Writing and Filmmaking Lessons from BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)



Not content with dominating blockbuster filmmaking as a director, the ’80s saw Steven Spielberg become a producing powerhouse. He brought his Amblin touch to the generation-defining likes of GREMLINS, POLTERGEIST, THE GOONIES and also BACK TO THE FUTURE.

After several box office failures, Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale were struggling to break into the next level of Hollywood. At least, until Zemeckis had a huge hit with ROMANCING THE STONE.

Under Spielberg’s guidance, they then wrote and Zemeckis directed one of the era’s defining films: the sci-fi adventure comedy BACK TO THE FUTURE.

Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) is stuck in a small suburban town trying to not grow up to become his father George (Crispin Glover), who’s still under the thumb of his high school bully Biff (Thomas F. Wilson).

When an experiment by his friend Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) goes awry, Marty is transported back in time to 1955 and accidentally prevents his parents from meeting, in the process risking erasing himself from existence.

Bob Gale describes the main inspiration for BACK TO THE FUTURE’s universal themes:

All of us have that revelation when we understand that our parents were young once, too. That’s a big moment. Then there is the message that we all have control over our destinies. I thought we could dramatise those two things.

It’s not just the high concept behind BACK TO THE FUTURE that has made it endure, as Gale has also said:

People ask me ‘What are the three most important ingredients in a script?’ Character, character, character. You’ll forgive a lot of scenes in a movie if you really like the characters. We watch TV series because we really like the characters, and some episodes are good, and some episodes maybe not so much, but if we love those characters, we keep coming back.

What lessons can writers and filmmakers draw from BACK TO THE FUTURE’s success?

Check out the video on BACK TO THE FUTURE below.


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