Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the movie urban legends featured so far.
MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Back to the Future Part II originally traveled to 1967.
As I wrote in an old Movie Legend, the original screenwriters of Back to the Future, Bob Gale and director Robert Zemeckis, never intended for the original film to have a sequel. In fact, Bob Gale gave an interesting interview where he discussed how they never would have ended the first film the way that they did if they intended on actually having a sequel. He noted:
Bob [Robert Zemeckis] has said many times before, if we knew we were going to make a part two, we would’ve never put Jennifer in the car at the end. When it came time for us to write part two, we didn’t know what we were gonna do with Jennifer. She wasn’t a very well-defined character, so we had no idea what to do with her. So, what do we do? Well, she’s sub-conscious for most of the film. [laughs]
By the time that the film was released on to VHS at the end of 1986, however, they had made a deal to put out a sequel to the film. Zemeckis at that point, though, was hard at work on the film that would eventually become Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, so he was not involved with the first crack at the screenplay for the sequel, which was at that time just referred to as “Number Two.” Gale’s first draft of the screenplay is pretty much the basic structure of the second film – Marty, Doc and Jennifer to 2015 (although it was October 7, 2015), Biff steals the Sports Almanac and goes back into the past to give it to his younger self, this creates an alternate 1985 and then Marty must go back to the past to stop Biff from giving the book to his younger self.
However, there was a major difference between the original draft and what was eventually made – Marty goes back to 1967!
In the made film, Biff goes back in time to 1955 to give the book to his younger self. In Gale’s first screenplay, he has Biff go back to September 20, 1967 instead (he chooses that date because he recalled that he had inherited $20,000 on that date). Marty travels back and ends up in jail. He is bailed out by his mother, Lorraine, who is married with two young children (Marty’s older brother and sister) at this point in time. However, by coming to bail Marty out of jail, Lorraine cancels a trip to San Francisco for a weekend of romance with her husband George, who is attending Graduate School in San Fran. Marty quickly does the math and realizes that that romantic weekend is roughly nine months before he was born and thus, Marty has once again caused a change to history that will result in him never being born!
So Marty must get Lorraine to San Francisco for her visit with George while also getting the Sports Almanac back from Biff.
It was Robert Zemeckis who suggested that it would be a lot more interesting if they went back to the same year of the first movie, as they could play around with paradoxes and multiple people in the same place coming from different time periods.
Gale’s first draft, by the way, was written with the presumption that Crispin Glover was not returning for the sequel, and thus George McFly was completely written out of the film (he has passed away by 2015, he is killed in the alternate 1985 timeline and he is away at graduate school in 1967). When they changed 1967 to 1955, they had to then make room for George in the film, so I guess they figured that they might as well use the character in 2015, as well.
Interestingly enough, the second movie also did not end with a set-up for a third movie. The film ends with Doc explaining to Marty that his future is not yet written (this is because in this draft, just like the final film, Marty’s life in the future was ruined due to an accident he got into in 1985 due to his inability to turn down a challenge, even a dangerous one). However, just like how Zemeckis and Gale changed their screenplay for the first film due to the logistics of filming Marty traveling back to the future in a refrigerator, a logistical issue also led to a change in the second film. Michael J. Fox was ending his time on Family Ties (his rigid Family Ties schedule caused them to have to shoot almost the entire first film late at night after Fox finished his TV shooting schedule) and his TV schedule would be completely open after the finish of the filming of the second film, so Zemeckis figured that they should use that open schedule to shoot a third movie right after they finished filming the second one (as nobody had any idea where Michael J. Fox’s career was going to go, so they figured they might as well lock him in for another movie while they had him). Thus, they changed the ending of the second film to set-up the final film in the trilogy.
The legend is…
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