The 21 Best Back To The Future References You Probably Didn’t Catch

21 best back to the future references
credit: Universal

To me, it’s the best movie ever made. Of course, there are movies with better acting, better cinematography, better special effects, etc etc. Yes there’ are a lot of issues with the concept of time travel but unless this is Neil deGrasse Tyson reading this, back off nerds. But for a movie to really make an impact, it has to have all the right elements combined, and come out at the right time.

That’s what happened with Back to the Future.

This is a look back on the greatest movie ever and the 21 best Back to the Future references you probably didn’t catch (but some you probably did)

Getting Back To The Future To The Big Screen

Back to the Future tells the story of a young guy named Marty who accidentally gets transported back in time and…

*cue record scratch*

If you honestly need me to summarize Back to the Future, you are at the wrong blog. If somehow this movie is new to you you need to do me a favor: Go watch it around 63 times so it becomes a part of your psyche and then check back in here.

Since you are an avid fan I don’t need to go over any of the plot or discuss how the time travel might not be accurate. What we’re going to do instead is look at the real nuts and bolts of this movie and then some obvious – and not so obvious – things you may not have caught throughout the movie. 

I’ve seen this movie that adequate 63 times and I just noticed some new things the last time I watched it. O.K let’s take a look at a few of the numbers surrounding Back to the Future:

  • It opened on the July fourth weekend in 1985 debuted on July 3rd (shout out Stranger Things for its inclusion this year – check out my whole Stranger Things season 3 review)
  • It was filmed in just 10 weeks
  • It was the number one movie for 1985 among other huge hits like Rambo, Rocky IV, The Color Purple, Cocoon, The Goonies, The Breakfast Club, A View to a Kill, and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure – yowza
  • It was number one for 11 weeks making $210 million in North America and $380 million worldwide on a budget of only $19 million – converted for today it earned around $500 million and $900 million, respectively
  • The budget was only going to be $14 million but after having to recast Stoltz; it added another $3 million just for that
  • It was nominated for three Academy Awards and four Golden Globes
  • It was finally dethroned as number 1 by National Lampoons European Vacation

How Different Could Back To The Future Have Been?

Blu-Ray excerpt

So that’s a few of the interesting stats surrounding the movie, but the one big thing that is often overlooked is how late to the production Michael J. Fox joined. He was their original choice but wasn’t able to make things work due to his commitment to Family Ties. The actor they went with was named Eric Stoltz, and he didn’t just fill in – they basically had the whole movie done with him.

Apparently, 80% of the movie was filmed until they figured it just wasn’t capturing the tone they wanted. Stoltz was a great actor but didn’t have that comedic sense they wanted, thus creating an entirely different dynamic for the movie. They had progressed so far with the filming that Tom Wilson – who plays Biff – talks about how they were discussing the next projects they would be working on – that’s how almost complete the movie was. 

But then they had to make the tough call to fire him from the movie and luckily, Michael J. Fox was available. It’s crazy to think about how this could have been a much different movie tone-wise, and it would be amazing to see it with Stoltz in it to see what that dynamic would have been like. 

If you don’t know who Eric Stoltz is, he played Rocky Dennis in the movie Mask and he actually may still be in the version of Back to the Future we all know…The scene of Marty diving into the Delorean in the mall parking lot is thought to actually be Stoltz. Take a look at the footage and see what you think. Thomas Wilson also mentions that the fists grabbing his collar in the cafe are actually Stoltz’s and not Michael J. Fox.

So now let’s look at 21 things you may, or may not, have missed. This is in no particular order but I’ll number them either way.

21. Twin Pines Mall/Lone Pine Mall

This is one of the most obvious references but there are some people still unaware of this so I’m going to include it, anyway. To me, it’s the most important Easter egg in the film and is one of those pivotal parts of time travel where the past can change future events.

When Marty first meets doc at the start of the movie they meet at the Twin Pines Mall which is actually the Puente Hills Mall in the City of Industry, California. It’s named Twin Pines Mall because of the man who owned all the land there: “Old Man Peabody” (who seems to be named after Mr. Peabody from Mr. Peabody & Sherman the time-traveling duo in Rocky and Bullwinkle. The sons named isn’t mentioned but guess who he’s credited as; Sherman).

He has a fixation with pine trees and when Marty escapes from their farm you see him run over one of two pines in the front yard of their house – assumingly leaving just one pine tree left. When Marty returns to the future and has to run to the mall to try to save Doc, we see that the mall is now called “Lone Pine Mall”. A simple easter egg but an amazing part of the movie. 

20. The Atomic Kid

The Atomic Kid was a real movie, and it’s playing at the Hill Valley Town Theatre in 1955 when Marty goes back in time. This is an interesting movie choice to display because of its connection to BTTF, science, and science-fiction movies.

The Atomic Kid starred Mickey Rooney as a uranium prospector who has accidentally stumbled upon a nuclear test site. This is kind of like a superhero origin story because he is able to survive the blast of an atomic bomb and then inherits strange powers after being irradiated. 

It’s a great choice as a reference for the connection between uranium and plutonium and also the connection to earlier versions of Back to the Future. Before they landed on the Delorean for the time machine, there was debate over how Marty would be able to travel through time.

They played around with the idea of using a refrigerator but then there was the fear that kids might start locking themselves in their fridges. We weren’t going to do that though after having the crap scared out of us by that Punky Brewster Episode.

One of their other solutions, before the Delorean, and the clock tower lightning, was that to get Marty back to the future they would need to harness the energy from an Atomic bomb testing site. So this is a nice reference that connects much of the story and history of Back to the Future.

19. Goldie Wilson

Remember me saying how I just noticed something for the first time when I most recently watched Back to the Future? This is it – so feel free to rip the crap out of me. Blame it on crappier VHS copies of the movie we had to watch growing up, but seeing it on Blu-Ray, I never noticed that Goldie Wilson has an actual gold tooth.

Obviously, this is where he got his name from and I thank the HD gods for revealing this clarity. It also explains why in 1985 Mayor Goldie Wilson is using the same campaign style as mayor Red Thomas from 1955. After Marty accidentally slips in 1955 about how Goldie will be mayor, he must have noticed the campaigning of Red Thomas and carried that in his mind to when he would first run for office. 

18. Docs Shirt

I recently just noticed this but at the start of the movie when we first see Doc at Twin Pines Mall, he’s wearing a white lab suit but underneath is a brown button-up Hawaiian-type shirt. It’s also the same shirt he’s wearing when he and Marty go into the high school in 1955, and he’s wearing it again in the new 1985 in the parking lot. He really stuck with that shirt over the years…

17. Ruth’s Frock Shop

Some stores in Hill Valley don’t seem that visible but they do carry over between parts 1 and 2. In Back to the Future part 2, we see Lorraine come out of Ruth’s Frock Shop where she has bought the pink dress that we’ll see her wear to the Enchantment Under the Sea dance. This is the scene where Biff has just got his car back and it always felt to me like it’s a part of downtown Hill Valley we hadn’t seen before.

But Ruth’s Frock Shop is visible in the original Back to the Future behind Marty after he has pulled the newspaper out of the garbage can. 

16. The Hanging Man

Apologies if this is another obvious one, but I wanted to point out a few of the obvious references in case you hadn’t caught them.

In the opening scene – within the first few seconds – we get a spoiler alert for how the movie is going to go. As the camera pans through all the different clocks in Doc’s lab, we see one where there is a man hanging off one of the number hands.

This is actually actor Harold Lloyd from the movie Safety Last. This movie is from 1923 but perfectly foreshadows Doc hanging from the clock tower when trying to get Marty back to 1985. There’s no connection between Harold Lloyd and Christopher Lloyd who played Doc, but it’s an amazing inclusion in the film. 

15. The Edward Van Halen Cassette

In the scene where “Darth Vader” visits George McFly when he’s sleeping, we see Marty put in an Edward Van Halen cassette into his Walkman. But why wasn’t this just a normal Van Halen album?

It turns out that Van Halen wouldn’t give any rights to use their music, but Eddie Van Halen would. Since they couldn’t use a specific song, Eddie Van Halen admitted in 2012 that he just created a crazy guitar rift noise that would work perfectly for the scene.

This makes sense as I and many others were always trying to find that song and wondered what it was. 

BONUS FACT: You would need to see the deleted scenes to catch this one, but the hairdryer that “Darth Vader” is using in this scene, is actually Doc’s from 1985. In this deleted scene, we see Doc Brown in 1955 going through the suitcase that Doc Brown in 1985 put in the Delorean (with the cotton underwear as he’s allergic to all synthetics).

In the suitcase, we see this hairdryer that Marty will soon use and this type of hairdryer would not have existed in the 50s.

14. The Original Biff Tannen?

Again, this movie could have had a very different feel. Not only was Michael J. Fox not the original choice for Marty, but Thomas Wilson also wasn’t even the original choice for Biff. It seems impossible to picture anyone else but Wilson playing the character but the original choice was going to be J. J. Cohen. 

The decided that Cohen just wasn’t physically imposing enough and Wilson was cast to replace him. Cohen is still in the movie though and plays the skinhead in Biff’s little gang. Also, the name Tannen is reportedly a reference to Ned Tanen who is a studio executive behind some pretty big movies:

  • Jaws
  • Smokey and the Bandit 1 and 2
  • The Blues Brothers
  • Sixteen Candles
  • The Breakfast Club
  • Crocodile Dundee
  • Top Gun
  • Ghost

He also was involved with American Graffiti and apparently isn’t the nicest person in the world. Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future creators) had once had a script meeting with him that didn’t go well, and thus the impetus for the Biff Tannen name (they obviously changed the spelling of the last name though). 

13. CRM 114?

When Marty is in Docs garage at the start of the movie and hooking up to the amp, you see a bunch of different dials and gauges. On one of the dials, you see CRM 114. This is a nod to the Stanley Kubrick movie Dr. Strangeglove, and it was a fictional piece of radio equipment on the B-52 bomber.

It was called the C.R.M. 114 distributor and the destruction of it (in Dr. Strangeglove) prevents The B-52 crew from hearing the recall code that would stop them from dropping the hydrogen bombs on the soviets.

This is interesting too as the destruction of the CRM 114 amp in Back to the Future nearly prevents Marty from missing the phone call from Doc – and he may never have ended up meeting him at the mall…

12. Ma, The Meatloaf!

Marty gets to eat meatloaf on back-to-back nights in 1985 and then in 1955. Both dinners are serving it and seems to be a staple of the Baines women’s culinary go-to’s. 

11. The Honeymooners Screw Up

I love the Honeymooners and I had seen every episode ever. Except one. And wouldn’t you know it, that was the one included in Back to the Future. The episode they watch in 1955 is the same one they’re watching at the dinner table in 1985 where Ralph dresses up as a man from space. 

In that episode, Ralph is trying to win the $50 first prize for a costume contest. This is episode 14 from the only full season of the Honeymooners they did. There had been a ton of other episodes and sketches, but for their real TV season, they only did 39 shows -referred to as the “Classic 39”.

The problem was this 14th episode aired on New Year’s Eve, 1955. So there was no way they could have watched it on November 5th, 1955. 

10. Incorrect Record Releases

While we’re nitpicking, let’s just keep going with some incorrect release dates for some records featured in the movie. At Roy’s Records we see some  albums that have also done some time traveling:

  • The Chordettes – wasn’t released until 1959 (wasn’t that one of the names the band members of the Wonders came up with in That Thing You Do?)
  • Eydie in Dixie Land by Eydie Gorme came out in 1959
  • In the Land of the Hi-Fi by Patti Page didn’t come out until 1956
  • Only the re-release of Nat King Cole’s Unforgettable would have been out as it was released in 1954

9. Phonebook Typo

When Marty is in Lou’s Cafe and trying to call Doc, we see that they have spelled his name wrong as they list him as ‘Emmet Brown’ and not Emmett Brown’. Idiots…

8. Used Cars

Used Cars was a movie that Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale made in 1980. It starred Kurt Russell and Steven Spielberg was an executive producer on it. Used Cars was a moderate hit but here are a few references to it in Back to the Future.

When Marty is riding his skateboard behind the Jeep, we can see a Used Cars sign, and the news anchor talking about the plutonium at the start of the movie is actress Deborah Harmon who appeared in Used Cars.

7. We’re Not In Kansas Anymore

When Marty travels back to 1955, the first thing he sees and hits is a scarecrow on the Peabody farm. This seems to be a Wizard of Oz reference to the character of the scarecrow and to give us the understanding we’re in a whole different place. 

6. Have You Even Been To Scranton Jan?

This is something you wouldn’t be able to see but it worth noting. The cast you now know and love from Back to the Future clearly weren’t the ones first intended. We mentioned Michael J. Fox and Thomas Wilson being added on later but the recasting of Stoltz meant there needed to be another casualty.

Melora Hardin aka Jan Levinson Gould from the Office was originally cast as Jennifer and had filmed a majority of the movie. Turns out she’s kind of tall and when Michael J. Fox was cast there was a real height disparity as Fox is only 5 foot 4 inches tall.

Melora Hardin is 5 foot 6 inches which worked fine with Eric Stoltz but they had to recast a shorter actress and got Claudia Wells who is the same height as Fox. 

5. Docs Truck

This is a quick throwaway but on the side of Docs big white truck, it says ‘Dr. E Brown Enterprises‘ and below says ‘24-hour scientific services‘.

What kind of 24-hour scientific services are needed? And was this created as a way to trick people out of plutonium which would end up working with the Libyans? Also, there’s a bumper sticker on this truck that reads:

One nuclear bomb can ruin your day

Why in the hell was this on his truck, and why is it also so prophetic as his project (“this sucker is nuclear”) gets him killed. 

4. The Clock Tower Ledge

Ugh, this will be the last obvious reference but it’s one of the best. The clock tower in the old 1985 isn’t working and the whole building is run down. IN 1955 it’s working and in pretty pristine condition. When Doc has to reattach the cord in 1955, he breaks off a piece of the ledge almost falling to his death.

When Marty returns to the new 1985, we can see the broken ledge is now visible. 

3. Statler Toyota

The Statler family has a long-running tradition of providing transportation for the citizens of Hill Valley. Statler Toyota is the dealership that features the sweet 4×4 that Marty covets and eventually gets. And Statler Studebaker is the dealership featured in 1955.

We’ll also see them make an appearance in Back to the Future III as “Honest Joe Statlers Fine Horses” and in 2015 as Statler Pontiac.

2. Why Is George Eating Peanut Brittle?

When I was a kid, I always thought this scene was set at breakfast for some reason but it isn’t and I was (am) an idiot. I always thought George was eating some sort of cereal but it turns out to be a box of peanut brittle.

This is a carryover from a deleted scene where George is coerced into buying a large amount of peanut brittle from his neighbour’s daughter. The neighbor has pretty much told George that he’s buying a crapload of it. 

1. The Bizarre Inclusion Of The ‘Back In Time’ Song

This is the one I wanted to save for last as I feel it’s been lost on people over the years. When Doc phones Marty earlier in the movie he has the radio on and it’s playing “Heaven Is One Step Away” by Eric Clapton.

When he has returned from the past to the new and improved 1985, he wakes up to “Back in Time” by Huey Lewis and the News. Huey Lewis obviously plays a prominent role in Back to the Future with the inclusion of “The Power of Love” and his role as the teacher who tells Marty that his band is “too darn loud”.

But the inclusion of “Back In Time” has a bit of a meta/inception-ness to it. Let me explain.

If you’ve ever listened to that song you’ll know it has some pretty specific lyrics (I had the Back to the Future soundtrack on cassette, fight me). The song is pretty much describing the events that have just taken place over the course of the movie. The opening lyrics state:

“Tell me, doctor, where are we going to go this time

Is it the 50s, or 1999?”

So there’s an obvious reference to Doc himself and the fact they went back to the 50s. The next line mentions that “all I wanted to do is play my guitar and sing” — just as Marty dreams to do. The song continues to make reference to the events of the movie:

“Don’t bet your future on one roll of the dice

Better remember, lightning never strikes twice

Please don’t drive at eighty-eight, don’t want to be late again

So the song Marty is listening to is rehashing what he just went through, and if that’s not enough, the SONG MENTIONS HIM BY NAME:

“Gotta get back in time
Gotta get back in time
get back, get back

Get back Marty”

So if Marty is listening to the lyrics of this song, what the hell would he be thinking? This song clearly exists in their universe and I’m not sure if we are to understand it as being Huey Lewis. Huey Lewis exists in our world but either way, is the writer of this song familiar with the events that just happened? But that would be impossible as Marty just got back to the future. This song makes sense in our world as we’ve seen the movie and it’s a connected tie-in – but it exists in their fictional 1985 so what the hell is going on exactly. 

I understand I may be losing it here but I always found it compelling how it’s a self-referential song that would have to startle the fictional Marty McFly. The movie never includes any of those lyrics as we just hear a small snippet.

Final Thoughts On Back To The Future

Well, that was a journey itself looking back at the 21 best Back to the Future references. Like I said at the start, it’s not worth doing another rehash of a movie that we all know so well, but more interesting looking beneath the surface at everything that makes the film tick. 

There are even more references that I didn’t include as some get a bit way too obvious and are displayed front and center that I won’t waste your time on including them (unless you’re that one person who hadn’t watched and you should be starting your 63 viewings right now).

But either way, it’s my favorite movie and one that seems to keep getting better on every viewing.

If you want more Back to the Future that you can hold in your hands, check out this amazing book: Back to the Future-The Ultimate Visual History book available on Amazon

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