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Franchise / Back to the Future

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Your future is whatever you make it, so make it a good one.
"If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 miles per hour, you're gonna see some serious shit."
Dr. Emmett L. "Doc" Brown

An extraordinarily successful 1980snote  trilogy of Time Travel movies starring Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd (with an animated Spin-Off series) which has received several homages. They combined Fish out of Water comedy with high-stakes drama, making deft use of threatened Temporal Paradox.

The films are notable for their running gags, based on similar events occurring across time, and solidified the career of Robert Zemeckis. The series itself is very successful beyond the films, later spawning a franchise including:


Comic Books


  • Back to the Future (1985) - George Gipe's novelization of the first film,note  which B to the F: The Novelization of the Feature Film dissected.
  • Back to the Future: The Story (1985) - An abridged version of Back to the Future for children.
  • Back to the Future (Rainbow Read-Along Adventure) (1985)
  • Back to the Future Part II (1989)
  • Back to the Future Part III (1990)
  • Back to the Future: The Classic Illustrated Storybook (2018)
  • William Shakespeare's Get Thee Back to the Future! (2019)
  • DeLorean Time Machine: Doc Brown's Owners Workshop Manual (2021)




Tabletop Games

  • Back to the Future (1985)
  • Back to the Future (1990)
  • Back to the Future The Card Game (2010), the Looney Labs card game based on Chrononauts.
  • Back to the Future: OUTATIME (2016)
  • Back to the Future: An Adventure Through Time (2016)
  • Back to the Future: Dice Through Time (2020)
  • Back to the Future: Back in Time (2020)


Video Games

Web Video

Tropes? Where we're going, we don't need tropes...

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    Tropes A-D 
  • The Alleged Car: While these films made the DMC DeLorean the coolest of the Cool Cars, they also showed that it was delicate and prone to a number of problems (e.g. stalling on a hot start, sticky doors).note  The DeLorean misbehaves particularly badly in the first movie, so maybe Doc worked some of the kinks out with the hover conversion?
  • Alliterative Name: Marty McFly; Clara Clayton; Marty McFly Jr.; Marlene McFly; Maggie McFly; S. S. Strickland
  • All There in the Manual: The FAQ included in the Back to Future III Blu-ray provides canonical answers to several questions viewers have come up with throughout the years (many of which can also be found on each film's respective "Headscratchers" page), particularly those relating to various time travel paradoxes.
  • All There in the Script
    • The names of the goons from Biff and Griff's gangs, as well as Lorraine's friends. The most easily recognizable is 3-D, wearing cardboard 3-D glasses in his youth, and aviators with red and blue lenses as a vice thug in the Bad Future.
    • As well as other info of the characters' backgrounds. Including Doc's mother's side of the family growing up in Hill Valley.
  • Almost Kiss: This happens three times in Part I, between Marty and Jennifer (though they did share a brief kiss before she went home with her dad). Towards the end of Part III, the two are finally able to kiss more definitively.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: The flux capacitor makes time travel possible. Never mind figuring out how, it just does. Lampshaded by Marty.
    Marty: Flux capacitor... fluxing.
    • In a piece of deleted dialogue, Doc goes into slightly more detail about its function: "The flux capacitor stores energy and releases it, like a big lightning bolt."
  • Arch-Enemy: The Tannens and Mcflys have been going at it for 100 years. The rivalry presumably started with Sheamus and Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen in 1885, then continued with George and Biff in 1955, finally ending off with George being Biff's spineless whipping boy in the original 1985. Marty entered into the feud with Biff in both 1955 and 1985-A. Hell, even Marty's children are still dealing with Griff Tannen in 2015.
  • Artistic License – Cars: The DeLorean's Vanity License Plate is a California plate that reads "OUTATIME", which is 8 characters. At the time, California plates could only be 7 charcters long; it wasn't until 2014 that eight-character plates could be used.
  • Artistic License – Physics: They're time traveling. In a DeLorean. Physics in general takes a back seat to the plot, when it isn't given a total Hand Wave. (The hover-capable vehicles from 2015 in particular break the known laws of physics simply by working on antigravity.)
    • Artistic License – Nuclear Physics: not only an implausibly compact and overpowered fission reactor at the start, but the Mr. Fusion reactor from The Future is a mass-produced home appliance; not only that, but it clearly allows fusion of heavier elements (from household waste- not just stripped out hydrogen as the Doc adds a drinks can after emptying its contents) when, in Real Life, even stars are only capable of heavier than lead fusion in the moments before going supernova.
  • Author Appeal: Bob Gale is a baseball fan, and works baseball references into the franchise wherever it may fit. For instance, Doc is interested in seeing who wins "the next 25 World Series" in Part I, and Part II has a joke about the Cubs winning the World Series in 2015.note  The novelization, based on an earlier draft of the script, mentions that 1955 Doc's favorite team is the Brooklyn Dodgers, and Marty's is the San Diego Padres. The animated series episode "Batter Up" is about the 1897 NLCS, and "Verne's New Friend" makes a plot point of Verne forbidding girls from joining his baseball team.
  • Berserk Button
    • "Nobody... calls me chicken." (With a variation in Part III, where the equivalent word is "yellow") This particular berserk button appears to be subject to sequel retconning, as it is nowhere in evidence in Part I. He did seem more willing to get into a fight than was sensible, but not directly from being called names.
      • Then again, nobody actually did call him a name in Part I.
    • Marty seems to have another in Part I, which is people messing with his mom (even though she's the same age he is at this point). A lot of Lorraine's infatuation with "Calvin" could have been avoided if Marty hadn't been so eager to leap to her rescue all the time.
  • Book Ends:
    • The first time the DeLorean travels through time, it leaves its registration plate spinning on the spot behind it. After the DeLorean makes its final journey and gets destroyed by an oncoming train, the car's registration plate from 2015 is left doing the same thing.
    • In the original film's climax, Marty returns to the shopping mall just moments before his past self warps to 1955. The only difference is he's returning to Lone Pine Mall, not Twin Pines Mall.
    • "The Power of Love" by Huey Lewis & The News is played in both the second scene of the first film, and the second-to-last scene in the final film.
    • Marty's first and last lines in the trilogy are "Hey, Doc?", though in Part III, Marty adds "Where are you going now, back to the future?"
  • Borrowed Without Permission:
    • Marty does this twice over the course of the films. In the first movie, he snatches a kid's wood crate scooter (but not before tearing the top part off to make an improvised skateboard) to escape from Biff and his goons. He returns the board after he maneuvers Biff into the manure truck. In the next film, he repeats this act in the future with a little girl's hoverboard, though this time he's told he can keep it, as the girl has made off with Griff's "Pit Bull" model hoverboard, which she apparently considers a step up.
    • When Doc explains to Marty his plan to use a train to push the Delorean to the speed necessary for time travel in Back to the Future Part III, he puts it like this: "We're going to hijack... borrow... the locomotive.."
  • Brick Joke:
    • In 2015, we find that Marty's future life is not going too well, the result of his life going down the toilet after a car accident when he got challenged by Needles, who called him "chicken" to a street race, in which Marty collided with a Rolls Royce and broke his hand, and the driver of that car pressed charges. Marty gave up on his music career and has been resorting to rather desperate means to stay afloat, to such that he agrees to participate in an illegal business deal with Needles after Needles calls him "chicken", and gets a bunch of YOU'RE FIRED!!! faxes from Fujitsu as a consequence. Then the main plot kicks in, which sends Marty and Doc back to Alternate 1985, then to 1955, and then to 1885 for the remainder of Parts II and III. When Marty returns to the present and picks up Jennifer, they are driving in Marty's new 4x4 pickup past the entrance to Hilldale, the neighborhood where the future Marty will live, and our Marty recognizes the place. Just then, Needles and some of his pals pull up alongside Marty and the "chicken" thing comes up. Marty looks like he's going to give in and race Needles, Jennifer desperately telling him not to... but when the light turns green, Marty floors his vehicle in reverse while Needles speeds forward. As Needles barrels down the street, he and his pals narrowly swerve to avoid an oncoming Rolls Royce making a left turn off a side street, and Jennifer realizes it's the car Marty would have hit.
      Jennifer: (As they both watch Needles race off) Did you do that on purpose?!
    • In Part I Doc holds his experiment at the Twin Pines Mall, casually mentioning it used to be farmland, and that the owner tried to breed pine trees. When Marty travels back in time, he ends up on Old Man Peabody's farm, also known as Twin Pines Ranch. When Peabody begins shooting at Marty with his shotgun, Marty is forced to flee towards the road. As he's driving, notice that there are twin baby pine trees next to the dirt path, fenced in to protect them. In fleeing, the car ends up smashing through and destroying one of the two trees. Over an hour later, we find ourselves back at the beginning, only this time we're at Lone Pine Mall, implying that Peabody did not try to replace the pine tree that was destroyed.
    • The name of Clayton Ravine: Marty says that it's named after Clara Clayton, who fell to her death there — at least, she did until the Doc rescued her. When Marty returns to the future, the ravine is now named Eastwood Ravine, presumably to honor Marty (going by the name of "Clint Eastwood") who had faced down the robber and murderer Buford Tannen before (as far as they knew) dying in the ravine.
    • In the first movie, when Doc and Marty are preparing for the storm, they're listening to the radio, and the weather report is saying it'll be clear skies all night. Doc asks "Are you sure about this lightning?" Marty responds, "Since when can weathermen predict the weather, let alone the future?" Then, in the second movie, once they arrive in 2015, Doc is able to tell Marty down to the exact second when a rainstorm will end.
  • Bulletproof Vest: In all three movies; they seemed to like this trope. In real life, only Marty's improvised "stove-door vest" out of the Dollars trilogy in Part III would have worked; the high-velocity rounds from the Libyans' AKM would have torn through Doc's Kevlar-style vest like it wasn't even there... assuming a Mad Scientist with thirty years to prepare hadn't figured out a way to improve on the design.
  • Burning Rubber: The DeLorean leaves twin trails of fire in the "old" time period after it jumps to the "new" time period. It does this even when it's flying.
  • Butterfly of Doom: Most of the first film, and much of the sequels. Namely, thanks to old Biff handing that almanac to his 1955 self, A-Biff was able to affect history enough that in 1985, Nixon was in his fifth term as President, and the Vietnam War was still ongoing.
  • Call-Back:
    • Several set pieces (such as a Tannen and his gang chasing Marty in front of the Clock Tower) are reused throughout the trilogy, to show that history repeats. Lampshaded by 2015 Biff: "There's something very familiar about all this."
    • The fundraisers trying to save the clock tower did, indeed, manage to save it.
    • Doc justifies sending Marty to 1885 in the middle of the desert by saying "You don't wanna crash into a tree that once existed in the past". In the first film, one of the first things Marty did after arriving in 1955 was (accidentally) run down one of Old Man Peabody's twin pines.
    • When Doc Brown makes a model of Hill Valley in the first movie, he apologizes to Marty that "this is not to scale." Lampshaded in the third movie when Marty interrupts him and says, "Yeah, I know. It's not to scale."
      • Immediately following the scene where they plan up their escape on a scale model of Hill Valley, a girl is going to pay them a visit, upon which they need to hide the DeLorean. In the first movie, it's Marty's mother Lorraine asking him to go with her to the Enchantment under the Sea dance, while in the third movie, it's Clara Clayton asking Doc to go with her to the inauguration festival of Hill Valley's clock tower, with the pretext of asking him to fix her telescope.
    • In all three films Marty wakes up in bed, believing his time-traveling escapades have been a nightmare. He is comforted by a character played by Lea Thompson (Marty's mother Lorraine in 1 & 2, his great, great grandmother Maggie in 3) by being told he's safe and sound in some place that jars him and reminds him it's not a nightmare after all. By the end of 3, the roles are reversed: Marty wakes Jennifer up and she tells him she had a strange dream.
    • The Tannen family has every reason to hate manure.
    • A blink-and-you'll-miss-it example occurs in the second film when Marty (indirectly) causes damage to Griff's car. Marty had previously done so to Biff's car in 1955, though in a different manner.
    • In Part I, Biff Tannen crashes the McFlys' car while drunk driving and forces George to pay for not only the damage to the car, but also the cleaning bill for his shirt ("I spilled beer all over it when that other car smashed into me"). In Part III, Buford claims his horse threw a shoe while he was riding it and demands that Doc (who shoed the horse) should pay not only for the horse (which he shot in a rage), but for "the perfectly good bottle of fine Kentucky Red-eye" he was holding at the time.
    • In the third film, before he gets out of bed at the McFly farm in 1885, Marty stops to make sure his pants are on, after Lorraine removed his pants in 1955.
    • In the first film, Doc's attempt to demonstrate how Marty will get back to the future with a model of the city and a wind up car goes awry, and the car catches fire. In the third film, the model is still set up in Doc's lab, and Marty pulls the scorched car out of a wastebasket.
  • Car Fu: In Parts I and II, Biff tries to run Marty down with his car. Both times he crashes into a truck carrying large amounts of manure.
  • Catchphrase:
    • Doc's "Great Scott!" and Marty's "This is heavy!" Inverted in Part III, where they once exchange lines.
    • In the second and third films, Marty also developed the Catch Phrase "Nobody calls me chicken!" (or "yellow" in the Western setting) in response to his personal Berserk Button.
    • Also hilariously lampshaded in the first film: "Weight has nothing to do with this!", "There's that word again, 'heavy'. [...] Is there a problem with the Earth's gravitational pull?"
    • In the second and third films, Biff and Buford have good reasons to say,"I hate manure." His gang also subverts this in the first movie when they collide with the manure truck with a cry of "SHIIIIIIIIIIIT!"
    • Strickland seems to think that everyone's problem is that they're a slacker. Drive-by shooters peppering his home with bullets? Well, EAT LEAD, SLACKERS!
    • Marty's variations on "What the hell is that?" followed by a punch.
    • Various Tannens as well as Vice Principal Strickland tend to refer to Seamus, George, Marty, and Marty Jr. by their last names.
    • "You're the doc, Doc."
  • Celebrity Endorsement: Michael J. Fox, and Pepsi. (Which he has difficulty ordering.) And don't forget his ever-present Nike tennis shoes.
  • Central Theme: Don't let people push you down because you can all accomplish great things.
  • Changed My Jumper: Marty's clothes in both 1955 and 1885 cause people to remark about them.
  • Chekhov's Boomerang: The hover board, particularly the fact that its owner lets Marty keep it. After its initial scene, it doesn't appear until later on when Marty needs to use it to get to the almanac from Biff. In the third film, the viewer is reminded a few times before Marty goes to 1885 that he still has it, and ends up using it so that Doc can save Clara.
  • Chekhov's Gag: The jokes about Uncle Joey.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • If you see a manure truck anytime during the trilogy, a Tannen is SURE to get covered deep in it before the movie's end.
    • The hover-board: used in the second film multiple times (and in different eras), the device is used again (by Marty) to save Doc and Clara during the climactic train sequence in the third film.
    • The giant speaker seen at the beginning of the first movie is months later used in the beginning of Episode 1 of Back To The Future: The Game by Marty to get Doc's notebook back from Biff.
    • Marty's "auto accident": first referred to in Part II (during the 2015 segment), then narrowly averted during the finale of Part III.
    • In Part II, Marty watches a scene from A Fistful of Dollars during the 1985-A segment (at Biff's Casino). The scene is question is the part where Clint Eastwood uses steel plating under his poncho to protect himself during a gunfight. Marty then uses this trick (with a boilerplate) in Part III to survive his confrontation with Mad Dog Tannen.
  • Chekhov's Skill:
    • Marty holding onto cars while skateboarding (skitching) in Part I; he uses the same trick (on a hover-board) in Part II to steal the Almanac from Biff. Later, Doc picks up this trick to travel alongside a train and rescue Clara in Part III.
    • In Part II Marty demonstrates his skill with a gun-based arcade game. This becomes important in Part III, giving him a sporting chance in an actual duel. This is subverted when he removes his gun-belt and lets Buford shoot him in the boilerplate he wears under his poncho — then beats the shit out of him. Also deconstructed by the reason he needs to pull this off- the gravestone photograph shows it would not be enough to save him from an experienced killer like Buford Tannen.
  • Clock Tower: Which is used in the clock tower finale.
  • Close-Enough Timeline: There are not too many changes to 1985 when Marty returns there in Parts I and III.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: The DeLorean's LED displays are red for "Destination Time", green for "Present Time", and yellow for "Last Time Departed", in homage to The Time Machine. In Part III, Doc has made presto logs, color-coded green, yellow and red, in increasing order of the amount of heat each produced to make their train run faster, with a corresponding gauge showing when it would happen.
  • Comes Great Responsibility: Doc eventually comes to view the DeLorean as a menace. Considering it's a device that if misused has the potential to undo the universe, he's not far off.
  • Compressed Vice:
    • Marty's "chicken" problem, a key element of the sequels, is never even referred to in the first film. But to be fair, nobody calls him such a name in the first film either.
    • Related is that in Part I, Marty is concerned that nobody will like his audition tape. At the start of Part II, Marty simply assumes he'll become a rich rock star. Possibly due to being raised by more supportive parents in this timeline?
  • Contrived Coincidence: Doc Brown had the revelation for the flux capacitor on the exact same day Marty's parents met. Exactly one week later on November 12, there was the school dance where the two kissed for the first time, and lightning struck the clock tower. It also happens that the day of the school dance was also the day Old Biff traveled back in time to change the past. This is virtually lampshaded in the second film.
    Marty: That's right, Doc. November 12, 1955.
    Doc: Unbelievable that old Biff could have chosen that particular date. It could mean that that point in time inherently contains some sort of cosmic significance. Almost as if it were the temporal junction point for the entire space-time continuum! On the other hand, it could just be an amazing coincidence.
    • A deleted scene from II shows future Terry - The mechanic who originally cleaned and fixed Biff's car in 1955 - complaining to future Biff about the money that Biff never paid him for cleaning it. Terry specifically mentioned the day that he returned the car to Biff - November 12th, 1955. Biff could have easily picked another day to come back to, but it's possible that future Biff chose that specific day because it was fresh in his mind, not to mention it was the day that George punched him out, which changed his life forever, and didn't anticipate that Marty would just directly ask alternate-timeline Biff what day it was.
  • Cool Car:
    • The DeLorean. Anyone who grew up in The '80s and enjoyed the BTTF movies will invariably hold a sort of unrequited love for them, even though in their unmodified form they're underpowered and don't handle too well. (Arguably, that's part of the joke — getting a real DeLorean up to 88 miles per hour is about as likely as getting it to travel through time.) In fact, the car is so iconic that these days it's practically impossible to look at a DeLorean without thinking of these movies.
    • Other examples: Biff's '46 Ford Super DeLuxe convertible, Marty's tricked-out 1985 Toyota 4x4, and Doc Brown's 1948 Packard Victoria convertible (of course, to a car buff, almost every car you see in the 1950's segments would qualify).
  • Cool Old Guy: Doc Brown, the only scientist to believe in quantum physics, and the only one to communicate with his past self.
  • Cool Shades:
    • Doc's steel glasses at the end of Part I, used in Part II when he flies the DeLorean.
    • Also, Marty used sunglasses as part of his "Inconspicuous" '50s clothes.
  • Covered in Gunge: "Manure. I hate manure!"
  • David Versus Goliath: George vs. Biff in the school parking lot. Or, alternatively, Marty vs. Biff and his assorted relatives.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Marty. Doc can be it as well, but not on Marty's levels.
    • Linda, based on the few scenes we see her in, also appears to be this.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance:
    • In the first film, "A colored mayor? That'll be the day..." after Marty recognizes the malt shop's janitor is the future mayor Goldie Wilson.
    • Also in the first film, one of Biff’s henchmen uses a racial slur towards one of the Starlighters after he confronts them for sticking Marty in the trunk of his car.
    • In Part III:
      • "What's that writing? Nee-Kay? What is that? Some sorta injun talk or somethin'?"
      • "Tannen bragged that he killed 12 men, not counting Indians or Chinamen."
      • "Musta got that shirt off'n a dead Chinee."
  • Digital Destruction: The sequels suffered from incorrect framing on their widescreen DVD debut but Universal did fix the issue with both a replacement program for existing discs and new corrected discs in stores. But...
    • The 2010 DVD rerelease and Blu-ray debut (and 2015 reprints) had bad end credits on the original Back to the Future, with the text tilted, off-center, and squished by 25%. This was never fixed in that release cycle, but 2020 Blu-ray and 4K discs have the correct credits (standalone DVD rereleases may use the 2010 master).
    • All versions since 2010 have included a shortened version of the blackout in Back to the Future Part II after Marty is hit by Biff's goons in 1985A. Previous releases kept the screen blank for over 5 seconds as the sound died away and the next scene's music began; now it's only a few seconds, fading back in before you know what's happened and giving no feeling of lost time, and it also cuts out some of the music. Comparison here.
  • Diner Brawl:
    • At least as far as Part I and II are concerned, every time a McFly (or two) goes to the local diner, a Tannen is sure to be there along with his cronies to cause grief for the victim.
    • Part III also invokes the trope, though in a saloon instead of a diner, as evident when Buford walks into the bar and mistakes Marty for Seamus.
  • Double Vision: Used frequently and well.
  • Dramatic Irony: Due to the time-travel heavy plot, we get a lot of this.

    Tropes E-N 
  • The '80s: The primary setting of the story — the one considered the "present day" — is October 1985. Even 2015 in Part II was explicitly designed with what people on the 80's thought the future was going to be.
  • Einstein Hair: Doc. And in a way, Einstein the dog...
  • Everybody Lives: Throughout all three films, no one dies and stays dead. In the first movie, Doc is killed by Libyan terrorists in the original timeline, but in the next timeline, he survives the encounter by wearing a bulletproof vest. In Part II, George is murdered in an alternate timeline, but the original timeline is restored by the end of the movie. This even applies to the villains: the fate of every Tannen is to end up in a pile of manure, and the fate of the Libyans is unclear. However, Part III would have averted this trope if it had kept the Deleted Scene in which Marshal Strickland was murdered. And if you really want to be a pedant, you could always point out that everyone from 1885 is dead in 1985.
  • Everyone Went to School Together: George, Lorraine and Biff. Justified by Hill Valley being a small enough town for this to be likely.
  • Everytown, America: Hill Valley.
  • Establishing Character Music: The first time we see Marty McFly, he walks into Doc Brown's laboratory, plugs in his guitar, and begins shredding. This quickly establishes him as a laid back, average teenager.
  • Exty Years from Publication: An example that initially works from this logic, but progressively became Exactly Exty Years Ago once 1985 was no longer Present Day by the films' release dates. Each installment centers around thirty years in the past; thirty years in the future; then a hundred years in the past.
  • Fake Shemp: George McFly in the sequels. Any shot of him is either a lookalike (far away, or upside-down) or stock footage from the first film.
  • Fanfare: Alan Silvestri was basically told to make the score epic after his initial music didn't impress Spielberg. So Silvestri made a triumphant and bombastic theme.
  • The '50s: The scenes in 1955 make use of a lot of tropes from the decade, but just enough that they don't get in the way of the story.
  • Fish out of Temporal Water:
    • Marty in every era but 1985. In a way, he is also one of these in the alternate 1985 timelines (both from the end of the first film, and even more so in the one where Biff becomes a bigwig).
    • Inverted with Doc, he seemed to fit in better in 1885 and was a respected member of the community, as opposed to the crazed crackpot reputation he had in 1985.
  • Flashback with the Other Darrin:
    • The ending scene of Part I is also the opening scene of Part II. Since Elisabeth Shue had replaced Claudia Wells as Jennifer, the scene was refilmed for the sequel. The re-shot version is nearly identical, with the only difference being that Doc Brown's face is shown this time, he gives a significant look with his eyes, and hesitates slightly before responding to Marty asking whether he and Jennifer end up as "assholes". You'll notice that they didn't even bother to match Shue's hairstyle with Wells'. Sure, most people didn't notice at first because of the four-year lag in Real Life, caused by Robert Zemeckis being off shooting Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but if you watch the two films back to back it can be pretty jarring.
    • Crispin Glover also didn't return, so in all refilmed 1955 scenes in Part II, George is always seen from behind (except one shot of recycled footage viewed through Marty's binoculars).
    • The Spear Carrier couple ("Who is that guy?" "That's George McFly...") also get replaced in Part II's 1955 scenes, as do most of the other 1955 extras.
    • Speaking of 1955 extras, the character Lester ("I think he took his wallet") was played by an unnamed extra in Part I, who could be seen crouching over Biff. Obviously, as Lester became a marginally Ascended Extra thanks to Marty's interference in Part II, he was Other Darrin'd for the sequel.
  • Fly-at-the-Camera Ending:
    • The first Back to the Future ends with the DeLorean flying up in the air, turning around, then warping through time just as it hits the camera.
    • The third movie ends the same way, except with the train in the place of the DeLorean.
  • Foreshadowing: And plenty of it. Examples include Doc mentioning he'd like to see who wins the World Series in the future (which becomes a major plot point in Pt. II), a clock with a man hanging off the minute hand at the beginning of the first film (which Doc himself does on the Hill Valley Clock Tower at the climax of the film), and a clip of a news report regarding a stolen box of plutonium from Libyan terrorists while showing a box of plutonium inside Doc's laboratory a few moments later (which Doc later uses to power the flux capacitor).
  • For Want of a Nail: Most of the series lends itself to Doc falling off his toilet while hanging a clock and banging his head on the sink. That gave him his "Eureka!" Moment that led to him coming up with the idea for the flux capacitor, which is what makes time travel possible. If not for that, Marty and Doc would be unable to travel in time.
  • Future Loser: Everyone at one point, notably Biff and Marty.
  • Gang of Bullies: Biff, his ancestors, and his successors lead a small group of thugs.
  • Gasp!: Doc Brown. Doubles as an Actor Allusion for Christopher Lloyd who has done it in several other movies.
  • Generation Xerox: Many examples.
    • McFlys in any time period are cripplingly afraid of rejection and are victims of bullying (probably from someone named Tannen).
    • Tannens of all ages are dimwitted thugs who get their kicks picking on someone named McFly. They invariably use Malaproper and eventually wind up crashing into piles of manure (in fact, that's the page image for the trope!)
    • About the only characters immune to it are Doc (who's the only Brown we meet) and Principal Strickland (his ancestor's a Reasonable Authority Figure, while he's Dean Bitterman).
  • Goldfish Poop Gang: Young Biff's greaser cohorts. They go by the names of "Match" (Billy Zane, playing a goon with an Oral Fixation), "3-D" (wearing 3-D movie glasses), and "Skinhead" (the one with a crew cut). The trio is still in Biff's employ in 1985-A, now working as corrupt security guards at Biff's Pleasure Palace; Match now sports a ten-gallon hat and bolo tie, Skinhead's gone grey, and 3-D has swapped out his eyewear for Tony Clifton sunglasses.
  • Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow: Subverted with Strickland in Part I as he is shown to be bald in 1985, and in the 1955 scenes, it's seen his receding hairline is on its last legs. Double subverted with the marshal in Part III as the marshal is an ancestor of Strickland's.
  • Hero Stole My Bike: Marty steals a skateboard from a kid in Part I, and a hoverboard from a little girl in Part II. At least Marty gives them back. In the second movie, it doesn't take, because the little girl takes Grif's hoverboard instead.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Marty and Doc, "Partners in Time". And how. In the first film, Doc sacrifices himself to save Marty from the Libyans, and Marty returns the favor by ensuring that he gets the news of his impending death. Throughout the entire trilogy, they're by each others' sides, protecting each other and providing the fandom with many crowning moments of heartwarming.
    • In the third film, despite explicit instructions in Doc's letter not to go back for him in 1885, Marty decides to risk his life to go 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. And when Doc sees him, he only gives a quick "I specifically told you not to come back for me," before admitting he's very happy to see him.
  • Hidden Depths: A recurring theme.
    • Part I gives us George, who starts out as a nerdy loser. Marty is surprised to find that George was very creative as a teenager, and everyone is shocked that George has it in him to stand up to Biff.
    • Played straight in Part III, where we find that the eccentric Doc Brown is quite charming when around his love interest, and is a pretty good dancer to boot. Lampshaded by Marty:
    Marty: The Doc can dance??
    • Marty himself throughout the trilogy. He may be Book Dumb, but Mrs. McFly's boy can handle the practical intelligence needed to outsmart opponents and operate time machines any day.
  • High-School Dance: The Enchantment Under The Sea Dance.
  • High-School Rejects: Biff, in the "Lone Pine 1985/2015."
  • High-School Sweethearts: Marty's parents and Marty himself with Jennifer — though the first time we see either marriage, neither is especially happy. Both (implied for the latter) end up being Happily Married thanks to time travel and Character Development.
  • Hilarious Outtakes: On the DVD release.
  • Historical In-Joke: Plenty of them. Parts I and III show the "real" origin of rock-and-roll music, skateboarding and Frisbee discs.
  • History Repeats: An encounter with the Tannens happens in each movie.
  • Homemade Inventions: Doc has a passion for making these. The time machine being the prime example, more minor examples including a robotic dog-feeder, humongous amp, a mind-reading machine which doesn't work, and a steampunk ice-maker.
  • Honor Before Reason: Marty is guilty of this due to his Berserk Button of being called cowardly in any way. This has done nothing but gain him more trouble than necessary and making things more difficult than they were before.
    • Future Marty knew that Needles' proposition was illegal and that he could get fired if he went through with it, but does so anyway when called a chicken. Of course, Future Marty is indeed found out, immediately, by his employer (who was monitoring the call!), whose response is to send out a bunch of faxes reading "YOU'RE FIRED!!!"
    • This almost gets Marty killed in Part III until Seamus and even Dr. Brown called him out on his stubbornness to not accept being called cowardly.
    • In Part I, this also gets Marty in a lot of trouble, as he seems incapable of standing by while something happens to Lorraine. A lot of Lorraine's infatuation with "Calvin" comes from Marty doing increasingly-awesome things because someone (usually Biff) is threatening her.
  • Hover Board: Picked up in 2015, used in both 1955 and 1885.
  • Hubcap Hovercraft: The DeLorean receives this upgrade at the end of the first movie.
  • Identical Grandson: Michael J. Fox, Thomas F. Wilson, and some of the minor characters all wind up portraying their own ancestors/descendants (including Michael J. Fox in drag playing an Identical Daughter). Lampshaded in Part III, after Buford mistakes Marty for Seamus McFly, says "You ain't Seamus McFly... you look like him, though." Lea Thompson plays different ages of the same character, Lorraine Baines-McFly, but also Maggie McFly, Marty's paternal great-great-grandmother and thus not (apparently) related to Lorraine at all.
  • If My Calculations Are Correct:
    • "...when this baby hits 88 miles per hour... you're gonna see some serious shit."
    • " will receive this letter immediately after you saw the DeLorean struck by lightning"
  • I Know Mortal Kombat: Marty is a crack shot, thanks to whiling away his youth playing Wild Gunman. Established and mocked in the second, used straight in the third.
    • Though "used straight" applies only to the fairground shooting gallery- as the changing gravestone picture shows, it would not have been enough to save Marty in a straight-up duel with Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen, a hardened killer.
  • Immediate Sequel: Part II and III begin seconds before the previous ones end.
    • Part II repeats the final scene from Part I, with Doc coming to warn Marty and Jennifer about their future.
    • Part III repeats the final scene from Part II, with Marty, trapped in 1955, running off to find 1955!Doc (who has just sent Marty back to 1985) so he can help him rescue 1985!Doc, who is trapped in 1885.
  • I'm Mr. [Future Pop Culture Reference]:
    • "Calvin Klein" is actually a subversion, as Lorraine sees it written on Marty's underwear and believes it's his name. Marty does correct her but she still calls him Calvin. Marty bemusedly goes with it to avoid arousing further suspicion.
    • Marty intimidates George into asking Lorraine out by posing as "Darth Vader", an extra-terrestrial from Planet Vulcan.
    • "Clint Eastwood", on the other hand, is played completely straight. Marty can't even back out of a duel because not only would it tap his personal Berserk Button, but it would also preemptively ruin the actor's career in Westerns by associating his name with cowardice, and keep the Dollars trilogy or Dirty Harry from featuring him.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: George McFly. As nerdy as he is, he is very nice and won't fight the bullies because he feels it is wrong. Also, Jennifer Parker. She is the sweet, supportive, quiet girlfriend and later, wife of Marty McFly.
  • Indy Ploy: In each installment, Doc will come up with some sort of plan for him and Marty. Invariably, the plan goes to hell, forcing Marty and Doc to wing it.
    • Part I features 1955 Doc coming up with a plan to send Marty back to the future with the lightning bolt hitting the clock tower funneling its power into the Delorean. Too bad for them that a branch falls on a wire to uncouple everything, and then the car won't start. Doc just manages to attach the wires in time, and Marty hits the wire at just the right moment anyway, as Doc's calculations were incorrect.
    • Part II features Doc trying to knock out Marty Jr. so that Marty can save his future son from getting into trouble with the law thanks to Griff Tannen. But because Doc also had to knock out Jennifer, Marty Jr. wakes up early, forcing Marty to steal a hoverboard and trick Griff into getting arrested.
    • Part III features Doc and Marty using a train in 1885 to speed the Deloran up to 88 MPH with special chemicals. But unbeknownst to them, Clara hops onto the train, throwing everything off when Doc decides to bring Clara with them. Then the chamicals react too violently in the train's engine, nearly throwing Doc and Clara off the train. Marty ends up saving both Doc and Clara, but ends up going back to 1985 alone.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Marty and Doc. Word of God explains that the friendship started when Marty was around 13-14 years old. After being told for years that Doc Brown was a dangerous, crackpot, lunatic, he snuck into Doc's lab to see for himself and instead was fascinated by what he saw in there and thought Doc's inventions were cool. Doc found him and was happy Marty thought he was "cool and accepted him for what he was". Doc then gave Marty a part-time job helping out with experiments, helping in the lab, and feeding Einstein. Read for yourself.
    • In Part III Marty befriends his Great-Great Grandfather Seamus. Seamus isn't much older than Marty during the time period though.
  • It Runs on Nonsensoleum: It's never really explained how the Mr. Fusion device Doc adds to the DeLorean from 2015 is able to generate the requisite 1.21 gigawatts of energy — not to mention undergo nuclear fusion — using an aluminum can and some other bits of garbage, though it's possibly supposed to be a comic-book style of fusion that turns matter directly into energy.
    • ahem, the calculations have been run. Seeing as 1 GRAM of Hydrogen can produce 1 gigawatt, nearly enough to fuel the Delorean, a banana peel should be more than enough.
    • It's also never explained why, in a future where such a compact and effective power source exists, 2015 technology couldn't simply modify the DeLorean to operate entirely on Mr. Fusion's energy along with the hover conversion and eliminate the need for gasoline (not to mention other cars—why were there even gas stations in 2015 when Mr. Fusion devices were readily available?).
  • It's the Journey That Counts: The final Aesop of the series, and the reason why the Retroactive Preparation trope is never invoked. Marty learns about his family and himself over the course of three films, things that he would have never discovered had he not been stranded twice.
  • Jerk Jock: Biff Tannen primarily, but also Buford and Griff.
  • Just Eat Gilligan: A lot of complex plots and quick thinking have to be used; the simple solution cannot because it might cause a Temporal Paradox, although eventually both Marty and Doc choose Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right! instead. Part of the adventure is the lengths the characters have to go to in order to preserve the timeline(s).
  • Lady Drunk: Lorraine, at the start of the first film and during the 1985-A scenes of the second film.
  • Large Ham:
    • Christopher Lloyd in spades.
    • Most versions of Biff to a certain degree, but none more-so than his future offspring Griff.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: For all the crap Biff and his family line tries to pull to Doc and Marty throughout the course of the trilogy, there is always a cart of manure placed just at the right moment to deliver Tannen some sweet, stinky justice.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: In the first film, 1985 Doc is shot by terrorists early on and 1955 Doc isn’t receptive to Marty’s warnings. There are two sequels, and Christopher Lloyd is on the cover of both of them, so it should be obvious to new viewers that he won’t stay dead.
  • Lightning Can Do Anything: Including making a time machine travel the required 88 MPH from a standing start... in mid air....
  • Like Father, Unlike Son:
    • George McFly in the original timeline was a spineless geek who let Biff Tannen continue to bully him even after they graduated high school. George's son Marty is a cool but hot headed kid who stands up to bullies especially if they call him chicken.
    • Marty's own future son is also a contrast to himself. Whereas Marty stands up for himself and has some smarts in him, his future son is a pushover and appears to be a bit of a dumbass.
  • A Little Something We Call "Rock and Roll": The Johnny B. Goode scene in Parts I and II.
  • The Load: Jennifer Parker. Bob Zemeckis and Bob Gale never had a character development in mind for her, stating that had they planned to make a sequel to the original film, they would not have put "the girl" in the car at the end. Sure enough, less than five minutes into Part II, she's sedated and pretty much spends the rest of the series that way, while Doc outright admits she's no use to them, he just had Marty bring her along because she'd already seen the time machine. Neither Claudia Wells in the first movie nor Elizabeth Shue in the others are even given top billing in the film credits, even though those who play even smaller roles are.
    Marty: What did you bring her for?!
    Doc: I had to do something, she saw the time machine, I couldn't leave her with that information! Don't worry, she's not essential to my plan.
  • Look Behind You: Works on most Tannens, although Griff's gang in part 2 has some really neat cybernetic implants. He almost seems a bit surprised when he looks back and finds that his hand has caught Marty's fist. Also doubles as Schmuck Bait.
  • Lost in Translation: Most of the humor relating the fact the time machine is a crappy car for Americans is lost for foreign ones as that brand was never exported outside the U.S. since the company went bankrupt in 1982 so many foreign audiences got puzzled when Doc Brown explained about why a DeLorean, a modern car, could lose a duel against a very old car.
    • In the Italian version, for some reason unknown to mankind the Flux Capacitor got mistranslated as "flusso canalizzatore", which roughly means "channeling flux" and has almost nothing to do with the original name; however, in the third movie, Doc's letter talks about the broken "condensatore di flusso", which is an exact translation of "flux capacitor"; the Italian audience was never able to understand what this "condensatore di flusso" was and why would it be of any importance.
  • Mad Scientist: Emmett Brown is the poster child for this trope, but only when he's inventing or planning; because of great writing it's just one facet of his character. He can also be quite lucid and/or calm.
  • Malaproper:
    • Biff Tannen: "Make like a tree and get out of here!" Lampshaded by none other than the Biff Tannen from 2015: "You sound like a damn fool when you say it wrong!"
    • In the now-closed theme park ride, 1955 Biff uses marbles to trip up the security staff coming after him and gleefully quips "Have a nice trip, see you next winter!" As he runs off, one of the fallen men says "It's 'see you next fall'!"
    • Biff thinks pointing out his malapropisms is about as funny as a screen door on a battleship!note 
    • Buford Tannen in Part III is also prone to this:
    Buford: (to Marty) Eight o'clock Monday, runt! If you ain't here, I'll hunt you and shoot you down like a duck!
    Gang Member: It's dog, Buford. Shoot him down like a dog.
  • Meaningful Name: The strict Strickland family line (and how!).
    • Possibly the name of the town. Hill Valley is an oxymoron which might be intentional given the theme of paradoxes and time loops. However many American towns are named for prominent individuals or families. Hill is a fairly common American surname so it’s possible the town in the Valley was simply named for someone named Hill.
  • Men Act, Women Are: With the exception of 1955 Lorraine in Part I, female characters are only there to serve as Satellite Love Interests and victims to male characters. In fact, they had to basically write around Jennifer Parker because she was brought to the future in the end of the first film, but when they actually started making the second film they realized they did not know what to do with her. Rather then Retcon her away, they solved this problem by making her stay sedated for much of the 2015 scenes. See the entry under The Load.
  • "Mister Sandman" Sequence: The Trope Namer, at least once in each movie, after Marty arrives in a new time period. It is to show what Hill Valley looks like in 1885, 1955, or 2015.
  • Model Planning: A Running Gag. Doc Brown builds elaborate models of city blocks or canyons to demonstrate his plans to Marty, then apologizes for "the crudity of the model". It also catches on fire, repeatedly.
    Marty: You're really instilling me with a lot of confidence, Doc.
  • My Car Hates Me: The DeLorean has a tendency to fall into disrepair at the exact moment Marty lands in another time period. Sometimes, however, justified: in the first movie, the plutonium needed to power the flux capacitor isn't available, and in the third movie, the fuel line is damaged during an Indian pursuit and the gasoline leaks out, which the car needs to accelerate. The DeLorean's habit of stalling in the middle of a road has prevented possible time paradoxes: In the original movie, Marty is forced to disguise the car behind a billboard, being unable to drive it openly through 1955 Hill Valley. By stalling right before the final run towards the clock tower it delayed Marty about 30 seconds; if he had started driving when the alarm went off he would have beat the lightning bolt and been stuck in the past for the rest of his life. At the end of the film, the DeLorean stalls again, preventing Marty from interrupting the shootout at Lone Pine Mall (thus avoiding direct contact with his past self).
  • Newspaper Dating: Marty in 1955 and 1985-A, Doc in 2015.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Oh so very much. It seems like poor Marty can't go long without accidentally making the timeline worse thus requiring the need to undo the damage. "Saving" George from being hit by the car in Part I and buying the Sports Almanac in Part II were probably the worst cases. Not to mention any time Marty loses it whenever he gets called "chicken", which ends up making most situations twenty times worse.
  • Nobody Calls Me "Chicken"!: Marty's besetting flaw is that he'll do anything rather than be called chicken.
  • Noodle Incident: Uhm, Uncle Joey. It's never revealed on film just why he's in prison, although a commemorative cover of USA Today released in 2015 (as in the actual date) suggested it was racketeering. (Not likely something that would cause a parole board to reject twelve attempts at parole.)
    • Justified: when Marty meets Uncle Joey as an infant, he's told that Joey loves being in the playpen and cries if let out. Apparently he likes being kept behind bars. Given that, it's likely he's sabotaging his own parole, consciously or otherwise, because he wants to stay in jail.
    Marty: Better get used to these bars, kid.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: Outside of the iconic Universal Studios clocktower square set, "Hill Valley" is a mix of various SoCal communities. The zip code on Marty's fax is the same as Caspar, California.
  • No Man Should Have This Power: Doc Brown repeatedly promises to himself to destroy his own time-traveling technology, which finally happens at the end of Part III. (And then it almost immediately turns out that he had built a new one.)

    Tropes O-Z 
  • Odd Friendship: Marty is a skateboarding high schooler whose family is whack and Doc's an eccentric scientist. According to Bob Gale, Marty sneaked into Doc's garage lab and Doc found him fascinated by his work, befriending the youth.
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Doc Brown. He even identifies himself a "student of all sciences" in the third movie.
  • Once per Episode: All films have Marty being chased by a Tannen, a Tannen covered in manure, Marty thinking it was All Just a Dream, Marty being woken up by his mother (or a matriarchal ancestor) from an unfamiliar time period, Doc experiencing a Disney Death near the end, an establishing shot of Hill Valley...
    • The clock tower scene.
    • Doc has the closing line for each film. In Part I, he tells Marty "Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads.", in Part II, the 1955 Doc says "Great Scott!" when he encounters Marty just after sending the Marty from the first film back to 1985, and in Part III, he says "Nope, already been there." when Marty asks whether he's going back to the future.
  • One-Steve Limit: There are three guys named "Joey" in the trilogy: Marty's uncle, one of Biff's cronies (nicknamed Skinhead), and the bartender's assistant in Part III.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Michael J. Fox's Canadian accent sometimes slips in as Marty.
  • Our Time Machine Is Different: Because it is a car, and a cool one at that.
    • The time-traveling steam locomotive at the end of Part III, which also flies!
  • Percussive Maintenance: Marty bashes his head against the DeLorean's steering wheel when it refuses to start. At this, the ignition miraculously turns on. Doc is also seen giving his timer readout a whack in Part II when it flickers "1885"; he becomes stranded in that time period when lightning strikes the car.
  • Pick on Someone Your Own Size: Tom Wilson jokingly described the Tannen clan as evil incarnate, though that's not far off. Biff has tried to kill Marty twice, once in the past and again in an alternate reality. Buford spent an entire movie hunting him for no particular reason, really. Biff also attempted to rape Lorraine in the first film, and it's implied he's done much, much worse to her in the 1985A timeline, where she's demonstrating classic abuse victim behaviors.
  • Pimped-Out Car: Doc made a time machine out of a car, and later a train, not to mention the flying abilities.
  • Post–Wake-Up Realization: A Running Gag in the trilogy is Marty getting knocked out, thinking It Was All Just A Dream, and then suddenly getting startled awake when Lorraine or Maggie tells Marty that he's now safe and sound in 1955/on the 25th floor/on the McFly farm.
    Marty: I dreamed that I went back in time.
  • The Power of Love: Powerful enough to defeat Temporal Paradoxes, apparently.
  • Pretty in Mink: In the first two films, there is a girl wearing a white rabbit fur shoulder wrap among the crowd gathering around a knocked-out Biff. This is notable for a couple reasons. One is that the actress is different in the two films, first a brunette and then a blonde. The second is in the first film she is amazed George finally stood up for himself, while in the second she's just in the background due to the point of view shift.
  • Prince Charming Wannabe: Biff with Lorraine in Part I and Part II.
  • Product Placement: Abound in the series. Often well-integrated into Fish out of Temporal Water situations.
    • Plenty from Pepsi, to the point it's amazing they didn't try to work it into Part 3 (other than a Pepsi-Cola logo being seen on the DeLorean's 1955 hood box, as well as a Pepsi billboard in the drive-in scene). For a really good example, watch the scene between Marty and George just after the "Darth Vader" scene... notice that Michael J. Fox never completely covers the logo of his Pepsi bottle. Also, the writers had to fight to keep the "give me a Tab" gag in the first movie, because Pepsi didn't want Marty mentioning another company's soda. The futuristic Pepsi glass in Part II makes it look awfully good, though
    • Ditto from JC Penney, which gets shown at least three times of the trilogy.
    • Mattel and Nike get mentions in Part II.
    • Doc Brown's JVC camcorder. Also, if you look closely, Marty Jr. and Marlene's phone visors have a JVC logo on the arms.
    • An interesting case for Frisbee in Part III; modern audiences will notice the Shout-Out to modern Frisbees with the pie tin, but Frisbie brand pies are still around as well.
    • "Boy oh boy, Mom, you sure can hydrate a pizza." Yes, Lorraine, hydrate that Pizza Hut pizza in the Black & Decker hydrator. On a side note, Pizza Hut (at the time of production) was owned by Pepsi.
    • Mr. Fusion is a riff on Mr. Coffee, one of those ubiquitous Eighties/Nineties appliances that nobody owns anymore. Alternatively, it could reference Mr. Transmission, an auto repair chain primarily in the South, but with franchises in California.
    • A copy of USA Today is featured prominently as a Ripple Effect Indicator in Part II.
      • On October 22, 2015, USA Today reproduced the first version of the front page from Part II and wrapped it around the actual edition. The entire section "below the fold" is made up, as this was not visible in the movie; otherwise there were three changes: the price of the newspaper is the actual price (2 dollars) rather than 6 dollars as in the movie, and two references to "Queen Diana" were removed and replaced with other headlines, due to the Real Life death of Princess Diana in 1997 (not to mention the fact that Queen Elizabeth II was still the queen in 2015, as in both 1955 and 1985). The impossible headline "Cubs Sweep Series in 5" (a sweep would be four wins and no losses, which was what the Mets had just done to the Cubs the day before for the pennant), was retained, however.
    • "Thank you for using AT&T."
    • The local Texaco station catches Marty's attention in 1955 when an army of servicemen come out to take care of one car. In 2015, Marty gawks at a giant robot operating the station. The producers have noted that Shell actually offered more money but as their logo didn't change significantly between 1955 and 1985 the offer was declined in favor of Texaco.
    • Forget West Point. To master firearms, visit your local 7-Eleven. Foreign dubs reference Disneyland instead.
    • The producers also put a Zale's Jewelry ad onto a Courthouse Square bench in Part I, and Zale's neon signs in the 50s scenes of both Part I and Part II. This was done mostly as a play on the names Zemeckis and Gale.
    • The first piece of audio heard in the first movie is an ad for a Toyota dealer, which plays on Doc's radio. In 1955, this dealer instead sold Studebakers. In 2015, the dealer was selling Pontiac (which no longer existed by Real Life 2015).
    • During the pre-production of the first movie, someone negotiated an endorsement deal with the state of California's Raisin board that Back to the Future could do for raisins what ET had done for Reese's Pieces. He came back and told the writing staff that they needed Marty to habitually eat raisins throughout the film. The execution kept getting scaled back until the final inclusion of raisins was a single poster on the park bench the drunk is sleeping on when Marty returns to 1985. The California Raisin board was not happy and demanded their money back.
    • A number of these instances were invoked, specifically the producers choosing brands whose 1955 logos were very different from their 1985 counterparts.
    • Western Union will deliver a packet precisely when and where you ask. Even if it takes 70 years!
    • An aversion whereas Mustang tried to get in on it only for the producers to fight for keeping the DeLorean.
  • The Professor: Doc Brown
  • Race Against the Clock: The clock tower finale for Part I reappears in both sequels, and Part III tries to outdo it with its own take.
  • Recurring Location: Courthouse Square
  • Recurring Riff: Each moment that something happens that changes time for the better (for example, when George defeats Biff and Lorraine falls in love with him, or when Marty retrieves the Sports Almanac with his hover-board) the series Leitmotif music signals the event.
  • Reformed Bully: Biff is a subverted example in the best timeline. He never becomes a great guy, but years of being under George's thumb have made him give up his meanest habits. However, him calling Marty "butthead" before he recognized him in the third film, and the behavior of his older self in the second might cast doubt on whether he's reformed or just scared of George.
  • Removed Achilles' Heel: Initially, the first version of the DeLorean required literal plutonium to generate enough electricity to power the time circuits while the car stalls on Marty at very inopportune times. A later trip to 2015 where Doc got the hover conversion for the DeLorean also had him buy a Mr. Fusion energy converter, allowing him to simply use trash instead of plutonium, the stalling issue is apparently fixed (as Marty or Doc seem to have no more problems revving it up to life) and the hover circuits allows it to travel anywhere without road issues (At least until the third movie, where the hover circuits got fried and brought back the road issue). Eventually the Time Train simply used steam.
  • Rescue Romance: George and Lorraine in Part I and Part II; Doc and Clara in Part III.
  • Rhyme Theme Naming: Expanded universe materials suggests that Biff Tannen has a daughter named Tiff (short for Tiffany) as well as two brothers named Riff and Cliff.
  • Ripple Effect Indicator: Varies by movie. Marty himself in Part I, newspapers in Part II, the tombstone in Part III.
  • Ripple-Effect-Proof Memory: Traveling through time in the DeLorean seems to shield Doc and Marty from changes in the timeline (even when not currently in the thing when an alteration occurs) for the most part, but not quite enough against things that would cause them to cease to exist entirely.
  • Rube Goldberg Device: Used by Doc in both Part I and Part III.
  • Rule of Cool: Doc made his time machine out of a DeLorean out of style. He does begin to mention that there was a reason based on the car's stainless steel construction, but is cut off before he can fully explain it.
  • Running Gag:
    • It doesn't matter what Marty and Doc do to the timeline for good or ill, Lorraine's brother Joey will end up a jailbird.
    • Marty gets rendered unconscious, then wakes up to someone who isn't the mother he knows.
    • Marty seems to wake up assuming he's at home with his mother. And of course always thinks it was All Just a Dream. Then comes a Wham Line and he snaps awake, parroting the words that registered as jarring.
      • Unlike his mother in the first two movies, Marty's ancestor Margret was startled when he shot out of bed.
    • And he sleeps in a ridiculous position.
    • The Tannen name will be forever associated with open-top cars rear-ending manure trucks or simply taking a stumble into a manure pile, and yelling "SHIIIIIIIIIIIT!" when the brown disaster is imminent.
    • Doc Brown repeatedly falling over at the most bizarre times.
    • Marty's inability to get the fashions of the period right. Taken to the extreme with the cowboy outfit in Part III. To be fair, in Part III the clothes are picked by 1955 Doc, and even Marty questions their authenticity.
    • Whenever Marty finds himself in a new era or timeline, he can't resist walking aimlessly through the town square gawking, usually wandering right in front of an oncoming car (or carriage).
    • Marty screaming helplessly as he enters into the a new time period because the DeLorean is often almost always about to crash into something upon arrival.
    • For that matter, the DeLorean crashing or nearly crashing into something almost every single time we see it arrive in a new time. Throughout the entire trilogy, there's only one instance where it doesn't happen.
    • Recurring family businesses, like the Jones manure truck.
    • The Hill Valley clock tower is featured in each movie, sometimes pivotal to the story. In chronological order:
      • Part III shows its construction in progress in 1885, where Marty and Doc Brown appear in an antique photo by the clock face before it gets mounted. Said clock also designates 8:00 A.M. at the climax of the movie.
      • In Part I, during 1955, a fateful lightning bolt struck it and rendered it inoperable. This bolt was used to return Marty to the future.
      • Finally, in Part II, the tower has been renovated and restored to functionality as a respected landmark following the success of the petition, with a beautiful glass exterior. Until moronic Griff Tannen smashes through it on his hover-board like a bull in a china shop and receives the "I was framed!" headline in USA Today paper.
    • The DeLorean continually breaks down and requires something to get it back to 1985.
    • Freak lightning strikes causing things to stop working.
    • The repeated appearances of the prematurely balding and irate Principal Gerald Strickland acting as the rigid authority figure, calling people, "Slackers!" In the third movie, his ancestor takes his place, minus the catchphrase.
    • Marty sneaking around and then getting hurt in a way that would cause him to audibly scream, and he has to hold his tongue.
    • Clint Eastwood movies and the usage of a bulletproof vest.
    • Marty going by a ridiculous alias in each past time period, always someone far too notable in the present to be a watertight alias.
    • Marty's egotistic nature getting the better of him at the slightest hint of being called cowardly, always luring him into making a huge mistake. Thankfully, he gets over it. Ironically, his father starts off as timid until learning to be assertive, which later saves the McFly family from taking a lot of crap and going down the tubes. On the opposite end of things, Marty's future son is even more irrational and plucky, so the hot-blooded streak grows with each generation.
    • A member of the Tannen family walking into the saloon/cafe, calling out at McFly, and saying "I thought I told you never to come in here." Inverted with Grif in Part II, where Grif tells him to stay in the cafe instead.
    • Marty never gets to even take a sip at whatever drink he ordered. In the first movie, he was about to but noticed George left; Part II, he couldn't get the futuristic Pepsi bottle open; and Part III, the drink the bartender gave him appears to be smoking.
  • Say My Name: Doc and Marty do tons of this throughout the movies. And regardless of the decade, or even the century, Marty will be addressed by a Tannen with "Hey, McFly!!"
    • Even middle-aged Marty isn't free of this. He attempts to run a scam on his own company, only to find his irate boss lying in wait. "MACH FRY!!!"
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Time travel needs 1.21 gigawatts — the only source of which is supposedly plutonium or a lightning bolt. A lightning bolt actually generates three whole orders of magnitude more power, peaking at just over one terawatt, and plutonium fission is a possible, but extremely roundabout and expensive way of getting energy (you'd be much better of running a reactor that can get that kind of power from plutonium on uranium).
  • Screw Destiny: Prevalent throughout the series as Marty and Doc change reality by time-traveling, but comes to a head two times. First, Doc, despite his misgivings, has his life saved - twice - by knowing how and when he is going to die, and Marty narrowly avoids a crippling accident that would change his life forever, thus changing the future they had just worked to save to the one we have now. At the very end of the trilogy, Doc says that it proves that there's no such thing as fate. Although the point about Marty avoiding his accident is less Screw Destiny and more learning a lesson while in the past/future and avoiding the situation on his own.
  • Second Episode Morning: Numerous examples, including the "Mom, is that you?" scenes.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: A major theme in the trilogy.
  • Shout-Out: Tons throughout the series.
    • Two to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: Doc owns dogs named after famous scientists (Copernicus in 1955, Einstein in 1985), just like how Caractacus Potts owns a dog named after a famous inventor (Edison). And they both make flying vehicles. The time machine train in Part III even sprouts wings like Chitty.
    • Another Chitty shout-out is how they both have breakfast-making machines in Part I and Part III.
    • The Y-shaped flux capacitor was designed to resemble an upside-down Oscillation Overthruster.
    • Similarly, the DeLorean's requirement for 88 MPH was meant to resemble the Banzai Institute logo.
  • Signature Team Transport: Doc Brown's DeLorean for him and Marty, of course. And later, his time-traveling train for his whole family.
  • The Slow Path: The DeLorean between Part II and Part III. Also the letter Doc wrote to Marty explaining the situation.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Very optimistic. Even the Darker and Edgier Part II is mainly idealistic overall.
  • Slipping into Stink: This is a bit of a Running Gag of the series, as usually, whenever Marty tangles with a Tannen, manure will be involved in some fashion.
    • In the first movie Back to the Future, Marty cause Biff and his gang to crash into a manure truck and dump the contents on Biff's convertible.
    • In the second movie Back to the Future Part II, Marty manages it again, this time distracting Biff long enough to get the Almanac back that he once more crashes into a manure truck. The same one from the first movie to boot, meaning in the context of the 50's timeline, it happened twice in one week.
    • In the third movie Back to the Future Part III, Marty defeats Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen by punching him out and causing him to fall on a manure wagon.
  • Snowball Lie: Doc and Marty are the undisputed masters of using this technique to preserve their cover, causing people to believe they're their alias' names rather than their actual ones. Marty, for instance, claims he's Clint Eastwood when Maggie McFly and Buford asks for his name. This causes everyone in 1885 Hill Valley to think he's Clint Eastwood to the point where they even rename a ravine after him.
  • The Sociopath: Biff is likely this, desiring to have Lorraine for himself while being very egoistical about it at the same time. In Part II he's abusive to her and the younger McFlys in the alternate 1985.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: Doc is comfortable with technobabble but also fluidly adapts Marty's vernacular whenever appropriate.
  • Spear Carrier: Red the Bum, who calls Marty a "crazy drunk driver" towards the end of Part I, and a "crazy drunk pedestrian" in the alternate 1985 in Part II.
  • Stable Time Loop: Interestingly, according to Word of Godinvoked, as a general rule of thumb, the past is never "already altered" (hence the inclusion of You Already Changed the Past below). So officially, if it seems like a time traveler has become the cause of something that already existed, he has merely replaced that cause, possibly using information gained from the result of a cause that now never happened. So originally, Clint Eastwood and Chuck Berry were truly original, Goldie Wilson came up with the idea to run for mayor himself, there wasn't a strange sequence of events at the 1955 school dance (let alone two), and Doc Brown was killed by Libyans. Then Marty happened.

    It's best explained, as the filmmakers do, by paying careful attention to the Clocktower. In the original timeline the stone ledge under the clock is perfectly intact only for it to be broken when Doc climbs up there during the climax. The ledge is broken in all subsequent appearances. So yes, there was an original timeline that Marty erased through his actions in the past.
  • Stock Sound Effects: BTTF loves Castle Thunder, especially in the first two instalments. It appears literally dozens of times, mixed in different ways, during the big Clock Tower Finale.
  • Take That!: Biff Tannen and the Tannen family are named after then-Universal Studios executive Ned Tanen, who gave the Bobs a hard time during the making of their previous movie I Wanna Hold Your Hand.
  • Tap on the Head: Marty is knocked out by a physical blow in all three movies, and wakes up fine each time.
  • Technicolor Science: The lightning bolt that struck Hill Valley's clocktower is light blue. Real life lightning is blue-white and sometimes pink.
  • Techno Babble: Lampshaded. "English, Doc!"
  • That Was Not a Dream: Once in all three films. In each one Marty gets knocked out and comes to in a dark room being nursed to health by a woman he thinks is the mother he knows, believing his recent hardships were a nightmare. The woman inevitably reassures him in a way that tells Marty (and the audience) that it actually wasn't a dream.
  • Theme Naming: Doc's dogs are named after famous scientists.
  • Thermal Dissonance: Although the DeLorean makes time jumps with a loud explosion and leaves fiery trails, its outer surface comes out of them extremely cold. If the air is humid, it promptly gets covered in ice.
  • Time Is Dangerous: The DeLorean has to be traveling at 88 miles per hour. Which means that unless you know what's going to be in front of you when you arrive in the new timeline, you're going to crash. By the third 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. (Which wouldn't prevent something else being there by coincidence. Like, say, real Indians on horses instead of a billboard painted with Indians....)
  • Time Travel: Of course, except the Time Machine is made of a DeLorean that needs plutonium (later trash) to power its reactor to generate 1.21 gigawatts of power to power the time circuits and a speed of 88 miles per hour.
  • Time Travel for Fun and Profit: Doc is the former, Marty and Biff seem to be the latter. Though Marty quickly gives up on the latter after Doc catches him red-handed and sermonizes him.
  • Title Drop: It's done several times throughout the course of the trilogy. In fact, it's become so common for Doc and/or Marty to drop the title that it's practically become a Catchphrase / Borrowed Catchphrase.
  • Toilet Humour: All members of the Tannen family have a custom of crashing with manure trucks.
  • Toxic Friend Influence: Marty's "friend" Needles. Pretty much everything bad that happened to Marty in the original future was because of him. Although it's never stated that they're friends.
  • Two-Part Trilogy:
    • Although the first movie ends on a definite Sequel Hook, it can be clearly be enjoyed by itself. The second, however, ends on a clear Cliffhanger that obviously requires a third movie in order to be resolved. Marty's "chicken" problem was also added for the sequels, as well as nemesis Douglas "Flea" Needles. Justified in that the second and third part were originally intended to be a single movie. And even after the split, they were still filmed back-to-back.
    • Story-wise, however, it is somewhat of an inversion, as Part II & III are both quite distinct from each other. Part II (especially during the second half) ties in strongly with the first film, while Part III is more or less a separate story that just uses the events of the previous films to get things going. Parts II and III, especially, are self-contained stories with beginnings, middles, and ends, which pay back and forward to the other Parts as necessary. While you need to watch Part III to get the resolution to the cliffhanger ending of Part II (how does Marty get back to 1985 from 1955 when the DeLorean is in 1885, and how does he convince a now-unconscious 1955 Doc Brown to help him do so), the main conflict of Part II (stopping Biff's bad 1985 from happening) has been resolved satisfactorily. Similarly, the main conflict in Part I (how does Marty get back to 1985 the first time he got stuck in 1955) is resolved, with Part II only answering the question of "What's going on with Marty and Jennifer's kids that requires their intervention in the future?" Part III goes on to tell its own story (how Marty and Doc escape 1885 without either of them dying by Buford Tannen's gun), with only its denouement serving to wrap up loose plot threads from the remainder of the series (Marty's car accident, what happens to Doc and Clara).
  • Uncanny Family Resemblance: Both the McFlys and Tannens have this across the board. The Stricklands do too.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Zigzagged in all three movies. In the climax of all three films, Doc creates an elaborate plan to get Marty and/or himself out of whatever time travel trouble they find themselves in, which the audience is told in great detail by Doc. In all three films, something goes wrong, but the plan ultimately works out.
    • In the first film, Doc's plan to use the clock tower's lightning bolt is almost undone when the cable is broken apart by a tree branch falling on it, as well as the engine to the time machine dying. Marty manages to get the car restarted, and 1955 Doc just barely gets the cables reconnected just as the lightning bolt strikes. Turns out 1955 Doc's timing was off, anyways.
    • The second film plays with this more. The plan boils down to "don't interfere in 1955 events until we can avoid a Time Paradox," and that plan works as stated. It just takes a lot longer with a lot more close calls than Marty and Doc would have liked.
    • The final film spells out the plan to use a train to push the time machine up to 88 miles per hour, which almost fails when Clara nearly becomes a Spanner in the Works after coming back to give Doc an Anguished Declaration of Love. Doc saves her from falling off the train, but misses out on climbing into the time machine, meaning Marty goes back to 1985 alone.
  • Vague Age:
    • Doc's age in 1955 and 1985 is never mentioned in the films. The fact that Christopher Lloyd looks exactly the same in both time frames doesn't help. He must be in his 80s in 1985. Fairly hilarious in that his age is referenced in Part II (with his "old" mask removal and his comments about having work done), so he didn't have to wear makeup. Yes, he really was given an age-up for the original 1985. Lloyd just has that old puppy dog face no matter what his age, apparently.
    • The Telltale game establishes that Doc was 17 in 1931, making him 41 in 1955 and 71 in 1985.
  • Villain Decay: Actually invoked with Biff. In the first film, he goes from being George McFly's bullying co-worker to the family's submissive mechanic, all because of George's punch in the 1950s. He got more vicious again in the sequel but went back to being subservient by the end of the third movie.
  • Waking Up Elsewhere: In each film, Marty gets knocked out, briefly thinks his time travelling was a dream, then realizes that a maternal ancestor is taking care of his injuries.
  • What a Piece of Junk: The historical DeLorean could be described real life example of The Alleged Car. The fact that Doc took one, turned it into a time machine, and then added all sorts of other features to it like flight, a miniature reactor that converts garbage into fuel, and the ability to move at 88 miles per hour, turned it into the most awesome car imaginable.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: A stock DMC DeLorean only got about 130 horsepower. It would go 0-60 in about a day and a half. That, of course, is before you dump a fission reactor in the back seat, with the requisite lead shielding to keep everyone inside from dying of a radiation overdose, easily doubling the weight of the car. So the notion that the car ever got up to 88 mph is hilarious.
  • Zeerust: Happens both in- and out-of-universe:
    • In-universe, 1950s-Doc makes a series of hilariously bad predictions about the future.
      Doc: "What on Earth is that thing I'm wearing?" (referring to the radiation suit he was wearing in the 1980s film to protect him from the Flux Capacitor)
      Marty: "A radiation suit"
      Doc: "Of course! Because of all the fallout from the atomic wars!"
      Doc: "I'm sure that in 1985, plutonium is available in every corner drugstore, but in 1955, it's a little hard to come by."
    • Out-of-universe, we get to see what the film's creators envisioned for 2015. It, um... looks a little bit different than how things actually turned out. Word of Godinvoked has it that an over-the-top, comedic portrayal of the future was deliberate, as productions of this type inevitably date. However, some of the cars from the 2015 segments are actually quite close to what was actually around in 2015 (although mostly as high-performance sports cars instead of everyday family cars, and some prototype concept cars).


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Back To The Future


BttF 2 [School Dance]

Back to the Future 2 (1989): After a series of complicated events, Marty finds himself back at the school dance during the events of the first movie to retrieve a future sports almanac from 1950's Biff. Just as he grabs it however, he runs into Biff's goons who follow him into the dance hall. They mistake his first film self for him as he's playing on stage, thus the present Marty has to stop them from hurting his first film self and causing a paradox.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / BackToTheEarlyInstallment

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