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How Did Back to the Future Remain A Pop Culture Phenomenon?

If anyone gets to know me for even less than a day, then it becomes apparent what my favourite film of all time is: Back to the Future. To me, it is the strength of an incredibly tight script, eccentric performances and a fun narrative that makes this film a complete masterpiece. It is also a film that has now been out for 34 years, and it still feels modern in concept to this day (even if the 2015 predictions from Back to the Future Part II were completely off).

Back to the Future Part II (1989) - source: Universal Pictures
Back to the Future Part II -(1989) – source: Universal Pictures

Because of this weird blend of modern style mixed with the nostalgia of it being a film from the 80s, I feel that it has made a massive comeback into pop culture in the past decade. I quickly want to start this post by highlighting the success of Back to the Future in today’s generation and see how far it has come.

December 2013: The first season of Rick and Morty airs on Adult Swim. This adult-animated comedy has grown in popularity in the last two to three years, being so powerful that McDonalds had to bring back Szechuan Sauce due to demand. As apparent from the title, this is a parody of Back to the Future, with Rick and Morty representing Dr Brown and Marty. This is the biggest use of Back to the Future in a single form of media, and potentially the most popular.

October 21st, 2015: On this day, we ended up being ahead of the “future” that was shown in Back to the Future Part II. Social media blew up within the upcoming months of this date, talking about how old everyone was feeling and mainly comparing their ‘2015’ to the reality of 2015. From the Jaws 19 hologram to the instant cooking pizzas, it was clear that their 2015 looked a lot more different than they were perhaps expecting.

On the exact day, October 21st 2015, Nike had announced their very limited run of self-lacing shoes that were first seen on Marty McFly. The best part? Michael J. Fox got the first pair, and any other pairs would be auctioned off or bought and money would go towards his association. This spread of love for the franchise got people invested in the film again, and numerous cinema chains and TV channels worldwide were certainly showing the film.

Rick and Morty - source: Adult Swim
Rick and Morty – source: Adult Swim

: Whilst I do not talk about politics on this blog, it is important to highlight 2016’s significance in Back to the Future popularity by highlighting Donald Trump’s victory to becoming President. Many people took this opportunity to reference several pieces of media that “predicted” this, with one being Back to the Future Part II and the character of Biff.

2019: The past few years have been filled with nostalgia, particularly thanks to successes like Ready Player One (which featured a DeLorean amongst hundreds of other references) and IT. One of the biggest TV series, as well as the biggest film of all time, have both used Back to the Future to help drive their narrative and hit a certain tone that they were going for.

Avengers: Endgame references the narrative several times in relation to the situation that the characters themselves find themselves in, but also is used to communicate to the audience what sort of film Endgame actually is, which is capturing the same spirit and heart that Back to the Future has. In season three of Stranger Things, they use Back to the Future mainly as a nostalgia play, not only reminding the audience of when the show is set, but also as humour in relation to the characters who are watching it. It works because most people who are watching the show have seen the film, so they can understand the jokes that are made.

Back to the Future (1985) - source: Universal Pictures
Back to the Future (1985) – source: Universal Pictures

It is clear that Back to the Future is still relevant in today’s generation, and most likely will be for generations to come. However, unlike most franchises that still capture our hearts like Jurassic Park or Ghostbusters, Back to the Future has not had a reboot. So, how has this film from 1985 managed to stay relevant and used to this day, without the talks of further sequels or reboots? I put it down to three factors.

1. Nostalgia: There seems to be a big trend in Hollywood now where the 1980s are way more appealing to a narrative than the current day, which tends to lead to characters referencing shows and films from the 80s. Whether that is a Ready Player One looking back fondly at the 80s or a Stranger Things actually taking place in the 80s, you have to have those iconic things to reference to. Back to the Future is so easy to reference, whether it is the DeLorean or quotes like “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads”, so it makes it easy for the audience to understand the reference.

2. Timeless: Despite the fact that this film is now 34 years old, it still feels relevant to this day. There is a reason that films such as Avengers: Endgame reference Back to the Future so heavily, and that is thanks to the storyline and how universal and timeless it is. We are still in a period where time travel is purely fictional and filled with fantasy, and people are still mystified about the connotations of it and how it can theoretically work in the real life. It is a concept that won’t die for generations to come, and Back to the Future is perhaps the biggest franchise that takes the idea of time travel and runs with it, making it the easiest to reference.

3. Genre-bending: There is not one distinctive genre for Back to the Future, meaning it isn’t locked in a certain demographic or reference point. Whether you look at it as a sci-fi, comedy or action film, it fits the bill on all of those genres. The fact that it is being turned into a stage musical in the UK (yes, that is actually going to be a thing) shows how versatile this film is, and how it can be anything a creator wants it to be to fit their tone and narrative of their own creation.

Ready Player One (2018) - source: Warner Bros. Pictures
Ready Player One (2018) – source: Warner Bros. Pictures

I can totally see why people would still reference Back to the Future to this day, and I would do the exact same. Whenever I see a film or TV series reference something even minor from it, it makes me smile instantly. At first, I wondered if I was just picking up the smallest details from shows and films about Back to the Future because it is my favourite film of all time, but the more I read about it the more I am certain it is not just me. To have an entire parody show blow up because of your franchise is a rare feat, and yet it happened with Back to the Future.

Did you notice this pattern, or are you only seeing this spread of popularity for the film now? Is there another film that has not had a reboot yet still feels relevant in today’s culture? Let me know in the comments below and let’s have a discussion.

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