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SYFY WIRE Back to the Future

Why Michael J. Fox Thought Back to the Future Performance Might Damage His Career

We're gonna go out on a limb here and say there was nothing to worry about.

By Josh Weiss

Back to the Future is, without a doubt, one of the most enjoyable movies ever made. The same cannot be said for its arduous production. 

You're probably aware of how the famous story goes: Eric Stoltz was the original Marty McFly for a little over a month before he was replaced by Michael J. Fox, effectively adding a few million to the budget for reshoots. Fox, who enjoyed a principal role on Family Ties at the time, agreed to take on a grueling schedule that split his weekdays between television and film. This exhausted him so greatly, that the actor assumed his fatigue would negatively impact his performance in Back to the Future and, by extension, his entire acting career.

RELATED: Michael J. Fox on Back to the Future Reboot: 'Do what you want. It’s your movie. I got paid already'

Why Michael J. Fox thought Back to the Future might damage his career

"I thought this would all be over soon," he remembered during an interview with Empire for the magazine's summer 2023 issue (now on sale). "I thought [after] they'd see what I'd done, I'd go back to the back of the pack and start again."

Those anxieties, of course, proved to be wholly unfounded and indeed, Fox's haggard existence ultimately proved a benefit rather than a hindrance. "I was running on adrenaline," he told Variety while promoting Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie, the new Apple TV+ documentary about his life. "I barely knew where I was, and I didn’t really know what I was doing. That served the film because Marty’s supposed to be disoriented."

"Eric Stoltz is a wonderful actor, but he lacked a certain comedic sense that is inherent in Michael," noted Christopher Lloyd, who starred opposite Fox as the film's manic inventor of time travel, Doctor Emmett Brown. "Initially, I was worried because we’d been shooting for six weeks, and it meant going back and redoing all my scenes. I thought I might not be as good. But Michael made me better."

"Michael taught me things about comic timing," echoed Back to the Future director and co-writer Robert Zemeckis. "We’d have conversations, and he’d go, ‘You know, Bob, I’ll get a much bigger laugh if I move three steps, pause, and then say the line.’"

Even so, the power of the project (and the power of love) was not apparent to Fox until the movie opened in early July of 1985 and changed the course of cinematic history. It was his agent who delivered the good news of the film's runaway success while the actor was in London filming "a terrible TV movie called Family Ties Vacation" and drowning his sorrows in a steady stream of alcohol and clubbing.

"I was drunk in my apartment, on the floor, and my phone rings and it was my agent. My first thought was, 'It has to be terrible.' My agent said, 'You don't understand. This is the biggest thing in the world.' My first instinct was, 'I have to get back to America! There are girls to meet!'"

The complete Back to the Future trilogy is available to purchase in several iterations from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. A musical stage play inspired by the 1985 classic opens on Broadway this summer. Click here for more info on performances and tickets.

Want more sci-fi offerings? Head over to Peacock for Galaxy of Terror, Waterworld, Face/Off, The Tuxedo, Hulk, Doom, Land of the Lost, Oblivion, The Wolverine, The Invisible Man, M3GAN, and more!