Back to the Future is one of the most beloved movie trilogies of all-time. The American science fiction–comedy film series that follows the adventures of a high school student, Marty McFly and an eccentric scientist, Dr Emmett L. Brown. Together they use a DeLorean time machine to time travel to different periods in the history of Hill Valley, California.
All three films were hit blockbusters, raking in over $957 million combined and gaining critical acclaim and audience appreciation almost universally, even nearly 40 years later. Inventive, funny, and breathlessly constructed, it is a rousing time-travel adventure with an unforgettable spirit. But it wasn’t all plain sailing. The behind the scenes shenanigans was just as much a crazy ride as the on-screen adventure. Below we’ve compiled 13 fun facts from the production of this beloved film series for you to enjoy.
1. Eric Stoltz was originally cast as Marty McFly in Back to the Future
In 1985, Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale wanted to cast Michael J. Fox for the part of Marty. However, due to Fox’s commitment to the popular TV show Family Ties at the time, the show’s producers refused to let him do the film, noting how crucial he was to the show.
Instead, Eric Stoltz was hired to play the role, which he played in a manner that was much more dramatic than the Marty we know and love today. Stoltz was a method actor – he liked to stay in character, even off-screen. Suffice to say, some of his fellow cast members were irritated by this.
His insistence on performing scenes in a way that contradicted the wishes of the director and producer also grated, Zemeckis and Gale shot three weeks of material before deciding that it just wasn’t working. Despite additional costs of $3 million to reshoot the scenes, they begged the producers of Family Ties to allow them to use Michael J. Fox, their original choice. A special deal was reached, they were able to use Fox only at night and during selected timeslots, meaning Fox had to shoot the TV show and the film in back to back blocks, a time he refers to as fun but exhausting.
Stoltz still appears in the film – slightly
Although Eric Stoltz’s scenes were all re-shot with Michael J. Fox, in two instances, Stoltz remained. During one scene in the 1950’s diner, there is a close-up of Biff’s face as Marty launches a punch at him. The fist belongs to Stoltz. In the scenes in which the Libyans are chasing Marty, the DeLorean was also driven by Stoltz.
In hindsight, it feels like no one else could have played our favourite time traveller, but things could have been very different.
2. Twenty “clock wranglers” were needed for the first scene
The opening scene in Back to the Future is very memorable, as Marty enters Doc’s empty workshop with all the alarms and mechanisms going off, before famously plugging his guitar into the amp, dialled all the way to 11, and exploding a guitar riff across the room.
However, the clocks used in the opening shot we’re very temperamental, and none of them kept great time – some stopping, some falling behind. In the end, the crew gathered 20 guys to sit just offset with switches and pulleys, ready to set the clocks off simultaneously as each take began.
Also, all of Doc’s clocks read 7:53 (25 minutes slow) except for one. The clock sitting on the floor next to the case of plutonium reads 8:20.
3. Chuck Berry kept the Back to the Future crew waiting
After Marty travels back to 1955, the script called for McFly to join the band on stage at the school dance and play some yet to be invented riffs on his guitar, accidentally inventing rock ‘n’ roll. The producers badly wanted this song to be Johnny B Goode by Chuck Berry, one of the original founders of rock’n’roll. However, Berry kept them waiting until the day of filming to get the go-ahead to use the track – for the princely sum of $50,000.
This was worth every penny though, as it is one of the film’s most iconic scenes, and replacing the soundtrack with a generic filler track would have felt unworthy.
4. Crispin Glover left Back to the Future after the first film.. but why?
There is many a story that has circulated over the years as to why Crispin Glover left after the first film. It’s a story layered in controversy. After a stellar performance in the first film as George McFly, Glover never returned for Parts 2 and 3. At the time, rumours of difficulties onset and not working well with other cast members surfaced, before another rumour swirled that he simply asked for far too much money for a supporting role in the sequel.
By the time filming started on Part 2, his role was significantly reduced, and shots that included him were played by stand-ins and archival footage from the first movie. A stand-in was using a face mould of Glover’s that was cast from the original film, plastered with makeup to look much older. This maddened Glover and prompted the launch of a big lawsuit between Zemeckis, the production company and Glover. The dispute was over a saliant point that actors likenesses shouldn’t be allowed to be used without express permission from the actor. It ended in a great victory in court for Crispin Glover, and a moral one too, for actors all over.
Glover has had his own say years later….
In an interview with The Opie and Anthony show, Glover offered a few more details. He says the dispute was indeed over money – but there were two parts to this. He had an argument about the original film’s ending – the financial reward that the characters received on returning to the future means the moral of the movie is that money equals happiness. According to Glover, love should have been the real reward. Zemeckis apparently was very mad with Glover over this, and the feud started. Then, once it came to the sequel, he did ask for money. But he claims, not as much as Michael J. Fox, as many rumours would have it, but equal to Lea Thompson and Tom Wilson, the other supporting cast. He was refused, which he saw as unfair, and rightfully so, and the rest, as they say, is history.
What is real and what is fiction is hard to know in feuds like this. But all we know is, Crispin’s performance in the first film is magnificent, and it is a real shame we never got to see more of it in the sequels.
5. “Biff” gets asked a lot of questions about Back to the Future
Though he has played quite a few small roles over the years, having enjoyed a fairly solid career. Tom Wilson’s most important and well-remembered role was as the dastardly “Biff” in the Back to the Future films. Fans loved his role as the villainous bully that went through many different variations of age and personality due to the time-travelling nature of the movies.
Being such a nice and loveable guy, who often performs stand-up and makes regular appearances at conventions, he has lots of interactions with fans, even all these years later. He revealed a few years back that as the questions he gets asked a lot are so similar, he has compiled a 400-word postcard that contains the answers to many of these popular questions.
Some of these facts include: ‘Michael J. Fox is nice. I’m not in close contact with him. Christopher Lloyd is nice. He is a very shy man. Crispin Glover is unusual, but not as unusual as he sometimes presents himself. We got along nicely. Lea Thompson is nice…’ alongside many more.
A few years back, he turned this into a song in his stand-up set, which you can check out below.
6. The film was almost called “Spaceman From Pluto.”
The film had a rough beginning, with the script being rejected over 40 times by various studios, some multiple times. Eventually, it was picked up by Universal.
Many things were to be changed in the script. But one of the producers of the film was Sid Sheinberg, a notoriously risk-averse film executive. He was a bit spooked early on by poor box-office performances for other time-travel based films such as ‘Somewhere in Time‘, ‘Time Bandits‘ and ‘The Final Countdown‘. Because of this, he wanted to rename the film to ‘Spaceman from Pluto‘. This was in reference to the part of the film where Marty is mistaken for an alien in a barn.
All this was to avoid references to time or time-travel in the title, to try to avoid any box office problems, ignoring the fact the film is about TIME TRAVEL! Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed with Zemeckis and Bob Gale insisting the film was named what it is today – could you imagine the film’s fate if Sheinberg had his wish?
7. Einstein the Dog was once Shemp the Chimp
Every mad scientist needs an animal companion, not only as a loyal friend, but sometimes to help with the experiments too. Famously in the film, Doc has a pet dog called Einstein, that is whisked away in the time-travelling car first with a clock to prove to Marty that time travel works.
However, in the original script, Zemeckis and Bob Gale had written the part as Shemp, a primate companion for everyone’s favourite Professor. The original inspiration was the success of Clyde, Clint Eastwood‘s orangutan in ‘Every Which Way But Loose‘. But Sheinberg insisted to the writers that “he’d looked it up, and movies with chimps never made money.” Thankfully he got his wish. Einstein is much better as the adorable time-travelling dog and the monkey idea, which seems silly now, was dropped.
8. Doc was all hunched over in Back to the Future
Throughout the film Doc walks around with a distinctive hunch – a believable character trait that adds a believable trait to the performance. Christopher Lloyd was only 46 when playing the role, of a man clearly over 20 years older than his own age, so he did a remarkable job of nailing these small characteristics to help us invest in every moment.
However, many thought the hunch was just another nuance in Lloyd’s performance, the truth is the filmmakers realised early on there was an extreme height difference between Lloyd, at 6′ 1″ and Michael J. Fox at 5′ 4″. To compensate for this, deliberate blocking was used, shots we’re shot at specific depths with different lenses and many other tricks. But sometimes, especially in close-ups, Lloyd just hunched like an older man, to make up for the size disparity. Genius move.
9. Test Audiences were crucial to the final film.
Most films get shown to preview audiences before there release, to gauge audience reactions and decide any last changes to the edit of a film before general release.
These test screenings have a murky and unreliable track record – for some films they turn out to be a disaster and often leads to interference from executives and producers, warping the filmmakers original intentions.
However, for Back to the Future, the test screenings re-affirmed the filmmakers that they were on to a winner. They didn’t tell the audiences at first that it was a comedy, or light-hearted. During the scene where the dog is put into the time machine, the audience got very tense, fearing a gruesome end for the dog. However, on his return, the tension was lifted. The audience soon began to settle into the fun of the movie.
During this early screening, Industrial Light and Magic had yet to complete the final DeLorean in-flight shot, and the last few minutes we’re in black and white. Despite this, the audience cheered and roared anyway. This was the seal of approval that many fans would replicate in the years to come.
10. The Michael Fox coincidence in Back to the Future
Due to stipulations with The Screen Actors Guild, two people can’t have the same name on their books. This is sometimes done to avoid family connections – like Nicolas Cage, or Nicolas Coppolla, wanting to avoid comparisons with his uncle, Francis Ford Coppola. Other times it is done just to have a stage name.
Or sometimes, there is just, unfortunately, someone with the same name. Michael J. Fox had this issue, so he inserted the letter J into his name to differentiate himself from an actor called Michael Fox. In Back to the Future, released in 1985, Marty goes back to the year 1955. Whilst he is there, he meets his dad, who it turns out is a huge fan of the show Science Fiction Theatre, something Marty uses to his advantage. In real life, the original Michael Fox starred in the Science Fiction Theatre in the year 1955. What a coincidence!
11. Back to the Future required Presidential Approval
Before the release, the film had to go through a vetting process with the White House. The film famously contains references to Ronald Reagan, then U.S President, with Doc Brown famously mocking the improbability of him being President in 1985 (from back in 1955).
This joke is based on the fact that Reagan was an actor and celebrity at this point in his career. At the time it was very improbable to expect such a career change. Not so unlikely these days however.
Before they released, they needed approval from the government and the President for these to be allowed into the movie. Thankfully, Reagan saw the funny side and apparently got a real kick out of the reference.
12. Plot hole? Not according to the writers.
For many years, fans and critics have tried to analyse and break down the film to the Nth degree. There are many theories and ideas crafted over the years that try to tie together some of the dangling threads.
One thing that always arises though, is why Marty’s parents didn’t remember him as that kid from High school who got them together. For over 30 years fans have debated why it was never explained, why they didn’t realise. It didn’t make sense, right?
Well, Bob Gale, co-writer and producer, thinks it makes perfect sense, as he laid it all out in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
And well, we’ll let him explain in his own words.
“Bear in mind that George and Lorraine only knew Marty/Calvin for eight days when they were 17, and they did not even see him every one of those eight days. So, many years later, they still might remember that interesting kid who got them together on their first date.
But I would ask anyone to think back on their own high school days and ask themselves how well they remember a kid who might have been at their school for even a semester. Or someone you went out with just one time. If you had no photo reference, after 25 years, you’d probably have just a hazy recollection.
So Lorraine and George might think it funny that they once actually met someone named Calvin Klein, and even if they thought their son at age 16 or 17 had some resemblance to him, it wouldn’t be a big deal.
I’d bet most of us could look through our high school yearbooks and find photos of our teenaged classmates that bear some resemblance to our children.”Bob Gale, April 2020, The Hollywood Reporter
13. No sequels or reboots… at least for now
Reboots, sequels, spin-offs. They’ve always been popular in Hollywood, and even more so in the last decade. They are a sure fire way to make a quick buck. Some work, some are good, many are bad and uncalled for.
There are lots of films some say should never be re-visited or updated, and one of those is the Back to the Future franchise. I tend to agree. They embody a moment in time, a feeling in the zeitgeist, a cultural highlight of the 80s, as well as a starring moment for a cast that probably couldn’t return, and their replacements could never live up to.
Luckily, if you agree, the rights to the film and its sequels are owned by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, the original writers and Director/Producer. In a 2015 interview, Zemeckis maintained that no reboot or remake of the film would be authorized during his or Gale’s lifetime. Which is still some way to go, we reckon.
Although many people involved in the films over the years have hinted at possible sequels or reboots. I think, ultimately, they should, and probably will, be left as they are. Celebrated for future generations to enjoy. And that feels right.
And there we are, 13 great fun facts and stories about the famous Back to the Future trilogy. We hope you enjoyed our list and learned something new. If you fancy checking out some more articles, you can check them out here. Or come and say hello on Facebook and Twitter.
For now, we’ll leave you with this Back in Time tribute video. Enjoy.
So that’s 13 Things You Might Not Know About the Back To The Future Films!
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