Back to the Future is one of Hollywood’s biggest and most classic franchises – so it’s weird that it hasn’t been rebooted yet.
2015 has and will see the return of three major franchises of ye olde times: Mad Max (Fury Road), Jurassic Park (World) and Star Wars (The Force Awakens). That second flick was a pretty big success for Universal, so common sense says that they’d try and work the same magic for Marty McFly and Doc Brown. 2015 is a special year within the trilogy, after all; October 21st is the date that Marty travels to in Back to the Future Part II, a world of hoverboards and the release of Jaws 19. Due the built-in and cultural significance of 2015, why didn’t they try and cash in on it with a fourth movie and rake in another billion dollars?
Well, they did try – many times, it seems.
“It’s making them insane that we don’t want to do another Back to the Future,” director Robert Zemeckis told Digital Spy. “It’s like a pre-sold title for them – it would open gigantically at the box office. That’s all that anyone cares about.”
“It’s all great. Bob Gale [the original writer] is sort of the keeper of the Back to the Future integrity so he polices all of that stuff. It’s all fine. But there isn’t going to be another Back to the Future so nobody has to worry. We control those characters and have no intention of letting anybody remake those movies.”
The reason why Universal can’t just say “fuck you guys” and make a fourth movie anyway is because Zemeckis and Gale have to give their stamp of approval whenever the studio wants to use the characters for something, be it LEGO Dimensions or the official new Doc Brown short on the 30th Anniversay boxset.
There are really two avenues to approach a story: the first is to look at it as something focused on a specific set of characters, and once their arcs are up then so is the story. The second is the idea that a story is part of something much grander, connecting multiple different films or books or whatever through a setting or shared themes. Both perspectives hold up equally. Star Wars is not the story of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia; they are characters within it, yeah, however so long as something is set inside that universe and features the Force, or Jedi, or Tattooine or the Old Republic or anything recognisable then it can be called Star Wars. It’s the point when a story stops simply being a story and transcends the characters, becoming a universe.
It’s basically the approach that studios nowadays love, because it gives them an excuse to exploit a property as much as they want. It’s what George Miller did with Mad Max, Universal did it with Jurassic World, Marvel and DC do it with their cinematic universes and so forth. Zemeckis and Gale clearly believe the second approach is right – that Back to the Future is the story of Marty McFly and Doc Brown, and it’s already been told. I’m not gonna fault them for that. I mean, they created the damn thing. However, with a concept as vast as time travel it’s not difficult to imagine continuations tackling the stories of other people who end up driving the DeLorean (or the train), be it Marty and Doc’s descendents or somebody else entirely.
Then again, Michael J. Fox – and the McFly family themselves – is so intrinsically tied to the trilogy that it would be weird to see someone else leading it. Although I suppose given how each film expanded on his family the next logical step would be to focus on his kids or grandkids.
It’s a messy scenario, but it’s not one that we nerds will have to worry about for a while yet. A fourth film won’t happen until Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale are six feet under (which will hopefully be a long time away), and even then their estates will fight vigorously to protect the original trilogy. However, there could be a loophole; when news broke that Steven Spielberg was considering heading back to work with Universal, the report also stated that he was key to reboots of not only Back to the Future, but also Jaws.
He produced the trilogy and Amblin Entertainment was the production company, but neither Zemeckis nor Gale have ever suggested anything along those lines, so if you’re hoping for Part IV then don’t bet on the ‘Berg being able to help you out. And hey, it’s not as if the movies have no relevancy anymore; new people discover them every day, and Christopher Lloyd is always being trotted out for one appearance or another. This will definitely be a big year for it as well, with all the publicity and glitz associated with a 30th Anniversary.
There probably won’t be a fourth movie, but Back to the Future won’t ever lose its footing.