Back to the Future – 30 Years Later, The Future is Now

Thirty years ago this week, Back to the Future was released onto the masses, proving to teenagers everywhere that their stuffy, corny, embarrassing parents were once teenagers themselves. Writer Bob Gale (1941 1979, Bordello of Blood 1996) got the idea for the time traveling tale after he stumbled across his father’s yearbook and began to wonder if he would have been friends with his dad if they had gone to high school together. He convinced Used Cars (1980) co-collaborator Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump 1994, What Lies Beneath 2000) to help write a script that floated around Hollywood for years before Steven Spielberg finally agreed to back the film with his production company, Amblin Entertainment. Zemeckis directed the film, which was released July 3, 1985, spending eleven weeks at #1 and going on to earn over $383 million worldwide, making it the top grossing film of 1985. Filmed on location in southern California, Back to the Future was produced by Gale and Neil Canton (The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension 1984, Land of the Dead 2005) and had their thirty-two award winning special effects shot by the folks at Industrial Light & Magic and Jurassic Park’s (1993) Kevin Pike.

Back to the Future (1985) Directed by Robert Zemeckis Shown from left: Christopher Lloyd (as Dr. Emmett Brown), Michael J. Fox (as Marty McFly)
Back to the Future (1985) Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Back to the Future starred a plethora of well-known actors, including Michael J. Fox (Family Ties TV series, Teen Wolf 1985), Christopher Lloyd (Clue 1985, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? 1988), Lea Thompson (Red Dawn 1984, Caroline in the City TV series), Thomas F. Wilson (Freaks and Geeks TV series, Turner and Hootch 1990) and Crispin Glover (Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter 1984, Willard 2003), with other familiar faces sprinkled about, including Children of the Corn’s Courtney Gains, Titanic‘s Billy Zane, Young Gun’s Casey Siemaszko and American Pop sensation Huey Lewis, who also performed the award winning soundtrack titles “Power of Love” and “Back in Time.” After the initial casting of Mask’s (1985) Eric Stoltz fell through, the studio cast Fox, who spent his days filming Family Ties and his nights and weekends shooting Back to the Future, pushing himself through with only five hours of sleep a night. The gamble proved to be a good one, though, as even thirty years later, he still has fans from all over calling him Marty McFly, from big cities in the US to as far remote as the Himalayan country of Bhutan, where he once heard a Buddhist monk call out his character’s name.

Universal Pictures head Sid Sheinberg tried to switch up a few things about the Back to the Future script, pushing to convert the movie’s title to Spaceman from Pluto and to use more Marty-as-an-alien jokes, among other things. Although he did manage to get Marty’s mother’s name changed to Lorraine (after his own wife, Jaws’ Lorraine Gary) and Doc Brown’s pet shifted from a chimp to a dog, Sheinberg backpedalled once he read a response from Spielberg, who thanked him for the laughs in the “joke memo.” Embarrassed, Sheinberg dropped the spacey change-up ideas and went along with the idea that he was kidding.

Back to the Future (1985) Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Modifying their initial time machine device from a refrigerator to DeLorean was a genius move by Zemeckis and Gale, getting them acknowledgements from John DeLorean, the creator of the car itself, and fans who could trick out their own vehicles to look like Doc’s space age contraption. The actual model was a 1981 DMC-12 with a 6-cylinder PRV (Peugeot/Renault/Volvo) engine. Ironically, the base for the nuclear-reactor was made from the hubcap from a Dodge Polaris. The other equipment and props needed to turn the rest of the car into the flux capacitor fueled time traveler made the actual driving space uncomfortably tight. If one listens closely, they can hear Fox’s knuckles clack and bang into miscellaneous parts as he shifts gears to get the car up to its required eighty-eight miles an hour.

Although the studio was a bit nervous about the line where Doc Brown expresses doubts about an actor of Ronald Reagan’s caliber becoming president, the current Head of State thought the mention amusing and even had the projectionist rewind the scene from the Doc’s living room. During his 1986 State of the Union address, Reagan even said, “As they said in the film “Back to the Future”, ‘Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.‘” A slight snub to POTUS was not enough for Spielberg, who made sure to get a shout out to Stanley Kubrick in the film. The huge amp where Marty plugs in his guitar is labeled CRM 114, a reference to radio equipment in Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964).

Back to the Future (1985) Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Back to the Future (1985) Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Back to the Future has no shortage of accolades. In 1986 alone, the film won an Oscar for Best Effects and was nominated for the same award for Best Screenplay, Best Sound and Best Music/Original Song (“Power of Love”), won a Grammy for Best Original Score, received Golden Globe nominations for Best Performance in a Comedy (Michael J. Fox) and Best Screenplay, Best Song (“Power of Love”) and got a People’s Choice award for Favorite Motion Picture, among numerous Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Film awards. The film was also ranked #28 on Entertainment Weekly‍ ’​s list of the 50 Best High School Movies and landed the #10 position on 2008’s AFI’s Top 10 in the SciFi genre. The entire Back to the Future series ranked at #9 on IGN’s Top 25 Movie Franchises of All Time in 2006.

The story of Marty and his eccentric, time traveling friend have continued on with sequels Back to the Future II (1989) and Back to the Future III (1990), where the duo have to drive the DeLorean to the 2015 future and the 1885 past, a fact not lost on the movie’s fans. Twenty five years after the film’s release, the mayor of Industry, California – the location of the Puente Hills Mall, where the Twin Pines Mall scenes were filmed – named October 26 Back to the Future Day for the city to commemorate the date when Marty went back in time. The website has pictures and videos taken during the week long celebration in Industry. They are currently counting down to October 21, 2015, the date when Marty arrived thirty years on the future, kicking off a four day celebration in Los Angeles where fans will not only be able to see the DeLorean, but ride inside it.

Back to the Future (1985) Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Back to the Future (1985) Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Over time, the movie has changed a bit. Although the amount of Pepsi references have stayed the same, the “To Be Continued…” title card was added to VHS copies to announce the upcoming sequel, and the mention of Libyan terrorists is often dubbed out. Should Christopher Lloyd get his way, Marty and Doc Brown will someday travel back to ancient Rome. If the powers that be ever decide to set this course, they can be sure that Back to the Future fans young and old will fill the theaters once again.

Universal Pictures

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