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As the 30th Anniversary of the original Back to the Future is being celebrated, we look back at the surprising facts and trivia surrounding the eventual franchise that has stood the test of time. We focus primarily on the development of the three films, with some added production trivia.
So sit back and let’s accelerate to 88 miles per hour and travel back in time…
- Director Robert Zemeckis and Producer Bob Gale, both of whom wrote the script together, first met in their University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts (USC) Cinema 290 Class in the fall semester of 1971. They were both more interested in mainstream movies compared to their peers that were more interested in highbrow cinema.
- The two Bobs, as they are called, had different aspirations. Zemeckis wanted to direct while Gale wanted to write. They decided to work as a team from that early point on.
- The Bob’s wrote the horror script Bordello of Blood while at USC. More than two decades later, the script would be produced as a Tales of the Crypt movie with a rewritten script by A.L. Karz and Gilbert Adler.
- Zemeckis followed in Steven Spielberg’s footsteps by hanging out around Universal Studios, even though he didn’t have a job (this is famously how Spielberg got his start). When he heard that the television series Kolchak: The Night Stalker was nearing cancellation and its writers were stepping away, the two Bob’s wrote a 9-page treatment. Universal bought it. They were now TV writers, netting $50,000 per contract year. They later quit that industry and decided to focus on features.
- They pitched their idea for a period comedy called 1941 to director/writer John Milius, who agreed to produce and took the eventual script to Steven Spielberg.
- While 1941 was in production, the Bobs sold their script I Wanna Hold Your Hand to Universal and Spielberg agreed to produce. Zemeckis would direct.
- Two years later, the Bobs wrote and produced (with Zemeckis directed) Used Cars for Columbia pictures.
- When Used Cars debuted (but sadly failed miserably at the box office), Bob Gale went to his home town and visited his parents. He was looking through one of his father’s 1940s era yearbook when he saw a picture of his father as class president. Gale had no idea. This lead to the concept of travelling back in time to meet his own parents.
- The two Bobs had always wanted to make a time travel movie, both of whom were fans of H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine and Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone television series.
- In the first draft of the Back to the Future script, Marty McFly was a video pirate running a secret black market operation with Professor Brown (not Doc), who had a pet chimp named Shemp.
- The script was rejected by all studios, multiple times.
- Most of the executives wanted to know how involved their collaborator Steven Spielberg would be. While Spielberg had agreed to exec-produce, the Bobs wanted to keep him out of the pitching process. They were close to him, but didn’t want to be known as the guys that got studio jobs because of their friendship with the titan that was and is Steven Spielberg.
- The script was deemed too provocative for Disney because of the scene where Marty shares an awkward kiss with his teenage mother.
- Zemeckis was hired to direct Romancing the Stone, however, the studio was already giving up on the film during production, thinking that their other film Rhinestone, starring Sylvester Stallone and Dolly Parton, would be the runaway hit that they needed. Romancing the Stone made a then outstanding $76 million at the box office. Rhinestone bombed, making only $21 million.
- Back to the Future would go on to be exec-produced by Spielberg and green lit, thanks to the success of Romancing the Stone especially.
- Back to the Future would be Amblin’s first project that Steven Spielberg himself did not direct.
- Studio head Sin Sheinberg insisted on changing the name of Marty’s mother, then Eileen, to the first name of his wife, actress Lorraine Gary.
- Sheinberg hated the chimp sidekick. It was changed to a dog.
- Sheinberg wanted Professor Brown to be referred to as Doc.
- Michael J. Fox was always the first choice to play Marty, but his Family Ties contract curbed that.
- Johnny Depp, George Newbern, Charlie Sheen, Corey Hart, and C. Thomas Howell were considered for the role of Marty until Eric Stoltz was hired.
- After six weeks of shooting, Eric Stoltz was replaced. The footage and performance just wasn’t panning out. Michael J. Fox worked day and night on Family Ties and Back to the Future after being finally cast.
- To this day, people swear that the TO BE CONTINUED at the end of Back to the Future was in theaters. It wasn’t. It was later added to the VHS release when the two sequels were green lit.
- Crispin Glover demanded more money for the sequel(s). The studio, as well as the two Bobs, offered him a hefty raise, but Glover still balked, wanting more. He was replaced in the second film with an actor that wore facial prosthetics and the character of George McFly was virtually written out of the script. In the second film, the story point of George’s death in the alternate 1985 universe was the direct result of the character being written out.
- There was originally once single sequel script called Paradox. Due to the scope of the story, it was separated into two sequels that would be filmed back-to-back, which at the time was a very new concept of production.
Back to the Future went on to garner $381 million at the worldwide box office. It’s sequels garnered $331 million and $244 million worldwide respectively.
Have an action packed script? Submit to ScreenCraft’s Action & Thriller Screenplay Contest! Or if you think you have the next time travel hit, get it ready to ScreenCraft’s Science Fiction Screenplay Contest in the summer!
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