The success of Back to the Future stands as a testament to the perseverance of creators Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale.
Gale first hit upon the idea for the movie after coming across his father's old high school year book. He began to wonder whether he would have been friends with his dad had they been at school at the same time.
Together with Zemeckis, the pair quickly set about creating a moment of movie history with the script for what would go on to be the highest grossing movie of 1985.
The route to that success was fraught with difficulty though. Gale and Zemeckis saw their Back to the Future script rejected as many as 40 times before getting the green light, with various studios expressing interest and then backing out.
Most studios felt that the script simply wasn’t raunchy enough for a teen comedy, coming in the era of movies like Porky’s and its various sequels. The likes of Disney, meanwhile, were uncomfortable with the idea of a mother failing in love with her son from the future.
In the end, it took the success of another Zemeckis movie, Romancing The Stone, combined with the support of producer Steven Spielberg, to get the project off the ground.
However, if Zemeckis and Gale thought that was the end of their problems they were very, very wrong. Also, if you think that Back to the Future’s issues begin and end with the hiring and firing of the original Marty McFly, Eric Stoltz, then you are wrong too.
Here are the 16 Behind-The-Scenes Secrets You Didn't Know About Back To The Future.
16 Eric Stoltz Annoyed Everyone Including Christopher Lloyd
Stoltz was a serious actor, coming off the back of his Golden Globe-nominated performance as Rocky Dennis in Mask when he landed role of Marty McFly. As such, he brought a seriousness and intensity to the role that may have contributed to his downfall.
For example, Stoltz adhered to the method acting instruction to stay in character between takes. His refusal to answer to his real name was a known source of frustration among the movie's crew and maybe even the cast.
Producer Mark Canton revealed to Caseen Gaines, in an extract published on Vulture, that Christopher Lloyd even reacted to the news that Stoltz had been fired by asking: "'Well, who's Eric?' I said, 'Marty,' and he said, 'Oh, I really thought his name was Marty.'"
To this day, Lloyd struggles to recall the remark, while it’s unclear whether it was said in jest or genuine frustration.
15 Johnny Depp auditioned (badly) for the movie
A lot of actors read for the part of Marty McFly before Eric Stoltz and, eventually, Michael J. Fox landed the role. Thomas C. Howell, John Cusack, and Ralph Macchio, for instance, all tried out for the part. Corey Haim didn’t, despite some online claims to the contrary, but Johnny Depp definitely did.
As an unknown at the time, Depp didn’t end up making much of an impression with his audition. In fact, Bob Gale doesn’t even remember it taking place – but it definitely did.
"I looked through the notes, and I said, ‘Geez, I don’t even remember that we read Johnny Depp!" Gale later recalled to Premium Hollywood. "So whatever he did, it wasn’t all that memorable, I guess!"
Thankfully for Depp, it wasn’t long before he was cast in 21 Jump Street and the rest, as they say, is history.
14 Stoltz Was Left In The Dark Over His Firing
Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale agreed that Eric Stoltz lacked the necessary comedic energy to play Marty and, with original choice Michael J. Fox now available, approached Universal Studios head Sid Sheinberg with a request to swap out the actors.
Sheinberg agreed but felt that the switch could not happen straight away.
Instead, Stoltz was allowed to continue filming in a series of scenes that would ultimately never see the light of day. He went on to film a version of the scene where lightning strikes the clock tower in 1950s Hill Valley and the scene where Doc’s dog, Einstein, tests out the time machine for the first time.
After that, Zemeckis sat down with Stoltz to deliver the bad news. No one knows what was said specifically, but Stoltz didn’t take it well.
13 Biff Clashed With The Original Marty
Though Eric Stoltz was ultimately fired for different reasons, his working relationship with Thomas F. Wilson, the actor who played Biff Tannen, hardly helped matters.
According to an extract from We Don't Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy, one scene in the Hill Valley High School cafeteria called for Marty to get involved in a shoving match with Biff.
Unfortunately, Stoltz was a little too method with his approach, with the book noting that: "Despite repeated requests from Wilson to take it easy, Stoltz didn't, forcing the heels of his hands into the supporting actor's collarbone with increasing strength."
Wilson had hoped to get some measure of revenge later in filming but Stoltz left the project before he had the chance to.
12 The DeLorean Was A Piece Of Junk
The DeLorean DMC-12 was picked as the specific vehicle of choice for Back to the Future’s time machine on account of its gullwing doors, which gave the car an alien spaceship quality.
It was a nightmare to deal with on set, though, as it regularly broke down and proved difficult to manoeuvre, resulting in some delays to filming.
Michael J. Fox didn’t have a great experience with the DeLorean either. Once all of the camera, lighting, and fake time machine equipment had been installed inside the car, Fox had very little room to move around.
As a result, Fox found himself regularly hitting his forearm and knuckles when shifting gear during takes. A faulty door mechanism also ensured that he constantly hit his head while getting out of the car – something that was kept in the final movie.
11 Christopher Lloyd really didn’t want to do the movie
Though it seems hard to believe now, Christopher Lloyd didn’t actually want to play Doc Brown. He’d had enough of movies and television at the time and wanted to try something else.
"At first I was going to turn it down," he told News. "I was planning to go back to New York to pursue a theatre career — that’s where I started out ... I really had to think about the film. There was some hesitation."
It came pretty close to not happening but the Back to the Future producers had their heart set on Lloyd as Doc Brown so they pulled out all the stops, convincing the actor to come out to Los Angeles for last ditch talks.
In the end, Bob Zemeckis was able to convince Lloyd to sign up for the movie, but it was a close call.
10 Huey Lewis Didn’t Want To Do The Soundtrack
Huey Lewis and the News may be intrinsically linked with Back to the Future now, but he was initially hesitant about writing a soundtrack song for the movie.
"I had a meeting with Bob Gale, producer Steven Spielberg, and Zemeckis says, 'We’ve just written this movie and the lead character Marty McFly's favorite band would be Huey Lewis and the News. Would you write a song for the film?'" Lewis told USA Today.
"And I said, 'I’m flattered, but I don’t know how to write for film.' Plus, I didn’t fancy writing a song called Back to the Future." Lewis eventually agreed to simply send Zemeckis the next song he wrote which ended up being Power of Love.
"I had not read the script or seen the film. And they used it perfectly," he said.
9 It Was Eventually Banned In China
While Disney had balked at Back to the Future over its inappropriate mother-son storyline, the Chinese government ended up having another issue with the movie altogether: time travel.
In 2011, China’s censorship board passed a motion that banned any and all entertainment that dealt with the concept of time travel.
Time travel was becoming a popular notion for TV and filmmakers at the time. Chinese government officials opted to ban Back to the Future because of its use of time travel and the "disrespectful portrayal of history"” shown in the movie.
The movie's ban was eventually lifted, though. Perhaps more surprisingly, given the portrayal of Libyan "terrorists" in the movie, Back to the Future was never banned in Libya.
8 The Movie Was Almost Given The Dumbest Name Ever
Back to the Future might have seemed like a pretty perfect title to most, but Sid Sheinberg felt otherwise. A memo sent from the studio boss to Steven Spielberg revealed that, while he thought the script was "terrific," he felt the title of Back to the Future was "less than wonderful."
Sheinberg’s recommendation? Rename the movie Space Man From Pluto. According to Sheinberg, Marty would be the "Space Man" in question while the title had "heat, originality, and projects fun."
Fortunately, Spielberg was able to rebuff the suggestion without hurting Sheinberg’s feelings. In an interview with Shortlist, Bob Gale revealed that Spielberg wrote "a letter back which said: ‘Hi Sid, thanks for your most humorous memo, we all got a big laugh out of it, keep ‘em coming.’"
7 The Original Jennifer Parker Left For Sad Reasons
Claudia Wells only landed the role of Jennifer Parker after Michael J. Fox replaced Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly. The actress originally cast as Jennifer was simply too tall, paving the way for the 5ft 3in Wells’ to enter the fold.
Unfortunately for Wells, a serious family issue prevented her from reprising the role.
"When the time came to shoot the sequels, my mom was dying from breast cancer, so reprising my role was the last thing on my mind," Wells told News.
"When Elizabeth Shue stepped in and took on Jennifer, it was odd watching her on screen in the role I’d created," she said. "It was a sort of like having an out of body experience. I remember just slumping in my seat in the cinema and hiding behind my popcorn!"
6 Crispin Glover Turned Down The Sequel For Moral Reasons
The reasons behind Crispin Glover’s absence from the Back to the Future sequels are multiple, depending on who you believe. Difficult behaviour, an ongoing lawsuit, and tensions with Robert Zemeckis have all been cited down the years.
According to Glover, the reason was something altogether different: morals.
Glover told Den of Geek: "It had to do with money, and what the characters were doing with money ... I said to Robert Zemeckis [that] I thought it was not a good idea for our characters to have a monetary reward, because it basically makes the moral of the film that money equals happiness."
Glover claims to have argued "the love should be the reward," stating that "Zemeckis got really mad" over his questioning. Whatever the truth or not, Glover did not return.
5 They Nearly Nuked The Fridge
The first draft of Back To The Future was markedly different from the version that made it on to the big screen. This was most notable in the climax of that version of movie, which originally saw Marty and Doc head to a Nevada desert nuclear test site with the time machine hooked up to a refrigerator.
Marty was supposed to get inside and wait for it the machine to harness the power generated by the nearby nuclear blast, sending him back to the present day.
Incredibly, it was Steven Spielberg who vetoed the idea, claiming that children would end up imitating the scene and getting trapped inside fridges.
Yep, the guy who went on to coin the term "Nuke the Fridge" for his efforts on Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull told someone else it was a dumb idea.
4 Lea Thompson Wasn’t Keen On Crispin Glover’s Replacement
While Glover wasn’t hugely missed on set after Jeffrey Weissman replaced him as Marty’s father, George McFly, in Back to the Future Part II, co-star Lea Thompson was a fan.
Thompson told The Hollywood Reporter that Glover was an "odd duck" but also "a genius" recalling how they once prepared for a scene by painting a painting of a volcano together. So when it came time to working with Weissman dressed in prosthetics to look like Glover, she was a little cold.
While Weissman bonded with the rest of the cast, Thompson was a little more distant. Weissman recalled to Hasslein Books how Thompson made a habit of introducing him to others on set as "the actor that played Crispin” in a thinly veiled dig at the decision.
3 Bob Gale clashed with the California Raisins
California Raisins spent $50,000 on an advertising campaign based around Back to the Future. The plan was to spend $25,000 on a promotional sweepstake with six Toyota pickups up for grabs.
A further $25,000 was spend on product placement in the movie and advertising. The plan was to have the California Raisins brand advertised on a bench in the movie and in a scene where Marty eats a box of the dried fruit.
However, when the footage was watched back, Bob Gale opted to cut the scene of Marty eating the raisins, as it photographed more like he was eating a "bowl of dirt."
"When the California Raisin Board saw it," Gale recalled to Tom Shone in the book Blockbuster: How Hollywood Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Summer, "they were livid."
California Raisins threatened to sue before eventually settling for a $25,000 refund.
2 One Scene Tested Surprisingly Poorly With Audiences
Test audiences were audibly shocked by one particular, and perhaps surprising, scene from the movie. On paper, the sequence in which Doc Brown sends his dog, Einstein, back in time using the DeLorean as part of a test run, was seen as largely harmless.
However, to test audiences, the scene was seemingly fraught with tension. In fact, test audiences gasped when the dog first went back in time, assuming that Einstein was to perish in that maiden time-travel voyage.
This also led to accusations among some viewers that the movie was guilty of animal cruelty in having Einstein go back in time.
The concerns, thankfully, fell on deaf ears with the filmmakers and the scene remained. Who knows how they would have reacted had Einstein been a chimpanzee rather than a dog, as the original script suggested.
1 Robert Zemeckis was left feeling sick
Despite the sacking of Stoltz, the entirety of Back to the Future was turned around in just 10 weeks. It was even worse for Michael J. Fox, who was still filming Family Ties around the same time.
However, while the young and exuberant Fox was able to battle through, the movie's writer and director, Robert Zemeckis, struggled. He has made no secret of the fact that he was often half asleep through the movie's intensive night shoot schedule.
Worse still, Zemeckis only had one outlet to help him get through those busy days: food. The filmmaker has previously talked about how the busy nature of his work at the time saw him turn to junk food.
As a result, by the time Back to the Future wrapped, Zemeckis had piled on the weight and was generally left feeling a little sick after the experience.
Can you think of any other secrets behind the making of Back to the Future? Sound off in the comment section!