Back to the Future

Back to the Future (1985) breakdown

Teenager Marty McFly goes back in time and accidentally keeps his parents from making a love connection. With help from friend and time machine inventor Doc Brown, Marty has to get them to fall for each other before time itself “corrects” him out of existence.

Many years ago, I did a commentary for this movie.

I’m breaking down movies by their three-act structure. What is three-act structure? I explain it here.

Note: I break the story down into five-minute blocks to make it easier to see the length of each section. Rough time codes follow.

Prolog

Marty goes by Doc’s. He’s been away but now needs Marty’s help. 5

Act 1

Marty is berated by Strickland. Marty fails an audition. 10

Jennifer consoles Marty. A woman gives Marty a clock tower flyer. 15

The McFlys are losers. Biff has wrecked the McFly car, ruining Marty’s big plans to take Jennifer to the lake (introducing the central conflict with the villain). Lorraine lectures on proper behavior in her day. 20

Marty video records Doc’s time travel experiment. 25

Doc preps to go into the future. Libyans shoot Doc (creating a second conflict!). Marty escapes to the past. 30

Act 2

Marty crashes, drives to his non-existent house, and runs out of fuel. 35

Marty can’t believe he’s in 1955. He discovers his father was a square. 40

Marty is injured saving George. Lorraine becomes attracted to him. 45

Marty goes to 1995 Doc’s and convinces him to help. 50

Doc and Marty retrieve the DeLorean and examine the video and Marty’s photo. They can get Marty back to 1985 if they can charge the time machine with the lightning bolt that will strike the clock tower in one week (introducing a ticking clock)….

Midpoint Crisis

However, because Marty interfered with the moment his parents fell in love, time is correcting Marty out of existence. 55

Marty and Doc decide Marty must get George to take Lorraine to the dance so they can fall in love (introducing a catch). 60

Biff ruins Marty’s effort to get George to ask Lorraine to the dance. Marty tricks George into asking her. 65

When Biff bullies George again, Marty humiliates him, gaining more of Lorraine’s admiration. 70

Doc explains his plan. Lorraine asks Marty to the dance, but Marty plans for George to stop him from getting fresh. 75

At the dance, Marty is shocked by Lorraine’s behavior. 80

Biff bullies Marty. George decks Biff to save Lorraine. Marty is desperate to get George & Lorraine to kiss (all seems lost!). 85

Act 3

Marty plays guitar at the dance (callback to his failed audition!). After a final scare, Lorraine and George kiss (resolving the catch, and creating a turn that is distinct from the bottom earlier). Marty’s playing overwhelms everyone. 90

Marty goes to the town square and tries to warn Doc about the Libyans (the secondary villains). 95

Marty gets the DeLorean set. Doc struggles to reconnect the cables. The ticking clock is literally the ticking clock. 100

Marty hits the wire at the right moment and returns in 1985. He can’t stop the Libyans! But Doc lives! (resolving the secondary conflict) 105

Marty discovers his life, family, and even Biff are much better. He even has a truck now, so he can take Jennifer to the lake (resolving the central conflict). 110

Epilog

Doc arrives from the future, requesting Marty and Jennifer come to the future with him. 115

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