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Film / Back to the Future Part III

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All spoilers for Back to the Future and Back to the Future Part II are unmarked. You Have Been Warned.

1955 Doc Brown: (shocked) Great Scott, it's me! Then, it is true. All of it. It is me who goes back there... and gets shot...
Marty McFly: (determined) It's not gonna happen, Doc... After you fix the time circuits and put new tires on the DeLorean, I'm going back to 1885 and I'm bringing you home.

Back to the Future Part III is the final part of the Back to the Future trilogy, released in 1990. It is directed by Robert Zemeckis, with the screenplay by Bob Gale.

When we last left Marty at the end of Part II, he was once again stranded in 1955 after a lightning bolt hit the DeLorean with the Doc still inside it, causing him to warp somewhere in time. However, the 1985 Doc sends a letter via The Slow Path, informing Marty that he is alright and happy, living in the days of the old west. He tells Marty that he hid the DeLorean so that Marty, with the help of the younger Doc of 1955, could repair it to return home, instructing him to destroy the time machine after doing so. Marty and the 1955 Doc exhume the buried DeLorean. However as they're doing so, Marty discover Doc's 1885 tombstone, which states he was murdered by Biff's infamous great-grandfather, the outlaw Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen, seven days after writing the letter. Marty disregards Doc's instructions in the letter and heads for 1885 to save him. Trapped yet again when the DeLorean fuel line is ripped upon reaching 1885 (with gasoline yet to be marketed as fuel for a long while), Marty and Doc attempt to repair the time machine before a showdown with Buford, only for Doc to fall in love with schoolteacher Clara Clayton (played by Mary Steenburgen) and wanting to stay with her in 1885.

Back to the Future Part III provides examples of the following tropes:

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    Tropes A-D 
  • Accidental Time Travel: The film's plot is the consequence of Doc and the DeLorean having been accidentally sent to 1885 due to a lightning strike in the previous movie. Though Doc wrote a letter to Marty asking him to forget about him and move on, Copernicus spots Doc's tombstone, Marty realizes that Doc was murdered only one week after sending the letter, and decides to go to 1885 to rescue him.
  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene:
    • The scene in the saloon towards the end, which you could compare to High Noon. Buford and his gang have Marty trapped, and Buford is counting down to a showdown. Doc is unconscious. Marty is visibly struggling with whether or not to fight Buford, as Seamus looks on.
    • The telescope repair between Doc and Clara.
    • The scene with Doc and Marty arguing about whether Doc should stay in the past or not. Both Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox are at their raw, emotional best.
  • Actor Allusion:
    • Mary Steenburgen plays a woman who falls in love with a time-traveler, just like in Time After Time. It's also worth noting that in this film, she is a 19th century woman who falls in love with a 20th century time-traveler, the opposite of her role from Time After Time, where she was a 20th century woman who falls in love with a 19th century time-traveler. Clara even gets on a train headed for San Francisco, the setting of Time After Time.
    • Mary Steenburgen's first role was in a Western, Goin' South, where her character was being romanced by a man played by, wait for it... Christopher Lloyd! He lost her to Jack Nicholson in that one, though.
    • The three old-timers at the saloon are all veterans of westerns: Dub Taylor, Harry Carey, Jr. and Pat Buttram.
    • Doc's squeal of shock against the organ is the same as the death cry of Judge Doom in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
    • After Marty finally reunites with Jennifer, she wakes up from her long, deep faint and utters "I had the worst nightmare."—at this point she thinks that the events from the last film were All Just a Dream. This line is taken directly from Adventures in Babysitting, and Elisabeth Shue (Jennifer's note  actress)'s character says it also right after coming out of a (much shorter) faint.
  • An Aesop: To sum up what Doc says at the end, the future is never written in stone; what it will be is entirely up to you, so "make it a good one".
  • Aesop Amnesia: Doc decides the consequences caused by the time machine aren't worth keeping it around. That said, he builds a steampunk, flying time traveling train eventually. He tells Marty that he did so because he didn't want him to worry about him, and he had to come back for Einstein. And also, because he had a souvenir for him - a framed copy of their photo from the clocktower ceremony.
  • Agonizing Stomach Wound: Discussed when Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen pulls a derringer on Doc Brown and crows that the last guy he used it on bled to death over the course of two days. In the original timeline before Marty interfered, such a fate befell Doc (they operated under the assumption that Buford would shoot him on September 7th and he would die right after, turns out Doc got shot on September 5th and took two days to die).
  • Alcohol Is Gasoline: Subverted. Stuck in the old west with no gasoline to power the DeLorean, Doc Brown and Marty attempt this using the strongest liquor they were able to get their hands on. However, all it accomplishes is blowing out their engine.
  • The Alleged Car: The DeLorean is sadly a shadow of its former self in this film. The lightning that struck it in Part II destroyed its flying capabilities, it's become worn down from sitting in a cave for 70 years, which causes the fuel line to tear up after one use and empties the gas tank, and the fuel injector gets blown off when Doc and Marty try to use alcohol as a substitute for gasoline. In the end, it has to be pushed by a train to reach the velocity needed to travel through time and it's completely totaled by another train within minutes of landing in 1985.
  • Amplified Animal Aptitude: Doc's 1955 dog Copernicus seems to be at an almost human level of intelligence at times. For starters, after Doc finishes reading the letter that his future self wrote to Marty, Copernicus seems to be rather sad about Doc being Trapped in the Past. In addition, Copernicus is the one who discovers Doc's tombstone, and he seems to realize what it says.
  • Amusing Injuries: The only complaint Buford has about being thrown off his horse is that it caused him to "bust a perfectly good bottle of fine Kentucky red-eye (whiskey)."
  • Anachronism Stew:
    • Some scenes feature the California state flag, which was not adopted until 1911.
    • In the novelization, Marty mentions movies in the presence of a ten-year-old boy who is left intrigued by the concept... and is revealed to be D. W. Griffith. However, Griffith was born in Kentucky and didn't move to California until 1907.
  • And Starring: The opening cast roll ends with "and Lea Thompson".
  • Antiquated Linguistics: Characters from 1885 use archaic language, which leads into a Subverted Catchphrase joke about "Nobody Calls Me "Chicken"!" becoming "nobody calls me yellow". On the DVD Commentary, screenwriter Robert Gale says he turned to Mark Twain's writings to attempt the American vernacular of the period.
  • Art Evolution: While the basic time travel visual effect remains unchanged, it has also been tweaked for the final film. The effect now takes longer to build up and is more chaotic. This could be justified in-universe between the more primitive 1955 Time Circuit repairs and the DeLorean now being 70 years older and struggling to keep up.
  • Artistic License – Biology: It's not impossible for a black bear to be found in southern California, as their range does extend there, but they're not desert animals.
  • Artistic License – Engineering: For some reason, the coal tender on the train is packed with wooden logs. Maybe to save some cash, maybe so Clara could clamber over something cleaner than a pile of coal.
  • Artistic License – History: Okay, so they didn't have great plumbing and fluoride and water treatment plants, but people in the past weren't drinking ditch water, not if they could help it. They had wells and springs; they knew that healthy water was clear water.
  • Artistic License – Law: We see the would've-been drag race that ruined Marty's life in 2015 which states that Marty was sued by the driver of a Rolls-Royce he plowed into. Here, the Rolls-Royce is shown speeding into the road and has to come audibly screeching to a stop to avoid a collision with Needles' truck. The Screeching Stop and resulting tire marks would show that the driver blew through a stop sign and did not give the right of way to the truck. Marty would still have gotten in trouble for racing and he still would have had to give up his dream of becoming a rock star due to breaking his hand, but the crash itself would have been found to be the Rolls-Royce drivers' fault for running a stop sign and not giving right of way.
  • Artistic License – Physics: The three fireplace-sized logs that Doc gives to Marty would not be sufficient to run a steam locomotive for a mile or more. This example overlaps with Just Train Wrong, because the idea behind a steam locomotive is to produce a steady, even source of heat and raise the water/steam temperature incrementally. Since there's such a large volume of fluid a significant, but short burst of heat probably wouldn't be sufficient to raise the pressure in any significant way. Not only that, but such a dramatic means of powering the train wasn't even necessary. Some trains of the late-19th century were more than capable of achieving the speeds required by the DeLorean under the normal capabilities of their boilers, and on properly built and maintained track. However, whether the class of locomotive shown or the underlying track would have supported / survived this effort tends to bring us back to this trope.
  • Babies Ever After: In the final scene, Doc Brown and Clara are wed, and have two young sons, Jules and Verne.
  • Back for the Finale: George, Lorraine, Dave, Linda, Biff, Jennifer, Needles, and even Einstein all return for the final scenes.
  • Badass Boast: Doc when he saves Marty from being hanged by Buford with a long rifle: "It'll shoot the fleas off a dog's back at 500 yards, Tannen! And it's pointed straight at your head!"
  • Badass in Distress: Doc saves Marty from being hanged by Tannen's gang. Marty later returns the favor by preventing Doc's assassination at the town party.
  • Badass Longcoat: The first we see of Doc in 1885, he is sporting one, while being armed with a modified lever-action rifle in order to save Marty from being lynched.
  • Bag of Spilling: The DeLorean lost its flying abilities when it was struck by lightning in the last movie.
  • Bar Slide: A saloon patron slides Marty McFly a gun right before the big showdown, in homage to a similar shot in My Darling Clementine.
  • Bears Are Bad News: A black bear happens to be lying in the cave Marty hides the DeLorean in and chases Marty out.
  • Becoming the Mask: Doc tells Marty in his letter that he'd set himself up as a blacksmith as a cover while attempting to fix the DeLorean. But when he realized the damage was beyond the capacity of 1885 technology, he buried the time machine so that Marty could fix it with the help of his 1955 counterpart and go back to 1985 himself, and accepted his place as a blacksmith, perfectly content to stay in 1885 because he always wanted to live in the Old West.
  • Berserk Button: Do not call Buford Tannen "Mad Dog." It's clear that this button has been around for a while, as the moment Marty calls him "Mad Dog," every single patron and bartender hides or silently runs away. Though if he kills anyone who utters it, it does make you wonder how that nickname got around publicly.
    Buford: Mad Dog?! I hate that name! I hate it, you hear?! Nobody calls me Mad Dog! 'Specially not some duded-up, egg-suckin' GUTTERTRASH!
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Doc Brown is an intelligent, altruistic scientist who spends the entire series trying to do what's right, help his friends better their lives, and who wouldn't hurt a fly. However, the moment he sees Mad Dog and his friends trying to lynch Marty, he promptly shoots the rope and then takes aim right at Tannen's head. He's fully prepared to drop the hammer on him if that's what it takes to save Marty, and Tannen doesn't try to push it. Also a definite case of Let's Get Dangerous!.
  • Big Bad: Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen, an outlaw ancestor of Biff's. He kills Doc in a timeline of 1885, and Marty's plot line is preventing "Mad Dog" from killing Doc.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Marty defeats Buford Just in Time to stop him executing Doc; meanwhile, Doc swoops in Just in Time to save Marty from getting hanged AND Clara from falling. Lampshaded by Marty: "Why do we have to cut these things so damn close?"
  • "Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word: As Doc Brown put it best, "We're going to hijack... borrow... the locomotive..."
    Engineer: Is this a hold-up?
    Doc: It's a science experiment!
  • The Blacksmith: Doc sets himself up as one when trying to repair the DeLorean until giving up and hiding it in the Delgado Mine. By the time Marty comes to 1885 to rescue Doc, he's still operating as a blacksmith.
  • Book Ends:
    • Lampshaded by Doc. From the first film, Doc and Marty saw the last moments of the Hill Valley clocktower in 1955, and this time, they're present for the first moments of the clocktower in 1885.
    • After the DeLorean's first and last time-travel trips, its license plate falls off, spinning around before falling down.
    • Similarly, the thing that gets the DeLorean back to 1985 is the very same thing that takes it out upon reentry: the front end of a train going down the tracks.
    • In both Part I and Part III, the DeLorean can't fly, and due to a technical shortcoming needs some sort of extra help to return to 1985. In addition, both films end with a time machine flying at the camera.
  • Born in the Wrong Century: Doc wishes he lived in the Wild West. Although when that wish comes true, he still wishes the Wild West had Tylenol.
  • Borrowed Catchphrase: Marty and Doc briefly trade catch phrases after Doc points out the possibility that the tombstone might be for Marty now.
    Marty: Great Scott!
    Doc: I know, this is heavy!
  • Borrowed Without Permission: When Doc explains to Marty his plan to use a train to push the Delorean to the speed necessary for time travel, he puts it like this: "We're going to hijack... borrow... the locomotive.."
  • Bottomless Magazines: Averted, when "Mad Dog" Tannen shoots at Marty... er, Clint Eastwood, in the saloon, he shoots six times, making him dance. Later, when he gets the spittoon dumped on him, he tries to shoot Marty but the gun clicks on four empty chambers.
  • Brick Joke: As Marty first enters the saloon, the bartender asks him what he wants to drink. When he says "ice water", the bartender laughs him off, adding "Water? You want water, you better dunk your head in the horse trough out back.". Afterwards, when Doc takes Marty to his 1885 home, there's a massive machine that takes the two of them to operate, which produces a single cube of ice, which makes Marty realize it's a refrigerator. And much later, after being fed the "wake-up juice", Doc hurries to the horse trough, dunking his head into it.
  • Bullet Dancing: Spoofed, as Marty turns this into a Moonwalk Dance. And it is awesome. Buford and his gang are so dumbfounded that they just watch in disbelief. Then Marty accidentally hits Buford with a spittoon, and all hell breaks loose.
  • Bulletproof Vest: Marty hides a stove door under his shirt just in case, and being Genre Savvy, acts out a scene from A Fistful of Dollars with Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen.
  • But Now I Must Go:
    • Doc Brown tells to Clara that he has to leave her and the town. He explains the reason to her, but she doesn't believe him (and thinks he got too obsessed with science fiction). This breaks his heart, but things get better for both of them since the parting doesn't stick.
    • Marty finally returns to the year 1985, but without Doc, who remained back in the year 1885 to save Clara Clayton. Before he can dwell on it, Doc appears in his newly created steam locomotive time machine, to let Marty and Jennifer know he was alright... and introduce them to his new family: his wife Clara, and their two sons, Jules and Verne. Doc also leaves Marty with a copy of the photo they took together, back in 1885, as a parting gift. Then bids him and his girlfriend farewell.
  • Call-Back:
    • As Doc tells the truth about himself to Clara, he paraphrases Marty's explanation about himself from the first film.
      Marty/Doc: I'm from the future. I came here in a time machine that [you/I] invented, and [I need your help to get/tomorrow I have to go] back to the year 1985.
    • Before Marty leaves for 1885:
      1955 Doc: Remember, where you're going, there are no roads!
    • And his parting words reference the Time-Travel Tense Trouble lines from the previous film.
      1955 Doc: Well, good luck, for both our sakes. See you in the future.
      Marty: You mean the past?
      1955 Doc: Exactly!
    • Doc also alludes to Marty's first time travel, completely by accident:
      Marty: It's gonna be a hell of a long walk back to Hill Valley from here.
      1955 Doc: It's still the safest plan. We can't risk sending you back into a populated area... or to a spot that's geographically unknown. You don't want to crash into some tree that existed in the past.
    • In the first film, Marty finds that Lorraine took his pants off while he was unconscious in bed. In this film, after being unconscious, Marty takes a moment to check whether his pants were still on before getting out of bed (they were).
    • Additionally, when he encounters Maggie for the first time, he says "You're my.... my..." like he did in the first film with Lorraine before saying "Who are you?".
    • In the first film, a major plot point is Marty attempting to use knowledge of the future to prevent Doc from getting shot, but he waits until the day he leaves before attempting to do so. In this movie, Marty tells Doc immediately after they meet up in 1885.
    • The plot point of the $80 reflects the same situation with Biff at the beginning of Part I, inasmuch as they both involve a Tannen with a Never My Fault mentality complaining about spilling alcohol after an accident with a means of conveyance, and demanding recompense.
    • When Maggie talks to Seamus, she calls Marty "a strange young man", which was also what Marty's future grandmother said about him in Part I.
    • In Pt II, Marty shows off his skills with Wild Gunman in front of two kids, who call it a "baby's toy". In Pt III, when a gun salesman is pestering Marty to try out his skills with an actual revolver at a shooting gallery, he says "even a baby can handle this weapon." Even more of a call-back is that Marty, just by swapping hands, easily hits every single target he aims at, before saying he learned it at the 7-Eleven.note 
    • Towards the end of the film, the members of Needles' crew are each played by a member from each of Buford, Biff, and Griff's gangs in 1885, 1955, and 2015.
  • Can't Hold His Liquor: Doc passes out after a single shot of whiskey; the bartender then quotes the trope name verbatim. And before passing out from drinking said glass of whiskey, he manages to get plastered just by holding it under his nose. Ironically in the script, he actually can hold his liquor, and then passed out as Marty comes to get him.
  • Can't Kill You, Still Need You:
    • A downplayed, non-lethal variation when Marty prepares for departure to 1885. Rather than send Marty back on September 1, 1885 — the day his counterpart wrote his letter to Marty — 1955 Doc instead sets the "Destination Time" to the very next day (September 2, 1885). While it's not outright stated in the film, it can be inferred that they can't send Marty back any earlier. They need 1885 Doc to complete his preparations to seal the DeLorean in the Delgado Mine and entrust the letter to Western Union. Going back any earlier risks disrupting that chain of events, which could then jeopardize their recovery and restoration of the DeLorean 70 years later (which would leave Marty stranded in 1955 at best and set off another temporal paradox at worst).
    • While it's not explicitly stated, Marty's biggest handicap in the final showdown with Buford is that, obviously, he can't just kill him. Apart from whatever else his impact on Hill Valley will be in the years to come, Buford needs to live long enough to continue the Tannen bloodline (and ensure Biff will eventually be born, thereby setting up his roles in the first two films). Killing Buford will only screw up the timeline worse than it already has been at this point in the Trilogy.
  • Cars Without Tires Are Trains: The Delorean fits perfectly onto the train tracks in 1885. In this case, it's been deliberately modified by Doc Brown with actual train wheels so that a steam locomotive could push it in order to get up to 88 miles per hour, meaning more thought was put into it than other examples.
  • Cassandra Truth:
    • Clara doesn't believe Doc when he tells her the truth about the time machine, taking it for a ridiculous lie intended to mock her before breaking up with her. She only realizes all was true when she overhears two folks at the train talking about how heartbroken Doc was in the bar afterwards, and then when she finds the time machine model in his blacksmith shop.
    • The old bar patrons laugh off Doc's claims of having come from the future and how life is in 1985, taking it for the ramblings of a man gone insane with grief (and they're none too sympathetic).
    Warbly Card Player: Run for fun? What the hell kind of fun is that?
  • Catapult Nightmare: Subverted: 1955 Doc snaps awake on the couch in his living room... because the TV automatically turned on when Howdy Doody started.
  • Catchphrase: Buford uses the same one as his great-grandson when he sees Clara: "Lookie what we have here."
  • Cattle Punk: Doc builds a refrigerator, a sniper rifle, and chemicals capable of pushing a steam locomotive over 88 MPH with materials available in 1885 Hill Valley. He can't repair the DeLorean, though he manages to turn another locomotive into a Steampunk time machine years later.
  • The Cavalry Arrives Late: Marshall Strickland's deputy and his men show up to arrest the Tannen gang for robbery almost immediately after Marty defeats Tannen in their duel.
  • Chandelier Swing: Marty does it while trying to escape from Buford Tannen in the saloon.
  • Chased by Angry Natives: The arrival in 1885 is immediately followed by the DeLorean time machine being chased by Native Americans on horseback, setting the film's tone as a takeoff on The Western.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • At the beginning, there are a few reminders that Marty still has his hover board from the previous film (1955 Doc tripping over it and making sure Marty brings it when he leaves 1955), only for it not to be seen or mentioned again until the climax, when Doc needs to rescue Clara on the train.
    • Earlier in the movie, Doc uses a scale model to illustrate his plan to get the DeLorean up to 88MPH; later on, Clara comes to Doc's shop and finds the model DeLorean with "Time Machine" written on it, which makes her realize that Emmett was telling the truth about being from the future.
  • *Click* Hello: Happens twice: first to Buford Tannen by Marshall Strickland, and shortly afterward to Doc by Buford.
  • Clothespin Nose Plug: After Doc passes out from a single shot of whiskey, the bartender whips up his wake-up juice, which contains several spicy ingredients, including Tabasco sauce and cayenne pepper, so he has Marty stick a clothespin on Doc's nose before pouring the wake-up juice into his mouth. It doesn't help dull the taste, as it immediately causes Doc to run, screaming, to the horse trough and dunk his entire head in. And this is just the reflex action caused by the smell and taste, after which he passes out again. The bartender says it takes about 10 minutes to really start working.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: The "super logs" that Doc uses are colored green (fast), yellow (faster) and red (fastest), and produce that same color smoke.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Strickland's ancestor has no problems levelling a double-barrelled shotgun at someone's back.
    Marshall Strickland: Just like you, I take every advantage I get.
  • Contrasting Sequel Setting: The movie takes place in Hill Valley like the first two movies, but with a stronger Wild West flavor due to the year Marty and Doc have traveled to (1885).
  • Cool, but Inefficient: A rather literal example with Doc's ice machine. It's a massive behemoth of screaming steam valves and violently shaking pistons that takes up most of the space in his workshop, and it can only produce one ice cube at a time.
  • Cool Train: The Time-Traveling Hover-Train at the end.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot:
    • After reading about his impending fate, Doc lampshades this trope by wishing he had just given Buford the $80.
    • Before that, Doc told him he could just properly fix the horseshoe, but Buford already shot the horse. Doc tells him that's his problem.
  • Could Say It, But...: Doc's caginess with regard to Marty's future.
  • Cowardly Yellow: "Yellow" is used by Mad Dog to imply Marty is a coward. Marty has the same reaction to Mad Dog calling him "yellow" as he does to being called "chicken".
    Marty: Nobody... calls me "yellow".
  • Cowboy Episode: 1885 Hill Valley is a fairly stereotypical Western setting and the film's secondary climax is a gun duel between Marty and local outlaw Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen. Justified, since it's southern California in 1885.
  • Creator Cameo:
    • Dean Cundey, the cinematographer for all three films, appears as the photographer who takes a picture of Marty and Doc in front of the clock face.
    • ZZ Top is the Old West band playing during the town party in 1885 (playing an acoustic version of their song "Doubleback" from the end credits). They even do their trademark instrument spin.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Doc's absentminded scientist character proves a formidable foe (and an ace sharpshooter) to a gang of bandits in an Old West town.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Marty vs. Buford. The only punch Buford lands on Marty after he gets up from Faking the Dead ends in Buford clutching his knuckles. Marty, on the other hand, pummels him silly.
  • Damsel in Distress: Doc saves Clara from falling into a ravine, and later rescues her again on the train.
  • Dances and Balls: The dance at the party to celebrate the building of the Clock Tower, where Marty discovers that Doc can dance.
  • Dare to Be Badass: The saloon regulars try to give one to Marty, saying he'll be labeled a coward for the rest of his life if he doesn't duel with Buford, though mostly because they're betting on the outcome one way or another.
  • A Day in the Limelight: The Bobs consider III as such for Doc. The first two movies deal with fixing Marty's past, present, and future, with Doc as more of a supporting character, but III deals with saving Doc, and a primary focus is on the budding romance of Doc and Clara. Needless to say, Christopher Lloyd was delighted to play a heroic Western role and the romantic lead in such a big movie, opportunities he rarely had as a character actor.
  • Deadly Disc: It's an instance of creating a Stable Time Loop again, as the insinuation is that it's the original Frisby pie plate that inspired the phenomenon that led to the Frisbee.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The history book Marty reads about Buford Tannen in 1955 uses slurs for Native Americans and Chinese Americans.
  • Demoted to Extra: While George, Lorraine, and Biff had pivotal roles in the first two films, here they only make brief appearances at the end. Justified in that the majority of the film takes place decades before any of them were even born.
  • Description Cut:
    • "We may have to blast!" Cut to Doc using dynamite to blast into the Delgado gold mine.
    • This little gem from trying to find where to get the car up to 88 mph.
      Marty: Doc, according to this map, there is no bridge.
      [Cut to them standing at the unfinished bridge.]
      Marty: Well Doc, we can scratch that idea.
  • Description Porn: Doc describes his rifle after shooting the rope off the noose which is hanging Marty's neck by Buford's henchmen:
    Doc: "It'll shoot the flea off a dog's back at 500 yards, Tannen! And it's pointing straight at your head!"
  • Did They or Didn't They?: Doc takes Clara to the dance and then takes her home. All is shown is a kiss but later Clara claims he "took advantage of her". Although, given the era the kiss might qualify as "taking advantage".
  • Did You Just Flip Off Cthulhu?: Marty earns the respect of many 1885 citizens for standing up against Buford during the dance.
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
  • Doomed New Clothes: Marty is given a "Western" outfit and a new pair of cowboy boots by Doc in. A bear eats the boots. Similarly, his ancestor gives him a new hat, only to have it lost and probably trampled by Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen's horse. The outfit gets torn up as Buford drags Marty down the street.
  • Double Take:
    • Played for Drama: When Marty picks up Copernicus to take him back to 1955 Doc's truck, he merely glances at the "Emmett Brown" tombstone, before practically running back to it.
    • At the end of the movie, when Marty sees a train coming right for him.
  • Double Vision: This effect was used to allow Marty to talk to his ancestor, also played by Michael J. Fox. Keep a lookout for the shot in which the baby is handed off; its mother walks in front of the camera at just the right moment needed to see it actually change hands, but it is done pretty seamlessly and is hard to notice if you aren't looking for it.
  • The Dreaded: Buford Tannen absolutely terrifies the citizens of Hill Valley in 1885. When Marty calls him "Mad Dog," everybody immediately runs away or takes cover.
  • Drive-In Theater: Doc Brown has Marty run the DeLorean Time Machine through the grounds of a drive-in to get it up to 88 MPH in order to go back in time, because in the 1880s that area was just sagebrush and empty grassland; when Marty rematerializes he won't end up crashing into a tree or a mountain.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Doc, in the saloon—subverted in that he doesn't actually touch his shot glass. When he finally does gulp it down, he passes out instantly.
  • Drunk on Milk: In a variant, Doc Brown gets rather maudlin and detached from his surroundings by sitting at the bar holding a whiskey, not drinking or even sniffing it. Just holding the glass at the bar is enough to affect him.
  • Dub-Induced Plot Hole: Not exactly a plot hole per se, but Doc's last line "Already been there (the future)" is sometimes dubbed to "I already am in the future." The original line is meant to be the lead-up for the Time Train's flying capability. The dubbed line turns it into a character moment, showing that whenever he can go, his heart is still in the Old West. Both versions work in their own way.
  • Dude, She's Like in a Coma: A sweet rather than creepy instance. When Marty gets back to 1985, he sets out to Jennifer's house to check if she's all right after what she experienced in Part II, and finds her still lying limp on her porch swing, right where he and Doc last left her. His attempts to wake her up fail, indicating that she's not sleeping, but is instead still deeply passed out in the same faint that she fell into in 2015 in Part II. He kisses her on the lips, and she happens to wake up from her faint in that moment, and begins to instinctively kiss him back. This could also count as a Reunion Kiss.

    Tropes E-N 
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Clara can be seen in the background when Doc and Marty are discussing their plan to use a train to push the DeLorean up to 88 miles per hour.
  • Easily Forgiven:
    • 1955 Doc makes it clear that he doesn't hold Marty at fault for (eventually) winding up in 1885.
    1955 Doc: There are plenty worse places to be than the Old West. I could've ended up in the Dark Ages. They probably would have burned me at the stake as a heretic or something.
    • 1885 Doc's initially not happy that Marty disregarded his explicit orders to return to 1985 instead of coming back to get him. But he's so delighted to be reunited with this Partner in Time that he can't stay mad at Marty for too long. And of course, once Doc learns what Marty and his 1955 counterpart discovered about his impending death, he's glad Marty disobeyed orders.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen. The nickname was invented by a newspaper reporter, for his Hair-Trigger Temper and his propensity for drooling. Buford didn't like it, and shot the reporter.
  • Emergency Refuelling: Doc and Marty have to figure out an alternate means of propulsion when Marty gets the gas line cut in the DeLorean on arrival to the Old West.
  • Eternally Pearly-White Teeth: Averted; Buford and his gang notice and remark on Marty's white teeth.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Buford's gang seems taken aback after seeing Buford seemingly fatally shoot an unarmed Marty.
  • Everybody Lives: There was a deleted scene showing Marshall Strickland being murdered by Buford Tannen, though the scene was cut explicitly because of this trope (Buford would have surely been hanged for killing a lawman, but according to the plot he had to live in order to keep the Tannen bloodline going).
  • Every Car Is a Pinto:
    • A steam locomotive gets its boiler supercharged to the limit of its pressure capacity and then explodes in a quite realistically violent manner after it goes hurtling off a cliff. Steam locomotives occasionally exploded spectacularly in real life, sometimes hurling pieces of themselves tremendous distances.
    • Averted when the DeLorean is hit by a train after returning to 1985. Rather than explode in a fireball (it didn't even have any gas in it that could have ignited in such an unrealistic fashion), it more or less shattered into pieces without any pyrotechnics.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: When Tannen counts to ten while calling out Clint, when he reaches ten, he visibly flinches. He was expecting Eastwood would ambush him from inside the saloon, because that's what he would have done.
  • Evil Has a Bad Sense of Humor: Buford thinks trying to hang Marty is funny, and he breaks into a fit of chuckles after seemingly killing him during their showdown.
  • Evil Laugh: Buford, after seemingly killing Marty.
  • Exact Words: Doc's tombstone in 1955 stated he died on Monday September 7th, 1885. As Doc learned at the ceremony for the clocktower on Saturday September 5th, that didn't mean he was shot the same day:
    Doc: [Whilst Buford has a gun to his back; obviously scared] Tannen. You're early.
    Buford: It's a Derringer, Smithy. Small but effective. Last time I used it, the fella took two whole days to die. Bled to death inside, it was real painful. That means you'd be dead by about suppertime Monday.
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!:
    • Early in the film, Doc, confused on who "Clara" is, denies to Marty that he knows that any woman by that name and dismisses the notion of love at first sight as "utter romantic nonsense." Then the Hill Valley 1885 mayor rolls in and talks to Doc, reminding him that at a town hall meeting he agreed to meet the new schoolteacher. Doc breezes over a majority of the details, until the mayor mentions her name, "Clara Clayton," to which Doc freezes in horror and gives the same Oh, Crap! face previously used for comedy a more serious twist.
    • When Marty is reunited with Doc, who is currently talking down Buford, they are discussing a recent shoeing job done on one of Buford's horses that, because it went afoul, Buford thinks Doc should be held responsible for. When Buford mentions the prices of the new horse and whiskey he bought that day, "$5 for the whiskey, $75 for the horse," Marty quickly does the math and whispers in shock, "That's the eighty dollars!" note 
  • Explosive Overclocking: Thanks to Doc's Presto Logs, once the train gets to 70MPH, and the boiler reaches 2000˚, it begins bursting apart at the seams.
  • "Eureka!" Moment:
    • Meta example. In the DVD Featurette, Bob Gale reveals this was the origin of the Doc Brown/Clara romance. He and Zemeckis both felt going into the final film that they had done all they could with Marty and his Family and that they needed to focus more on Doc. Trying to figure out how they could do that was what led the idea of Doc Brown finding love in the Old West.
    • Marty realizes that he doesn't have to care what other people think, he can just be his own man.
    Marty: [pointing out the window to Tannen] He's an asshole! I don't care what he thinks! And I don't care what anybody else thinks, either!
  • Face Death with Dignity: On two different occasions, when Doc is about to be shot by Tannen, he straightens his coat, stands up straight, and faces Buford down without flinching. Both times, though, he is ultimately saved by Marty's intervention.
  • Faint in Shock: Both Jennifer and Doc, who we see falling into dead faints during Part II, wake up from their faints in Part III.
    • Doc faints from the shock of seeing Marty (whom he had just sent away in the time machine) reappearing behind him at the end of Part II, and wakes up hours later the next morning at the beginning of Part III.
    • Jennifer faints from the shock of encountering her future self in the middle of Part II. Accurate to Doc's predictions in Part II, Jennifer stays unconscious for a very long while due to the severity of the shock she experienced: she is placed on her house's front porch swing early on in the night soon after passing out, and it is already almost noon the next day by the time she finally wakes up from her faint in Part III, meaning that she stays totally out cold for more than half a day. Upon awakening, she assumes the events that caused her to faint to have all been a nightmare, since, from her perspective, coming face-to-face with her future self is the last thing she remembers right before waking up on the porch swing, as though it happened only a second ago.
  • Faking the Dead: Marty, suspecting Tannen would shoot him regardless, puts on an improvised bulletproof vest, lets Tannen take a shot at him, and plays possum for long enough for the outlaw to get close. Once the gun battle turns into a fistfight, the two are much more evenly matched.
  • Fanservice: Michael J. Fox's partially exposed rear in his 1885 pajamas. Word of God said there was much squeeing from girls at every screening they went to.invoked
  • Fantastic Romance: The movie has Doc and Marty stuck in The Wild West, where Doc falls in love with a local woman after saving her from a runaway carriage (she had died in their original timeline). At the end, he takes her with him to explore time together in a new time machine. Marty's happy ending is that he and Jennifer are reunited and their future is whatever they make it.
  • Fashions Never Change: Spoofed: 1955!Doc assumes the outfit he got for Marty to wear in 1885 is era-appropriate, only once he is in 1885, he is repeatedly mocked for his attire before he changes it.
  • Finale Title Drop: In the last four lines of the trilogy (the other two being Doc telling Marty and Jennifer to stand back and telling his sons to buckle up as he fires up the train):
    Marty: Hey Doc! Where you goin' now? Back to the future?
    Doc Brown: Nope. Already been there!
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing:
    • While looking at the map planning their attempt to push the DeLorean to 88 MPH before it flies off the incomplete bridge over "Clayton Ravine", Doc is bemused by it being called "Shonash Ravine" by this point in time, meaning that it hadn't been renamed yet. We've learnt of a Clara Clayton by now, which comes full circle when Doc saves her from falling into Shonash Ravine. Marty then realises that the ravine was named in her honor after she fell and died in it, meaning that they've just changed local history and the ravine will still be known as "Shonash". Then after the train plan succeeds with the apparent death of "Clint Eastwood", it's now "Eastwood Ravine".
    • When Mad Dog shoots Marty and he goes down, pay attention to the audio and you’ll hear a metallic “PING!”
    • Two bits back to back act as this in regards to the DeLorean's fate:
      • After the DeLorean jumps back to 1985, the fire trails left behind seem to crumble and fall apart. Granted, half of the trail hung in mid-air...
      • But then you factor in the fact that, as soon as the DeLorean reenters 1985 while still on the rails, it passes by a railroad crossing with the barriers down and the bells going off...
    • Pay real close attention when Marty and Needles are about to drag race at the end, right as Marty tells Jennifer "Hold on to something." You will notice that Marty throws his truck gearshift into reverse.
  • Fling a Light into the Future: Doc arranges for Marty to return to his own time from 1955 by carefully storing his DeLorean in a cave, with instructions for his 1955 counterpart on how to restore the machine to working condition.
  • Fly-at-the-Camera Ending: The movie ends with Doc's train aiming at the camera after Doc and his family bid Marty and Jennifer farewell. As a Call-Back, the ending shot references the ending of the first movie.
  • Fool for Love: Whenever he spends time with Clara, Doc turns into a lovestruck babbler.
    Doc: [guesturing helplessly at the dance floor] Uh, would you, uh, like to, would you...?
    Clara: I'd love to.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The scene that introduces Clara sees Doc grab her from an out-of-control vehicle before it crashes into the ravine. In short, this scene is Doc and Clara doing a dry run of the climax.
    • 1955 Doc accidentally steps on the hoverboard from the shock of seeing Marty again. In the climax, Marty passes it to 1985 Doc to save him and Clara while they're hanging from the speeding train.
    • Doc says it's a pity that there will be nobody near to watch the locomotive falling into Shonash Ravine. He ends doing it himself after failing to board the DeLorean.
    • During the beginning of the final showdown with Buford, pay close to attention to not only how Marty moves, but how he removes his gun belt. He's moving carefully and deliberately; his hand's even inside the poncho, as if it's holding on to something. Marty's trying to hide that he's wearing a homemade bulletproof vest under the poncho.
  • Forced Dance Partner: Buford Tannen tries to force Clara to dance with him, claiming he'll take Doc Brown's $80 debt out of her. He then tells her, holding her close, "You can do something that's worth $80, can't you?" She tells him he's underestimating her, and executes a Groin Attack to free herself.
  • Forgotten Phlebotinum: Impressively averted. At the film's climax again, the hoverboard—which had been useful in the previous movie—gets reused.
  • For Science!: Invoked when Doc and Marty hijack... uh... irreversibly borrow a locomotive.
    Engineer: Is this a hold-up?
    Doc: It's a science experiment!
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus:
    • Back in the first movie, Doc's exposition established that the genesis of the Flux Capacitor came while he was hanging a clock above his toilet. Doc slipped, banged his head, and when he came to the technology was in his head. At the beginning of this film, Marty tries to bring 1955 Doc up to speed on the events of Part II. A disbelieving Doc retreats into his bathroom. When he finally comes out, you can see the clock and toilet in the background (and Bob Gale's DVD Commentary confirms this was an intentional, subtle callback).
    • When Needles challenges Marty to a race near the end, we are given two shots of Marty shifting gears in his truck. First, he moves the gearshift selector to the far left and up for 1st gear. Then, we see him shift again all the way right and down, for Reverse.
    • Clara Clayton actually appears in the scene immediately before her introduction. If you pay very close attention to the background when Marty and Doc are at the train station looking at the map of the track leading to Shonash Ravine, but especially when Marty says "Doc, according to this map, there is no bridge," her presence can be inferred if you pay close attention to her hat and her dress, though her back is to the camera so we can't see her face.
    • In the same scene, the (then-)brand new clock shows the time around 10:04, which is when it will stop in 1955.
    • Before going to 1885, Marty complains that Clint Eastwood never wore such a ridiculous getup, and Doc doesn't know who that is. They have this conversation in a drive-in theater, in front of posters for Revenge of the Creature and Tarantula!, some of Eastwood's earliest films before he did any Western.
    • After returning to 1985, Marty drives past a sign identifying the place as "Eastwood Ravine", showing that it was named after his 1885 persona.
  • Funny Background Event:
    • While 1955 Doc Brown was reading the letter written by his 1985 self, Marty is fiddling around with some of his inventions like the mind-reading helmet, the automatic chess set, and looking at the burned wind-up car used in the experiment in the first film.
    • When Doc and Clara return in the time machine train, Doc in the foreground tells Marty and Jennifer to make their future a good one. In the background, for whatever reason, the child playing Verne motions towards the camera and points to his crotch. It's been hypothesized that the child actor was trying to signal to someone (possibly director Zemeckis) that he needed to pee.
    • When Chester (the bartender) and Joey are making the "wakeup juice", a patron watching them make it can be seen gripping his throat in disgust.
  • Gargle Blaster: "Authentic Frontier Whiskey" is strong enough to cause the bar to smolder. Doc, who Can't Hold His Liquor anyway, downs a glass and drops like a brick at the most inconvenient time. Also, when they try to fuel the DeLorean with some of the bartender's strongest whiskey, it destroys the car's fuel injection system.
  • Gasoline Lasts Forever: The 1955 version of Doc mentions that he refilled the DeLorean's gas tanks, indicating that his counterpart in 1885 drained whatever fuel was left before putting the car into storage in the mine.
  • Gathering Steam: In order to get the DeLorean time machine up to 88 miles per hour and return to the future, Marty and Doc "borrow" a steam locomotive. In order to get the train moving fast enough, Doc powers it with homemade Presto Logs made to raise the boiler pressure and speed up the train. Each one is set to ignite in sequence, and by the time the third log ignites, the only way to stop the train would be to run out of tracks.
  • Generation Xerox:
    • Seamus McFly is a meek man that Buford Tannen bullies and banned from coming to his favorite joint near the Clock's Square, just like their descendants George and Biff 70 years later. Buford picks up a rivalry with Marty because he initially confuses Marty with Seamus, while Biff got it with Marty when the latter defended George from him. This all leads to Marty punching the lights out of Buford (like George did to Biff) and making Buford crash into a cart of manure, while Marty made Biff crash into a track of manure twice in 1955. Both men would say "I hate manure" after each incident.
    • This manure cart is owned by "A. Jones", clearly meant to be the direct ancestor of "D. Jones", who owns the truck in 1955. Another long-running business family in Hill Valley is the Statlers, who have a horse and cart dealership in 1885, a Studebacker dealership in 1955, and a Toyota dealership in 1985.
    • Buford is also a malaproper like Biff, who takes an interest in stealing Doc's date at the dance, like Biff did to George in 1955, and killed his horse after being thrown off it while riding drunk (mirroring Biff crashing George's car while drunk driving in the original 1985).
    • Both Strickland and his grandfather are figures of authority that scold Biff/Buford during a dance and are obsessed with discipline.
    • Marty learns from Seamus that he had a great-great-grand-uncle named Martin McFly who was easily baited into fights in order to prove that he wasn't a chicken and got himself killed that way at a young age. This actually moves Marty to change his behavior so as not to repeat Martin's fate.
    • An early version of the script even had Seamus offering Buford a job in a wagon fixing business after his defeat, repeating (predicting?) Biff's car detailing business and working for George in the improved 1985.
  • Get Back to the Future: A variation. The actual time machine part isn't broken — no need to harness lightning — but the car is broken in a way that can't be fixed in the time they are in, and since the time travel requires reaching a specific high speed...
  • Get Thee to a Nunnery: Ever wonder why Buford Tannen kept referring to Marty as "dude"? During that time period, "dude" basically meant City Mouse (hence, a "dude ranch" is a ranch for "dudes", i.e. tourists) — especially one fancily dressed, as Marty was when they first met. Considering Marty is from The '80s, it's odd that he doesn't lampshade how that word changed.
  • Going Native: Doc has adjusted to life in 1885 very well. Although, he did say that the Old West was his favorite time period.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: Seamus may not approve of guns, but he definitely appreciates Marty's use of pugilism to take down Mad Dog. Then again, he is Oirish.
  • Good Samaritan: Seamus McFly extends a lot of generosity to Marty, even going so far as to give him a hat.
  • Grand Finale: The exciting conclusion of the Back to the Future trilogy.
  • The Great Repair: The DeLorean's gas tank ruptures and all the gasoline is lost with no way to make more. Unable to get to 88 miles per hour, they're now stranded in 1885. They have to concoct a scheme to get their damaged time machine up to the magic speed and escape.
  • Greek Chorus: invokedWord of God describes the three old-timers, played by western veterans Dub Taylor, Harry Carey Jr., and Pat Buttram, who hang out at the 1885 saloon as this. They comment on how Marty and his actions are being perceived by the average townsman (although unlike many examples, they let Marty hear them).
  • Gun Twirling: Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen enjoys this little bit of showboating before his climatic Showdown at Eight O'Clock with Clint Eastwood, twirling his revolver forward, then twirling it back to smoothly replace it in its holster.
  • Hand Wave: Lea Thompson, who plays Marty's mother Lorraine Baines-McFly throughout the trilogy, plays his paternal great-great-grandmother Maggie McFly in Part III. The real explanation was that neither Robert Zemeckis nor Bob Gale could bear making a BTTF movie without her, and the In-Universe explanation is that all McFly men are genetically predisposed to be attracted to women who look like Lea Thompson.
  • Hanging Around: Buford Tannen and his gang try to hang Marty. During filming of this scene, the safety line actually snapped, so Michael J. Fox was really being strangled during the scene. It was only due to the crew realizing what had happened that Fatal Method Acting was fortunately averted.
  • Hat Damage: Buford Tannen holds Doc at gunpoint and Marty hits the gun with a thrown pie plate the moment he pulls the trigger. Doc's hat gets a neat bullethole right in the center and is knocked off his head, but he is uninjured. Played completely serious.
  • Hereditary Hairstyle: Repeatedly averted. Maggie and Seamus are redheaded Irish, and Maggie is curly-haired, unlike their modern day descendants. Buford is dark-haired unlike blond-haired Biff and Griff, and in a case clearly Played for Laughs, the bald Strickland's Identical Ancestor has long, flowing straight hair.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Despite explicit instructions in Doc's letter not to go back for him in 1885, Marty decides to risk further time disruption by going back anyway after stumbling upon Doc's tombstone that reveals he was killed by Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen less than a week after sending the letter. When Doc sees him being hanged, he immediately engages Mad Dog to save his friend. Afterwards, he only gives a quick "I gave you explicit instructions not to come here but to go directly back to 1985," before admitting he's happy to see him.
  • Hidden Depths: Schoolmarm Clara is able to ride a horse, board a moving train, and climb up to the front.
  • Hidden Weapons: After Tannen and his men have their primary guns confiscated at the party entrance, he attempts to assassinate Doc with a tiny Derringer pistol he smuggled in under his hat.
  • Hideous Hangover Cure: The "Wake-Up Juice" is an actual legit drink, the Bull Shot, a variant on the well-known Bloody Mary. The drink used in the film is actually a combination of two Bull Shot variations (Bull Shot, Bull Shot #4). It consists of one ounce of club soda, two ounces of beef broth, one ounce of tomato juice, one teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce, quarter of a teaspoon of lemon juice, three dashes of Tabasco-Habanero sauce, and some dried garlic. It immediately causes the Doc to holler and rush to the nearby water trough without waking up. Explanation? "That's just a reflex reaction. He won't be awake for another 10 minutes." Doc does wake up a few minutes later, with a headache.
  • High-Speed Hijack: Doc and Marty hijack the train from horseback with the intent of using the locomotive to push the out-of-gas DeLorean to the requisite 88 mph.
    Engineer: Is this a hold-up?
    Doc: It's a science experiment!
  • Historical Villain Downgrade: In the previous film, it was implied 1985-A Biff had done this with Buford (based on the Biff Tannen Museum video and the downplaying of Buford's nickname "Mad Dog"). Part III explicitly confirms it between Marty and 1955 Doc's research into Buford and once Marty encounters Buford in 1885.
  • Homage Shot: Doc's idiosyncratic way of dancing in 1885 is stated in the commentary to be an homage to My Darling Clementine. There is also a careful reproduction of another shot from that film: a gun being slid down a bar toward the camera, in deep focus.
  • Honest John's Dealership: In 1885 Hill Valley, we have Honest Joe Statler's horses, "Quality horses bought and sold!" Across the three films, the Statler family owns the horse dealership in 1885, an Oldsmobile dealership in 1955, and a Toyota dealership in 1985.
  • Hubcap Hovercraft: The Time Train from the end of the movie can hover like the DeLorean, except it has its own thrust engines - the wheels are still, for some reason, rotated by the steam pistons in their flying position.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Downplayed Trope as he is not exceptionally able or intelligent by any means, but Stubble for Buford. He corrects Buford's malaproperisms, keeps the gang's agenda, helps Buford count, and guesses that the group should run away when the deputies show up (even if it's way too late).
  • Hypocrite: Mad Dog sneers at Strickland for pointing a gun at a man's back, but that's exactly what he does to Doc a few seconds later.
  • I Always Wanted to Say That:
    • After hijacking a steam locomotive, Doc Brown blows the engine's whistle, saying, "I've wanted to do that all my life!" There's a Shout-Out to this in Robert Zemeckis' The Polar Express where the boy protagonist does the same thing and says the same line.
    • Earlier in the movie, Doc and Marty are discussing how to catch up to that train on a short timeframe. Doc is more familiar with the local area than Marty (or at least, more familiar with traveling around it with 19th-century technology), so he points out that they will have to "cut 'em off at Coyote Pass!" This does not receive an explicit remark, but considering that Doc is explicitly stated to be a fan of the Old West several times in the series, maybe Zemeckis just figured it wasn't needed.
  • I Am Not My Father: Marty learns from Seamus that not every McFly before him was as meek and easily bullied as Seamus and George - Seamus had a brother named Martin, who also was always eager to prove that he wasn't a chicken and got himself killed in a stupid fight for it. This moves Marty to change his behavior so as not to repeat his great-great-granduncle's fate.
  • I Choose to Stay: Zig-Zagged by Doc, who upon being thrust into 1885 is perfectly fine with settling down to live the rest of his days as a blacksmith, and gives Marty instructions to recover the DeLorean and go back to 1985 without him. However, this changes when they learn that Doc will be killed within the same year. Marty travels to save Doc in 1885, and they prepare to get back to 1985 until Doc sacrifices himself to save Clara, leaving him stuck for good in 1885. Then they build a steam powered, time-traveling train for their own use sometime in the 1890s.
  • Iconic Sequel Character: Mary Steenburgen is the only new actor of any note (other than Elisabeth Shue being The Other Darrin for Jennifer) introduced to the series for either sequel. She’s one of the most liked in the series.invoked
  • Identical Ancestor:
    • Seamus and William McFly to their great-great grandson and great-grandson Marty, as all are played by Michael J. Fox. Had Crispin Glover not refused to come for the sequels, he would have played Seamus instead.
    • Buford Tannen to his great-grandson, Biff.
    • Marshal Strickland to his grandson, Principal Strickland.
    • Bizarrely, Marty's ancestor Seamus McFly's wife Maggie looks identical to Marty's mother Lorraine Baines despite, at least in-theory, not being her direct descendant, leading to fans joking that the McFly family is inbred.
    • Each member of Needles's gang at the end is played by one actor that played a member of Biff's (Skinhead), Griff's (Data), or Buford's gangs (Stubble). While not stated officially, it is widely assumed that they are related to their lookalikes.
  • Idiot Ball: Doc pouring the alcohol into the DeLorean's gas tank right from the bottle, without making any attempt to refine or purify it. Naturally this is what leads to the fuel-injection system being destroyed which means the rest of the movie can happen. Even factoring in the time crunch he was under (which can be used to Hand Wave why they don't get gasoline from a kerosene refinery and refine it to usable levels themselves), Doc Brown still wouldn't have made a mistake like that.
  • I Have Your Wife: At the film's climax, Buford and his mooks capture Doc, and promise to kill him unless Marty agrees to go through with their duel. Tannen almost does kill Doc, but Marty gives himself up.
  • I Know Mortal Kombat: While Marty is only a teenager who has probably never used a real gun in his life, he is an expert at quick draw and pistol shooting from his expertise at Wild Gunman, as he demonstrated in Part II.
    Colt Gun Salesman: Where'd you learn to shoot like that?
    Marty: 7-Eleven.
  • Improvised Weapon: Marty uses a Frisbie pie tin to hit Buford's hand just as he tries to shoot Doc, causing his aim to shift slightly and blow Doc's hat off instead. It's implied this event creates a Stable Time Loop leading to the modern Frisbee toy. Marty also smashed Buford in the face with an oven lid that he used as a makeshift bullet-proof vest in their duel.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One: When Seamus asks Marty how he could travel through the Old West without a horse, boots, or even a hat, Marty answers "Well, my car—horse broke down, a bear ate my boots, and I guess I forgot my hat," prompting Maggie to ask "How can you forget a thing like your hat?!" (A bit of Truth in Television, as a hat was an integral part of a man's wardrobe at the time, especially in a sunny southern desert, where it's useful for preventing heat stroke. The Spanish word sombrero, for example, literally translates as "shade-maker.")
  • Immediate Sequel: Even discounting having the end of Part II as the opening of Part III, II ended just after 10:04PM on November 12, 1955. III begins at 7AM the following morning after Doc wakes up.
  • In Spite of a Nail: Again, the new timeline has barely changed toward the end, except that the ravine the train is supposed to cross over is originally called "Shonash Ravine" but was supposedly called "Clayton Ravine" after Clara fell in it (which Marty and Doc stopped from happening). After the train crashes into the ravine and Marty goes home at the end, the DeLorean rolls along the tracks and past a sign that says "Eastwood Ravine." Marty was going by Clint Eastwood in 1885, so "Clint Eastwood" fell into the ravine instead.
  • In the Back: Is where Buford Tannen is supposed to kill Doc.
  • Instant Death Bullet: Subverted. Marty and Doc both assume that Doc will be shot on Monday, September 7, 1885, because that's when the tombstone says he dies and they work under the assumption that they have until Monday to figure out a plan to get back. Turns out he actually got shot on Saturday, September 5 in the original timeline, and didn't succumb to his wound for another two days. The gunshot wound thankfully doesn't even happen once Marty intervenes in the timeline thanks to a Frisbee pie pan.
  • Instant Sedation: We find out Doc really Can't Hold His Liquor when he swallows a single shot of whiskey and instantly passes out—the whiskey has barely gotten in his stomach, much less into his bloodstream or brain to have any effect.
    Bartender: Now there's a man who can't hold his liquor.
  • Internal Reveal: Doc accidentally blurting out to Marty that he'll be in an accident that ruins his life because he was called a "chicken" that was briefly mentioned in Part II.
  • Irony:
    • In 1985-A, Biff idolizes Clint Eastwood. In 1885, Buford thinks the name is utterly ridiculous and doesn't hesitate to call "Eastwood" a yellow-belly and kill him on sight.
    • When Marty is preparing to go back in time at a movie theater, he is afraid that he'll crash into the painting of a group of Native Americans ("Indians") underneath the screen. Doc reassures him that when he goes back in time, the theater won't have been built yet and they won't be there. As soon as he arrives in 1885 however, he nearly crashes into a group of very real Natives who just happen to be riding through the area at the time.
    • A train helped get the DeLorean back to 1985. Another train destroyed it.
  • It Only Works Once:
    • Mad Dog has a small gun in his hat that can only hold one bullet. When he tries to shoot Doc in the head with it, he's foiled by Marty throwing a Frisbie pie pan at him, making him miss his only shot.
    • The plan to get the DeLorean up to 88 MPH with the train. They have only one shot, and Doc clearly states that after they pass a certain designated point, "it's the future or bust".
  • It Will Never Catch On:
    • As Marty first meets Buford:
      Buford: What's your name, dude?
      Marty: Err, Mar—(pauses momentarily) Eastwood, Clint Eastwood.
      Buford: What kinda stupid name is that?
    • Doc tells the bar patrons that people ride around in cars in the future and just run for fun (there were already some automobiles back then, but the patrons are either unaware or consider them a fad):
      "Run for fun? What the hell kinda fun is that?"
  • It's All My Fault: Marty laments that it's all his fault that Doc Brown got stranded in 1885, kicking himself that it could have been avoided if he simply didn't let Biff get to him.
  • Just Keep Driving: At the end the DeLorean is destroyed by an oncoming train on the tracks as it arrives in the present. It doesn't even stop, just keeps going.
  • Just Train Wrong: A shaky dance with plausibility:
    • In Real Life, the locomotive used, Sierra No. 3, would have a hard time reaching even 65 MPH on a good day, much less 88. Like electric engines, however, steam engines have the advantage of being measured in terms of pure Tractive Effort: their limiting factor is the amount of steam pressure they can generate and how long they have to build up momentum. As the engineer says, if you get the boiler hotter than Hades and have a long stretch of straight track and are willing to risk the whole thing blowing up or flying off the tracks, it's possible — the infamous Casey Jones wreck involved an engine with nearly identical stats pushed to an 80 mph "cannonball" run while hauling a light six-car train (with some help from a downhill stretch of track).
    • Doc Brown states that the logs he has created for Marty to throw into the stolen locomotive are made mostly out of anthracite coal. While anthracite does burn much more efficiently than wood, it can also be incredibly difficult to ignite, especially when it isn't broken into very small pieces. The engine in the film was also designed to burn wood, which allow too much or too little air draft to ignite the coal even if Marty did have the time to sit there and baby it. The filmmakers' explanation here is the "mostly" — if the logs consisted of finely-ground anthracite mixed with a firework-style oxidizer, it would be a rather effective way to force-feed the engine oxygen and fuel. Or blow it up like the test model.
    • The last component is steam generation — you would want as much water in the tender tank as possible, but you'd also have to make sure that it didn't flood the boiler either. note  Doc does mention that the boiler will catastrophically explode if it reaches a certain pressure, and during the last minute of the scene, rivets and seams are visibly failing and spewing vapor or jets of superheated water. Also, the train explicitly does retain the tender in the script (Doc commands the engineer and fireman to "uncouple the cars from the tender"). In Real Life, the tenders were often physically attached to the engine and could not be removed without significant effort anyway.
  • Karma Houdini: Needles, despite being the one who challenged Marty to the car race that caused his injury as well as being the one who got 2015 Marty fired in Part II, just barely avoids hitting the Rolls Royce that would have caused Marty's injury when Marty refuses to go through with the race this time around after learning what happened to his great-great-granduncle Martin in 1885.
  • Kissing Discretion Shot: The shot is pulled back and seasoned with a shooting star when Doc Brown and Clara Clayton kiss, probably because Christopher Lloyd was deemed too old to do so up close.
  • Klatchian Coffee: After Doc passes out (from a single shot of whiskey), Marty struggles to wake him up with coffee. The bartender says they'll need something stronger than that. The mix is so strong that Doc runs out of the bar to get water out of the horse through while still unconscious.
    Bartender: Joey! Let's make some wake-up juice!
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Buford had killed Doc because his horse threw the shoe Doc put on, throwing him off in the process. But as Doc points out, Buford never paid him for the job, "So I say that makes us even!"
  • Let's Fight Like Gentlemen: Subverted in Marty's showdown with "Mad Dog" Tannen. Marty discards his gun, saying he "thought we could settle this like men." Tannen laughs and just shoots him. Of course, Marty was counting on him doing that, and is wearing a cast-iron stove hatch as an impromptu bulletproof vest.
  • Letting the Air out of the Band: At the Hill Valley town festival on September 5th, 1885, Doc and Clara are dancing when Buford Tannen points a derringer pistol at Doc's back. Clara agrees to a dance with Buford in an attempt to defuse the situation, till a lecherous comment from him leads her to kick him in his shin, and he shoves her to the ground, making the band stop and Buford is about to shoot Doc before Marty intervenes by throwing a pie-tin as a frisbee at Buford. This, in turn, leads to a tense standoff between Marty and Buford where they agree to a duel before Marshall Strickland intervenes, telling them to stand down and asking the band to resume playing music.
  • Lighter and Softer: Unlike Part II, which dealt with a hellscape 1985 being brought about by Marty's recklessness, this is (in spirit) a pure Western. The only dark aspects of the plot center around Mad Dog Tannen, and the destruction of the DeLorean.
  • Like a Duck Takes to Water:
    • Marty McFly travels through time back to the Old West. Despite being only a teenager who has presumably never shot a real gun before, he turns out to be an expert at quickdraw and pistol shooting (once he adjusts to the recoil) because of his familiarity with a video game from 1985.
    • Despite being considered a crazy, dangerous nut in his own time, Doc Brown's love of the Old West made him fit in perfectly with Hill Valley in 1885. Throughout the third film, he's shown to be well-liked and on first name terms with many local townspeople, including even the Mayor and until he learned that Marty came back to prevent Buford Tannen from shooting him, Doc was quite content to simply live out the rest of his life in the past.
  • Like Parent, Like Spouse: The "Bobs" (Zemeckis and Gale) claim that McFly men are attracted to women who look like Lea Thompson, to explain why Marty's paternal great-great-grandmother looks so much like his mother. In addition, when you look at them, Claudia Wells (and later, Elizabeth Shue) both look a bit like Lea Thompson.
  • Logo Joke: Old Universal logos appear during the opening, in honor of the 75th anniversary of Universal Pictures Film Company, Inc. and the new logo being introduced for it (all of Universal's 1990 movies had that, but this was the first). The Bobs wanted to use the old one so that all three movies shared the same logo, but the studio was insistent that their big 1990 blockbuster ushered it in.
  • Love at First Sight: Doc and Clara, though Doc's skeptical before they meet when Marty says that this happened with him and Jennifer. This happened even in the timeline when Marty didn't go back to save Doc, such that a few days after meeting him, she put "his beloved Clara" on his tombstone.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: An odd example, considering you don't actually hear the words to the song, but the first song played at the hoedown is an uptempo version of "Nearer, My God, to Thee" of Titanic infamy. The song is traditionally very somber, so it's odd to hear such a positive version.
  • Made of Iron: Buford gets thwacked across the face with a two-handed swing of a solid iron boiler plate and then immediately gets back up and keeps fighting.
  • Man Hug: Doc hugs Marty when the latter turns up in 1885.
  • Match Cut: In a variant, Marty accelerates up to 90 mph in a drive-in movie theater. He speeds towards a mural depicting the background landscape with an Indian raid. He hits 88 mph, and from the perspective of the viewers, jumping back to 1885, the car is suddenly now racing towards a landscape of actual Indians being chased on horseback by a cavalry charge.
  • May–December Romance: If you're being very gentle with how old Doc must be, he still must be at least twice Clara's age. Of course, Doc paid a visit to a rejuvenation clinic in 2015 that added thirty to forty years onto his life, so it's not as unfortunate as it sounds. The novels and screenplays said Doc was 65 in 1985, and Mary Steenburgen was 36 when she played Clara.
  • May It Never Happen Again: After Marty had come back to 1985 from the Wild West, the Delorean time machine was hit by a train and broke into a million pieces. Marty couldn't fix it due to the fact that time traveling is dangerous. It also meant that the time machine could never be used again.
  • Meaningful Background Event: When Marty and Doc are at the train stop looking at the map of the train and the ravine, Clara is in the background, waiting to be picked up by Doc. You can also see the clock face for Hill Valley's in-progress clock tower being offloaded off the train while Marty and Doc are talking to the engineer about how fast the train could theoretically go.
  • Meaningful Rename: The Browns were originally known as the Von Brauns until the First World War, when Doc's father changed the family name to Brown.
  • Missed Him by That Much: When Clara realizes Doc still loves her, she bails from the train to run back to Hill Valley. However, Doc and Marty left moments earlier as when she makes it into town, the crowd is still gathered watching Buford getting arrested. Luckily for her, she finds the model showing their plan to travel back to 1985, and she takes a horse to catch up with them.
  • Missing Episode: In-Universe, as Marty is doing research on Mad Dog Tannen, he learns that precise records concerning his kills were not kept due to him shooting a reporter who printed an unfavorable story about him in 1884.
  • "Mister Sandman" Sequence: The sequence introducing 1885 Hill Valley includes a small harmonica bit of the Back to the Future theme tune, when Marty is looking at the courthouse in construction.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • One of the reasons why the scene where Buford shoots Marshal Strickland was removed. The producers thought it was too depressing, and after doing it, it didn't seem right that Buford does not die. They were worried it would make audiences want Marty to kill Buford, and he can't, because Buford needs to live long enough to extend the Tannen family line. In 1985-A in Part II, Buford was explicitly identified as Biff's great-grandfather, meaning Marty couldn't risk killing him; and having the film's teenage protagonist kill another person, no matter how evil that person was, would have been too dark for the mostly lighthearted time travel comedy. This leaves a minor plot-hole in the scene when Buford is arrested by Marshal Strickland's deputy instead of by Strickland himself. However, even if the scene were kept, it's possible Biff would have been born regardless because Part II does show that he lives with his grandmother Gertrude in 1955, who is implied to possibly either be Buford's child or married to one of his.
    • The whole train scene at the climax swings wildly between scary, heartwarming, and awesome. Then, when Marty makes it back to 1985, we see a sign for "Eastwood Ravine," and it looks like the DeLorean has triggered the grade crossing gates at the end of the bridge — both funny moments. A few seconds later, he is nearly killed by a modern diesel train that destroys the DeLorean — one of the most iconic cars in cinematic history — and Marty realizes that this strands his best friend in the past. And then Doc shows up in an even cooler ride... with his new family.
  • Moonwalk Dance: Marty is forced to dance while Buford shoots at his feet. He confuses the 19th century cowboy by performing the moonwalk, even singing part of "Billie Jean" under his breath.
  • Mundane Utility: Marty uses the hoverboard as a footrest when he falls asleep in Doc's armchair.
  • Named After Somebody Famous: Jules and Verne, named after... guess who.
  • Named in the Sequel: The name of Doc's dog in 1955 goes unmentioned in the first film, but the scene at Doc's house at the beginning reveals his name as Copernicus.
  • The Name Is Bond, James Bond: Maggie McFly introduces herself by saying "The name's McFly, Maggie McFly." Marty introduces himself as "Eastwood, Clint Eastwood" to both Maggie and Buford Tannen.
  • Network Sign Off: Inverted with Doc waking up when the TV starts broadcasting for the day with Howdy Doody.
  • Nitro Boost: The three chemical bricks Doc puts in the steam engine. Each one makes it rapidly accelerate, the third blows the tank!
  • Noodle Incident: Doc's alcohol incident on the Fourth of July is mentioned but never explained.
  • Not so Dire: Deconstructed first: Upon noticing the fuel line on the DeLorean was ripped, Marty is nonplussed at best. It's only after he casually informs Doc of the problem, thinking it's not one, that it's made clear it's the worst thing that could've happened; as with the plutonium (or lack of it) issue in 1955, gasoline was a very rare commodity in 1885, and once again Doc and Marty have to scramble for an alternative solution to get the DeLorean in time-traveling order. Played straight a few scenes later when the optimal route to get the DeLorean to speed leads to the ravine and its unfinished bridge; Marty thinks that's a problem, but Doc reminds him to think "4th-dimensionally" and that as long as they can get the car to 88 before reaching the end, Marty will arrive on the finished bridge in 1985.

    Tropes O-Z 
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • When Marty travels into the past and the Indians painted on the wall become real Indians riding straight for him.
    • The look on Doc's face when Buford comes to shoot him on Saturday, and he realizes that just because he died in the original timeline on Monday doesn't mean that's when he got shot. This is lampshaded by Buford by explaining that his derringer, due to its small size and ability to only carry one shot, doesn't kill instantly.
    • Similarly, when Marty tells Doc that the fuel line on the DeLorean was ruptured. Doc tells him that the car always ran on gasoline to get it up to 88 miles per hour — the Mr. Fusion powers the flux capacitor — and there ain't no refined gasoline until the following century.
    • When it's spelled out to Marty that he may get killed if he duels Tannen tomorrow, Marty responds thusly:
      Marty: [hand to forehead] Great Scott!
      Doc: I know. This is heavy.
    • Another Doc reaction after he and Marty save Clara Clayton from falling into the ravine; Marty reveals that the ravine was supposedly named after a schoolteacher who fell into the ravine 100 years ago, where Marty and Doc are presently stuck in. Doc is horrified that once again, they have inadvertently meddled into historical events.
    • Doc stares horrified after "Mad Dog" Tannen shoots and apparently kills Marty.
    • Marty has a huge one near the end when he sees a modern train coming right at the DeLorean, with him still inside. He just manages to get out before it's smashed to smithereens.
  • Oireland: Seamus and Maggie McFly, complete with stereotypical (and non-existent in reality) accents.
  • Ominous Pipe Organ: Heard in-universe when Marty confirms to Doc that he returned to 1955 even after being sent to the future. Backed up against the organ in his house in terror at Marty's apparition, Doc's groping hands just happen to play a series of dissonant and ominous chords.
  • Overly Stereotypical Disguise: Marty's flamboyant cowboy attire, which he does lampshade, but (1950s) Doc insists is fine to wear (note that westerns were huge in 1955, but historical accuracy in westerns was not). Marty switches to more reasonable clothes as soon as he can.
  • Playing Possum: Marty fakes his death when Buford Tannen shoots him, wearing a make-shift bullet-proof vest — foreshadowed in the second movie in the Clint Eastwood scene on the TV in the hot-tub scene.
  • Pocket Protector: Marty manages to block a gunshot from Tannen by hiding a metal plate under his poncho. Justified as it was a thick metal furnace door and the gun was a 19th century pistol that probably wasn’t powerful enough to pierce it.
  • Point of No Return: The windmill marks the point where Doc and Marty no longer have enough time to stop the train before it goes down the ravine. As Doc puts it, "once we pass this windmill, it's the future or bust."
  • Poison Is Corrosive: Marty gets poured a free shot of whiskey by a bartender that wants to make sure he knows what they serve in his bar. Strong stuff all right — the bar top smokes from the overpour. Marty wisely leaves it alone. (While not billed as poison, one shot of the same whiskey puts Doc on the floor.)
  • Police Are Useless:
    • Marshall Strickland doesn't arrest Tannen after he attempts to murder Marty and Doc on two different occasions. His deputy eventually does arrest Tannen for robbery (a crime he apparently considers more serious then attempted murder), but only after Marty has made it easy knocking Tannen out. Though in the deleted scene, Marshall Strickland does try to stop him from his challenge with Marty, until Tannen shoots his gun from his hand, and then shoots him in the back.
    • No police investigate the train crash after Marty returns to 1985. He runs home, gets his truck, picks up Jennifer, avoids the drag race with Needles and heads back to the crash site, which probably took an hour at least, and no one has even looked at the ruins.
  • Precision F-Strike: "He's an asshole!"
  • Prematurely Marked Grave: After Buford's challenge to Marty for a duel, the photograph of Doc's grave changed to that of Clint Eastwood (who Marty named himself while in 1885). Later on, Marty saw a similar (nameless) grave at the undertaker and before the duel with Buford, one of the undertakers prematurely sized him up for a coffin.
  • Prochronic Product: Doc Brown's invoked affinity for Jules Verne's prochronic oriented science fiction leads him creating quite a few things that are ahead of their time for 1885. First, a high power sniper rifle with a telescope — able to "shoot a flea off a dog's back at 500 yards", it is by about 75 years before perfection of rifling technology for common availability. He constructs a clockwork mechanism able to cook breakfast in the morning. A refrigerator machine, half the size of his shed, able to produce ice cubes — about 50 years early than the invention of freon. Shown but not discussed, there are electricity powered toys on the mockup of their plans to use the time machine pushed on tracks by a locomotive. Also, in the same film, Doc explains to Marty his prochronic creation of Presto-logs, wood logs substitutes that he chemically treated to burn hotter and longer to make the locomotive run faster than usual — these are also about 50 years earlier. This all serve to foreshadow that he later built a levitating time machine into a locomotive. Writer Bob Gale even compared Doc Brown with Leonardo Da Vinci — a genius ahead of his time. Justified, as he is a mad scientist from 1985.
  • Prophecy Twist:
    • The photograph of Doc's tombstone accurately predicts that he will die on Monday, September 7, 1885 by Buford shooting him in the back over a matter of $80 if history continues on the same course. Doc and Marty fail to realize that just because he dies on Monday does not mean he gets shot on Monday, hence Doc's surprise when Buford shows up to shoot him on Saturday is quite genuine. (Because Buford's guns are all confiscated to enter the dance, he sneaks in a small but effective pistol that would kill when fired — but thanks to the small calibre ammo, it would take three days for the victim to expire.)
    • Another one when Doc tells Marty in his letter to return to 1985 and destroy the the time machine. He didn't have to. A diesel train did.
  • Quick Draw: Marty is challenged to a 19th Century shooting range and manages to shoot every single target — before this point, he'd probably never used a real gun in his life. His first shot goes completely wild because he wasn't prepared for the kick and he was being made to use his left hand, but he does absolutely perfect on his second attempt after switching.
  • Race Against the Clock: The movie has a race against distance, in which the protagonists much reach a certain speed before their train topples off of a bridge.
  • Race for Your Love: Clara's race to get to Emmett before he leaves.
  • Ragnarök Proofing: Averted. While Doc Brown took some measures to ensure that the DeLorean would not suffer too much deterioration by storing it in a dry, dark cave for seventy years, it still needs to be restored to working condition: the time travel circuitry has to be changed out with vacuum tubes, while the original tires need to be replaced with whitewall tires.
  • Railroad Tracks of Doom: The only viable track that could get a locomotive up to 88 miles per hour just happens to have an unfinished bridge at the end. Also seen when the DeLorean has just arrived back in 1985, during which, Marty notices the railroad crossing signal is sounding...and turns to see an incoming freight train charging towards him.
  • Required Secondary Powers: Given that Doc didn't die and the DeLorean wasn't completely wrecked when it presumably crash-landed, especially with that looping time travel event, there must have been a nifty back-up system to allow it to land gently in case of an emergency.
  • Rescued from the Underworld: After a certain fashion, when Marty goes back in time for Doc, after Marty discovered that Doc would be killed in a duel in the past.
  • Rescue Romance: Doc and Clara first meet and fall in love after he rescues her from falling into a ravine.
  • Revolver Cylinder Spin: Marty impresses everyone with his shooting skills at the gun seller's shooting gallery. (He learned to shoot playing arcade games at 7-11.) After he's finished, he gives the cylinder of the revolver a spin before handing it back to the salesman.
  • Ripple Effect Indicator: The movie truly uses this:
    • Marty takes a photo of Doc's grave to bring with him just in case it changes. After Marty challenges Mad Dog, the grave in the photo shifts to "Clint Eastwood."
    • Marty's true evidence Doc is in 1885 is a photo of him by the original clock tower. When he goes back, Marty is now in the photo with Doc.
    • When Marty returns to 1985, "Clayton Ravine" is now named "Eastwood Ravine" thanks to Marty and Doc saving her and the people believing that "Clint Eastwood" (Marty's alias) drove a train into a ravine.
    • The big one: When Marty doesn't get into his car accident, Jennifer sees the "YOU'RE FIRED" fax from the previous film turning into a blank page, meaning that future no longer exists.
  • Ripple-Effect-Proof Memory: When Marty arrives in 1885 to save Future-Doc (who's Trapped in the Past), Future-Doc is aghast at his bizarre cowboy outfit and asks who dressed him like that, to which Marty says, "you did" — he means Past-Doc from 1955. The book adds the twist of Doc suddenly remembering this happening. It's an odd twist because while it's not inconsistent with how memory is shown to work in the films (e.g. does Marty come to "remember" his assertive parents?), it's also possible that this version of Doc is the same Doc who dressed him up but is just kinda scatterbrained.
  • Rube Goldberg Device: The ice-making machine Doc made in the Wild West. Its status as a Rube Goldberg Device is primarily due to the fact that Doc was constrained to 1885 technology. Later on in the movie, there's a downplayed breakfast machine which fries two eggs and some bacon.
  • Rule of Cool:
    • Bob Gale admits during the DVD commentary that Doc probably would have realized horses wouldn't be able to pull the DeLorean up to 88 mph, but says the scene was too good to take out, also thinking it helped sum up this film's premise. Anyway, Doc wasn't trying to get them to run at 88 mph — they were moving the DeLorean from the cave to his shop.
    • Other than being a barrier for Marty to crash into, there doesn't appear to be any reason for a group of Plains Indians and the US Cavalry to be running after another in California.
  • Rule of Drama: Steam trains didn't have cords that passengers could pull to stop the train, but it does make for a good dramatic moment where Clara can hop out of the train and run back to town. It also serves to delay the train so Doc and Marty can still hijack it.
  • Rule of Three: Marty punches Tannen three times, sending the man crashing into the tombstone and averting the future where either he or Doc ends up dead. It takes a fourth punch, however, to put the man in a pile of manure and end the fight.
  • Runaway Train: There's one deliberately set up my Dr. Brown and Marty, as an out-of-control train is the only way to get the crippled DeLorean up to 88 mph. The point where the train goes from a controlled time-travel experiment to a runaway is when they notice Clara has snuck on board, and the train is going too fast to stop before reaching the gorge with the incomplete bridge.
  • Scale Model Destruction: There's a model layout made to simulate the plan to return to 1985; and again, the only thing that gets wrecked is the model steam engine... the same way they plan to sacrifice the real one.
  • Scare Chord: When Doc Brown wakes up and spots Marty, he freaks, stumbles backward, trips on the hoverboard, and lands on his organ, delivering a fully appropriate musical tone.
  • Scarpia Ultimatum: Mad Dog drops this one on Doc Brown and Clara. The point is for Clara to dance with Mad Dog to get him to leave Doc alone, but it's as close to lewd as one can get in a gingham dress. Shortly afterward he suggests she have sex with him to cover Doc's debt.
  • Schizo Tech:
    • Invoked — by the end of the film, the DeLorean is a 1980s car, whose time circuits are powered by a 2015 fusion device, with jumps calculated by a computer built with 1955 vacuum tubes, running on 1885 train wheels.
    • There's also the hover-converted, steam-powered time machine built out of a train which Doc and family later arrive in, playing it somewhat more straight.
  • Schoolmarm: Clara Clayton is a schoolteacher who gets saved by Doc.
  • Science Cocktail: Doc Brown has this elaborate machine in his Old West blacksmith shop. Takes up most of the room it's in. When he activates it, the thing huffs and puffs and shakes and finally, after all this ostentatious display, spits out two ice cubes. Effective for the implied humor, but also fairly realistic as creating a refrigeration unit in that time with limited materials and technology would result in a large machine.
    Marty: It's... a refrigerator?
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: This is the reaction the three members of Buford’s gang have after his duel with Marty and the deputy sheriff showing up to arrest him.
    Henchman: You know something? I think Buford is going to jail.
  • Screw Your Ultimatum!: Marty gets challenged to a duel by Buford Tannen. He accepts, but eventually realizes from the photograph of Doc's tombstone that he will die from the duel. Trapped in the local saloon by Buford and his gang, he gets a count to ten to come outside and duel. The patrons also try to tell Marty to fight, but Marty eventually refuses. Instead he comes out unarmed and asks Buford to "settle this like men". Buford shoots him, and it turns out Marty is wearing an iron stove door under his shirt as makeshift body armor. Cue No-Holds-Barred Beatdown.
  • Second-Act Breakup: Happens between Doc Brown and Old West schoolteacher Clara Clayton. Notable as it's part of a science-fiction comedy movie trilogy that doesn't normally dwell on such things; and that despite the breakup happening over a misunderstanding, no one was really at fault — it's just really hard for someone living in the Old West to believe someone who tells them he's a time-traveller from a hundred years in the future.
  • Second Episode Morning: During the movie's ending, Jennifer believes that her time in the future was a dream — until she finds the fax paper in her pocket.
  • Sequel Snark: The movie marquee in the background also lists three sequels, as a Take That! from the writers against the complaint that Hollywood was making too many sequels at the time, visually showing this was always the case in the industry.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: The movie has Marty go back further in time to 1885; when lightning struck the time machine, Doc Brown was left stuck in the past, but sent a letter to Marty in the present to explain where and when he was, and that he was perfectly happy. Marty enlists the 1955 Doc to repair the time machine to get him back home, but they discover Doc's gravestone from less than a week after he mailed the letter, saying he was shot by Buford Tannen. Marty travels back to 1885 to save Doc, and in the end, he alters his own future by overcoming his own ego and the taunts of others, and Doc's by saving his life and getting him a lover.
  • Settle It Without Weapons: When Marty is duelling Beauford Tannen, he drops his gun and asks if they can settle it like men. Beauford just shoots him, which Marty was counting on - he'd improvised a bulletproof vest out of an oven door.
  • Shaped Like Itself:
    Marty: You got a backdoor to this place?
    Chester: Yeah, it's in the back.
  • Shoot the Rope: Doc severs the rope with a personally-modified lever-action rifle to save Marty from a hanging.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Showdown at High Noon: Zigzagged. Marty asks Buford if he wants their showdown to happen at high noon, but Buford insists that he "does [his] killing before breakfast." Ultimately, the film provides a Double Subversion of the trope when Marty refuses to take his place in the duel, but is forced to anyway. However, he still refuses to actually shoot Buford, relying instead on a Bulletproof Vest ploy.
  • Shown Their Work: Based on the existence of Jules and Verne, it obviously took the Doc several years to build the Time Train and return to 1985. This is reflected in Clara's costuming. While she spends the rest of the film wearing 1880s fashions, the scene at the end has her wearing an 1890s-styled dress. Compare the sleeves to the sleeves of every dress she appeared in previously.
  • Slipping into Stink: Marty defeats Mad Dog Tannen by punching him out and causing him to fall on a manure wagon.
  • The Slow Path: The DeLorean does this—mothballed by Doc in an abandoned gold mine in 1885 so Marty can retrieve it 70 years later in 1955. Also, he has to leave a letter with Western Union to get to Marty.
  • Spear Carrier: The train engineer who asks if it's a robbery.
    Engineer: Is this a hold-up?
    Doc: It's a science experiment!
  • Steampunk: Doc's custom sniper rifle, the time train from the end, as well as Doc's refrigerator in the blacksmith shop. The sheer size and complexity of the refrigerator, along with the difficulty of getting a conventional steam locomotive up to eighty-eight miles per hour (easily done with an internal combustion engine), illustrate more "realistic" applications of Steampunk tech. The time train at the end throws all realism out the window, but Doc once said, "If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything." As mentioned in Reality Is Unrealistic, there were already ice factories in 1885 that ran on steam power.
  • Strangled by the Red String: In-Universe, the film discusses this in regards to Doc and Clara's relationship. After going back to 1885, Marty shows Doc a picture of his future tombstone, which contains a mention of "his beloved Clara", though Doc doesn't know who she is, even though he's supposed to be killed in three days. After finding out who Clara is and that he's supposed to be meeting her Doc and Marty discuss it. Marty believes it's possible, but Doc, being a man of science, refuses.
    Marty: Well, Doc, now we know who Clara is.
    Doc: Marty, it's impossible. The idea that I could fall in Love at First Sight? It's romantic nonsense. There's no scientific rationale to that!
    Marty: [laughing] C'mon, Doc, it's not science. You meet the right girl, it just hits ya; it's like lightning.
  • Sudden Soundtrack Stop: The swelling, heroic Back to the Future theme stops and restarts more than once to accentuate Marty pummeling "Mad Dog" Tannen during their final fight.
  • Surprisingly Happy Ending: The film seems to be an outright Bittersweet Ending at first: Marty's back home in 1985 and changed his future for the better but the DeLorean is destroyed and Doc's forever displaced 100 years back in time... Suddenly, he and Clara show up in a time-traveling train, revealing that they're Happily Married and have kids. Though he goes back to the past soon after, at least with the time train he can visit Marty and Jennifer whenever he wants. However if the animated series were to be taken as canon, Doc Brown's family do eventually settle back in 1985 Hill Valley where they engage in more time travel hijinks.
  • Tap on the Head: For the third time in as many films, Marty gets knocked out by a physical blow, though this is the first time he wakes up in a room with someone who isn't his mother.
  • Tele-Frag: Doc explains the reason they're out in the middle of the desert is because the De Lorean will have plenty of run-off space in a wide-open area. Sending Marty back to a place that is populated or geographically unknown would be very dangerous idea; there's a risk he could easily crash into someone or something that once existed there. Doc doesn't clarify if this also extends to materializing inside something that once existed as well, but the implication is that it would be just as much of a danger. In an example of Mythology Gag, Doc warns Marty that he might crash on a tree that was there 100 years ago... unaware that the first thing Marty did when he first traveled back in time was crashing on a tree that was there 30 years ago.
  • Temporal Duplication:
    • Thanks to this movie there's a brief period in 1955 with four versions of the same DeLorean time machine; the one from the first movie, the one Old Biff stole to give his past self the sports almanac, the one used by Doc and Marty to Set Right What Once Went Wrong, and the one taking The Slow Path in the Delgado Mine for 70 years.note 
    • Throughout the 1885 sequence, there are two DeLoreans present: the one that Doc has stored in the mine, and its 70-years-older counterpart with vacuum tubes that Marty used to time travel from 1955.
  • Tempting Fate:
    • At the drive-in, Marty expresses concern about running into the Indians depicted on the mural when he travels back. Doc Brown assures him that, when he actually gets back, it will be empty terrain. Marty jumps into the past and lands smack in the middle actual Indians being chased on horseback.
    • In the same scene, as Doc is doing a final rundown before Marty heads to 1885, he makes a point of saying there’s a full tank of gas in the DeLorean. No sooner does Marty enter 1885, he winds up ripping the fuel line.
  • That Was Not a Dream: At the end of Back to the Future Part II and the beginning of this one, Marty finds the 1955 Doc literally moments after he sent the Marty from the first film back to 1985. When Marty tries to explain that he's come back from the future, the 1955 Doc faints from shock. As seen in Part III, the next morning, the 1955 Doc thinks he hallucinated the whole thing till he finds Marty, who brought him home, with him in his house, scaring Doc as Marty tries to fill him in on everything that transpired in the previous movie.
  • Theme Music Power-Up: After tricking Buford by faking his own death, Marty springs up and begins the fight in earnest with his fists and improvised bulletproof vest. The heroic Back to the Future theme covers the brief battle, stopping and restarting several times as Marty punches Tannen in the face.
  • This Is My Name on Foreign: 1955 Doc Brown mentions when he and Marty are looking for records of 1885 Doc Brown that his family immigrated from Germany after that in 1908 with the surname von Braun, then changed their last name when the USA entered World War I.
  • Time Travel Escape: Early on, Doc and Marty wind up preventing a new schoolteacher, Clara Clayton, from falling into a ravine. However, it is only after the fact that they remember this was a historical event: That know of that ravine as "Clayton Ravine" back in 1985 because she fell in. While not much more is made of this in the movie, beyond the fact that Doc uses this as yet another example of why he shouldn't have invented time travel, the point effectively becomes moot by the end of the movie where we see she decided to come along with Doc to visit Marty and Jennifer (after he completed the time train sometime in the 1890s).
  • Time-Travel Romance: Doc Brown unexpectedly encounters love in the Wild West with a much younger woman named Clara. They stay together and they travel through time together.
  • Time Is Dangerous: By this movie, Doc seems to be acknowledging this. Marty's a little less sure, but both times Doc assures him that the obstacle he's seeing in the present won't be there in the destination time. Or that something that isn't there in the present will be there in the future, like the rest of the bridge (and a disel train).
  • Tim Taylor Technology: Doc's solution to getting a steam locomotive to reach 88 mph is some pyrotechnically-treated wood that brutally overclocks the boiler. You can guess how it ends. Since he deliberately ran the engine off an unfinished bridge, he knew the overclocking wasn't going to be the worst problem.
  • Title Drop: Many times during the film's duration.
    • Doc gets an idea to use a train to push the DeLorean to 88 miles per hour and get him and Marty... back to the future.
    • The last lines of the film and the trilogy as a whole. Doc tells him he's already been in the future when asked if he's going back there.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Seamus McFly talks about his deceased brother, Martin, who also suffered from a Nobody Calls Me "Chicken"! mentality, which got him killed via bowie knife in the chest. Marty himself almost became this and was called out on it by his ancestors and Doc Brown.
  • Took a Level in Badass:
    • After spending some time in The Wild West, Doc Brown totes a huge rifle, rescues (and subsequently woos) a Damsel in Distress, stands up to the local gunslinger, hijacks... er, borrows a steam locomotive, and drives it off a cliff.
    • Marty goes from nearly getting hanged by Buford to outwitting and curb-stomping him.
  • Track Trouble: Since gasoline isn't a readily available fuel, the Time Machine needs to be accelerated to 88 mph by a steam locomotive. However, the spur that's used leads to a half-completed bridge across Shonash Ravine.
  • Trailers Always Spoil:
    • When TNT aired the movie in the 1990s, their commercial bumpers included shots of the Time Train flying away, spoiling the ending for any viewers watching the movie for the first time.
    • The teaser trailer at the end of Part II spoiled that Marty would make it back to 1985, as he reunites with Jennifer while still wearing his cowboy clothes.
  • Train Job: Not your typical train robbery, either. They want to steal—err, borrow the locomotive.
    Engineer: Is this a hold-up?
    Doc: It's a science experiment!
  • Trapped in the Past: Doc Brown resigns himself to the fate of living in The Wild West — and he's actually quite happy about it. He even goes as far as to give Marty instructions to not pick him up. Being an inventor, though, he does manage to invent some technology of the future with the era's limited materials. He doesn't share his inventions with anyone else, as he's mindful to not risk changing history. At the end of the film, he does create another time machine out of a steam train. However, it's uncertain whether he chooses to live out the rest of his life in the past — or move back to the future, or really just travel to any era as he pleases. The ride and animated series, though, both have Doc ultimately moving back to the future.
  • Tricked Out Time: Marty suggests that they bring Clara Clayton back to the future with them — which would remove her from 1885, where she's supposed to be have died by falling into "Clayton Ravine". Doc rejects this as a step too far — but the filmmakers have suggested that if Doc had appeared to go over the edge of the ravine when the train crashed Clara may have killed herself by jumping into the ravine, removing herself from the timeline and causing it to be named after her after all. The filmmakers do state that Doc himself created a Tricked Out Time situation with the Clayton Ravine in the first revision to that timeline: originally, Clara's carriage went over the ravine, resulting in the name; in the revised timeline where Doc saved her (but where Marty was never present), she committed suicide by jumping into the ravine after Doc was killed by Buford, resulting in the name. This is used to explain why both Doc and Marty know of the ravine by that name. And finally, if Doc hadn't managed to rescue her from the runaway train, she still would have fallen in, resulting in the name Clayton Ravine.
  • Truth in Television:
    • While gasoline's component alkanes existed and were pulled out of oil wells, they weren't considered valuable until internal combustion engines were invented and were typically burned off as useless, therefore Marty and Doc wouldn't be able to get any gas for the DeLorean.
    • It was probably unintentional on the filmaker's part, but Marty has to run from a line of Indians, then he has to dodge the US Cavalry chasing them. In the late 19th century, the Indians were under the charge of the Bureau of Indian Affairs as part of a deliberate program of gentle genocide, and any Indian who went "off the reservation" was a hunted criminal, and they were, as a group, subject to repeated massacres by settlers and the government.
    • Steam driven locomotives didn't typically go very fast, because that risked derailment, but by the late nineteenth century, it would have been possible to drive a train up to 90 mph, though it would have been the edge of their capacity.
  • Undertaker: The town undertaker is seen measuring Marty up for his coffin size the day before the duel, due to the bets among the townspeople going against him.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: The Indians' reaction to the DeLorean when Marty arrives in 1885. True, they are being chased by the US Cavalry and one of the Indians hits the DeLorean with an arrow, but you would think at least a few of them would stop dead, especially since they just saw the DeLorean appear out of thin air in a flash of light.
  • Urine Trouble: The first McFly born in America greets his future descendant with this trope.
  • Voiceover Letter: Subverted. At the end of Part II, Marty receives a letter from time-displaced Doc in 1885, and reads the first few sentences of it aloud. In Part III, the entirety of the letter is read by Doc. What makes this case different is that it's read by 1955's Doc, who won't write the letter for another 30 years, and so is reading it for the first time along with the audience.
  • Waking Up Elsewhere: Marty falls, exhausted, near the McFly ranch. While waking up, he, drowsily assumes the past several hours have been a bad dream when he finds himself comforted by his great-great-grandmother, reassuring him he's safe in 1885. The news shocks him awake and leads to a brief freakout.
  • We Don't Need Roads: Or "We Don't Need Railroads" in this case. The time train Doc and his family travel in can fly like the DeLorean before it, albeit with some wings and a tail. Even its wheels fold downwards!
  • Wham Line:
  • Wham Shot:
    • The one that kicks off the plot of Part III: after Marty and 1955 Doc dig the DeLorean out of the mineshaft, Marty goes to get Copernicus, who's hanging out by a tombstone...
    • After changing events in 1885, the photo of Dr. Brown's tombstone only had his name erased but the tombstone remaining. If events play out as they are, Marty's alias of Clint Eastwood appears on the photo.
    • The faithful DeLorean is absolutely pulverized by a 1985 train. Shown in four different shots, both for shock (the car is almost a character by now) and to establish the totality of its destruction.
  • WTH, Costuming Department?: Justified and invoked In-Universe, as Marty's outfit was supplied by Doc Brown based on the crappy westerns of the day and he got his hat from a similarly clueless Seamus.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Seamus and Maggie McFly, Marty's ancestors, give Marty one of these when they call him out on taking up Tannen's challenge when he was called "yellow" instead of just walking away and being the better man. They comment "Clint" reminds them of Seamus' brother Martin who also took up a challenge and died for it.
    • Doc also calls Marty out for actually going through with Tannen's challenge, while accidentally blurting out his future accident mentioned in Part II.
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: As is standard for Hollywood, Marty's Oirish ancestors' accents are the stereotypical variety in that no Irish person anywhere ever has ever spoken with such an accent.
  • When Things Spin, Science Happens: The Doc's train at the end has a bunch of spinny things on it.
  • The Wild West: The setting. Although the movie mines some humor from showing that there were unglamorous aspects of the period, its depiction still errs on the side of The Theme Park Version and Rule of Cool. Realistically, 1880s Californian townsfolk would be dealing with a lot more Small Town Boredom than gunslinging outlaws. Also, the California Indian Wars were definitely over by 1885, so the battle Marty witnesses between Indians and the U.S. Cavalry makes no historical sense at all.
  • With a Foot on the Bus: The Doc falls in love with Clara, a woman of the Old West. He told her he was from the future, so she slapped him and took the train out of the city, while Doc and Marty tried to use a train to activate the time machine. She discovered that he had spoken the truth and ran to him, trying to catch the train and beg his pardon. In the end, only Marty returned to 1985: Doc was out of the time machine saving Clara's life, and it was destroyed after Marty returned. But that does not stop a scientist: Doc made a new time machine, built into a train powered by steam, and reunites with Marty in what is an instant from his perspective (but long enough for Doc and Clara to have started a family from theirs).
  • With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility: Doc constructed a giant machine with the sole purpose of creating ice cubes before the technology became common, which sounds like something one would do if they were trying to randomly change the timeline. But that's all it does, too; no Chekhov's Gun here since Doc never showed any intention to make this invention public; he's well aware that doing so would be dangerous for the course of events in the history of science and technology.
  • Write Back to the Future: Doc's letter to Marty. He leaves it in the care of Western Union with specific instructions to deliver it at the time and place he disappeared in 1955.
  • You Already Changed the Past: The 1955 Doc averts this. He specifically sends Marty back to a point in 1885 after 1985 Doc has left the letter with Western Union. As seen in the movie, they didn't do anything about it, which allowed for normal 70+ year delivery: "and the Western Union guy lost the bet!"
  • You Look Like You've Seen a Ghost: Said verbatim by Doc Brown.
    Doc: You look like you've seen a ghost.
    Marty: You're not far off, Doc. [shines his flashlight on Doc's 1885 grave]
  • Young Gun: Marty is given a free gun by the gun salesman in preparation for his duel with Mad Dog Tannen (with the catch being he'll take it back if/when Marty loses). After playing around with it (even wearing it in public), Marty makes a point of discarding the gun when confronting Mad Dog on Monday. After all, he has the improvised bulletproof vest. Afterwards he gives it to Seamus, who plans to pawn it for another hat.
  • You Remind Me of X: Seamus and Maggie note "Clint"'s habit of taking up challenges reminds them of Seamus' brother Martin, who ended up knifed in a Bar Brawl. It seems like the McFly family by the 1980s didn't know of Martin's existence or at least Marty wasn't told about him. In any case, the reason why the information hit him so hard is that his given name is Martin. Turns out he was coincidentally named after his ancestor and his brother, as Martin Seamus McFly.
  • Your Universe or Mine?: Doc Brown and Clara Clayton have something like this, but the fact that Clara was supposed to have died (and survived only through Doc's timely intervention) may help simplify matters. In the end, they seem to choose option C: Live sort of outside of time traveling through the past and future with their flying train.
  • You Talkin' to Me?: Marty quotes the speech in 1885.

Marty: Hey Doc! Where you goin' now? Back to the future?
Doc Brown: Nope. Already been there!


Doc reads Doc's 1885 letter

Doc Brown from 1955 reads a letter from Doc Brown from 1985 written in 1885.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (16 votes)

Example of:

Main / WriteBackToTheFuture

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