he was frozen. This should be white/gray.
    “Planet of the Apes” isn’t technically a “deep freeze”. While the characters were in hibernation, this was time travel as dictated by special relativity and the resulting time dilation. The reason for their hibernation was to conserve resources during the faster than light travel.
    On a similar note, should “Deep Freeze” really be a method of time travel? The “traveler” is just traveling down the yellow line.


    If you are into roleplaying, you should check out Chronomancy: Time Travel for Everyone.
    I love the diagram. – Mark Charke

  • Marcus Tee

    I see Red Dwarf but didn’t it take them MILLIONS of years into the future?

  • Stoney3K

    You probably left Doctor Who out because it would clutter up the image too much!

  • Twilight Man

    You forgot Twilight Zone episodes
    and Quantum Leap too
    but all in all, a nice job.

  • http://None Mitchell

    This is fun, an dI am sure no matter what folks will focus on what was left-out more than on what is included…however, no Donnie Darko? :)

  • Ted Watson

    Along with “ST:Voyager”‘s trips to the future mentioned by another poster, there was also a trip to the past–1995 Earth–following somebody from a couple of centuries in their future so as to prevent/fix any damage to the timeline he might cause; don’t recall the title, but it was a two-parter, guest starring Ed Begley, Jr., either near the end of the first season or early in the second. Then there was “ST:Next Gen”‘s “Yesterday’s Enterprise.”

  • Heather CC

    Don’t forget LOST!

  • Hubcap

    That’s pretty, but completely indecipherable. It’s way too complicated.

  • Alpesh

    Firstly, you’re missing Quantam Leap
    Secondly, Life On Mars does not have any time travel, he’s in a coma dreaming

  • del

    and WHERE is Doctor Who????

  • Robert Pearson

    I was going to make a comment on the absence of Dr. Who, until I read the bottom.

  • Thomas Tiernan

    Doctor Who would be a huge illustration if you were to try to get it all in. He’s been to the moment of Creation all the way to 300 Billion A.D. Good Luck.

  • pbleic

    How could you leave out Primer? This has to be the most amazing and intricate time travel timeline in a film. It has a major following and the timeline is published

    There is an XML and Visio version as well.

    It has been hilariously lampooned by XKCD.

    PS – would be great if this site added a “preview” to comments!

  • Peter Elsner

    You forgot to add “The Two Worlds of Jenny Logan”.

  • http://None Sandy Stevenson

    Where is Dr. Who?

  • http://None Sandy Stevenson

    Sorry, I didn’t see all of the first posts, nor the author’s text when I first commented. I humbly retract my first post.
    Contrary to some others, I think you did a marvelous job of making such complex data as clear as you have. Once I started getting into it, it was actually far easier to follow than I thought it would be.

  • dethchan

    Nice! Looking forward to the Doctor Who.

  • Time Travel Theory

    Crazy idea! But I like it, must have taken you ages to draw all those lines :)

  • Tom Woolf

    Zak nailed the most blatant error – putting Buck Rogers at the year 2500 instead of somewhere in the 2400′s.

    Oh, and I did not see Duck Dodgers of the 24th and a half century.

  • MetaEd

    Looking forward to seeing the TV series Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy incorporated. It incorporated travel to the Big Bang and the End Of The Universe.

  • Dan

    Love it! Where’s Futurama?

  • http://what chris

    I remember a movie with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour called “Somewhere In Time”, where CR’s character travels back in time by sheer will of meditation. I suppose that would fall under your “unknown” category!

  • Chris

    Nice graphic. I like that you chose not to make time a flat line.

    I think sticking with just the movies is the best way to go. Adding in TV shows like Dr. Who, Lost, or Quantum Leap is just going to create clutter.

    However, I can think of one more movie that deserves a spot on the chart: The Final Countdown.

  • Davy

    Is this ever going to get printed as a poster/print?

  • buy movies dvd

    I am really fascinated by the time Travel in movies and hopes that the scientists could come up with possible time travel within my life as I want to see how it goes when humans are able to time in time.


    love it!!!
    specially the paradox section which in my opinion could be great cult movies for the next generation!!! make it so!

  • Dimitris

    Well, the concept is very interesting, but the text is nearly unreadable.
    Secondly, what is the point of making a popular film time travel when you have missed the most inspired time travel ever made which is no other than the famous bone-to-spaceship in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001:Space Odyssey”.

    • david

      I’m not sure that’s time travel as such, at least not in the way we’re talking about here…

  • Ooh Honey Honey

    Sorry that was me from the future, regretting pushing that button.
    Anyway. The one, the most amazing time travel paradox story ever, you have missed. And that is “By his bootstraps” by Robert Heinlein. You MUST include that.

    Also the Time Tunnel. Remember that show? The grownup meets himself as a little boy in Hawaii the day before Pearl Harbour? Awesome.

  • Dr Dave

    I see they tactfully avoided Primer. What would *that* look like – possibly a little fuzzball with arrows pointing all directions..

  • Mike

    You also left out Time Guardian.

    How about including books? e.g. Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

  • Jörg Reinhardt

    where are the adventures of philip J. Fry?

  • Alex

    Could be cool to add “Groundhog Вay” nested circles in amount how many definite repeated days are there.

  • Jasper van Weerd

    To include babylon 5 would be nice too… ;)

    Several time jumps are known; Babylon 4 – to the first war of light in the second era, the saving of Babylon 4, and the jumps made by Sheridan while loosing his timestabelizer. (All by alian technology from the Epsilon Eridani machine + machine’s workers)

    And then there is SG1, the jump back with a sunflair. (also with alian technology, a stargate, ancient technologie)

  • Aria

    I have to say, this is pretty awesome! Fantastic work!

    Unlike many others, I’m not going to say you /forgot/ some shows, because really, there are TONS of shows with TONS of episodes that deal with time travel. It’s nearly impossible to keep track of absolutely all of them.

    So I would like to add to the (already growing) list:
    - Time Trax (deals with time travel as the main plot)
    - The new Star Trek movie.

    And I’m sure it’s already been used/seen/referenced, but:

  • Django Onderkova

    Have a look at this page. It fits the topic. Not the time travel but the film thing.

  • Dan Loeb

    You definitely need to add Groundhogs Day. I think he traveled back in time one day once a day thousands of times in a row. (They don’t say exactly how many times he repeated the day, but clearly he repeated it enough times to become an accomplished pianist, ice sculptor, learn to speak French, etc.) See