July 3rd 1985 saw the release of one of the very best time travel movies, Back to the Future.
So It’s time for a Back to the Future 30th birthday celebration.
Join me on an adventure through time as I look back on Back to the Future, it’s legacy and also look at a few behind the scenes tit-bits.
If my calculations are correct, when I start typing 88 words a minute…you’re gonna see some serious shit.
BttF is a masterful mix of action/sci-fi/comedy and even a love story.
The idea for the film came about when writer, Bob Gale was looking through his parent’s high school yearbook and he wondered whether he would have gotten on with his father when he was a teenager.
Bob Gale took the idea to various people but no one wanted to make the film. So Bob went to his old friend Robert Zemeckis to help flesh out the story.
Robert Zemeckis not only took on the role as co-writer but also got on board as director too.
The two Bobs took the more in depth concept to various movie studios including Disney who turned it down as they felt some of the content was not suitable and too hard for a Disney film…I guess Disney were not too keen on the incest subplot between Marty and his mother or Biff trying to rape Lorraine in a car.
Disney were not the only studio to turn the project down, pretty much every major studio turned it down too.
It was only when Steven Spielberg showed an interest in producing the film that the studios started to take notice. The final draft of Back to the Future was finished in 1981, but it took 4 years before the film was finally made by Universal Studios.
Of course everyone knows and loves Michael J Fox as Marty McFly, but Michael was not the original Marty.
Even though Michael was the first actor approached and offered the now iconic role, at the time he was busy filming the movie Teenwolf and his TV show Family Ties. In fact it was while shooting Teenwolf that Michael J Fox learned of Back to the Future as some scenes in Teenwolf took place on the very same filming locations that Back to the Future would also be filmed in and Michael heard of this up and coming new film when Robert Zemeckis was location scouting.
Though Michael J Fox really wanted the job and Zemeckis really wanted him onboard too, he just could not commit as he was too busy. With the start of filming date fast approaching, the producers could not wait for Michael to become available and so Eric Stolz was hired to play Marty McFly instead.
Yes, Eric Stolz was Marty McFly before Michael J Fox was.
Now this is not uncommon in films for an actor to be replaced at a later date. But what is unusual is to shoot most of a movie with one actor to then replace them later at great expense. In fact it was said by Steven Spielberg that firing Eric and hiring Michael cost over $3 million.
Well that is what happened with Back to the Future. Eric Stolz filmed pretty much the entire film working alongside all the other actors. Some of this Eric Stolz footage has been released on various versions of BttF on DVD and Bluray and you can find many stills from the Eric Stolz Back to the Future online, with Eric alongside all the other main cast members in all the scenes you remember…but all the footage filmed has never been seen publicly.
It’s even been noted that some of the Eric Stolz footage is still in the final film. Some of the longer shots or seeing Marty from over the shoulder so you can’t clearly see the actor, etc. These scenes and shots have been said to contain Eric playing Marty as to avoid costly re-shooting.
Take a closer look next time you watch the film. Is that Micheal or Eric?
So why make pretty much an entire film with one actor only to replace him later at great expense?
Well it’s been strongly suggested this was done to waste time until Michael J Fox had more free time to take on the role.
It has been said that Eric Stolz was hired by director Robert Zemeckis purely as he knew when the producers saw the footage that they would not be happy and demand the role of Marty McFly be recast with the original choice of Michael J Fox instead.
Whatever the truth behind the firing of Eric Stolz was, the rest, as they say, is history…
The role of the other main character, “Doc” Emmett Brown was played to perfection by Christopher Lloyd who said he drew inspiration from Albert Einstein and conductor Leopold Stokowski to play the character.
But though Lloyd made the role his own, he was not the first choice, originally the role was offered to John Lithgow. However, John Lithgow was busy on other projects and could not commit.
So Christopher Lloyd was offered the role instead…yet he originally turned it down. It was only when he read the script along with his wife who then convinced him to take on the role that Lloyd signed up.
Of course you can’t have a hero without a villain. Enter bully boy and all round asshole Biff Tannen. Biff was played brilliantly by Thomas F. Wilson. But even here, Wilson was not the first choice.
In fact the first choice was J.J. Cohen, but when Eric Stolz was still playing Marty, the producers felt J.J was not imposing enough to bully Eric. So they gave the role to Thomas F. Wilson instead and J.J. Cohen was recast as one of Biff’s chorts.
By the time Michael J Fox was finally in place as Marty, the producers just felt Thomas F. Wilson owned the role and was perfect and so allowed him to keep the Biff role.
Now you can’t talk about Back to the Future without mentioning its other main star…the time machine itself…
Yes that is a picture of a fridge, but why?
Well because that was the original time machine.
Yes, Robert Zemeckis wanted the time machine to be a fridge, but later changed his mind after worrying that kids might try to copy the film and start climbing into fridges.
So that idea was scrapped and Zemeckis started to think of the need to make the machine more mobile.
Robert Zemeckis settled on the DeLorean DMC-12 as he wanted something that would look futuristic from the 1955 viewpoint. This film helped make the DeLorean immortal and hugely popular.
Despite early production problems, one including a Universal Studios executive, Sidney Sheinberg, not liking the title of Back to the Future. As Sidney was convinced that no film with the word “future” in its title would ever be successful. He demanded the title be changed to “Spaceman from Pluto” instead.
Steven Spielberg eventually dictated a memo to Sheinberg, where Spielberg convinced Sheinberg he thought his title was just a joke and he found it really funny, and so embarrassed Sidney Sheinberg into dropping the whole idea.
So you can thank Steven Spielberg for you not having to sit through a film called “Spaceman from Pluto”.
Overall, the filming and post production of Back to the Future went without a hitch and the film was finally relased on July 3rd.
But Universal really had very little faith in the film. Micheal J Fox was away in London filming an episode of Family Ties at the time of Back to the Future’s release and Universal thought that without Fox helping to promote the film that the film would be a flop.
Back to the Future was a huge success and spent 11 weeks at the number 1 box office. Taking in a worldwide total of $383.87 million upon initial release, Back to the Future was the top grossing film of 1985.
The film even won an Oscar for Best Sound Effects Editing. The two Bobs (Gale & Zemeckis) were nominated for Best Original Screenplay, “The Power of Love” was nominated for Best Original Song, and the film was also nominated for Best Sound Mixing.
The success of Back to the Future led to (unplanned) sequels. Back to the Future Part II and Back to the Future Part III which were shot back to back and then relased in 1989 and 1990 respectively.
There have been Back to the Future games, merchandise, a theme park attraction and endless references and parodies, even today.
This is just such an amazing film, brilliant story, great and engaging characters. The film is “timeless”.
Everyone should see this flick at least once and bask in its glory as one of the very best films of the 1980s.
George McFly: “Lou, give me a milk…chocolate.”
Also, check out my quick Back to the Future overview.