In plenty of film trilogies, one weak entry undoes all of the good work done by the other two. Consider, for example, the let-down of Alien III after Alien and Aliens!
While it’s commonly held that second and third entries in the Back to the Future franchise don’t quite match up to the first, they certainly didn’t let us down.
We’ve already provided you with some fabulous facts about Back to the Future, so now the adventures continues. Where we’re going, we don’t need roads – just hoverboards, please!
20. It was filmed back-to-back with 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.
The appetite for sequels had been brewing for some time: production of the latter instalments was delayed due to Robert Zemeckis being tied up with 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
The two 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.
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. The previous year, Shue had starred in Tom Cruise’s bartending flick Cocktail, and in 1995 would be Oscar-nominated for her performance alongside Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas.
Shue 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.
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.
17. It features Elijah Wood in his very first film role
It’s no secret that Back to the Future is full of famous stars. In fact, Crispin Glover would go on to star as the Thin Man in the first Charlie’s Angels movie! But did you spot a young Elijah Wood in the world of 2015?
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.
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.
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!
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.”
Hoverboard-sponsor 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. April Fools announcements were dominated by hoverboards; by October, fans were eagerly waiting for a DeLorean to appear in the sky. 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.
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, like Ford Mustangs, heavily modified.
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 4, are still going strong in the fictional 2015, marking the nineteenth 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.
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).
9. It’s Carl Sagan’s favourite time travel movie
Humans are so fascinated with time travel that we spend so much of our lives wondering how we can recapture the past or conquer the future. Hollywood has taken note, and produced a glut of time travel movies that run the gamut from action flicks like The Terminator to wacky spoofs like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure – and, of course, the Back to the Future series.
However, you may be surprised to learn that – among this vast array of time-hopping adventures – Back to the Future Part II is 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.
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 research, the debilitating neurological disorder with which Michael J Fox was diagnosed.
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 symptom of 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.
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!
6. The opening sequence was made of deleted material from Clint Eastwood’s Firefox
The 80s was a golden era for futuristic vehicles. Whether it was the super-copter of Blue Thunder or K.I.T.T. – or, of course, the DeLorean – audiences were encouraged to dream big about transportation. But there was more crossover than you might have realised.
The arresting intro of Back to the Future Part II, a first-person perspective of the DeLorean diving through an electrified sky, sets the tone for the adventure ahead, but originally it wasn’t meant for Back to the Future at all.
The clouds shots from that intro sequence had already been used for Firefox, a 1982 spy thriller in which Clint Eastwood steals an experimental fighter plane, the weapons of which can be controlled with the pilot’s mind.
Quite how footage from Firefox was repurposed for Back to the Future Part II isn’t clear. What we do know, however, is that the cloud shots were created by visual effects titans Industrial Light & Magic (ILM).
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.
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.
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.
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.
2. The filmmakers cut foreshadowing about Buford ‘Mad Dog’ Tannen
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!
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 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.