Let’s Talk About ‘Back to the Future’ (1985)

“If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 miles per hour, you’re gonna see some serious shit.”

What BTTF Means to Us

Man, Back to the Future is just one of those films that captured the world by storm in the 80s and it wasn’t just hype like some films today. It had all the right ingredients: a great cast, great story, the right mix of comedy and drama, a sweet lookin’ ride, and man … that Alan Silvestri score is iconic as hell. It’s honestly just a great film all around.

I remember seeing it in the theaters when I was 10. The film draws you in almost immediately. It helps that Marty is a super relatable character to start. The guitar playin’, skateboardin’ teen. He’s our gateway into the film. Sure in our current world it may be weird that he was friends with Doc, an older, scientist outcast, but back then it it didn’t come off that way.  It just made sense. I think I believe their friendship more than I believe Doc was able to steal plutonium, but what do I know? The great thing about movies at that time is they let you forget about the real world for a bit. I know people have tried to over think the film and some of its storylines, but seriously people, it’s a TIME TRAVEL movie FFS. Enjoy it!

Anyway, this film is one of the 80s greats and I loved watching it whenever it was on. It’s right up there with Ghostbusters, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Poltergeist, The Empire Strikes Back and Goonies for me. Movies from a better time about ridiculous things.

– K. Alvarez

Honest question: Is Back to the Future the most re-watchable movie of all-time? I’m inclined to say yes.

It doesn’t get any better than Mary McFly and his life preserver risking life and limb to save his family and Doc Brown. I mean a Delorean time machine, Huey Lewis and the News, a clock tower lightning strike, Biff Tannen, and the largest speaker blow-out in cinematic history?!  This movie has everything.  But more importantly it’s an incredibly creative, original, and enthralling blockbuster that is still every bit as fresh and fun as it was in 1985. Currently slotted as the #38 on IMDb’s Top 250, you could easily make the case that it ought to be top ten. That’s a testament to the power of love.

It’s hard to imagine the arena of American blockbusters without Robert Zemeckis and this one is a huge reason why. With Back to the Future he didn’t just tap into the zeitgeist, he reinvented it entirely on the shoulders of a young icon and everyone’s favorite zany, old man mentor. Back to the Future shaped our worlds and pop-culture was never the same, but more importantly . . . there is never a bad time to rewatch this movie.

– Mitch Roush

The Original Marty

It’s hard to picture anyone but Michael J. Fox in the role of Marty McFly, but for five weeks of production that’s exactly what happened.

Fox was always Universal‘s first choice to play the teenage time traveller. However, Fox was unavailable due to filming Family Ties, one of the top rated sitcoms currently airing on network television. The show wasn’t going to let their star actor be absent for a number of episodes in order to shoot the movie.

After passing over Johnny Depp, Charlie Sheen, and John Cusack for the lead role, the studio eventually cast Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly. It didn’t take long though for the cast and crew to see that Stoltz was not the right fit for the project.

Stoltz apparently took a “method” acting style when playing Marty. In the excellent book We Don’t Need Roads, co-writer Bob Gale recalled how Stoltz insisted on being referred to as “Marty” even when cameras stopped rolling.

“We almost always called him Marty,” he said. “We thought it was silly, but we figured if it helped him do his job, it was harmless. There were a few people on the crew who’d worked on Mask and they called him Rocky, the name of his character in that film.”

In addition to the “method” acting, Stoltz lacked the proper comedic timing that Back to the Future creators Zemeckis and Gale (dubbed “The Bobs”) wanted for the part. On Stoltz, Lea Thompson said, “[He] had such an intensity. He saw drama in things. He wasn’t really a comedian, and they needed a comedian. He’s super-funny in real life, but he didn’t approach his work like that, and they really needed somebody who had those chops.”

Eventually, the decision was made to fire Stoltz and Fox, whose schedule was now a lot more flexible, was cast. Stoltz still shot new scenes for the movie, unaware that plans were already in motion for his dismissal. Zemeckis recalls telling Stoltz he was being let go as “the hardest meeting I’ve ever had in my life.” Stoltz was still paid his full salary.

Fox immediately began shooting Back to the Future. He would film Family Ties during the day, and Back to the Future during nights and weekends. Replacing the lead role resulted in filming falling behind schedule, and an additional cost of $3.5–$4 million added to the film’s budget. However, it is safe to say that this was the best decision for the movie since Fox’s portrayal of Marty is one of the highlights of Back to the Future.

Attention to Detail

Back to the Future is one of the only films I’m familiar with that requires you to pay attention to every detail on screen. This starts from the moment the camera pans over Doc Brown’s lab and his wall one clocks. One of the clocks references a scene from the 1923 film Safety Last! starring Harold Lloyd, foreshadowing when Doc Brown hangs from the clock tower later in Back to the Future.

Marty’s time in 1955 causes numerous ripples through time. Twin Pines Mall becomes Lone Pine Mall after Marty drives over one of Mr. Peabody’s infamous pines when escaping his farm. During the lightning storm, Doc Brown breaks off a chunk of the clock tower’s ledge trying to reconnect the wires. The change is shown immediately after Marty successfully travels back to 1985. There’s also Marty playing “Johnny B. Goode” at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance which leads to Chuck Berry coming up with the idea for the song.

There’s numerous other details that are worth mentioning whether it’s Marty, after Principal Strickland telling him that no McFly has ever amounted to anything in the history of Hill Valley, saying that “yeah, well, history is gonna change” to Marty and his dad (Crispin Glover) telling each other “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.”

And none of what I just mentioned even takes into consideration the Easter eggs the crew worked into the film. Huey Lewis (who wrote the song’s hit single “The Power of Love”) has a cameo when Marty is auditioning his band to play for the dance. Old Man Peabody’s son is credited as Sherman, a nod to Mr. Peabody and Sherman, the time-traveling cartoon duo from The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle.

All of these details make each new rewatch something special. Heck, I’m still noticing new things every time I watch the film. As you grow up, you experience new films, literature, and knowledge that helps you pick up the hidden details. I know for certain I was unaware Pepsi Free had been an actual version of the popular soda (even though it also made an appearance earlier in the movie). The more you know, the more you will enjoy all the details in Back to the Future.

Impact and Legacy

Back to the Future was a huge success for Universal. After years of poor box-office performances, Back to the Future, along with other 1985 releases like Fletch and Mask, helped Universal become the second-highest-grossing studio that year. The film turned Fox, who was already a massive TV star thanks to Family Ties, into one of the most in-demand actors working in Hollywood. “The Power of Love” became Huey Lewis and the News’ first number one song on the Billboard Hot 100.

The film received four nominations at the 1986 Academy Awards for Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Original Screenplay, Best Sound Moxing, and Best Original Song. They won for Best Sound Effects Editing.

Although Back to the Future received two sequels (in 1989 and 1990), the possibility of a sequel was never discussed until after the film became a box-office success. The cliffhanger ending of Marty, Doc, and Jennifer heading to the future was intended to suggest their adventures would continue off screen. However, work began on the sequel which was eventually split into two separate films that were shot back-to-back. The infamous “To Be Continued…” graphic that appeared on the VHS release of the film led many to believe they remember seeing it appear at the end of the movie when it was in theaters.

Back to the Future is considered one of the greatest films ever made. It is on numerous “Films You Must See Before You Die” lists, and constantly appears in articles ranking the best science-fiction, time travel, or 1980s films. It was listed as #6 on ScreenAge Wasteland’s The 100 Greatest Sci-Fi Films of All Time.

The United States Library of Congress selected the film to be preserved in the National Film Registry for being culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant in 2007. Ronald Reagan was a fan, and loved the joke Doc Brown made about “the actor” becoming president. He actually ordered the theater’s projectionist to stop the film, roll it back, and run it again. The film is responsible for a resurgence in the popularity of skateboarding in the 1980s, and for making it a mainstream pastime that was not just for rebellious teens.

But most importantly, Back to the Future is a film that introduces people to the wonders of cinema each year. Within its 116 minute runtime, Back to the Future will awaken your soul to the magic of film and set you down a path that you will never once regret. Back to the Future made me love movies. What did it do for you?

What are your fond memories of Back to the Future? Do you have a fun fact or piece of trivia on the film? Share it in the comments below!

Author: Marmaduke Karlston

"Wait a minute. Wait a minute Doc, uh, are you telling me you built a time machine... out of a DeLorean?"