Back To The Future is one of the most defining franchises of the 1980s. As audiences follow Doc and Marty through space and time, everyone fell in love with their crazy antics and adventures.
It’s been 34 years since we first met them in 1985’s blockbuster hit. With two more sequels made soon after, the trilogy is beloved by everyone old or young. But how much do we know about the science buddies? We’ve highlighted some of the hidden facts from Back To The Future that you might have missed. Let’s take a look…
When we pan during the opening credits, audiences are shown inside the Doc’s home. We immediately see his fascination with clocks and time – hence putting us into his headspace and showing us his motivation.
Well, you might not have noticed that there is a small man hanging from one of the clocks! Looking closely, film fans will realize it is Harold Lloyd from the 1923 film, Safety Last. Not only is it a nice homage to past films, but it also foreshadows a scene later in the film at the clocktower!
One of the running gags seen across all Back To The Future films is how Hill Valley changes over the years. If we look closely at 1885, 1955, 1985, and 2015, we will notice that some of the companies remain the same – albeit with a few differences.
For example, the Statler car dealership in Hill Valley is ‘Honest Joe Statler’s Fine Horses’ in 1885, ‘Statler Studebaker’ in 1955 and “Statler Pontiac” in 2015. Across all three films, audiences are shown at least one of them during the sequences.
When we first meet Marty, he plugs in his guitar to an amp that reads ‘CRM 114’. You probably wouldn’t have noticed the nod unless you’re a film fan. Specifically, a fan of director Stanley Kubrick.
Kubrick used the number in a few of his films, such as Dr. Stangelove, A Clockwork Orange, and Eyes Wide Shut. In fact, the number 114 has become somewhat of a geeky joke, appearing in sci-fi films like Star Trek and Men in Black 3.
Huey Lewis makes an appearance as a grumpy school teacher in a meta cameo – did you spot it? When Marty and his band try to audition, they perform The Power of Love. Well, it’s safe to say they weren’t impressed since Lewis himself says it’s ‘too darn loud’.
Ironically, it is Huey Lewis’ own song that he is complaining about! It’s a fun, meta cameo that eager eyes would have spotted first time around. Don’t worry – Marty gets his time to shine in 1955 at the prom!
Who Is Mary?
As Marty and Jennifer walk along the square following his bad audition, we can see a license plate that reads ‘FOR MARY’. This is a subtle nod to mary Radford, who was the personal assistant to Frank Marshall.
Who is Frank Marshall? Well, he was actually the second unit director under Robert Zemeckis. Marshall would film some of the scenes that occurred in separate locations. This became more prominent as they filmed the sequels back to back.
As we see the school in 1955, we are briefly shown a sign in the corner that reads ‘Ron Woodward for Senior Class President’. This is a pretty standard sign that doesn’t serve the story at all – but who is it?
It turns out that Ronald T. Woodward was a key grip on Back To The Future and was one of the most dedicated crew members of the team. He has also worked with Robert Zemeckis in other films, such as Romancing The Stone.
It might be a subtle nod, it might just be a coincidence. Either way, we’re going to include it on our list since it’s a sweet nugget of fan admiration. When we see Marty riding along via the pick-up truck, we can see a sign for ‘Used Cars’ – pretty normal, right?
Well, it turns out that Used Cars is the name of the first film from collaborators Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale. We wouldn’t normally think this would be a deliberate feature, but this set was built specifically for the film so we can’t help but think that they did this deliberately.
Saving The Clock Tower?
One of the biggest moments of the film’s set up is when someone hands Marty a leaflet to protect the clock tower. By bringing it to Marty’s attention, it inspires the duo to use the lightning strike to get them back to the future.
However, it is this act that actually PREVENTS the clock from remaining the same. Although the lady wants it ‘preserved exactly the way it is’, Doc actually breaks off a bit of masonry. This mistake is reflected in the new 1985 upon their return.
When Marty is back in 1955, he watches a ‘brand new’ episode of The Honeymooners with the Baines family. Of course, for him it is a ‘classic’ episode and the family is surprised to hear him describe it as such.
Anyway, this particular episode shows Jackie Gleason dressing up as an alien – the exact tactic used by Marty to convince George to go along with his plan. For film history geeks out there, this episode didn’t actually air in the US until December of 1955…
When Marty accidentally travels to the past, the first thing we see is him drive directly into the way of a scarecrow on a field. This could be interpreted as an homage to the classic film The Wizard of Oz.
In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy meets a bunch of characters but the first one she meets is the scarecrow. Zemeckis and Gale haven’t confirmed whether this is an official homage, but we couldn’t help but notice the similarity.
Edward Van Halen
When Marty is trying to disorientate George and get him on board with the plan to reunite his parents, he dresses up as an alien and plays music. While the cassette says Van Halen, we can see that there is the name Edward squeezed in – but why?
Well, Val Halen didn’t actually give their permission for the name or music to be used in the film. By marking it as Edward Van Halen, it was legally possible to include it. Also, bandmember Eddie DID approve, and even wrote the riff that was used in the final cut.
When Marty plays Johnny B. Goode in front of the 1955 crowd, there’s a famous moment when Marvin shows his cousin ‘that new noise’ he’d been looking for. It’s a fun reference to Chuck Berry, who would go on to write the classic song three years later. But are there any other references?
We see Marty perform a few moments that would go on to be famous moves from guitar heroes. These include kicking the amp like Pete Townshend, tapping the guitar like Eddie van Halen, and lying on his back like Angus Young from AC/DC.
In some of the final moments in the first film, Marty sees the hobo who complains about those ‘crazy drunk drivers’. After that, Marty turns around and refers to him as Red. Well, it turns out that it caused quite a few heads to turn.
Even though it’s claimed that Michael J. Fox improvised the name, there are speculations that he is supposed to be Red Thomas – the major mentioned in 1955. Since the hobo isn’t mentioned by name in the script, we don’t know if it’s true or not!
Acceptance Took Time
Of course, today Back To The Future is a classic that is enjoyed by generations. However, it wasn’t such an appealing hit for most studios. In fact, the script was pitched 40 times until it was eventually approved and financed for production.
One of the studios that rejected the script was Disney, who claimed that it was a film about incest. Seemingly referring to the scene where Marty and Lorraine kiss in the car, the studio apparently turned a blind eye to Luke and Leia in Star Wars…
Eager eyed Back To The Future fans may have noticed this, but we will point it out anyway. At the start, Doc introduces Marty to the magic Delorean at Twin Pines Mall – but its name changes at the end of the film. Why?
Well, when Marty travels back in time to 1955, he knocks over a growing pine tree. When he returns to the future (and Doc is wearing the bulletproof vest), we can see that the area has changed to Lone Pine Mall. Very clever!
Towards the end of the film, we see Marty sneak the warning note into Doc’s jacket explaining how he will get shot in 1985. The camera focuses on the foreground – but did you see what was happening in the background?
It seems that the boys never got the appropriate permit to work on the clock tower to gain the 1.21 jigawatts of electricity needed! In the background, we can see Doc bribe a police officer to let them continue their project.
To Be Continued… Eventually
Today, when we watch the first Back To The Future, there is a title card that appears at the end saying ‘To Be Continued’. However, if you saw this in the cinema back in 1985, you would have had to imagine their next adventure in your head.
The cliffhanger at the end of the first film was intended as a little joke and there were no initial plans for a sequel. After its breakout success, the two sequels were filmed back-to-back and the ‘To Be Continued’ card was added for the home release.
Moving on to the second film in the Back To The Future trilogy, we can see the filmmakers becoming more meta with their humor. When we first enter 2015, Marty is tricked by a hologram advertising the latest film, Jaws 19.
By the time the first sequel hit cinemas in 1989, there had already been four Jaws films. At the time, they were coming out at such a pace that the filmmakers made a joke about ‘Max’ Spielberg continuing his father’s franchise.
One of the funniest parts of the Back To The Future trilogy is how it depicts different parts of time and eras. With the power of hindsight, the filmmakers could try to predict what would be ‘vintage’ items in the year 2015.
If we pause our screens on this shot, we can see a bunch of clues to what they decided to include. These are normally easter eggs to other films, such as Who Framed Roger Rabbit? As well as Jaws and Animal House. How many jokes can you spot?
Cafe In The 1980s
How would you design a 2019 restaurant for clientele in 2049? Here, we can see how the filmmakers had some fun with what future generations would think of the current timeline. We can see the vintage cafe includes then-President Ronald Regan, Michael Jackson’s Beat It, and a few references to 1980s TV shows.
We have to admit, they did a pretty good job tapping into the nostalgia of the 1980s. Since we’re now 34 years away from filming the scenes, we ARE that generation…
Cubs Winning The World Series
You’ll appreciate these in-jokes if you’re a fan of baseball (spoiler: this writer isn’t). First off is the fact that the Chicago Cubs hadn’t actually won the World Series since 1907, so the filmmakers were trying to make a small joke about their eventual and overdue success.
Second, Back To The Future claims they beat a team from Miami – but the city didn’t have a baseball team at the time. It wasn’t until 2012 when the Miami Marlins was formed – but the two cities haven’t played each other yet! The Cubs would go on to win the World Series in 2016 – a year after the prediction!
The Fashion Choices
When we meet Doc again, he is a lot more relaxed and seems to be wearing a relaxing Hawaiian shirt. But did you look closely at what was on it? We can see a train pattern all over it – but why is that important?
Parts two and three of Back To The Future were filmed back-to-back, so this might be a subtle nod to the sequence at the end of the third film. What immaculate planning by the filmmakers to make sure this easter egg paid off properly!
When Marty walks into the ‘classic’ 1980s diner in 2015, we can see a tongue-in-cheek look at how the future would look back on this ‘current’ decade (confused yet?). Well, one of the classic arcade games we see is ‘Wild Gunman’.
This is a nod to show off Marty’s impressive shooting skills – something that would come in handy during part 3 of the trilogy. Since they had time to write and film both sequels together, the filmmakers could include moments like this.
When we look at the USA Today newspaper, we can see how Marty and Doc are successful in changing the fate of Marty’s son. However, there are a few funny jokes on the side of the newspaper worth noting, too.
We can see how the paper has headlines that point towards an exciting future. For example, ‘PRESIDENT SAYS SHE’S TIRED’, ‘THUMB BANDITS STRIKE’, and, rather upsettingly, ‘QUEEN DIANA WILL VISIT WASHINGTON’. Did you spot these easter eggs when you watched the film?
There’s a moment when older Biff returns to 2015 after delivering the sportsbook to his younger self in 1955. We can see him bend over and wince in pain – but why? Well, the original scene was cut, but he was actually on the verge of disappearing.
Since he changed the past, he was about to eliminate himself from existence. However, we know from the first film that this takes a bit more time and doesn’t occur instantly, so the scene was cut.
When we go back to the adjusted 1985, we can see just how much Biff changed things. He murdered George, married Lorraine, and won big at the casino, and ultimately ruined Hill Valley. But what’s the worst thing he did? He removed the clock!
This version of reality is the only one in the entire franchise that doesn’t feature the famous clock that means so much to the trilogy. Even after all the things Biff did, we think removing the clock is the worst thing of all!
Meeting Mad Dog
Here’s another clue that the Back To The Future sequels were shot back-to-back. As we watch the movie informing us about the new 1985, we briefly see one of Biff’s ancestors, Mad Dog Tannen.
This is foreshadowing the sequel and gives us a hint that we will be going to 1885 after this adventure. The reason he looks different from how we eventually see him is this was a photo from the makeup tests.
In the 1989 sequel, Marty visits a diner in 2015 full of vintage 1980s memorabilia. The kid that expresses disdain at a game where you use your hands grew up to be quite a star – did you spot him?
One of the small children who Marty speaks to is none other than a young Elijah Wood! In his first role, he makes an impression that clearly left a mark on filmmakers. He would go on to star as Frodo Baggins in Lord of the Rings.
Due to contract disputes, Crispin Glover refused to reprise his role as George McFly. Not only would this fundamentally change the trajectory of the franchise, but it would also result in a painful lawsuit for the filmmakers.
It turns out that they had used footage from the first film and incorporated it into the second without seeking Glover’s permission. He took them to court and won – making it illegal for films to use an actor’s likeness without their permission.
Now we’re reaching the third part of the Back To The Future trilogy. Some eager eyes have noticed the continuity error of having Lea Thompson reprise her role as one of Marty’s ancestors. Technically, she should have belonged to the other side of the family since she isn’t a McFly.
Well, the filmmakers were willing to let this one slide a bit to allow Thompson the chance to return for the film’s third outing. Zemeckis has explained how it shows that McFlys are consistent with the type of women they find attractive.
Catching a Drink
When Marty enters the 1885 saloon, he orders a drink but is swiftly interrupted by Mad Dog who yells ‘hey, McFly!’ off-camera. This is actually the third time that Marty has been interrupted at a bar.
A running gag across all three films is that Marty orders a drink in 1955, 2015, and 1885 and doesn’t get to drink a single one of them. Each time, the necessary Biff will interrupt it with a chant or call.
Fox Left Hanging…
On big-budget productions, mistakes can be made by the cast and crew. However, there’s one accident from the film that could have had catastrophic consequences had it continued. It turns out that in the third part of the trilogy, the crew literally accidentally left Michael J. Fox hanging by his neck!
It was supposed to hang him from a harness by his back but the measurements were wrong and Fox was actually left unconscious for a few minutes after filming. Fox would write about it in his autobiography, Lucky Man.
There’s a moment in the film where Marty yells ‘Great Scott!’, which is swiftly followed by Doc commenting ‘I know, this is heavy’. Of course, we know by now that this is a reversal of their famous catchphrases that we’ve heard across the three films.
This is a sweet moment that highlights the growing bond between the two of them and how their friendship has impacted one another. Did you notice the change in catchphrase when they swapped them out?
Matching The Punch-Outs
There’s an ongoing joke in the Back To The Future franchise that often leaves Biff covered in a large pile of manure. The sequence appears in all three moments of the trilogy, but the third time’s a little special…
As well as falling victim to copious amounts of poo, Biff also gets spun round after a punch to the face. This is a direct reference to how George McFly punches Biff at the start of the first film in 1985.
How do we know parts two and three of Back To The Future are so connected? Well, we will have to listen to what co-creator Bob Gale has to say in the official FAQ. During act three of the final film, we see Doc wearing a bandana – but did you recognize where from?
It turns out that it is the exact same material as one of Doc’s T-shirts in part two of the franchise. We must admit: we would never have noticed this unless it was pointed out to us by one of the film’s writers!
The final train race results in an amazing sequence that ends in the train driving straight off a cliff’s edge. It might look fantastic in the final version of the film, but that doesn’t mean that the filmmakers actually pulled off such a feat.
Of course, it’s actually a small model that’s one quarter the size of the real train. This is to make sure everything was done in a cheap and safe way. In fact, this model train has appeared in other western films for the same reason.
Repeating Iconic Shots
This might be an obvious one, but we couldn’t NOT include it on our shot list! After the time machine is destroyed and everyone goes their separate ways, the new and improved time machine flies off into the distance.
Did you notice the shot was almost exactly the same as the ending of the first film? The way that the machine jumps up and drives straight into the camera is a nice way to end the franchise the same way as it started four years earlier.
Lightning Strikes Twice…
During Back To The Future III, the cast and crew journeyed to Jamestown, California, to make it look like they were back in the 1800s. The small town had the space and scenery for the filmmakers to make it look like a picturesque view of America’s past.
However, Jamestown would meet an eerie end in 1996. During a heavy storm, the town was hit by a strike of lightning and it was completely destroyed. Very strange end, considering the use of lightning in the franchise.
Don’t Expect A Reboot…
In a day and age where everything is getting remade for younger audiences, older fans can rest assured: Back To The Future will never be rebooted. Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale have remained adamant for 30 years that they will never release the rights for a reboot for as long as they are alive.
Sadly, we don’t know what will happen once they die and the clause in their contract expires. Would you like to see a reboot of the famous 1980s franchise?