Fast-paced and quick-witted, Back to the Future is a time travel comedy that zaps an average high school student thirty years into the past—the year 1955—and right into the middle of his parent’s high school courtship. To make matters worse, his mother—who is a now a teenager—falls for him instead of his awkward and shy father.
He is an out-of-place teenager in the present, but in the past he finds purpose as he tries to undo his changes to the timeline—coaching his father on dating and fending off his teenaged mother’s lustful advances. But when he sees a bully knocking on his nerdy father’s head, saying, “is there anybody in there,” he recognizes a humiliating scene that will play out in his father’s life again and again—and he learns that he has to become the master of his own destiny.
The science fiction star of the film is a very clever—and very mobile—time machine: a tricked out DeLorean sports car which, when it reaches the speed of 88 miles per hour, jumps through time—leaving a flaming trail of tire tracks. With doors that open upwards and a stainless steel finish, the car itself looks almost like a futuristic UFO, especially to the simple folk of the 1950s. The scenes with the DeLorean were mostly shot during the freezing cold hours before dawn and the hydraulics that held up the DeLorean’s doors failed, slowly lowering them. Michael J. Fox turned this into a running gag as he was constantly hitting his head on the car’s doors.
Christopher Lloyd, who was fresh off of the TV series Taxi, is exceptional as the dangerously zany inventor of the time machine. Not quite in touch with reality, his inventions have a wandering, Rube Goldberg quality—using lots of ridiculous components which require perfect synchronization. His grounded and likable teenage co-star, Michael J. Fox, was starring in the hugely successful TV show, Family Ties, at the same time that Back to the Future was being filmed, so he had to shoot both projects simultaneously. Family Ties was shot during the day and Back to the Future was filmed from 6:30pm to 2:30am during most of the 100 days of production.
Pop star Huey Lewis wrote the song, The Power of Love, for the movie and he appears in a cameo, playing a judge for the high school band competition—ironically, he finds his own song ‘too loud.’ The Power of Love became the band’s first number one hit and was even nominated for an Oscar.
The film was an instant hit upon its release and topped the box office for eleven weeks—it was the top grossing film of 1985. The film pokes gentle fun at Ronald Reagan, joking that no actor could ever be president, and at a screening for President Reagan, he laughed and asked for that scene to be played again. Director Robert Zemeckis had no idea the film would be such a success and even though the ending hints at a sequel, he swears it was intended as a joke. Nonetheless, there were two successful follow-ups: Back to the Future Part II and Back to the Future Part III — although Zemeckis is adamant that he does not want any reboots of the Back to the Future franchise, and that he won’t allow that to happen during his lifetime.