When Back To The Future hit the big screen in 1985, it was an enormous hit and the highest-grossing film of the year, raking in over $210 million. The film, written and directed by Robert Zemeckis, focused on teenager Marty McFly (played by Michael J. Fox) and his eccentric scientist pal Dr. Emmett L. Brown (Christopher Lloyd) traveling back in time using a DeLorean as a time machine.
A Massively Popular Franchise
The film was followed up by two sequels in 1989 and 1990. Worldwide, the franchise became the 13th highest grossing trilogy of all time. Read more to learn some fascinating facts you may not know about the movies…
Studios Rejected the Script Over 40 Times
While the film was an instant box office success, studio execs were not initially impressed by the script. The film’s producer and co-writer, Bob Gale, told CNN in 2010, “The script was rejected over 40 times by every major studio and by some more than once. We’d go back when they changed management.”
“It was always one of two things. It was, ‘Well, this is time travel, and those movies don’t make any money.’ We got that a lot. We also got, ‘There’s a lot of sweetness to this. It’s too nice, we want something raunchier like Porky’s. Why don’t you take it to Disney?'”
Doc Brown Nearly Had a Pet Chimpanzee
Initially, Doc Brown had a pet chimpanzee instead of a pet dog by his side. But the head of Universal at the time, Sid Sheinberg, was absolutely against the idea. He researched the success of chimpanzees on film and said, “No movie with a chimpanzee ever made any money.”
Bob Gale wasn’t convinced. He countered by bringing up the success of two Clint Eastwood movies, Every Which Way But Loose and Any Which Way You Can. But Sheinberg said, “No, that was an orangutan.” So instead, Doc Brown had a pet dog and not a primate as his companion.
The Clock Tower Scene Nearly Didn’t Happen
The film’s original ending did not involve a clock tower. Instead, writers planned on it occurring at a nuclear test site where Doc Brown and Marty “Literally had to harness the power of a nuclear blast to get back to the future,” according to Bob Gale. However, after much research, the studio realized it would be too expensive to film that scene and dumped it.
The filmmakers were also unable to film on location so they came up with the lightning angle. They consulted an electrical engineer about the amount of electricity in a lightning bolt, and he pronounced it “jigowatt” instead of “gigawatt.” The word stuck.
A Time Traveling Refrigerator?
In an early script, the time machine was actually going to be a type of “Time chamber,” similar to a refrigerator. Doc Brown kept the chamber in the back of his truck. During the second draft, Zemeckis was inspired to do something different. He wanted the time machine to be mobile and decided it should be built into a vehicle. It was his idea to use a DeLorean.
The DeLorean DMC-12 was made from 1981-83 and had a futuristic design. It was made of brushed stainless steel and featured gull-wing doors. The vehicle is now synonymous with the Back to the Future films.
The Film Made Skateboarding Popular Again
Skateboarding was hugely popular in the ’70s, but by the ’80s it started its downward spiral. But when Marty McFly used one in Back to the Future, the sport had a bit of a resurgence. Bob Gale explained, “One thing that people tend to forget is that skateboarding underwent a renaissance with Back to the Future. Skateboarding was not really that popular in the 1980s until Back to the Future put it back in people’s consciousness.”
Flash forward to 2015, and a tech startup company launched a Kickstarter campaign for its Hendo Hoverboard, which is what Marty used in Back to the Future II.
A First in Special Effects
Back to the Future II made movie history by being the first big-screen film to feature the “vista glide.” This involves using the same actor interacting with himself. Three scenes in the film feature this special effect. The shots were the 2015 dinner sequence, Biff from the past talking to Biff in the future, and Doc from the past talking to Doc in 1985.
For the dinner scene, the vista glide was used by dividing the camera into thirds. Michael J. Fox entered the scene three times to play his older self, the younger Marty, and his daughter Marlene.
Doc & Marty’s Difference in Height Was Problematic
Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox had a huge height discrepancy. The former was a towering 6’1″ while the latter was just 5’4″. As a result, Doc Brown developed a bit of hunch when interacting with Marty. Filmmakers struggled a bit to compensate for such a drastic height difference. Director Robert Zemeckis came up with a clever plan to take care of the problem.
The filmmaker used blocking where the actors stood separately at different camera depths, making them seem less at odds in the height department. In close-up shots, Lloyd would often hunch over so he and Fox could appear in the same frame.
Celebrities Are Huge Fans of the Franchise
October 21, 2015, marked the day that Marty McFly traveled to in Back to the Future Part II. And many celebrities came out to celebrate “Back To The Future Day” on Oct. 21, 2015. The band Coldplay circled the day on their calendar and noted on Instagram, “Thank you MJF and everyone for one of the greatest films ever.” Singer John Mayer showed off his passion for the film by wearing the original Marty McFly Nike Bruin sneakers.
Breaking Bad actor Aaron Paul and his wife took commemoration of the special day to a whole other level by drinking beer, listening to a boombox, and driving an actual DeLorean.
Eric Stoltz Almost Played Marty McFly
Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale desperately wanted Michael J. Fox in the role of Marty McFly, but there were complications. Fox had scheduling conflicts due to his work on the television series Family Ties. In addition to working all day on the program, his co-star Meredith Baxter was pregnant, and Fox was was working more than usual on the series.
The filmmakers then turned to Eric Stoltz, who was very impressive in the film Mask. It didn’t take long for everyone involved to figure out that Stoltz wasn’t right for the role. Fox was cast and worked on Family Ties during the day and on Back to the Future from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.
President Ronald Reagan Really Liked the Film
When Marty McFly told Doc Brown that Ronald Reagan was the President in 1985, the Doc responded, “Ronald Reagan?!? The actor?!? Then who’s vice-president?!? Jerry Lewis?!?”
Reagan watched the film in the White House and was reportedly so tickled by Doc Brown’s comment that he made the projectionist replay the scene. He also referred to the move in his 1986 State of The Union addressing, saying, “Never has there been a more exciting time to be alive, a time of rousing wonder and heroic achievement. As they said in the film Back to the Future, ‘Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.'”
The Movie Was Almost Called Spaceman from Pluto
Not everyone was thrilled with the title Back To The Future. Universal Pictures head Sid Sheinberg wasn’t convinced that film goers would want to see a movie with the word “future” in the title. So he wrote a memo to director Robert Zemeckis suggesting that the film be titled Spaceman From Pluto, which referenced the jokes in the film referring to Marty as an alien.
Steven Spielberg handled the suggestion like a pro, thanking Sheinberg for his “joke memo” and telling him that everyone was amused by his shenanigans. Sheinberg was embarrassed by his suggestion so he let the title remain.
Michael J. Fox Then
When Michael J. Fox was making the film, he was getting about four hours of sleep a night because he was concurrently working on Family Ties. As a result, he was doubtful about his performance. He told Parade magazine in 2012, “I thought I sucked in it. I really, truly thought I was terrible. So many times I was practically unconscious because I was so tired. And so [the work] was just instinctive.”
His agent saw the finished movie and raved about the film, telling the actor, “This is going to be the biggest movie of the summer.” When Fox came back from filming Family Ties in London he learned how “massive” it had become.
Michael J. Fox Now
Time has not dampened people’s love for the franchise. At the 2017 Academy Awards, Michael J. Fox came on stage in Marty McFly’s DeLorean time machine with Seth Rogen to present an award for best film editing. Rogen wore the famous self-lacing Nike sneakers from Back to the Future Part II (and you can actually buy them now).
Rogen said, “I’m going to pretend half that applause is for me, even though I know deep down it is not.” Obviously a fan boy, Rogen continued: “Either way, I’m at the Oscars with Michael J Fox, a DeLorean, while wearing future shoes.”
Lea Thompson Then
Lea Thompson played Marty McFly’s mother, Lorraine McFly, in Back To The Future. Thompson was a few years older than the character she was playing and she was also very different. She told Under the Radar In 2017, “Lorrain McFly was a completely created character in my mind. I grew up in the 1970s, in a completely different mindset than she was; that kind of super horny virgin, pretty overt and, you know, repressed.”
“None of that was what I grew up with—I was a modern dancer. So, yeah, she was a completely-not-me character. You pull certain parts from yourself, sure, but she bore absolutely no resemblance to me.”
Lea Thompson Now
Thompson is still proud of playing a drunken, surgically enhanced Lorraine in Back to the Future II in the alternate 1985. In that timeline, she’s married to Biff and Hill Valley is a horrible place to live.
She told Vanity Fair in 2015 that she continues to use one of the clips from the film in her audition reel, “I do have a crazy-ass part in that one. I put that part on my reel still.” She added that she would love to play a similar character again: “I’m like, ‘Will someone let me please play this part. Please let me play this crazy, drunken diva.’ I could do it again.”
Crispin Glover Then
Crispin Glover played Marty McFly’s father, George McFly, in Back to the Future. He refused to appear in the film’s sequels, but that didn’t deter filmmakers. They used archived footage and a similar looking actor, Jeffrey Weissman, to keep the character on film.
Glover told Den of Geek in 2013, “They had taken the molds of my face from the old age make-up from the original film and put another actor into prosthetics that were made from my face, and interspliced with a very small amount of footage of me from the original film in order to fool audiences into thinking I was in the movie.”
Crispin Glover Now
Glover added, “If I’d have played that part, I would have played it different. I didn’t like the way that guy played it, and people think it’s me. It’s still gets to me that there’s that confusion.” Glover noted in the Guardian in 2015 that producers recast the actress who played Marty’s girlfriend when Claudia Wells, who played the character in the first film, was unable to do the sequel.
Glover subsequently won a lawsuit over the incident. He successfully sued the studio and producers and changed things for future actors and the way their likenesses can be used on the big screen.
Thomas F. Wilson Then
Thomas F. Wilson played Biff Tannen in Back to the Future. He often slammed others by calling them a “Butthead,” and in each film ended up in a pile of manure while trying to harm Marty McFly. He told the Hollywood Reporter in 2015 that he understood bullying because he was picked on as a kid.
“A thin and sickly kid, I was pushed around and beaten up by bullies throughout my childhood, until I grew bigger than everybody and it stopped,” he said. “I knew very well how they operate, and specifically the joy they take in scaring people. I’d stared them in the face so often that it wasn’t particularly challenging to do an impression.”
Thomas F. Wilson Now
Wilson is now a married father of four. He told the Hollywood Reporter of his role: “Underneath the tsunami of pop iconography is a performance of a difficult role that I worked very hard on, and I’m very proud of.”
Wilson continues to act and perform stand-up comedy. He appeared in 2013 film The Heat and Nickelodeon’s School of Rock. He also voices characters in SpongeBob SquarePants and Pig Goat Banana Cricket. In his spare time, he’s a painter. He told USA Today in 2015, “I’m finishing a series of paintings that explore my unusual, iconic position in pop culture and pop art.”