I love the Back to the Future trilogy of films. I love the time travel, of course, but I also just love the stories. But they can be a bit confusing when it comes to the dates since characters bounce back and forth in time.

Futurepedia is the “Back to the Future Wiki” and they do a pretty good job of giving information on the trilogy and the animated series, and keeping track of the continuity in the stories. As careful as I have been in researching all this, I probably screwed up at some point, so fans can correct me in the comments section. This is the kind of research I enjoy.

It all starts when Doc Brown reveals to his friend Marty McFly what he has invented. They are at Twin Pines Mall, and it is the early morning of October 26, 1985.

Doc’s first test of the DeLorean time machine is when he sends his dog, Einstein, one minute into the future. Using a remote controller, he revved up the engine to 65 mph while braked, released the brake and sent the car moving towards the two of them. The DeLorean glowed, and as it hit 88 mph as flames seemed to engulf the vehicle. As the flux capacitor fired, the car seemed to explode just before it hit Doc and Marty leaving only fire trails on the pavement.

Marty: “You disintegrated Einstein!”
Doc: “Calm down, Marty, I didn’t disintegrate anything. The molecular structure of both Einstein and the car are completely intact!”
Marty: “Then where the hell are they?”
Doc: “The appropriate question is ‘When the hell are they’? You see, Einstein has just become the world’s first time traveler. I sent him into the future!… one minute into the future to be precise. And at exactly 1:21 A.M. and zero seconds we will catch up to him and the time machine.”

For Einstein, the trip was instantaneous, but to Marty and Doc they had to wait exactly one minute to catch up to Einstein in the timeline. The car suddenly appeared where Doc and Marty were standing and screeched to a halt. It was frozen -supercooled from traveling through time.

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Einstein was unharmed, and Doc then showed Marty the interior and its controls.

Doc says, “First, you turn the time circuits on. This read-out tells you where you’re going. This one tells you where you are. This one tells you where you were.”

While inputting dates on the keypad, Doc used July 4, 1776 (the date the American declaration of Independence was signed) and December 25, 0000 (the date of the birth of Christ) as examples, before inputting “a red-letter date in the history of science, November 5, 1955″.

It is Oct. 26, 1985 at 1:22 AM  when Einstein returns. Doc Brown intended to travel to Oct. 26, 2010, but he is gunned down by terrorists in the mall parking lot before he gets the chance. To escape, Marty jumps in the DeLorean and travels back to November 5, 1955 . This is the day Doc first envisioned the flux capacitor used to time travel. He had set it to this date when he was demonstrating how the time machine worked.

Marty spends one week in 1955.  On November 12, 1955 at 10:04 PM, Marty zaps back to the “future” (which is his and our movie “present” – geez, this is confusing).

But, as we watch the three films, we realize that there were four instances of the DeLorean in Hill Valley on that day, three of which existed at the same time! One was the car hidden at Doc’s mansion with the 1955 Doc. One version of the car was hidden somewhere else by the 2015 Biff, because November 12, 1955 is also when Biff Tannen, enemy to all McFlys, steals the DeLorean to take the 1950-2000 Sports Almanac that Marty bought. One DeLorean was with the 1985 Doc was hidden behind the Lyon estates billboard.

Most of the 1955 events in the Part II film are Marty and Doc in “Timeline 6“, as it is known to aficionados, where Doc had not been in 1885. Yes, there are a bunch of timelines to explain all this.

Marty, with the help of young Doc and a lightning strike, returns to the date he left, Oct. 26, 1985 at 1:24 AM. Unfortunately, because of Biff’s new wealth due to his ability to “predict” the outcomes of sporting events, it’s a completely different 1985 than the one he left at start of the film.

In the second film, Marty is warned by Doc that there are a few problems with his kids, so they must go to the future to correct a situation. They travel to October 21, 2015. Biff delivers the sports almanac to his younger 1955 self and then he returns the DeLorean to the date he found it.

In the third film, the DeLorean, with only Doc in it, is struck by lightning and he is sent back to 1885.  In this film, Marty uses the DeLorean that’s been in hidden for the last 70 years to travel back to September 2, 1885 to rescue Doc.

In order to get the DeLorean up to the magical 88 mph that allows the time jump in 1885 without a fuel supply, he decides to use a souped-up locomotive. Doc and Marty “borrow” the locomotive and take it to an unused spur that ran to Shonash Ravine and hope they can get it up to speed before hitting the ravine.

On September 6, Doc placed the car onto the track and the were successful in making the leap on the 7th. Marty was sent back to 1985, but Doc and his new love, Clara, remained in 1885.

Marty returns to October 27 1985, so only two days after the original film started. (Is it a paradox that Michael J. Fox seems to have aged five years?).

When Marty arrived in 1985, the DeLorean was on the railroad tracks until it sopped on the track outside Hilldale. Marty is shocked to see a 1985 locomotive barreling towards him. He jumps out of the DeLorean just before it is pulverized.

Marty and Jennifer look at the wreckage and destroyed flux capacitor. Oddly, the railroad crossing’s bells sound and the crossing gates come down although there are trains were to be seen. Then, the “Jules Verne Train” appeared. This train is Doc’s way to return without the DeLorean.

Mr. and Mrs. Brown introduce Marty and Jennifer to the two new members of their family, Jules and Verne. He gives Marty a photograph of them standing in front of the clock as a souvenir.

At the end of the third Back To The Future movie, Marty asks Doc Brown, “Hey, Doc…where ya going now? Back to the future?” to which Doc Brown responds, “Nope. Already been there!”

I don’t have all the answers. Where does he take his family? 1885?


You haven’t seen the Back to the Future trilogy? That’s a real gap in your cultural knowledge!

You say the films are not “serious enough” for you? Try The Worlds of Back to the Future: Critical Essays on the Films and then you can chat up the cultural, cinematic, and historical contexts of the films. It has philosophy, literature, music, pop culture, and media and gender studies. Imagine your introducing at the next cocktail party your theories on the sexual symbolism in the trilogy or the oedipal plotting of the first film. Tell friends about the Lacanian philosophical constructs in the characterizations of Doc Brown and George and Marty McFly. Oh, it’s all there. You can feel intellectually secure spending a weekend absorbed in the trilogy. If you want to place it in the historical context of Reaganite America,  you can find folks who have written about that too.

By the way, I am posting this on 7/7 at 7:07 am. Oh yeah, numbers matter.

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