Movie Legends Revealed: Was 'Back to the Future Part II' Almost Set in 1967?

MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: “Back to the Future Part II” originally traveled to 1967.

It’s "Back to the Future” Day, so how could we not spotlight a legend about “Back to the Future Part II,” which opened with Marty McFly, Doc Brown and Jennifer Parker traveling to their "future" of Oct. 21, 2015?

As I wrote in an earlier 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, Gale gave an interesting interview in which he discussed how the first film wouldn’t have ended the way it did if they’d actually intended to make a sequel:

Bob [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 “Back to the Future” was released on VHS at the end of 1986, however, they had made a deal to put out a sequel. At that point, however, Zemeckis was hard at work on “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?,” so he wasn’t involved with the first crack at the sequel’s screenplay. Gale's initial draft provides the basic structure of the second film: Marty, Doc and Jennifer travel to 2015 (although it was initially Oct. 7), Biff steals the Sports Almanac and goes into the past to give it to his younger self, creating an alternate 1985, and then Marty must travel back to stop him.

However, there was a major difference between the original draft and the final version: Marty went back to 1967!

In the actual film, Biff goes back to 1955 to give the book to his younger self. In Gale's first draft, however, Biff instead travels through time to Sept. 20, 1967 (he chooses that date because he recalls that’s when he inherited $20,000). Marty travels back and ends up in jail, and is bailed out by his mother Lorraine, who’s married with two young children (Marty's older brother and sister). However, by coming to bail out Marty, Lorraine cancels a weekend trip to San Francisco to visit her husband George, who’s attending graduate school there. Marty quickly does the math and realizes 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 while also recovering the Sports Almanac from Biff. However, Zemeckis suggested it would be a lot more interesting if they went back to the same year as the first movie, as they could play around with paradoxes and multiple people in the same place coming from different times.

Gale's first draft, by the way, was written under the assumption that Crispin Glover wasn’t returning for the sequel, and thus George McFly was removed from 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 make room in the film for George, so I guess they figured they might as well use the character in 2015 as well.

Interestingly enough, the sequel also didn’t end with a setup for another movie. It closes with Doc explaining to Marty that his future is not yet written (because in this draft, just like the final film, Marty's life in the future was ruined by an accident he had in 1985 due to his inability to turn down a challenge, even a dangerous one). However, just as Zemeckis and Gale altered their screenplay for the first film due to the logistics of shooting 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,” and his schedule would be completely open after the completion of the the sequel, so Zemeckis figured they should use that time to shoot a third movie immediately afterward (as nobody had any idea where Fox's career was heading). Thus, they changed the ending of the second film to set up the final chapter in the trilogy.

The legend is...


Be sure to check out my archive of Movie Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the world of films.

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

Happy “Back to the Future” Day, everyone!

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