There are many changes from the novel, with Wells's socialist critique reimagined as an anti-war parable. After the Time-Traveler, called "George" in this version, demonstrates his invention, most of his colleagues criticize him for inventing something which they consider to have no practical value and wonder why a man of his genius isn't inventing weapons for Britain to use in The Second Boer War like a good patriotic citizen should be. Only David Filby shares George's idealism, though he warns him to destroy the time machine before it destroys him.
George sets off for the future, stopping to see the effects of World War I, the Blitz of World War II, and finally the nuclear holocaust of World War III. George's arrival in the year 802701 plays out similarly to the original, though with the Eloi speaking English and Weena being Promoted to Love Interest. The Back Story of the Eloi and the Morlocks is altered, with both being the descendants of people who survived in bunkers during World War III. When the war ended after three centuries, some people chose to remain underground, becoming the Morlocks, while others chose to take their chances on the surface, becoming the Eloi. The Morlocks are, of course, portrayed in the typical 1950s monster movie fashion.
The film concludes with a climax in which a group of Eloi, including Weena, are captured in the Morlocks' underground lair. George rescues them and teaches them to stand up for themselves. After briefly returning to his own time, George heads back to 802701, bringing three books with which to begin rebuilding civilization. The audience is left to wonder which three books he chose.
Tropes from the 1960 film version which weren't in the book:
- Adaptational Badass: While nowhere near are powerful as the morlocks from the 2002 movie, the morlocks are nethertheless considrably tougher here than their novel counterparts.
- Adaptation Expansion: In the book, the traveller doesn't make any stop and goes directly to the very far future without learning about the World Wars (probably because they hadn't happened yet when the book was written).
- Apathetic Citizens: The Eloi are this to a T, ignoring one of their own drowning, their cannibalization by the Morlocks. George helps them learn to fight back again.
- Apocalyptic Log: The "talking rings", which dictate news broadcasts when spun upon a dais. The two heard in the film relay information about a war, and the separation of the Eloi and the Morlocks to the Time Traveler.
- Arbitrary Skepticism: George's colleagues (except Filby) don't believe his story, despite his having returned all beaten up, and the fact that the flower he brought doesn't exist yet and could not have grown during the winter.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: George despises the barbarism from his own time and desires to journey to a future where mankind no longer wages war. Sadly, he gets his wish after learning that the Eloi of 802,701 are peaceful to the point of indolence, possessing barely any sense of self-preservation whatsoever.
- Brown Note: The Air-Raid Sirens. Over 800,000 years, the Eloi have been subconsciously conditioned to react to the noise by seeking refuge underground. So much so that they will blindly walk into the Morlock's lair in a hypnotic trance.Eloi: It's all clear.
- Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Most of the Eloi are dressed in pale colours, but Weena wears bright coral pink so you can pick her out in a crowd.
- Composite Character: In the book, the Time Traveller has a group of friends he tells about the Time Machine, including the unnamed narrator and a young man named Filby.
- Convection Schmonvection: After London gets nuked in 1966, everything around catches on fire, except for the protagonist of course. Oh, and the grass he's standing on.
- Eternal English: In the book the Eloi had their own language which The Time Traveler didn't understand, here they speak English over 800,000 years later. Presumably the talking rings have something to do with this.
- Exact Words: George agrees to Filby's promise that he "Won't go out of the house tonight", adding that he won't even "Walk out of the door". Instead, he only leaves the house after landing in 1917, to remove a few of the planks on his boarded-up windows.
- Frazetta Man: If you take the fact they evolved from humans in the distant future out of the account, then the morlocks fit this trope to a T.
- The Great Politics Mess-Up:Talking ring: The war between East and West, which is now in its three hundred and twenty sixth year...
- Identical Grandson: Filby's son is likewise played by Alan Young, minus the moustache and Scottish accent. The Time Traveller naturally mistakes him for his father during his jaunt 20 years into the future.
- Industrialized Evil: The creepy machinery of the Morlocks underscores their villainous, oppressive society.
- Interspecies Romance: The beginnings of romance between George and Weena might suggest this in light of some interpretations which posit the Eloi as being just as much an evolved post-human species as the Morlocks, in spite of the fact that only the Morlocks look visibly non-human.
- Literary Agent Hypothesis: Though the Time Traveler is referred to as "George", the machine's date indicator plate clearly reads "Manufactured by H. George Wells" meaning the Time Traveller's actual name is... H. G. Wells.
- Named by the Adaptation: The Time Traveller is addressed as "George", and his full name is visible on a plaque on the machine.
- Next Sunday A.D.: The Time Traveler witnesses a nuclear holocaust... in 1966. This could even border on 20 Minutes into the Future, with 1966 London full of skyscrapers and having shiny monorail, not to mention "tubeless TV" on window display.
- No New Fashions in the Future: The Eloi women love their '50s Hair. Weena, whose attitude and interests are akin to a child, even calls attention to it by asking George how the women of his time wear their hair.
- Even in 1966 the fashions don't seem to be too far removed from 1960 or have a somewhat Fifties look... which considering what we know about how Sixties fashion progressed is almost Hilarious in Hindsight.
- Both examples seem curious in light of the ever-changing mannequin in the store, concerning the changes in by-then-historical fashion, inverting this trope from the Time-Traveller's perspective.
- Nothing Is Scarier: Until he finds the Eloi bathing in the river, George spends a lot of time wandering around an overgrown wilderness among abandoned relics set to an increasingly shrill soundtrack. The movie also very effectively sells the Morlocks' danger by having him return to his time machine and discover it's been dragged into their temple.
- Nubile Savage: Weena.
- Promoted to Love Interest: Former Trope Namer, by way of both the 2002 film and this one. In the novel, the time traveler forms a bond with an Eloi woman named Weena, who, like all Eloi, is a child-sized androgynous-looking creature mentally on the level of an eight-year old. However, the film turns Weena into a love interest, looking human.
- Reunion Show: In 1993, a documentary was made about the 1960 Time Machine movie. While most of the documentary focused on the director and on the making of the movie props, there was a 15 minute segment where the actors who played George and Filby reprised their roles. (The action in the segment took place in George's house and—from George's point of view— 30 years after the events of the original story.) Remember how in the main movie Filby was fated to die in World War I? Well, George has come back to 1916 to try to put a stop to it. The documentary is included in some DVD versions of the movie.
- Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Time Traveler goes forward in time at the speed of thousands of years every second, yet he can still see the wall behind him being built, block by block. Travelling this fast, he should barely be able to see any building last, considering the lifespan of most structures mankind built.
- Steampunk: The eponymous Time Machine looks exactly how a late-Victorian time machine should.
- Stranded With Edison: Implied by the ending. When Wells leaves after telling his friend Filby about his adventures, he takes three books from his vast library. Filby asks the housekeeper (and the audience), "If you were going to start civilization over again, which three books would you choose?"
- These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know: Filby is the only one who believes George about his machine, even before he leaves on his journey, refusing to even look at it as he feels this would "tempt providence" and begging him to destroy the machine before it destroys him.
- Training the Peaceful Villagers: Despite the film having a strong anti-war message, it narrowly avoids being a Broken Aesop as George motivations are more about teaching the Eloi to regain a sense of self-preservation, rather than actively seek conflict with the Morlocks.
- Uncanny Family Resemblance: George mistakes Filby's son for his father.
- Undying Loyalty: Filby, executor of George's estate, firmly refuses to sell the house and has it shut even after his death, believing the traveller would return some day. His son similarly decides to honour his father's wishes and has the plot turned into a park after the house was destroyed in the Blitz, dedicating it to their friendship.
- World War III: George arrives on the day it begins, in 1966, and barely escapes being burned by lava. It is what creates the world of 802701, with Morlocks being the descendants of those who ended up in air raid shelters, and Eloi being the ones who ended up staying above ground.