Sunday, July 12, 2015


“Great Scott!”

This month marks the 30th anniversary of Robert Zemeckis’ BACK TO THE FUTURE.

Based on an original story by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale in which a teen travels back in time and interrupts his parents’ meeting and romance, BACK TO THE FUTURE was a box office hit in 1985; spending 11 weeks at number one and ultimately the top grossing film of the year. It would be nominated for four Oscars, winning one, and would take home the Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film of the year. Through the years it would become a pillar of pop culture; often parodied, quoted in Presidential speeches, selected for preservation in the National Film Registry, and be designated as the 10th best sci-fi film by the American Film Institute. 

But the road to get there wasn’t an easy one. Producer Bob Gale came up with the idea in the late 1970’s after looking through his father’s high school year book and wondering if he and his dad would have been friends in high school. Running the idea past his friend Robert Zemeckis, the two began working on a script which was completed in early 1981. For the next four years, every major studio would pass on the project. Then in 1984, Zemeckis delivered a box office smash with the action-adventure comedy ROMANCING THE STONE; an achievement which elevated his name in Hollywood. Now with the support of Steven Spielberg, and Universal Pictures finally gave it the green light. 

The lead role of the time-travelling teen Marty was a vital one, and the first choice was heartthrob Michael J. Fox. However, Fox was unable to sign on for BACK TO THE FUTURE due to his commitment to the TV show FAMILY TIES. The role would go to Eric Stoltz, who had impressed producers in his recent film MASK. Another casting issue was the role of Dr. Emmett Brown; the eccentric inventor and scientist who would create a time machine out of a DeLorean sports car. The role of Doc Brown would go to John Lithgow, but he would eventually become unavailable as the start of production for BACK TO THE FUTURE was delayed because of the casting difficulties. The role would eventually go to Christopher Lloyd. Rounding out the cast was Crispin Glover, Lea Thompson, and Thomas F. Wilson. 

Four weeks into filming, Zemeckis decided that Eric Stoltz was not right for the role of Marty. Stoltz departed, and all eyes turned back to Michael J. Fox…whose schedule had now cleared up for filming, and the rest was history. Although Fox was now working double-shifts in having to film FAMILY TIES during the day and BACK TO THE FUTURE at night, he gave a very personal, funny, and believable performance as a time-displaced teen…and his chemistry with Christopher Lloyd was perfect. 

Filming wrapped after 100 days, and a release date was set for July 3rd. Composer Alan Silvestri contributed a memorable score, and rock group Huey Lewis and the news added the theme song. BACK TO THE FUTURE was met with big numbers at the box office and critical acclaim, and on the first home release on VHS, Universal added a “to be continued…” tagline before the credits to tease that there was more to come in the future. 


BACK TO THE FUTURE works so well for many reasons. The cast, from the mad scientist to the lovestruck teen to the big bully, is very believable and likeable, and for a science fiction film which makes the audience think to understand the time-travel logic, it always remains grounded and is never difficult to process. Complex sci-fi is always successful when it is bonded with familiar territory, and the mash-up between sci-fi and teen romance in BACK TO THE FUTURE is essential to its enjoyment. This Blogger has been a fan of the film from day one, and the film’s popularity can be seen at every comic-con with the presence of merchandise, cosplayers, and replicas of the now iconic DeLorean time-machine. The film has contributed to pop-culture just as much as JAWS, STAR WARS, or STAR TREK has, and will continue to do so for as long as adventure can be enjoyed. 

“Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”

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