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Back to the Future is a 1985 science fiction adventure film directed by Robert Zemeckis, co-written by Bob Gale and produced by Steven Spielberg. The film stars Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly, as well as Christopher Lloyd, Crispin Glover, Lea Thompson and Thomas F. Wilson. Back to the Future tells the story of Marty McFly, a teenager who is accidentally sent back in time from 1985 to 1955. He meets his parents in high school, accidentally attracting his mother's romantic interest. Marty must repair the damage to history by causing his parents to fall in love, while finding a way to return to 1985.

Zemeckis and Gale wrote the script after Gale mused upon whether he would have befriended his father if they attended school together. Various film studios rejected the script until the box office success of Zemeckis' Romancing the Stone, and the project was set up at Universal Pictures with Spielberg as executive producer. Eric Stoltz was originally cast as Marty McFly when Michael J. Fox declined as he was busy filming the TV series Family Ties, but during filming Stoltz and the filmmakers decided Stoltz was miscast so they asked Fox again and he managed to work out a timetable so he gave enough time and commitment to both: the subsequent recasting meant the crew had to race through reshoots and post-production to complete the film for its July 3, 1985 release date.

When released, it became the most successful film of the year, grossing more than $380 million worldwide and receiving critical acclaim. It won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and the Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film, as well as Academy Award, BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations. Ronald Reagan even quoted the film in the 1986 State of the Union Address. In 2007, the Library of Congressmarker selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry, and in June 2008 the American Film Institute's special AFI's 10 Top 10 acknowledged the film as the 10th best film in the science fiction genre. The movie marked the beginning of a franchise, with Back to the Future Part II and Back to the Future Part III released back-to-back in 1989 and 1990, as well as an animated series and theme park ride.


Marty McFly is a teenager living in Hill Valley, Californiamarker. He is the son of the cowardly George McFly, who is constantly bullied by his supervisor Biff Tannen, and the dowdy Lorraine Baines McFly. On the morning of October 25, 1985, his eccentric friend, scientist Dr. Emmett "Doc" Brown, calls him, asking to meet at 1:15 AM the following morning at Twin Pines Mall. After school Marty and his band audition to perform at the school dance but are rejected for being "too loud." Though Marty's confidence is shaken by this, as well as by the school principle's conviction that both he and his father are slackers and that "no McFly ever amounted to anything in the history of Hill Valley," Marty's girlfriend, Jennifer Parker, eggs him on and encourages him to pursue his dream of being a rock musician. At dinner that night, Lorraine recounts how she first met George when her father hit him with his car as George was "bird-watching".

The McFly house

That night, Marty meets Doc as planned in the parking lot of Twin Pines Mall. Doc reveals a DeLorean DMC-12 which he has modified into a time machine, with a plutonium-fueled nuclear reactor generating the required 1.21 gigawatts of power. As Marty videotapes, Doc explains that the car travels to a programmed date and time upon reaching 88 miles per hour. Demonstrating how to program the machine, Doc enters in November 5, 1955 as the target date, explaining that it was the day he conceived the idea of the flux capacitor, the device which "makes time travel possible." Before Doc can depart for his planned trip into the future, the Libyanmarker terrorists from whom he stole the plutonium arrive in a Volkswagen Bus and murder him. Marty drives away in the DeLorean, with the time machine activated and the Libyans in pursuit. In mid-chase, the DeLorean hits 88 miles per hour and is inadvertently transported back in time to 1955.

Marty hides the inoperative DeLorean and makes his way into the Hill Valley of 1955. Marty runs into his father George, then a teenager, and discovers him to be a peeping tom instead of a birdwatcher. As George is about to be hit by a car, Marty pushes him out of the way and takes the impact. The car turns out to be driven by Lorraine's father, resulting in Lorraine becoming infatuated with Marty instead of George. Marty is disturbed by her aggressive flirtations, and he flees from her home to find Doc Brown.

The retrofitted DeLorean DMC-12

Using a camcorder, Marty shows Doc the recording of the 1985 experiment. Doc is aghast at the time machine's power requirements, telling Marty that the only possible source of that much power in 1955 is a bolt of lightning. Marty remembers that lightning will strike the courthouse tower the following Saturday at exactly 10:04 PM As a result, Doc begins planning how to harness the bolt's power. Doc also deduces that Marty, by saving his father from the accident, has prevented his parents from meeting. He instructs Marty to set things right or else he, along with his siblings, will never exist.

After several failed attempts at playing matchmaker, Marty eventually creates a plan to have George appear to rescue Lorraine from Marty's overt sexual advances on the night of a school dance. However, the plan goes awry when a drunken Biff shows up unexpectedly, pulls Marty from the car, and forces himself on Lorraine. As planned, George arrives to rescue Lorraine, but is shocked to find Biff instead of Marty. George, hearing Lorraine's pleas for help, refuses Biff's order to walk away and tries to fight him instead. Biff easily subjugates George, but when Biff shoves Lorraine, George finally snaps and knocks out his tormentor with a single punch. A smitten Lorraine follows George to the dance floor, where they finally kiss for the first time, affirming Marty's future.

Meanwhile, Doc connects a lightning rod from the courthouse tower to a power line rigged between two streetlights. The DeLorean, equipped with a modified trolley pole, is planned to hit the line when the lightning bolt strikes to receive enough power to travel time. Marty writes Doc a letter to warn Doc of his murder in 1985, but Doc indignantly tears up the letter without reading it, describing the dangers of altering the future. Doc's scheme is successful, and Marty returns to 1985, though he arrives too late to stop Doc from being shot. As Marty mourns Doc, Doc revives and opens his radiation suit to reveal a bulletproof vest. Doc discloses that he ignored his own warnings and taped the letter back together.

That morning, Marty awakens to find his home and family significantly improved. Lorraine is physically fit and is no longer prudish, George has become a self-confident and successful science fiction novelist, and Biff has become a servile toady to George. Just as Jennifer and Marty reunite, Doc arrives, insisting frantically that they must accompany him to defuse a problem concerning their future children. Once they enter the DeLorean, it converts into a hovercar, and the DeLorean rushes into the screen as the time machine activates, concluding the movie.



Writer and producer Bob Gale conceived the idea after he visited his parents in St. Louis, Missourimarker after the release of Used Carsmarker. Searching their basement, Gale found his father's high school yearbook and discovered he was president of his graduation class. Gale thought about the president of his own graduating class, who was someone he had nothing to do with. Gale wondered whether he would have been friends with his father if they went to high school together. When he returned to California, he told Robert Zemeckis his new concept. Zemeckis subsequently thought of a mother claiming she never kissed a boy at school, when in reality she was highly promiscuous. The two took the project to Columbia Pictures, and made a development deal for a script in September 1980.

Zemeckis and Gale set the story in 1955 because mathematically, a 17-year old traveling to meet his parents at the same age meant traveling to that decade. The era also marked the birth of rock n' roll and suburb expansion, which would flavor the story. Originally, Marty was a video pirate, the time machine was a refrigerator, and he needed to use the power of an atomic explosion at the Nevada Test Sitemarker to return home. Zemeckis was "concerned that kids would accidentally lock themselves in refrigerators", and the original climax was deemed too expensive. The DeLorean time machine was chosen because its design made the gag about the family of farmers mistaking it for a flying saucer believable. The writers found making Marty's friendship with Doc Brown believable difficult before they created the giant guitar amplifier, and only resolved his Oedipal relationship with his mother when they wrote the line "It's like I'm kissing my brother." Biff Tannen was named after Universal executive Ned Tanen, who behaved aggressively towards Zemeckis and Gale during a script meeting for I Wanna Hold Your Hand.

The first draft of Back to the Future was finished in February 1981. Columbia Pictures put the film in turnaround. "They thought it was a really nice, cute, warm film, but not sexual enough," Gale said. "They suggested that we take it to Disney, but we decided to see if any other of the major studios wanted a piece of us." Every major film studio rejected the script for the next four years, while Back to the Future went through two more drafts. During the early 1980s, popular teen comedies (such as Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Porky's) were risqué and adult-aimed, so the script was commonly rejected for being too light. Gale and Zemeckis finally decided to pitch Back to the Future to Disney. "They told us that a mother falling in love with her son was not appropriate for a family film under the Disney banner," Gale said.

The two were tempted to ally themselves with Steven Spielberg, who produced Used Cars and I Wanna Hold Your Hand, which both flopped. Spielberg was initially absent from the project because Zemeckis felt if he produced another flop under him, he would never be able to make another film. Gale said "we were afraid that we would get the reputation that we were two guys who could only get a job because we were pals with Steven Spielberg." One producer was interested, but changed his mind when he learned Spielberg was not involved. Zemeckis chose to direct Romancing the Stone instead, which was a box office success. Now a high-profile director, Zemeckis approached Spielberg with the concept, and the project was set up at Universal Pictures.

Executive Sidney Sheinberg made some suggestions to the script, changing Marty's mother's name from Meg to Lorraine (the name of his wife, actress Lorraine Gary) and to replace Brown's pet chimpanzee with a dog. Sheinberg wanted the title changed to Spaceman from Pluto, convinced no successful film ever had "future" in the title. He suggested Marty introduce himself as "Darth Vader from the planet Pluto" while dressed as an alien forcing his dad to ask out his mom (rather than "the planet Vulcan"), and that the farmers' comic be Spaceman from Pluto rather than Space Zombies from Pluto. Spielberg dictated a memo back to Sheinberg, where he convinced him they thought his title was just a joke, thus embarrassing him into dropping the idea.


A photo of the first time travel test with Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly
Michael J. Fox was the first choice to play Marty McFly, but he was committed to the show Family Ties. Family Ties producer Gary David Goldberg felt that Fox was essential to the show's success, particularly with costar Meredith Baxter on maternity leave, and refused to allow him time off to work on a film. Back to the Future was scheduled for May 1985 and it was late 1984 when it was learned that Fox would be unable to star in the film. Zemeckis' next two choices were C. Thomas Howell and Eric Stoltz, the latter of whom impressed the producers enough with his portrayal of Roy L. Dennis in Mask – which was yet to be released – that they selected him to play Marty McFly. Because of the difficult casting process, the start date was pushed back twice.

Four weeks into filming, Zemeckis decided Stoltz was miscast. Although he and Spielberg realized reshooting the film would add $3 million to the $14 million budget, they decided to recast. Spielberg explained Zemeckis felt Stoltz was too humorless and gave a "terrifically dramatic performance". Gale further explained they felt Stoltz was simply acting out the role, whereas Fox himself had a personality like Marty McFly. He felt Stoltz was uncomfortable riding a skateboard, whereas Fox was not. Stoltz confessed to director Peter Bogdanovich during a phone call, two weeks into the shoot, that he was unsure of Zemeckis and Gale's direction, and concurred that he was wrong for the role.

Fox's schedule was opened up in January 1985 when Meredith Baxter returned to Family Ties following her pregnancy. The Back to the Future crew met with Goldberg again, who made a deal that Fox's main priority would be Family Ties, and if a scheduling conflict arose, "we win". Fox loved the script and was impressed by Zemeckis and Gale's sensitivity in sacking Stoltz, because they nevertheless "spoke very highly of him". Per Welinder and Tony Hawk assisted on the skateboarding scenes, though Hawk had to leave the film because he was taller than Fox, having doubled for Stoltz in various scenes. Fox found his portrayal of Marty McFly to be very personal. "All I did in high school was skateboard, chase girls and play in bands. I even dreamed of becoming a rock star."

Christopher Lloyd was cast as Doc Brown after the first choice, John Lithgow, became unavailable. Having worked with Lloyd on The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai (1984), producer Neil Canton suggested him for the part. Lloyd originally turned down the role, but changed his mind after reading the script and at the persistence of his wife. He improvised some of his scenes, taking inspiration from Albert Einstein and conductor Leopold Stokowski.Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale Q&A, Back to the Future [2002 DVD], recorded at the University of Southern Californiamarker Brown pronounces gigawatts as "jigowatts", which was the manner a physicist said the word when he met with Zemeckis and Gale as they researched the script.

Lea Thompson was cast as Lorraine McFly because she had acted opposite Stoltz in The Wild Life. Her prosthetic makeup for scenes at the beginning of the film, set in 1985, took three-and-a-half hours to apply.

Crispin Glover played George McFly. Zemeckis said Glover improvised much of George's nerdy mannerisms, such as his shaky hands. The director joked he was "endless[ly] throwing a net over Crispin because he was completely off about fifty percent of the time in his interpretation of the character".

Thomas F. Wilson was cast as Biff Tannen because the original choice, J. J. Cohen, was considered too unconvincing to bully Stoltz. Cohen was cast as one of Biff's cohorts. Had Fox been cast from the beginning, Cohen would have probably won the part because he was much taller than Fox.


Courthouse Square as it appeared in Back to the Future.
Following Stoltz's departure, Fox's schedule during weekdays consisted of filming Family Ties during the day, and Back to the Future from 6:30 pm to 2:30 am. He averaged five hours of sleep each night. During Fridays, he shot from 10 pm to 6 or 7 am, and then moved on to film exterior scenes throughout the weekend, as only then was he available during daytime. Fox found it exhausting, but "it was my dream to be in the film and television business, although I didn't know I'd be in them simultaneously. [It] was just this weird ride and I got on." Zemeckis concurred, dubbing Back to the Future "the film that would not wrap". He recalled that because they shot night after night, he was always "half asleep" and the "fattest, most out-of-shape and sick I ever was".

Lyon Estates set used in the film
The Hill Valley town square scenes were shot at Courthouse Squaremarker, located in the Universal Studios backlot. Bob Gale explained it would have been impossible to shoot on location "because no city is going to let a film crew remodel their town to look like it's in the 1950s." The filmmakers "decided to shoot all the 50s stuff first, and make the town look real beautiful and wonderful. Then we would just totally trash it down and make it all bleak and ugly for the 1980s scenes." The interiors for Doc Brown's house were shot at the Robert R. Blacker House, while exteriors took place at Gamble Housemarker.

Filming wrapped after a hundred days on April 20, 1985, and the film was delayed from May to August. But after a highly positive test screening ("I'd never seen a preview like that," said Frank Marshall, "the audience went up to the ceiling"), Sheinberg chose to move the release date to July 3. To make sure the film met this new date, two editors, Arthur Schmidt and Harry Keramidas, were assigned to the picture, while many sound editors worked 24-hour shifts on the film. Eight minutes were cut, including Marty watching his mom cheat during an exam, George getting stuck in a telephone booth before "saving" Lorraine, as well as much of Marty pretending to be Darth Vader. Zemeckis almost cut out the Johnny B. Goode sequence as he felt it did not advance the story, but the preview audience loved it, so it was kept. Industrial Light & Magic created the film's 32 effects shots, which never satisfied Zemeckis and Gale until a week before the film's completion date.


Alan Silvestri collaborated with Zemeckis on Romancing the Stone, but Spielberg disliked that film's score. Zemeckis advised Silvestri to make his compositions grand and epic, despite the film's small scale, to impress Spielberg. Silvestri began recording the score two weeks before the first preview. The film's score has become quite popular to movie-goers, and is often regarded as one of the greatest film scores of all time. On November 24, 2009, an authorized, limited-edition recording of the entire score was released by Intrada Records.

He also suggested Huey Lewis and the News create the theme song. Their first attempt was rejected by Universal, before they recorded "The Power of Love". The studio loved the final song, but were disappointed it did not feature the film's title, so they had to send memos to radio stations to always mention its association with Back to the Future. In the end, the track "Back in Time" featured in the film, playing during the scene where Marty arrives back in 1985, and again during the end credits. Huey Lewis himself cameoed as the school teacher who dismisses Marty's band for being too loud.



Back to the Future opened on July 3, 1985 on 1,200 screens in North America. Zemeckis was concerned the film would flop because Fox had to film a Family Ties special in London and was unable to promote the film. Gale was also dissatisfied with Universal Pictures' tagline "Are you telling me my mother's got the hots for me?" Yet Back to the Future spent 11 weeks at number one. Gale recalled "Our second weekend was higher than our first weekend, which is indicative of great word of mouth. National Lampoon's European Vacation came out in August and it kicked us out of number one for one week and then we were back to number one." The film went on to gross $210.61 million in North America and $170.5 million in foreign countries, accumulating a worldwide total of $381.11 million. Back to the Future had the fourth-highest opening weekend of 1985 and was the top grossing film of the year. Adjusted for inflation, the film is the 57th highest-grossing film in North America, as of October 2008. Back to the Future is the 85th highest grossing film of all time, adjusted for inflation.

Roger Ebert felt Back to the Future had similar themes to the films of Frank Capra, especially It's a Wonderful Life. Ebert commented producer "Steven Spielberg is emulating the great authentic past of Classical Hollywood cinema, who specialized in matching the right director (Robert Zemeckis) with the right project." Janet Maslin of The New York Times believed the film had a balanced storyline. "It's a cinematic inventing of humor and whimsical tall tales for a long time to come." Christopher Null, who first saw the film as a teenager, called it "a quintessential 1980s flick that combines science fiction, action, comedy, and romance all into a perfect little package that kids and adults will both devour." Dave Kehr of Chicago Reader felt Gale and Zemeckis wrote a script that perfectly balanced science fiction, seriousness and humor. Variety applauded the performances, arguing Fox and Lloyd imbued Marty and Doc Brown's friendship with a quality reminiscent of King Arthur and Merlin. The BBC applauded the intricacies of the "outstandingly executed" script, remarking that "nobody says anything that doesn't become important to the plot later." Based on 44 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, 96% of critics gave the film positive reviews.

Back to the Future won the Academy Award for Sound Editing, while "The Power of Love", the sound designers, and Zemeckis and Gale (Original Screenplay), were nominated. The film won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and the Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film. Michael J. Fox and the visual effects designers won categories at the Saturn Awards. Zemeckis, composer Alan Silvestri, the costume design and supporting actors Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover and Thomas F. Wilson were also nominated. The film was successful at the 39th British Academy Film Awards, where it was nominated for Best Film, original screenplay, visual effects, production design and editing. At the 43rd Golden Globe Awards, Back to the Future was nominated for Best Motion Picture , original song (for "The Power of Love"), Best Actor in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy (Fox) and Best Screenplay for Zemeckis and Gale.


President Ronald Reagan referred to the movie in his 1986 State of the Union Address when he said, "Never has there been a more exciting time to be alive, a time of rousing wonder and heroic achievement. As they said in the film Back to the Future, 'Where we're going, we don't need roads.'" When he first saw the joke about him being president, he made the projectionist of the theater stop the reel, roll it back, and run it again. George H. W. Bush also referenced Back to the Future in his speeches.

This movie ranked number 28 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the 50 Best High School Movies. In 2006, Back to the Future was voted the 23rd greatest film ever made by readers of Empire.On December 27, 2007, Back to the Future was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congressmarker as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

In June 2008, the American Film Institute revealed the AFI's 10 Top 10 – the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres – after polling more than 1,500 people from the creative community. Back to the Future was acknowledged as the 10th best film in the science fiction genre. Back to the Future is among Channel 4's 50 Films to See Before You Die, being ranked 10th.

When the film was released on VHS, Universal added a "To be continued..." caption at the end to increase awareness of production on Back to the Future Part II and Part III. This is not included on the films DVD release in 2002.


  1. Klastornin, Hibbin, p.61-70
  2. Klastornin, Hibbin, p.11-20
  3. Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale. (2005). Back to the Future: The Complete Trilogy DVD commentary for part 1 [DVD]. Universal Pictures.
  4. Klastornin, Hibbin, p.31-40
  5. Klastornin, Hibbin, p.21-30
  6. Michael J. Fox, Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale, Steven Spielberg, Alan Silvestri, The Making of Back to the Future (television special), 1985, NBC
  7. Klastornin, Hibbin, p.41-50

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