It is hard to imagine that we are now the same amount of time away from 1985 as Marty McFly was from 1955 in the original Back To The Future. A lot has changed in thirty years, but the love audiences have for Robert Zemeckis’ sci-fi romantic comedy hasn’t dwindled. Luckily, Back To The Future fanatics don’t have to worry about the adventures of Doc Brown and Marty McFly being rebooted anytime soon, but that doesn’t keep fans from creating scenarios in order to fill in plot holes in the Back To The Future series.
The internet really gave fan fiction somewhere to live and breathe: Fans have been creating their own adventures for their fictional characters for years, be it playing with action figures or penning lovelorn fantasies in their diaries. Nowadays, it’s easy to find folks who may read—or, in extreme cases, buy—your Doc and Marty slash fic. Back To The Future, like any fantasy series, has its own set of theories meant to explain away time travel and the many paradoxes of time travel. The Back To The Future series already features three different 1985s, possibly two 2015s (unfortunately we are not living in the one with Jaws 19), a 1955 where Marty tosses milkshakes at thugs, and one where Marty McFly looks like Eric Stoltz. There was even a Tannen dinosaur. What Culture has compiled a list of 10 of the most popular theories, and the blue-ribbon, fact-finding commission over here at The A.V. Club found a few more. Let’s go back in time, unless you’re chicken.
The first theory suggests that Marty McFly actually wrote two letters to Doc Brown warning Emmett that he would be killed by the Libyan nationalists on October 21, 1955. The theorist noticed that the letter Marty is writing in the café is quite different from the letter that Doc presents Marty in the first alternate 1985. While this is probably just due to the prop master not having the original letter when they were shooting pickups, this fan theory suggests that Marty had second thoughts about changing the future even though through his actions he possibly invented rock ’n’ roll as well as the skateboard, implying that he may have had a hand in developing punk as well.
This theory as is about as useful as a screen door on a battleship.
Another theory explored on the site explains that Doc Brown was suicidal. When the DeLorean first travels through time in the Twin Pines Mall parking lot, Doc stands in front of the time machine after explaining that his inventions never work. He pulls Marty by his side in hopes that the car will run them both down (and what of Einstein?). This theory is highly doubtful; sure, Doc never built his models to scale, but he was due for something he created to finally work. This ties into another theory that the DeLorean breaks down in order to prevent a paradox from occurring.
As the What Culture article states:
In Back To The Future, it [the DeLorean] breaks down in a place where it can easily be hid, so that nobody in 1955 sees such a futuristic vehicle and later fails to start just before the lightening strike—the delay means the car hits the wire at exactly the right time, almost as if it was compensating for an error in Doc Brown’s calculations. Clever DeLorean!
The Marty Martyr theory, which touches on the more sinister side of things, implies that in the alternate 1985 of the original film, Doc actually is sending the original Marty to his death via the DeLorean—to avoid a paradox having “Marty A” and “Marty B” ever crossing paths—rather than creating an endless loop. Fans love the idea of Marty dying; there’s even a theory that suggests that Biff runs Marty down in the tunnel during the climax of Back To The Future II, but Doc travels back in time a matter of minutes in order to save his friend.
What Culture also refers to a theory that Back To The Future is really about reproduction and the flux capacitor is actually a uterus. The good Doc did mention that once he dismantled the time machine, he would devote himself to studying the other great mystery of the universe: women.
One of the questions that people who have seen Back To The Future one too many times ask is, “How did alternate 1985 George McFly not recognize his son Marty as his high school chum Calvin Klein?” The easiest answer is that George did a lot of drugs in the ’60s and ’70s,—he was a sci-fi writer—or, even simpler, would you remember what someone you hung out with for a week looked like 30 years later? Of course, that’s just not enough for some geeks, so a scenario has been concocted in which George actually knew that Marty was a time traveler. /Film collected some popular takes on this theory from Reddit, one of which culminates in George McFly attempting to read H.G. Wells’ Time Machine but being disturbed by his son Marty blasting “Johnny B. Goode” in the other room, leading George to exclaim, “HOLY SHIT 1955 MARTY IS ACTUALLY MY FUTURE SON WHO WENT BACK IN TIME TO HOOK ME UP WITH HIS MOTHER!!!” George, being a sci-fi writer, knew that nobody should know too much about his own destiny, and kept it a secret so as not to create a paradox. He knew that his son needed to go back to 1985 so that George could become a succesful writer. (He definitely did not want to return to the original 1985 timeline where Biff was George’s supervisor.) All that being said, if George was really smart, he just would have written Star Wars before Lucas created Darth Vader. McFly knew him first.
There is also a theory that imagines that Doc Brown is the first Time Lord as a result of his penchant for bow ties and steampunk stylings. The Whovians would love that.
Then there’s Robert Lockard, who suggested in 2014 that the entire Back To The Future trilogy is one big chiasmus. What’s a chiasmus? According to Lockard’s website, “it’s an ancient writing structure in which ideas are listed in one order and them repeated in the opposite order to form a complete idea. You know, like ‘Hickory Dickory Dock.’” Lockard states that “the entire Back To The Future trilogy is almost perfectly symmetrical.” That’s heavy, just like that Star Wars Ring Theory that actually suggests that the prequel trilogy is good.
There is even a meta theory that we are now living in a timeline that was created by Marty and the Doc fucking around with the space-time continuum. Director Robert Zemeckis famously teased little kids all around the world in 1989, when he stated that Hoverboards were in fact real but parents’ groups wouldn’t allow them to be released (We did get power laces though).This theory suggests that the Rolls-Royce driver that Marty didn’t hit in the alternate 1985 was the man who said “no” to a Hoverboard pitch at the Mattel offices. Hoverboards were invented as a result of the driver being in a crash and not making it to the meeting, but in this new timeline, the idea never made it out of the design stage. On that meta tip, some folks even suggest that Donnie Darko is actually Back To The Future fan fiction replacing Doc Brown with Frank The Bunny, Marty with Donnie, and Jennifer with Gretchen. Take that for what it’s worth, but at the very least Donnie Darko is better than another famous fan fic, Fifty Shades.
Perhaps the wildest Back To The Future theory is that the film predicts the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Well, not really: YouTube user barelyHuman11 painstakingly edited together video that ties Illuminati symbols and coincidental placements of the numbers 9 and 11 in the films into a video that perfectly parodies truther conspiracies. If you’re into the tinfoil hat look, the video is so well done that it may have you actually thinking that Zemeckis and Gale wrote the original film with Nostradamus. In fact, it just proves that anything can theorized if you spend too much time thinking about it. BarelyHuman11 also put together a short clip tying Back To The Future to the JFK assassination.
These two videos prove that if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.