14 Things You Don't Know About Back to the Future

It's one of the best time travel franchises ever made and a rare gem of a film that people from different age groups and different backgrounds can all appreciate. But even if you can recite all of Doc & Marty's conversations because you've seen it so many times, chances are you still don't know all of these juicy trivia bits.

It Was Set In the Fifties For Simplicity's Sake

The fifties were chosen for the past setting not because writers Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale had a soft spot for the era, but instead because they were easy. Essentially, the two wanted to make a time travel story that didn't require knowledge of the past to enjoy it. They figured the fifties would be far enough back that it would seem like a different setting, but still allow the main character to connect with people that he knew from his regular life.

The DeLorean Could Have Been A Refrigerator

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It took the writers a while to come up with the perfect time machine. In fact, at one point they thought it would be cool to use a refrigerator that had to be powered by an atomic explosion to return home -until they started worrying that kids would lock themselves into them. Spielberg ended up using this idea as inspiration for Indiana Jones' nuclear safe-guard in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Ultimately, they decided on a DeLorean because the stainless steel construction seemed like a good method for flux dispersal during time displacement. Three DeLoreans were purchased for the original and another three were bought for the sequels. After the film's release, Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis received a letter from John DeLorean thanking them for using his car in the movie.

It Was Both Too Tame and Too Controversial

Robert Zemeckis had to hit up quite a few studios while trying to sell the film. Since the biggest comedies at the time were much more raunchy, like Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Revenge of the Nerds, a lot of studios turned down the idea because it wasn't risque enough. But then when Zemeckis took his idea to Disney, they rejected the story because they thought it was too scandalous to have a mother fall in love with her son.

It Was Mostly Shot At Night

One of the biggest challenges of making the film was working with Michael J. Fox's Family Ties shooting schedule. Since Fox was still actively involved with making the show, he had to dedicate his days to the show and nights to the film -getting an average of five hours of sleep a night. As a result, the majority of Back to the Future was shot between 6 PM and 6 AM on weekdays, with the daylight scenes filmed on weekends.

It Was Worth the Hassle

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Fox was always the first choice for Marty, but when the film was ready to be shot, he was unavailable since his Family Ties co-star Meredith Baxter was pregnant, leaving Alex P. Keaton to take on a bigger role than usual.

So after Ralph Macchio was asked and then turned down the role, Eric Stoltz was cast as Marty. After a month of filming though, it became all too obvious that Stoltz just wasn't right for the part. By this time though, Meredith had returned to Family Ties, giving Michael just enough time to work on both projects.

Stoltz Is Still In There Though

It cost an extra $3 million to reshoot Eric's completed scenes with Michael. So in order to save money, the decision was made to leave in the footage of Eric driving the Delorean when he is being chased by terrorists since you can't see his face anyway.

Doc's Posture Comes From Michael's Height

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While it ended up working out for the mad scientist character, the real reason Doc is always sort of hunched over is because Christopher Lloyd is 6'1" and Michael J. Fox is only 5'4". Director Robert Zemeckis also often shot the two standing far apart so they would look closer in height on the camera.

Biff Tannen Was Cast Based On Eric Stolz's Height

Originally, J. J. Cohen (who plays Skinhead, one of Biff's friends) was supposed to be Biff Tannen, but when Eric was cast as Marty, they didn't think J.J. would be physically imposing enough. So instead, Thomas F. Wilson was cast as Biff.

On a side note, Tim Robbins was also considered for the role.

Marty is Actually Older Than His Dad

Michael J. Fox is ten days younger than Lea Thompson and almost three years older than Crispin Glover. As a result, the makeup artist had to spend three hours aging each actor for their scenes set in the present time.

Ronald Reagan Was A Fan

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There were concerns among the creators that Ronald Reagan wouldn't like Doc Brown's disbelief that the actor became president, but as it turns out, Ronnie loved the scene so much that he asked his projectionist to stop and replay the scene. He later used a quote from the movie in his 1986 State of the Union speech, saying, "As they said in the film Back to the Future (1985), 'Where we're going, we don't need roads.'"

The Head of Universal Hated the Movie's Name

In fact, if he had his way, Sid Sheinberg would have had the movie renamed "Spaceman From Pluto," since he insisted that no one would go see a movie with the word "future" in the title. (He also wanted to change the now iconic line "I'm Darth Vader from planet Vulcan" with "I am a spaceman from Pluto!")

Luckily, Steven Spielberg knew how to handle Sheinberg's suggestion -by thanking him for the great "joke" and telling the studio head that everyone got a good laugh at his funny memo. Sheinberg was too embarrassed to admit that he was serious, so he dropped the matter.

The Writers Never Intended to Do a Sequel

But because the film did so darn well, Robert Zemeckis finally agreed to do one as long as Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd also returned. Two of the actors didn't return -Claudia Wells and Crispin Glover. Claudia didn't return because her mother was ill with cancer and she wanted to be there for her. Since she was in the end sequence that had to be incorporated into the sequel, they had to reshoot the scene shot by shot with her replacement, Elisabeth Shue.

As for Crispin, he wasn't included after he and the studio couldn't come to an agreement on his salary.

George McFly's Absence Led Change In Hollywood Rules

After Crispin didn't return, Zemeckis worked around his absence by splicing together footage of the actor from the first film with footage of Jeffery Weissman, who wore prosthetics to look like Glover. Unsurprisingly, Crispin wasn't very happy about that and sued the producers stating they didn't own his likeness and didn't have his permission to use it. After his lawsuit, the Screen Actors Guild now includes clauses in their contract protecting actors from anyone using their likeness if they are uninvolved with a project.

Image Via Gregory Perez [Flickr]

More Is Yet To Come

Christopher Lloyd said that he always wanted to do a third sequel where Doc and Marty visit ancient Rome. While it's pretty unlikely that will happen, there is going to be a musical version performed live in London's West End theatre next year. If you're hesitant about seeing what some other writer will do to the story, don't worry, Zemeckis and Gale returned to write the play.

A Few Bonus Bits of Trivia:

  • Huey Lewis is one of the judges in the band auditions at the beginning. He's the one who says the music is "just too darn loud." He wrote both that song, "The Power of Love," and "Back in Time" for the film.
  • While filming, the doors of the car had to be iced-down and the weight caused them to fall down at random -often hitting the actors in the heads. Between takes, special effects crews had to heat up the gullwing doors with hair dryers to keep them up.
  • Crispin Glover said that he lost his voice due to nervousness while filming and that he had to mouth his lines for some scenes so his voice could later be dubbed in.
  • After the film screening was a smash success, the movie's release date was moved up a month, which meant many sound editors had to work 24 hour shifts on the film to get it ready for the big day.
  • Writer Bob Gale hated the tag line Universal gave the movie, "Are you telling me my mother's got the hots for me?" 

Got any more trivia? Just want to share some love for Back to the Future? Wish you could see Tim Robbins? Tell us all about it in the comments!

Sources: Back to the Future Website, IMDB, Wikipedia #1, Wikipedia #2


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Neat little detail:
At the beginning, Marty meets Doc at the Twin Pines mall. But when he goes back in time, he accidentally runs over a baby pine tree on the farmer's land. At the end, when he's watching himself and Doc avoid the terrorists, the sign at the mall now says "Lone Pine mall".
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