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The Back to the Future franchise celebrates a milestone birthday today with the 30th anniversary of the first film’s release. Appropriately enough, some interesting food for thought has surfaced about its sequel, revealing a possible alteration in the timeline of movie history. It seems that the already-packed Back to the Future Part II was supposed to have taken the time-bending action to the old west.
Back to the Future franchise co-writer/producer Bob Gale provided HitFix some intriguing historical artifacts previously unseen by the public in the form of his early handwritten notes for the then-upcoming sequel. According to the notes, dated April 1, 1986, besides a visit to the future and a revisit to 1955, Marty McFly’s eventual dilemma in 1990’s Back to the Future Part III of being stuck in the old west without gasoline for the DeLorean was actually planned to occur in the second film.
While a trip to the old west sounds like an unfeasible addition to an already-packed Part II storyline, it was clearly the case that Gale was still in the loose stage of spit-balling random ideas. In fact, Gale tells HitFix that, as far as he knows, these are the oldest notes about the sequel. Supplementing this idea is the fact that the creative team of Gale and co-writer/director, Robert Zemeckis originally had no intention of making a sequel at all, despite the first film’s apparent cliffhanger ending, along with the retroactive addition of the "To be continued" title card to the ending of the home video release. While those intentions clearly changed with Back to the Future’s bountiful box-office dominance through the summer of 1985, the idea that there would be not one, but TWO sequels had not yet been conceived.
The nascent scribblings show numerous details of the fantastical faux future that we would see in 1989’s Back to the Future Part II, along with some that didn’t make the cut such as the 5’ 4" Marty (Michael J. Fox) being followed around by his much-taller 6-foot son. However, the notes make it clear that the overall envisioned idea for the franchise had always intended to have Marty somehow end up stranded in the Old West. While details of Marty’s mission were not yet formed, the notes show that some of the important beats of the eventual Part III, like the attempt to get the DeLorean to 88 mph by hitching it to a team of horses (pictured above), and the purposely parallel nature of the saloon scene with Buford Tannen to the Café scene in 1955 with Biff were already envisioned.
Yet, the idea to split this sequel into two films did not come to fruition until fall 1988. At that point, several ideas that the team had been considering, such as the creation of an alternate Biff-ruled 1985 finally had enough slack to be organized. Yet, that scenario we would eventually witness in Part II was rather different in its earliest stages, with old Biff from the future stealing the DeLorean to give his younger self the gambler’s godsend of a sports almanac back to 1967, rather than the familiar 1955. However, introducing yet another time period, having Marty chase Biff around in 1967, might have been overkill.
Most fans will probably agree that while the split Back to the Future sequels may not have had the box-office success of the original, they have nevertheless cemented themselves in their own right, expanding a now-iconic movie mythos in a fun, self-parodying form. As we can see, the alternative would have been a detrimentally jam-packed single sequel that might gotten itself lost in the timeline minutia.