MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: “Back to the Future” originally ended with “To Be Continued …”
“Back to the Future” has always had a rather unique ending for such a blockbuster. The 1985 time-travel film concludes with Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) returning to the present after a week-long stay in 1955 and marveling at all the improvements in his and his family’s lives based on his influence on his parents three decades earlier. As he celebrates these changes, eccentric scientist Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) shows up in the time-traveling DeLorean and tells Marty that he needs him accompany him to 2015 because something needs to be done about Marty’s children. When Marty (and Marty’s girlfriend and future wife, Jennifer) get into the car, Marty is worried it won’t have enough road to get up to 88 miles per hour (the speed needed to trigger time travel) but Brown informs him, “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” The car begins to fly and takes off into the future, and then “To Be Continued …” flashes onto the screen.
Or did it?
A recurring type of legend is people remembering elements in films that they didn’t actually see. I’ve done a number of legends on the topic, such as people insisting they saw “Episode IV” on the original showings of “Star Wars”, or claiming the Ark burns through a U.S. Army seal at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (like it did earlier in the film with a Nazi seal).
Reader Scott K. wrote in to ask about this very issue, whether the famed “To Be Continued …” at the end of “Back to the Future” actually appeared in the original film, or if it was added later and people have convinced themselves they saw it in the original.
The answer is that it was added later.
The film’s writers Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis (Zemeckis also directed the film) had many ideas for “Back to the Future” before they settled on the version that went into movie theaters (including one version that I wrote about in an old Movie Legend about how Marty originally made his way back to the future by traveling in a refrigerator in the middle of a nuclear bomb detonation). However, one thing they kept consistent in all of their treatments is that they always envisioned it as a standalone film.
The massive success of the film placed a ton of pressure on to them to make a sequel, which they ultimately did with 1989’s “Back to the Future Part II” and 1990’s “Back to the Future Part III” (filmed back to back so they were able to release them so close to each other). Zemeckis has noted that if he actually intended for the original movie to lead in to another film, he never would have had Jennifer get into the car at the end of the movie, because having her in the future with Marty would limit their ability to have him go on adventures (note that in “Back to the Future Part II,” one of the first things they do is take Jennifer out of the equation and leave Marty on his own).
As a result, there was no “To Be Continued …” at the end of the film because it was never meant to continue.
“Back to the Future” was distributed by Universal Pictures, which also had the distribution rights for the “Back to the Future” home video release through its parent company, MCA. By the time the home video release for “Back to the Future” came out in 1986, Zemeckis and Gale were on board with doing sequels. Therefore, to promote the future product (as Universal would be distributing the sequels as well), MCA/Universal insisted on adding “To Be Continued …” to the end of the VHS copies of “Back to the Future.”
Naturally, the home video was seen by even more people than the original theatrical release, so in the 29 years since the movie came out on video, fans’ memories have blurred and now recall the “To Be Continued …” part being in the original film. It was not.
In 2002, when the “Back to the Future” trilogy was released as a DVD box set, the “To Be Continued …” ending was removed, and it has been left off subsequent Blu-ray and DVD releases.
The legend is …
Thanks to Scott K. for the suggestion and thanks to Robert Zemeckis for his commentary from the “Back to the Future” DVDs where he explains how the movie was never meant to have a sequel.
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be sure to check out my Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the worlds of TV, Movies and Music!
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