Robert Zemeckis’ time travel comedy Back to the Future is widely regarded to be one of the greatest movies ever made. The actors are all perfect in their roles (particularly the central duo of Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly and Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown), the script makes expert use of the plant-and-payoff screenwriting technique, and the deft direction makes the dense plot feel light and breezy. Despite the fact that it would become an instant hit due to positive word-of-mouth marketing by audience members, Back to the Future didn’t exactly race to the screen at 88 mph. It had a troubled production. Here are 10 Behind-The-Scenes Facts About Back To The Future.
10 The script was rejected 44 times before being accepted
It’s hard to imagine any movie producer or studio executive receiving the near-perfect screenplay for Back to the Future and not wanting to make it, given what a classic the film has become. But when Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale were first sending out the script, it was rejected 44 times. Almost every major studio wanted nothing to do with it, with Disney reasoning it was too risqué with the storyline of a mother falling for her son and every other studio reasoning it wasn’t risqué enough compared to other contemporary comedies. The film school at the University of Southern California now uses Back to the Future’s impressive script as their ultimate model for “The Perfect Screenplay.”
9 Jeff Goldblum was considered for the role of Doc Brown
It’s impossible to imagine anyone other than Christopher Lloyd in the role of Doc Brown. Lloyd nailed all of Doc’s mannerisms, his manic energy, erratic line delivery, all-over-the-place mental state, and even his slapstick scenes, which are hard to pull off. But Lloyd wasn’t the only actor that the producers considered for the part. They also looked at John Lithgow, who might’ve given a more sensitive portrayal of Doc; Dudley Moore, who might’ve gone more over-the-top with the line delivery; and the immortal Jeff Goldblum, who might’ve played the role even zanier and out there than Lloyd eventually did.
8 Screenwriter Bob Gale got the idea from his dad’s yearbook
One day, when screenwriter Bob Gale was between projects, he found himself flicking through his dad’s high school yearbook. This started a train of thought that led Gale to contemplate whether or not he and his dad would’ve been friends if they’d been teenagers going to school at the same time.
Gale figured that he’d only be able to know this for sure if he went back in time. This led him to the concept that would eventually grow into Back to the Future. Gale has since maintained that seeing if he’d be friends with his dad as a teenager is what he’d do if he had access to a real-life time machine.
7 Mark Campbell provided Marty McFly’s singing voice
If the synching of Michael J. Fox’s mouth movements and Marty McFly’s singing voice seems a little off in scenes like the climactic “Johnny B. Goode” performance, that’s because it wasn’t actually Fox’s voice. A professional musician named Mark Campbell was brought in to do all of Marty’s singing, and he is even credited as “Marty McFly” in the film’s closing credits. Campbell’s biggest claim to fame — aside from providing Marty’s singing voice in Back to the Future, that is — is his tenure as the lead singer of the popular band Jack Mack and the Heart Attack in the ‘80s.
6 The studio head tried to change the title to Spaceman from Pluto
Sid Sheinberg, the head of Universal Pictures, used to annoy the crew of Back to the Future by incessantly sending them notes. The most egregious example of this is when he sent them a memo asking to change the title (he didn’t think anyone would watch a movie with the word “future” in the title, which is ridiculous) to Spaceman from Pluto. The resounding consensus among the crew was that such a title would tank the film, so executive producer Steven Spielberg sent Sheinberg another memo telling him what a great “joke” his title suggestion was. Sheinberg was so embarrassed that he never brought it up again.
5 Doc’s hunch came from Christopher Lloyd being so tall
One of Doc Brown’s defining characteristics is his hunch. In most of his scenes, he’s hunched over. It contributes to his “mad scientist” aesthetic, but it turns out that wasn’t the reason the hunch was added to his character. When Back to the Future began production, it became apparent to the crew that Christopher Lloyd was noticeably taller than Michael J. Fox. Lloyd stands at 6’1”, while Fox is 5’4½”. This made it tough for the camera crew to frame the two actors in the same shot. So, Doc was given a hunch so that he could appear in closeups with Marty.
4 Lea Thompson’s old lady makeup took three hours to apply
Back in the days before digital de-aging technologies would be pioneered in Hollywood, prosthetics and makeup were required to make actors look a different age. Lea Thompson was 23 years old when she took the role of Lorraine McFly in Back to the Future, but the opening scenes set in the present day required her to appear 47 years old.
On the days that Thompson was shooting these scenes, she had to sit in the makeup chair for three hours while the effects were being applied. Thompson has said that she terrified her mother when she went home in the makeup.
3 Hill Valley should be familiar to fans of The Twilight Zone
In the very first episode of Rod Serling’s groundbreaking run of The Twilight Zone, “Where is Everybody?,” a man awakens in a small town he doesn’t recognize and is shocked to discover that there’s nobody there. Anyone who’s seen this brilliant episode will notice that the town looks awfully similar to Hill Valley from the Back to the Future trilogy. That’s because it was shot on the same backlot as the classic Twilight Zone installment. Robert Zemeckis even shot the scene in which Marty wanders through the town square in 1955 similarly to how the scene from The Twilight Zone episode was shot.
2 Test audiences didn’t realize the movie was a comedy
When the test audiences were first brought in to watch Back to the Future, for whatever reason, no one told them the movie was a comedy. Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale were confused as they surveyed the audience’s reaction during the movie — the jokes weren’t landing, because they didn’t realize they were jokes. When Einstein the dog is put in the DeLorean to test Doc’s time machine, the audience froze up, expecting something to go wrong with the experiment and something terrible to happen to the dog. It’s interesting to picture an audience’s reaction to a comedy that they don’t know is a comedy.
1 Michael J. Fox almost didn’t play Marty McFly
Michael J. Fox was always the producers’ first choice for the role of Marty McFly, and it’s easy to see why, but his commitments to the sitcom Family Ties meant that he couldn’t make the shoot. His co-star Meredith Baxter was on pregnancy leave, so Fox was carrying the whole show. Back to the Future began shooting with the producers’ backup actor, Eric Stoltz (perhaps best known for playing Vincent Vega’s heroin dealer in Pulp Fiction). Six weeks into filming, the producers decided Stoltz was wrong for the role and fired him. By then, Baxter was back on Family Ties and Fox was able to juggle both the TV show and the movie.