Film Review: The Back to the Future Trilogy (1985, 1989, 1990)

Into the Dark - Film Review: The Back to the Future Trilogy (1985-1990)

Back to the Future (1985) 

Back to the Future is slicker than snot and beyond reproach. It’s very much a product of its time, but unlike so many other dated ’80s flicks, it’s passing the test of time with flying colors. The screenplay by Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis is a masterpiece. If you want to know the best way to structure a screenplay and dole out tons of exposition with the utmost grace, this script is your bible. But it’s not just a mechanical marvel, it’s also an emotional one — as character-driven, sweet, or charming as science-fiction or summer blockbusters ever come.

Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd own their roles, helping Marty McFly and Doc Brown forge an odd but compelling relationship. Equally brilliant are Lea Thompson and Crispin Glover, playing Marty’s parents in both 1955 and 1985, with the help of facial prosthetics and skilled body movement. Even the bit parts are superbly cast here, from Wendie Jo Sperber as Marty’s sister to James Tolkan as the high school principal. Props also go to Alan Silvestri for one of the most memorable film themes of the decade.

Quite simply, Back to the Future has it all: comedy, romance, action, spectacle, a cool car, a high concept, rock and roll, and superior craftsmanship all around. I have a lot of favorite films, but there aren’t many films that I would dare call ‘perfect.’ Well, this is one of those perfect few. And you don’t need a DeLorean time machine to know this movie will be with us for a long, long time to come.

Rating: 5/5 ★★★★★ 


Into the Dark - Film Review: The Back to the Future Trilogy (1985-1990)Back to the Future II (1989) 

As the sequel to a perfect film, Back to the Future II naturally comes up short. While it lacks the heart and coherence of the first film, it’s wild with ideas and invention, both on screen and behind the scenes. The plot is twisted, thrusting Doc Brown and Marty into the year 2015, then to an apocalyptic alter-1985, and finally back to the events of the first film, in 1955.

Most of the charming cast is back (sans Crispin Glover, who demanded too much money).  Freshening up the sequel is greater involvement of the first film’s baddie, Biff Tannen, played brilliantly by the under-appreciated Thomas Wilson.  This movie almost belongs to Wilson. He plays the brutish Biff at three different ages, as well as Biff’s tweaky grandson, Griff. His manic energy and over-the-top screen presence set the tone for the entire movie, and in the best way possible. It’s also fun to see Doc and Marty interact with their past and future selves. As if playing your doppelganger isn’t enough, Michael J. Fox also plays Marty’s son and daughter. At one point he appears on screen as all three characters at the same time, a technological feat made possible by the invention of the vista glide motion control camera.

BTTF2 is ultimately a very gimmicky film. If you’re not into gimmicks, technological or narrative, the movie can leave you cold. But in the history of unnecessary sequels, I think it might be one of the best.

Rating: 3.5/5 ★★★½☆ 


Into the Dark - Film Review: The Back to the Future Trilogy (1985-1990)

Back to the Future III (1990) 

The second sequel leans away from gimmicks and more toward the charm and character of the first film. The script is more streamlined, but it’s also the most pedestrian of the three. The western setting makes for a fun backdrop and Doc Brown’s innocent romance with a school teacher (Mary Steenburgen) provides a warm, emotional center to the movie. I love the Jules Verne references, especially in the finale, as well as the nifty ZZ Top song.

While I can’t get terribly excited about this installment, it still serves up a fairly satisfying close to the series.

Rating: 3/5 ★★★☆☆ 


About Scott_S

Scott studied film and sociology at Indiana University and is currently the video producer for a large publishing company. He is the director of several independent films, including "House of Hope," "Off the Beaten Path," "The Day Joe Left," and "Found." For more about Scott, visit Scott is also one of the principal organizers of the Dark Carnival Film Festival. (

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