Study Guide

Back to the Future

Back to the Future Introduction


Release Year: 1985

Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Sci-Fi

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Writer: Bob Gale

Stars: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson


Sometimes one of your friends looks through your parents' old photo albums and says, (grossly enough) "Hey, your mom/dad/uncle/great-great aunt Marjorie was a hottie." Or maybe you've checked out your parents' or grandparents' high school yearbooks and fallen kind of in love with one of their classmates—a girl with Farrah Fawcett hair or a dashing boy with a crew cut.

But what if you could actually go back in time and see all sorts of awesome old people while they were still in their prime? Provided, of course, that you remembered to bring enough plutonium for the return journey.

Back to the Future, a sci-fi adventure comedy from Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment, works off that very concept. A teenage boy, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), finds himself suddenly thirty years in the past. With the help of Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd), a crazy, wild-haired scientist, he has to figure out a way to get (drum roll) back to the future…while also not disrupting the space-time continuum. No big deal.

When this movie hit theaters in 1985, it struck a major chord with just about everyone between the ages of twelve and eighteen. Not because everyone could relate to the time traveling, obviously…but because every kid wonders about those strange, alien beings: old people.

Who are they? What's wrong with them? Were they always such killjoys?

And so, because writer Bob Gale and director Robert Zemeckis (who also did Forrest Gump and The Polar Express) were able to tap into what America's frizzy-haired 1980's teens wanted to see, they had an insanely huge hit on their hands. Back to the Future was so immediately and universally loved, in fact, that it ended up being the highest grossing movie of the year.

What is Back to the Future About and Why Should I Care?

Oh, the things you'd do if you could go back in time. Tell those people not to get on the Titanic. Convince Lincoln that the opera was super-boring. Show up in California with a gold pan circa a few years before everyone else did. Write Harry Potter.

Or…hang out with your parents' younger selves and possibly undo your own birth.

Different strokes for different folks.

Time travel movies have never been in short supply. Mankind has gotten a pretty good grasp on the whole "space" thing, but time still eludes us. And—like just about anything that eludes us—it also fascinates us.

But Back to the Future is a very different sort of time travel movie. Usually, you've got your intense action-y films, like Terminator or Looper. Or your bizarro, deep thinking films like Primer or Twelve Monkeys. Or your ridiculous, off-the-wall comedies like Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure or Hot Tub Time Machine.

BTTF is a whole different animal. It's a comedy, yes, but while the concept is a little out there and certain characters aren't exactly big on subtlety (lookin' at you, Christopher Lloyd), the movie isn't totally over-the-top. For the most part, these seem like real people, making real choices and acting… well, sort of like we might act.

What makes BTTF so special is that it chose not to whisk our protagonist away to the Paleolithic Era, or 15th century England, but to a time and place that is totally relatable to all of us. Our own hometown, populated with a bunch of familiar—albeit less wrinkly—faces.

Kids loved this movie because, well, Marty is so dang cool, and it was fun to imagine themselves growing up to fill his shoes. And oldsters loved this movie because it brought back a lot of fond memories…plus, it might even have helped convince their children that parents are actually people. Or were at one point, anyway.

Before this movie came along, sci-fi comedies weren't even really a thing. Ghostbusters edged it out by about a year, but BTTF made serious strides in paving the way for films like Spaceballs, Groundhog Day, Galaxy Quest, Guardians of the Galaxy: pretty much any sci-fi movie that was infused with humor rather than being somber or super-violent.

Oh yeah, and it was basically the only occasion of the DeLorean actually being awesome.

Trivia

Michael J. Fox was the original choice for the role of Marty McFly…but he wasn't the first actor to play him, thanks to some scheduling conflicts. (Source)

Thomas F. Wilson, who played Biff, did some improvising on set, including coming up with the famous line "make like a tree and get outta here." (Source

Why a DeLorean? The idea was to make the car appear as if it might be mistaken for an alien spacecraft back in the 50's, so the overall look—and especially those gull wing doors—created the perfect effect. (Source)

Think Marty had a hard time getting anyone to like his music? How about the BTTF script getting rejected over 40 times before it was finally picked up? (Source)

The time machine was originally not going to be a car at all, but an old refrigerator. Unfortunately, they had some trouble getting it up to 88 mph. (Source)

Back to the Future Resources

Websites

IMDB: Nuff said.
Your one-stop shop for all things Back to the Future-related.

BTTF.net
In the market for collectible lunchboxes, t-shirts, or novelty glasses? You've come to the right place.

The Back to the Future Tour
There were some pretty awesome shooting locations used in the movie. Care to tour them, virtually or otherwise?

Back to the Future Countdown to October 21, 2015
This site has been counting down to the day in time that Marty, Jennifer and Doc visit in the sequel, Back to the Future Part 2. That date's in the past now, but still pretty cool.

TV or Book Adaptations

Back to the Future: The Animated TV Show
Say it ain't so. Oh, yeah, they went there. An animated version of the film that lasted for two years, and that was probably generous.

Back to the Future: The Novelization
Prefer to watch the movie in… word form? Here's an online novelization of the entire film. Here you will learn that some people have too much time on their hands.

Back to the Future: The Book
Or you can read it in paperback. Fewer pictures, more depth. If that's what you're into.

Articles and Interviews

Going Back to the Future, 25 Years Later
Interview with Bob Gale. Yeah, he's still alive.

15 Things You (Probably) Didn't Know About Back to the Future
Like there's anything you don't know about the movie by now.

Video

You're George McFly
Father meets son for the first time. Technically.

Back to the Future Cast Reunites on TODAY
Want to see what these folks looked like in 2010? Warning: Christopher Lloyd's been losing his hair.

Johnny B. Goode
Don't nobody go nowhere.

Back to the Future Movie Mistakes
Hey, if hearing about the mistakes they made will make you feel better about yourself… knock yourself out.

Images

Like Father, Like Son
Check out that family resemblance.

Back to the Timeline
All the dates, in one handy chart.