'Back to the Future': How the movie's portrayal of the future differed from its 1980s fellows

Fans are celebrating Back to the Future Day on Oct. 21, which is the day in which characters Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) and Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) arrive in 'the future' in the film 'Back to the Future Part II.' 

Universal Pictures/AP
'Back to the Future' stars Michael J. Fox (l.) and Christopher Lloyd (r.).

Keep an eye out for Doc Brown and Marty McFly on Wednesday. Oct. 21, 2015 is being celebrated by fans as Back to the Future Day. In the movie “Back to the Future Part II,” that’s the day in which Doc and Marty arrive in what was then “the future.” 

The first film centers on Marty (Michael J. Fox) traveling back in time to the 1950s and having to nudge his parents into falling in love in order to ensure his own existence. At the end of the first film, Doc (Christopher Lloyd) arrives from the future, urging Marty and his girlfriend Jennifer (Claudia Wells in the first film, then Elisabeth Shue) to come along – there’s a problem in the future that needs solving. 

When Marty goes to the future in 1989’s “Back to the Future Part II,” though, things don’t seem too bad. Flying cars are much in evidence and people are wearing wacky clothes (aren’t they always?), but the worst societal threat seems to be a “Jaws 19” sequel.

In “Back to the Future Part II,” the problems are more personal, as when Marty becomes involved in an immoral business decision and villain Biff (Thomas F. Wilson) must be stopped from using time travel to become rich and turning their town of Hill Valley into a troubled area. The "Back to the Future" series had a fun, comedic feel in general, so in the "Future" movies, 2015 is never too dark.

The fairly positive vision of the future seen in “Back to the Future Part II” is certainly a contrast to other ‘80s science fiction films. In the 1982 movie “Blade Runner,” which was based on the 1968 Philip K. Dick book “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,” society by the year 2019 is taking place in what seems to be eternal darkness, and replicants, or robotic people, are viewed as second-class. In 1984’s “The Terminator,” which was co-written by director James Cameron and Gale Ann Hurd, humans in the year 2029 are battling the supercomputer Skynet's army of deadly machines and living in a landscape decimated by nuclear weapons. 1987’s “Robocop” had humans attempt to solve a crime problem by putting a brutal cyborg in the field as law enforcement. 

But even those behind some of the most recent dark cinematic visions of the future had their stories end with at least some positivity. In the “Terminator” series, the reason Skynet attempts to kill the mother (Linda Hamilton) of the leader of the human resistance is because the resistance is doing so well – there's a chance humans could defeat them. In addition, the villain of the first film, a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), comes to care for his human companions. In “Blade Runner,” one possible ending (various cuts have been released) shows the protagonist and his love interest leaving dark Los Angeles for a mountainous, green area.

More recent films echo this, too. In 2006's "Children of Men," no one has given birth to a child in years, but near the end of the film, a woman finally does so. And in the 2008 Pixar movie “WALL-E,” humans left a ruined Earth long ago for spaceships where they never exert themselves. However, by the end of the movie, one of the spaceships and its residents have returned and seem committed to helping Earth recover.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.