The Many Faces Of Michael J. Fox

Published 5 years ago by , Updated March 3rd, 2014 at 6:44 am,

In celebration of the 25th anniversary of Back To The Future, the entire trilogy was re-released on a special edition Blu-ray DVD this week. In addition, AMC theatres held select screenings of the original film on 158 screens in over 40 cities.

Fans of Back To The Future came out to celebrate and revisit the iconic characters created in the films: Chistopher Lloyd as the lovable mad scientist, Doc Brown; Crispin Glover as the quintessential geek-hero, George McFly; Thomas F. Wilson as the equally quintessential bully-who-gets-his, Biff Tannen; Lea Thompson as Marty’s (sometimes disturbingly) super-sexy mom, Lorraine; and of course, Michael J. Fox as the young, old and young again, Marty McFly.

Michael J Fox’s career spans nearly 40 years and includes some of the most memorably charming characters ever to be captured on celluloid (well, back then it was mostly still celluloid). From Alex P. Keaton to Brantley Foster to Spin City’s Mike Flaherty, Michael J. Fox is always somehow relatable and likable, even when his characters are committing what may be some less-than-savory acts. Those qualities are what made him the perfect choice to portray the appealing, and often excitable, Marty McFly.

He captivated audiences with his portrayal of the every-man/boy, and it’s hard to imagine any other actor in that career-defining role, but, as has oft been discussed of late (and as all of us BTTF nerds know), Michael J. Fox took over the role of Marty five weeks into production on Back To The Future.

eric stoltz back to the future The Many Faces Of Michael J. Fox

Although Fox was always the first choice, scheduling conflicts with Family Ties forced director Robert Zemeckis to hire Eric Stoltz to play the role. A little over a month into production, Zemeckis felt that he wasn’t getting what he needed from Stoltz, and made the switch to Fox. As part of the Back to the Future anniversary Blu-ray, the film’s creators talk about the casting shift, and why Fox was so fundamental to the success of the franchise.

michael j fox back 2 the future The Many Faces Of Michael J. Fox

Take a look at this clip from the feature:

Robert Zemeckis compares Fox to Jimmy Stewart, and the likening feels apropos. Fox has a quality that illustrates, and inspires us to believe in, the best parts of ourselves. He is not a mythic and out of touch hero, but an ordinary man who is living his life in extraordinary ways.

The Power Of Love:


michael j fox family ties The Many Faces Of Michael J. Fox


Michael J Fox represents the opposite of the Emo-lethargy of so many angst-ridden teenage characters and tales today. Whatever he did, he did enthusiastically. An Alex P. Keaton sans Michael J. Fox’s humor may have been an insufferable stuffed shirt, but with it, Alex became the most dynamic and beloved character on Family Ties.

In a New York Times article about the DVD release of the sitcom (which ran on NBC from 1982-1989) writer Susan Stewart theorizes that the show “probably wouldn’t have lasted two seasons without Michael J. Fox in his defining role as the Reagan-loving, tie-wearing teenager Alex P. Keaton.”

The series was created as a vehicle for Meredith Baxter-Birney and Michael Gross, who played Fox’s ultra liberal, ex-hippie parents, charged with raising some traditional-to-outright-conservative children. None of the children were more conservative, or more hilarious, than the big business and Nixon-worshiping Alex.

He was silly, and charming. and smart. He did not just love money, he loved money as some might love a puppy…or their newborn. Everything he did was underscored with a genuinely affectionate nature, that affable quality combined with his quick-wit and comedic timing swooped in to steal the show.

Take a look at this clip where Alex inspires a brand new generation of Republicans:

Continue to more Michael J. Fox roles…


The Outsider Who Finds His Way In:

michael j fox teenwolf The Many Faces Of Michael J. Fox

Michael J. Fox often played the role of the outsider who somehow finds his way to his hearts desire, and eventually back to himself. In the 1986 film Teen Wolf he was the somewhat nerdy boy turned ultra popular…er, wolf, who finds that the friends who were with him prior to his (exceedingly) dramatic change are the ones he values most. He is also faced with the need to integrate the person he thought he was with who he has become, as well as who he ultimately wants to be. It was a silly movie, but a fun one; and one that follows a similar thematic trajectory to many of his films.

As the ambitious young upstart Brantley Foster in The Secret To My Success, Fox’s character had to adopt the false identity of an executive named Carlton Whitfield, in order to fast-track it in the world of corporate America. In some respects the film is the farm boys’ Working Girl. In the film Fox must, once again, circle back to himself and find a way to be the man he aspires to be (rich and successful), and yet maintain the core values of his fundamental self (grounded and real).

the secret of my success The Many Faces Of Michael J. Fox

Doc Hollywood saw Fox in a reversal of his usual character trajectory. In it he plays Dr. Benjamin Stone, the big city slicker, who learns to love the simplicity and calm (not to mention naked supermodels) that country life has to offer. Yet, once again, he must reconcile his ambition with his values. A lesser actor may have brought a sanctimonious feel to these characters, but Fox always seemed — just human. He is simultaneously charismatic and down to earth.

doc hollywood The Many Faces Of Michael J. Fox

Dramatic Turns:

casualties of war 1989 The Many Faces Of Michael J. Fox

Fox turned in several performances in dramatic films, yet audiences seemed to prefer him in more comedic roles. Whether portraying a dramatic or comedic character, one thing that remained consistent was his tendency to play men navigating their moral compass against their desires, and the influences surrounding them.

Perhaps the most heart-wrenching example, is his turn in the film Casualties Of War.

This is the film’s official synopsis:

During the Vietnam War, a soldier finds himself the outsider of his own squad when they unnecessarily kidnap a female villager.

We once again see Fox as the outsider, only this time the stakes are so much higher, and the consequences so much more severe. Fox plays Eriksson, against Sean Penn’s Meserve. The two men represent two responses to war: Meserve gives in to every base instinct and violent drive imaginable, while Eriksson, the younger, and perhaps more naive man, strives to cling to what he feels makes him human and whole. Fox, as Eriksson, must find a way to hold onto his sanity and sense of self, in the face of unimaginable circumstances.

Of course, the true tragedy is that the film is based on all to real events.

Michael J Fox Bright lights big city keiffer sutherland The Many Faces Of Michael J. Fox

Fox played another man struggling to maintain a hold of his identity in the face of the seductive glitz, and the intelligentsia glamor of New York in Bright Lights Big City, where he held his own onscreen against Kiefer Sutherland.

Though he delivered a strong performances in these, and other dramatic roles, there is something about Michael J. Fox, and his particular spark, that is best expressed with light material. Perhaps it is his natural optimism and exuberance. Whatever it is, there is something that feels uncomfortable about seeing him set against life’s grittier circumstances. It’s not that he doesn’t have the chops, it is simply a feeling that we made an agreement with him, and in it, he is to make us laugh and believe in life’s greatest possibilities, rather than illustrate the horror of what life sometimes is.

Continue to Fox’s greatest role: a family man…


Family Man:

Perhaps Fox’s greatest role is that of father to the four children with his wife and one-time Family Ties co-star, Tracy Pollan. As a tribute to his family, he has voiced several characters in notable family films including: Homeward Bound, Stuart Little and Atlantis The Lost Empire.

stuart little The Many Faces Of Michael J. Fox

A Return To The Small Screen:

Fox reunited with Family Ties creator Gary David Goldberg in 1996 for his role as deputy mayor Michael Flaherty in ABC’s Spin City. He won three Golden Globes for the role and one Emmy; adding to the three Emmy Awards and one Golden Globe he won for his portrayal of Alex P. Keaton in Family Ties.

Lucky Man:

Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1991 and went public in 1998. Since that time, he has been a tireless campaigner for awareness and increased Parkinson’s research. You can read more about his organization: The Michael J. Fox Foundation For Parkinson’s Research HERE.

Though he retired from his full-time role on Spin City in 2000, Fox has continued to work in television, taking both comedic and dramatic turns in popular shows such as: Boston Legal, Scrubs and Rescue Me.

He is the author of two books, both of which express the same tone and attitude that he has lived his life with, and that has made him such a successful, well-liked, and in-demand actor. His 2002 memoir, Lucky Man, was a New York Times and national bestseller. He wrote a second book, entitled Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist, which debuted at number two on the New York Times bestseller list in March of 2009.

michael j fox always looking up The Many Faces Of Michael J. Fox

Take a look at this excerpt from Always Looking Up, which is so indicative of the man, his message, and his life:

At the turn from our bedroom into the hallway, there is an old full-length mirror in a wooden frame. I can’t help but catch a glimpse of myself as I pass. Turning fully toward the glass, I consider what I see. This reflected version of myself, wet, shaking, rumpled, pinched, and slightly stooped, would be alarming were it not for the self-satisfied expression pasted across my face. I would ask the obvious question, “What are you smiling about?,” but I already know the answer: “It just gets better from here.”

Whatever he does, Michael J. Fox leaves his audience feeling lighter for it. It’s a subtle gift, and also a powerful one. In keeping with honoring this man and his unique contributions to the world of entertainment, I leave you with this:

Sources: The New York Times And The Michael J. Fox Foundation For Parkinson’s Research

Follow me on twitter @jrothc and Screen Rant @screenrant

« 1 2 3View All»

Get our free email alerts on the topics and author of this article:


Post a Comment

GravatarWant to change your avatar?
Go to and upload your own (we'll wait)!

 Rules: No profanity or personal attacks.
 Use a valid email address or risk being banned from commenting.

If your comment doesn't show up immediately, it may have been flagged for moderation. Please try refreshing the page first, then drop us a note and we'll retrieve it. Keep in mind that we do not allow external links in the comments.

  1. i love his acting since i was young he was in all of my fav childhood movies

    • I was reminded of how much I love his work while writing this 😀



  2. good article ive not seen Bright Lights Big City i think i’l check that out
    did use mention the frieghtners -it’s not amazing but it deserves a mention surely more than doc hollywood

    • Hey Fadge,

      Yeah, there was some discussion about which films to include, and the ones mentioned just seemed the most representative of his career path :D. I did think about The Frighteners though ;).



      • @Roth I was just wondering why, but it wasnt really an issue in the slightest, far from it infact. I ment it when I said it was a Good article a very enjoyable read,
        I’d be nice to read more like this most definitly

        • Oh yeah, thanks! I didn’t take that in a bad way at all. It’s just always interesting to think about what to include when you are writing about something that covers so much time. I guess I went with the ones that sort of tell the story of his style/career most clearly…The Frightners, like Light Of Day, were both kind of departures, (though they are very different movies) but I guess could have gotten their own categories.

          I do love Peter Jackson when he directs movies like this – Heavenly Creatures is one of my absolute favorites.

          I’m inspired to check out The Frighteners again now :)

          • always liked the family ties episode were M.j.f gets a job with the suicide hotline utter classic

            • woops didnt mean for that to be a direct reply, my mistake

  3. @ Fadge: I resent that slight against “Doc Hollywood.” I just love that movie. Although I do agree about the lack of “The Frighteners.” Where’s the love on that one?

    I love reading about Michael J. Fox. That “Family Ties” clip was just hysterical. I’ve been meaning to check out those seasons on DVD. This just might be my motivation to move them up on my list.

    Thanks for a fun article.

    • @Jessie I respect your point but I stand by mine, I personally find the film a tad Generic in terms of pace & story telling (not saying it’s not without merit after all M.J.Fox Is in it) but it’s simply not my cup of tea

    • Hey Jessie –

      Thanks! Yeah I loved that clip when I found it :), so quintessentially Alex :). I remembered how much I love his work writing this. As for The Frigteners — I mentioned to Fadge, that here was some discussion about which films to include, and the ones mentioned just seemed the most representative of his career path 😀 . I did think about The Frighteners though ;).

      Thanks for your comments! Had fun writing this one. :)



  4. Man Roth, what a great thread! I will have to find Family Ties on the net; when I saw that FT clip, I had to look around and make sure no one heard me laugh. Wow, such fond memories of such a great show.

    I would also like to mention The American President. Sure, Fox wasn’t the star but anyone who has seen that movie know he was a big part of it.

    • Thanks! Yeah I loved that clip as well :) Yeah, that was a great role for him as well — so much good stuff from him!



  5. Michael J. Fox did a good job playing Marty McFly in 3 Back to the Future films and I do appreciate him being the best actor. I have sense of personality like him time traveling from 1985 to 1955 in Part I, and Part 2 He time travels from 1985 to 2015 and back to 1955 where Older Biff wanted to find every solution to Marty McFly’s past and future. In Part III He time travels from 1955 to 1885 in the Wild West era and meet up with Emmett Brown.

    Part 4 should say “Return to the Future” for Marty McFly, Jr (The Son of Marty McFly) discovering his father that they both turn back from the past to the present time. Its like Indiana Jones meeting with his son in INDINA JONES 4. See in Part 2, When Marty McFly time travels to the year 2015, how he aged to an old man. That will give the screenwriter David Koepp of INDIANA JONES 4 to do.

    • MJF is done with acting though, it takes too big of a toll out on him, did you see him at the Scream? I applaud him for coming out there and just being there for the fans, but you could just tell it took all he had just maintain control :( Parkinsons is just eating away at him bigtime.

      i do miss Family Ties, there will never be, nor has there ever been a show like that on TV.

      • Yeah I saw scream I thought it was preety bad to see how his illness has been taking a toll on him recently(especially his speech). plus christopher lloyd barly said anything either which looked wierd as hell,
        Although I saw -in the actors studio when he was on it and he seemed alot better health wise

  6. Great job, Roth!

    • Thanks Anthony!

  7. Loved the article but noticed no love for “The Hard Way”… That movie was Hilarious. James Woods and Michael J. Fox were classic in it…

    • ;D yeah – that is a good one. It’s hard to fit them all in! So I tended towards ones that illustrated a general theme :D. Good add!



  8. Beautifully written article. I’m a huge fan of MJF and I appreciated reading about him here. Well done, Screenrant. Another reason why I love this site.

    • Thanks Alex! :) I had so much fun writing about him :)



  9. Nothing but love and admiration for Michael J. Fox. He is fantastic. And thanks for reminding me about his second book — I was so impressed with his first one; I need to read the second!

    I’ve been a fan of his since Family Ties, and Back To The Future, and Spin City, and American President, and and and… he’s wonderfully talented, and with his dedication to the Parkinson’s fight he’s also amazingly strong. I can’t say enough about him. Thank you so much for this tribute to the man and his work.

    P.S. It makes me want to rewatch Back To The Future and Family Ties. *big smile*

    • Me too! Getting the new DVD for BTTF and now wanting to get some more from the MJF catalog.

      Thanks :)!


  10. “The Frighteners” was one of MJF’s best films, I can’t believe this was up for debate?
    MJF, class act, loved his heath related/symbolic epoc performance in “Rescue Me!”,,,

    Amazing inside performance when he’s describing his crippling event to Tommy Gaven. Its a total mirror of his real life/career. In a way very inside and revealing, if your read between the lines/script its a very touching performance!