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Film / Back to the Future

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"Damn! I'm late for school!"

Marty McFly: Wait a minute, wait a minute, Doc... are you telling me you built a time machine... out of a DeLorean...?!
Doc Brown: The way I see it, if you're gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?

The first film of the Back to the Future trilogy, starting the Back to the Future franchise.

Marty McFly, a teenager from 1985, accidentally sends himself to 1955 in the time machine his friend Doc Brown built out of a DeLorean, and requires 1.21 gigawatts of power to return home. After initial confusion, the 1955 Doc Brown agrees to help Marty get back home by striking his car with 1.21 gigawatts of lightning, giving Marty a week to make his parents fall back in love at a dance and put bully Biff Tannen in his place. He does it, and in the process invents rock 'n' roll and skateboarding.

For tropes found throughout the trilogy, like "Mister Sandman" Sequence, see the franchise page, Back to the Future. For tropes specific to this film, see below.


This film provides examples of:

  • 555: Doc Brown's phone number, as well as Jennifer's grandmother's.
  • Activation Sequence: The first scene is Marty arriving at Doc's place where he starts activating... something. He switches on the power, activates all the switches, dials up the driver and the overdrive, causing all the dials to go off-scale high. Then we see that what he's powering up is a giant speaker, which blows him across the room, and blows itself up, when he tries to play a chord on his guitar.
  • Actor Allusion:
    • The donning of a Burger King uniform by Marty's brother, Dave, may have been a tribute to Lea Thompson's early acting gigs as a Burger King spokesperson, who also appeared alongside Elisabeth Shue, who would play Jennifer in Parts II and III.
    • Huey Lewis, playing the audition judge in 1985, tells Marty's band that they're "just too darn loud." The band was playing Lewis' own song, "The Power of Love." Better yet, the line was apparently improvised by him.
  • Actually Pretty Funny:
    • George laughs when Skinhead mocks Marty for wearing a "life preserver".
    • At a meta level, the real Ronald Reagan got such a kick out of Doc Brown's disbelief that he would be president that he asked the projectionist to roll back the reel and play it again.
  • All Men Are Perverts:
    • Marty quickly finds out that George's idea of birdwatching before first meeting Lorraine was watching her undress from a tree with binoculars.
      Marty: (Incredulously) He's a peeping tom!
    • Marty has a case of Male Gaze when two jazzercise girls walk past him; Jennifer quickly straightens him out.
    • In a much more serious case of Biff's rather aggressive infatuation with Lorraine, which she does not take well to.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees:
    • In-universe. 50s Doc initially takes this approach towards a Reagan presidency, but comes around to it when he sees Marty's portable television studio (read: a camcorder), realizing that the President has to look good on TV.
    • As Marty tries to tell George to ask Lorraine to the dance, George objects by saying it would mean missing his favorite TV show Science Fiction Theatre. Science Fiction Theatre was an actual sci-fi show from the 50s, a spiritual predecessor to The Outer Limits (1963) and The Twilight Zone (in the extended version of the "Darth Vader" scene, Marty also name-drops those shows). Coincidentally, one castmember was a invokedMichael Fox. Because he was already in the Screen Actors Guild, Michael J. Fox used the middle initial "J" to distinguish himself from the elder Fox.
  • And the Adventure Continues: Initially, when no sequels were planned, the ending was this. The adventure ended well, it's all fine in Marty's world, but wait, no time to rest! We must go to the future, and have more adventures!
  • And This Is for...: When Biff's friends toss Marty in the trunk of the car:
    Skinhead: That's for messin' up my hair!
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Marty was in a time machine. Which he knew worked. And when he reached eighty-eight miles per hour, sparks surrounded the car and the view around him suddenly changed. Yet he takes a long time to realize he's in the past, and keeps saying it must be a dream.
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety: Doc looks up the barrel of his Colt Single Action Army revolver with his finger on the trigger. Good thing it wasn’t loaded.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: The Libyan terrorists speak vaguely Arabic-sounding gibberish. They do pepper it with accented English though.
    • At one point, the terrorist shooting, whose weapon (an AK-47) had jammed, can be heard: "Damn Soviet gun!"
  • Attempted Rape: Biff with Lorraine in 1955. George shows up, thinking he was going to stop Marty from acting it out, but instead must actually stop Biff from doing the real thing.
  • Auto Erotica: Marty's plan to get his parents together involves George finding him "parking" with Lorraine and trying to take advantage of her, then pulling him out of the car and pretending to beat him up to make him look like he's the tougher guy. Except Biff turns up instead of George, belligerently drunk, and he wants revenge on Marty for the $300 damage his car took in the manure truck incident, so he decides to attempt to molest Lorraine. Hence, George's "rescuing" Lorraine ends up becoming the real deal.
  • Bait-and-Switch: After Marty's plan to stage a rape on his mom so his dad can rescue her fails, Lorraine notices someone coming to the car. Marty (and the audience) assumes it's George coming to do his part of the plan, only for the door to open and for him to be grabbed by Biff, who's pissed about the $300 damage to his car (which he himself was responsible for).
  • Been There, Shaped History: Back in 1955, Marty McFly plays Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" when he steps in for Chuck's cousin, Marvin Berry. While Marty is playing, Marvin calls Chuck up so he can listen in on this "new sound." He also gives the 1985 mayor Goldie Wilson, at that time the black janitor in the malt shop, political aspirations the exact year the Civil Rights Movement started.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Played with. Marty and George's plan is to make it look like this when George comes to Lorraine's "rescue." But Biff got there first, had his gang take Marty away, and is actually trying to rape Lorraine when George shows up.
    George: Hey you, get your damn hands off... [realises it is Biff] oh...
    Biff: I think you got the wrong car, McFly.
    Lorraine: George, help me! Please!
    Biff: Just turn around, McFly, and walk away.
    [George hesitates]
    Biff: Are you deaf, McFly? Close the door, and beat it.
    Lorraine: [whispering, frightened] Please, George....
    George: ...No, Biff. You leave her alone.
  • The Big Damn Kiss: George and Lorraine at the dance, complete with "Earth Angel" swelling on the soundtrack, and saving their son's entire existence.
  • Big Heroic Run: After Marty gets back to 1985 and the DeLorean stalls on him, he is forced to run to the mall to prevent Doc from being shot. It fails, because he gets there just as Doc is shot. Fortunately, Doc survived and wore a bullet-proof vest, thanks to being forewarned by Marty's letter, which he kept and taped back together.
  • Big "NO!":
    • Marty after Doc is shot by the Libyans.
    • In TV versions, Biff and his goons do this instead of collectively yelling "SHIT!" as they crash into the manure truck.
  • Book-Ends: In a way. Marty accidentally time travels to 1955 with the Back to the Future theme playing in the first 30 minutes and then he travels back to 1985 in the last 10 minutes or so with the BTTF theme making a Triumphant Reprise.
  • Borrowed Catchphrase: "If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything." Doc never actually says it in the movie (or the rest of the trilogy), but Jennifer attributes it to him. Only Marty and George ever say it — in fact, it seems that George has adopted it as his own catchphrase at the end of the movie.
  • Brick Joke: Within the first half-hour of the film, Marty is sent back in time while speeding through the parking lot of Twin Pines Mall. Within minutes of arriving in 1955, he drives the time machine through and destroys one of the two pine trees growing on the land of the farmer that owned the plot in that time. At the climax of the film, Marty returns to the mall parking lot, where the sign indicates it is now known as "Lone Pine Mall".
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Invoked. Lorraine is coming hard onto Marty, kissing him back into a corner, and it suddenly occurs to her that it's like kissing her brother. She is Squicked, although not nearly as much as Marty is, knowing that it's really Parental Incest.
  • Buffy Speak:
    Marty: Time circuits, on. Flux capacitor... fluxing.
  • Bulletproof Vest: When Marty returns to 1985 and tries to reach Doc before the Libyans shoot him, he arrives too late although Doc eventually read the letter anyway after taping it back together and was secretly wearing a bullet-proof vest.
  • The Bully: Biff and his goons use their strength to threaten and push people around.
  • Bully Brutality: Biff Tannen engages in this when he tries to run Marty into the back of a manure truck. He also tries to grope and rape Lorraine, and when George intervenes, Biff tries to break George's arm.
  • The Cameo: Huey Lewis is the teacher who tells Marty that his music was "too darn loud".note 
  • Celebrity Paradox: Huey Lewis exists in the BTTF universe, as proven by Marty's posters in his room — and so does the audition judge, played by... Huey Lewis. Even better: at the end of the movie, Marty's clock radio plays "Back in Time" by Huey Lewis and the News. The song was specifically written for (and contains a TON of references to) a little movie called Back to the Future. Marty is even referred to by name in that song.
  • Cessation of Existence: Self explanatory and averted. Marty inadvertently creates a paradox when he interfered with his parents' meeting in 1955. This slowly erases the existence of his brother Dave, his sister Linda, and then himself. It's averted at the last moment, when his father George kisses his mother Lorraine at the dance, thus resolving the paradox and ensuring a happier future.
  • Chekhov's Boomerang: Marty's radiation suit. At first, it was to protect him from the radiation of the plutonium in the DeLorean, and gets mistaken for an alien while inside it, but he later uses it to convince George that he's an extra-terrestrial named Darth Vader from the planet Vulcan.
  • Chekhov's Gag: The joke about the TV show they're seeing at the Baines' house in 1955. It's seen earlier at the McFly's house in 1985, and as Marty watches the same episode in 1955, he notes that he's seen it and it's a classic, to which one of his uncles replies that it's brand new and it's impossible that he could have seen it. Marty says he saw it on a rerun, prompting more confusion from them. It may also be part of where Marty got his "Darth Vader" idea later in the film.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • At the start of the film, Marty is conveniently given a flyer by a woman who (along with other volunteers) is attempting to raise money to save the historic clock tower. The scene is played for laughs, but the flyer contains crucial information on how to return to the future, including the exact date and time that the clock tower was struck by lightning. And the only reason Marty probably kept it (and kept it on him, so he had it in 1955 when he needed it) is because Jennifer wrote her grandmother's phone number on it so Marty could call her there.
    • Lorraine tells the kids that if her father hadn't hit George McFly with his car in 1955 before the dance, none of the kids would've been born. She also says that she and George fell in love after they had their first kiss at the dance. It looks like it's just informing us about how the romance has gone out of their marriage. It's not.
    • When Marty is leaving Doc Brown's home after the opening scene, he is seen putting his headphones on (connected to a Walkman). He later uses the Walkman to intimidate George.
    • Ironically for a light-hearted action comedy, the film is often used in film studies as a perfect example of this trope, since virtually every single thing that happens in the film exists to set up a later event.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Dixon, the guy who cuts in on George and Lorraine at the dance, was previously seen kicking George around when he had the "Kick Me" sign on his back.
  • Chekhov's Skill: At the beginning of the movie, Marty is practising his guitar playing, and he's also shown to be good at skateboarding. Both of those skills come handy to him in 1955.
    • The whole scene of the Pinheads auditoning was purely to show that Marty could play guitar in front of an audience, as he will do in 1955.
  • Chewing the Scenery: Surprisingly, Marty - near the end of "Johnny B. Goode". His faces while he goes over-the-top are... interesting. However, the rest of the school doesn't think it's nearly as cool as he does, just staring at him after his guitar solo.
  • Clean Up the Town: Goldie Wilson, in 1955 a busboy at Lou's Diner, imagines himself as doing this after Marty recognizes him as the future mayor and tells him that. Lou hands him a broom and tells him he can start by sweeping the floor.
  • Clock Discrepancy:
    • Marty is at Doc Brown's house, and thinks he will be on time for school, only to discover all his clocks are twenty-five minutes slow.
    • Doc Brown proves to Marty that the time machine works by synchronizing watches with a digital clock he attaches to his dog, then sending the dog one minute into the future. When the dog shows up again, his clock is a minute slower than Doc's.
  • Close-Enough Timeline: Since Marty has to get his parents together but can't recreate the exact circumstances of their first meeting, he ends up unwittingly changing the timeline. In the old 1985, George was a meek office drone who was still bullied by Biff 30 years later, and Lorraine is a prudish alcoholic trapped in a loveless marriage. Thanks to Marty giving George confidence and helping him and Lorraine get to know each other as people, in the new timeline George is a successful author, his relationship with Lorraine is full of passion and life (which has a spillover effect of improving their childrens' lives too), and a humbled Biff runs an auto detailing business while deferring to the much more successful George. When Marty briefs Doc of the spectacular success at the dance to Doc, his reaction indicates that Doc suspects this will be happening.
    Marty: He [George] laid out Biff in one punch. I never knew he had it in him. He never stood up to Biff in his life!
    Doc: [concerned look] ...Never?
    Marty: No, why, what's the matter?
    [Doc has no time to explain due to the upcoming lightning strike]
It also tips Doc off that changing the natural course of time isn't the catastrophe he feared it would be, and he later tapes up and reads Marty's letter.
  • Clown Car: Biff's goons make the mistake of insulting Reginald, one of The Starlighters, outside his Cadillac, causing Marvin and three of his fellow band members to exit the car.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: At the beginning of the movie, Doc Brown's TV is automatically turned on just before Marty arrives. It shows a news broadcast about the theft of some plutonium by some Libyan terrorists. After Marty arrives the audience is shown a box containing plutonium underneath a bed, and it later turns out that the terrorists stole the plutonium in the hope that Doc Brown would use it to create an atomic bomb for them.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Marty has no problem sucker-punching Biff, or running straight through Biff's convertible when he's about to be rammed into the back of a manure truck.
  • Comically Missing the Point:
    • It initially sounds as if Marty is amazed by the time machine. Then he adds the phrase, "out of a DeLorean?!"
      Marty: Are you telling me you built a time machine... out of a DeLorean?!
    • In 1955, when Marty tells Doc who he is while using the mind-reader:
      Marty: Doc, I'm from the future. I came here in a time machine that you invented, and I need your help getting back to the year 1985.
      Doc: My God... Do you know what this means? [Beat] It means that this damn thing doesn't work at all!
  • Confidence Building Scheme: Played with; Marty concocts a scheme to pretend to take advantage of Lorraine so George can pull a fake rescue and kiss her (not to boost George's confidence per se, but to make them fall in love and eventually become Marty's parents). However, Biff throws a Spanner in the Works by having his goons lock Marty in a car trunk and forcing himself onto Lorraine. George finally stands up to Biff and knocks him out, and Lorraine falls for him for his courage - instead of feeling sorry for George as she did in the original timeline. When Marty returns to 1988, he finds George has grown into a self-confident man and improved their whole family's life.
  • Contrived Clumsiness: Marty "accidentally" trips Biff when they're in the diner in 1955 Hill Valley.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Doc types in November 5, 1955 into the time machine, the day he came up with the Flux Capacitor. Marty ends up going back to that day, which also happens to be the exact same day his parents met. It's also lucky for Marty that the dance where his parents first kissed and fell in love happened before lightning hit the clock tower, the only time Marty and Doc knew of when and where lightning would strike, as opposed to after. Not to mention that they only know it because Marty happens to have been handed a "Save the Clock Tower" flier that day — that happens to include a copy of a newspaper article from the day the lightning hit; which he happens to have kept only because Jennifer happened to use it to write down her phone number for him, and happens to decide to show to Doc because Doc happens to bother asking how things are between him and his girlfriend back home...
  • Convenient Slow Dance: "Earth Angel", where George and Lorraine kiss just before Marty gets erased from history.
  • Cool Car: Enforced with the DeLorean, the page quote shows why.
  • Cue the Falling Object: After Marty flies backward after effectively destroying a large amp by turning it up too high, a small part of the amp breaks off and falls to the ground.
  • Curse Cut Short: Some TV versions invoke this trope when Marty travels back to 1955. When Marty drives out of the barn, Peabody shouts, "Take that, you mutated son of a bitch!" Whereas in some TV prints, Peabody's line is cut short to, "Take that, you mutated son of a-" [Marty bursts out of the barn]
  • Damsel in Distress: Invoked and then played straight — Marty's plan is to stage an Attempted Rape of Lorraine (his own mother) so that George can intervene and win Lorraine's affections. However, when Biff interrupts the staged attempted rape and tries to actually rape Lorraine, it's up to George to save the day, which he does, achieving an even better result, because the show of assertion against Biff was for real and did wonders for George's self-confidence.
  • Dance of Romance: George and Lorraine fell in love at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance.
  • Date Rape Averted: Invoked with Engineered Heroics, then doubly subverted: Biff interferes with Marty and Lorraine's activities, and George winds up interfering with Biff's attempt to rape Lorraine.
  • Death Glare:
    • Marty gives one to Biff after stopping him from attacking George by tripping him up - which almost immediately turns into an Oh, Crap! when he realizes that Biff is twice his size.
    • Strickland has one of these just after "Calvin" finishes "Johnny B. Goode" at the dance.
  • Delayed Ripple Effect: Marty has a week to get his parents together before he'll be erased from existence.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Even if it's a family-friendly film, it doesn't shy away from depicting the overt racism of 1950s America. Even Biff's overt sexual harassment of Lorraine doesn't raise many eyes.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: The reason the "Darth Vader" scene was shortened. In the full length "Vader" tells George that he will melt his brain if he doesn't take Lorraine to the dance - information George relays to Calvin in the very next scene. The version in the film has the "Darth Vader from the Planet Vulcan" line before cutting to George and Marty the very next day.
  • Dirty Cop: While Doc is rigging the lightning rod, a cop comes along and asks him if he has a permit for his "weather experiment". Doc says he does, and promptly grabs his wallet. A deleted shot shows Doc handing the cop a $50, which, given that's $443 in today's money, is being very generous. (Given the relative wealth of Doc in 1955, the relative poverty of Doc in 1985, and the general demeanour of Doc at any point in history, he may have spent a lot of money doing this over the years.)
  • Dies Wide Open: Subversion, towards the end.
  • Disney Death: Doc Brown in the revised timeline.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Marty McFly gets distracted by sexy women... while his girlfriend Jennifer is right next to him. She doesn't seem too bothered, though, simply turning his face back towards her.
  • Diving Save: Marty pushes George out of the way of Lorraine's father's car, by accident.
  • Dramatic Ammo Depletion: After one of the Libyan terrorists guns down Doc Brown, they try to shoot Marty next, only for their gun to not fire. It's not clear whether the gun jammed or it was out of ammo, or both. The Libyan is heard saying "Damn Soviet gun" which suggests that it was the fault of the gun's design.
  • Draw Aggro: Doc runs into the terrorists' view and tries to shoot at them in order to get their attention off Marty. In the original timeline, it costs him his life.
  • Dysfunctional Family: The entire McFly family, but especially George and Lorraine, at the beginning of the movie.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: A prominent plot point in the sequels is that Marty intensely dislikes being called a "chicken" and that this insult can be used to manipulate him into doing reckless things. This character trait never shows up in the first movie, although there is one slight moment:
    [After telling Lorraine that she shouldn't drink]
    Lorraine: Anyone who's anyone drinks.
    [Marty takes a swig out of the flask]
  • Early Personality Signs: Marty's Uncle Joey is in prison in 1985. When Marty goes back to 1955, he sees Uncle Joey as a baby. Turns out the infant Uncle Joey loves being in his barred playpen and cries whenever he's taken out.
  • Easily Forgiven: While Biff in the altered timeline appears to have become a harmless, eager-to-please Gentle Giant who is barely recognizable as the bully he used to be, both George and Lorraine seem to be remarkably grudge-free about him trying to kill their friend and rape Lorraine.
  • Eating Lunch Alone: George in 1955 tends to eat by himself in the cafeteria and focus on writing his ideas for a science fiction book down on paper.
  • Engineered Heroics: Subverted: Marty's plan to get George and Lorraine together goes wrong, requiring George to be a real hero. In the novelization, George worries that Biff was in on the plan and had faked being knocked out, until Marty confirms that Biff was serious.
  • Eskimos Aren't Real:
    • In 1985, Goldie Wilson is running for re-election as mayor of Hill Valley. In 1955, when Marty sees Goldie is the busboy at Lou's, he gives him the idea to become mayor. Goldie's employer, the owner of the the cafe, scoffs at the idea of a "colored mayor". There had been a number of African American mayors prior to 1955, though it should be noted that said mayors oversaw small rural frontier towns, and it wasn't until the 1967 elections of Richard B. Hatcher of Gary, Indiana and Carl B. Stokes of Cleveland, Ohio that there were African-American mayors running large cities.
    • Doc doesn't initially believe that an actor like Ronald Reagan could become president.
  • Everything's Better with Cows: After Marty ends up in 1955, he runs into a scarecrow, then crashes into the barn where Old Man Peabody's cows reside.
  • Evil Redhead: Dixon, the cackling punk who cuts in on George's dance with Lorraine.
  • Exact Words: George won't try to ask Lorraine to the dance, telling Marty "neither you nor anybody else on this planet is going to make me change my mind." So that night, Marty pretends to be "Darth Vader", an "extra-terrestrial from the planet Vulcan".
  • Expo Speak Gag: Doc treats getting George and Lorraine together in a way akin to someone narrating a nature documentary and describes the school dance as a "rhythmic ceremonial ritual".
  • Face Plant: When Marty makes some small talk with 1955!Lorraine, Lorraine's mother calls them down, causing Lorraine to tussle around to avoid Marty getting into a Caught with Your Pants Down scenario. This is the result.
  • False Start: George, with Lorraine in 1955. It was meant to go down as normal until Marty pushed George out of the way from being hit with a car.
  • Fan Disservice: A sweet, beautiful young girl has a desperate crush on you. That would be (barring some exceptions) every man's dream. The fact that she's also your future mother... not so much.
  • Feet-First Introduction: Marty. You don't even get to see his face until he takes off his sunglasses a minute and a half later.
  • First Contact Farmer: Marty crashes into a pine tree, a scarecrow, and a barn upon arriving in 1955. He crawls out of the DeLorean and tries to apologize to Farmer Peabody. However, he's wearing a radiation suit and the farmer's son has already identified the car as a spaceship, so he just winds up having to drive away for his life when Farmer Peabody goes for his gun.
  • First Kiss: George and Lorraine have theirs during the Enchantment Under The Sea Dance, while the band plays "Earth Angel". (Marty has to fill in for a band member who injured his hand to ensure that it happens).
  • Florence Nightingale Effect: Lorraine fell in love with George after her dad hit him with his car. Marty accidentally ends up replacing his father in her affections when he pushes George out of the way. Marty is naturally not okay with this, and inadvertently keeps making himself even more attractive to her. Especially after he defends her from Biff in the school lunch room. Doc calls out the trope by name to explain to Marty what's going on.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Early in the movie, Jennifer and Marty see a black 4x4 pickup truck and Marty says how great it would be to drive it up to the lake. At the end of the movie, after Marty has altered history, he discovers that his family now owns the very same truck and they are fine with he and Jennifer driving it up to the lake.
    • 1955 Doc commenting on how Marty's 1985 photo is obviously a forgery, since the top of his brother's head has been cut off.
    • One of the clocks seen at the start of the film shows a man hanging off of the minute hand (on the surface, a tribute to Harold Lloyd in the climax of Safety Last!). Doc is later hanging off the clock tower face towards the end of the film. Also, the clocks are slow, with Marty being told of this, which sets up that he is going to go back in time later.
    • Marty's skateboard at the beginning hits a case of plutonium when Marty enters the garage. As revealed later, Doc had stolen it from the Libyans who later shoot him dead. Before that, Doc's TV was automatically turned on, which shows the news talking about a stolen case of plutonium.
    • Marty hitches a ride on the back of a Jeep in 1985 on his way to school. He later does the same thing in 1955 when he is chased around the town square by Biff and his thugs.
    • The following exchange at the beginning:
      Strickland: Now let me give you a nickel's worth of free advice, young man. This so-called Dr. Brown is dangerous. He's a real nutcase. You hang around with him, you're gonna end up in big trouble. [...] No McFly has ever amounted to anything in the history of Hill Valley!
      Marty: Yeah, well, history is gonna change.
    • Biff in 1985 telling Marty to say hi to Lorraine for him may seem like a clumsy attempt to be nice, but it's meant to foreshadow that in her better days, Lorraine was very good looking and that Biff has a Villainous Crush on her.
    • Lorraine says to her children at the dinner, "I think it's terrible. Girls chasing boys. When I was your age, I never chased a boy, called a boy, or... sat in a parked car with a boy..." Considering her behavior around Marty in 1955....
    • Upon being rejected for the Battle of the Bands, Marty says "I'll never get to play in front of anybody..." Guess what Marty does at the dance in 1955?
    • While recollecting how they first met, Lorraine has no idea what George was doing when he got hit by her dad's car. She presumes it was bird-watching but he doesn't confirm this. Later, Marty learns first-hand that what he was really doing was something other than bird-watching.
    • The McFly family are watching the episode of The Honeymooners where "Ralph dresses up as the man from space". The Baines family in 1955 watch the same episode when Marty is with them. It also sets up Marty being mistaken for a "man from space", first of all in front of the Peabodys when Marty first arrives in 1955 and later when he turns up in George's bedroom to coerce him to take Lorraine to the dance.
    • Doc recalls in the Twin Pines Mall parking lot how Old Man Peabody owned the area the mall is built on. Marty encounters him and his family upon first arriving in 1955, and during the encounter with the Peabodys, Marty runs over one of the two pine trees. It was Twin Pines Mall at first, but it is Lone Pine Mall at the end of the film. Also, viewers might not notice at first because of the tense emotion of the scene (Marty racing to try, apparently futilely, to save Doc's life), or might chalk it up to a Funny Foreground Event, but it foreshadows that everything Marty did in 1955, even running down an innocent pine tree, has had an effect 30 years later.
    • When Marty gets to 1955 and crosses the street in front of the movie theater in the town square he is nearly hit by a car. Guess what happens a few scenes later?
    • After the chase around the town square, Lorraine tells Marty that a man should stand up for himself to protect the woman he loves. George later does exactly this on the night of the dance, standing up to Biff for the first time in his life to save Lorraine.
    • When Marty tries to tell Doc about the terrorists, Doc objects by saying no man should know too much about his own future. When he says, "We've already agreed..." over his right shoulder is a man riding a bike, wearing a white hat, his future self from the second movie.
    • When Marty tells Doc near the end that he never saw his dad stand up to Biff in his life, Doc's concern is piqued. Astute viewers can cue in that the 1985 that Marty will return to may not be quite the same in noticeable ways...
    • When Doc tears up the letter Marty wrote to his future self, he shoves the pieces in his pocket instead of throwing them away.
  • Forgotten Fallen Friend: Inverted; Doc is killed in one of the first scenes of the movie. Once he finds out he's in the past, Marty becomes obsessed with preventing it.
  • Former Teen Rebel: Lorraine has a very prudish attitude toward teenage sexuality as a parent, looking down on Jennifer calling Marty twice in one evening. However, Marty discovers firsthand that as a teenager, his mother smoked cigarettes, drank alcohol, and fooled around with boys in parked cars. And basically semi-stalked the boy she liked, following him home. Then again considering how it worked out for her in that timeline it does make sense why she would be so prudish.
  • For Want of a Nail:
    • Conversed. Lorraine tells Linda and Marty at the beginning that if her father hadn't hit George with the car, none of them (including Dave, who had left earlier in the scene) would have been born.
    • While most nails are avoided (this time) it's amazing what one moment of bravery and a single punch to a bully's face can do...
    • A small one but, Twin Pines Mall becomes Lone Pine Mall.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: In the first movie, 1955-Doc has no less than four separate watches (one's even built into his clocktower model as the clock).
  • Fridge Brilliance: Occurs In-Universe, in 1955, just before Marty's arrival. Doc was hanging a clock in his toilet when he slipped and fell and banged his head on the sink.
    Doc: And when I came to, I had a revelation. A vision! A picture in my head. A picture of this! This is what makes time travel possible: the Flux Capacitor!
  • From the Mouths of Babes: "It's already mutated into human form! Shoot it!"
  • Fun-Hating Confiscating Adult: Strickland. His name is probably an inside joke on the word strict.
  • Funny Background Event:
    • Stella keeps removing Milton's coonskin hat while Marty is taking in the surroundings of the Baines' dining room.
    • When Biff says "Make like a tree... and get out of here", one of his goons turns his head towards him, and his eyebrows slowly try to crawl their way up to his hairline.
    • The Starlighter's saxophone player actually seems to enjoy Marty's segue into heavy metal during Johnny B Goode and manages to keep up with him right until the end (when even he's looking on in disbelief).
    • In Lorraine's bedroom when Marty is struggling to get his jeans on, Lorraine can be seen in the mirror just before running out of the door - her face at the sight of Marty in his Calvin Kleins is quite revealing.
  • Gadgeteer's House: The film begins inside Dr. Emmett Brown's house, where his alarm clock triggers a machine to automatically prepare breakfast for him and for his dog, Einstein. Since Doc hasn't been home for a few days, his kitchen is a mess of uneaten breakfasts.
  • Gale-Force Sound: Marty hooks up an electric guitar to a ludicrously huge speaker. He plays a single chord and is physically hurled backwards by the sound (the speaker is destroyed in the process).
  • Garage Band: Marty McFly's band, the Pinheads, which auditions for the Battle of the Bands competition.
    Audition Judge: Hold it, fellas. I'm afraid you're just too darn loud.
  • George Lucas Altered Version: Initially, this was released as a stand-alone film, and the ending was just a case when And the Adventure Continues. The "To be continued" text was added later in the video releases before being removed on the DVD release.
  • Given Name Reveal: One of the black musicians, the one who cut his hand by accident, is named Marvin. No big deal. But when we discover that his full name is Marvin Berry, and that he's talking in the phone with his cousin Chuck Berry, then suddenly he is a big deal.
  • God Guise: Marty uses his radiation suit and Walkman stereo to dress up as "Darth Vader" from "the Planet Vulcan". He frightens George and threatens to melt his brain if he doesn't take Lorraine to the school dance.
  • Grandfather Paradox: Marty accidentally creates one not by killing his own grandfather, but by taking his father's place as his mother's object of affection. His objective in the film to direct his mother's attention over to his father in order to save himself and his siblings from non-existence.
  • Grew a Spine: George no longer allows himself to be bullied after he punches out Biff. When Dixon tries to muscle in on dancing with Lorraine, George initially is unsure what to do, but when it looks like Marty is done for and is about to cease to exist...
    George: Excuse me! [shoves Dixon down and takes back his girl]
  • Grumpy Old Man: Sam Baines really isn't that happy with Marty jumping in front of his car.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: In-Universe. 1955 Doc is very happy to discover that some day he will have the chance to travel to the future. Marty is very troubled when he said that: as far as he knows, the terrorists killed him in the initial sequence, and never had the chance to actually use the machine himself.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: From a deleted scene:
    Marty: I mean, God, I can't believe I'm actually gonna feel up my own mother. You know, this is the kind of thing that could screw me up permanently. Wha—what if I go back to the future and I end up bein'... gay?
    Doc: Why shouldn't you be happy?
  • The Heavy: Getting Marty back to 1985 is a big problem, but that isn’t something he can really control. Biff Tannen on the other hand is a far more personal threat, as his bullying of Marty’s father George could very well lead to Marty getting erased from existence.
  • Here We Go Again!: The ending was supposed to be this trope as they'd never planned any sequels. The film's main problem (that Marty accidentally erased himself from history) resulted because he used the time machine; just when everything is perfect, Doc arrives and whisks them off in it again.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Doc draws the Libyans' attention to give Marty time to run, and gets shot for it.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • When Marty goes over the plan with his father-to-be George to court Lorraine at the Enchantment Under The Sea dance while George is doing laundry, Marty mentions that he will "take advantage" of Lorraine to make her angry at him and George, holding a bra, asks him "Do you mean you're going to touch on her...?". Marty exclaims no and then grabs the bra and throws it on the ground.
    • Compare Biff's repeated "Don't be so gullible, McFly" prank to Marty's "Whoa, whoa, Biff, what's that?" tactic in the diner. It must be a generational thing as Biff's grandson seems to have wised up to the misdirection.
  • "I Know What We Can Do" Cut: Marvin Berry declaring that the school dance is officially over — unless Marty "knows someone who can play a guitar?" Cut to Marty on-stage.
  • I'm Mr. [Future Pop Culture Reference]:
    • Lorraine thinks Marty's name is "Calvin Klein" as "it's written all over [his] underwear". Marty says his name is Marty, but Lorraine (and Biff, if Part II is anything to go by), thinks his name is "Calvin Marty Klein".
    • "My name is Darth Vader! I am an extra-terrestrial from the planet Vulcan!"
  • Improvised Lightning Rod: Doc Brown uses the Clock Tower as a lightning rod to gain the 1.21 gigawatts of electricity the DeLorean needs to get back to the future.
  • Improvised Zipline: Doc Brown uses the heavy duty electrical cable attached to the clock tower as a line to reach the ground quickly and fix a break in the line.
  • Incest Is Relative: Parodied, in that whilst Marty knows who Lorraine really is, she has no idea as to his true identity. Luckily for Marty, Lorraine likens kissing him to kissing her brother.
  • Insecure Protagonist, Arrogant Antagonist: Word of God describes Marty McFly as a Supporting Protagonist to his future father George in 1955, as Marty teaches the extremely weak-willed George to stand up to Biff Tannen.
  • In Spite of a Nail: Played with. The new 1985 is identical in most respects... but not entirely. The McFly family turned out differently, Biff Tannen turned out differently, Hill Valley's shopping is now done at the Lone Pine Mall, and of course, Chuck Berry got the idea for "Johnny B. Goode" from a sample he overheard during a telephone call from his cousin Marvin.
  • Ironic Echo: In 1985, Marty tells Doc that "You don't just walk into a store and-and buy plutonium!" Then in 1955, Doc tells Marty "I'm sure in 1985 plutonium is in every corner drug store, but in 1955, it’s a little hard to come by!"
  • I Should Write a Book About This:
  • It Will Never Catch On:
    • Doc Brown in 1955 on the idea of Ronald Reagan as President in 1985: "Ronald Reagan? The actor? Then who's Vice-President? Jerry Lewis?".
    • Biff's gang on Marty's down jacket: "Hey, Biff, get a load of this guy's life preserver! Dork thinks he's gonna drown!"
    • Diner owner Lou on janitor Goldie Wilson's aspirations to run for mayor: "A colored mayor? That'll be the day."
  • It Works Better with Bullets: Doc’s Colt Single Action Army revolver doesn’t fire because he didn’t load it.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Lorraine at the beginning of the movie.
  • Jerkass:
    • Biff, obviously, both in 1985 and possibly more so in 1955 as a teenager. Up until George grows a pair and knocks him out.
    • Sam Baines, Marty's future grandfather, also has hints of being this. He is more interested in setting up a new TV set than eating dinner with the rest of the family (though he does join them with the TV once he gets it going). He also calls Marty an idiot behind his back despite having only just met him, and warns Lorraine he'll disown her if she has a kid who acts like that.
  • Just Keep Driving: Used as a one-off joke when Marty escapes Old Man Peabody's farm and steps on the entrance to the construction site for Lyons Estate (which is breaking ground next winter). After attempting to ask a passing middle-aged couple where he was, the woman starts to freak, tapping her husband rapidly on the shoulder and yelling "DON'T STOP, WILBER! DRIIIIIIIVE!!!" Marty then has to use the billboard advertising the new development to hide the DeLorean.
  • The Key Is Behind the Lock: Marty gets locked in a car trunk, along with the keys to the trunk.
  • Key Under the Doormat: Doc Brown is not particularly security conscious.
  • "Kick Me" Prank: George is the victim of one at school. His classmates enthusiastically obey the sign until an unimpressed Strickland rips it from his back.
  • Kid from the Future: Marty, although his parents know nothing of who he really is. Lorraine is enamored with him due to his cavalier attitude (and the "Florence Nightingale effect") and George initially thinks he's a pushy pest who keeps following him around.
  • Late for School: Marty, for the fourth time in a row. He even says, "Damn! I'm late for school!", before hanging up on Doc. He still gets caught by Strickland.
  • Let's Get Dangerous!: Bumbling fretful Doc, when he sees that he accidentally unplugged the other end of the cable, sucks it up, and ziplines off the clock tower in the middle of a storm.
  • Letting the Air Out of the Band: Happens the minute Biff angrily marches in to throw George out of the diner. Apparently, someone in the room had a good sense of dramatic tension to unplug the jukebox at that exact moment.
  • Let Us Never Speak of This Again: George has changed his mind, and asks Marty for help to date Lorraine. What made him change his mind? A visit of Darth Vader from the Planet Vulcan! Marty suggests he keep this particular turn of events to himself.
    Marty: Let's just keep this brain melting stuff to ourselves, OK?
    George: Oh, yeah, yeah...
  • Line-of-Sight Name: Lorraine is led to think Marty's name is "Calvin Klein" because that's the brand of underwear he's wearing.
  • Little "No": Marty has a barely audible one as he cries over Doc's "death" at the end of the movie.
  • Living Prop: Dave and Linda basically only exist so that the photo Marty has can visually show the ripple effect results of Lorraine and George never getting together, without actually affecting Marty (until the end at least).
  • Look Behind You: After Marty trips Biff in Lou's Cafe, Biff is about to punch his lights out when Marty nonchalantly points over Biff's shoulder and says, "Whoa, whoa, Biff... what's that?" Biff turns to look, and when he turns back, Marty punches him in the face and runs for it.
  • Luke, You Are My Father: Marty knows past George and Lorraine are his parents, but he does his best not to tell them since telling them would change his future. There are a couple instances where he accidentally refers to them as his parents before he backpedals and calls them by their names.
  • Malt Shop: Lou's Diner.
  • Manly Tears: Marty towards the end of the movie. After seeing his friend, Doc, killed once, Marty is now praying that Doc read his letter and took precautions so he wouldn't be killed a second time. Marty arrives just in time to see the Libyans shoot Doc again. Running over to him, Mary finds Doc unconscious. Assuming the worst, he begins sobbing. However, we find out that Doc is fine.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!": Biff's gang just before crashing into the manure truck: "SHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT!!"
  • Meaningful Echo: Two exchanges, thirty years apart, show that things between George and Biff have always been the same.
    • In 1985, George and Biff's conversation after Biff wrecks a car George loaned him:
      Biff: Hey, did you finish up my reports?
      George: Well, I figured, since they weren't due 'till Monday. . .
      Biff: [playing George's head like a bongo] Hello? Helloooooo?! Anybody home?! Think, McFly! Think! I've gotta have time to get 'em retyped. Do you realize what would happen if I hand in my reports in your handwriting? I'll get fired. You wouldn't want that to happen, would ya?
      [George hesitates; Biff pulls on George's tie]
      Biff: Would ya?
      George: Well no, of course not, Biff. I wouldn't want that to happen. [Biff helps himself to some gumballs] Now look, I'll uh, finish those reports on up tonight, and I'll run 'em on over first thing tomorrow. All right?
      Biff: Not too early. I sleep in Saturday. [gestures downward] Oh, McFly, your shoe's untied.
      [George looks down, Biff taps George's nose]
      Biff: Don't be so gullible, McFly...
    • Marty walks into Lou's Diner in 1955 and after Lou hands him a cup of coffee, the camera pans to show that Marty is sitting next to George, who is occupied eating his breakfast. Suddenly the doors fly open:
      Biff: Hey, did you finish up my homework?
      George: Well, I figured, since it wasn't due 'till Monday. . .
      Biff: [again with the head-battering] Hello? Helloooooo?! Anybody home?! Think, McFly! Think! I gotta have time to recopy it. Do you realize what would happen if I hand in my homework in your handwriting? I'll get kicked out of school. You wouldn't want that to happen, would ya?
      [George hesitates; Biff grabs George by his shirt]
      Biff: Would ya?
      George : Well no, of course not, Biff, I wouldn't want that to happen... I'll, uh, finish that on up tonight and then I'll, uh, bring it over first thing tomorrow morning.
      Biff: Not too early. I sleep in Sunday. [gestures downward] Oh, McFly, your shoe's untied.
      [George looks down, Biff taps George's nose]
      Biff: Don't be so gullible, McFly...
  • Meet Cute: George and Lorraine's first meeting, the way it originally happened.
  • Mighty Whitey: Marty travels back to the mid-1950s, where he introduces Rock & Roll to the world... a musical style that had been developing over the course of the previous decade, primarily by African American performers, via Gospel Music.
  • Miles Gloriosus: Uh, Biff. For a sadist whom everyone was afraid of, he had a really bad glass jaw.
  • Moment Killer:
    • Marty and Jennifer are playfully flirting in the courthouse square, and are an inch away from kissing...when they are interrupted by: "Save the clocktower! Save the clocktower!", complete with the lady shaking the donations tin in their faces. So much for that moment....
    • When Marty and Jennifer try to kiss, Jennifer's dad arrives to pick her up.
    • As George is stumbling his way in wooing Lorraine at the cafe, it seems like he'll succeed until Biff shows up.
    • And finally, at the end of the movie when Marty and Jennifer are reunited, Doc shows up once more with the DeLorean.
  • Mugging the Monster: Biff's pals threaten Reginald with a racial slur; then Marvin and Reginald's three friends appear. Oh, Crap!...
  • Moment of Awesome: In-universe. For the 1955 teenagers (who had never seen films with action sequences, or perhaps ANY action in the all-peaceful Hill Valley), the way Marty eludes the bullies and gets Biff to crash into a manure truck is the most awesome thing ever seen. Lorraine is more in love than ever with Marty after witnessing that.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: George's method of ordering a milk... chocolate. The outtake is even better, where the milkshake glass bounces off George's hand and crashes to the floor.
  • My Car Hates Me:
    • The Libyans' VW bus, which refuses to start at the same time their Kalashnikov rifle jams.
      "Rrrgh! Damn Soviet gun!"
      "Gah! Damn German car!"
    • And of course, the DeLorean, which breaks down after Marty arrives in 1955, just before he is about to return to 1985, and just after he does return and needs to get to the mall to save Doc from the Libyans.
  • Naughty Birdwatching: When George is spying on Lorraine in 1955. Lorraine in the original 1985 even refers to the event as birdwatching.
  • Nerd: George, although Marty's intervention via time travel turns him into a much cooler class of nerd.
  • Neutral Female: Averted by Lorraine, more or less, during the final confrontation with Biff. After pleading with Biff to leave George alone, she does make an effort to rescue him, but Biff responds by simply pushing her onto the ground. It's not particularly spectacular or feminist, but she probably did all she could without having Waif-Fu.
  • Never My Fault: Biff berates George for the auto accident he got into after basically admitting he was drinking and driving, and he complains about George's choice of beer afterwards. Marty even asks George why he lets Biff push him over like that.
  • Newspaper Dating: While Marty is staring around in bemusement at the 1955 version of his home town, a man nearby drops a newspaper into a trash can. Marty retrieves it to confirm that he's in the past and learn the exact date.
  • Next Sunday A.D.: The film was released on July 3, 1985, but set nearly 4 months later on October 25-26, 1985. According to the DVD commentary, some people actually showed up at Puente Hills Mall, the location used for Twin/Lone Pine(s) Mall, on October 26, 1985 at 1:18 AM to see if anything would happen.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Marty pushes George out of the way of being hit by the car, which keeps his parents from meeting (he himself had to fix that) and he and his siblings almost getting erased from existence.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!:
    • Marty's plan to force himself on Lorraine is a terrible one. Marty can't really bring himself to abuse Lorraine and she is very eager to make out with him, so George couldn't have acted as a savior. It's only after Biff shows up and takes Marty's place when it becomes a Damsel in Distress scenario.
    • Biff pushing Lorraine down and laughing about it gives George the resolve he needs to punch him out.
  • No Accounting for Taste: George and Lorraine in the original 1985, at the start of the film. Marty admits to Doc in 1955 that he doesn't understand their relationship at all, as they have nothing in common and his father has always been completely spineless.
    Doc: What are their common interests? What do they like to do together?
    Marty: ...nothing?
  • Noodle Incident:
    • Marty setting fire to the living room rug at the age of eight.
    • Also, it's briefly implied that Marty and George McFly aren't the first victims of a Sam Baines hit-and-run accident, given that the moment George rides away on his bike, Sam shouts, "Stella! Another one of these damn kids jumped in front of my car! Come on out here and help me bring him in the house!" Which makes one wonder whether Lorraine was well-known for never closing her curtains.
    • A deleted scene has Doc bribe the cop with a "permit" (actually a $50 bill).
      Cop: You're not gonna set anything on fire this time, are you, Doc?
      Doc: [pause] Nah!
    • At no point in the film is it answered as to why Doc has a giant speaker amplifier in his house!
  • Nostalgia Ain't Like It Used to Be:
    • Compare the film's portrayal of 1955 with that of 1985. On the other hand, the film does a good job in showing both the bright, sunny veneer of The '50s and the darker, less pleasant aspects underneath without being bluntly Anvilicious.
    • When Marty arrives in the 1955 town square, we can see some of the things that have and haven't changed since then. The Texaco station has a team of four uniformed men to service cars, including filling the tank and polishing the engine. Also, much like the 1985 town square has a mayoral campaign van going around blaring "Re-elect Mayor Goldie Wilson!" on loudspeakers, the 1955 version of this scene has a car blaring "Re-elect Mayor Red Thomas!" on loudspeakers, even decked out with similar looking signs and similar "progress is his middle name" slogans.
  • Not a Morning Person: Biff Tannen is implied to be this. Whenever George McFly offers to go to Biff's home with the reports for Biff to copy and pass them as his own, Biff tells George not to show up too soon for this very reason.
  • Not Hyperbole: At the end of this movie (and the beginning of Part II), when Marty is reunited with Jennifer after being in 1955, she says "Marty, you're acting like you haven't seen me in a week", to which he says "I haven't". For Jennifer, it'd been less than 24 hours since they were together, but for Marty, he really did go a week without seeing her, arriving on November 5, 1955 at 5:00 AM and leaving on November 12, 1955 at 10:04 PM.
  • Not Used to Freedom: Marty's uncle "Jailbird Joey" is more comfortable as a toddler confined in his playpen.
    Marty: Better get used to these bars, kid.
  • Now You Tell Me: Marty gets blown across the room when he tries to hook up to the amplifier. Then Doc calls and, among other things, warns Marty not to use the amplifier.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Marty after Doc tells him his clocks are twenty-five minutes slow, making him realise he's late for school again.
    • "Oh, my God. They found me. I don't know how, but they found me. Run for it, Marty!"
      Marty: HOLY SHIT!
    • Marty goes wide-eyed after tripping Biff up in the diner, seeing how much bigger Biff is than himself.
    • The look on Doc's face when his return home simulation causes some rags to catch fire is utterly priceless.
    • Doc Brown's expression when he realizes Marty is being truthful about being from the future doubles as an Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!.
    • Marty, when Biff, not George, pulls him out of the car on the night of the dance.
    • The look on George's face when he discovers it is Biff, not "Calvin", in the car with Lorraine.
    • Biff's thugs when the rest of Reginald's bandmates get out of the car in the trunk of which they just dumped Marty on the night of the dance.
    • Biff, when he sees in George's face that he's pushed him too far and a left hand is coming his way.
    • Marty gets a huge one at the dance when he starts to fade out of the photograph, and sees his right hand start to fade away.
  • Older Than They Look: According to WordOfGod, Old Man Peabody who owns Twin Pines Ranch is 45 years old, despite the fact that he looks thirty years older. (Actor Will Hare was in his late sixties at the time of filming)
  • One-Hit KO: In his defense of Lorraine, George lands just one punch on Biff. As it turns out, that one punch was all he needed.
  • The Oner: The opening shot of the film (an Establishing Shot of Doc Brown's laboratory, which sets up a few plot points and Foreshadowing) goes on for several minutes. It's a quite complicated shot, requiring a lot of technical coordination, even though no actual actors appear onscreen.
  • OOC Is Serious Business: Doc is surprised and asks for confirmation when Marty mentions that George stood up to Biff, for the first time ever. This is a subtle hint about Doc realizing that the status quo timeline has been deeply changed already so reading Marty's letter would be now a less game-breaker thing for him.
  • Parental Bonus: After Marty wakes up from being hit by Lorraine's father's car, Lorraine tells him that his pants are "over there... on [her] hope chest". Many people who were born after the 1950s may not understand what a hope chest is. It's a chest that young girls used to keep in preparation for their marriage. In other words, Lorraine is already fantasizing about marrying the young man that she does not realize is her future son. One assumes that in the original timeline, this also happened with George.
  • Parental Incest: Marty seriously tries to avert this trope, and does everything wrong until the night of the dance; everything he does only makes him more attractive to her. He jumps and flees when she makes a pass at him, defends her from Biff's "meat hooks", trips up Biff when Biff goes after George, and leads Biff on an over-the-top skateboard chase culminating in Biff's comeuppance in manure. By this time, she really wants to get to know him.
  • Parental Hypocrisy: Lorraine scoffs at Marty for parking with his girlfriend Jennifer, saying "When I was your age I never chased a boy, or called a boy, or sat in a parked car with a boy". Marty is shocked when he travels back in time and finds that his mother is actually willing to "park for a while" (plus smoking and drinking) although it wouldn't be so bad if she did it with him.
  • Pedal-to-the-Metal Shot: In the "race-against-the-lightning" climax...primarily to demonstrate Marty's desperation when the car won't start right away. Also the "aggressively shifting gears" variant several times during the car chase with the Libyans, which actually plays a critical role in stranding Marty in 1955 in the first place (the "time circuits on" lever is close enough to the gear shift Marty accidentally bumps it).
  • The Peeping Tom: The then-teenage George McFly spies Lorraine undressing from a tree next to her window. This becomes a crucial plot point as this is the point where Marty alters history. When George falls out of the tree, Marty pushes him out of the way of an oncoming car... accidentally preventing his parents' original meeting. For an idea of how it originally happened, imagine Marty's actions that night at the dinner table with George in place of Marty.
  • Percussive Therapy: The engine of the DeLorean stalls at nearly the exact moment before Marty has to start accelerating to go back to the future. As he struggles to start the car again, we see him becoming increasingly frustrated at his lack of success before his frustration gets the better of him and he headbutts the steering wheel, leading the DeLorean to start up again.
  • Pet's Homage Name: Doc's dogs. His 1985 dog is named Einstein, his 1955 dog is Copernicus.
  • Plot-Based Voice Cancellation: When Marty tries to tell Doc about the future while the latter is on top of the clock tower:
    Marty: [shouting up at Doc] On the night I go back, you will get—
    [[The clock strikes ten, drowning out Marty and startling Doc]
  • Police Are Useless:
    • Aside from Attempted Rape (though to be fair, the film doesn't imply that anyone ever called the cops about it) above, Biff in 1955 also makes multiple threats of assault throughout the movie, and in one scene attempts to commit MURDER, and nobody even seems to think that he's doing anything illegal. Some of this is slightly justified by bullying not being taken anywhere near as seriously in the 50s as it is today.
    • The one time a cop is shown on screen, he's doing nothing more than enquiring about the Doc's little "weather experiment" and whether the Doc has a permit (a deleted scene reveals the Doc bribes him to look the other way).
    • No officers turn up to investigate the shootings at the Mall, or the car crash into the movie theater when Marty returns to 1985. The novel does mention sirens in the distance though as Doc and Marty leave the Mall to retrieve the DeLorean.
  • The Power of Rock: Played with. Marty's rendition of "Johnny B. Goode" impresses everybody - until he gets carried away with his guitar solos.
    Marty: I guess you guys aren't ready for that yet... but your kids are gonna love it.
  • Precision F-Strike:
    • "If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits eighty-eight miles per hour... you're gonna see some serious shit."
    • When Biff and his gang crash into the manure truck, they yell "SHIIITTTTTTT!!"
    • Enforced by Marty when he's explaining to George the plan to "save" Lorraine from being molested by Marty.
    George: Do you really think I should swear?
    Marty: Yes, definitely! Goddammit, George, swear!
  • Prince Charming Wannabe: Biff with Lorraine.
  • "Psycho" Strings: The musical score gets screechy as Marty fades from existence.
  • Punch Catch: Biff does one of these to George and almost breaks his arm.
  • Punch Spin Gape: Biff catches one of these in the end.
  • Quip to Black: "Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads."
  • Rage Breaking Point: George, when Biff shoves Lorraine down to the ground.
  • Reality Ensues
    • Word of God describes the premise this way. If a modern teenager somehow wound up in the past, they'd hate it because everything would be completely different from what they were familiar with, and would want nothing more than to get back to their own time.
    • As Marty realizes too late, pretending to assault your own mother is much easier said than done.
    • Just because George punched Biff doesn't mean that he'd completely changed his personality. When Dixon cuts in on him and Lorraine, George is shaken before he gets his second wind.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Some people complain that Michael J. Fox's singing double is a bit too low for Marty's character during his performance of "Johnny B. Goode". However, it's pretty common in Real Life for somebody's singing voice to sound radically different from their speaking voice — see Singing Voice Dissonance for examples. Also, the song had been recorded before Fox was officially cast.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Strickland really dishes it out to Marty at the beginning for being a "slacker", and to the rest of the McFly family as he drives his point home.
  • Reed Richards Is Useless: It's understandable that Doc wouldn't want time travel technology spreading. But if he patented that nuclear reactor with 1.21 gigawatt output that's small enough to fit in the back of a car, he'd easily become a millionaire and probably revolutionize the global energy market.
  • Reliably Unreliable Guns: Marty is saved repeatedly from being shot by Libyans because their rifle jams. They are shooting an AK-47, which are famed for their reliability even under the harshest conditions. However, we do see them simply trying to clear the jam rather than abandoning the gun immediately. Eventually the terrorist does clear the jam and continues firing. You can also overhear them complaining about how the gun and car are cheap off-brands, so the idea that they were intentionally sold defective products (like the fake bomb Doc gave them) isn't too farfetched.
  • Rejection Affection: Lorraine with Marty.
  • Rescue Romance: George finally manages to hook up with Lorraine after he saves her from being raped by Biff.
  • Ret-Gone: Dave, Linda and (almost) Marty in the photograph.
  • Retroactive Precognition: Marty has one when he first walks into Lou's, as he recognizes that the busboy is Goldie Wilson, who will be mayor in 30 years. Marty inadvertently blurts out "That's right, he's gonna be mayor!" when Goldie tries to give George a pep talk about standing up to Biff and "being someone", planting the idea in Goldie's mind.
  • Rewind, Replay, Repeat: "They found me... I don't know how, but they found me... Run for it Marty!" replayed by a Doc Brown who was told not to by Future Boy Marty.
  • Riddle for the Ages: What does the DeLorean's stainless steel construction do to the flux dispersal? Doc was going to explain before he and Marty hurriedly moved to accommodate Einstein's arrival through time.
  • Right Place, Right Time, Wrong Reason: Marty finding that George is a peeping tom.
  • Ripped from the Phone Book: When Marty is looking up Doc Brown's house in the phonebook, he tears the page out for reference.
  • Rockers Smash Guitars: Marty ruining the mood of his song by acting like a Heavy Metal singer.
  • Running Gag:
    • People mistaking Marty's down jacket as a "life preserver" - Lou, Skinhead (one of Biff's bullies), and Lorraine's mother.
    • Lorraine keeps calling Marty "Calvin Klein", even after Marty corrects her.
  • Running Over The Plot: Shortly after arriving in 1955 Marty accidentally gets run over by his grandfather's car, which introduces him to his mother (who is instantly smitten with him) and accidentally prevents his parents from meeting. This triggers the main subplot where Marty must work to get his parents back together to stop the Grandfather Paradox obliterating him from existence.
  • Scary Black Man: "Who you callin' "spook", peckerwood?!" Biff's gang seems more afraid of the copious amount of pot smoke billowing out of the Starlighters's car than anything else: "I don't wanna mess with no reefer addicts!"
  • Seemingly-Wholesome '50s Girl: Lorraine, much to the horror of Marty.
  • Sequel Hook: Averted and then played straight. The creators swore that Doc's line that "something's gotta be done about [Marty and Jennifer's] kids" was a joke.
  • Shared Family Quirks: Marty sits in Lou's and nervously rubs the back of his head, and the camera pans to show he's sitting next to George, who is doing the exact same thing. They both even do a synchronized head-turn at the sound of Biff entering.
  • Shouldn't We Be in School Right Now?: The only time Marty is seen at school in 1985 is towards the beginning. First, getting chastised by Mr. Strickland for arriving late and allegedly being a slacker, and afterwards, being rejected from his school's Battle of the Bands competition.
  • Shout-Out
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: A downplayed one with the final line of Marty's first scene with Strickland:
    Strickland: No McFly ever amounted to anything in the history of Hill Valley!
    Marty: Yeah? Well, history is gonna change.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Very idealistic. Even the Darker and Edgier Part II is mainly optimistic overall.
  • Slow Electricity: Near the end of the film, the lightning crawls down the wire at roughly a walking pace.
  • The Slow Path:
    • 1955 Doc regrets having to wait 30 years to talk to Marty about their adventures.
    • Regarding Marty's attempts to warn him of his impending death, Doc insists that he'll find out through the ordinary progression of events.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: "Mr. Sandman" by The Four Aces, a cheerful song, is used to underscore Marty's confusion as he arrives in the 1955 Hill Valley during the "Mister Sandman" Sequence. Downplayed, as it represents the (apparent) clean, wholesome, optimistic, friendly Fifties Marty found himself in.
  • Southpaw Advantage: There is George McFly's famous badassery level up scene where he decks his lifelong Barbaric Bully tormentor Biff Tannen with a big, left-handed haymaker to protect the girl he loves. In an early draft of the script, there was a scene where George discovers that his left arm is for some reason much stronger than his right.
  • Spear Carrier: The couple at the dance amazed at George standing up for himself.
  • Stock Clock Hand Hang: The 1955 Doc comes up with a plan to send Marty back to 1985 by channeling the electricity from a lightning strike that's set to hit the clock tower. On the night of the thunderstorm, a bolt strikes a tree branch and disconnects the cables the Doc has set up to capture the lightning. At the last minute, he has to go up onto the clock tower and reconnect the cables. When the platform he's standing on breaks, he grabs onto the clock hands to keep from falling to the ground.
  • Stopped Clock: The clock tower stopped after being struck by lightning at 10:04pm on November 12, 1955, giving Marty and Doc a precise time to use the lightning to time travel.
  • Sweet and Sour Grapes: Towards the beginning, Marty admires a pickup truck, wondering what it'd be like if he had it. When he comes back from 1955, he discovers he has that truck (or another truck like it).
  • Tap on the Head:
    • Marty gets knocked out after being hit by a car and wakes up perfectly fine several hours later. This would be a running gag throughout the series, as each film would have Marty being knocked out by a physical blow and waking up in a room with either his mother or a distant relative standing over him.
    • George knocks Biff out with a punch to the face, though this is depicted somewhat more realistically as Biff is only out for a very short time.
  • Themed Party: The high school dance is the "Enchantment Under The Sea" dance, and it is ocean-themed.
  • Technology Porn:
    • The DeLorean when Doc introduces it.
    • Also the opening, showing off various gadgets Doc has at home.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Sandwich: Marty gets a cup of coffee at Lou's because it's the only thing they've got without sugar, but as soon as he's about to drink it, he realizes George just left, so he runs off after him.
  • Time Travel: Probably the most famous example in film.
  • Title Drop:
    • Doc declares he has to send Marty "...back! To the future!"
    • And again at the end of the movie when Doc comes back from 2015, to pick up Marty and go back to... you know.
  • Took a Level in Badass: George standing up to Biff is a critical moment that fills him with self-confidence and changes the destiny of his whole life and family.
  • Trust Password: Marty tries several that don't work, such as who the President is in 1985note , and showing him a photo of his family with his sister in a Class of 1984 sweatshirtnote . What finally works is the story of how Doc got the (currently very fresh) bruise on his head, and the idea for the Flux Capacitor that came from it.
  • Turn Out Like His Father: Played with in every possible way. People, especially Strickland, tell Marty he's going to be a loser like his dad, then the past changes and George is not a loser but Marty is still destined to be a loser, then that future is possibly avoided presumably letting Marty succeed at a creative pursuit like his dad.
  • Unconventional Vehicle Chase: Marty transforms a wooden trolley into a skateboard which he then uses to escape Biff and his gang who chase after Marty in their car.
  • Undressing the Unconscious: 1955 Lorraine removes Marty's pants while he's unconscious in her room, and even thinks his name is Calvin Klein at first, because it's "written all over his underwear". He has a minor Naked Freak-Out when he notices it.
    Marty: Where are my pants?!
    Lorraine: Over there... on my hope chest.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Marty tries to warn 1955 Doc with a note that he'll be killed by terrorists in 1985, but Doc tells him that it's dangerous to the space-time continuum to do so, and shreds up the note. When Marty returns to 1985, he witnesses Doc getting killed again...or so it seems; Doc then comes out fine and reveals to Marty (and the audience) that he put the note back together and put on a bulletproof vest for the occasion.
  • Vanity License Plate: The DeLorean has the tags OUTATIME. And really crappy screws holding it on the back of the DeLorean, because of its habit of popping off and pirouetting on a corner. After the first plate falls off, Doc Brown goes into the future and replaces it with a 2015 barcode license plate with enough bars to spell "OUTTATIME", inserting another "T". That one also falls off when the entire car is pulverized by a freight train at the end of Part III, and does its little pirouette trick again, likely the only bit of the car that survived the collision intact.
    • It's actually the front white-background licence plate that falls off (the one on the back has a yellow background). The 2015 licence plate is white-on-red, and is only on the back.
  • Verbal Backspace: In the novelization, after his "When this baby hits 88 MPH, you're going to see some serious shit" line, Doc realizes that Marty is filming this and quickly rewords his statement without colloquial language:
    Doc: When a speed of eighty-eight miles an hour is attained, unusual things should begin happening in this phase of temporal experiment number one.
  • We Don't Need Roads: At the end of the film, Doc travels forward to 2015 and does some pretty major work on the Delorean, including making it a "hover conversion" that is really more of a "flight conversion". He does the same to a locomotive at the end of Back to the Future Part III. Even the fact that the DeLorean= is a time machine in the first place qualifies it for this trope.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?
    • The Libyans. They come charging in, shooting at Doc Brown from the van, they hit a kiosk and the van tips over. Then Marty, Doc, and the film forget about them completely, even having a joyful reunion at the end without bothering to see what's going on with the homicidally angry terrorists in the van a few yards away. Though considering the speed they were going at, they probably were badly injured or killed in the crash.
    • What happened to Doc Brown's remaining plutonium? Did he use it all before fitting Mr. Fusion, or did he just throw it in a bin somewhere? (Which, given the general recklessness he displays during the trilogy, is not that much of a stretch.)
    • When Doc traveled to 2015, he took Einstein with him, but when he came back, Einstein was missing. In Part II, Doc tells Marty that Einstein was in a suspended animation kennel between the trips.
    • Biff and his crew, much like the Libyans, get knocked out but are still close to the heroes. The sequel builds on this for its plot.
  • Who's on First?: Marty's attempts to get a Tab, and then a Pepsi Free, at Lou's Cafe in the 50s.note 
    Lou: You want a Pepsi, pal, you're gonna have to pay for it!
  • You Keep Using That Word: At least from 1955 Doc's point of view, as he thinks that Marty's use of the word "heavy" still applies to weight and measurements - when, from Marty's point of view, he's just using the slang term for something that has a deep, powerful impact, whether philosophical, intellectual, or emotional.

"Hey Doc, we'd better back up! We don't have any more tropes!"
"Tropes? Where we're going, we don't need tropes..."'

Video Example(s):


Back to the Future

Marty McFly performs "Johnny B. Goode" for the High School dance, as he does so Chuck Berry's cousin Marvin calls him on the telephone asking him about that new sound he's being looking for and telling him to listen to what Marty's playing.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / BeenThereShapedHistory

Media sources:

Main / BeenThereShapedHistory