Great Scott!!…’Back to the Future’ Turns 30

BTTF Doc​This is heavy. 30 years ago, lightning struck the clock tower of an unassuming California town, and the world hasn’t been the same since. Back to the Future is an incredible piece of filmmaking – full stop. Further, it is one of the rare occasions where a film’s legacy is only eclipsed by its fun factor. The landmark film has inspired countless filmmakers, artists, and entertainers…there are even Back to the Future LEGOs if that tells you anything. The impact it’s had on pop culture shows that the property has truly captured the hearts of an entire generation. In fact, years ago, we created a blog event titled “Films That Defined Us” (check it out here), and at the very top of the distinguished list sits Robert Zemeckis’ time traveling classic.

Now we love the film dearly, and while three decades is a significant milestone, this is not a retrospective post. Today, we don’t aim to point out unknown trivia about the filmmaking process (you have the DVD and Blu-Ray editions, and the Internet to thank for that). Instead we turn to some of our filmcentric friends and allow them to gush over this innovative film and series. After all, if it weren’t for the fans, nothing would be popular.

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Probably the most coherent memory I have of watching a film and, more importantly, seeing how the music took the story to all new levels and dramatically helped raise the stakes, both Back to the Future and Alan Silvestri‘s wonderful score could not have Alan Silvestri_BTTFfound my ears at a better point in time. Even in the days of smaller sized TVs and grainy VHS, Back to the Future really spoke to 5 year old me and captivated my imagination. It was one of three films my Dad and I watched nearly every weekend. It shared tape space with Top Gun, and Volunteers – a less than famous HBO film starring a young Tom Hanks and John Candy. It’s worth noting because it is a very funny film (which succeeds solely on the chemistry of the two leads), but it’s also propelled by an early score from a young but prolific James Horner. As he passed very suddenly and unexpectedly, his music has been on our minds a lot lately.

Now it’s news to no one that Alan Silvestri has a one-of-a-kind sound, but some might not know that his career really turned a corner with the music to Kevin Reynolds’ Fandango. That’s the score where he developed his palette and pretty much established the bones of numerous future scores, from Roger Rabbit to The BTTF Intrada_SilvestriAvengers. But Back to the Future was something special. It was rousing and emotional, bold and energetic, and it hit all the right beats. Perfect score to a perfect movie? Well, 30 years is not just a “nice round number“, it’s also a pretty good track record. The answer is a resounding Yes! by the way. In fact, it’s very possible that, like Star Wars, the film wouldn’t be half as popular without its score.

Back to the Future, for me, is the quintessential full package. It’s humorous, it’s action-packed, the story is complex yet accessible, and it has so much to offer on repeat viewings. After all, it’s [kind of] like Doc famously said, if you’re going to make a time machine movie, why not do it with some style? And it has style in spades. I mean, can you get cooler than Huey Lewis and the News? Moreover, I have rarely seen and experienced a more exciting and satisfying finale to a film.

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It’s hard to pin the success of this classic on just one facet of the creative process, and as such, the film is remembered as more than the sum of its parts. Director Robert Zemeckis, and co-writer Bob Gale assembled and executed the perfect creative decisions (along with the deft hand of Steven Spielberg from the producer’s chair). The result is that Back to the Future did everything right, including taking more than one pass at the script (anyone remember that alternate/original ending at the nuclear test site?), and course correcting when things just weren’t clicking.

The film wrapped up everything in a pretty little bow, but it was more than gratifying; it left you begging for more as the credits rolled. Then again, how could you not when Doc barrels up Marty’s driveway and whisks him and Jennifer off to 2015 in a flying DeLorean??

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So at this point, I’ll let our friends similarly spell out why they love (or in the case of two writers, greatly appreciate) this exceptional film and series 30 years later. Jumping jigawatts, how time flies!


Bryan KlugerBoomStickComics.com

With a talent roster that includes Robert Zemeckis, Stephen Spielberg, Frank Marshall, Kathleen Kennedy, Bob Gale, and Alan Silvestri, it’s no wonder that Back to the Future has become one of the most beloved and iconic movies of all time. These great creative minds came together and perfectly told a story of family and second chances. I was five years old when I saw Back to the Future in the theater. My BTTF Johnny Be Goodeparents took me, and I was completely blown away by everything I saw. It got me to learn how to skateboard and learn all the music discography of Chuck Berry, after which I realized that Michael J. Fox did not indeed create that song. But I think what makes Back to the Future (for a lack of a better word), timeless, is its characters and their relationships with one another.

No matter what time and place you’re from, it’s likely you wanted to have the beautiful girlfriend. You wanted to be in a rock band. You also probably had that odd friend or family member that would teach you cool and interesting things, (mechanics, movies, space, etc.). In this case, it was a high-schooler and an older scientist/inventor played by Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd respectively. Their performances and on-screen chemistry have never been matched to this day, which is why Back to the Future is still so memorable thirty years later. But that’s not the only reason.

Now it’s a fair assumption that high school kids could never imagine their parents being cool, at any age. In 1985, his parents and BTTF Martys Roomprincipal tell Marty he won’t amount to anything (even Huey Lewis says he’s “too darn loud”) and that he shouldn’t pursue his dreams. But Marty accidentally travels back in time to see his parents…as teenagers. To us kids, we never saw how our parents were when they were our age, which allows us to relate to this movie – we get to see the other side of our would-be parents at a time when rock n’ roll was born and teenagers were getting a bigger say in things.

I can go on and on for a few days talking about my favorite moments in Back to the Future, whether it be a Delorean traveling at 88mph, or “The Libyans”, or even Marvin Berry calling Chuck on the phone to tell him about that “new sound”. From the iconic and moving score, to Zemeckis’s perfect camera movements, Back to the Future made a generation of kids and adults fall in love with every scene and character in the film, which it still does today. I can easily say that Back to the Future is one of my favorite movies of all time.

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Tim Burden, Film Music Professional – TimBurden.com

It stands to reason that Spielberg demanded ‘more’ of Alan Silvestri’s infectiously brilliant Back to the Future theme during the recording sessions. It’s as iconic as the movie and, after all, Spielberg knows what music sounds good doesn’t he? The brief to Alan from Robert Zemeckis was to make the score sound “Big!” The film music scoring mixer, Dennis Sands helped achieve that too….

The recent “Back to the Future in Concert” performances are a solid reminder of how utterly timeless (!) the film is. Crowds flocked to the Hollywood Bowl, Washington, Scotland and to the World Premiere in Switzerland. London’s prestigious Royal Albert Hall plays host to the concert experience next, on July 4th appropriately enough. I can’t count the amount of times I have seen the movie, add another one after writing this no doubt.

I’ve been fortunate to get to speak with Alan Silvestri a number of times and BTTF is a popular subject. Here are some links to those moments, which I hope you’ll enjoy listening to.

Oh, by the way. One of my favourite moments in the BTTF Trilogy is the closing few bars of Part 2, when we are treated to a peek of Part 3 before the credits roll. Glad to speak to Alan about that as well. Great showmanship!

These features were published or broadcasted on the BBC, Q Radio, FSM Online and Cinema Musica from 2009-2014.

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Andrew Crump – Paste Magazine

Confession time: I don’t like Back to the Future. I know. What a crime against cinema. Everybody is supposed to like this movie, but for the life of me I can’t help but react to Marty McFly’s time travel antics by cringing. Sorry, I am mentally incapable of buying the idea that Michael J. Fox is responsible for architecting the formation of rock and roll, and like so much of 1980’s pop culture, the film’s smirking narcissism and rose-colored historical outlook grates on me. Were the 1950’s really that great?

But if the film’s charms don’t work on me, and it does have its charms, then I’m at least able to sit back and appreciate both its influence on pop culture today (for better or worse) and its seamless craft. Back to the Future is a masterclass in screenwriting; if more blockbusters packed scripts that cared about minimizing waste and succinctly reinforcing ideas in service of their narratives, well, we’d probably have more blockbusters that have the kind of breezy, effortless fun Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale infused this film with. Plus, even I can’t deny the brilliance of the film’s opening scene.

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Mark WaltersBigFanBoy.com

For me, Back to the Future significantly defined my childhood and is a strong influence on my love of movies. It has all the ingredients of a perfect cinematic experience – memorable dialogue, a fantastic score, dynamic special effects, and a stellar cast, all in the hands of the superb direction of Robert Zemeckis. There are also so many essential life messages mixed into an awesome sci-fi story.

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The script contains important and timeless themes such as showing respect to your elders, respecting the past and the importance of history, and knowing the consequences of your actions. As the start of a franchise, it sets an example others should follow. As a character piece, it excels at creating memorable heroes and villains. But most importantly, as a narrative concept, it is highly imitated but never duplicated, and really, perhaps most appropriately, withstands the test of time.

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James Wallace – Creative Manager/Programmer | Alamo Drafthouse DFW

Great Scott! Has it been 30 years already?! To just say Back to the Future is my favorite movie of all time undercuts the influence it has had on my life. It’s in the fabric of my time. Part of my DNA. It informed my sense of humor, the way I watch films, my tastes in pop culture, and even my concepts of time, choices, the future and the past. And it was instrumental in my formation as a professional movie nerd. I owe a lot in both my professional and personal life to the time traveling tale of a teen.

BTTF_ZeldaIt’s arguably perfect in every way if ever a film was deserving of that often-used hyperbolic term. A masterclass in storytelling and moviemaking (especially how to do exposition right). The odd coupling of Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd are one of the greatest dynamic duos of all time. And it’s one of the greatest stories ever told on celluloid – boy travels back in time and has to ensure his parents fall in love.

Now, full disclosure, I was only a year old when BTTF was released in 1985. Fast forward five years to 1989. I remember my parents taking me to see Back to the Future II as if it was yesterday. Opening weekend at the legendary General Cinemas NorthPark — a theater that was formative in and of itself in my youth. After the movie, I remember running through the halls of NorthPark Mall, jumping in the air as if I was McFly on a Hoverboard with Power Laced Nikes strapped to my feet! I had seen the future and it was…heavy.

While I’m still waiting on that Hoverboard, these vivid memories serve as my time machine to transport me back to a time where a future 2015 seemed so far off. My whole life was ahead of me. And yet, all of a sudden here we are. A lot is different…it’s not quite that 2015 that the film imagined. But one thing is constant; and that is that the Back to the Future trilogy as a whole remains one of the greatest cinematic adventures to ever go where roads were not needed.

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Jordan Raup – Editor-in-Chief | TheFilmStage.com

As with anyone, there’s a number of formative films from my youth which hold a special place in my heart. They foster the kind of initial experience and memories that have a glossy sheen, one you hope doesn’t shatter upon rewatching. For me, Back to the Future doesn’t fall into this category. I have faint memories watching this, and the rest of the trilogy on cable TV growing up. I always enjoyed it, but for whatever reason, I never had the desire to continually revisit it.

The most special memory I have with the film actually came many years later, as my hometown of Rochester, NY was screening it at the Dryden Theater, a repertory house tied to George Eastman. I took my Dad, and seeing it on the big screen for the first time resulted in newfound appreciation. Few films have the level of consistent entertainment as found in Marty McFly’s adventure, particularly when sharing the journey with an audience – a testament for the big-screen experience if there ever was one.

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Devin PikeBigFanBoy.com

As a sci-fi nut, Back to the Future was an easy sell for me in 1985. Time-travel? Sure, sign me up. However, what I found at the theater that day was a really subversive bit of filmmaking from Robert Zemeckis.

See, we were in the throes of Fifties nostalgia, fueled by Baby Boomers and their need to make everything pure and simple, like it was when they were kids. What Back to the Future did was show that kids back then were the same -horny, and rambunctious, and “slackers” – as we were in the Eighties.

Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox had a wonderful on-screen chemistry (as much as I love Eric Stoltz, I’m immensely grateful they figured that recasting was necessary). Even when there’s large blocks of exposition and “Time Travel Paradoxes For Dummies” happening, the audience’s eyes don’t glaze over because with those two actors, IT WORKED.

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So many of the movies I loved from that era are incredibly painful to watch, because they’re so dated. Zemeckis, Gale, Spielberg…they took the time to make a real gem of a film that’s an immediate stopdown for me to this day. When I show my kid how to make a classic film, this will always be on the list of exhibits.


back-to-the-future-deloreanSo after all this time, it’s amazing to see the longevity of a story which the studios purportedly passed on 40 times. We really have come a long way, but to look back on the film and subsequent sequels, it feels like very little time has passed. But here we are in good old 2015 celebrating the landmark event that was Back to the Future (still no hoverboards as teased in its sequel) and looking forward to another 30 years and (like all the rad fan/professional art peppered though the post) all the fans it will continue to inspire. What are your favorite memories from Back to the Future??

  • This is excellent!

  • Mark Walters

    I think this quote is rather appropriate – “A vision! A picture in my head! A picture of this! This is what makes time travel possible: the flux capacitor! It’s taken me nearly thirty years and my entire family fortune to realize the vision of that day. My God, has it been that long?”

  • Brian Reese

    great article . favorite moment has to be “you built a time machine… out of a delorean?!” or “run for fun?! what the hell kinda fun is that?!”