Aside from being just generally one of the greatest movie trilogies ever made, the Back To The Future films are especially notable for just how densely packed they are, both at script level and then again in production. Barely a scene goes by, in any of the three films, that doesn’t contain something worth keeping an eye out for, or that rewards repeated viewings – whether it’s a nod to something recognizable from popular culture, a clever easter egg relating to the ongoing story and characters, or even just a little piece of in-joke trivia.
If you’ve watched the films more than once, chances are you’ll have noticed plenty of them – but we’re not sure anybody’s gone through and put together quite so comprehensive a list of them in one go as we’ve done here. We hope not, anyway. So if you immediately recognize the reference we’ve made in the number we’ve chosen, you might want to join us as we go chronologically through all three films and pick out as many easter eggs and other nerdy things worth spotting as we can find.
(It’s up to you if you want to stick the films on while you read through, although you’ll get extra kudos if you know them well enough to recognize exactly which scenes we’re talking about as we go along…)
Back to the Future
1. The Doc’s clocks (I)
As the first film opens and we pan across Doc Brown’s incredible assortment of clocks – all perfectly synchronized to be exactly 25 minutes slow – the eagle-eyed may notice that one of the clocks features a man hanging from its hands. It’s actually silent comedy star Harold Lloyd, dangling from a clock in perhaps his most famous turn in 1923’s Safety Last. Aside from being a cool little nod to a past movie, it also prefigures the later scene in which the Doc hangs from the Hill Valley clock in near-identical fashion.
The flat nature of the clock makes it look like a still photograph, but it’s actually a genuine model clock that was commercially available.
2. The Doc’s clocks (II)Of course, as well as giving us the opportunity to glimpse into the Doc’s clearly fractured psyche, the clock sequence serves another purpose: it’s an obvious homage to the 1960 classic The Time Machine, which also opened with a montage of shots of different types of clock ticking.
3. Statler Toyota
As the radio clicks on, we get our first reference to “Statler Toyota,” a car dealership that will later be seen in in Hill Valley’s main square (it’s the source of the truck that Marty cherishes so much). There’s a Statler dealership in every iteration of Hill Valley – they’re “Honest Joe Statler’s Fine Horses” in 1885, “Statler Studebaker” in 1955 and “Statler Pontiac” in 2015 – and so this is basically our first example of the trilogy starting a running gag.
4. CRM 114
A fairly blatant nod here, although easy to miss if you don’t know what it means. The sticker on the amp Marty plugs into reads ‘CRM 114’. This is the name of a device from Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (and in the novel, Red Alert, that loosely inspired that film), and was also re-used by Kubrick in A Clockwork Orange (as ‘Serum 114’) and Eyes Wide Shut. It’s one of those codes that has cropped up in various places as a geeky nod ever since, from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine to Men In Black III.
5. Art in Revolution
The badge that Marty wears on his denim jacket reads ‘Art in Revolution’, and the black and red design suggests that it’s somehow connected to an exhibition of Soviet art and design that took place at London’s Hayward Gallery in 1971. We don’t think there’s any deliberate reference on the part of the filmmakers (they probably just had it lying around somewhere), it’s just pretty neat.
6. The Doc’s House
It’s not immediately apparent at this point in the film, but check out the number on the front of the Doc’s shack: 1646. Later in the film, we’ll discover that this building is actually the garage of the Doc’s original mansion (located at 1640), which a newspaper article in the opening scene told us had been burned down and the land sold off – to be replaced with the Burger King that we see as Marty skates off.
7. Used Cars
This may not be a deliberate reference – but hey, we’ve got nearly a hundred of these things to get through, so we’re bound to reach a bit for some of them – but we pass by a reasonably prominent sign that reads ‘USED CARS’ as Marty hitches a ride to school on his skateboard. That happens to be the name of a 1980 film by the Back To The Future team of Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale. Given that it’s part of the specially-constructed Hill Valley Square set, it’s not unreasonable to suggest it was put there on purpose.
8. Huey Lewis
Yep, that’s Huey “Power Of Love” Lewis with the megaphone, judging Marty’s band The Pinheads as being “too darn loud” to perform at the school dance (a line that Lewis himself purportedly suggested). A bit harsh, given that it’s his song they’re covering, but there you go.
9. Crew Shoutout (I)As Marty and Jennifer cross the square after his failed audition, the license plate on a green car that they walk past reads ‘FOR MARY’. Rather than being a precognitive reference to the third film’s casting of Mary Steenburgen, it’s actually apparently a nod to Mary Radford, who was the PA to the film’s second unit director Frank Marshall.
10. Save the Clock Tower
When the fundraising woman hands Marty the leaflet about the clock tower, she says that the preservation society “think it should be preserved exactly the way it is”. Unfortunately, by the act of handing Marty the leaflet, she inadvertently causes it to change: it gives Marty his method of getting back to 1985, but in the process, Doc Brown’s foot breaks off a chunk of masonry. This can be seen as still missing in the newly-altered 1985 when Marty returns at the end of the film.
11. Orgy American Style
This delightfully-titled film can be seen as currently showing at the cinema in 1985 Hill Valley. It’s a 1973 production that features among its cast one George ‘Buck’ Flower – who also happens to be in Back To The Future (and Part II) as ‘Red’, the town bum (of whom more later).
12. The Honeymooners
As the McFlys sit down to dinner, the TV is showing a 1955 episode of The Honeymooners, starring Jackie Gleason. The episode is called T”, and its plot prefigures the moment later in the film where Marty dresses up as a spaceman in order to scare George into action – so it’s quite notable that George is the one laughing so heartily at it in 1985. It’s also, of course, the exact same episode the Baines family watch “brand new” along with Marty in 1955 (even though, if you want to be massively pedantic, it didn’t actually air until 31st December that year – over a month after the date Marty arrives on).
12. The Honeymooners
If you’re wondering, incidentally, why George is pouring himself a bowl of Peanut Brittle and eating it like cereal: it’s a remnant of a deleted scene from just after Marty arrives home, in which George is coerced into buying a huge amount of the stuff from his neighbour’s daughter. Presumably intended to show how spineless he is, it’s also kind of redundant when you have the Biff scene immediately following, so while it’s amusing it’s not hard to see why it was cut.
14. Red, Yellow & Green
The date readouts on the DeLorean – instantly familiar to anyone who’s had to look at any number of “TODAY IS THE DAY FROM BACK TO THE FUTURE!” hoaxes over the years – are a deliberate visual reference in and of themselves. Their colour scheme of red, yellow, and green LEDs is a nod to the same coloured lightbulbs on the machine built and operated by Rod Taylor’s George in the 1960 Time Machine.
15. The Shaggy Dog
Having a scene in which a dog sits behind the wheel of a car – as Einstein becomes the world’s first time traveller in the remote-controlled DeLorean – was, according to Bob Gale, a nod to the 1959 Disney film The Shaggy Dog, which sees a sheepdog not entirely dissimilar to the Doc’s pet doing just that.
16. The Scarecrow
Another one, perhaps, to file under the ‘Is it deliberate or not?’ file (Zemeckis/Gale haven’t said either way, to the best of our knowledge), but there has to be something in the fact that in possibly the most famous movie about someone suddenly finding themselves transported to an unfamiliar surrounding – The Wizard of Oz – the first major character Dorothy meets is the scarecrow. So it is, too – in a manner of speaking – for Marty, who immediately crashes into one upon the DeLorean’s arrival in 1955.
17. Peabody and Sherman
Now this one is deliberate. Although it’s not said onscreen, the son of Old Man Peabody the farmer is named in the credits as Sherman – making their monikers a direct reference to the time-travelling cartoon duo who originally first appeared on The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show and graduated to their own movie earlier this year.
18. Tales from Space
The 1950s comic that features an image similar to that of Marty and the DeLorean isn’t a real comic – but a mockup by the production team designed to look as close as possible to contemporary horror and sci-fi comics. It even uses the logo of legendary publisher EC, and the title font and layout is very similar to the likes of Vault of Horror and Tales From The Crypt.
19. Back to the Fifties
As Marty walks into the 1950s Hill Valley town square for the first time, he’s unsurprisingly hit by an array of period-specific pop culture references. Cattle Queen of Montana is a genuine 1954 film starring Barbara Stanwyck and Ronald Reagan – neatly prefiguring the reference to the future President a few scenes later – and “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” and “16 Tons” (the former of which can also be heard when Marty goes into Lou’s Diner) were both hits in 1955. “Mister Sandman” meanwhile, had first charted in 1954. There are, however, a few anachronisms in the window of Roy’s Records, with three records being shown that weren’t actually released until 1956 and, in two cases, 1959.
20. 1640 Riverside Drive
The Doc’s original house – which Marty doesn’t know the location of, presumably due to Riverside Drive being renamed John F Kennedy Drive by his time – is recognisable (to fans of a certain kind of architecture) as a historic landmark in Pasadena, called the Gamble House. It was designed by the architects Greene and Greene, and is a prime example of the Arts and Crafts movement.
Hey, we didn’t say all the ‘nerdy spots’ were going to be about movie references, you know.
21. “I don’t know if I could take that kind of a rejection…”
These words, spoken by George to Marty, are of course a reflection of Marty saying much the same thing to Jennifer earlier in the film (along with “What if they said I was no good?”) It’s the first, but not the last, example of a phrase passing from one McFly generation to another. It’s also, of course, a line that shows up in Toy Story – but we can’t really call it a nod on the part of Back To The Future given that it was nine years later. Although we are talking about a time travel movie, so…
22. Crew Shoutout (II)
Another reference to one of the crew, as a poster on the wall of the high school reads ‘Ron Woodward for Senior Class President.’ Ronald T. Woodward was the film’s key grip, and had also worked with Zemeckis on Romancing The Stone.
23. Science Fiction Theatre
George McFly’s favourite TV programme was indeed a real show – and did actually broadcast an episode on November 12, 1955. It was an anthology sci-fi series, and the episode George missed by going to the dance and kissing Lorraine Baines will have been The Hastings Secret, in which – according to Wikipedia – ‘a scientist discovers a species of termites that consume minerals instead of wood.’ He probably made the right choice.
The issue of Fantastic Story Magazine that we see next to a sleeping George in the following scene, meanwhile, is also genuine: it’s the Fall 1954 issue.
24. Darth Vader, from the planet Vulcan
And yes, of course, we’d better cover off this part of the same scene, although we’d be amazed if anyone reading this site doesn’t get the Star Warsand Star Trek references. In the longer, deleted version of the scene, Marty also makes reference to George having “caused a rift in the space-time continuum,” and to “the Supreme Klingon.” And in an earlier script draft he goes ever further, saying “This is no dream! You are having a Close Encounter Of The Third Kind! You have reached the Outer Limits of the Twilight Zone!”
25. (Edward) Van Halen
It’s also worth noting the cassette tape Marty uses to disorientate George: it’s clear to see that the name ‘Edward’ has been hastily added to “Van Halen.” This is because the band Van Halen wouldn’t allow their name or music to be used in the film – but Eddie himself agreed, and created the guitar noise; although he would go uncredited until admitting years later that it was him.
26. The Doc’s bribe
It’s a subtle reference – a longer version of the scene, ultimately cut down, would have made it more explicit – but when the street cop asks the Doc if he has “a permit” for the “weather equipment” under the tarpaulin, he starts rummaging in his wallet. Surely the Doc isn’t the kind of guy who’d bribe an upstanding member of the thin blue line? That’d be as crazy as him being the kind of guy who’d get a bunch of terrorists to steal plutonium for him. Or Marty’s dad being a creepy pervert. Funny the things you overlook in characters.
27. Guitar Heroes
Again, obviously we all know that Marvin’s on the phone to his cousin Chuck Berry, who wrote and recorded ‘Johnny B. Goode’ three years after “hearing” it played by Marty (that’s not Michael J. Fox singing, by the way, but a vocalist called Mark Campbell). But in case you missed any of them, Marty also pays tribute to Pete Townshend (kicking the amp), Angus Young of AC/DC (lying on his back), Jimi Hendrix (guitar behind the head) and the aforementioned Eddie Van Halen (the ‘tapping’ guitar technique).
28. The Atomic Kid
Just as Marty makes his journey back to 1985, Hill Valley’s other cinema (yes, it has two – the Essex still exists in 1985, but the Town Theatre has become a church by then) is showing a 1954 Mickey Rooney film called The Atomic Kid. The title, of course, feels nicely appropriate to the story – and it’s no accident. In earlier drafts of the script, which saw Marty and the Doc finding a nuclear test site in order to get the time machine working, it was going to see this movie that gives Marty the idea in the first place.
29. Red Thomas?
When Marty sees the “crazy drunk drivers” tramp back in 1985, he gleefully shouts out the name “Red!” This was an adlib by Michael J. Fox – the bum was unnamed in the script – but it’s led many fans to speculate as to whether he’s meant to be Red Thomas, who’s earlier referred to as being mayor of Hill Valley in 1955. There’s no official word either way – except for Bob Gale confirming that Fox made the name up – so make your own minds up…
30. Twin Pines
Possibly the most famous easter egg in movie history, there are still people noticing this for the first time on a rewatch: but yes, what was once the Twin Pines Mall has now, as Marty returns to 1985, become the Lone Pine Mall – a consequence of Marty destroying one of Old Man Peabody’s two pine trees on the farmland that the mall replaced. It’s our first subtle hint (if you don’t count the broken masonry on the clock tower) that Marty’s trip to the 1950s has had a lasting effect on his own present.
31. “If you put your mind to it…”
And here’s another example of one McFly picking up a phrase from the other – only this time, it’s something that Marty said to George in 1955, which the elder McFly then takes as a mantra in the 1980s.
More than that, though, this line could be seen as something that answers what people often bring up as one of the niggling questions of Back To The Future: which is, why don’t Lorraine and George, in the ‘New’ 1985, remember Marty? A simple answer would be: who says they don’t? Maybe they do. Maybe they’ve had a conversation about it, either between themselves or with Marty (who doesn’t remember it himself because, having travelled in time, he doesn’t seem to have the memories of the ‘new’ Marty’s life), and this line is a little nod to that?
Back to the Future II
32. “What happens to us in the future?”
Moving on to the second film, and the very first scene is a reprise of the cliffhanger at the end of the first (even though, at the time the original was made, no sequels were actually planned – and the final scene of the DeLorean flying off was simply intended as an utterly triumphant ending). The replacement of Claudia Wells with Elisabeth Shue as Jennifer (with the former unable to return for family reasons), however, necessitated a re-recording of that scene.
33. The Goldie Wilsons
As the DeLorean arrives in 2015, the sign for Hill Valley indicates that the mayor is Goldie Wilson Jr – presumably the son of the mayor in Marty’s time (and diner sweep in 1955). But he’s not the only member of the family around – there’s also an advert for ‘Goldie Wilson III Hover Conversions’.
34. Jaws 19
The other most obvious reference in the 2015 town square is the holographic advert for Jaws 19. By the time Part II was released in 1989, there had already been four Jaws films, so maybe it wasn’t unreasonable to suggest that there might be a further 14 in the 26 years that followed. Unfortunately, reality has slowed matters somewhat, so we’ve quite a lot to get through between now and next year if that one’s going to come true.
Note also the name of the director: Max Spielberg. That’s the real name of Steven Spielberg’s first son, who was born in 1985 – but unlike fellow famous-director-offspring like Jason Reitman and Max Landis, he never followed his father into filmmaking.
35. Blast From The Past
The antiques store from which Marty buys the Gray’s Sports Almanac is probably the purest, most concentrated burst of easter egg/referencing in the entire trilogy, and we could be here all day listing everything you see in the window.
It’s probably best just to pause the film and have a look yourself, but some highlights include: Marty’s own denim jacket (and ‘Art in Revolution’ badge) from the first film, a Ronald Reagan LP and video (another shout out to the then-President, who had enjoyed his namecheck in the first film and subsequently quoted the movie in a speech), a talking Who Framed Roger Rabbit? doll (Robert Zemeckis having directed that film in between the Back To The Futures), a 1984 Apple Macintosh, various NES games, the first two Jaws films, Animal House and Dragnet on VHS, a JVC video camera (a later model from the one used by the Doc and Marty in the first film), a Frisbee (prefiguring a gag in the next film) and… oh, lots more besides.
36. Cafe ‘80s
Yet more in the way of 80s pop culture references litter the 2015 version of Lou’s Diner – with Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’ playing as Marty walks in, and Max Headroom-style CGI waiters in the forms of Jackson, Ronald Reagan and (perhaps somewhat controversially) Ayatollah Khomeini, who died a few months before the film was released. There are several 1980s TV shows playing – Taxi, Oprah, Family Ties, and The Smurfs – and two 1980s arcade machines, of which more shortly.
37. Lou’s Gym
A more subtle reference, perhaps, is the fact that there are a couple of ’80s aerobics machines in there – a nod not just to the decade’s fitness trend, but also to the fact that the venue was a gym back in 1985.
38. Wild Gunman
Aside from the obvious Pac-Man machine, the other arcade game in Cafe ‘80s is Wild Gunman. The videogame version was never actually released in arcades – it started life as an electro-mechanical game in Japan in the 1970s, before being updated for Nintendo’s home console in the early ‘80s. The cabinet seen in Back To The Future Part II, therefore, was made specially for the film – not just to allow Marty to demonstrate his shooting skills, but also as a subtle reference to Buford Tannen in the third film, who shared the nickname Mad Dog with the game’s lead character.
(And also with the game Mad Dog McCree, which was coincidentally released in the same year as Part III, 1990.)
39. The Hobbit
And yep, that’s the future Frodo Baggins, Elijah Wood, as one of the kids Marty encounters at the Wild Gunman machine.
40. Cubs Win World Series
There are two in-jokes here. Firstly is the fact that the Chicago Cubs had last won a World Series in 1907 (and finally broke their drought in 2016); and secondly, they’re supposed to have defeated a team from Miami, but there wasn’t one of those in 1989.
There is now a Miami team – they formed as the Florida Marlins in 1993, and became the Miami Marlins in 2012 – but anyone hoping for a bit of Back To The Future future-prediction would be better advised to watch out for hoverboards: the two teams play in the National League, so they can’t meet in the World Series.
41. The train shirt
It might just be a coincidence, but the Hawaiian shirt the Doc changes into in 2015, with a train pattern all over it, could well be a deliberate reference to the time machine that he would eventually build at the end of the third film. Especially as the trains look like they’re flying among the clouds, just as the Doc’s train does…
42. USA Today
There are some neat one-liner headline gags in the copy of USA Today that tells the story of Marty Jr’s arrest (and subsequently changes to Griff’s gang’s arrest). They include ‘THUMB BANDITS STRIKE’ (apparently a reference to the thumb-identifying technology in 2015 – criminals who steal other people’s thumbs in order to gain access to their homes and belongings), ‘MAN KILLED BY FALLING LITTER’, ‘SWISS TERRORIST THREAT’, ‘PRESIDENT SAYS SHE’S TIRED’ and – rather unfortunately – ‘QUEEN DIANA WILL VISIT WASHINGTON’.
43. Bottoms Up
Among the channels that Marty Jr. selects when watching TV at home, there’s an advert for a plastic surgery company called Bottoms Up, promoting two breast enlargement options called ‘The Super Inflatable TIT’ and ‘The Headlight TIT.’ Weren’t these supposed to be family films?
44. Product Placement
The hydrating pizza dinner scene, meanwhile, offers one of the most obvious examples of product placement in Back To The Future Part II – although it’s far from the first. The first film had had slightly more subtle placement deals with various companies including Toyota, Pepsi and Miller, but in the second, these deals started to take an active place in the story. Pepsi (with the fictional ‘Pepsi Perfect’ variety) is even more prominent in the Café 80s, and there are Black and Decker products both real (the “antique” Dustbuster) and fictional (the food hydrating machine).
Pizza Hut, meanwhile, was eager not just to show its logo on the pizza that gets hydrated, but actually provided a ‘professional food stylist’ to the production, to ensure that said pizza looked as appetizing as possible onscreen.
45. Biff Fades Away
What’s happening to Old Biff when he gets out of the DeLorean (having taken a trip back to 1955 to give the Almanac to his younger self), and why is he grimacing in pain? If it’s not clear, perhaps that’s because the rest of the scene, which would have explained it, was cut short – but basically, by creating a new timeline post-1955, he’s ensured that he no longer exists, and so upon his return he fades away completely. As the first film already taught us, however, it takes a short while for the timelines to straighten themselves out in such an instance – so there’s enough time for Biff to return to 2015 before he then dies/disappears.
And yes, there’s something of a paradox in the fact that Biff can create a timeline that destroys himself and yet still have that timeline exist – but firstly, the film explains later that it’s a divergent timeline (not a replacement one); and secondly, that’s kind of part of the point, given that the working title for the second film was actually Paradox.
46. The Clue
Blink and you’ll miss it (the Doc certainly does), but there’s a fleeting clue as to what Biff’s just done before we actually find out for sure: a close-up of the date readout on the DeLorean as the Doc and Marty leave 2015 shows that the Last Time Departed is November 12, 1955.
47. No Clock!
As if to emphasise just how sick and wrong the alternate 1985 is, it’s the only version of Hill Valley, in any of the films, where the famous clock has been removed from the clock tower. Never mind cheating on all those bets, murdering George, marrying Lorraine, turning Hill Valley into a squalid, crime-ridden dump – surely this is Biff’s greatest crime.
48. Smoking Required
Another neat touch to show just how awful 1985A is – the sign outside Biff’s Pleasure Palace declaring that smoking indoors is not merely encouraged, but actually mandatory.
49. Mad Dog
And as Marty watches the promotional advert for the museum, we get our first hint (if we didn’t know already) what the third film might be about: a photo of Buford ‘Mad Dog’ Tannen, who Marty will eventually meet in 1885. Although the films were shot back to back, however, the final look of Thomas F Wilson’s makeup and costume hadn’t yet been settled on – this is a photo of an early test, explaining why Mad Dog looks different from his appearance in Back To The Future Part III.
50. Hill Valley Telegraph
The local newspaper seemingly had two obsessions in the late 1950s: the gambling fortunes of Biff Tannen, and goings-on in Soviet Russia. For every paper that we see with a front page splash headline about one of Biff’s wins (and why is that such big news, anyway?), there’s also a smaller story somewhere on the page about either Nikita Khruschev or the Soviet Union in general.
51. Biff’s Girlfriends
Before, erm, “settling down” with Lorraine, that’s Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe that Alternate Biff is shown to have dated.
52. Nixon & Vietnam
While most of the news stories shown in the papers Doc finds at the library – including the 1973 Wounded Knee Occupation – are genuine events, there’s one false one on the edition that tells of his being committed in 1983: that Richard Nixon is seeking a fifth term as US president, and that the Vietnam war is still going on eight years too late. Given that the diverging point for this reality revolves around Biff’s success, we can only imagine what he did to make those wider world events happen.
53. A Fistful of Dollars
An even more obvious piece of Back To The Future Part III prefiguring here: not only is it a Clint Eastwood film that Biff is watching when Marty storms in, but it’s specifically the scene where Clint uses a piece of iron as a hidden bulletproof vest – something that Marty will remember when in a similar situation in 1885.
Interestingly, the sequence shown onscreen is actually edited, featuring a slightly different close-up angle of Clint and an altered sequence of shots compared to the actual 1964 movie.
54. The Security
Okay, it’s a little thing, barely even noticeable, but it’s another example of the Back To The Future scripts being so well thought-out, with very little wasted in the way of dialogue. When Marty returns to confront Biff, the first thing Biff asks is how he got past the security downstairs (especially notable compared with the last time Marty approached from the ground). Marty doesn’t answer, and so you probably think nothing of it; but it’s a subtle hint about what’s coming next: because obviously, he came in via the top floor, courtesy of the DeLorean…
55. January 1, 1885
Yet another hint about something that’s going to happen later! As the time circuits go on the fritz, they flash up this date – presumably some kind of random default – and it won’t be the last time, as when the Doc gets randomly flung back in time by the lightning strike at the end of this film, that’s the date he lands on.
56. Unauthorized Footage
As Marty follows Biff to the Enchantment dance, we get the first of several bits of footage that would go on to cause an almighty stink – and, ultimately, would result in the creation of a new default clause in Screen Actors Guild agreements. Basically, every time you actually see footage of Crispin Glover in Back To The Future Part II (as opposed to stand-in Jeffrey Weissman) it’s a clip from the first film that was used without Glover’s permission, as he had refused to return for the sequels due to a contractual dispute.
He filed a lawsuit against the producers in response to this, and won – meaning that from now on no actor’s likeness can be used in a film without their consent.
57. Oh La La!
Not actually a real magazine, this time – although amazingly, some Back To The Future fans have managed to track down the two actual French magazines from which its cover and pages are composited.
A couple of things are noteworthy about the dust-jacket switchover that happens here – firstly, remember that when Marty bought the Almanac in the 2015 store, the shopkeeper explained that it had a “dust jacket” (neatly foreshadowing that it would become a plot element later). And secondly, is it not a bit surprising that when Strickland flicks through the book – which we later discover, of course, is the girlie mag and not the Almanac – that he doesn’t comment on it?
58. Coming Summer 1990
The mini-trailer for Back To The Future Part III at the very end of the second film was inspired by a similar technique at the end of Richard Lester’s 1973 The Three Musketeers. The Musketeers producers, however, had somewhat sneakily decided to make two films out of footage that was originally shot for just one, leading to a regulation (‘the Salkind clause’) that prevented such a thing happening again. While the Back To The Future sequels started life as a single script (Paradox) which included both the 2015 and 1885 plots, they became two separate films early in the production process.
Zemeckis was also keen that the trailer inform audiences of the release date of the third film, as he had been annoyed at having to wait three years for the resolution to The Empire Strikes Back’s cliffhanger.
Back to the Future Part III
59. “Just Try It, Tannen!”
This line of dialogue, spoken by the Doc, is the one moment in the Back To The Future Part III trailer that didn’t make it into the completed film.
60. Howdy Doody Time
Moving onto what did make it into Back To The FuturePart III then, after a brief reprise of Back To The Future Part II’s ending. The 1950s kids’ show Howdy Doody, as well as waking Doc up (and in a neat little nod to each time Marty is awoken by a Lea Thompson character throughout the trilogy, he says “Howdy Doody time?” in a similar fashion), also foreshadows Marty’s trip to the Old West.
61. The model car
It’s not entirely clear why Marty is rooting around in the Doc’s trash, but there’s a nice touch as he picks up the burned model car – the same car that had crashed into the bin in flames back in the first film.
The hand-carved letters in the mine are the first, but not the last, mention of the Doc’s full initials (they also show up on the side of the train at the very end of the film). It’s not specified in the films, but the Back To The Future cartoon revealed that the ‘L’ stands for ‘Lathrop.’ The writers have denied, however, the rumor that this makes the Doc’s name a deliberate backwards-spoken version of “time portal.”
63. The Drive-In (I)
The third cinema seen in the trilogy is the out-of-down drive-in the Doc strategically sets up as Marty’s departure point. Unsurprisingly, there are some clever references in the movies advertised here – the two posters seen as Marty emerges in his Western outfit are both 1955 releases. More notably, however, they’re both films that feature Clint Eastwood in uncredited roles. Marty actually even points at the Revenge poster when noting that the Doc hasn’t heard of Clint yet.
64. The Drive-In (II)
There are also three films being advertised on the drive-in’s marquee: Francis In The Navy, Ma And Pa Kettle In Waikiki, and Abbott And Costello Meet The Mummy. All three, like Back To The Future Part III, are sequels made by Universal – and Francis also happens to be Clint Eastwood’s credited debut film.
65. The Drive-In (III)
Oh, and the location of the theatre itself is no accident: it’s Monument Valley, the Arizona-Utah border location that was most famously used for many of John Ford’s Westerns (including Stagecoach and The Searchers).
66. “Where you’re going, there are no roads”
A conscious echo of the first film’s famous closing line, or sheer coincidence? It can’t be accidental… surely?
67. Maggie McFly
It’s been remarked upon several times that it’s somewhat strange that Lea Thompson plays the role of Maggie McFly, given that her character Lorraine Baines is actually from the other side of Marty’s family. Bob Gale has explained this apparent discrepancy by the simple reasoning that they wanted the third film to have a “Mom, is that you?” scene, just as the first two had – and offers the possible justification that “the McFly men have a genetic trait that attracted them to women who bear a resemblance to Maggie or Lea Thompson.”
Besides, if it’s a choice between having Lea Thompson in your movie or not having Lea Thompson in your movie, I think we can say the Back To The Future gang made the right decision. Even with that bad Irish accent she does.
68. A. Jones Manure Hauling
Along with ‘Honest Joe’ Statler’s, there’s another Hill Valley tradition in evidence in 1885: the Jones family manure dealers. By 1955, they’ve of course become ‘D. Jones Manure Hauling’ (as seen in both the first and second films). There’s no record of whether their services are still required in 1985 or 2015, though we’d like to imagine that an ‘F. Jones Manure’ and an ‘H. Jones Manure’ do exist.
69. The Saloon
The three old-timers who comment on Marty’s appearance as he walks into the Saloon (and later have the “Run for fun?” conversation with the Doc) are all played by somewhat notable Western actors. Dub Taylor was most known for playing a sidekick character called Cannonball, and here appears wearing his famed bowler hat. Harry Carey Jr. appeared in several John Ford films, as well as two episodes of Rawhide with Clint Eastwood. And Pat Buttram (he of the distinctive, crackly voice) was also known for several Disney films, including voicing the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood and Napoleon in The Aristocats.
70. Marty’s drinks
A running gag throughout the entire trilogy gets its third instalment here: every time Marty goes into the diner location for the first time (that’s Lou’s in 1955, Cafe ’80s in 2015 and the saloon in 1885), he orders a beverage that he never actually gets to drink any of before being interrupted by a “Hey, McFly!”
71. Shooting the rope
The Doc’s method of rescuing Marty is a reference to yet another Clint Eastwood film – this time it’s The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.
72. It’s a refrigerator!
Again, we don’t know for sure if this is a deliberate reference, but we’d be amazed if it’s not: in the original earliest drafts of the first Back To The Future, rather than being in a car, the time machine was built into a fridge. And in something that amusingly prefigures Indiana Jones 4 (hey, maybe it’s where Spielberg got the idea), the climax of the film would have seen Marty’s return home powered by an explosion at a nuclear test site. The idea of the fridge was dropped when the concern was raised that kids might copy the film and get locked inside those old-style heavy refrigerators – but the fact that the Doc eventually builds an ersatz one in 1885 seems like a little nod to the Back To The Future that might have been.
73. Clara’s first appearance
Two nice little background nods here – firstly, in advance of her first actual appearance in the story (narrowly avoiding being driven into Shonash Ravine), Mary Steenburgen as Clara Clayton can actually be seen standing waiting to be picked up as Marty and the Doc look at the map of the very ravine that will later (in the original timeline, at least) bear her name.
74. The clock arrives
… and at the same time, the famous Hill Valley clock is being unloaded from the train, evidently being delivered in advance of the opening ceremony later that week.
75. History repeating itself
Just as in the first film, a scene in which the Doc demonstrates a plan to get the DeLorean travelling in time with the assistance of an elaborate model (“sorry it’s not to scale or painted”) is followed by the arrival of a woman who’s romantically interested in one of the pair – in the original film it’s Lorraine visiting Marty, while in Part III it’s Clara to see the Doc.
76. ZZ Top
In case you somehow missed them (the beards are something of a clue), that’s ZZ Top playing at the festival. They provided the song ‘Doubleback’ for the third film’s soundtrack, and just like Huey Lewis in the first film, were rewarded with a cameo.
77. “Frisbie! Far out!”
Marty here notices the name of ‘Frisbie’, an actual pie company, and presumably thinks it’s just a coincidence that the name on the flat tray is similar to ‘Frisbee’, the flying disc. Of course, the two are actually linked – the pie company gave the colloquial name to the disc-throwing game, before the Wham-O company trademarked the slightly altered ‘Frisbee’ in the 1950s.
78. My Darling Clementine
The Doc’s dance with Clara is a nod to yet another John Ford film, My Darling Clementine – which also, coincidentally enough, features a character named Doc (Holliday).
79. The Doc’s clocks (III)
The sequence in which Marty awakes the morning after the town festival is of course a deliberate mirror not just of the opening of the first film – with its pan across from a clock to an elaborate automated machine the Doc has invented to perform an everyday task – but of the beginning of the third, too. This completes a set: we’ve now seen the morning clock routine in all three of the houses in which the Doc is shown to live across the trilogy.
80. “You talkin’ to me?”
I mean, look, this is Den of Geek. Do we really need to tell you that when Marty’s in front of the mirror he’s paying homage to Taxi Driver and the Dirty Harryseries (specifically Sudden Impact)? Or that the latter is yet another Clint Eastwood reference? No? Good.
81. The hole in Doc Brown’s hat
It’s a small detail, but a nice touch, that rather than buying a new hat after having it shot off his head by Buford (thanks to Marty’s Frisbee-based intervention), he just continues to wear it, bullet hole and all.
82. “Great Scott!” “I know, this is heavy!”
This reversal of the Doc and Marty’s recurring catchphrases (a lovely, subtle reference to the effect their friendship has had on one-another) has to be one of the best jokes in the entire trilogy.
83. “I’ve been peddling this barbed wire all across the country…”
This may well be the most obscure reference of the lot – but the barbed wire salesman who counsels the Doc on his broken heart isn’t just a random character. Although not named as such, he bears a clear visual resemblance to Joseph Glidden, the businessman who really did patent barbed wire in the 1870s and became one of the richest men in America as a result.
Of course, Buford crashing head-first into the manure is an obvious reference to similar things happening to Biff in the first two films. But in addition, the manner of him spinning around towards camera after being clobbered by a McFly is clearly a further homage to the way Biff goes down when decked by George in Part I.
85. Doc’s bandana
It’s a really tough one to spot – such that we wouldn’t have done, if Bob Gale hadn’t pointed it out in the official FAQ he wrote – but the bandana worn by the Doc throughout the last scenes in 1885, most notably seen covering his face when he and Marty hold up the train, is made out of that same train-patterned shirt he was wearing back in Back To The Future Part II.
86. Sierra No. 3
The train crash into the ravine is spectacular – but it’s actually a quarter-scale model, not the locomotive that was used throughout the film, that we see destroyed. The train itself is pretty much the most famous loco in movies – it’s known, in fact, as ‘The Movie Star locomotive’ – as it’s appeared in more films and TV series than any other train. Notably, given the Wild West setting of Back To The Future Part III, it was in several Westerns, most famously High Noon – and also Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven in 1992.
87. Eastwood Ravine
And speaking of Clint, our last reference is a subtler revisiting of the old Lone Pine/Twin Pines gag, as the sign on the bridge as Marty returns to 1985 tells us that the ravine known as Shonash in 1885, and Clayton in the original 1985 timeline, is now referred to as Eastwood Ravine, in tribute to the man they all presumably believe fell in with the train.
Of course, why the people of Hill Valley felt the need to honour a man who showed up in town for less than a week, got into a fistfight with a local outlaw and then stole and destroyed a train is open to question – as is the matter of how they knew it was him. Maybe the Doc told them when he got back to town…?
88. Shot repetition
The trilogy is rounded off with deliberate echoes of two of the most famous shots from the first film. First, when the DeLorean is destroyed by the train back in 1985, there’s a quick glimpse of the 2015-era number plate spinning and hitting the ground – just as the original OUTATIME one had done after the time machine’s first ever trip.
And finally, of course, the shot of the Doc’s new train flying towards camera to close out the movie recalls the final shot of the original film – from way back before any sequels were even planned.
This article originally appeared on Den of Geek UK.