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Saturday, November 6, 2021

Movies: The Problem with Back To The Future • by Ray Daley


Back To The Future still holds up well, for a movie made in 1985.

HOWEVER! It’s not perfect, and I’m about to tear some holes in your beloved film.

If you haven’t seen it (HOW?), Back To The Future is the story of slacker Marty McFly and inventor Emmett Brown, AKA Doc. Doc is an inventor with numerous failures to his name but he doesn’t know the meaning of the word quit.

That’s fine, I don’t know the meaning of the word antidisestablishmentarianism but they made me learn how to spell it at school. Anyway, Doc manages to perfect time travel and performs two successful tests, the second throwing Marty back to the year 1955, 30 years before the movie is set.

Marty discovers his father is a pervert and accidentally manages to ruin the moment when his father met his mother, ultimately unraveling the thread of his existence.


In his pocket, Marty is carrying a photograph of himself, his older sister, and their older brother. Who suddenly start vanishing from the picture. From this point onward, the movie is on a ticking clock. If Marty can’t get his mother and father to fall in love again, he’ll fade out of existence. forever.

“So, what’s the problem, Ray?” I hear you all shouting? (What’s that? You’re not shouting? Okay, I’ll just wait here until you do. I’ve got all day. Okay, you’re all shouting now? On we go!)

The photograph is the problem. Ignoring the sheer fact it shouldn’t exist at all because it hasn’t been taken yet (which the writer glosses over without a moment’s thought) Marty’s siblings vanish in the order they were born in. Only they shouldn’t.

As the youngest, Marty should vanish first on that photograph. It’s a massive continuity goof that almost no-one notices until it’s pointed out to them. Marty’s oldest brother should be last to vanish. He should be the protagonist of this movie. Again, we’ll gloss over the fact that he isn’t. Now, if Marty was the eldest, the photograph would make sense. IT DOESN’T.

I’ve probably just blown your mind there.

Okay! Now let’s talk about an alternate reality.

Michael J. Fox wasn’t the first actor cast as Marty McFly. Oh, no. Eric Stoltz (of Cher movie Mask fame) was originally Marty. Eighty-percent of the movie was shot before someone decided he just wasn’t working out as they’d hoped. He is still in one scene. Go check the 1955 cafe scene where George punches Biff. That’s Eric Stoltz’s arm! Neither Eric or his arm get a credit, which sucks. If my arm was in a movie, I’d want a credit for it. And ice cream, but I always want ice cream.


The stupid, wrong photograph isn’t the only big problem with Back To The Future. It’s an issue that should be addressed in ALL time travel movies. I can tell you all about it with three simple words.


Apart from spinning at roughly 1000 miles an hour on its axis, the Earth is also moving in space, around the sun. It’s why we have seasons. Where we were in 1985 is certainly not where we were in 1955, or where we will be in 2015. If you traveled into the past, you’d have to not only account for the rotation of the Earth, you’d also have to factor in our orbit around the sun. Otherwise, if you were able to travel in time, you would almost certainly end up floating in space, and certainly not on Earth.

[Editor’s Note: Which is why having a T.A.R.D.I.S. instead of a DeLorean would be quite useful, hmm?] 

Even if you were freakishly lucky and somehow managed to land on Earth (and trust me, compared to space, Earth is a tiny target to hit!), the chances of it being exactly where you’d left from would be slim to none. Chances are, you’d most likely end up in the ocean.

Time travel to the past is possible, right now. You can jump on a jet plane and travel both backwards and forward in time by a few hours. Sure, it’s merely crossing time zones, but you can leave Europe, fly to America and arrive before you left. Tell me that isn’t time travel!

Back To The Future asks some difficult questions. It asks us to believe the butterfly effect is a thing.

As far as Science Fiction goes, the butterfly effect was first shown in the Ray Bradbury story “A Sound of Thunder,” in 1952, in which a time-traveler steps on a butterfly in the Late Cretaceous era, altering the future. Back To The Future shows us both positive, negative and neutral outcomes of the butterfly effect.

Neutral effects with Twin Pine Mall becoming Lone Pine Mall, positive effects with Goldie Wilson encouraged to run for Mayor and George McFly stepping out of the shadow of his school bully, Biff, with the negative effects obviously being Marty initially ruining his parents first meeting.

Personally, I don’t believe in the butterfly effect. I believe in causality. This means whatever happens, happens, regardless of if you were there or not. I’m fine with the concept of traveling back to the moment you left, which is the present.

I don’t believe traveling to the far future (anything beyond more than 12 hours) is even remotely possible. Why? One simple fact.


Something is only an event once it’s taken place. Until it has, there is nothing. The future is the present, eventually. The present happens, a second passes, we’re in a new event, a new future, a moment which is currently taking place but is yet to physically happen as it’s happening. I know, it sounds crazy complex, so here’s an easy breakdown.

Take a piece of paper and something to write on. That paper is the present and the future. It’s blank, there’s nothing there until something happens. So you write your name on it. That’s an event, once you’ve finished writing your name happened in the past. Unless you have an ink eraser or you wrote in pencil, what’s done can’t easily be undone.

By writing on the paper, you’ve changed its timeline. It went from always being blank to now having your name written on it. However, you can’t go from a moment when it was blank, to a time when your name is already written on it, not without performing that action yourself.  You’ve got to make the future, you can’t just move into it.

So we’ve dealt with the stupid science of Back To The Future.

Bruce asked me to talk about cultural appropriation. Specifically, Marty becomes a white saviour. He gets the dance going, brings Mom and Dad back together so they have kids, setting the timeline back to as it should be. And in the process, steals another man’s thunder.

Chuck Berry.

I need to say a thing first. I checked, Marvin Berry was real, he was Chuck’s cousin. However, Marty did not invent or inspire rock and roll. Before he plays Johnny B. Goode, he instructs The Starlighters that it’s ”a blues riff in B, watch for the changes”. If they’ve never heard any rock and roll style music before, they would have no clue what Marty was saying or his intended meaning.


As Blues music had been around since the start of the 20th Century, Marvin and his band would have been well aware of the style. Bill Haley had already been number 1 with Rock Around The Clock in 1954 and Chuck Berry had a hit with Maybellene. Marty didn’t inspire anyone. Rock and roll already existed. That phone call was unnecessary, Chuck Berry was already famous. Probably not a fact the casual watcher is aware of. You are now.

You’re welcome.

I’m not going to mention one of the most uncomfortable plot aspects, which is someone thought incest was funny. Mostly because it’s not.

I will say this in closing though.

Whilst Fox’s portrayal of Marty makes the part, the ensemble cast truly makes the movie. Without Thomas F. Wilson, Lea Thompson, Christopher Lloyd, Crispin Glover and Donald Fullilove there would be no Back To The Future. It’s a fine and enjoyable movie, and if you haven’t seen it yet, I would encourage you to do so.

Nostalgia is always going to be popular, and while Back To The Future isn’t perfect it comes pretty close in places.



Ray Daley
was born in Coventry and still lives there. He served six years in the RAF as a clerk and spent most of his time in a Hobbit hole in High Wycombe. He is a published poet and has been writing stories since he was ten. His current dream is to eventually finish the Hitchhiker’s Guide fanfic novel he’s been writing since 1986. Tweet him @RayDaleyWriter or check out his web site at


Pete Wood said...

Paradox, Schmaradox! I don't care about the plot holes. All time travel movies are pretty much BS. I love Back to the Future. It's a fun movie. Criticizing BTTF is about as productive as criticizing Ghostbusters for being scientifically inaccurate. Both are great flicks.

GuyStewart said...

I was about to cudgel the curmudgeon for sacrilegiously suggesting BTTF was anything but perfect; but in the end, I agreed; though I agree with Pete Wood as well.

I agree with everyone.

Anyone want to sit around a campfire, hold hands, and sing Kumbaya?