Why Back To The Future Has Aged So Successfully, According To Bob Gale

Not to be cute, but Back To The Future has a fascinating relationship with time – and it doesn’t really have anything to do with the plot of the movie’s movement through it. As a means of contrasting the story’s two different eras, both 1985 and 1955 are purposefully hallmarked with specific details, and yet 35 years after its original release it remains as fresh as ever. The reason for this is subject matter that can make great fodder for debate between cinephiles, but one person with a very clear view on the question is writer/producer Bob Gale.

A brand new 4K edition of the Back To The Future trilogy has been released in celebration of the first movie’s latest milestone anniversary, and in promotion of the home video release I had the wonderful pleasure of talking with Bob Gale about the legacy of the original film. I began our conversation searching for his thoughts regarding the timelessness of the beloved blockbuster, and he provided multiple arguments – beginning with the pure relatability of the story:

I think that the reason for that is the humanity of it. I think that the characters... Romeo and Juliet still works today because the characters are wonderful and the situations are so identifiable. I mean, Romeo and Juliet, you know, ‘My parents don't want me going out with that guy.’ Everybody can identify. With Back To The Future, what we picked up on, what we show is there's a moment in every person's life – they're seven, eight, nine years old when they suddenly realize, 'Whoa, my parents were once children.' It's a cosmic realization.

Reading that quote (or hearing him say it in the video at the top of the article), I’m sure many of you immediately thought about when this realization kicked in for you personally, and that perfectly proves the Back To The Future filmmaker’s point. We all have a different relationship with our parents than anyone on Earth because our closeness to them, and that closeness has a way of stopping us from observing their humanity like we do in others. Marty McFly’s journey is that process turned into a first-hand experience.

Those who know about the origins of Back To The Future know that this particular revelation was key to the inception of the film, as Bob Gale was first inspired to write the script when he found his father’s old high school yearbook and pondered whether or not he would have been friends with his dad had they grown up as peers. We all have some kind of experience like that, and every generation will – which is what allows the time travel film to age like a fine wine. Gale continued,

Up until then, you know, your parents are these godlike figures and you can't possibly imagine that A) they never existed, or B) that they could have existed as children. They don't age! Even though your clothes don't fit from year to year, your parents still look the same to you. And then at some point something clicks and you realize, 'My God, they were once kids.' And then when you get a little bit older and you think to yourself and you understand a little bit about sex and you say, 'Oh my God, my parents did that.' And then you say, 'Well, how did they do it? What did they do on their first day? Did my mom make the first move? Did my dad make the move? How did that really happen?' You only want to know so much about that. But everybody thinks about it; everybody.

That universal revelation will forever let audiences connect with the journey of Marty McFly, but it can be recognized that not every aspect of Back To The Future is totally timeless, and it’s something that Bob Gale freely admits. Citing a specific example, the writer/producer pointed to the drink order that Michael J. Fox's Marty places when he sits down at a diner in 1955, but also explained why it really doesn’t matter in the big picture:

Yeah, okay, but everybody knows what 'Gimme a Tab' means. It's a topical joke. But they understand the context of it. And the powerful aspects of that moment when Marty first sees his father as this geeky 17-year-old kid, it's just so, so very powerful.

Speaking of 17-year-old George McFly, as originally portrayed by Crispin Glover, it’s not only Marty’s journey that provides emotional power to the themes of Back To The Future, as Bob Gale also pointed out the wonderful motivational side of the classic blockbuster. While only a small moment of time in his life, George gaining the confidence to stand up to Thomas F. Wilson's Biff Tannen and dance with Lea Thompson's Lorraine Baines winds up reshaping his entire existence, and Gale appreciates that people can walk away from every screening of the movie possibly feeling a bit more confident about making an effort to achieve the things you want in life. Said the filmmaker,

Then on top of that we add the idea that people do have some control over their own destiny. That the things that we do when we're young can have a major effect on how things turn out, and the movie illustrates that. And that's a good message for people to be reminded, 'Hey, you know what? I can do something about that. Hey, I don't have to take it. I can stand up for myself. I can ask that girl out.' Whatever it is. 'I have some control,' and people like to be reminded of that.

The new 4K Back To The Future trilogy set is now on sale at all normal retailers, and if you’re a fan of the movies, you’re definitely going to want to stay tuned here on CinemaBlend in the coming days. This is just one of a few cool things I learned about the movie from Bob Gale, so be on the lookout for more stories.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

NJ native who calls LA home and lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran who is endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.