It’s hard to imagine a film world without Back to the Future, a film so delightfully playful, wistfully nostalgic and utterly enjoyable that it shaped the childhoods of an entire generation. Directed by Robert Zemeckis and produced by Steven Spielberg, Back to the Future had a powerhouse production team who later became used to creating generation-defining films. It became a smash hit, taking over $380m from a budget of $19m and spawned two sequels that cemented its place in the upper-echelons of 1980s films.
Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) is a 17-year-old high school student looking forward to a romantic date with his girlfriend. He goes to visit his friend, maverick inventor and scientist Doc. Brown (Christopher Lloyd) who shows him a converted Delorean car that is also a time machine. Just as Doc is about travel in time, they pair are ambushed by Libyans who are after their stolen Plutonium (used to power the cars Flux Capacitor, used for time-travel). The doc is shot and Marty barely escapes with his life after travelling back 30 years to 1955, where he accidently changes time, meaning that his dad George (Crispin Glover) and mum Lorraine (Lea Thompson) never got together. Racing against time before his existence is erased, he must meet up with the younger Doc, get his parents back together and travel back to the future before it’s too late.
Back to the Future‘s plot is pure science fiction and completely prespostorous, yet it works because of the wit and invention of its script. Where some films get bogged down in the minutia of time travel and paradoxes, Back to the Future playfully disregards any serious problems with a funny line or a relaxed shrug of the shoulders before moving on to the next comic moment. This is never more evident than Doc’s explanation of time travel and ‘how it works.’ His response is simply to point to the Flux Capacitor, gives it it’s name and then we all skip off to another exciting chase.
Back to the Future‘s casual approach to everything from inappropriate mother-on-son flirting to the problems with getting too involved in your own history are what give it its most entertaining moments. And at the centre of it all is Michael J. Fox, defining his place as an 80s icon in a light-hearted turn that could have been so different if Eric Stoltz had remained in the lead as originally planned. In fact the whole cast are retrospectively perfect, everything from Glover’s overly physical turn as super-geek George to Thomas F. Wilson’s scenary-chewing villain Biff. The cast help provide Back to the Future some of the most memorable and quotable moments in all of 1980s cinema.
Back to the Future rises above the era that it is originally set and gives the audience an almost American Graffiti-level nostalgic look at the 1950s from the perspective of the 1980s. Grounded by an incredible performance in light-comedy and fun from Michael J. Fox, Back to the Future is a film that transcends its simple routes to become one of the most enduring and fun films from a decade full of them.