Back To The Future’s Bob Gale Explains The History Of The Trilogy’s Two Best Catchphrases

One of the ways a movie can leave a lasting impact on pop culture is with a popular catchphrase. The Back to the Future trilogy is lucky enough to have two of those: Christopher Lloyd’s Doc Brown frequently exclaimed “Great Scott!” when astounded by something, and in the latter two movies, Michael J. Fox’s Marty McFly would say “Nobody calls me chicken” to anyone who accused him of cowardice.

So how did these two catchphrases get thrown into the Back to the Future mix? CinemaBlend’s own Eric Eisenberg recently asked writer and producer Bob Gale about that very subject, and starting off, here’s what Gale had to say about the origin of “Great Scott!”:

Well, ‘Great Scott!’… I think [Robert] Zemeckis came up with that, just thinking that Doc needed sort of a signature expression. He was going to use ‘Great Caesar’s Ghost!’ because that was in the Superman TV series that we both grew up on. There was some other character somewhere who used to say “Great Scott!” I don’t remember who it was.

For those unfamiliar with the Superman mythos, Daily Planet editor-in-chief Perry White is the one who says “Great Caesar’s Ghost!” on a regular basis, and while it’s fun to imagine Doc Brown frequently spouting out those words, after 35 years, “Great Scott!” still remains a perfect fit for him. And regardless of what Doc’s catchphrase is, it does make sense that he would exclaim something as he’s uncovering the mysteries of time travel and running into all sorts of complications during his adventures.

As for Marty McFly taking offense at someone calling him a chicken, or something along those lines, Bob Gale informed Eric that came about as a result of fleshing out the character for Back to the Future Part II. In his words:

‘Nobody calls me chicken!’ Well, when it came time for us to do the sequels, we realized that we needed to give Marty a character flaw that he was going to have to correct. And we didn’t really establish a real character flaw in the first movie because the character who experiences growth in the first movie is George McFly. But we did establish Marty’s a bit of a hothead, and that it seems like he’s kind of quick to mix it up with Biff in the scene in the school cafeteria and the scene in the cafe when Biff just kind of towers over him. So we thought, ‘You know what? Let’s use that. Let’s use that as Marty’s character flaw, that he’s a hothead. And so we can verbalize that by having him say “Nobody calls me chicken!” For anybody calling him chicken, that’s his Achilles’ heel.’

Despite all the insanity being thrown his way in Back to the Future, for the most part, Marty McFly was able to keep a cool head during that first movie, but being called a chicken in the sequels definitely caused some problems that could easily have avoided. Fortunately, by the end of Back to the Future Part III, Marty finally learned not get so worked up about that, as demonstrated by him avoiding the car accident that, in another timeline, was the inciting event that caused his life to go down the drain.

Back to the Future and Back to the Future Part III are celebrating their 35th and 30th anniversaries this year, respectively, and many of the trilogy’s main cast members got together back in May for a virtual reunion. However, there are still no plans for the franchise to continue either with Back to the Future Part IV or a wipe-the-slate-clean reboot. This is one franchise that will continue to remain parked at three movies, although the mythos has expanded through comic book series, an animated series and a theme park ride, and the first movie even received the stage musical treatment.

Should any other new bits of trivia concerning the Back to the Future trilogy surface, we here at CinemaBlend will let you know. Be sure to look through our 2021 release schedule to learn what movies are supposed to play in theaters next year.

Adam Holmes
Senior Content Producer

Connoisseur of Marvel, DC, Star Wars, John Wick, MonsterVerse and Doctor Who lore. He's aware he looks like Harry Potter and Clark Kent.