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SYFY WIRE Back to the Future

The Tiny Tweak to Back to the Future's Ending That Made the Film's Final Twist Work Perfectly

A genuine example of "Your future hasn't been written yet!"

By Josh Weiss

In the immortal words of one Doctor Emmett Brown, "Your future hasn't been written yet! No one's has. The future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one!" The same principle applies to filmmaking — so long as you haven't exhausted your budget and shooting schedule, of course. It is only fitting, therefore, that this idea of revising "what could be" played out on the set of Back to the Future (now streaming on Peacock alongside its two sequels).

During a recent Zoom interview with SYFY WIRE, Back to the Future storyboard artist Andrew Probert (who also helped design the look of the iconic DeLorean time machine) recalled how he convinced screenwriter/producer Bob Gale to tweak the film's climax for the better.

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How Back to the Future's storyboard artist changed the film's ending for the better

"It's really interesting doing storyboards," he explained. "You’re working on one page at a time, one scene at a time. And so, you have a chance to think about, ‘What’s it gonna look like? How are they going to do the action? How are you going to portray it in your storyboards?’"

For example, the screenplay originally called for the 1955 version of Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) to angrily tear up Marty's note warning him about the future and throw the scraps into the ashtray of his car. "I'm thinking, ‘This is going to telegraph everybody about that surprise ending," Probert said, referring to Doc's survival.

He broached the matter with Gale and suggested a more subtle, sleight of hand alternative that would completely make the audience forget Doc still had the scraps of paper in his possession. Since the falling branch and disrupted cable were already in the script, Probert advocated for having Doc hastily stuff the fragments into his pocket once he and Marty (Michael J. Fox) are abruptly faced with a new obstacle in getting the latter back to 1985.

"If you're not ready for it, you overlook the fact that he skips past the point of the letter … because it's no longer important," Probert continued. "He’ll deal with it later. Right now, we have to get this cable hooked up before the big bolt comes in and we miss our chance. So Bob says, ‘Okay storyboard that and we'll see how it works.’ So I did and it worked."

While you can never truly tell whether a film will be a massive success or not, Probert had a nagging suspicion they had created something special while attending the advance screening held for members of the cast and crew.

"It was such a fun film to watch and it was universally enjoyed," the artist concluded. "It wasn't like, ‘Yeah, this person liked it, but this person didn’t know.’ No, everybody in the theater was insane and everybody loved the film — myself included. That's a pretty big cross-section and it's a group of people that are easily jaded by understanding how everything was done."

The complete Back to the Future trilogy is now streaming on Peacock.

Originally published Nov 1, 2023.