It is finally Oct. 21, 2015, the same date that Doc Brown types into his time-travelling car in 1989’s Back to the Future Part II, thereby sending himself, Marty McFly and Marty’s girlfriend, Jennifer, into a future featuring flying cars (when will we get those?) and video conferencing (they actually got that one right).
That fiction-meets-reality connection has marked today as "Back to the Future Day", a momentous occasion for film fans, who are celebrating by watching the trilogy.
For Back to the Future purists, though, this moment may also be a frustrating reminder that the way we think of these movies has changed over time. Though Back to the Future is thought of as a single story in three parts, the original film overshadows the other two by being one of the most entertaining and intelligent Hollywood blockbusters ever made. It won over critics as well as moviegoers, and became a pop culture phenomenon.
But it was followed by two inferior sequels. They were by no means the worst sequels ever made, but the time-travel adventures were not nearly as good as the first. Saying Parts II and III are equally as good is like changing history – especially when the movie that tells us exactly how dangerous that can be. It’s as though the correct understanding has been, as Doc Brown warns in the film, "erased from existence."
Upon its release in 1985, Back to the Future provided rocket fuel for Michael J. Fox’s already rising career and blended the two biggest genres of the decade – the sci-fi picture and the teen movie. It also became a massive moneymaker, staying at or near the top of the box office for five months and earning more than $210 million in North America alone – a huge sum for a film at the time.
According to the book Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History, Sid Sheinberg, then head of film studios Universal, told the film’s co-creators, writer-director Robert Zemeckis and co-writer Bob Gale, that a sequel would be made whether they were involved or not.
So after making sure that Fox, Christopher Lloyd (who plays Doc) and some of the other key actors were onboard, the two Bobs did the best they could to craft another chapter. They came up with a Part II, which picks up where the first one left off, sending Marty (Fox) and Doc Brown 30 years into the future as well as back to 1955; they also conceptualized a Part III, which flings the pair to the Old West.
But when Part II takes us back to 1955, it's as though the film is saying, "You know that story you loved? Well, here’s a bunch of new details that will make you remember it completely differently." The worst thing a sequel can do is ruin the first one. Back to the Future is too great to be ruined, but Part II comes pretty close.
Many critics at the time agreed; although Roger Ebert acknowledged that the movie was "fun," he also said it "lacks the genuine power of the original." The Chicago Tribune’s Dave Kehr called it "glum, claustrophobic and often oppressive."
Yet here we are on "Back to the Future Day," celebrating that second film’s journey in a way that gives it as much significance as the first one.
As actor Eric Stoltz said at the time, "It’s kinda sad, because Marty remembers the past, and everyone else he loves remembers a completely different past."