Where are they now? The cast of Back to the Future reassemble for the 35th anniversary
- Credit: IMDb/Universal Studios
The comedy sci-fi romance Back to the Future was the utilmate ‘80s movie. It was fast, fun and made you feel that it was good to be alive. So why was it so good and what did the cast do next?
With Michael J Fox at his most engaging, driving a time-travelling, futuristic looking DeLorean car and teamed with a crazy-haired, wild-eyed scientist, Back to the Future remains one of the best-loved movies of the 1980s.
Accompanied by the pumping ‘Power of Love’ soundtrack from Huey Lewis and the News, a great script and fast-paced direction from newcomer Robert Zemeckis, the film manages to be a love letter to both the 1980s and the 1950s.
Now celebrating its 35th anniversary, Back to the Future spawned two sequels but it is the first film that remains the classic. It’s a wonderfully warm, clever and yet, at the same time, hugely nostalgic movie. It perfectly captures that period, just before the birth of rock’n’roll, when America’s youth transformed itself from a fresh-faced boy scout (as depicted in the Andy Hardy movies) into a moody teenager.
But, like so many classic films it nearly didn’t get made and even after cameras started rolling it didn’t feature the cast that it would end up with.
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The film was the brainchild of production team Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale who were inspired by the fact that Gale stumbled across his father’s high school yearbook and wondered whether he would have been friends with his father had they attended school together.
As the story of a teenaged boy being flung back in time to meet his parents at a 1950s high school took shape, they knew they wanted TV sit-com star Michael J Fox as the everyman hero Marty McFly.
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Unfortunately, TV bosses refused to release Fox to shoot the film as they said he was too valuable to their series Family Ties to be given a leave of absence. With Steven Spielberg on board as executive producer, Gale and Zemeckis decided to recast the lead role and after testing numerous Brat Pack actors like C. Thomas Howell, John Cusack and Johnny Depp, the pair settled on Eric Stoltz.
Shooting got underway in November 1984 but mere weeks into production director Robert Zemeckis realised he was trapped in Hollywood’s worst nightmare – both on set and in the rushes, it quickly became clear that Stoltz, although a great actor, was the wrong man for the part of Marty McFly.
With two previous flops to his name (Used Cars and I Wanna Hold Your Hand) he couldn’t afford a third but with a budget of only $14 million he couldn’t afford to scrap everything and start again. Confiding his troubles to producer Steven Spielberg gave him the courage and the finances to wipe the slate clean.
Eric Stoltz was given an honourable discharge from the movie, Spielberg magicked up the necessary $3 million to stage the re-shoots and Zemeckis set about finding a new leading man – Michael J Fox who so wanted the role he was willing to shoot Family Ties during the day, Back to the Future at night (from 6:30 pm to 2:30 am) and then shoot the daylight scenes at the weekend.
The cast and production team relived this madcap shooting schedule when they met up earlier this summer for a lockdown reunion on the YouTube channel Reunited Apart hosted by Frozen actor Josh Gad.
Although diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1991 at age 29, Michael J Fox continues to act in movies and TV appearing in Teen Wolf (1985), Light of Day (1987), The Secret of My Success (1987), Bright Lights, Big City (1988), and Casualties of War (1989) Doc Hollywood (1991) and The American President (1995) on the big screen and in TV series Spin City (1996-1999) and The Good Wife (2010-2016) as well guest appearances on shows like Scrubs, Boston Legal and Designated Survivor.
Christopher Lloyd, the brilliant character actor, has always flitted between theatre, television and film, always making an impression, but never settling anywhere long enough to get typecast. He made his screen debut in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest opposite Jack Nicholson before getting snapped up to play the spaced-out Jim Ignatowski in the TV comedy series Taxi opposite Judd Hirsch and Danny de Vito.
Wanting to escape life in a Taxi garage then transformed himself into the Klingon Commander Kruge in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) before landing the role as the breathlessly enthusiastic Doc Brown in Back to the Future.
After gazing wild-eyed into the camera for three films he then literally hid himself in plain sight, buried inside a black leather trenchcoat, dark glasses and an outsized hat as Judge Doom in the groundbreaking Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), before shaving his head to play Uncle Fester in The Addams Family (1991).
Since then his TV work has included lots of voiceover for cartoons and animated films and he still occasionally performs on stage. In the last ten years he has played Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman and Azdak in the Bertolt Brecht play The Caucasian Chalk Circle, produced by the Classic Stage Company in New York.
Robert Zemeckis is now, after a double false start with I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978), and Used Cars (1980), one of Hollywood’s most versatile and bankable directors. Although, Back to the Future cemented his reputation, his real breakthrough film was Michael Douglas’ adventure romp Romancing the Stone, which hadn’t come out when he was trying to get financing for Back to the Future.
Following the success of the Marty McFly trilogy, Zemeckis then demonstrated that you could marry live action with classic animation and still come up with a tense film noir in the 1940s-set mystery Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
This was followed by the black comedy Death Becomes Her, then the sickly-sweet (but technically ambitious) Forrest Gump, the thoughtful science fiction movie Contact with Jodie Foster, the modern-day Robinson Crusoe movie Castaway and the psychological thriller What Lies Beaneath starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Harrison Ford.
His love of animation also gave the world that Christmas favourite The Polar Express. But, back in the day, Back to the Future was the classic feelgood movie which lodged a place in the hearts of an entire generation.