The ‘Back to the Future’ Plot Hole That You Could Drive a DeLorean Through
Feb 8, 2024
The Big Picture
Back to the Future has a big plot hole that could have left Marty McFly stuck in 1955 forever. Despite the plot hole, the movie is still a perfectly crafted and beloved comedy. Back to the Future is not meant to be taken too seriously and is loved for its characters, exciting story, and heart.
Even the most popular of movies can have head-scratching plot holes that might ruin a lesser story, yet because we love these movies so much, we let them go. Yeah, in Saw, Lawrence (Cary Elwes) could have used that saw to reach for the phone on the floor rather than cut his foot off, but how about that awesome Jigsaw twist reveal! Sure, Alec Guinness’ version of Obi-Wan doesn’t recognize R2-D2 and C-3PO in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, but who cares, it’s Star Wars! In Monsters, Inc., it’s revealed that our heroes met in the fourth grade, yet in the prequel, Monsters University, they are shown as meeting in college. That’s just a little continuity error, though, and none of these errors change the film. There’s one big plot hole from a classic, however, that alters everything, not just the ending, but everything before and after it. We’re looking at you, Back to the Future.
Back to the Future Marty McFly, a 17-year-old high school student, is accidentally sent 30 years into the past in a time-traveling DeLorean invented by his close friend, the maverick scientist Doc Brown. Release Date July 3, 1985
‘Back to the Future’ Is a Timeless Classic
In 1985, Michael J. Fox was already one of the most famous names in Hollywood thanks to his role as Alex P. Keaton on the sitcom Family Ties. Then came Back to the Future. The film was fraught with issues getting it to the screen. When writers Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale tried to get their script off the ground, they found themselves rejected everywhere, even by Disney, due to fears that the plot was incestuous. It was Steven Spielberg’s guidance that finally got it out of movie jail, but even then, more issues were around the corner. Eric Stoltz was originally cast as Marty McFly, and much of Back to the Future was actually filmed with him, before it was decided that he wasn’t working. Stoltz was fired, and Fox was brought in. Where Stoltz had been too serious and brooding, Fox’s take gave producers the fun and cool Marty McFly they wanted. That change helped propel Back to the Future into being the biggest box office draw of 1985, a film so memorable that it birthed a trilogy.
Back to the Future is more than just a babyface celebrity looking cool. It’s an ensemble movie. None of it works if Marty’s teenage mom, Lorraine (Lea Thompson), comes across as creepy, or if his future father, George (Crispin Glover), is too much of a coward to be redeemable. Then there’s the relationship between Marty and Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd). Doc might have been aloof, but the father and son sort of relationship with Marty is heartwarming. If that wasn’t enough, this movie also had the car. Every cool ’80s movie and TV show needed the car, and nothing looked more badass than the DeLorean. Interestingly, in the original script, the time machine wasn’t a car but a refrigerator-shaped box. Changing the time machine to the car made Back to the Future more mobile, but it also caused a big mistake.
In 1985’s Back to the Future, Marty McFly finds himself stuck thirty years in the past, in 1955. It’s up to an alternate version of Dr. Emmett Brown to send Marty back to the future by using the power of a lightning strike to fuel the time traveling DeLorean. It’s the perfect plan, since history tells them the exact time the lightning will strike. There’s just one huge problem. In the film’s climax, the car won’t start for several seconds! Marty makes it back to 1985 anyway. But how?
Marty McFly Should’ve Missed His Chance To Get Back to 1985
It’s Doc Browns’ stolen plutonium that gets Marty and the DeLorean from 1985 to 1955. It’s not so easy to get back, as the past Doc Brown tells Marty that plutonium is a little hard to come by in 1955. So how to get back? Luckily, Hill Valley has a clock tower that hasn’t worked in thirty years. It was struck by lightning in 1955 and never fixed. Now that Marty and Doc know when the lightning is going to strike, they can harness it to fuel the DeLorean and send Marty… back to the future!
Back to the Future is a movie filled with intense chases and action scenes. With all of those thrilling moments, the climax had to be just as high, meaning that nothing can go easily. Everything that can go wrong must go wrong before our heroes succeed. The plan is already risky enough, with a hook placed on the DeLorean, the intent being that it’ll snag a wire coursing with electricity from the lightning strike on the clock tower. This means that Marty has to have the car hit the wire at the exact right time for everything to work.
Related This ‘Indiana Jones’ Scene Was Almost Used In ‘Back To The Future’ That wild ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ scene didn’t come out of thin air.
The most suspenseful part of this scene is portrayed as when the wire comes undone by a falling tree. It’s then up to Doc Brown to get it put back together in the nick of time before the lightning strikes and Marty McFly misses his chance to go home. Of course, it works (another plot hole is Doc Brown being struck by lightning and being perfectly fine), but it shouldn’t have. Before this tense moment, the scene starts with another. When Marty goes to start the DeLorean, nothing happens. He tries over and over again, yet fails. Finally, many seconds later, the car starts and Marty’s racing down the street. There’s just one huge issue in the way. The DeLorean was supposed to start rushing toward 88 mph at an exact time to match the lightning strike. With the car being delayed, doesn’t that mean Marty would have hit the wire at the wrong time, several seconds after the lightning strike? Shouldn’t he have been stuck in 1955 forever?
Does ‘Back to the Future’s Plot Hole Ruin the Movie?
For a movie about time, Back to the Future messed up on keeping count of it. It’s easy to see how it happened. The climax isn’t as suspenseful if the DeLorean starts up straight away. To up the intensity, you have to have the car not start. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the movie-making book. Just look at horror films and how many times a car won’t start as the killer approaches. It’s an easy trope to get caught up in, and Back to the Future falls for it, resulting in a big oops. If we’re going to be accurate, Marty and Doc fail because of that damn car and our hero is stuck forever. That’s a sad ending, but hey, it might have been the perfect scenario for a sequel.
Of course, we can watch the movie and not be taken out of it by that moment. It’s a quick flaw in a perfectly crafted movie. It’s a comedy, not an approximation of real life, so it’s overlooked. Plus, Back to the Future has plenty of plot holes. The franchise has plenty. Back to the Future already has a sadder ending than an alternate one where Marty doesn’t make it back to 1985. When Marty returns, his family members are now better people who have succeeded in life, thanks to George sticking up for himself and saving Lorraine from Biff (Thomas F. Wilson) in Marty’s 1955. That’s great, but now Marty is in a new world with people who have different memories than him. Everything he knows about his family now never happened. They are strangers to him, and he is someone different to them. And if that’s not depressing enough, shouldn’t George and Lorraine be wondering why their son looks exactly like that kid who helped get them together three decades ago? George should want to take a paternity test. Then there’s the fact that Marty’s girlfriend, Jennifer, changes from the first film to the second, going from Claudia Wells to Elisabeth Shue.
Back to the Future and its sequels aren’t meant to be taken so seriously, despite their stakes. If that’s what they were going for, Eric Stoltz would have been kept around. We’re not looking for precision in a film about a time-traveling sports car. Back to the Future is loved for its characters, for the exciting story filled not only with thrills and adventure, but heart. We’re there for Alan Silvestri’s upbeat score, the Huey Lewis and the News songs, and the laughs. Yeah, we’re there for the cool looking DeLorean as well, but perhaps Doc Brown could have built a time machine out of a more dependable car.
Back to the Future is available to rent on Prime Video in the U.S.
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