Last month the Internet was forced to ponder the mysterious circumstances of the relationship between the nearly elderly Doc Brown and the teenage Marty McFly. (Writer Bob Gale says they’re just two of a pair, but we think Doc is actually Marty’s father, by way of Mary Steenbergen, from another dimension.) Now that that’s cleared up, let’s talk about the other things you didn’t know about this canonical film series. Put these in your Mr. Fusion and smoke it to the future.
See also the coverage of a real-life hoverboard.
- The time machine wasn’t always a Delorean. In the first draft of the screenplay the time machine was a laser device housed in a room, and subsequently attached to a refrigerator. Director Robert Zemeckis chose to scrap the idea because he feared that children might start climbing into refrigerators and getting trapped inside. The Delorean entered the script in its third draft, chosen because its gull-wing doors would give it the look of an alien spacecraft, which it would be assumed to be in the year 1955. This draft of the script indicated the DeLorean could only time travel by driving into an atomic bomb test. The bomb test was eventually cut in order to reduce the budget.
- The head of Universal Pictures, Sid Sheinberg, insisted that nobody would see a movie with “future” in the title. In a memo to Robert Zemeckis, he said that the title should be changed to “Spaceman From Pluto”, tying in with the Marty-as-alien jokes in the film, and also suggested further changes like replacing the “I’m Darth Vader from planet Vulcan” line with “I am a spaceman from Pluto!” Steven Spielberg wrote back, thanking him for his wonderful “joke memo.” Sheinberg did succeed in changing Doc’s animal sidekick from a chimpanzee to a dog.
- Eric Stoltz was almost Marty McFly. Though Michael J. Fox had always been the first choice for Marty, he was unavailable due to scheduling conflicts with his work on the TV show “Family Ties.” Zemeckis cast Stoltz as Marty instead, based on his performance in the 1985 film, Mask. But after four weeks of filming, Zemeckis and the producers felt that Stoltz wasn’t right for the part and Stoltz agreed (Lea Thompson, chosen for her work with Stoltz on The Wild Life, stayed on). Fox was finally given leave from the show, but worked out a schedule to fulfill his commitment to both projects. During production, he averaged about five hours of sleep, with the bulk of the filming happening from 6pm to 6am, with the daylight scenes filmed on weekends.
- The “Mr. Fusion Home Energy Converter,” which is sitting on the Delorean when Doc returns from the future, is made from (among other things) a Krups coffee grinder and the hubcap from a Dodge Polaris.
- John Lithgow, Dudley Moore and Jeff Goldblum were all considered for the role of Doc Brown.
- Disney, offered early dibs on the film, rejected it because of its incestuous overtones. They thought that the story of a mother falling in love with her son – even if by virtue of time travel – was too controversial. Other studios reportedly worried that the film was not risqué enough, compared to contemporaneous teen comedies like Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), or Revenge of the Nerds (1984).
- Doc’s name, Emmett, comes from the word “time,” spelled backwards and pronounced as syllables (em-it). His middle name is “Lathrop,” which is “portal” backwards, with an extra “h” inserted in the middle.
- Ronald Reagan really liked it. He was reportedly so amused by Doc Brown’s disbelief (in the 1950s) that Reagan could become president that he had the projectionist stop and replay the scene. Reagan also referenced the film in his 1986 State of the Union address: “As they said in the film Back to the Future, ‘Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.’”
- Christopher Lloyd based his performance as Doc Brown on a combination of Albert Einstein and conductor Leopold Stokowski. His pronunciation of gigawatts as “jigowatts” was based on the now antiquated way a physicist-consultant to the film said the word.
- It took a mere 9 and a half weeks from the day the film was wrapped to its release, an unprecedentedly short lead time for a major movie release.
- In the original script, Doc Brown and Marty fund their time machine by selling bootleg videos.
The original theatrical trailer
- Michael J. Fox is only ten days younger than Lea Thompson, who plays his mother, and is almost three years older than his on-screen dad, Crispin Glover.
- The script never called for Marty to repeatedly bang his head on the gull-wing door of the DeLorean; this was improvised during filming as the door mechanism became faulty.
- When Doc Brown first sends his dog Einstein “one minute” into the future, the time elapsed between when the DeLorean disappears and reappears is actually 1 minute 21 seconds, just as the reappearance occurred at 1:21am, and the flux capacitor required 1.21 jigowatts of electricity.
- Christopher Lloyd always wanted to do one more movie, in which Marty and Doc Brown time-travel back to Ancient Rome.
- When Marty pretends to be Darth Vader “from the planet Vulcan,” he plays a tape labeled “Van Halen” to scare George out of his sleep. It was actually an untitled Eddie Van Halen song written for that 1984 movie The Wild Life, which featured Lea Thompson.
- “To be continued,” the end card, was inserted just before the credits on the VHS release of the film, but was omitted from the 2002 DVD release. The cliff-hanger ending was originally intended as a joke, not as a set-up to a sequel. If they had intended a sequel at the time, according to script writer Bob Gale, Jennifer wouldn’t have entered the car at the end, a problem that the 2nd film addresses by having her rendered unconscious.
- When the Doc Brown of 1955 sees the videotape of himself explaining the time machine, he begins speaking to a picture frame of Thomas A. Edison; the other portraits on the mantle depict Sir Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, and Albert Einstein.
- While Marty and Jennifer credit Doc for the line, “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything,” Doc never says the line once in any of the Back to the Future movies.
- Einstein was left in a suspended animation kennel when Doc headed back to 1985 to pick up Marty (and Jennifer, who happened to be there) to bring them to 2015.
- Billy Zane makes his first on-screen appearance in this film as “Match”, one of Biff’s cronies.
- The Academy Award for Best Picture in 1955 – the year that Marty McFly travels to — was called Marty. Both films also feature a diner owner name Lou.
- The film’s action doesn’t actually begin on July 3, 1985, the release date of the film, but on October 26, 1985. The future.
- Bob Gale has said he was inspired to write the film after discovering his father’s high school yearbook and wondering whether he would have been friends with his father as a teenager.
Here is a fan-made trailer that envisions the film as if it were directed by a time-traveling J.J. Abrams:
See also the coverage of a real-life hoverboard.