Study Guide

Back to the Future Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox)

Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox)

"Isn't he a dreamboat?"

All right, so that's probably not the thing most teenage boys hope to hear their mother say about them, but a compliment's a compliment, right?

And Marty is kind of a dreamboat. No, he doesn't have bulging biceps. And he's not a tatted-up bad boy. He doesn't even have a motorcycle.

But he's cool. He's a handsome guy, he's charismatic, he can ride a skateboard like nobody's business, and he's really good at making bullies look in the other direction long enough for him to sucker-punch them.

Marty's cool factor is a big deal, because the movie wants us to feel like we're in his sneakers. He's just normal and relatable enough for us to connect to the character (everyone's afraid of rejection), but at the same time he represents a smoother, hipper version of the kind of person we'd like to be.

He's got a gorgeous girlfriend who loves the stuffing out of him. He's the lead guitarist in a pretty decent-sounding band (even if they are a bit too loud), he shows up at school on his own schedule, and he's not afraid to backtalk "the Man" (i.e. Strickland). These are all admirable attributes: whether you're a dude or a girl. He's the ideal teenager.

So, because he seems like a more courageous version of ourselves—unless you were also catching rides by skateboarding while hanging onto moving vehicles, in which case: wow—we totally find ourselves rooting for him. We're not ashamed to admit that we literally pumped our fist in the air when he gets Biff to drive into that manure truck.

A Stand-Up Guy

We might not normally think of someone who challenges authority, hangs out with questionable characters (the Doc is so odd) and lacks even a modicum of a sense of responsibility as a model human being…but he just is.

It's part of Marty's charm. On the surface he's a kid with issues, but you can always tell that his heart's in the right place. He acts ashamed of his father, but it's only because he wants better for him, and knows he's capable of achieving more. Doc may not have the best reputation around town, but Marty doesn't let public perception dictate his friendships. When he sees someone he loves being picked on, he steps up to the plate.

And all that stuff makes it so much easier to root for him. Even when he gets thrown into a trunk and has to leave the actual Biff-punching to dear old dad.

Nobody's Perfect

If Marty were the perfect hero, however, we might not be able to get behind him so easily. If he were a brown-noser, a straight-A student, a chiseled Adonis or a tortured musical genius, he wouldn't be relatable.

We're drawn to people who exhibit the same failings that we do, because it makes us feel a little better about not being perfect ourselves. Let's take a look at some of Marty's flaws/issues:

He struggles in school. Yes. Yes. A million times yes. Our eyes routinely glazed over in Algebra II/ Trig.

He's afraid of setting himself up for rejection. Basically the worst feeling, besides the way your hands feel after a glue-glitter-yarn project.

Not everyone approves of his girlfriend, or his friends. Feeling attacked or judged because of whom you choose to spend your time with? Not so uncommon.

He's irresponsible. If you've never been late, or slacked off on work/duties/chores, or let anyone down…please disregard. Also, check yourself for a pulse.

What do all these have in common? They're common. They're not out of the ordinary at all. Everyone can relate—we recognize these qualities in ourselves, so we're definitely not going to judge Marty for them… and, in fact, they cause us to like him even more.

We can appreciate the small, normal things about Marty… just like Marty can appreciate the small, normal things in life:

MARTY: Check out that four by four. That is hot. Someday, Jennifer, someday. Wouldn't it be great to take that truck up to the lake? Throw a couple of sleeping bags in the back. Lie out under the stars.

Dang—that sounds like the lyrics to an exceptionally upbeat country song. Marty's idea of a perfect weekend is a truck, a lake, a girl, and camping. That's so wholesomely all-American.

The Kid's Got Timing

Another thing that draws us to Marty is his impeccable sense of timing. It adds to the film's hilarity as well as to the excitement factor. Whenever there's a time bomb ticking away in a movie, you never see the thing get diffused with three and a half hours left, right? Nope. Because that would be anti-climactic.

A quick refresher of some of Marty's more well timed moments:

  • He hits 88 mph just before driving into that kiosk in the parking lot… the kiosk that the Libyans then crash into. 
  • He pushes George out of the way of Mr. Baines' car…just in the nick of time.
  • Ever try to trip somebody? It's easier said than done. But Marty trips Biff to perfection. 
  • That sucker-punch is pretty well timed, too. 
  • Need a skateboard? No problem. We're sure some kid riding an apple crate thingie will be riding by at exactly the moment you need one.
  • After getting out of the trunk, Marty makes his way back to the car just as George is laying out Biff. 
  • George kisses Lorraine and sets the future back on track only seconds before Marty loses his hand… and presumably the rest of his body. 
  • And then, of course, there's that whole driving-underneath-the-wire-at-the-precise-moment-that-lightning-strikes-the-clock-tower bit. We'd like to see him do that again.

Sometimes it makes us laugh and sometimes it makes us hang onto the edge of our seat, but whatever the case: there's no denying the kid's got timing.

P.S. Having trouble picturing anyone other than MJF as Marty McFly? Get this: Eric Stolz was originally cast as Marty, but was let go a few weeks into filming. To be fair, Michael J. Fox was always the first choice, but he had to great around his commitments to his TV show, Family Ties, in order to make it happen. Good thing he did. (Sorry, Eric.)