Study Guide

Back to the Future Summary

Back to the Future Summary


Marty McFly. All-American boy. He has small-town dreams of being a rock star, gets in just enough trouble at school (okay, maybe a little too much), spends as much time as he can with his girlfriend, Jennifer, and spends whatever time is left with his family.

But he also pals around with the town nutso, Dr. Emmett Brown. Who knows how or why this odd couple found one another… but they did. And now Doc has roped Marty into helping him test out his greatest invention—a working time machine made out of a DeLorean. And oh yeah—it runs on plutonium. That he stole from a bunch of Libyan nationalists. Thank goodness nothing could possibly go wrong.

Except that the Libyans show up. They shoot Doc (apparently to death) and then go after Marty, who escapes in the DeLorean… to 1955. Suddenly, his town is different, the people are different… heck, in this place you can't even get a Pepsi Free. ("You want a Pepsi, pal, you're gonna pay for it.")

As it turns out, Marty's got a few problems.

Number one: 7-Elevens are not yet carrying weapons-grade plutonium, so getting back to 1985 may be an issue.

Number two: there's this bully named Biff (his father's tormentor in 1955 and supervisor in 1985) who keeps getting all up in his business.

And number three: he accidentally interfered with his mother and father's would-be romance, and now has to make sure they still get together so he doesn't become erased… from existence.

Doc and Marty come up with the inspired (and awfully lucky) idea to use the energy from a bolt of lightning that they know is coming (it's good to be from the future) to power the DeLorean back to Marty's present. In the week leading up to the event, Marty does his best to convince his father, George, to take his mother, Lorraine, to the Enchantment Under the Sea dance… but ends up taking her himself. Hopefully he has Oedipus on speed dial.

The idea is to have Marty tick Lorraine off, then have George step in and be the hero. Oh, the best laid plans…

Biff and his crew throw a wrench into things by having Marty thrown into the trunk of a car. Which means that George has to actually beat the stuffing out of a guy twice his size in order to win Lorraine's heart. Note: do not make George McFly angry. You wouldn't like him when he's angry. So yeah, George clocks Biff, and then gets lucky that Lorraine is incredibly attracted to shows of violence. They're totally back on.

Okay, time to return to 1985. After a few little snafus (well, it can't go perfectly, obviously), the lightning trick works and Marty is home at last. Plus, he was able to warn Doc about the hail of gunfire from the Libyans, and Doc prepared himself by donning a bulletproof vest. Good thing none of those bullets hit him in the face.

Things are different now... but in a good way. George is a together, successful guy instead of the sniveling brown-noser he was in the old 1985. Lorraine is no longer an alcoholic, Biff is now completely under George's thumb, and even Marty's house is way less depressing.

Unfortunately, Doc shows up at the last minute and tells Marty and Jennifer there's something wrong with their kids in the future. Fortunately, the obvious sequel is going to provide plenty of additional marketing opportunities.

  • Scene 1

    Scene 1

    • We open on a blue screen. There is a white box and some words…oh, hold up. This is the MPAA rating. Totally not part of the movie.
    • Here we go. The screen is dark. There is a ticking sound though, so… either we're in a roomful of clocks, or else we're going to have to diffuse a bomb.
    • Thank goodness—clocks. A lot of clocks. There are also radios, coffee machines and televisions coming on all by themselves.
    • Marty (our hero) arrives. He's got a skateboard, so we can assume he's pretty cool, because a skateboard is always a surefire sign of coolness. Sunglasses, denim jacket. Perfectly feathered hair. Oh, yeah. He's cool all right. He calls out for some "Doc" person, who isn't home.
    • After mortally wounding some of his friend's audio equipment, the phone rings… and it's Doc. Something about Marty meeting him at Twin Pines Mall at 1:15 am. Shady, but okay.
  • Scene 2

    Scene 2

    • Two scenes in, and apparently we're already ready for a montage. Marty's late for school, so he's riding his skateboard through the streets of town, hitching rides on the backs of moving vehicles. What a bad boy. Don't try this at home, kids.
    • Just as Marty's about to head inside his school, Jennifer (his girlfriend) warns him that he can't go in that way, or he'll get busted by Strickland for his fourth straight tardy. Let's see his feathered hair get him out of this one.
  • Scene 3

    Scene 3

    • Busted. Strickland, the school principal, gives Marty a hard time about hanging out with Dr. Emmett Brown, a.k.a. Doc. Sounds like this Dr. Brown doesn't have the best reputation around town.
    • Strickland then tells Marty he's a slacker, and compares him to his slacker father… then tops it all off by telling Marty that his band doesn't have a chance of making it through the audition for the school dance, and he shouldn't waste his time. This guy has inspiration and motivation oozing out of his pores. We can see why he became an educator.
  • Scene 4

    Scene 4

    • Well, guess Marty didn't take Strickland's words to heart. Here he is, auditioning with his band, "The Pinheads"… but unfortunately, they're "just too darn loud."
  • Scene 5

    Scene 5

    • There's no better medicine for a failed audition than a sympathetic girlfriend. Jennifer builds him up a bit, first with her words of encouragement, then with a little kissy-face.
    • They're interrupted, however, by a dude who wants them to donate a few dimes to "save the clock tower." Apparently, the thing went kaput after being struck by lightning 30 years earlier. Wait—could this be foreshadowing? Nah
  • Scene 6

    Scene 6

    • Dusk. Marty skateboards into a subdivision called "Lyon Estates."
    • Arriving at the driveway, it looks like the family car is a bit… smashed up. At least Marty's got an alibi.
  • Scene 7

    Scene 7

    • Marty steps inside the house to find his pushover father, George, being bullied by his supervisor, Biff… who is apparently the one who banged up the car. Spilled some of the beer he was drinking in the wreck, too. Classy.
    • Apparently, Biff is also having George write work reports for him, then handing them in as his own.
    • Marty's mostly concerned about the demolished vehicle though. So much for that weekend trip to the lake he'd been planning to take with Jennifer.
  • Scene 8

    Scene 8

    • Ahh… dinnertime at the McFly's. George's charming little laugh is on full display as he watches an old Honeymooner's rerun, while Marty's mother, Lorraine, reminisces about the first time they met… after her father hit him with the car.
    • There's also some reminiscing about their first date—the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance—which took place on the night of an awful thunderstorm. More foreshadowing? Couldn't be…
  • Scene 9

    Scene 9

    • 12:30 am. Time for Marty to get his butt to Twin Pines Mall. Oh, and bring a video camera, Doc tells him.
  • Scene 10

    Scene 10

    • Marty meets up with Doc, your typical mad scientist type, his dog Einstein, and… a car. A DeLorean, specifically.
    • The camera starts rolling, and Marty records Doc explaining that he's built a time machine. He proves it by sending Einstein one minute into the future.
    • Doc shows Marty how it works, and introduces him to the "flux capacitor," which is what makes time travel possible. But here's the kicker. The thing runs on plutonium. How did Doc get a hold of such a thing, you ask? Eh, he ripped it off a group of Libyan nationalists. We can't see a down side.
    • Oh: here's that down side. The Libyans show up, pepper Doc with bullets, and nearly do the same to Marty… but he luckily escapes via the DeLorean. To 1955. Out of the frying pan and into the fire.
  • Scene 11

    Scene 11

    • Marty is welcomed to the 50's by an angry older gentleman with a shotgun, who is none too pleased that the kid crashed into his barn, and seems to think his futuristic car and Hazmat suit are sure signs that Marty's from another planet.
    • The guy fires one warning shot—at Marty's head—but misses. A good thing, or this would have been a very short movie.
  • Scene 12

    Scene 12

    • Getaway in progress. Marty zips down a quiet road, as the sun starts to come up. He tries to convince himself this is all a dream, but he isn't buying it. Especially not after he sees a new development where they have just broken ground—Lyon Estates.
    • Enter Murphy's Law. The car dies, and Marty has to hide it and then trudge the rest of the way into town on foot. At least he appears to be wearing comfortable shoes.
  • Scene 13

    Scene 13

    • The town square is looking a little different than Marty remembers. You can catch a 50-cent showing of Cattle Queen of Montana at the theater, or get your car hand-washed and serviced by a bunch of guys in uniform. Oh, and that clock tower is ticking away.
  • Scene 14

    Scene 14

    • There's only one person Marty can turn to for help. So he barges into Lou's café, uses the phone in the back to try calling Doc (who doesn't ever seem to be home), then procures his friend's address, so he can at least track him down that way.
    • Before he skedaddles, however, he bumps into a couple of other familiar faces—Biff, and his father-to-be, George McFly.
    • Turns out their relationship has been consistent over the years. George is giving Biff his homework to copy, because Biff has been a bully from day one.
  • Scene 15

    Scene 15

    • Marty tails his daddy-to-be and finds him peeping through a bedroom window. Ew.
    • When George falls out of the tree he's perched in, Marty pushes him out of the way… and gets hit by a car. A car that was supposed to hit George.
    • Uh-oh.
  • Scene 16

    Scene 16

    • Marty wakes up after his nasty accident. It's dark in the room, and he hears his mother's voice…so it was all a bad dream, right?
    • Nope. It's the 18-year-old version of his mother, who suddenly has a serious case of Florence Nightingale Syndrome.
  • Scene 17

    Scene 17

    • Marty joins the Baines family downstairs for dinner, but Lorraine doesn't let the presence of her parental units dissuade her from getting fresh.
    • She grabs Marty's leg under the table, prompting him to leap up and quickly leave, probably so he can go somewhere to throw up.
  • Scene 18

    Scene 18

    • Okay, enough fooling around with the fabric of the universe. Now that Marty's back on his feet, it's time to pay a visit to Doc.
    • He knocks on the front door, which is answered by someone with a crazy look in his eyes and some bizarro contraption on his head. Hi, Doc.
  • Scene 19

    Scene 19

    • Doc drags Marty inside, attempting to perform one of his famously failed experiments on a random stranger. It fails.
    • Marty doesn't have the easiest time convincing his old buddy that he's actually from the future. Doc isn't buying any of it… until Marty describes to him the moment inspiration struck and Doc came up with the idea for the flux capacitor—something no one else could possibly know.
    • Doc's eyes get even bulgier at this point.
  • Scene 20

    Scene 20

    • The boys drive out to where Marty hid the DeLorean.
  • Scene 21

    Scene 21

    • Back at Doc's swanky pad, they hook up the video camera to the TV (incredibly, the 1985 cords are still compatible with 1955 electronic equipment). Doc watches his older self in amazement and delight but goes a bit ballistic when he gets to the part about the 1.21 "jigowatts" of electricity. If it had been us, we think our threshold for shock would have been lowered after hearing someone say, "I'm from the future."
    • Since the procurement of plutonium is not really an option in 1955, they stumble upon the ingenious and oh-so-fortunate idea of using a bolt of lightning—the one that is due to screw up the clock tower in about a week—to generate the power needed to send Marty back to 1985.
    • So he's got a week to chill…but unfortunately, it's not going to be much of a relaxing vacation. Because he bumped into his parents and threw the course of history all out of whack, Doc informs Marty that he's got to figure out a way to get mom and pop back together, or there won't be a Marty McFly to send back to the future.
  • Scene 22

    Scene 22

    • Wow—Hill Valley High School actually looked pretty decent back in the day. Marty and Doc head inside, ready to begin Operation: Matchmaker.
  • Scene 23

    Scene 23

    • Once inside the school, Marty points out his father. Yep, the guy with the "Kick me" sign on his back.
    • Hey, it's Strickland! Apparently, this guy lives to get up in the McFlys' faces.
    • As George is down on the ground, picking up his books following his latest bullying encounter Marty reintroduces himself, reminds him that he saved his freakin' life, and plants the seed that there's someone he wants him to meet…
    • George, meet Lorraine. Except Lorraine is way more interested in her new crush than she is in the dweeby guy with glasses and a haircut only a mother could love.
    • So: new plan. The Enchantment Under the Sea dance is coming up, and the idea is to get George and Lorraine to go together, come hell or high water.
  • Scene 24

    Scene 24

    • George McFly is the kind of guy who eats lunch all by himelf. Marty tracks him down in the cafeteria, and discovers that he used to write science fiction stories. They may or not be any good, but Marty is impressed that his dad even has a creative bone in his body.
    • Marty's urging George to ask Lorraine to the dance is thwarted by everyone's favorite plot complication, Biff. He doesn't listen when Lorraine tells him to get his meat hooks off of her, so Marty has to step in.
  • Scene 25

    Scene 25

    • George McFly is a slippery little sucker. He skedaddles again, and Marty has to chase him all the way to his house.
    • His repeated plea that George ask Lorraine to the dance once again goes unheeded. It might be time for desperate measures.
  • Scene 26

    Scene 26

    • Good thing nobody ever locked their doors in the 50's, or this would never work.
    • Marty dons his Hazmat suit and lets himself into George's house later that night, then proceeds to fool him into thinking he's an alien, and will melt George's brain if he doesn't ask Lorraine to the dance.
  • Scene 27

    Scene 27

    • This time it's George tracking Marty down. He relays his terrifying encounter, and Marty tells him that Lorraine is in the café, and gives him a bit of coaching. It's go time.
  • Scene 28

    Scene 28

    • George enters the café and approaches Lorraine's table, notepad with cheesy pick-up lines in hand. She seems to think it's sweet, but it's also incredibly awkward.
    • Fortunately, George gets rescued from this uncomfortable situation. Well, maybe "rescued" isn't the right word. Biff and his cronies bring the party to a screeching halt.
    • But before Biff has a chance to reach George and torment him further, in front of his would-be wife no less, Marty trips him, and Biff topples.
  • Scene 29

    Scene 29

    • Running from Biff's goons, Marty races outside. He quickly invents the skateboard (hey, somebody had to), and then tries to make his getaway.
    • He is chased and nearly killed, but winds up getting Biff to drive his car into a truck full of manure.
  • Scene 30

    Scene 30

    • Back at Doc's place, Marty tries to warn him about the Libyans, but Doc is having none of it.
    • There's also this super-intricate and detailed model of Hill Valley that would normally take a dozen model artists about three weeks to make, but somehow Doc has put this thing together himself in less than one. Maybe he has a second time machine somewhere he's not telling us about?
    • Anyway, he demonstrates how the lightning thing is going work.
    • In what is a bit of a stalkerish move, Lorraine has followed Marty to Doc's place, and she…asks him to the dance.
    • Marty's caught off guard, so he says yes. Paging Dr. Freud.
  • Scene 31

    Scene 31

    • It's laundry day for the McFlys. Marty helps George hang wet clothes in the back yard while he explains the new plan of attack.
    • Basically, on the night of the dance, Marty's not going to be the knight in shining armor Lorraine thinks he is, and George is going to come to the rescue. Nothing like kicking off a life-long romance with a lie.
  • Scene 32

    Scene 32

    • Doc is ready to start setting up for the big lightning trick (the real one) and Marty's on his way to the dance.
    • There's an (almost) tearful good-bye, and Marty tries one last time to tell Doc about the future. He really wants him to know about those Libyans.
  • Scene 33

    Scene 33

    • Okay, well if Doc won't listen to him, he's going have to write about it instead. Marty hops into the café and pens a quick note of warning.
  • Scene 34

    Scene 34

    • He then heads back outside and slips it into Doc's jacket pocket when he isn't looking.
  • Scene 35

    Scene 35

    • It's the night of the big dance. Marvin Berry and the Starlighters are setting the mood. And George is dancing all by himself. Oh, that's so sad.
  • Scene 36

    Scene 36

    • Marty and Lorraine pull up to the school, and Marty suggests they don't go inside just yet.
  • Scene 37

    Scene 37

    • George has just realized it's two minutes to nine, and he was supposed to be at the car already. Oh, George. You had one thing to do.
  • Scene 38

    Scene 38

    • We're back to the car, and Lorraine plants one on Marty. Needless to say Marty is not into it.
    • Once again, here's Biff to rescue someone from an uncomfortable situation. What a sweet, thoughtful guy.
    • He grabs Marty out of the car and vows to make him regret the $300 worth of damage to his car from the manure incident. Then, after passing him off to his goons, he hops into the driver's seat and starts to take advantage of a scantily dressed Lorraine.
    • Things are spiraling out of control in a hurry.
  • Scene 39

    Scene 39

    • Marty is thrown into the trunk of a car that happens to belong to the Starlighters. The band chases off the goons but Marty is now locked inside the trunk with the keys. That's why you always carry a spare set of keys.
  • Scene 40

    Scene 40

    • Oh, George. What timing. He arrives at the car and orders the guy inside to "get his damn hands off her" before suddenly realizing that Marty looks an awful lot like Biff on this fine evening.
    • But this time, he ain't backing down. He throws a punch, but Biff easily intercepts George's fist, and twists it behind his back.
  • Scene 41

    Scene 41

    • The Starlighters are finally able to get Marty out of the trunk, but Marvin Berry—the lead singer—slices his hand while jimmying the lock. That's why you always carry a spare set of keys.
  • Scene 42

    Scene 42

    • Back at the other car, George winds up and clocks Biff, right in his big, fat face. He's down for the count, and Lorraine seems fittingly impressed.
  • Scene 43

    Scene 43

    • We move to Doc looking up at the sky and mumbling something about the storm. Not much to see here.
  • Scene 44

    Scene 44

    • Marty begs the Starlighters to get back inside and keep playing, because, "if there's no music, they can't dance; if they can't dance, they can't kiss; if they can't kiss, they can't fall in love and I'm history."
    • Marvin's hand is messed up too badly, but if Marty knows someone else who can play the guitar…
  • Scene 45

    Scene 45

    • And suddenly, it's Marvin Berry, Marty McFly and the Starlighters. Marty has a little difficulty because his hand starts to disappear (because his body fades when it seems as though George and Lorraine won't get together) but George gives Lorraine the kiss of true love just in the nick of time.
    • So now Marty has a one-time only chance to get back to 1985 but he has a hard time turning down requests. He ends up staying to perform a rousing rendition of Johnny B. Goode… which gets the attention of Marvin's cousin Chuck.
  • Scene 46

    Scene 46

    • Marty bumps into Lorraine and George in the stairwell, and says his good-byes. He also throws in a tiny bit of parenting advice.
  • Scene 47

    Scene 47

    • The music's picking up, so it must be just about lightning time. Doc gives Marty the rundown (they couldn't have gone over this stuff earlier?) and then they hug and say their good-byes.
    • What a time to check your jacket pocket. Doc discovers the note Marty left there, and rips it up in front of him.
    • Oops. A perfectly-timed-for-maximum-dramatic-effect tree branch breaks and falls, landing directly on one of Doc's wires and unplugs something or other at the top of the clock tower.
    • Doc runs up to the top of the tower, throws a rope down to Marty, and is able to pull up the wires, but they're losing valuable minutes.
    • After sliding across the hood of the DeLorean, Marty jumps inside and hightails it out of there.
  • Scene 48

    Scene 48

    • Marty, upon arriving at the "starting line," realizes he can go back a few minutes early and save Doc from the Libyans, so he fiddles with the control panel thingie.
  • Scene 49

    Scene 49

    • Meanwhile, Doc nearly kills himself trying to hook the wires back up, which would be bad for everyone. (Because if he's dead, he can't invent the time machine, and none of this would happen.)
  • Scene 50

    Scene 50

    • Marty's off! Several quick cuts back and forth to build the suspense, and… Doc is able to get the circuit completed just as the DeLorean hits 88 miles per hour and the lightning strikes.
  • Scene 51

    Scene 51

    • The DeLorean, now back in 1985, can't stop in time to avoid driving into a church.
    • With enough time to get to the mall parking lot and save Doc, this would be an awful time to start experiencing car trouble. But wouldn't you know it…
  • Scene 52

    Scene 52

    • So Marty has to run all the way to Twin Pines Mall, and by the time he gets there, Doc is getting shot up. Again.
    • However, it turns out that Doc was just kidding about being worried about all that space-time continuum stuff.
    • He had actually pieced Marty's letter back together, knew all about the Libyans, and had been wearing a bulletproof vest.
  • Scene 53

    Scene 53

    • Doc drops Marty off in front of his house, explaining that he's going to be going 30 years into the future.
  • Scene 54

    Scene 54

    • Marty wakes up the next morning and at first thinks he's just had a nightmare. Until he notices that his house looks completely different, and that every member of his family is now a together, successful human being.
    • Oh, and the family car is just fine. In fact, Biff is out there waxing it right now.
    • A package arrives, and it's the first copies of George's new science fiction book. Looks like someone talked him into pursuing his dreams many years ago.
  • Scene 55

    Scene 55

    • Jennifer shows up at the house. They're apparently still an item, so at least he didn't mess that up.
    • We're just about to have our "ride happily off into the sunset" moment… when Doc crashes the DeLorean into a couple of garbage cans at the end of the driveway. He tells the couple that there's something wrong with their kids in the future, and they have to come with him.
    • So they hop into the car.