Ranked

13 Best Time Loop Films, Ranked

With the arrival of Palm Springs on Hulu in the US, we highlight those cinematic time loops worth putting on repeat...

“It's one of those infinite time loop situations you might have heard about,” deadpans Andy Samberg's Nyles in rom-com Palm Springs, the latest film to refashion the time loop premise by adding a unique spin: what if two people were trapped in a loop at the same time?

The innate appeal of any time loop film stems from the possibilities that it presents to both the characters and the viewer. In real life, you get one shot. But when a time loop's involved, when days mysteriously reset upon sleep or death and you're able to retain your memories, things get very interesting indeed. Suddenly there's a chance to live out multiple fantasies, scenarios, and existences with zero consequence. Which is presumably why cinema has found itself repeatedly drawn back to the idea, again and again.

If you were bowled over by the repetitive romance of Palm Springs (out now on Hulu in the US; UK release date to be announced) then you might be interested in these other films – ranked, for priority's sake – about other people trapped in a never-ending cycle of despair (no, we're not talking about the year that is 2020). The only condition for including a film here is that it leans into the “same day over and over” structure and not the single continuum time loops as seen in films like Timecrimes and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban…

 

13. The Fare (2019)

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime Video (US only)

This little seen and extremely low budget time loop thriller from director D.C. Hamilton clings to a strange story about a cab driver and his passenger who are destined to repeat the same journey over and over again. When she mysteriously disappears, he simply resets the meter and restarts their interaction. But what is going on? Is it aliens? Religious intervention? A bad knock on the head? Great performances from Gino Anthony Pesi and Brinna Kelly complement a tricky narrative.

 

12. Happy Death Day 2 U (2019)

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime Video

Happy Death Day 2 U is the sequel to Happy Death Day, and so by sequel law it must offer up the same time loop-horror antics though somewhat less effectively. The plot has Jessica Rothe's heroine once again reliving the same day over and over, this time in a bid to save her friends who have become caught in the loop themselves – and in a different dimension (an “experimental quantum reactor” is credited with causing all the fuss in the first place). Fun, if forgettable, though I'd happily take a third.

 

11. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (1983)

Where to watch it: Home video only

Not to be mistaken with the better known animated film of the same name, though they're both based on the same novel, this 1983 Japanese drama remains an intriguing curio: a proper retro throwback. It was a huge hit in Japan upon first release and tells the story of a young girl who awakens after a car accident to discover she's stuck repeating the same day. Featuring a great lead performance from Tomoyo Harada, and considered to be an inspiration for Groundhog Day, it was also released on home video under the titles Little Girl Who Conquered Time and The Girl Who Cut Time.

 

10. The Incredible Shrinking Wknd (2019)

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime Video

A little seen Spanish film that's well worth checking out, The Incredible Shrinking Wknd finds a group of friends on a woodland retreat, whereupon conflicted Alba (Iria del Rio) happens to gets caught in a time loop. But wait! There's a twist! Every time the day resets, it gets a little shorter (hence the title), meaning that every second counts. This is a nice and watchable film that uses its premise to explore the finite nature of one's thirties – that sense of time literally running out – to mostly satisfying ends.

 

9. Before I Fall (2017)

Where to watch it: Netflix

Zoey Deutch stars in a very serious and self-consciously melancholy drama that asks: what if teen anxiety, but time loop? Deutch is brilliant, as always, playing a popular high school student who dies in a car crash but gets the chance to relive the day over and over again. If only she could take the opportunity to learn to be a better person! Admittedly this one's aimed at teens, but it has a sturdy emotional core that keeps you invested.

 

8. Blood Punch (2015)

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime Video

A horror-thriller that makes up for its low budget with clever writing and unexpected twists, Blood Punch finds three meth dealers repeating the same day over and over after they stumble upon cursed Native American land and wind up in a whole world of crazy. As a self-described cross between Blood Simple and Groundhog Day, the bar is set unnaturally high, yet somehow Madellaine Paxson's B-movie earns the comparisons.

7. The Endless (2018)

Where to watch it: Netflix

This incredibly dense and mind-bending time loop movie works better the less you know about it. Directed by and starring Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, it concerns two brothers who return to the “UFO death camp” where they were raised, only to succumb to some very strange events indeed. This is less conventional in its structure, but finds such interesting – and head-scratching – ways to approach the time loop premise.

 

6. Happy Death Day (2017)

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime Video

An intersection of slasher horror and time loop thrills made good on account of its plucky and endlessly resourceful protagonist, played here by a game-for-it Jessica Rothe, who is murdered repeatedly and so has no choice but to track down her killer. Happy Death Day sets out to have as much fun with its premise as possible and mostly succeeds, merging tried-and-tested horror tropes with some genuinely clever twists and turns. And you'll laugh, too.

 

5. Source Code (2011)

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime Video

Duncan Jones' take on the time loop film grounds the story in a bold sci-fi premise packed with experimental technology and government conspiracies. Jake Gyllenhaal is the train passenger tasked with tracking down a bomber within an eight minute timeframe; Vera Farmiga provides in-ear assistance and is in charge of resetting him whenever he fails. A bad ending doesn't stop this from being a great time with Hitchcockian vibes, even as the logic grows increasingly fuzzy.

 

4. Palm Springs (2020)

Where to watch it: Hulu (US Only)

It is no easy feat making something as familiar as a “time loop rom-com” into something that feels genuinely fresh. But Palm Springs manages just that. Of course, the decision to have two people caught in a time loop together feels so obvious you wonder why nobody did it before. Yet everything else in Palm Springs works a treat, too, from its inspired wedding setting (fumbled elsewhere in this year's awful Love Wedding Repeat) to the palpable chemistry shared between leads Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti, plus an emotional weight that sneaks up on you. A film, somewhat appropriately, to enjoy over and over and over…

 

3. Run Lola Run (1998)

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime Video

This German film, written and directed by Tom Tykwer, was an early adopter of the time loop premise. It's not clear whether Lola, the titular heroine who gets to live out the same day three times in a row, is aware of the time loop she's trapped in. Instead we witness minor variations in the narrative as she tries to stop a drug dealer from killing her boyfriend, which distinctively alter each timeline. It's frantically fun and relentlessly inventive, charged with a video game-like appeal.

 

2. Edge of Tomorrow (Live Die Repeat) (2014)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Tom Cruise brilliantly defied his heroic persona when he played a self-serving and cowardly Major in this adaptation of Japanese manga All You Need is Kill. Fatally wounded on the battlefield but exposed to an alien's blood, he's gifted with the ability to restart the day, joining forces with Emily Blunt's badass Rita Vrataski as they try to turn the tide against a relentless extraterrestrial force. In both embracing and subverting the time loop formula (not to mention killing Cruise over and over), this is deeply satisfying pulp of the highest order, and so deliciously entertaining.

 

1. Groundhog Day (1993)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

It's the most famous of time loop films, of course, perhaps because it is still inarguably the best. All the elements are assembled for one of the most watchable films ever made: a near perfect screenplay guides jaded weatherman Phil Connors – Bill Murray on deliciously cranky form – through a time loop that might last a thousand years. Along the way he deals with everything from suicide to ice sculpturing, before finally realising life's value through his on-off relationship with Andie MacDowell. Groundhog Day set the precedent for basically every time loop film thereafter; but there is a uniquely lightning in a bottle feel to this comic masterpiece from Harold Ramis.

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