Okay, so I’m no snob that thinks my favorite films are 100% perfect with no problems. All films have problems, goofs and errors because they are made by humans and us humans are not infallible, we make mistakes…all of us, I’ll probably make some mistakes in this article. But I do have a problem with people calling out a film for having a plot hole when no such plot hole really exists. Such as with my look at a supposed “major plot hole” in Die Hard not long back. As with that article, right here I’m going to take a look at some plot holes that people believe they have found in the Back to the Future trilogy. I have scoured the interwebs for videos, comments and other blogs that have brought up the most popular plot holes and I will now attempt to cover the supposed plot holes using only basic logic, information from the movies or from the film makers themselves.
There are quite a few to cover over the entire trilogy and the Back to the Future films can get a little confusing if you don’t pay attention (which is where a lot of the supposed plot holes come from, the lack of attention). So prepare yourselves as this is going to get heavy.
Why Don’t 1985 George & Lorraine Think That Marty Looks Like Calvin Klein From School?
This is probably one of the biggest and most referenced plot holes from the first film. So at the end of the flick, Marty returns to 1985 from 1955 and a lot has changed (more on that later), one of the biggest changes is how in love his parents George and Lorraine now are compared to the start of the film pre-time travel. But seeing as Marty spent time in 1955 interacting with his then teenage parents, why do they not recognise him in 1985? Why doesn’t George think it suspicious that Marty looks just like that Calvin Klein kid from his school?
Okay so this is how I look at it and how I think the film looks at it too. It had been thirty years from when Marty was in 1955 to 1985. There were no pictures of Calvin for his parents to look back on. Do you really expect the now middle aged adults to remember the face of someone they met thirty years previously while they were teenagers with nothing to remind them? Even more so, Marty/Calvin hardly spent any time with George and Lorraine when he was in 1955 under strict instructions from Doc, he only interacted with them when necessary (after messing up the time line). Marty may have been in 1955 for a week but would have spent only a handful of hours with them over those seven days. But people expect George and Lorraine to remember what Calvin Kline from school looked like three decades ago who they only knew for a few hours over the course of a seven day period? Yeah he helped them get together and of course you’d think they would remember that right? Well…
Then to finish, it could be as simple as George and Lorraine just do not remember Calvin/Marty. The film itself even highlights as much in its dialogue. George and Lorraine credit Biff with getting them together and not Calvin.
George: “Ahh… Biff. What a character. Always trying to get away with something. I’ve had to stay on top of Biff ever since High School. Although if it wasn’t for him…”
Lorraine: “We never would have fallen in love.”
Then there is this bit of dialogue too…
Lorraine: “Oh, honey! Your first novel.”
George: “Like I’ve always told you, you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.”
George uses Marty’s quote about putting your mind to something, which Marty said to his father back in 1955…except he doesn’t credit Calvin with the quote and says “Like I’ve always told you…”. Is that’s George remembering the quote but not necessarily remembering who said it, so credits himself?
So my conclusion is that they just do not remember Calvin from 1955, memories fade especially over a thirty year period. The film itself even spells this out. If they clearly don’t remember him nor have anything to remind themselves of Calvin from 1955 – they would have no reason to think Marty looks like Calvin would they? No plot hole.
Marty Disappearing At The Dance
I didn’t even think this was considered a plot hole (because its not) but as I found this particular one on whatculture.com, I thought I’d address it anyway. They point out how the picture of his siblings that Marty has with him in 1955 shows them slowly disappear after Marty has interfered with his parents getting together. As they say about this plot hole that “Over those first several days, Marty’s brother and sister were gradually erased, as indicated on the photo that Marty so quaintly carried with him before smart phones.” Which is very true, so what is the plot hole here?
Well according to this site, during the dance near the end of the first film, Marty (and I quote) “began to disappear on the stage with Marvin Berry and company at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance, but all at once and very rapidly.” Pointing out that Marty’s disappearance was much quicker than his siblings shown in the photo.
So there are two ways to look at this one as far as I can tell. The first can be explained using the ‘ripple effect‘. Basically, how like throwing a stone into a body of water causes ripples to eventually expand across the water. They start out small but become bigger and bigger the longer the effect continues. So one could say that the erasing of Marty was part of that ripple effect that started out small but by the time it make its way through his siblings, the ripples were much larger and made a bigger impact. Makes sense to me anyway. The other way to look at it is to watch the damn film properly as Marty never does begin to disappear (as the site claims) “all at once and very rapidly” at all. ONLY his hand begins to fade, which is most definitely not “all at once”, that’s just a hand, plus its a slow fade too which is not “very rapidly”. Then just to finish, we only see his brother and sister fade via a photo and have no idea how that would be depicted in in “real-life” as it were, for all we know his family could have disappeared EXACTLY the same way Marty began to right?
So I chalk this one up to whoever pointed this plot hole out as just not paying attention.
Marty Being Called Marty
After the big dance and after Marty does his best Chuck Berry impersonation, he bumps into his now very much in love parents to be. After a little humorous exchange of words and advice, Lorraine makes a fun comment after Marty leaves.
Lorraine: “Marty…such a nice name.”
So if Lorraine likes the name Marty so much, why didn’t she name her first born son (Dave) Marty instead of Marty? Major plot hole there eh? Well no. Lorraine just makes a throwaway comment on how the name Marty is nice, she does not say “Marty…I really must call my first born that.” She just likes the name and for all we now she could have called the family dog Marty sometime after these events. Maybe they had an agreement that George would name their first born? There are various possibilities. Even more so, Marty was called Marty even before going to 1955 (because Lorraine has ALWAYS liked the name without Marty’s interference?) so could there be a chance that the name didn’t come from his time-traveling escapades? Oh yeah I got this one backed up too.
Not many people know this but his name isn’t actually Marty, that’s just a nickname as his full name is in fact Martin Seamus McFly and do you know where that name came from? In Back to the Future III, Marty crosses paths with his great-great grandfather, Seamus McFly and it is reveled that Seamus had a brother named Martin, Marty’s great-great granduncle.
Anyway, the point is that Marty’s real name of Martin Seamus comes from his great-great grandfather and great-great granduncle and always has done even before his went to 1955. So Lorraine liking the name Marty is a moot point really as the name is a family one handed down through the generations, though maybe not for every generation. Even 2015 Marty has a son and his name? Martin “Marty” Jr keeping that Martin family name alive.
Rich And Famous George & Lorraine In The Alternate 1985 And Other Changes
So pre-time-travel and the McFly family are a bunch of losers…except super cool Marry of course. Lorraine is an overweight, raging alcoholic. George is a pathetic wimp with greasy hair. His brother, Dave works in a crappy fast food place and his sister Linda is shown to be having trouble with the boys. They live in a shitty little house that is clearly unkempt.
However, post-time-travel and things have dramatically changed. Lorraine is not longer drinking and looks amazing. George is a massively confident and a successful writer with much nicer hair. Dave has a cushy job in an office and Linda seems a bit more successful with the opposite sex…and they still live in the same house but its much decorated much more tastefully.
So much to cover here but I’ll start with an easy one. A lot of people see it as a plot hole that both Dave and Linda are still living with their parents if their lives are so much better. But the film never makes it clear that they still living with their parents. Yeah they are there at the house having breakfast – but how do we not know that a family breakfast on a Saturday morning is not a McFly family tradition? Maybe they always get together on a Saturday morning and Dave and Linda were just there as normal. Maybe Dave and Linda were just passing on their way to work and popped in to say hello? Several possibilities that make sense.
Another one of the most popular plot holes in regard to all the changes. So seeing as George is such a rich and successful writer, then why are they still living in the same house? Well who says that George is rich and successful? Allow me to quickly bring up another quote form the film…
Biff: “Mr. McFly! Mr. McFly, this just arrived. Oh, hi, Marty. I think it’s your new book.”
Lorraine: “Oh, honey! Your first novel.”
His FIRST novel. Does this not indicate that just maybe his is not as rich and successful as people think he is? Maybe his novel will be a huge flop, maybe it was be a worldwide bestseller. Point is, its his FIRST novel so we the viewer do not know how rich and successful he is or if he ever will be. Maybe that is why they still live in the same house, because that’s all they could afford?
Another plot hole people seem to bring up about all these changes is why hasn’t Marty changed and why would he still hang out with Doc? If his parents and family have changed for the better then wouldn’t that lead to a different upbringing for Marty? This is another one of those simple issues that we the viewer just do not see. Yeah I guess Marty would have a different upbringing and he quite possibly did. But this is how I see it. It was Marty going back to 1955 and interacting with his parents that kick-started the changes…so if it was Marry that was the main influence then why would Marty himself change? Would he not still have the same interests (including befriending Doc) if it was ultimately Marty influencing himself? Even more so, he did change as a subtle detail at the end reveals. Pre-time-travel and Marty has serious doubts about sending his band’s demo tape to a music producer as shown when he and Jennifer talk near the start of the film. However by the end, Marty is seen holding an envelope ready to post which has been confirmed as being that same demo tape. So Marty’s confidence has grown after his 1955 trip.
But before I finish up on these non-existent plot holes there is one major factor people seem to miss. The Marty we see at the end of the film is the original Marty from the start of the flick and the one from the original parents. The alternate Marty, the one that would’ve been brought up by the more successful George & Lorraine we see get sent back to 1955 near the end of the film. As we do not get to really see this Marty, he could be vastly different for all we know. Or (going back to a previous point) he could be pretty much the same seeing as it was Marty who influences his family anyway. Point is, there are two Marty’s, the original who wouldn’t really change and the now “new” Marty who has gone to 1955 who could have changed but we just do not see any of that.
Hiring Biff The Rapist
So I’ve always felt that “rape” was a bit too strong a word to use when describing Biff and what he got up to with Lorraine in the first film. Yeah he forced himself on her…but rape? Anyway, regardless of my own personal views and opinions on that particular scene, I’ll allow the rape description for this one. Some people feel its a plot hole that George would hire the person who attempted to rape his future wife to clean and polish his car at the end of the film and call into question why George would put his family in danger like that.
I see this as a massive shift in power and one George relishes in. All through high school, George had been bullied by Biff right up until that day when he (via the help of Calvin) had the balls to stand up to Biff and lay him out with one punch. George’s popularity soared to heights as conversely Biff’s reputation sank. The school began to see Biff for the true coward he really was. Given that kind of a situation, wouldn’t you hire your ex-nemesis as a dogsbody to clean your car as an insult and payback for years and years of bullying abuse? And if you don’t like that reasoning, then maybe Biff’s Auto Detailing is the only car cleaning business in the small town of Hall Valley?
Exactly When Did Lightning Hit The Clock Tower?
So this is one I’ve seen pop up several times. The climax of the film includes a thrilling race against time (irony?) during the infamous Hill Valley electrical storm of November 12, 1955. Where Marty has to drive the DeLorean at 88 MPH towards Doc’s “weather experiment” that will harness and direct the lightning into the car creating the needed 1.21 gigawatts to send it and Marty back to 1985. But the plot hole is how could they know when the lighting would strike? Yeah they knew it would hit the clock tower at 10:04 pm but don’t minutes have little segments to them called seconds so the lighting could strike anytime in those sixty seconds – which would completely throw off the timing of the experiment, hence the plot hole.
The answer to this one is given in the film itself. When Marty and Jennifer are talking near the start of the film, they are approached by the Hill Valley Preservation Society who were raising funds and awareness for their hopes to…well preserve the clock tower in its current state as they feel that the lighting storm and the damage it caused to the clock tower is historically important to Hill Valley. Marty gives them a donation and in return he gets given a flyer. This flyer has all sorts of information on it about the clock tower including the precise time it was hit by lightning – Doc even mentions this himself when coming up with the plan to send Marty back. So they knew EXACTLY to the second when the lighting would hit.
Doc Rips Up The Letter
So during the climax of the first film, Doc discovers the letter Marty wrote to him about the night he is shot and killed in an attempt to save Doc’s life. Doc tears the letter up and throws it away and yet back in 1985 he is wearing a bulletproof vest that saves his life and pulls out the torn up letter now fixed with sellotape. But he threw the letter away so how can he still have it?
This one is a plot hole I see popping up a lot and it really boils down to something so simple and another one of those people just not paying attention things. Yes Doc tears the letter up…but he doesn’t throw it away. If you watch the scene on question Doc just places the torn pieces into his coat pocket. So its pretty safe to assume that Doc simply took the letter from his pocket and reconstructed it sometime after the events of the first film.
Old Biff And Young Biff Chatting
So Doc says that you should avoid running into yourself when time travelling as it could cause the space-time continuum to destroy the universe or maybe you’d just faint? There is quite a big difference between those two factors eh? Anyway, if this is the case then how come 2015 Biff when in 1955 manages to have a lengthy chat with his 1955 counterpart and nothing happens? I mean when 1985 Jennifer sees her 2015 self, they faint. So there’s a major plot hole right there.
Of course its not, have you not got the gist of this article yet? When Doc talks about time travel, he uses a lot of vague speeches that offer no certainties or definites. Yes Doc invented a time machine…but even he does not know exactly how it all works, he has his ideas and theories – but that is all they are, ideas and theories. So yeah, maybe running into yourself via time travel could destroy the universe, maybe you would faint…or maybe nothing would happen at all? That’s the thing about time travel, no one knows.
If you don’t like that explanation, I can offer another. 1955 Biff just did not recognise 2015 Biff to cause any problems. The film itself even makes a point that young Biff does not know who old Biff is and this could be the key. As long as your younger self has no idea who you are then there can not be any space-time continuum universe destroying or fainting. I guess ignorance can be bliss. If you want further proof of this idea then it happens again when 1985 Doc bumps into 1955 Doc during setting up the “weather experiment”. Though the two converse and interact, older Doc keeps himself hidden as much as he can from his younger self. The young Doc has no idea that he is talking to the future version of himself and just as with the whole Biff thing…nothing happens.
Biff Returning To The Same 2015
This one is
probably the most popular plot hole of the film. Every Back to the Future fan knows this one but I’ll just do a quick recap anyway. So while in 2015, as Doc and Marty are trying to get the unconscious Jennifer out of the house and back to the DeLorean, old Biff steals the time machine, goes to 1955, changes the time line and returns to 2015. The problem is that Doc makes it very clear later that one can not travel to the same future you came from if you have changed the past as you will be in a future altered from the point the past changed. This is even shown at the end of the first flick when Marty returns to 1985, but its a different 1985 with his improved family. So if the rules of the film(s) point out you can not return to the same future, then how did Biff manage to do just this after coming back from 1955?
Simply put, he didn’t return to the same future. There you go, on with the next plot hole.
Okay so this one does need some explaining. As I said, Biff did return to a now alternate 2015 when he came back from 1955. There are several hints through the film that can be used to back up this claim too. One of the easiest (and laziest) explanations is to go back to the classic ripple effect and say that the changes in the time line from 1955 had not yet caught up to 2015. But I said that Biff did return to an alternate 2015 and the ripple effect just does not cover that claim.
First point to make is that Doc says how the time line changes around the time travelers, he mentions this when Marty is concerned about leaving Jennifer on the porch to pick her up later after they fix the time line. Another point is the location the scene takes place in, Hilldale a residential area that was quite highbrow and affluent in 1985 but a run-down shithole in 2015. Even the police, when they find the unconscious 1985 Jennifer and take her home mention how Hilldale is a rough neighbourhood full of junkies and thieves. As does the cabbie that drops Biff off in Hilldale. So taking these two points and seeing as Biff going back to 1955 made his future self incredibly rich, so much so that he ran Hill Valley into the ground as shown in the alternate 1985 later…exactly what would’ve changed? Hilldale would have changed from a shithole to a slightly more of a shithole? I don’t see that many, if any changes would have caught the attention of Doc and Marty as the timeline changed around them. I mean look at how long it takes them to work out they arrived in an alternate 1985 later compared to how much time they spend in 2015 after Biff returns. If it took a good few hours to realise the timeline has been changed in 1985 I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t notice small changes in Hilldale within a few minutes.
Another factor is the direction of the whole scene. Doc and Marty have already got Jennifer out of the McFly house when Biff returns to 2015. It is said on the commentary for the film that it was shot this very specific way as to get the characters out of the house as the timeline changed so anyone could have been living in the now ex-McFly house due to the changes…we just never see who.
There is also a much bigger clue and that is when Biff exits the DeLorean and is seen to be having some kind of difficulty. He’s struggling to breath and walk…something has changed. There is a famous deleted scene that shows Biff disappear, being erased from existence after returning to 2015. So yeah, Biff does return to an alternate 2015 and not the same one he left.
Lack Of Memories And How Can Marty & Jennifer Exist In 2015?
I suppose this is a pretty big one too. If Marty & Jennifer leave 1985 to go to 2015 then how can they exist in the future if they have skipped over that period of time and even more so, why don’t future Marty and Jennifer know that the 1985 versions of themselves are there?
As Doc says “the future is not written”, it may not be written but it is at least penciled in. I have always looked at it as the future being extrapolated from where they are in the current timeline and the moment you leave the timeline a future is ‘predicted’ using the information of that moment. This would also go some way to explain how Doc is able to go to 2015 and discover that Marty’s son will get into trouble in the future. In fact in Back to the Future III when Marty and Doc are discussing the fact the name on Doc’s tombstone had disappeared – but the stone itself and date of death remains, Doc says this…
Doc: “This photograph represents what will happen if the events of today continue to run their course into tomorrow.”
So the future is not written, but it is at the very least still outlined and if the events of today carry on through tomorrow and the next day, and the next day and so on then that is the future you will have. So, in short the future shown in 2015 is simply extrapolated and penciled in based on the events of 1985 at that time. Does that make sense? The way I see it is the future shown in 2015 is just an estimate drawn from the events of 1985 pre-time travel escapades. This also goes some to to explain why neither future Marty or Jennifer know that their 1985 counterparts are in 2015…because in this future predicted, they didn’t time travel to 2015.
There is another possible explanation. Future Marty and Jennifer exist in 2015 because they will ultimately return to 1985 and live out their lives up to 2015. I can back this one up with in-movie logic too. Where is the 2015 version Doc when they go to the future? We never see him. There are various explanations to this, first the most depressing one, Doc is dead by 2015 and that is why we don’t see him. Second, he is very much alive, we just do not see him in 2015. Third and the one that I think ties in best with the whole theory – Doc never returns to 1985 (as shown at the end of Back to the Future III) to live his life through to 2015 so he can not exist in the future. You can even go back to the first film to find an example of this idea too. When Doc first tests the time machine using his dog Einstein, he sends his faithful pal one minute into the future. When Doc and Marty eventually catch up to that future (all be it only sixty seconds), there is only one Einstein and not two because he never goes back to his original time of one minute in the past to live out that time.
Old Biff Stealing The DeLorean
So while Doc and Marty are busy recusing Jennifer from the 2015 McFly house, old Biff steals the DeLorean and takes it back to 1955 to give his younger-self the sports almanac. But the plot hole many people bring up is how does Biff not only know he is in a time machine but also how to use it?
This is another one of those not paying attention things. Going back to the start of the film and during the re-cap of the end of the previous film as Doc Marty and Jennifer head off to 2015, Biff comes running out of the house and sees the DeLorean time travel. He does not fully understand exactly what is going on then, but its an event he will recall in 2015. Now in the future and Biff sees a flying DeLorean and that kick-starts his memory form thirty years previously – he still has not worked everything out, but he is suspicious, especially when he sees two Marty Jnrs running around. One the real son of Marty from 2015 and one Marty himself from 1985. Then when Doc discovers Marty’s plan of betting on sporting events, he throws the sports almanac away while berating Marty for his idea. While Doc talks about the dangers of time travel, Biff overhears them and now finally has all the pieces of the puzzle. He knows that Doc and Marty have time traveled and he also knows about the sports almanac.
Okay so Biff knows the DeLorean is a time machine…but how does he know how to use it? I have numerous possible explanations to this one too.
See that image? Its taken from the first film when and is (obviously) an interior shot of the car, in particular the time circuits – notice anything? Everything is clearly labeled, time circuits including destination time, present time and last time departed. Even the digital speedometer has a label on it pointing out you need to go 88 MPH. There is a label for the plutonium chamber, one for flux capacitor…everything has a label – seriously next time you watch the film(s) just look at the DeLorean’s interior and Doc has conveniently ensured everything has a label. So all Biff had to do was read and piece things together on how to use the equipment. Here’s another theory, he didn’t know how to use it and just went back to 1955 by accident. I mean, Marty went back to 1955 by accident in the first film when he unintentionally turned on the time circuits while changing gear, even Doc did the same near the end of this film when he goes to rescue Marty from the school and accidentally flips the time circuits on which will eventually send him to 1885. So if both Marty and Doc can unwittingly get sent back through time….why not Biff?
Then there is my final point and one I think people seem to overlook…HE’S IN A TIME MACHINE! Biff could have taken hours, days, weeks, months to work out how the time machine works and just as long as he reruns the DeLorean back to 2015 for Doc and Marty to use, there would be no problem.
Why Go To 1955 To Get The Almanac Back?
That’s the thing about having a time machine, there is not real urgency to do anything as you have all the time in the world. So why do Doc and Marty feel the need to go back to 1955 as soon as they learn that 2015 Biff gave his younger-self the almanac, couldn’t they have waited until sometime in 1956 or 57 or any point after 1955 Biff receives the book? There is even the fact that 1955 Biff doesn’t make any bets until a few years after he gets hold of the book anyway, so there is no rush really.
First thing I need to address with this one is why Biff waits a few years to make his first bet. The film itself points out he was too young in 1955 so had to wait until he was 21 years old to gamble. Then there is the simple fact that Doc or Marty would have no idea where the almanac was after 1955, given the evidence they had discovered in the DeLorean including the receipt of the book and the bag it came in, the top of 2015 Biff’s cane and of course the time and date on the time circuits. They knew for a fact that 2015 Biff must have given the 1955 Biff the book at some time during that period of time. Plus while in the alternate 1985, Biff tells Marty that the old geezer who gave him the book (his 2015 counterpart) told him to keep the book in a safe and the film shows the 1985 Biff take the book from a safe, so it would be safe (no pun) to assume that 1955 Biff would eventually lock the book away making it hard to get to. Taking all of that into account, Doc and Marty really had little choice other than to go to 1955 to where they were sure 2015 Biff would give 1955 Biff the book and try to retrieve it then.
Beloved Clara And Clayton Ravine
So the tombstone Doc and Marty find in 1955 which is the entire plot point of the whole movie, the reason Marty goes to 1885 to save Doc from being killed, the tombstone is erected by Doc’s ‘beloved Clara’. But Clara Clayton falls into Clayton Ravine hence its name but how can she put up a tombstone for Doc if she died?
The main thing to keep in mind here is the fact there are three timelines to remember.
- The first original timeline with no Marty or Doc in 1885. In this timeline, Clara turns up at the train station. There is no one to meet her. She hires a buckboard and heads into town. Horse gets spooked by a snake and Clara falls into the ravine. The ravine is named Clayton Ravine out of respect. This is the timeline Marty and Doc know as they were from a future after these events.
- The first alternate timeline with only Doc in 1885. Doc is asked by the mayor to meet Clara from the station. They fall in love. Doc gets shot in the back by Buford and dies. Clara lives on in this timeline, erects the tombstone, and has inscribed on it “Erected in eternal memory by his beloved Clara”. This is the tombstone Marty finds in 1955 and of which he takes a photo.
- The second alternate timeline with Marty and Doc in 1885. This timeline is a mix of the first two and the one show in the movie. Doc is asked to meet Clara and he agrees. This time Marty turns up, and Doc forgets all about meeting her. You can even see Clara waiting at the train station for her escort in the film as Doc and Marty look at the railway map. Anyway, Clara hires a buckboard and heads into town. Snake, ravine, etc. But this time Doc is there to save her, as shown in the film.
So that is how Clara can erect the tombstone for Doc because of the second timeline shown above. But if Clara lives and doesn’t fall into the ravine thanks to Doc…then why is Clayton Ravine still called Clayton Ravine as Marty recalls? Well I can offer two possibilities.
- When Marty tells the story of Clayton Ravine while in 1885, he is talking from his memories from before Doc gets sent to 1885 and before Doc saves Clara because as Doc pointed on in the second film, the timeline changes around the time traveler, so they would retain their original memories . The only way Marty would know what the ravine was called after Doc saved Clara would be to time travel to a point after these events but before the train crash at the end of the film. But he does not, so he keeps his original memories including the name of the ravine. What the ravine is called in 1885 from that point (but before Eastwood Ravine at the end of the film)? Maybe it retained its original name of Shonash Ravine.
- Clara (after Doc dies) throws herself into the ravine through depression after losing her true love. The townsfolk call the ravine Clayton Ravine out of respect as they feel sorry for Clara. So, even in the second timeline shown above, it’s possible for the ravine to have still been called Clayton Ravine.
Getting Gas In 1885
So when Marty gets to 1885, he is attacked by ‘Injuns’ and the DeLorean takes an arrow (to the knee) in the gas-line which in turn leaks gasoline rendering the car useless. So Doc and Marty have to come up with a plan to get the time machine up to 88 MPH so they can get back to 1985. But here’s the thing, gasoline was available in 1885, it was not easy to come by, but it was available, I mean kerosene was readily available back then and a by-product of kerosene is gasoline. So if Doc can create a machine that creates ice in 1885, why not a machine that turns kerosene into gas?
I actually can not believe this is being brought up as a plot hole. Yes I guess Doc could build a machine and turn kerosene into gas, in theory this could work. In practice though? Seeing as the plot of the film is Marty going to 1885 to save Doc from being shot and killed and that Doc being shot happens in just a few days…how the hell is Doc supposed to find parts, build and create a machine to make gas given the tight time frame?
The Two DeLoreans Of 1885
One of the most brought up plot holes of the third film and kind of ties onto the previous one. The fact that there are two DeLoreans in 1885. The one Marty travels from 1955 to 1885 in and the one Doc buries in the cave that Marty uses in 1955 to ultimately go to 1885. Seeing as they needed gas in 1885, why don’t they just take the gas from the buried car and put it in the other one?
That makes perfect sense but there is a flaw in this plan. The buried car doesn’t have any gas in it. Here is a line from Doc just before he sends Marty from 1955 to 1885.
Doc Brown: “I’ve put gas in the tank.”
Why would he need to put gas in the tank if it already has gas in it? There is also the fact that anyone with an ounce of basic knowledge would now that when you put a car in storage for long periods of time (like seventy years) you drain the fuel to prevent corrosion and damage to the gas tank.
Plus even if we ignore the draining of the fuel, there is a major paradox risk, If when uncovering the buried DeLorean in 1885 Doc and Marty cause damage to the car, then that damage would be there in 1955 when Marty comes to use it. If the car is damaged then he couldn’t go to 1885… Seeing as Marty is in 1885, that proves that the plan to send him back in time worked, so why risk it?
Why Didn’t Doc Know He’s Going To Die In 1885?
This is another one where I feel people just do not pay attention. So when Marty does get to 1885 and eventually meets up with Doc, Doc is surprised to learn that he will be shot and killed by Buford. But here’s the plot hole – the Doc living in 1885 is the Doc from 1985 and it is while in 1955 with Marty that Doc discovers his own tombstone and the date of his death. So if 1955 Doc is aware he will be shot and killed…then shouldn’t 1985 Doc (who is now in 1885) now know this information and therefore wouldn’t be surprised to learn of his own death?
I see two possible explanations for this one. The first is to go back to the trusty, previously mentioned ripple effect. One can quite simply say that the changes in the timeline – eg: Doc being shot and killed in 1885, have not yet caught up to 1985 Doc.
The other is the more reliable one I feel and goes back to Doc’s idea that the timeline changes around the time traveler. Throughout the entire trilogy it has been shown that the person that does go through time retains their original memories regardless of ‘when’ they are. Going back to the first flick and Marty still remembers his parents meeting and falling in love at the school dance even though it has not yet happened – he remembers this because he is from a timeline where this is exactly what happened. Also, As I previously mentioned in an other plot hole above in regards to the whole Clayton Ravine thing, Marty remembers it being called Clayton Ravine because he comes from a time when that is what it was called despite the fact that Clara no longer dies in the ravine post-time travelling. The same rules can be applied to 1985 Doc who is also a time traveler and would retain his original memories. Originally Doc does not go back to 1885 and so therefore would not be shot and killed by Buford. Ergo, he would not have any memory of being shot because it never happened in his original timeline. Also note that Doc when living in 1885 had no idea that Marty was coming back for him and then there is the funny exchange about the clothing Marty is wearing…
Doc: “Marty, you’re going to have to do something about those clothes. You walk around town dressed like that, you’re liable to get shot.”
Marty: “Or hanged.”
Doc: “What idiot dressed you in that outfit?”
Marty: “You did.”
It was 1955 Doc who picked out Marty’s clothes for his 1885 trip, yet the 1985 Doc was not aware that it was him from 1955 who dressed Marty. Does this not prove that the time traveler retains their original memories? So no, the Doc living in 1885 wouldn’t know he was going to get shot and killed despite his 1955 counterpart learning of it because 1985 Doc would keep his original memories and originally, Doc is not shot and killed. Makes sense to me anyway.
Why Didn’t Doc Change His Letter?
So the reason Marty knows Doc is alive and well in 1885 is due to the letter Doc sends Marty explaining what happened to him and where/when he was. It is this letter that kick starts the whole plot of the third movie when Marty and 1955 Doc accidentally discover that 1985 Doc will be shot and killed while in 1885, the entire reason Marty goes to 1885 to begin with and the reason the DeLorean is damaged and has no fuel to get back to 1985. So here’s a good question…when in 1885, why doesn’t Doc just alter his letter after learning of what will happen to inform Marty of the problems with the time machine, why doesn’t he ask Marty to bring some gas with him from 1955? If you think about it, writing a letter to alter the future works seeing as that is exactly what Marty did in the first film to inform Doc that he will be shot by the Libyan terrorists.
The first problem with this is that by the time Marty gets to 1885, Doc had already written the letter and given it to Western Union to be delivered to Marty in 1955…so he couldn’t really get his hands on it to change it could eh? Yeah he could write another letter I guess, but that brings up another big problem. Just as with messing with the buried DeLorean. Marty is in 1885, the plan worked so why change it? Then there is the whole paradox issue – I mean if Marty brings some gas back with him to use in the DeLorean, then Doc has no need to write a letter asking Marty to bring back gas…so Marty does not bring back any gas, which means Doc has to write a letter telling Marty to bring back some gas, if Marty brings some gas back with him to use in the DeLorean, then Doc has no need to write a letter asking Marty to bring back gas…so Marty does not bring back any gas…and so on. Its a paradox. Best to just leave things as they are then.
Marty’s Hand And The Car Accident
So in the second film we learn that Marty gets involved in a race with Needles which results in Marty crashing into a white Rolls Royce in which he breaks his hand. It is this injury that causes Marty to stop playing the guitar leading to the not so impressive future depicted in the movie. At the end of the third picture, Marty avoids this race and crash by not raising to Needles calling him a chicken, something he learns not to react to after his time in 1885. But here is the plot hole, Marty avoids getting into the race at the end of the film after picking up Jennifer from leaving her on the porch in the second film…but Jennifer would not have been left on the porch in the original timeline where Marty crashes breaking his hand. So if Marty had no reason to go pick up Jennifer in the original timeline, then he wouldn’t have meet Needles, there wouldn’t have been a race and there never would have been a crash to begin with.
This one had me scratching my head for a while I admit, but I think the answer lies in the original flick. A sub-plot in the film is that Marty and Jennifer were going away camping to the lake for the weekend. The race and crash happen on Sunday, so taking the original timeline into account – couldn’t Marty have been involved in the crash originally AFTER taking Jennifer home after their trip to the lake? Its never said that Jennifer was with Marty during the crash of the original timeline, so maybe she wasn’t because Marty had already dropped her off home after their camping trip to the lake and crossed paths with Needles on his way home afterward?
So there you have it, a few of the more popular Back to the Future trilogy plot holes I think I’ve managed to cover pretty well. Can you think of any I may have missed, let me know in the comments and I can include them in an edit if I feel they can work out?
5 thoughts on “Great Scott! Back To The Future: The Plot Holes!”
Fantastic work! Seriously, wow!
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Thanks man, really enjoyed researching and writing this one up.
Plus it gave me a damn good reason to sit through the trilogy again.
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That took brains, patience, and more than a little bravery (by the time you got to part III… 🙂 )
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my biggest plot hole is when Doc sends Einstein into the future 1 minute ahead, the DeLorean returns ice cold, covered in ice.
whenever anyone else travels in time, the DeLorean is never covered in ice and is never explained why it happened to Einstein but never Marty or Doc.
That’s not a plot hole, as it has nothing to do with the plot. It’s a continuity error at best. There is ice on the car after the Einstein experiment. If you rewatch the scene in the first film when Marty first goes to 1955 and crashes into Peabody’s barn, there is ice on the car, just less of it. There is ice on the car when Marty returns to 1985 from 1955 too, but again, less of it. Everytime the car travelled, the ice becomes less and less.
But the ice thing is covered on the commentary of the film…
Bob Gale: I believe this was liquid nitrogen that we had sprayed all over the car to ice it up.
Neil Canton: It was also a problem keeping it on the car… it would drip off several times before we were ready to go.
Bob Gale: This is the iciest you’ll ever see the DeLorean. You’ll notice as the movie goes on, when the DeLorean reappears from a time trip, there’s less and less ice on it, and finally by the time we’re into the sequels there basically isn’t any. I figured we used Mr. Fusion as an excuse why we weren’t gonna have ice on the car anymore – great idea, great visual, and a pain in the ass to shoot.
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