Today’s entry into my Top 100 Everything is the second in a trio of beloved, somewhat geeky trilogies — and all nine films have been discussed by in depth by Brian in his 100 Film Favorites.
Like that entry and the next one, I’m going to keep the post pretty short, listing ten things I love about the series, then ranking the movies. Rather than write an overview of the series or any of the movies, I’m going to link to Brian’s awesome recap-reviews.
Ten reasons I love Back to the Future:
1. The adventure
Brian described the series as a “funny science-fiction action love story,” which is definitely true. But his genre classification misses a word I would have included: ADVENTURE. For its three-film duration — especially the brilliant original — Back to the Future is a tightly plotted, thrilling adventure that spans centuries. It’s good, heart-racing fun from Marty’s (somewhat pointless) strum of a guitar in 1985 to his final race to 88 MPH on a train in the Old West.
2. Time travel
It’s a well known fact that time travel makes everything more awesome. There are so many reasons why. First is its intrinsic awesomeness: It provides for great, thought-provoking stories that force you to think outside of the traditional narrative box. Time travel also allows for great twists that can shatter your perceptions or turn some element of the story on its head. But maybe the best thing about time travel is that it allows for a huge variety of settings from the past and present. Dinosaur stories are cool, medieval stories are cool, and dystopian future stories are cool. Time travel stories are VERY cool because they can be all three, plus any other time period you can think of (World War II? Vikings? The Roaring 20s? Etc.)
Back to the Future has four main time settings: the Old West, 1955, 1985, and 2015. Maybe they don’t capitalize on the variety the way, say, Doctor Who or The Magic Tree House series does. But BttF fleshes out each setting and makes the travel between the times a key component in a very exciting way
Back to the Future plays to laughs far more often than most adventure or sci fi blockbusters, which is one of the main reasons I love the series so much. It just makes you smile the whole time, but never (rarely) in a way that undercuts the stories or the sense of adventure. Movies are rarely as funny and rarely as exciting as Back to the Future — the fact that the series is both of those is what makes it so great.
4. Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd
Brilliant one-two punch stars. Marty and Doc have fantastic chemistry, and I will never be able to see them in another role without wondering why they’re not saying “Great Scott” or “This is heavy.” Both have great comedic chops, but play the tense and dramatic moments well, too. I could watch the scene where Marty first sees his dweeby father a hundred times and still laugh at Fox’s expression.
5. The music
I really love the music in this trilogy, both the original score and the incorporated pop songs. Of course — as with all my praise here — this is especially true of the first movie, the only one to include pop songs on the released soundtrack. I’m a massive Huey Lewis fan (stay tuned for Honorable Mentions Part 2!), and their presence makes the movie feel forever #so80s.
But let’s not forget just how much excitement Alan Silvestri’s score injects into the series. Why is it that so many of my favorite movies have such great soundtracks?
6. Iconic one-liners
“If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 miles per hour… you’re gonna see some serious shit.”
Marty on his dorky father: “Jesus, George, it’s a wonder I was even born.”
“The way I see it, if you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?”
Marty to his uncle as a baby: “So you’re my Uncle Joey. Better get used to these bars, kid.”
“Luke, give me a milk……. Chocolate”
“What the hell is a jiggawatt?”
“The time-traveling is just too dangerous. Better that I devote myself to study the other great mystery of the universe: women!”
And of course…. “This is heavy” and “Great Scott!”
For what the movies lack in trying out lots of different settings, they make up for with making each setting great. Though I was born a few years after 1985, the first few scenes of Back to the Future are how I’ll always think of the mid-80s. And this is the first of a few movies/songs/etc. that made me wish I had grown up in the ‘50s: Everything just seemed more peaceful and classic. Muted colors and traditional designs, but not an overly pure or sentimental view.
Once you move past the first movies, there’s some great stuff, too. BTTF2’s version of 2015 is off-the-walls bizarre, with many of the ridiculous far-future tropes you stereotypically see in sci-fi: flying cars, dehydrated food, and holo-films. Brian’s right, though: I wish we saw even more of this wackiness.
The 1885 “Wild West” of BTTF3 is excellently done, too. It hits pretty much all the marks for stereotypical old west.
8. “Whoa. Wait a minute, Doc. Are you trying to tell me that my mother has got the hots for me?”
The protagonist goes to the past and messes with his mom and dad meeting. The obvious wrinkle to add to this story is that his mom falls in love with the villain, Biff.
But the choice to have her fall in love with Marty is absolutely inspired. I’ve seen other stories try this before (17 Again comes to mind) — a child/parent falling for their parent/child in a time travel movie — but it has never, and will never, be done better than here. It’s all the right amounts of creepy and hilarious.
The movie wisely sticks to the same geographic setting to let the time travel have more impact. We see four versions of the town by my count, and its different personalities at each point in history are what make it feel like a living, multi-dimensional character in its own right.
10. Timeless look
Like Indiana Jones, one of the great things about Back to the Future that would surely be missing in 2014 — and was even missing in some of its contemporaries, like Ghostbusters — is how effectively and sparingly the special effects are used. The set pieces feel very real and dangerous. As funny and enjoyable as the characters and story of this series are, it’s also just fun to LOOK at, from the great direction to the distinct era-by-era looks to the occasional special effects to the great action sequences.
Ranking the movies:
3. Back to the Future Part III
It’s tough to choose one of these movies for the bottom of the totem pole when they’re all so much fun. But when I think about it, this one just didn’t stick with me as much as the others. But it’s true: I love westerns, and BttF’s sorta-entry into the genre was no exception. It’s a good, happy ending to a fantastic series. Clara is a nice addition, and — as Brian points out — Part III sometimes feels a little bit more original than Part II. My biggest complaint: They didn’t bring in Ennio Morricone.
I’ve always loved how ambitious this one got with the time travel. A lot of the timeline stuff doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny, but it still draws me in every time I watch it. I love thinking about time travel and paradoxes. I also love how dark and Orwellian 2015 is here…It’s such a contrast from the rest of the series, yet so fun and ridiculous to watch. I actually like the scenes that re-live the first movie, in part because I adore the first movie and in part because they emphasize the theme of how fragile and mutable time is.
1. Back to the Future
This is my favorite movie among the nine comprising the three trilogies, and easily my favorite in the trilogy. Honestly, if I didn’t love the trio-of-trilogies idea so much, I probably would have written about the debut entry alone. Funny, exciting, with an original use of time travel, BttF is a movie I’ll be watching and quoting and smiling about for the rest of my life. One of my top ten movies for sure… Maybe even top 5.
Last thing before I wrap up. One quote that’s been stuck in my head recently (by which I mean the past two years): “MAYor…. Now that’s an idea. I could run for MAYor.” I literally say it every time I hear the word “mayor.”
That’s all. I love this movie.
3 thoughts on “Dan’s Top 100 Everything: #45 Back to the Future”
Good stuff! “Adventure” is definitely important, and the movies have it in spades. Sometimes I find it hard to classify what exactly counts as an “adventure” film. They tend to feature prominent action, and often elements of sci-fi or fantasy. The line can be difficult to draw.
Good call on Morricone. Another great piece by him is “The Ecstasy of Gold.”
Great points all.
With the exception of the time travel not withstanding scrutiny(There is a plot device the BttF movies have called “the ripple effect” which stops any time travel having an instant effect, and doing away with a lot of normal instant causality like in other time travel movies. It’s one of the coolest parts of the movies that the time travel ripples take ages to catch up with the main characters), i agree with all your points!
Thanks, Barry. A lot of the paradoxes can be waved away with that explanation, but I still think there are some that can’t. For example — the Chuck Berry joke implies that Marty was how Chuck got the idea for rock ‘n’ roll. But that, and the mayor joke (implying that’s how he got the idea to run for mayor), don’t jibe with the rest of the movie, where Marty seems to be changing — not setting in motion — stuff from his original 1985.