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Why Back to the Future 4 will never happen

In mid-2018 Back to the Future fans issued a collective "Great Scott!" when what appeared to be Michael J. Fox's Facebook page announced that Back to the Future IV was finally, officially happening. Unfortunately, the posting ended up being nothing more than a hoax, and the prospects of a fourth time-trekking adventure for Marty McFly and Doc Brown were no further along that 88 mph track.

The mishap did prove that audience interest in such a follow-up is still intense, and even without the benefit of Biff's almanac, it's easy to predict that there would be at least some ticket-buyers lining up to see the dynamic duo hop back in their DeLorean for one more ride. However, there are a number of reasons why we won't see our hoverboarding hero lace up those nifty Nikes anytime soon. Here are some of the real reasons there will probably never be a Back to the Future 4.

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Only one cylinder firing

Bolstering hopes that Back to the Future IV might someday happen, actor Christopher Lloyd has indicated his own willingness to participate in such a project. In 2018, he told the Phoenix New Times that he'd be "delighted" to star in a fourth film for the franchise. However, he was also quick to issue a few caveats, saying he'd first need to see the creatives — specifically, writer-director Robert Zemeckis and co-writer Bob Gale — on the list of returners. Further, Lloyd said that "the most important thing is if they can come up with the right idea."

Lloyd, who fancies the original and third installments the most, said such a project would need to be "as good as the originals" to earn his interest and that he's got his reservations about quality issues associated with BTTF4. "You know, sometimes sequels don't live up to the originals and it's disappointing," he explained. "I know they don't want that to happen." Even so, at least Lloyd hasn't completely counted out the possibility of the pic happening at some point or another — even if he might be alone in that assessment…

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Biff predicts a dud

While Christopher Lloyd was somewhat wary about a fourth film potentially sullying the Back to the Future franchise, Thomas Wilson, the actor who played Biff Tannen, is completely convinced there's no more stretch of highway for the series that leads to anything good. At a Boston-based fan expo in 2018, Wilson shared his contempt for the idea of a future installment to the series by telling audiences, "Basically, I think America is saying, 'Come on, they've wrecked every other franchise with bad sequels, why not this one. C'mon, we would watch it until it sucks."

In other words, Wilson seems to think the ongoing era of Hollywood reboots and recycling projects playing upon a collective cultural nostalgia has been damaging to other film properties, and he has no interest in seeing his own career-making series endure the same fate. Wilson might have played a greedy bully in the series, but it sounds like he's not ready to cash in again any time soon.

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Here's history repeating

Back to the Future III left open the possibility for more story by ending with a teaser suggestion that Doc had "already been" back to the future, before he jetted off on his time-traveling train. If his subsequent adventures were the logical next step in the movie series, well, there's already been a good bit of resolution. In 1991, CBS aired two seasons of an animated Back to the Future TV series that chronicled Doc Brown's family adventures, and although the show wasn't canon, it did give fans plenty of insight as to what Doc Brown might be up to after the three films.

On top of that, screenwriter Bob Gale's comic series, Back to the Future: Tales from the Time Train directly spoke to the matter of what Brown was up to when he traveled to the "future," as hinted in that last line to Back to the Future III. Even though Gale said the line was merely meant as a "joke" when originally written, he still wanted to "pay that off" for fans who were left wondering what that scenario might look like. Meanwhile, the Back to the Future video game explored another Doc Brown-Marty McFly plotline involving the mad scientist's arrest, and the cast members even re-teamed for a 2015 short film called "Doc Brown Saves the World" and a live reunion skit for Jimmy Kimmel. In other words, whatever questions or time gaps might've been left open by the original films have largely been addressed by the various companion pieces that have followed.

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Tapping the brakes

Michael J. Fox has been very open about his battle with the effects of Parkinson's disease, and, although he has continued to work fairly consistently on the small screen (with recurring roles in Spin CityBoston Legal, Rescue Me, The Michael J. Fox Show, The Good Wife, and Designated Survivor) since revealing his diagnosis in 1998, at least one creative behind Back to the Future has publicly shared that his health woes are a major reason Back to the Future IV will never happen.

Bob Gale told the crowd at a 2008 screening event that Fox's condition could be prohibitive to his involvement with such a project and that without him, there is no Back to the Future movie. "As I'm sure you all know, Michael J. Fox is not in the best of shape with his Parkinson's," he explained. "The idea of making another Back to the Future movie without Michael J. Fox — you know, that's like saying 'I'm going to cook you a steak dinner and I'm going to hold the beef.' You can't do that." It's worth noting that at the time, Fox was on a short hiatus from his acting work while supporting his foundation, and later returned to the screen with more consistency. However, that's not the only reason Gale is sure a fourth film is a nonstarter.

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Creative clapback

The central figures behind the scenes of the original Back to the Future series have outright declared they'll never sign off on any more BTTF films thanks to their own quality concerns. At the same 2008 fan event, Gale declared, "Let me answer one question before anyone asks it, which is, 'Is there ever be a Back to the Future Part IV?' No. … We've all seen sometimes where they make one too many sequels and you say, 'Maybe they shouldn't have done that.' I'm not going to name any names of movies, but you know what they are!" He's since reiterated his position that revival-style sequels are all too often damaged goods.

In a 2010 blog post for BTTF.com, Gale revealed that his opinions are shared by director Robert Zemeckis and that the two have enough proprietary control over the series to ensure it never happens. "We have no plans or desires to make another Back to the Future movie — not a Part 4, nor a remake of Part 1." Gale went on to add, "Nor does Universal or Amblin Entertainment have such plans. … Per our contracts with these companies, no Back to the Future sequel or remake can even be scripted without discussing it with us first. … We are very proud of the Trilogy as it stands and we want to leave it as is." Zemeckis has since echoed those sentiments of finality, so even if everyone on-screen wanted to come back for a new film, the men with the rights simply don't.

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DeLorean disappearances

In addition to the cast and creators of the Back to the Future franchise, the other important star of the series is the car. Yes, that small stainless steel DeLorean DMC-12 is as critical to continuity as anyone or anything about the series, and the bad news is that the film franchise's copies of the car are in short supply. Only a few thousand DeLoreans were ever assembled to begin with, and the company was already bankrupt by the time Back to the Future went into production, which meant the automobile was already limited in quantity before the first film reels ever start rolling on the series.

According to BTTF.com, of the seven original DeLoreans used in the making of the movies, only three survive today: One resides in a Los Angeles museum, a second made its way to Orlando for the Universal Studios Theme Park, and a third is in the possession of a private purchaser. Considering how much slicing, dicing, and stunt explosions the other cars were put through during production on the movies, there may be some practical (and financial) considerations that might prohibit the return of the DeLorean for a fourth film, even despite the fact that a few hundred replicas were later made just for kicks. And just like with Michael J. Fox, the series just doesn't exist without its headlining speedster.

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The nostalgia slump

Even if a really good Back to the Future IV script idea ever came along that managed to change the minds of everyone who has been so reticent to pursue one, there may still be some reason to hesitate on making it happen … at least from the financiers' perspectives. Throughout the original trilogy, the box office receipts on the BTTF films steadily declined. They were each still successful enough, but that severe downward trend may be a bit of a red flag for investors eyeing a potential return to the series.

More broadly, long-awaited sequels have not always enjoyed the kind of success their long-lived fan following might suggest. Recently, follow-up films like Zoolander 2 and Blade Runner 2049 and reboots like Robocop and The Mummy proved to be box office busts, despite the original films being held in high regard for years by their fanbases. While the nostalgia train keeps on chugging along all the same, the Back to the Future films' reducing receipts coupled with the economic uncertainty surrounding these type of revival pictures in general might mean it's simply too risky to make Back to the Future IV ever happen, even if everyone involved was interested. Without a really high degree of confidence, the studio has little reason to force the issue and risk losing money.