The Back to the Future trilogy is an international phenomenon. Since the release of the first Back to the Future film in 1985, the franchise has spurred an animated television series, a motion-simulation ride at Universal Studios theme park and even a popular stage musical. The blockbuster trilogy, which won an Oscar for Sound Editing and was nominated for five Academy Awards in total, is one of the 80s’ most instantly recognisable film franchises and arguably the most 80s of all 80s mainstays in popular culture as a whole.
Proving its popularity by being the inspiration behind the name of one of the UK’s most successful pop bands as well as the reference point for time travel in the world’s highest grossing movie of all time, Avengers: Endgame, the Back to the Future franchise has now been a part of the zeitgeist for over 30 years, the series’ feel good aura mixing with a new found nostalgia to make it a rainy day staple for children, adults and families alike; a trilogy of movies that can be enjoyed just as much the twenty fourth time as they are the first time.
Filled with call backs to the great movies of eras gone by, and creating decade-topping superstars out of Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd, Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis’ generations-spanning tale of all things Americana is a popcorn-shifting phenomenon of a trilogy that, in this edition of Ranked, we’re separating into its three entries to decipher which of its films is the best and which is the worst, for this: the Back to the Future Movies Ranked.
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3. Back to the Future Part II (1989)
Back to the Future Part II is the franchise’s difficult second album. Although still a four star film, there is too much about it that simply does not stand up to the test of time.
Part II begins exactly where we left off in the first film – in fact, the final scene of Back to the Future is the first scene in this movie – and we see Marty, Doc and Jennifer (now inexplicably played by Elisabeth Shue instead of Claudia Wells) travel to 2015, where Marty and Jennifer’s son is in danger of making a terrible mistake that will change his life for the worst.
In this future, Zemeckis presents us with potential new technologies and an exciting insight into what the people of the 80s foresaw our society becoming – in this case an ultra-capitalist utopia of flying cars, self-lacing shoes and Pepsi Free. It’s an interesting perspective of our current era from the viewpoint of the 80s, one that even now, in a universe without hover-boards or 3D projections on the outside of movie theaters, seems somehow relatable.
It has been expressed in interviews that writers Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis had no intention of writing a second movie when they released the first, and there’s evidence of this all over Part II. Clumsy exposition that tells us Marty got in an automobile accident and can no longer play the guitar is coupled with the film’s narrative reliance upon replaying the exact same scenarios from the first movie (only from a different perspective; the perspective of Part II‘s Marty McFly). In order to recreate the magic, Marty’s character development from the first movie is also undone, and as such he’s sent on a journey to forget all Doc taught him and then re-establish it for himself all over again, which while in-keeping with the concept of time travel was a nitpick worth referencing as a differentiating point between this film and the others in the franchise – Part III and the original film didn’t need such a crutch.
The production also feels more clumsy and, once you’ve discovered the background controversy, somewhat unethical. Not only is there a new Jennifer, but famously Crispin Glover (George McFly in the original) didn’t return either, even though his character clearly did. Played by Jeffrey Weissman in Part II, Zemeckis and company got around recasting by layering the new actor in Glover’s prosthetics and mixing the new George with footage from the original film of the old George – a decision that would lead Glover to suing the production for the unlicensed use of his likeness.
While Part II gives enough reasons to be at the bottom of our Back to the Future Ranked list, it is clear that this is still a very good blockbuster movie, and one that deserves the plaudits it gets. If nothing else, it has possibly the greatest end to a movie ever… Marty zooming back to 1985, Doc celebrating, and Marty returning again mere moments later – he’s back; back from the future. Cut to trailer.
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