20 Fascinating Futuristic Facts About Back to the Future Part II
For children of the 80s, few film trilogies are quite so legendary as Back to the Future. The sequels don’t necessarily hold up quite so well as the classic 1985 original, but they’re still very good – and now that 2015 is well behind us in reality, there’s a particular entertainment value in the imagined future of Back to the Future Part II. But did you know the following facts about the second film in the sci-fi comedy series?
20. It was filmed back-to-back with Back to the Future Part III
Back to the Future Part II had a budget of $40 million and went on to make an impressive $336 million at the box office, making it the third-highest-grossing film of 1989.
Initially, there were no plans for a sequel to the original Back to the Future, but its massive success meant that plans were swiftly made for two further films, which it was decided would be filmed back-to-back.
Appetite for the follow-up films had been brewing for some time: production of the latter instalments was delayed due to director Robert Zemeckis being tied up with 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
The two Back to the Future sequels had originally been intended to be a single movie, comprising both the time paradox storyline and the Western adventure, but it soon became apparent that there was too much material for one film.
As a result, to keep continuity straight between the movies, they were filmed back-to-back in a back-breaking eleven-month stretch of photography: by the time Part II was sent to the editors’ studio, Part III was already on-set.
Zemeckis and Gale had intended Part II to be the explicit foundation for Part III, but Warner Bros wanted to market the film as something closer to a standalone item. This made for some discontented audiences when the conflicts of Part II, such as Doc’s disappearance, were left unresolved.
19. Claudia Wells had to be replaced after she dropped out to care for her mother
Claudia Wells played Jennifer Parker in the original Back to the Future, but had to pull out of appearing in Part II after her mother was diagnosed with cancer.
Elizabeth Shue was cast in the role instead and even re-shot the final scene of the first film, so it could be ‘replayed’ at the beginning of the second.
Shue (otherwise best known for The Karate Kid, Cocktail and Adventures in Babysitting) has since revealed that Back to the Future Part II was one of her favourite-ever projects, and she gladly reprised her role for Part III.
Claudia Wells would eventually return to acting with 2008’s Still Waters Burning opposite Ian Hart, best known for portraying Professor Quirrell in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
However, Wells wasn’t the first to play Jennifer Parker. When Eric Stoltz was still in the role of Marty, Melora Hardin – who’d later be known for The Office – starred opposite him.
However, when Michael J Fox took over, Claudia Wells also took over from Hardin – mainly because Hardin is two inches taller than Fox.
18. It was originally going to be set in 1967
A version of Part II’s script saw Marty travel back to the year 1967, where he is arrested for not having a Vietnam War draft card.
This early draft was written exclusively by Bob Gale, as Robert Zemeckis was busy with Who Framed Roger Rabbit. In the mooted story, George and Lorraine McFly, having successfully paired off at the high school dance, grow up to become hippies in the anti-war counterculture craze.
However, when Zemeckis returned from Roger Rabbit, he had a number of issues with Gale’s effort. For one thing, if George and Lorraine had graduated high school in 1955, they’d probably be too old to be hippies in 1967.
The killing blow to the concept, however, was that the idea of Marty going back in time to fix his parents’ mistakes was much too similar to the first film. Instead, Zemeckis thought traveling to the future would be more fruitful.
In particular, Zemeckis was keen to explore the idea of time paradoxes. Hence, the working title for Part II (at that time also incorporating elements of what would become Part III) was Paradox.
In fact, on some behind-the-scenes footage, you can see the title ‘Paradox’ on the slate before takes.
17. It features Elijah Wood in his very first film role
Back to the Future Part II features a cameo from a young actor who would go on to much bigger things: Elijah Wood.
Wood’s role, as an awed child by the arcade cabinet, was actually his film debut, more than a decade before he’d make his indelible mark on cinema history as Frodo Baggins.
Speaking in a radio interview ahead of 2015’s ‘Back to the Future Day’ – commemorating the date on which Doc and Marty arrive in the future – Wood noted that few of the film’s supposed advances had caught on.
Not least of which, Wood drily remarks, is “wearing colanders as hats,” perhaps the most memorable part of his blink-and-you’ll-miss it turn as Video Game Boy.
The next year, Wood turned heads as a child star in Avalon, and he went on to star in such hits as The Faculty before really reaching stardom with The Lord of the Rings series.
Today, Wood is both an actor and producer. His film company Spectrevision is behind such independent horror movies as Mandy, Daniel Isn’t Real and Color Out of Space.
16. Crispin Glover successfully sued the film’s producers for using his likeness
Crispin was a perfect fit for George McFly: not un-handsome but certainly a little kooky, making him a believable foil for the confident Marty. However, the anxiety Glover exuded as McFly Sr belied some harsh negotiations going on behind-the-scenes.
According to Glover, he discovered that he was offered far less to reprise his role in any given sequel than Lea Thompson for a similarly sized role, supposedly because Glover had objected to the ending of the first film – in which George McFly’s violence results in a swish car and a glitzy, wealthy lifestyle.
Glover’s agents demanded a higher fee and script approval, and Bob Gale responded by offering even less money than before. As a result, Glover pulled out of the sequel as was replaced by Jeffrey Weissman in heavy prosthetics.
This is partly why George McFly is almost always shot in the dark, from behind, or upside-down. However, that wasn’t the end of the story.
Glover sued the film’s producers for using his likeness without his consent. He won the case, and the precedent led to a new clause in Screen Actors Guild contracts similarly protecting unauthorised uses of an actor’s likeness.
If you’re looking for a flavour of how Gale and Zemeckis felt about Glover, note that George McFly died on the 15th of March, otherwise known as the Ides of March. This date is famous for the assassination of Julius Caesar, killed for being an autocrat too used to getting his own way.
15. The film correctly predicted a number of future technologies
The 2015-set ‘future’ in the film was meant to be tongue-in-cheek rather than genuine prophecy, but it did feature a number of technological changes that came to pass in the real world.
These correct predictions include the use of drones, flat-screen TVs, video chat, wearable technology, tablet computers and paying for items using portable devices.
In fact, your boss appearing on a screen in your home to report on your work, and then fire you, has become a lot more common in the age of Zoom. (Not that we’re speaking from experience, mind you…)
In a further validation of the film, though one that renders it flatter by the day, the ‘antiques’ found in the shop window soon after Marty arrives in 2015 truly are antiques. What was meant to be a joke is now just truth!
This is especially true for the NES cartridge on display, since we’re now six console generations ahead of that ‘cutting edge’ technology.
In Café 80s, as well as Wild Gunman, there’s a Pac-Man arcade cabinet labelled as a priceless antique that shouldn’t be touched.
14. The filmmakers fooled some people into believing that hoverboards were real
One much-loved Back to the Future item, and one we’re all still waiting for, is the hoverboard. With skateboarding culture hitting its peak in the late 80s and 90s, the idea of zipping around on naught but thin air seemed like a lot of fun.
As a result, when Robert Zemeckis joked about hoverboards being real in promotional material, there was a horde of fans eager to take him at his word.
“They’ve been around for years,” Zemeckis implored his audience. They “float on magnetic energy … it’s just that parent groups haven’t let toy manufacturers make them.”
The hoverboards that feature in the film are in fact not technological at all: the actors are held up on wires erased in post-production and have their shoes fastened to the boards. Between takes, they’d need to be hoisted by crew members from mark to mark.
Nonetheless, Zemeckis secured a lucrative sponsorship deal with Mattel, who figured that being attached to such a fun item – and being presented as a brand still dominating the market several decades into the future – was a great investment.
Instead, Mattel found themselves overwhelmed by calls from gullible viewers asking about when hoverboards would be commercially available. As of yet, we’re still waiting!
13. A 2015 short explains why the film got the future so wrong
In the now-long-past year of 2015, you couldn’t move for discussions about Back to the Future. Re-releasing the trilogy on a Blu-ray special edition, Zemeckis and Gale elected to explain why 2015 hadn’t turned out quite like the film had predicted.
Included on the Blu-ray release is a short film titled Doc Brown Saves the World, in which Christopher Lloyd reprises his role as the time-hopping mad scientist, filling in gaps in the canon along the way.
In the film, Doc explains that a host of “seemingly harmless inventions” featured in the film “cause a catastrophic chain of events by the year 2045 that lead to a post-apocalyptic hellscape.”
Hoverboards and hydrated foods are set to render the population hopelessly overweight, and new nuclear-powered appliances will glitch out, leading to – well, kaboom!
As a result, Doc is forced to hop back into a rebuilt DeLorean and prevent these inventions from ever coming to pass, which explains why nobody is scooting around on floating skateboards in the real 2015.
It’s certainly a fun short – especially seeing Lloyd reprise a role he clearly loves – though the absence of Clara and Doc’s children is never explained. Presumably Clara also got the time-traveling steam train in the divorce.
12. It features a number of vehicles from other famous science fiction films
The time-traveling DeLorean may have become one of the most well-known cars in the history of cinema, but it wasn’t the only sci-fi vehicle to feature in Back to the Future Part II.
In a film rife with Easter Eggs and in-jokes, it’s little surprise that some other classic movie cars make cameo appearances. One of the most famous of these is the StarCar from The Last Starfighter.
A police Spinner from the Ridley Scott classic Blade Runner also appears, though it’s more difficult to spot in the dark.
As for the other vehicles that are seen flying around or – less expensively – parked, they aren’t quite as futuristic as you’d think. While some are concept cars (in other words, cars designed to be ahead of the curve, but never produced in great numbers), other are more familiar vehicles.
These include Ford Mustangs and Probes that have been augmented with trims and custom windshields to make them appear more alien.
Naturally, the DeLorean fits right in among these futuristic-looking vehicles. In 2019 Tesla announced a so-called Cybertruck that was widely compared to the iconic Back to the Future vehicle, so maybe that future really is coming true!
11. The fictional Jaws 19 is directed by Steven Spielberg’s son
One of the more memorable gags about the future occurs when Marty is assailed by a holographic shark outside the cinema (or ‘Holomax’).
The Jaws films, in spite of the critically panned Jaws 3-D and Jaws: The Revenge, are still going strong in the fictional 2015, marking the 19th entry in the franchise.
Jaws 19 is directed by Max Spielberg, son of the legendary director and Amy Irving. Max was born in June 1985, the ‘present’ era of the trilogy.
Max Spielberg hasn’t exactly followed in his father’s footsteps. Instead, he plies his trade as a graphic designer for video games like 2014’s Assassin’s Creed: Unity and 2016’s Battlefield 1. The younger Spielberg, however, did direct a 2002 film called Snap Shot.
Steven Spielberg, who produced the Back to the Future trilogy, is also said to have come up with Marty’s reaction to the hologram – “the shark still looks fake” – as a wink to criticisms of the original Jaws and its notorious mechanical shark.
In early drafts of the script, the hologram and corresponding sign were going to be for a new version of Godzilla. (Coincidentally, that iconic monster was given a Hollywood reboot in 2014, just a year shy of the original script’s prediction.)
10. It broke new ground with the ‘vista glide’ special effect
Actors playing themselves is nothing new – and it wasn’t new in 1989, either. However, this was mostly achieved with clever camerawork and body doubles.
Back to the Future Part II broke the mould by using a VFX trick that allowed the same actor to feature twice in the same frame: the ‘Vista Glide.’
As usual, necessity is the mother of invention. Given the number of times characters interact with their past selves, or alternate future selves, or narrowly avoid continuum-obliterating paradoxes, exactly this technique was needed.
In brief, the camera is divided into segments, and multiple takes are filmed from a static position. That doesn’t seem so unusual in 2020’s world of at-your-fingertips video editing software, but it was quite the advancement in 1989.
The technique was pushed to its limits in the scene with Marty McFly Sr, Marty Jr, and Marlene McFly – with all three characters being played by Michael J Fox (although, contrary to popular belief, Marlene’s voice is dubbed).
However, the limitations of the technique can also be seen. If you look closely at the scene featuring both Biffs, the younger Biff’s hand temporarily disappears as it crosses into the older Biff’s space. Oops!
9. It was Carl Sagan’s favourite time travel movie
However, you may be surprised to learn that among the pantheon of time-hopping movies, Back to the Future Part II was the esteemed scientist Carl Sagan’s favourite by far. Spoiler alert: it’s not because he likes the idea of rehydrated pizza.
The iconic astronomer and Cosmos presenter told screenwriter Bob Gale, in a special commentary on the film, that Part II is “the best movie ever made based on the science of time travel,” owing to its realistic portrayal of time paradoxes.
Robert Zemeckis was evidently flattered by Sagan’s warm words and signed on to direct the big-screen adaptation of Sagan’s novel, Contact.
That’s not the only time that Sagan has connected with the Back to the Future universe. In the 2010-11 Back to the Future video game, released by the now-defunct TellTale Games, Marty and Doc travel to Hill Valley, 1931, to depose a mob-boss version of Biff.
In the game, in which Christopher Lloyd reprises his role and on which Gale consulted, Doc adopts an alias in an attempt to preserve the space-time continuum: Carl Sagan.
8. The film’s gadgets were sold to aid Parkinson’s research
Have you ever dreamed of getting your hands on some self-tying sneakers? How about the refreshing taste of Pepsi Perfect? Well, hop in a DeLorean and go back to the early 2010s, and you can!
Several gadgets from the film have been specially made and sold to raise money for Parkinson’s Disease research, the debilitating neurological disorder from which actor Michael J Fox suffers.
In fact, part of the reason why the hoverboard exists is that Fox had supposedly forgotten how to ride a genuine skateboard in the four years since making the first Back to the Future film. After being diagnosed in 1991, Fox realised this was instead an early indicator of his Parkinson’s.
In 2011, Nike produced 1,500 ‘MAG’ sneakers and auctioned them on eBay, raising money to fight the disease. The first pair sold to British rapper Tinie Tempah for $37,500.
In 2015, PepsiCo produced limited edition Pepsi Perfect bottles for the same purpose. They didn’t sell for the extortionate $45 price tag depicted in the film, though the actual price of $20.15 is also steep.
The Michael J Fox foundation is the largest non-profit combatting Parkinson’s disease in the world and has invested more than $650 million to date.
7. There was a Pizza Hut consultant on-set
Mattel, Nike, Pepsi – Back to the Future Part II is full of recognisable, real-world brands whose sponsorships helped finance the film. But few were as demanding as Pizza Hut.
While the idea of a rehydrating pizza might seem like kooky futurism, and even a satirical jab at declining food standards, the truth is that the pizza scene would simply not have existed without Pizza Hut’s involvement.
The scene was written as a quid pro quo for Pizza Hut’s sponsorship, and the restaurant chain was keen to leave their mark on the film. They even insisted that a professional food stylist and pizza kitchen were provided on-set to make gorgeous pizzas for each and every take.
The Hut ran several ads themed on the film in the weeks surrounding its release, including one in which two 1989 youths joyride the DeLorean to 2015 and ask where they can get pizza.
A nearby police officer points them in the direction of Pizza Hut, of course! Future cops sure do love that doughy goodness.
Further deepening their promotional ties, Pizza Hut also hawked futuristic ‘Solar Shades’ at participating restaurants, perfect for being unable to see the questionable pizza you’re consuming.
6. The opening sequence was made of deleted material from Clint Eastwood’s Firefox
The arresting opening credits sequence of Back to the Future Part II gives us a first-person perspective of the DeLorean driving through an electrified sky.
Even though this perfectly sets the tone for the adventure ahead, originally the footage used wasn’t meant for Back to the Future at all.
The cloud shots from that intro sequence were leftover shots from the 1982 spy thriller Firefox.
Directed by Clint Eastwood (who also plays the lead), Firefox is about a state-of-the-art Russian fighter jet which is hijacked by an American pilot.
These shots for Firefox’s flight sequences were created by Industrial Light & Magic, the FX company behind some of the 80s’ most memorable and pioneering effects on the likes of Star Wars, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and more.
Given the expense of creating such striking cloud shots, it’s understandable that the Back to the Future filmmakers would plump for an “if it ain’t broke…” production philosophy and hope nobody noticed.
5. The dystopian future was inspired by Watchmen
It goes without saying that the Biff Tannen-dominated 1985 is a little different from the 80s that moviegoers knew and loved. For one thing, as seen in the newspaper reporting Doc being committed, Ronald Reagan is nowhere to be found. Instead, Richard Nixon is poised to win a record-breaking fifth term in office.
It’s unsurprising that Nixon, who resigned from office in the wake of the Watergate scandal, remains as popular as ever in Biff’s debauched and corrupt 1985. But there’s more to Nixon’s inclusion than pure symbolism.
Comic book fans might recognise a Nixon autocracy from another popular franchise: Watchmen. In that dystopian, superhero-filled world, Nixon is also ruling in his fifth term.
The Watchmen graphic novel, released 1986-87, was written and illustrated by comic book legends Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.
Moore and Back to the Future screenwriter Bob Gale have both worked on the Batman comics. Moore was a lead writer for The Killing Joke, widely regarded as one of the Dark Knight’s darkest storylines.
Bob Gale would go on to create a Back to the Future comic book series, coming full circle on medium he had loved since his teenage years.
4. Doc’s shirt foreshadows Part III
Since Parts II and III were filmed back-to-back, it’s no surprise that hints abound about the trilogy’s conclusion. One of the most obvious is Doc lamenting that he’ll never get to his favourite era, the Old West (spoiler alert: he does).
However, you’d have to be a truly eagle-eyed viewer to spot an clue that was hiding in plain sight all along: Doc’s garish shirt in fact foreshadows Part III exactly.
The shirt depicts cowboys on horseback and a train. In Part III, Doc and Marty pose as gunslingers and hijack a steam train in order to power the DeLorean.
This very shirt was manufactured as attire for attendants at Universal’s Back to the Future theme park ride. The ride sees Biff steal the original DeLorean, which park-goers must pursue through time in a special eight-seat DeLorean of Doc’s design.
The ride, a static simulator with visual effects, even follows Biff into the Cretaceous period, and Biff is nearly kill by a big dinosaur. Really, this ride’s got everything.
As Back to the Future has become less of a hot cultural property in recent years, the ride has sadly closed, though you can still obtain one of those fancy shirts on eBay. It’ll only cost you a few hundred dollars.
3. There’s a genuine stunt injury in the film
The hoverboard chase is one of Part II’s most iconic moments. Who can forget Marty paddling furiously across a pond while being taunted for using a little girl’s piece of tech? The behind-the-scenes story, however, is a little more problematic.
As movie fans will recall, Griff Tannen’s gang ends up overshooting Marty and careening right into the newly-refurbished Hill Valley courthouse.
The gang smashes through the glass, Marty jumps out of the pond and his self-drying jacket does its thing. Except one member of Griff’s gang doesn’t go actually through the glass…
Due to a technical difficulty with the wires suspending the actors, Cheryl Wheeler-Duncan – the stunt double for Darlene Vogel’s Spike – veers off-course and slams into the concrete pillar next to the glass. Ouch!
She then falls 30 feet on to the concrete below. Evidently Zemeckis saw a silver lining in this on-set mishap, as that take is the one we see in the film.
Wheeler-Duncan was also involved in stunt work for iconic films like Demolition Man, Die Hard 2 and Charlie’s Angels.
2. The filmmakers were undecided about Buford ‘Mad Dog’ Tannen throughout Part II
No one plays a scary-yet-bumbling villain like Thomas J Wilson, whose character’s family tree functions as the antagonist in every Back to the Future film. However, while Zemeckis and Gale had solidified most of Part III while filming Part II, they were a little uncertain about Wilson’s role.
Turning Biff into a gun-toting, Old West outlaw seems like an obvious move, but there’s significant evidence in Part II that Buford ‘Mad Dog’ Tannen remained unfinished mere weeks before the Part III shoot was set to begin.
For one thing, the ‘Pit Bull’ hoverboard that Griff uses to pursue Marty was originally going to be named ‘Mad Dog’, foreshadowing (or, in the timeline of the series, paying homage to) Griff’s ancestor.
It’s unknown exactly why this detail was changed, but it suggests a nervousness about the character’s name. Perhaps Buford’s nickname was originally going to be Pit Bull!
Furthermore, the brief appearance made by Buford Tannen, in the Biff Tannen hagiography playing at his casino, looks nothing like the outlaw we see in Part III.
The filmmakers have admitted that this footage derived from an early screen test for the character, but it seems like much of ‘Mad Dog’ was yet to be decided upon.
1. Marty’s sister was supposed to reappear as a sex worker
As Part II shows in horrifying detail, changes to the past can result in a radically different future. As if this point wasn’t driven home enough by George McFly’s death and Lorraine’s enslavement to Biff, Zemeckis and Gale also had a dark future planned for Marty’s sister.
According to early drafts of the script, the entire McFly family was intended to head down a bleak path in the event of Biff’s rise to power.
For example, Marty’s brother Dave (Marc McClure) does not appear in the film, though Biff uses his ‘probation’ as a bargaining chip with Lorraine. In a deleted scene, it’s revealed Dave has become an alcoholic.
The scene was cut because another McFly sibling scene couldn’t be filmed at all: Wendie Jo Sperber, who plays Marty’s sister, Linda, was meant to appear as a sex worker.
Setting aside the politics of negatively depicting sex workers, the reason for Dave and Linda’s absences was actually a happy one: Sperber was pregnant at the time of the Part II shoot. However, both Sperber and McClure would ultimately return for the climax of Back to the Future Part III.