Jury: Stoltz in Back to the Future

On the comment section of a 2010 YouTube video titled Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly in Back to the Future!, these people made excellent points…

Mark Maguet:

“Poor Eric Stoltz was a patsy. He wasn’t even told that Back to the Future was supposed to be funny. Who would wait 5 weeks before firing an unsuitable actor? The movie was all but finished; that’s ridiculous. Since it was intended to be funny, why would they hire an actor known for his drama work?”

The film-makers were so torn about whether to make a comedy or drama that they hedged their bets by making it as a drama first before using his understated acting as a cop-out to put him on the chopping block, hence he was the fall guy. If it was let slip that they wanted to manufacture two versions, shrewd customers would shy away in droves at the probability of being financially exploited. In 2013, Bob Gale wrote a high school novel where he decided that there would be two versions: PG-13 and NC-17.


“I suspect the reality was this: They knew that Michael J. Fox would guarantee them a hit regardless of the quality of the film, whereas Stoltz being something of an unknown could never guarantee them that regardless of his skill.”

What lends credence to this is that Steve Spielberg didn’t get much success when working with Rob Zemeckis and Gale on three previous occasions. Their commercial agenda is made all the more obvious by Gale’s answers to the seventh and ninth questions in this interview. The usual raison dêtre of a film’s green-lighting is casting a leading man. In this case, the producers cut their losses upon learning of the box office competition. Also, film posters are usually designed before the film is completed. This begs the question that they were conflicted about how to showcase the film’s more recognizable actors in correlation to Eric.


“I’ve never thought of BTTF as a comedy.”

The irony is that the audience in the test screening weren’t even told that it was a comedy (so that the undertone of danger wasn’t being undermined), yet the trailer seems to suggest such a tone. Another apt irony is that the film would’ve been taken more seriously if Eric wasn’t given the boot (there would be less detractors). This would mean that it could’ve been nominated for (and won) more awards. At the very least, it could’ve been perceived as the next Citizen Kane. Gale got his just desserts by having an unfilmed screenplay which has been around for decades.


“He wasn’t funny enough? That sounds like a totally false reason to get rid of him. BTTF is many things but it is not really known as a comedy.”

The original explanation was that he wasn’t acting enough like a teenager (despite having already played teenagers). It’s only in recent years that it’s been known as a comedy, but only because he was fired for supposedly not being funny. The writers (or producers) should’ve got the guts to go up to Harold Ramis and say: “We need you to be our script doctor because the film lacks continuous hilarity.”

chris q:

They’re acting like BTTF is some terrific comedy script. The first time I saw it, I don’t think I really ever laughed. If I was laughing, it was at Crispin Glover and that Biff guy, not Michael J. Fox. It is definitely a great Sci-Fi script but it’s hardly a LOL-all-the-way-through comedy as well. I’m not putting the movie down. I’m just saying Spielberg and Zemeckis have their heads in their asses here.”

Also, people were more prone to be laughing at Doc Brown than Marty (who is the stooge instead of the kooky jokester). In order for Marty to be hilarious, he needed to be impudent (à la Axl in The Middle). Maybe the audience would’ve been rolling in the aisles if Marty did impersonations (à la Gary acting black in Weird Science or Fox donning a Mexican accent in one of the out-takes). BTTF is one of the best Sci-Fi movies but not one of the best comedies. 

Ray Shaffer:

Stoltz is a terrific actor. Since he has a track record of serious, brooding roles (and was “coincidentally” dressed by the production in black), I have trouble believing that his choices were some unexpected tangent that caught the movie makers by surprise. A director doesn’t say “Print it” until he has what he wants on film. I suspect that Zemeckis/whoever had a change of heart in the direction of the film then threw Eric under the bus in order to save both the movie and their own ass.”

Gale claimed that the movie would’ve been cancelled if they immediately kicked him out – something that I find difficult to believe given the power of Spielberg (who supposedly wanted to produce the film since 1981). If Fox was the first choice, you have to question when they thought of casting him. The Bob couple could’ve started production in 1983, since the sitcom was aired on a TV channel owned by Universal. Granted, the two Bobs wanted to prove that they could make a hit without Spielberg; but only Zemeckis had proven this. Fox was considered as a leading man because of Teen Wolf. Consolidating his aspirational status was Meredith Baxter’s pregnancy allowing him to become the star of Family Ties in season 3 circa the fall of 1984.


“Why not see it wasn’t working after, say, 10 days of shooting and let him go? I guess Amblin and Universal had a lot of E.T. money to burn at the time.

They wanted to make money from as much footage as possible. Also, studios like to lie about income so as to lessen taxation. E.T. is also worth mentioning because Gale claimed that Spielberg wasn’t ready to commit to C. Thomas Howell, which is why he didn’t want to cast him as Marty. This is saying something since E.T. was more profitable than any movie that Eric was in. The problem with C.T. during the making of E.T. was that himself and the other teenage boys were so unruly that Spielberg had to resort to bribes i.e. free bicycles if the bicycle scene was done on time, along with being allowed to play arcade games in a trailer if other scenes were shot on time. Many people talk about the irony of Eric being slightly younger than Fox, but C.T. was the same age as Marty – 17. C.T. turned 18 on December 7, 1984, so he would’ve been 17 for the first 5 weeks of filming had he not been rejected.

Joshua Trujillo:

“Fox was in high demand at the time because Family Ties was very popular, so when he told Zemeckis he could divide time between the show and the movie, they got rid of Stoltz.”

Originally, the official story was that they sought Fox after firing Eric. If Fox had not been interested, they would’ve kept Eric then have a new lead in a sequel e.g. Teen Wolf Too. Matthew Broderick was the first choice to play Alex Keaton in Family Ties but he rejected it because his father was terminally ill. As such, he would’ve been Eric’s replacement had he played Alex. Coincidentally, he rejected the role of Marty because he was unavailable. Ironically, Eric replaced Matt when he made his New York stage début in Horton Foote’s Widow Claire.


“I didn’t think M J Fox was funny at all. He played the role very serious, even a little nervously, but that does fit the character as Marty and his dad are alike in that way. I don’t think I need to see all the footage as it seems both actors played McFly in the same way.”

It seems like it was mostly a case of same difference. Eric and Fox sometimes look more tense than the other in certain instances. As much as Eric gets accused of looking wooden in the café shot, Crispin also has a nonchalant face because Rob Zem wanted people to observe the resemblance between the two of them. That’s why the only thing that Crispin does with his face is at the end when his eyes move up.

On the comment section of a 2010 video titled Eric Stoltz in Back to the Future (spliced footage), these guys made brilliant points…

Lee Bee:

He looks handsome, iconic, and actually looks much more like George & Lorraine’s son than Michael J. Fox did. If Eric had been the Marty we know, and then, years later, test footage had been released of Fox playing Marty, I think people would have laughed and been saying thank goodness that guy didn’t get it.”

Eric also sounds like Crispin. The best choice would’ve been Patrick Dempsey (who was 18 in 1984) because he had more than a passing resemblance to Crispin. I’m not convinced that Fox was perfect for the role, given how other people have made casting suggestions (e.g. Tom Cruise, Jason Bateman and Anthony Michael Hall). Perfect casting is when nobody can think of anybody else (the best example is Jim Parsons as Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory). Regardless, they should’ve cast Eric as Marty’s brother. With Eric as the lead, they might as well have cast Stoltz lookalike Suzi Amis as Lorraine. She’s a year younger than Lea Thompson, and she had already done a film for Amblin (Fandango starring Kevin Costner and Judd Nelson was made in 1983 but released in 1985).

Jason Thomas Dolan:

“It is time they released all the Eric Stoltz footage and with sound. I thought they would have been included on the 30th Anniversary Blu-ray. You can not say he was the wrong choice if you have not had a chance to view all of his performance in the movie. The few clips released are very short (a few seconds long) and have no dialogue. So until anyone actually sees the performance and hears the dialogue, how can you say it was the right choice? It may be the case they wanted MJF from the start, he was not available then he became available, so Stoltz was sacked regardless of his performance. Until they man up and have the balls to let the public see all of Eric’s performance, it is wrong to criticize.”

This should be the final word for any criticism levelled at his performance before his version is released. The studio dropped the ball in 2015 because the motif of the movie was about Doc having to wait for 30 years (to invent time travel, to meet Marty in 1985 and meet him again in 2015). The studio could’ve shown the screen tests of every actor who auditioned. I suspect that they won’t see the light of day because, like what Crispin said, Eric was the cream of the crop. Gale stated that his version will be released on the 35th anniversary. The only credible explanation that I can think of is that the latest tagline will be: “Hindsight in 2020.”

On the comment section of a 2010 video titled Michael J. Fox not original Marty McFly, these commenters made superb points…

Alan DeMoss:

“BTTF was originally a Sci-Fi movie with some jokes tossed in, so that was how Stoltz played it.”

If you read the 1984 screenplay, there is nothing that suggests that he was deviating from what the Bobs had written. They weren’t counting on people going out of their way to read what dictations that Eric supposedly failed in bringing to life. For example, Eric allegedly didn’t understand why Marty would fall when trying to put on his pants. This wasn’t in the `84 script. Lea Thompson lied about Eric failing as a comedian, because she was following the company line. 🙄

IsItModern Earth:

“I feel like BTTF was funny, but it wasn’t laugh-out-loud funny. It’s kind of harsh that a director would blame the actor for not making their film funny. Maybe they should have written it to be funny instead of relying on the actor. I get that it’s the actor’s job to play the role, but BTTF was not that funny. It was clever, though I wouldn’t choose it on a Saturday night if I was looking for laughs. It had drama.”

When a movie isn’t funny, most people blame the screenplay instead of the star. This is because they laugh as a result of the lines instead of faces and slapstick. Spielberg claimed that he wanted an actor in the vein of Daffy Duck, so Jim Carrey would’ve been better than Fox. Coincidentally, Jim was in an NBC sitcom titled The Duck Factory. It aired from April to July of 1984. He would’ve been available for BTTF because Once Bitten began filming in February, 1985. Fox was the first choice for Once Bitten but was rejected because the executive producer didn’t think that he could carry a big-screen role.

On the comment section of a 2011 video titled Back to the Future – Michael J. Fox vs. Eric Stoltz (Comparing Scenes), this person made superlative points…

Dick Grayson:

“I also don’t believe the “Fox was the first choice, but we went with Stoltz instead” excuse by Gale. Being that studios are a business, I don’t know of any company that would go 6 weeks in the opposite direction, and then decide to recast while having the studio throw out an additional 3 million to re-shoot. I also believe that the “first choice” excuse was just a way for suits to cover their asses, and help market the movie.”

If a bigger star really was the first choice but was unavailable, they would’ve filmed around his absence. There is something to be mocked about the opposite direction that they went in i.e. working with an actor who didn’t have marquee value despite being in an Oscar-pegged drama that wasn’t even released yet. Cruise was a more credible second choice because Risky Business made him a cinch. It was still the most profitable Hollywood teen movie by the time that it was July in 1984. Despite his ethnicity, Ralph Macchio was a better commercial choice than Cruise because The Karate Kid ended up making more money than the Cruise vehicle by the time that it was September in 1984.



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