We must face the inevitable: we have not seen the end of the Back to the Future franchise. The only real question is, in what form will it continue?
I will point out that insiders seem to disagree with this statement. Bob Gale himself, co-writer and co-producer of all three Back to the Future films has stated on several occasions that they are leaving things exactly as they are. In an interview with Newsweek, Gale was asked what 2045 would look like. From the article:
“First of all, we’re not doing a sequel,” Gale replied. “So let’s take that part of it out of the equation.”
Robert Zemeckis, the other co-writer and co-producer of the films, has been equally outspoken on the subject of a remake. Unfortunately, history has a way of overwhelming even the noblest of intentions. Hollywood is rife with remakes, and for better or for worse, it seems as though every successful movie or franchise from a certain generation is up for grabs.
We are seeing remakes, reboots, and sequels of movies and TV shows from the late 70's through the whole of the 80's, with some features like Jurassic World being revived from successes as recent as the early 90's. As the years progress, so does the pressure to capitalize on those kinds of successes with a new generation. Planet of the Apes, Star Wars, Star Trek, Vacation, Evil Dead, Tron, Ghostbusters, and on and on.
Many of those franchises were thought to be done as well, even by their creators. Who would have thought that Jack Ryan would have the (some might say questionable) honor of getting not one but two reboots after the turn of the century? Could anyone have guessed at a Point Break remake? How about a new Karate Kid that is not about Karate? In fact all of these things and more have come to pass.
Back to the Future was the highest grossing film of 1985. As committed as Zemeckis and Gale may be to stopping it, this property is ripe for a reboot of some kind. All that remains is to determine what exactly that should look like.
The case for another trilogy
Part of why the creators are so opposed to a remake is that they do not believe it will stand up to the original trilogy. I have to admit, I think they have some pretty good reasons to believe that. I fully agree with Robert Zemeckis: a remake could never work for me. The idea of a fourth installment falls just as flat. Without the involvement of a talented writing team, those are the most likely fates of the franchise. But a fully developed second trilogy? That has teeth.
This year is the 30th anniversary of the original as well as the future year they travel to in the films, which is the most prominent setting of Back to the Future 2.
This is a perfect, real-life tie-in to the original that could open up a host of incredible plot lines. It couldn't work like that with a full remake, but it just begs to be used. "It's 2017 (by the time the film comes out). Where are all the hover cars? Something went wrong, and we had better figure it out before it's too late." It almost writes itself from there, and the writing could be even better this time around.
When Zemeckis and Gale originally pitched Back to the Future, they got used to hearing Hollywood execs tell them that time travel movies just can't make money. Nowadays, you don't hear that anymore. Modern time travel movies can be -- and usually are -- a good deal more sophisticated than they were 30 years ago. After the success of the original Back to the Future, the time travel theme has become more prevalent in Hollywood. It has recently tied into some very major motion pictures, including Deja Vu, Donnie Darko, The Butterfly Effect, Source Code, Looper, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and many others. The Terminator, which was released the year before Back to the Future, has spawned several successful sequels, including one released just this year.
The concept of the Grandfather Paradox is now so familiar to so many people that it is almost passe. Even the entirely comedic Hot Tub Time Machine franchise confidently opened up a parallel universe can of worms at the very end of the sequel. Audiences can handle a little more meat on their time-travel movies, even the purely diversionary ones. This opens up loads of possibilities for amazing story lines to be developed out of the Back to the Future legacy, if it were written as a trilogy from the start.
The cast has been well-preserved
It is a fortunate coincidence that several of the original cast members have grown into their former roles. The film was meant to be set in 1985 and 1955 at the same time. To do that, the filmmakers took actors as they were for the 1955 material and then made them look 30 years older for the 1985 stuff. Now it is 30 years later in reality, and the stars look just right without any makeup. Lea Thompson looks like a pretty dead ringer for the slim, attractive version of a 1985 Lorraine. Crispin Glover could play either the young or the old George McFly with ease. To see what I mean, check out this article by Allanah Faherty.
The joke about Doc Brown was that he looked the same in both decades, but even Christopher Lloyd has held up pretty well. In today's world of modern make-up and special effects, which recently changed Michael Douglas from a real-life 70 year old into an on-screen 45 year old, it should be a cinch to write in these characters for small cameos, or even more significant parts. Yet again, this is something that could not be utilized in a remake.
I see the time travel theme as a built-in opportunity. It allows filmmakers to make retcons part of their cannon. The Star Trek reboot started off with a time-travelling Spock unwittingly altering the past, thus allowing everything to take a similar but slightly different path from the original material without losing any of it. Terminator: Genysis follows a similar theme.
Another thing that makes this idea exciting is that Back to the Future's special effects were done by Industrial Light and Magic back in 1985. Just think about how much the special effects industry has grown since then. It is hard not to get excited about the idea of a deeper, and maybe a little darker story-line, filmed with post-Matrix special effects. Plus, we would need a new car (you may remember the DeLorean was smashed to bits). Here would be my vote:
I loved the DeLorean, but this is a machine that was built for navigating the time-space continuum!
If another trilogy never happens, personally I wouldn't mind. I loved the original trilogy, and I am happy to let it stand alone, I just don't think Hollywood will allow that. If Gale and Zemeckis can hold their line in the sand, it would probably be for the better, but if not, I fear we will end up with "Back to the Future 4: The Crystal Skulls." Nobody wants that, and we don't need to be stuck with it, but we will need to get proactive if we hope to avoid it.