The untold truth of Marty McFly

The Back to the Future trilogy makes up one of the best-loved (and most widely seen) sagas in modern cinema. The adventures of Doc Brown and Marty McFly instantly captivated audiences, and over time, this series has spawned multiple video games, card games, comics, and even an animated TV show—but many fans still don't know all that much about the young man at the center of the story, Marty McFly. Audiences know more about how Doc Brown invented time travel than they know about his young protégé's background and life, but you don't need a Sports Almanac from the future to get all the answers…all it takes is this handy guide to the untold truth of Marty McFly.

He was almost played by Eric Stoltz

Back to the Future turned Marty McFly into a genuine global phenomenon—and made the actor who played him, Family Ties star Michael J. Fox, more famous than ever. But Fox didn't always have the role. Before he signed on, the time-traveling teen was played by Eric Stoltz.


Looking back, it's interesting to note just how involved Stoltz was before he ended up being replaced. He filmed a number of scenes, including Marty's first trip to 1955 and his triumphant, lightning-powered trip back to the future. But after all that, director Robert Zemeckis and screenwriter Bob Gale didn't think Stoltz had quite the wacky vibe they wanted, and they eventually worked out a deal with NBC to secure Fox's services during his downtime from Family Ties. Sadly, Stoltz was seemingly one of the last to find out—crew members recalled shooting scenes where they'd film Christopher Lloyd's reactions, but be instructed to not do the reverse shots for the soon-to-be-replaced star.


He has a rich musical legacy

At its most basic level, the Back to the Future series is about changing history. Sometimes, this is done intentionally, as when Marty seeks to restore the timeline of his mother and father's marriage. Other times, it's unintentional, like when Marty's lessons to his father about standing up for himself lead to his father becoming a successful author who's no longer scared of Biff Tannen. All of this makes it more surprising that we never see how time travel affects Marty's future. In Back to the Future II, the Marty of the far-away year of 2015 is presented as a broken corporate drone of a man who never pursued his dreams of a musical career due to an injury. He avoids this injury at the end of the third Back to the Future, but audiences are left to wonder how extensively future Marty's life changed.


Apparently, the answer is that he became insanely successful. In the one episode of the admittedly rather forgettable Back to the Future cartoon where the characters travel to the future (specifically, to the year 2091), Doc Brown encounters a Marty McFly impersonator. Aboard a spaceship also named after Marty, Doc witnesses someone who dresses like Marty, plays guitar, and sings Marty's music.


He met Doc Brown because of Needles

In the movies, the character of Douglas J. Needles is a relatively minor antagonist. While Biff Tannen causes trouble for the McFly family in pretty much every timeline, Needles only pops up twice. First, he goads the future Marty into a scam regarding their mutual employer, which results in Marty getting fired. Needles pops up again near the end of the third movie, when he tries to goad Marty into the same street race in which Marty's future self had suffered a major injury. Marty, now wiser, avoids both the race and the injury, and we never see Needles again. At least, not on screen. As it turns out, though, the small-time pest known as Needles was absolutely vital to the story of how Marty met Doc Brown.


The original writer and creator of Back to the Future, Bob Gale, later wrote some Back to the Future comics. Among other things, these comics helped to establish how Marty met Doc Brown after Needles bullied Marty into stealing an interocitor tube that Needles needed for his band. Marty eventually deduced that he'd need to retrieve it from Doc, as Doc had recently cleaned the local music store out of all their tubes. Doc was impressed with how Marty got into his home (more on that in a bit), and eventually hired Marty as his assistant.


He's smarter than he looks

While Marty is never portrayed as stupid, he usually comes off as more quick-witted than smart—he's good at hoverboard acrobatics and surviving Old West duels, but he usually has to play the average intelligence audience surrogate to whom the insanely intelligent Doc must explain everything. But Marty is actually much smarter than he first appears. Much of the evidence for this comes from the same comic that details his first meeting with Doc: as shown in the first movie, Doc Brown is the kind of man who builds weird, Rube Goldberg-style devices for mundane activities like feeding his dog, and his home is protected by a series of puzzles and traps. Marty manages to figure out the puzzles and escape the traps, which is the chief reason he's offered a job…all because his intellect impressed one of the smartest guys around.

Marty and Doc's relationship was almost very different

The magic of comic books, plus years of hindsight, allowed Bob Gale to develop that "meet cute" story about Marty and Doc. In one of the earlier scripts of the first movie, however, their relationship is a little sleazier. In that version, Marty's asked why he'd hang out with an old weirdo like Doc, and according to Marty, he was hired to do things like sweep up the Doc's garage in exchange for $50 a week, access to Doc's huge record collection, and "free beer." The latter detail is particularly weird, as Marty is portrayed as only 17 in the first movie, which would mean Doc lured a 15-year-old to his home with money and beer. Gives the Back to the Future soundtrack anthem "The Power of Love" a whole new meaning.

It took time to win Jennifer over

In the Back to the Future movies, there isn't much of an arc when it comes to the romance between Marty and Jennifer. After all, she isn't in the majority of the first movie, and when the second one rolls around (with someone new playing the part), the initial plot is propelled forward by the need to save the future of Marty and Jennifer's children. All of this makes their romance seem like something that was preordained to happen, but it really took Marty a long time (and a number of misadventures) to win Jennifer's affection.


Marty and Jennifer met in elementary school. Over time, they drifted apart, until less than a year before the events of the first film, Marty reintroduced himself—only to fail to pay enough attention to Jennifer during their conversation, alienating her. Marty sought girl advice from Doc Brown, and in his next conversation with Jennifer, they bonded over an arcade game and their mutual love of Clint Eastwood movies—a moment ruined by a teasing Needles. After an awkward plan to steal the DeLorean to impress Jennifer went awry, Marty simply asked her out; their first date was a Clint Eastwood movie, which might have ended up helping keep Marty alive when he time-traveled to the Old West.


He once planned to steal the DeLorean

Marty is a pretty good-natured teenager, and he's normally very respectful of Doc Brown. Nonetheless, much of Needles' teasing involved Marty's lack of a car (hence his need to get around via skateboard in the first movie). In one Back to the Future comic, the story follows Marty's plan to steal Doc's DeLorean as a way of impressing Jennifer. He almost immediately changes his mind, but he's in the right place at the right time to stop Needles, who makes his own attempt to steal the DeLorean. Doc Brown shows up to help humiliate Needles, and Marty apologizes for his very brief plot to steal the DeLorean. Doc, despite being a reclusive bachelor loner at the time, tells Marty he understands what it's like to be young and in love, and encourages Marty to just ask Jennifer out instead of assuming he needs to change something about himself.

He came up with the flying car...sort of

During a brief moment in one of the comics, Doc Brown and Marty are talking about secrets. During this conversation, the mysterious DeLorean is on Marty's mind because he doesn't have a car of his own, though he doesn't yet know Doc's car is a time machine. Instead, he asks Doc if the secret the man is keeping is actually a flying car. Doc tells him that while that isn't his secret, a flying car isn't a bad idea at all—meaning Marty planted the seeds for the significant upgrade the DeLorean gets in the second movie.

He's hated by the principal for good reasons

One weird detail in the Back to the Future trilogy involves Principal Strickland's animosity toward Marty. While Marty's adventure in 1955 shows that Strickland was always something of a hard-ass, Marty seems to get special attention, always being called a "slacker" by the strict school official. One partial explanation for this anger is found in the novelization of the first movie, which contains a weird subplot in which Strickland has thrown Marty in detention, and the young man must escape so he can join his band for the big audition. Strickland, in rare form, uses a vise to destroy Marty's precious Walkman. Marty responds by using gum to affix a matchbook near a smoke alarm and a projector lens to reflect light and set the matches on fire. Incidentally, while this scene never made it to the final movie, it was filmed with the original Marty, Eric Stoltz.