In his new book, We Don’t Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy, author Caseen Gaines chronicles the conception, creation, production, and legacy of the trilogy, thanks to a bevy of important interviews and a ton of really fun stories. Even for fans of Back to the Future, the book is packed with new information about the classic series, and even we couldn’t help but be shocked by some of the new stuff the book contains. You should probably pick up your very own copy before Biff steals them all for his personal gain.
1. Family Ties scheduling didn’t (really) keep Michael J. Fox from his starring role.
The search for the right Marty McFly—and a major detour into casting the wrong one—is a big part of We Don’t Need Roads, including some seriously juicy tidbits about how exactly casting shook out.
Although Michael J. Fox topped Robert Zemeckis’ short list, the actor didn’t have a clue about the director’s interest until many months later. During the initial casting, executive producer Steven Spielberg took it upon himself to call up his friend Gary David Goldberg, who was executive producing the Fox-starring sitcom Family Ties, to see if he thought Fox would be a good fit for the part. Goldberg thought he was—and that the film would be a huge hit—but he refused to even give the script to Fox, he was so afraid his young star would take the role and potentially upend the success of Family Ties.
2. The decision to axe original star Eric Stoltz was “agonizing.”
Unable to secure Fox, the team eventually decided to give the part to Eric Stoltz. After four weeks of shooting, Zemeckis couldn’t shake the feeling that something was very, very wrong with his production. One night in the editing bay, he finally realized what it was: his lead actor. Zemeckis calls the realization a “horrible truth” that he had a “gnawing suspicion” about for weeks. Once the decision was made to cut Stoltz (and Fox was secured), filming kept going for a few days, with Stoltz notably cut out of shots before he was officially let go.
3. Stoltz was fired at the Twin Pines Mall.
In January 1984, Stoltz arrived at the Puente Hills Mall in Los Angeles’ San Gabriel Valley for a night shoot, seemingly unaware of what was about to transpire. He shot a few scenes (none of which featured his face), and was later informed by Zemeckis himself that his services were no longer needed. Before the boom dropped, however, other members of the cast (including Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, and Crispin Glover) were told what was about to transpire by various members of the production team. Days later, Fox arrived to begin filming.
4. Stoltz’s termination led to Melora Hardin’s exit.
Originally cast as Jennifer Parker, actress Melora Hardin was fired from the production before she even shot a single scene—her height, while perfect for Stoltz, was all wrong for the shorter Fox. Claudia Wells, who had originally been offered the part before turning it down to work on a sitcom, was then officially brought on board for the role (her sitcom, Off the Rack, had been canceled in the interim). Wells, of course, was replaced in the final two entries in the franchise, due to personal reasons.
5. The original time machine was a truck.
In the very first draft of Back to the Future, Marty and Doc traveled to the future in a pickup truck (perhaps Marty’s cool new truck from the end of the film?); the big climax didn’t happen at the clock tower, but at a nuclear test site. Eventually, Zemeckis and Gale decided that the time machine chamber had to be something a little more “dangerous,” deciding on the DeLorean DMC-12 as the perfect fit. By the time filming rolled around, the beleaguered car company had gone bankrupt, but even that didn’t stop the production from acquiring the three models necessary to make the movie.
6. Lea Thompson didn’t love her dance dress.
Lorraine’s crinkly, very pink Enchantment Under the Sea Dance outfit is one of Lea Thompson’s signature looks from the film, but the dress drove actress Lea Thompson mad. It was uncomfortable and tight, and Thompson often spent off-times during shooting walking around in her '50s-era underwear to just get away from the thing. Yet Thompson recognized the value of the dress, ultimately keeping one version for herself once filming wrapped. That certainly came in handy once filming on the sequels began, because no one could locate the stored version, and Thompson had to bring in hers from her own collection!
7. That “TO BE CONTINUED…” title card in the film’s credits was only available on home-video.
The film wasn't greenlit for two sequels until long after the film had left theaters, but Universal cleverly inserted that famous “TO BE CONTINUED…” title card into the credits when the film was released on VHS and Beta on May 22, 1986. The card was later removed from the film’s 2002 DVD release because, per screenwriter Bob Gale, the production team “wanted the DVD to represent the movie as it was seen theatrically.”
8. The sequels almost went to the swinging '60s.
As Zemeckis and Gale got around to crafting the sequels, casting negotiations were breaking down with Crispin Glover. With the possibility of Glover returning for the new films looking increasingly bleak (and indeed, he didn’t return), the team had to figure out how to have a film that didn’t feature George McFly in a way that wasn’t wildly obvious. An early idea held that Marty and Doc would actually go to 1967 in Back to the Future Part II, and that George would be busy giving a lecture at Berkeley, keeping him neatly out of frame for the majority of the movie.
9. The first script for the sequels was a massive, 165-page affair.
Bob Gale’s screenplay for one sequel, titled Paradox, eventually ballooned out into a giant, 165-page screenplay, and then a 220-pager, both of which had all of the bones of what would become Part II and Part III. The screenplay was split—and two new sequels set up to accommodate it—by the end of January 1989.
10. The flying cop car from Back to the Future Part II broke a forklift.
One of the recurring themes in Gaines’ book is the overcoming of incredible odds—and bizarre circumstances—by the BTTF team. While all of the casting kerfuffles that marked the series are easily the biggest hurdle the project had to overcome, there was also a steady parade of technical snafus that threatened to derail the production. During the filming of Back to the Future Part II, Zemeckis planned to stage a shot that focused on the landing of the futuristic flying cop car as seen from below. To accomplish such a shot, the car was kitted out with a special channel between its undercarriage and the interior, one that allowed a forklift to slip through, all the better for seamless lifting. Unfortunately, the forklift bent in the middle of a test run, making the shot impossible, which is why the final shot only shows the front of the car (the rest of it was chained up to lift the vehicle up and lower it down).
11. The reference art for the Drew Struzan-crafted poster for Back to the Future Part II was shot on the set of Part III.
Drew Struzan, who had also designed the iconic poster for the first film, spent a day on set in the Sonoran Desert, where both Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd took a break, changed out of their Western apparel, donned their Part II duds, and posed for a series of photos for the artist. Struzan posed them as he saw fit, allowing him to explore a range of options for the new poster. (A similar shoot for Part III took place on a sound stage, a much less impressive setting.)