1. The most famous scene was almost cut.
The iconic sequence where Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) performs “Johnny B. Goode” with increasing rockstar panache was nearly cut from the film, director Robert Zemeckis admits on DVD commentary, as it was the only scene where the plot stops for comedic indulgence. It was spared after a savvy editor asked to keep it in for test screenings.
2. Meanwhile, the entire script was rejected 40 times.
The pitch for BttF was rejected by every major studio, and some more than once, producer and co-writer David Gale tells CNN. “It was always one of two things,” he says, “‘[time travel] movies don’t make any money,’ and, ‘It’s too nice, we want something raunchier like Porky’s. Why don’t you take it to Disney?'” So, he did; the scene with Marty flirting with his mother was too raunchy for them.
3. The title was nearly Spaceman from Pluto.
Even after Universal Pictures green-lighted the film, the drama has just begun. For one, an exec hated the title, and sent a memo around asking that it be changed to Spaceman From Pluto. The memo made it all the way to executive producer Steven Spielberg. His response to the exec: Thank you for the wonderful “joke memo.” The matter was dropped after that.
4. Other writers’ concessions: no monkey.
In early drafts of the script, Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) had a pet chimp, but Universal head Sid Sheinberg expressly asked it to be cut. “I looked it up,” he allegedly said, “No movie with a chimpanzee ever made any money.”
Elsewhere in an early draft, Doc Brown and Marty fund their time machine project by selling bootleg video tapes. The scene was removed at Universal’s request, as they did not want to promote movie piracy.
5. Ronald Reagan signed off on it.
Several mentions of Reagan in the film had to be approved before release—especially the scene in which Doc Brown mocks the impossibility of the famous actor becoming President in 1985. Fortunately, Reagan liked it—so much that he asked to rewind the scene, and later quoted the film in his 1986 State of the Union, saying, “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”
6. Despite his enthusiasm, Reagan didn’t want to be in the film.
The President was allegedly offered the role of Hill Valley mayor in Back to the Future III. He turned it down.
7. Which unlikely face did make it into the series? Elijah Wood.
Barely even a Halfling yet, eight-year-old Elijah made his film debut in Back to the Future II as the kid playing the Wild Gunman arcade game in Cafe ’80s.
8. Huey Lewis makes a cameo, too.
When Marty and The Pinheads are being judged at band auditions, a judge with a megaphone dismisses him as “just too darn loud.” That judge? Huey Lewis, who wrote “Back in Time” and “The Power of Love” for the film’s soundtrack. Oh yeah, he also wrote the “too darn loud” song Marty just got dissed for.
9. And ZZ Top.
The bearded bards showed up to play the town band in III, and according to the book Billy Gibbons: Rock & Roll Gearhead, brought a party with them. While a broken camera was being fixed, Michael J. Fox asked if they would play “Hey Good Lookin’.” Two hours later, they were still jamming.
10. Marty McFly was almost the Karate Kid.
Ralph Macchio is said to have turned down the role of Marty, thinking the movie was just about “a kid, a car, and plutonium pills.”
11. Working with Michael J. Fox posed a few problems.
For one, he was under contract with Family Ties and forbidden to miss an episode. Gale says he’d work on the sitcom from 9 to 5, then show up at Universal to shoot BttF until 2 in the morning.
But Fox wasn’t just short on time. At 5’4”, he was almost a foot shorter than his costar Christopher Lloyd (6’1″). To compensate, Lloyd often bent over in close-ups with Fox, giving Doc Brown his signature hunched-over stature.
12. Working with Crispin Glover was way worse.
According to coworkers, Glover (as George McFly) was a diva who compared himself to Brando yet missed about half of his lines. Glover later admitted on The Tonight Show that he lost his voice to nervousness while filming, requiring him to silently mouth his lines and then dub them back in later.
13. Of the many things BttF inspired: a lawsuit.
When Glover turned down a “lowball” figure of $125,000 to act in the sequel, Gale rewrote the script to lessen George McFly’s role, and the crew fashioned molds of Glover’s face to make prosthetics for his stand-in. Glover sued the filmmakers for stealing his likeness, and eventually settled for $765,000 out of court. Thanks to Glover, the Screen Actors Guild thus introduced new rules about illicit use of actors.
14. It set a record for its production schedule.
The crew only had nine and a half weeks for editing, sound engineering, and adding special effects between the day the film wrapped and the day it hit theaters—an unprecedented lead time for a major movie release.
15. The sequels attempted the unheard of, too: filming parts II and III back to back.
BttF II and III were shot consecutively over 11 months, with a mere three-week recess between. This produced some unusual problems for director Zemeckis, who for three weeks had to wake up at 4:30am to fly from Los Angeles (where he was supervising post-production II) to Northern California (where he was filming the climax of III) and back again.
16. Part II used trailblazing special effects.
Zemeckis had a new camera system called the Vista Glide engineered for scenes with a single actor on screen as two different characters. There are three scenes in II that use the effect, including one where the camera had to be divided into thirds so Fox could make three different entrances as Marty McFly, and his two children, Marty Jr. and Marlene. No other film had accomplished interaction of this specificity before.
17. Carl Sagan loved it.
The renowned Cosmos creator considered Part II “the best film ever made based on the science of time travel.”
18. John DeLorean loved it, too.
Gale and Zemeckis received a fan letter from John DeLorean after the film’s release, thanking them for using his car in the movie. The production ultimately used three real DeLoreans in production.
19. Even Buddhist monks love Back to the Future.
At a 2010 cast reunion, Michael J. Fox recalled traveling through a remote jungle in Bhutan, where a passing group of monks pointed to him and and said, “Marty McFly!”
20. Who doesn’t love it? Michael J. Fox’s family.
At the 2015 London Comic Con, Michael J. Fox admitted that his four kids (three daughters and a son in their teens and 20s) have never seen Back to the Future. (At least, not in this timeline.)
21. Finally, the future holds no more Back To The Futures… at least while Robert Zemeckis lives.
“There’s no Back to the Future IV and there shouldn’t be a Back to the Future IV. I don’t think there should ever be a fourth sequel to anything,” Zemeckis is quoted as saying. “Three is a dramatic number. It’s a three-act structure. Four is even. Four is boring.”
He also refuses to allow a reboot of the series in his lifetime.
Luckily, where we’re going, we don’t need reboots.