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10 Insane Details Cut From ‘Back To The Future’

by Kathryn Graham
fact checked by Jamie Frater

The Back to the Future we know and love today was not the original draft of the script. In fact, there were at least four drafts, each filled with weird little details that eventually got cut from the final film. The writers of the classic film, Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, have graciously allowed the public to take a peek at a couple of the earliest drafts of the screenplay, allowing us to travel back in time ourselves, to a time when there was no Johnny B. Goode, no lightning, and no DeLorean.

Buckle up, because we’re about to hit 88 miles per hour.

10Marty McFly Was A Criminal


Photo credit: Universal Pictures

The classic opening to Back to the Future is perfect. It starts with a slow pan around a room filled with clocks, a great visual for a movie all about time and traveling through it. Then we see our hero, Marty McFly, hooking up an electric guitar to a giant amplifier.

The first draft had none of this grace. In fact, the original draft of the script opened with an entirely different film.

The MOTHER SHIP rises above Devil’s Tower and sails off into space to the strains of John Williams. In a moment we realize that we’re watching the end titles of “Close Encounters”

That’s right. Back to the Future originally opened with the end to a totally different movie. Soon, we find out why.

that the image is on a TV monitor . . . as we continue PULLING BACK, we discover a bank of video equipment, and “Close Encounters” is being pirated, from 3/4″ cassette to VHS and Beta.

The person operating this equipment is, of course, Marty McFly. The hero of our movie is actually a movie pirate. It is quickly revealed that the video equipment is owned by Doc Brown, who is also in on this little scheme.

Obviously, the studio objected to their main character stealing movies, and this little character detail was removed from all future drafts of the script.

9Doc Brown Is ‘Professor Brown’


Photo credit: Universal Pictures

What would Back to the Future be without the relationship between the two main characters, Marty McFly and Dr. Emmett Brown? And what would their relationship be without Marty calling him “Doc”?

Apparently, the first draft of the script. In this version, Emmett Brown is not the Doc but instead the Professor. Throughout the first draft, Marty refers to Doc as “Professor,” “Prof,” and “Pro.” None of them quite have the same ring as “Doc!”

But what exactly was Emmett Brown a professor of? Why, nuclear physics, of course!

A couple of years ago, he showed up at my house and hired me to sweep out this garage of his. He pays me 50 bucks a week, gives me free beer . . . And gives me total access to his record collection—he’s got this great old record collection.
(a beat)
Hard to believe he was one of the world’s greatest nuclear physicists.

In the final version of the movie, Doc’s just a kooky inventor who everyone in town kind of tolerates. His background never really comes up. In this version, he was clearly a nuclear physicist at some point. It’s an interesting character detail though one that was ultimately dropped when the movie hit theaters.

8The Flux Capacitor Is Powered By Coca-Cola


Photo credit: Universal Pictures

In the theatrical release of Back to the Future, the DeLorean ran on “regular, unleaded gasoline” and a healthy dose of plutonium. However, in the first draft, it also used something a little different.

Early on in the script, Marty decides to visit Doc at his lab. Once he gets there, though, he finds Doc asleep. Like any teenager, Marty walks to the fridge, pops out a Coke, and starts snooping around. He looks over Doc’s invention, which he’s never seen before, and immediately decides to pour Coke into it (because, why not?).

This causes the machine to start sparking and making noise, which wakes up Doc Brown. Fascinated, Doc pours more into the experiment—which is the time machine, by the way—and it lights up, causing Doc to celebrate the end of his energy problems.

What’s in this stuff?

Nobody knows the formula for Coca-Cola. It’s the most closely guarded secret in the world!

This turns out to be an incredibly convenient fuel source, as Coke is still popular and easily available when Marty travels back to the ’50s.

7A Nuclear Blast Sends Marty Back To The Future


Photo credit: Universal Pictures

You may remember that in the original Back to the Future, besides making sure his parents got together, Marty’s goal was to force a bolt of lightning to strike his car right as he was hitting 88 miles per hour to send him back to the future. This is a very exciting premise, but do you know what is more exciting?

Nuclear bombs.

In the movie, the flux capacitor needs a jolt of 1.21 gigawatts to make the jump in time. In the first draft, it didn’t need electricity at all, but rads. A rad is a unit of radiation and is typically used to measure the amount of radiation absorbed by an object.

The original draft of the script claimed the time machine required 4,400 rads, which is a huge amount—to give you an idea, a single dose of 1,000 rads is almost always fatal.

Obtaining a huge amount of rads is much more difficult than obtaining a huge amount of electricity; for one thing, a bolt of lightning won’t cut it. In fact, in the 1950s, the only thing radioactive enough to produce 4,400 rads was a nuclear bomb.

Conveniently enough, in the ’50s, the military was performing nuclear tests in the Nevada desert. So, Doc—or in this draft, the Professor—decides that the only way to send Marty back to the future is to drive him and the time machine out into the middle of a testing zone and let them both get hit by a nuclear bomb.

Which is exactly what they do. But as we know, 4,400 rads is four times a lethal dose. So how does Marty escape without severe radiation poisoning?

6The Time Machine Was A Refrigerator


Photo credit: Universal Pictures

The original draft of Back to the Future was written in 1981, long before the first DeLorean was released. It’s difficult to imagine Back to the Future without its signature car. What could they possibly use? A different brand of car? An airplane? A NASA-style pod?

In the ’80s, Doc builds a specially shielded box designed to handle that kind of radiation. It didn’t have any style, but it got the job done. Back in the ’50s, Doc doesn’t have a lot of time and is forced to find something with mild radiation shielding that is also big enough to hold a person.

He finds a refrigerator.

Remember Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull? Back to the Future did it first. They decided that the lead lining found in some refrigerators would be good enough radiation shielding to keep Marty safe.

That’s right: They strapped Marty into a lead-lined refrigerator and threw him into the middle of the Nevada desert to get hit by a nuclear bomb. Luckily, the whole thing was cut once someone became worried that kids would start getting trapped in refrigerators while trying to time travel.

5Doc Brown Stole The Plutonium


Photo credit: Universal Pictures

The problem of how to get enough energy to travel through time has always been a big part of Back to the Future. In the past, they tried nuclear bombs and lightning bolts, but in the 1980s, they always used plutonium.

In the final version of the screenplay, Doc Brown gets the plutonium necessary to travel in time from a group of Libyan terrorists. He promises to make them a bomb, but instead, he just steals the plutonium for himself.

In the first draft, Doc cuts out the middleman entirely. He sneaks into a power plant and steals the plutonium himself. This has some serious repercussions when federal agents show up and threaten Marty, convinced that Doc is going to use the plutonium for a bomb. Instead of being shot by Libyans, Doc Brown ends up being shot by federal agents who think they’re taking down a terrorist.

(to Prof. Brown)
You!! Shut it down!! Now!!

No! Get out!! I’m in the middle of an experiment!!

4Doc Has A Pet Monkey


Photo credit: Universal Pictures

It’s time for a pop quiz: Who was the first time traveler in Back to the Future?

If you answered Einstein, Doc Brown’s dog, you’re correct. In the film, Doc sends Einstein, his beloved pet, to test his time machine by strapping a stopwatch around his neck and sending him one minute into the future via remote control. When the dog makes it out totally unharmed, Doc is finally able to celebrate the success of his life’s work.

The first draft did not have an Einstein. Instead, it had a monkey named Shemp. The monkey is described as wearing a red coat and hat, the typical organ grinder monkey outfit. Unlike Doc’s two dogs, Einstein and Copernicus, Shemp isn’t named after a famous scientist. In fact, it seems as though Shemp may be named after Shemp Howard, the original third Stooge.

Interestingly, a “Fake Shemp” is a film term referencing the replacement of one actor with another, through the use of prosthetics and fancy camera work. Back to the Future: Part II was actually at the center of a lawsuit involving Fake Shemps, when actor Crispin Glover, who played George McFly in the first film, sued the producers for using his likeness without his permission. This resulted in the Screen Actors Guild banning the use of Fake Shemps.

In the original version of the screenplay, Shemp is also the world’s first time traveler, when Doc sends him two minutes forward in time. However, unlike Einstein, Shemp doesn’t have a 1950s counterpart and is, unfortunately, never seen again after his big scene.

3Marty McFly Wears Green Shoes


Photo credit: Universal Pictures

This might not be the biggest of plot changes, but it is certainly unusual. Everyone knows Marty McFly’s outfit: checkered shirt, blue jeans, Nike tennis shoes, Calvin Klein underwear, and, of course, the iconic orange vest. Show anyone a picture of the clothes and they’ll tell you: “That’s Marty McFly!”

However, early drafts of the scripts show that this was not always the case. In the fourth draft of the script, there’s no mention of an orange vest. Instead, Marty McFly wears bright green shoes, confusing everyone around him.

Biff—get a load of his shoes. This dork thinks he’s a leprechaun—he painted ‘em green!

This isn’t the only change to costuming. For example, the novelization of the movie—which was based on a later draft—makes reference to a T-shirt with a patent schematic on it. This T-shirt is visible in some early stills of Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly. Perhaps when they made the change to Michael J. Fox, they decided on a wardrobe change as well.

2Doc Has His Vision After Being Hit By A Beer Bottle


Photo credit: Universal Pictures

The Flux Capacitor is what makes time travel possible. In the final version of the script, Doc Brown tells this to Marty, along with the story of how he invented it. In short, he hit his head while hanging a clock and had a vision.

They were still working this out as late as the fourth version of the script. In that version, Doc still tells him he got hit on the head, but when Marty asks how, he avoids the question. He does eventually find out, though, when he travels back in time.

When Marty goes back to the 1955, Doc is in no mood to chat. In fact, he’s having a party and quickly shoos Marty away. Marty doesn’t give up, however and watches the party from the window. There, he witnesses the following scene.

Brown wanders over to the best-looking WOMAN in the place. Brown whispers into her ear. She responds by hitting him in the head with a BEER BOTTLE! Brown goes down, dazed.
She walks off in a huff.

So, now we know: Doc Brown hit on a woman, and she didn’t take it so well. Don’t worry, Doc. Your rejection invented time travel, so it’s not a total loss.

1Everything Changes At The End


Photo credit: Universal Pictures

At the end of Back to the Future, Marty returns home to find out that his meddling in the past did have consequences. His parents have a happy relationship, his sister is popular, his brother has a good job, and Biff isn’t such a joke. It feels like a happy ending.

It wasn’t always like that. In the original draft of the movie, Marty gets home and everything it totally different. His dad is a boxer.

Not only that, but technology is totally different. There are flying versions of cars from the ’50s, plastic Coke bottles with ’50s pop tops, and robot butlers, most of which were invented by Doc Brown. Rock and roll was never invented, people still do the mambo, and there are 87 states in America. Unlike the final version, Marty traveling through time completely changed everything. That just shows the power of a rewrite.

fact checked by Jamie Frater