Time travel has been a popular reccuring theme to watch throughout science-fiction movie and TV shows. There will also be a separate future article that will cover the list for movies.
A lot of time travel shows are often cancelled due to being such a high cost to produce. Depending on the series, it could be visiting historical events in multiple episodes, with extensive historical research into making costumes, props and set designs for the time period.
There’s also a matter of not making the premise too confusing; by not having messy inconsistent plots, and a show that can wrap up it’s storylines well, either per episode or for the show overall.
School teacher, Jake Epping (James Franco) is given an opportunity to access one historical point in time. This to save John F. Kennedy; who was assassinated on November 22, 1963. It’s a miniseries created by Bridget Carpenter and adapted from Stephen King’s book by the same name.
The time portal allows Jake to only go back three years before this event. Where he lives in the 60s; to figure out who was plotting the assassination and how to stop it from happening. 11.22.63 also has a talented supporting cast, including: Chris Cooper, Sarah Gadon, George McKay, and Daniel Webber, who stars as Lee Harvey Oswald.
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (2016)
This CW Arrowverse series is probably the wackiest time travel show out of all of these on this list. The group is made up of misfits, criminals and vigilantes who go about time, mostly messing it up themselves, while also attempting to protect the timeline from changes, that didn’t happen before.
The group changes somewhat across the seven seasons, however the Legends include professor Martin Stein (Victor Garber); from The Flash series, Time Master ‘Rip Hunter’ played by Arthur Darvill (Doctor Who), Dominic Purcell (Prison Break) as Mick Rory, Leagues of Assassins member Sara Lance (Caity Loitz), Firestorm played by Franz Drameh, The Atom (Brandon Routh), Vixen (Maisie Richardson).
Legends of Tomorrow was cancelled in 2022, along with the entire Arrowverse ending in 2023, due to The CW being bought by Nextar and their focus going into funding more reality based TV shows. However, there are plenty of stories to get through.
Timeless is a science-fiction drama series created by Eric Kripke and Shawn Ryan. There are 2 seasons to watch and it was luckily given a conclusion in time before it was also cancelled.
A soldier called Wyatt Logan (Matt Lanter), scientist named Rufus Carlin (Malcolm Barrett) and historian; Lucy Preston (Abigail Spencer) are recruited to stop an Illuminati type family called Rittenhouse.
The chemistry is unmatched in this series and Annie Wersching and Goran Visnjic also played awesome villains. There’s multiple interesting visits to historical events, cleverly encorporated into the storylines.
Fun fact: the character’s names are a homage to the cast and characters from the Bill & Ted movies starring Keanu Reeves as Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan, Alex Winter as Bill S. Preston and George Carlin as Rufus.
12 Monkeys (2015)
12 Monkeys is loosely adapted from David and Janet People’s 1995 Bruce Willis movie, with the same name. This science-fiction series is created by Terry Matalas and Travis Fickett, with a total of 4 seasons.
Aaron Stanford (X-Men) stars as the lead protagonist James Cole; travelling across time, to stop a viral apocalypse from happening, as well as going up against those who are seeking to cause more havoc to time itself.
The only way James can do travel, is with the help of Doctor Katerina Jones (Barbara Sukowa) and her Project Splinter technology.
Cassandra Railly played by Amanda Schull is an integral part to the plot and it’s also how they find out where to begin with these missions. Kirk Acevedo is Cole’s scavenger friend Ramse, Emily Hampshire plays a character called Jennifer Goines, who can see events in time. Todd Stashwick is Deacon, a leader of a gang, similar to Negan from The Walking Dead.
So many great episodes, the performances from the cast are amazing, especially Emily Hampshire’s stand-out role.
Quantum Leap (1989 – 1993)
Quantum Leap lasted for 5 seasons; created by Donald P. Bellisario.
After stepping into the Quantum Leap Accelerator, Doctor Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) ends up leaping from one life to the next, putting right, what once went wrong. There’s also the help of his friend, Al Calavicci (Dean Stockwell), who appears in the form of a hologram.
Scott Bakula’s acting range was phenomenal to pull this off, the amount of different roles to become over the lifetime of the show, was unlike anything that was done at the time. Exploring both historical events and fictional lives.
There’s also a Quantum Leap reboot, that was released in 2022. The show is still within this same universe, set 30 years after.
Although Scott Bakula is yet to make an on-screen appearance, besides name-drops and an archival image of his character.
In the 2022 version, Raymond Lee has been doing great so far as protagonist Doctor Ben Song and the show is adding new ways of keeping Quantum Leap fresh and modern, rather than just rehashing the same plots from the 1989 series.
Doctor Who (1963 – 1989, 2005 – Present)
Doctor Who is a science-fiction series cemented in British pop culture history – created by Sydney Newman, C. E. Webber and Donald Wilson.
Originally, the show began in 1963 with William Hartnell as The Doctor. It’s an incredible amount of content to get through, and the 2005 revival does well to re-introduce the premise and who the Doctor is, so it’s not entirely necessary to begin watching it from 60s series, to catch up.
Although, recently there’s been characters from the 60 – 80s series coming back, if you want to be used to who they are and some of the past villains that may resurface, it would be better to watch most of it and be able to spot any easter eggs and references that pop up.
A Time Lord from Gallifrey, known as ‘The Doctor’, embarks on adventures in time and space; using a TARDIS, shaped like a Police Box. It tends to get lonely on these journeys, therefore the Time Lord often brings along a companion, and depending on which season, there could be multiple companions.
They always seem to be put in danger as well, as they encounter threats such as the Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels and The Master, who are looking to take control of Earth, sometimes even the universe.
The 2005 revival spans over 800 episodes and begins with Christopher Eccleston, then he regenerates into David Tennant, Matt Smith, Peter Capaldi, Jodie Whittaker, and then recently changing into the fourteenth Doctor played by David Tennant again.
During Chris Chibnall’s showrunning era, he also introduced a Fugitive Doctor in 2020, played by Jo Martin, making her the first black actor to play the role.
Doctor Who is set to return with David Tennant for the 60th Anniversary special, in addition to Ncuti Gatwa’s iteration starting from December 2023.
When Avengers Endgame (2019) introduces a time travel heist; the Avengers go back 2012, to steal Infinity Stones, Hulk knocks the Tesseract out of Tony Stark’s hand, leading to Loki’s escape. Originally, in the time, Loki was supposed to remain a prisoner, in Asgard and then his eventual death by Thanos.
This series created by Michael Waldron deals with those altered events, as the Time Variants Authority hunt down Loki and other variants across time.
The Umbrella Academy (2019)
In this crazy superhero series created by Steve Blackman; An eccentric billionaire called Reginald Hargreaves, adopts seven babies who have special abilities.
This family has to deal with an impending apocalypse, that was witnessed by time travelling Number Five (Aiden Gallagher).
The Umbrella Academy currently has three seasons and there also will be a final fourth season, although no release date has been set yet.
It competes with DC’s Legends of Tomorrow as being one of most craziest live-action superhero time travel shows to come out of the 2010s
Time After Time (2017)
Time After Time is adapated from the 1979 theatrical version and 1979 book by Karl Alexander.
It’s a twist on the classic H.G Wells story titled The Time Machine, instead of this being about the character H.G Wells, travelling to the future to stop the Morlocks, it’s about chasing down Jack the Ripper, from London, 1893.
In this series created by Kevin Williamson; H.G is played by Freddie Stroma (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Peacemaker). After finding out that his friend John Stevenson is Jack the Ripper, portrayed by Josh Bowman (Doctor Who, Revenge). He chases him across a few points in time, while also stumbling across Jane (Genesis Rodriguez); who Wells falls in love with.
The show was unfortunately cancelled on a cliffhanger, after only 12 episodes, however it was good for what it was.
Frequency has quite a unique time travel aspect to it; as it’s communication back and forth from the past and future, instead of physically travelling through time.
It’s about a regained connection between father and daughter. This Ham Radio device allows them both to talk to eachother once again, after police Raimy Sullivan (Peyton List) loses her father Frank Sullivan (Riley Smith), when she was just a kid. However, there’s more plot than meets the eye, as they find out that they may be able to stop a serial killer.
The show created by Jeremy Carver ran for 1 season.
Save the cheerleader, save the world! The main premise of the show revolves around people discovering who they are supposed to be, especially this becoming more complicated when they end up with special abilities.
Heroes was focusing on a few characters throughout multiple acts in each episode.
The time travel aspect is what was one of the highlights of the show though; when Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka) discovered that he could manipulate time. However, Hiro soon realizes a very dark consequence in being able to travel in time; Catastrophic events, and a slew of murders from someone who is looking to take away people’s special abilities.
After compiling this list, there appears to be so many time travel shows that came out around 2015 – 2017. There must have been a huge demand for escapism content. A few shows also focus on similar premises with cult-like people trying to control time and there being world ending events.
Is there a show we’ve missed? What would your time travel series list look like? Comment below!