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The producing/directing team of Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale wrote the screenplay for Back to the Future, one of the best feel-good movies of all time! Back to the Future was the highest grossing film at the box-office in 1985 - and yet it still went on to win all sorts of major awards including an Academy Award (sound) and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture!

More than three decades now and people still love this movie as much as when it was first released. A lot of that is due to the screenplay. Let’s take a closer look at the script...

Analyzing the Story-Structures of Famous Screenplays: Back to the Future

Marty’s life is changed for the better, he lives happily ever after with the love-interest, and they all fly off to new adventures in the future.

Denouement: BACK FORWARD

Marty McFly, an impetuous high-school student, accidentally absconds with his the time-machine of his ‘mad-scientist’ friend - 30 years into the past!

If Marty doesn’t fix the time machine, really just a souped-up Delorean, his (and his family’s) entire existence will be in peril!

Not only does Marty need to get back to the future, but he now also needs to make his teenage parents fall in love all over again - at the school ball.

Inciting Incident: 1st Turning-Point: 2nd Turning Point: False-Victory or False-Defeat:

Marty flees the terrorists, jumps into the car and takes off!

Unfortunately, as soon as he hits 88 miles per hour…

This is a really strong turning point. Marty is just a regular kid throughout the first act - right up until he jumps in that car!

Notice how the setting changes: We go from Twin Pines - to the past, before Twin Pines was even Twin Pines.

Notice how the stakes rise tremendously: Marty is just a high-school kid - and now he’s being chased by terrorists and getting himself stuck in the past, with no way of getting home. The stakes rise tremendously.


Doc Brown’s Rube Goldberg machine sets off a series of chain reactions that end with failing to feed the dog properly.

Marty realizes that he needs to do more than just get back to the future - he needs to make his parents fall in love, all over again, and if he doesn’t, his brother and sister will never be born. And neither will he!

There already was a ticking clock on his quest - the lightning strike. But, now there are two ticking clocks: he has to make it to the town-square before the lightning strikes. If he misses it, he’ll be stuck in the past forever. And two, if he doesn’t make his parents fall in love again, he’ll disappear forever and won’t even have a chance to make it to the town square.

Notice how the setting changes: We go from trying to get the time-machine working - to the dance.

Notice how the stakes rise tremendously: Marty isn’t just going to be stuck in the past, now his whole existence is in jeopardy.

False-victory.

They know the exact time the lightning’s going to come, they’ve won. All they need to do is go.

But, alas...  It’s not really a victory after all, Marty’s messed up his parent’s relationship and if he doesn’t fix it, he’ll never exist!

Original movie posters from the film

Screen-Writing Contests:

Plot Recap:

Marty learns the importance of family. His father learns to stick up for himself. Love conquers all.

Theme:

This is the one area where Back to the Future is rather weak (two if you count theme). Marty doesn’t really change very much over the course of the film. He doesn’t really have much of a character-arc.

Character Arc: WARNING: May Contain Spoilers!