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SYFY WIRE Back to the Future

Yes, That Back to the Future Gag in The Flash is Based on a True Story

Once you start messing with reality, Marty McFly might not look like you remember.

By Benjamin Bullard
Back to the Future

Just ask Marty McFly: When you gotta get back in time, it’s best not to tamper with things, or else it might just ruin your childhood. That’s the lesson that Barry Allen aka the Flash (Ezra Miller) is finding out the hard way, now that DC’s The Flash is doing fast laps in theaters.

**SPOILER WARNING! Story spoilers for The Flash lie ahead!**

Making good on a behind-the-scenes close casting call that’s now the stuff of Hollywood legend, The Flash is having a little fun with the havoc its speedy hero causes on a time-shredding trip to the past to save his mother. Dropping in on an earlier version of himself and friends in the movie, Barry realizes his meddlesome time movement has caused some unintended chronological chaos: In this alternate timeline, Michael J. Fox never played Marty McFly in Universal’s smash 1985 sci-fi classic. Instead, the role went to a pre-Pulp Fiction Eric Stoltz.

RELATED: Michael J. Fox’s Best Genre Roles Ranked, From Teen Wolf toe Back to the Future

It’s a funny gag on its own of course, but the smiles get bigger for fans who know the real-life story of how Fox’s 1980s big-screen career came to be synonymous with the character of McFly. Stoltz himself had originally scored the coveted front-seat date with Back to the Future’s Delorean as Marty, after director Robert Zemeckis initially couldn’t land Fox — already a major star for his role as Alex Keaton in NBC’s Family Ties — thanks to Fox’s packed casting schedule.

Fast forward to the movie’s early production, and Stoltz was out as McFly, as the actor’s serious take on the skateboarding high schooler conflicted with the more lighthearted comedic creative vision that Zemeckis and screenwriter Bob Gale had for the sci-fi comedy. That brief delay was just enough time for Fox’s schedule to open up, and the rest, as Doc (Christopher Lloyd) might say, is Back to the Future history.

The Office Connection You Probably Didn't Know

As Entertainment Weekly reports, though, there’s another fun wrinkle: The Flash director Andy Muschietti unearthed more real-life BTTF lore than he bargained for in having Barry Allen mess with the pop-culture timeline. “Of course I knew the Eric Stoltz story for a long time,” he reportedly confessed in April at CinemaCon, “but I didn't know that when Eric Stoltz is fired, the one that is also fired is the actress that plays Marty McFly's girlfriend.”

He’s talking about The Office star Melora Hardin, who originally had been cast to play Marty’s high school flame Jennifer Parker (the role fans know as belonging to actual BTTF actor Claudia Wells). Hardin had been cast to play the character opposite Stoltz as McFly… but when he left the project, Hardin had to be let go, too.

Why? Not for creative differences (or for frying too many flux capacitors). Hardin, it turns out, was simply too tall to appear in scenes alongside Fox. “[W]hen they bring Michael Fox, he's so tiny in comparison to Eric Stoltz,” Muschietti said. “Melora Hardin was like three feet higher than [Fox], so they had to hire a shorter actress.”

Hey, Hollywood history might feel kinda funky in The Flash’s forked movie timeline, but at least Barry fixed a couple of past problems — and managed to stitch shut the tear he’d created along the way. That means Marty McFly should still look familiar when fans fire up Back to the Future while they ponder another of the movie’s possible parallels with The Flash: Just like Marty, Barry Allen probably doesn’t need any roads to get from here to wherever his future takes him.

Don’t wait for lightning to strike! Grab Back to the Future now (along with sequels Back to the Future II and Back to the Future III) on the digital or disc-based platform of your choice.