Back to the Future Part II (1989)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #6

Getting back was only the beginning.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 108 minutes

Original Release: 22nd November 1989 (USA)
UK Release: 24th November 1989
First Seen: VHS, c.1991

Michael J. Fox (Doc Hollywood, The Frighteners)
Christopher Lloyd (Clue, The Pagemaster)
Lea Thompson (Red Dawn, Casual Sex?)
Thomas F. Wilson (Back to the Future, High Strung)
Elisabeth Shue (Adventures in Babysitting, Leaving Las Vegas)

Robert Zemeckis (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Cast Away)

Bob Gale (1941, Interstate 60: Episodes of the Road)

The Story
Marty and Doc travel forward to 2015 to save Marty’s son from imprisonment, but this allows future-Biff to steal the DeLorean, taking it back to 1955 to allows his younger self to profit from future knowledge. Faced with a nightmare version of 1985, Marty must travel back into the events of the first movie to fix things.

Our Heroes
Michael J. Fox is not only Marty McFly, but older Marty McFly, and his son, Marty McFly Jr., and also… his daughter, Marlene McFly. Just in case you’d forgotten these were comedy movies, I guess. Christopher Lloyd, meanwhile, is the one and only Doc.

Our Villain
It’s Thomas F. Wilson’s Biff again, but this time he’s not just a bully, but someone who — thanks to his meddling in time — represents a threat to Marty’s whole lifestyle. And he’s a right nasty piece of work in the dystopian variant of 1985, too. Still gets covered in excrement, mind.

Best Supporting Character
Spare a thought for Marty’s girlfriend, Jennifer. The end of the first film has her getting in the DeLorean with Doc and Marty, because she was there and the ending was never intended to lead to anything (yes, kids, once upon a time movies weren’t made with the assumption there’d be sequels). Come the second film, Zemeckis and Gale were stuck having to integrate her into the story, which they did by… knocking her out early on and leaving her out of it.

Memorable Quote
“The time-traveling is just too dangerous. Better that I devote myself to study the other great mystery of the universe: women!” — Doc

Memorable Scene
30 years in the future, they’re still making crappy Jaws sequels. (The irony now is, in the real 2015 we were still getting often-crappy sequels to pretty much every major ’70s/’80s franchise except for Jaws.)

Technical Wizardry
You’ll believe a board can hover. Well, you probably won’t, but some people did. That’s just testament to how well made the sequence is.

Truly Special Effect
Quite apart from the hoverboard, the sequence where they first arrive in 2015 — a ‘road’ of flying cars in a rainy nighttime sky — is a triumph of model work.

Making of
For various reasons (possibly moral, possibly financial) Crispin Glover refused to return as Marty’s father, George McFly. Instead, the filmmakers used outtakes from the first film, as well as an actor wearing prosthetics made from casts of Glover taken for the first film. Glover objected to his likeness being used without permission, sued, and Universal settled out of court. More than that, it led to a change in contract rules at the Screen Actors Guild to stop the same thing happening again. (See also: The Four Musketeers.)

Previously on…
Not only does Part II pick up exactly where the first film ended, it goes back into its events and interacts with them.

Next time…
Part II ends with a huge cliffhanger, leading directly into the series’ final trilogy-forming instalment.

1 Oscar nomination (Visual Effects)
1 BAFTA (Special Effects)
1 Saturn Award (Special Effects)
3 Saturn nominations (Science Fiction Film, Costumes, Make-Up)

What the Critics Said
“Like its predecessor, Back to the Future Part II does not merely warp time; it twists it, shakes it and stands it on its ear. But as before, the film’s technical brilliance is the least of its appeals. Satirically acute, intricately structured and deftly paced, it is at heart stout, good and untainted by easy sentiment.” — Richard Schickel, TIME

Score: 63%

What the Public Say
“the biggest prediction the film nails is not any one piece of technology, but our reaction to it: indifference met with annoyance of its imperfections. The movie focuses not on what the technology can do, but on what it can’t. The skyway’s jammed. Marty’s hover board doesn’t work on water. The voice-activated home-entrance lights don’t turn on when Jennifer enters. […] What we get is “the future” as “the present.” None of the doom, destruction and dystopia of Blade Runner or The Time Machine. 2015 Hill Valley and 2015 Chicago are just like 1985 Hill Valley and 1985 Chicago, only with cooler stuff.” — Jack M Silverstein,


There are some who consider Back to the Future an all-time classic and think the two sequels are meritless wastes of space. There are others who see them as a complete trilogy of more-or-less equal quality. Considering that ever since I’ve seen them all three parts have existed, it isn’t much surprise I’m one of the latter. Part II may not have the elegant simplicity of the first film, but it still has plenty of original and exciting ideas, not least using the time travel conceit to go back into the first movie. It may not be as good, but it’s a fine adventure in its own right.

#7 will be… wicky wicky wild wild West.

4 thoughts on “Back to the Future Part II (1989)

  1. Much prefer this second entry in the trilogy. I’ve never really warmed to the BTTF films as some seem to have done, but I did think this one was very clever in its treatment of the time travel paradox stuff and how it re-worked the first film. And the effects at the time were extraordinary. I remember being genuinely amazed at what I was seeing, and the split screen stuff was audacious.

    Actually I will have to revisit these sometime. I suspect they’ll just get better with age. There’s something weird about 1980s films, particularly the Amblin ones. Something of the Spielberg magic of that whole era that was lost when Spielberg finally grew up and started making serious/meaningful films.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting — I’m not sure I’ve ever heard someone express a preference for the second over the first before. I confess I haven’t watched them for many years now (as with so many of these favourites), so my ratings, etc, are based almost entirely in memory rather than reappraisals.

      Talking of lost Amblin magic, I finally watched Super 8 the other day, which tried so very hard to recapture that era. I enjoyed it well enough, but still felt it was entirely a modern film. I guess you can never fully recreate a past time, even with Spielberg’s involvement.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, its weird, at the time those 1980s films were just, well, ordinary ‘fun’ films but in hindsight they have a magic all their own. I don’t know if its the filmstock they used or the actors at the time being older or more ‘real’ looking than the more ‘perfect’ specimens cast these days, or the technology back then (real not virtual sets, bluescreen/matte lines etc). Films like Super 8 and all the reboots and remakes we’ve recently had all try to recapture or improve on what was originally done and generally fail. I consider myself lucky to have grown up with those movies, although the 1970s was actually a better decade for films.

        I know I’ve said this before on my blog, but the 1980s was an extraordinary decade for so many varied and imaginative films that spun off the initial impact/success of Star Wars. 1982 was the high water mark for me but it carried on throughout that decade with the Amblin stuff, James Camerons films, Joe Dantes films…Its like a perfect bubble of time/films.

        Maybe I should run a theme of 1980s films on my blog, it would be fun revisiting those films again.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I suppose, to almost be hyper-logical about it, the ’80s is the decade which refined the blockbuster format, in a positive sense. There was a degree of quality filmmaking and slickness being applied to previously B-movie genres for the first time in the wake of Star Wars — Spielberg and Lucas could have chosen to continue in the vein of The Sugarland Express and American Graffiti, and therefore positioned themselves closer to Scorsese, Coppola, etc in the ’70s pantheon, but instead applied their skills to populist films for a decade. Concurrently, it’s also the time before such films slipped into the effects obsession that has so often characterised them since the early/mid ’90s.

          Maybe I’m over (or under) thinking this, or making unsupported generalisations, but I’m not sure the ’80s gets its due in movie history. Recently more so, especially with some of its style coming back into fashion, but when it comes to the ‘accepted’ history of American Film, I feel like people (or maybe I just mean critics, or academics) will talk about individual films from the ’80s, but in terms of whole eras it still jumps from New Hollywood in the ’60s/’70s to the rise of independents and increasing size of studio blockbusters in the ’90s. I don’t know how exactly one succinctly characterises the ’80s to stand apart from that, but I’m sure it must.

          Liked by 1 person

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