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The Real Reason Back To The Future 2 Had A Different Jennifer

The Back to the Future trilogy is among the most fondly remembered in the history of blockbuster filmmaking. The adventures of Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) are beloved all over the world, so it's difficult to imagine that production on all three was anything less than a cakewalk. 

In reality, that could not be any further from the truth. The second film, especially, faced quite a few issues early on. While some problems, like Crispin Glover's controversy-ridden departure from the franchise, resulted in pretty heated conflict, other bumps in the road were much easier to smooth out.

One such recast that resolved itself with little to no behind-the-scenes struggle involved the role of Jennifer Parker. For those who need a refresher, she was Marty's girlfriend in the first film, as portrayed by Claudia Wells, and the story primed her for a major role in the second installment, per Doc's concern over her and Marty's future children. However, when the sequel — Back to the Future Part II arrived, audiences noticed Wells' replacement with Elisabeth Shue right from the start, prompting many to speculate as to what kind of backstage drama led to her leaving. As it turns out, in a break from the usually shady history of recasting, the Jennifer switch came about for pretty rational reasons.

Personal tragedy led to Claudia Wells leaving Back to the Future Part II

Recasting tends to come as a result of money disputes, screen time, or any number of production-based disagreements. In the case of Claudia Wells, it wasn't hubris that opened the door for Elisabeth Shue to take on the part, but rather, her mother's declining health.

By the time the sequel came around, Wells' mother been diagnosed with cancer, and so Wells elected to pass on Back to the Future Part II, to take care of her ill parent. As she told People Magazine, "Life was very, very difficult and stressful. I just didn't have it in me to do anything but deal with the stress and the emotions that were going on as a result of my mom being in the process of dying. I just wasn't in a place to be able to think about my career or the film or anything other than what I was doing with my own life." Wells even retired from movies altogether for quite some time, not appearing in another film until 2008, for the independent project Still Waters Burn.

Despite Shue taking over the role for second and third Back to the Future films, Wells did get the chance to voice Jennifer, decades later, for Telltale's episodic Back to the Future video game, and later appeared in the short film Back to the 2015 Future. At the end of the day, she made the right call by choosing to provide for her sick mom instead of going off on another fictional time-travel adventure, and besides, while it might have taken longer than anticipated, she eventually got to return to the Back to the Future universe, so everything worked out for the best.