You can tell your movie has officially made it when the President of the United States quotes it in a State of the Union Address. On July 3, 1985 an unheralded film made by the guy who did Romancing the Stone debuted to audience fervor and worldwide critical acclaim. Back to the Future would become the most popular movie of the year, defying studio heads who passed on it while making Michael J. Fox the biggest star in Hollywood. This was a watershed moment in movie history. Comic sci-fi was in and imitators have been trying to duplicate BTTF's magic ever since.
Over three decades later, Back to the Future is still in the public's collective consciousness. Directors like Quentin Tarantino are often credited with bringing pop culture to film dialogue, but Back to the Future was referencing Darth Vader and drinking Pepsi well before. Now, every movie has some kind of wink at the audience. Kids who grew up on the film are now directors making their own versions. Back to the Future was huge, number one at the box office in 1985, and its influence shows.
To celebrate the film's 35th anniversary, we've recast it as if co-writers Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale hopped in the DeLorean and went 35 years into the future. This isn't a remake. It's... a time travel hypothetical. Obviously, Back to the Future should never be remade. But if the writers had time traveled to 2020, this might've been the cast they chose.
Casting Back to the Future the first time was a process. Eric Stoltz was originally chosen to play Marty McFly because Michael J. Fox was busy making Family Ties. Stoltz's Marty was too serious, more than what director Robert Zemeckis envisioned, and the production team decided to replace him. Luckily, Fox's schedule opened and he was brought in as originally planned. With Fox in the lead, the film took off, and without him, it may never have been successful. So who might play him now? Who would play Doc Brown and the rest of the amazing 1985 cast?
Original actor: Michael J. Fox
2020 recast: Tom Holland
We want someone who potentially has Fox's spirit. He has to be handsome, athletic, but also wide-eyed and romantic. Fox is great in BTTF because he captures Marty's exuberance as a teenager, but also his sense of wonder. Fox was 24-years-old in 1985, but looked much younger. Let's get rid of Timothée Chalamet first, whom the studios would probably want. He's too slick and Marty McFly doesn't need to have bedroom eyes. We're much more down with the normal guys: John Boyega, Freddie Highmore, Asa Butterfield, or someone like Lucas Hedges. These actors all have the capacity to be funny. Chris Pratt would be perfect if he were younger. After serious deliberation, our pick is Tom Holland. He's got the right look, energy, and comic sense to do the character justice. Holland has already proven his worth in his Spider-Man movies as Peter Parker. But more than his likability and sense of humor, the 24-year-old still looks very young, and he has the clean-cut, hair-parted style that you want in an everyman like Marty McFly.
Original actor: Christopher Lloyd
2020 recast: Bill Murray
Replacing Christopher Lloyd is a daunting task. This is harder than recasting Marty. Lloyd invented Doc Brown, instilling the personality traits of Albert Einstein and conductor Leopold Stokowski, and he improvised some irreplaceable scenes. But Lloyd wasn't the filmmakers' first choice. That was John Lithgow, who would be a great pick now. But: too old probably. Ditto Donald Sutherland, Ian McKellan, Morgan Freeman, Brian Cox, and Al Pacino, although younger versions of those guys would have nailed it. I love Liam Neeson, who did the mad scientist thing in Darkman. But one guy is too good not to choose: Bill Murray. The 69-year-old comedian would add a few years to Doc in the 1955 scenes, but the comedic payoff would outweigh any tiny difference. This is a guy who would bring Doc's kinetic energy, his smarts, and his warmth. Murray can do it all.
Original actor: Lea Thompson
2020 recast: Anna Kendrick
In 1985, Lea Thompson was the Hollywood "It Girl." Back to the Future helped make her a star and the poster dream for the insides of thousands of high school lockers. She's sweet and innocent in BTTF, but with the raging hormones of an everyday teen. Whomever replaces her as Lorraine must carry that innocence while remaining attractive and grounded in real life. Jennifer Lawrence comes to mind right away. But she might be too much. Emma Watson, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson are all good choices. If only Amy Adams were a bit younger, she would be perfect. But wait, there's one actress who hits all the notes: Anna Kendrick. The 34-year-old still looks like she's 18 so pulling off a high schooler shouldn't be a problem. She's got the dream girl thing going on and she can play dirty, funny, and spunky in her sleep. Plus, we want Marty's parents to be played by older actors who still look young so they can pull off the present-day scenes.
Original actor: Crispin Glover
2020 recast: Paul Dano
Crispin Glover caused problems during the making of BTTF with curious ideas on the character of George McFly and he had to be reeled in by director Robert Zemeckis and crew. But his performance is great, weird, and funny. Glover's George McFly is a nervous ball of energy, scared of life, and especially, of girls. His one shining moment — when he cold cocks Biff — is a brief glimpse at a heroic side. So who could play sensitive and stay believable when he must be tough? I love what Adam Sandler does in Punch-Drunk Love, but he's too old obviously. I like Silicon Valley's Thomas Middleditch, but I'm not sure he can be dashing. Let's go with Paul Dano, one of the most versatile actors today. He's older, but he could pull it off. He can do weird, nervous, funny, serious, sweet, and confident. Zemeckis would be able to shape the character however he pleased.
Original actor: Thomas F. Wilson
2020 recast: Will Poulter
This is a fun one. Wilson is so great as Biff (surnamed "Tannen" after a Universal executive who bullied Zemeckis), it's hard to imagine anyone else in the role. But there are plenty of choices: Hedges, O’Shea Jackson, Joe Keery, and Tye Sheridan all have the right persona for the job, but are any truly intimidating? Hedges shows his spikes in Mid90s and Honey Boy, but he might too mature-looking to pull off a high schooler. Same for Jackson. Plus they're pretty famous and not ideal for a supporting role. We're thinking Will Poulter, who has a face you just want to punch. And he's a great actor. Biff is a one-dimensional, tailor-made character for the 27-year-old Midsommar and Revenant actor. Biff's a bully straight out of central casting and Poulter is great when he's angry.
(Now let us pray none of this ever comes to pass...)