clock menu more-arrow no yes

Back to the Future Day: the movie’s 2015 predictions and the hoax, explained

Rejoice, nerds: Today is October 21, 2015, which means it's officially the day Marty McFly and Doc Brown arrived from the past in the 1989 film Back to the Future II.

Or is it just another hoax?

No, we kid. It is definitely Back to the Future Day.

But what does that actually mean? And, more importantly, why do we care?

Back to the Future Part II took some big swings when imagining 2015 — but not all of them were so far off

Marlene McFly (Michael J. Fox) rolls her eyes into her phone/visor.
Universal

Back to the Future was content to travel from 1985 back to 1955, but Back to the Future Part II zipped every which way, just because it could. Writer/director Robert Zemeckis and co-writer Bob Gale went from 1985 to 2015, back to an alternate 1985 for a dystopian nightmare sidebar, and then further back still to the 1955 they had crashed in the first movie. It is a hugely ambitious movie that envisions several parallel worlds all at once, and even if it's not always successful, it can't be faulted for a lack of imagination.

More importantly, Back to the Future II speculated on what 2015 was going to look like, and there is nothing fandom loves more than picking apart the object of its affection for sport.

As the below matrix shows, though, not all of Back to the Future's predictions were total shots in the dark.

Back_to_the_future_graphic

(Note: These aren't quite all the predictions the movie made, but if you're truly interested in dust-repellent paper, I cannot help you.)

Most movies set in the future jump far enough ahead to be completely removed from modern society, or at least don't peg a specific date to the action at hand (see: The Martian, Her). But Back to the Future Part II had to be close enough to 1985 that Marty (Michael J. Fox) could collide with his future self. The first film leapt 30 years into the past, so it only made sense to leap 30 years into the future in the second.

And many of its seemingly far-out predictions have come eerily close to hitting the mark. It might have seemed nuts at the time of the film's release to imagine opening doors and paying bills with a thumbprint, for example, but it's perfectly in line with current iPhone technology. The same goes for video chats, a standard feature on any phone or computer, and "video glasses," which are some combination of virtual reality and Google Glass.

The avatars of celebrities that served Marty at "Café 80s" have come to pass in their own way, as holograms of Michael Jackson and Tupac have graced stages worldwide. (No sign of a Ronald Reagan one, though maybe we should wait for 2016.) Even the Cubs winning the World Series is possible, as they're currently playing in the National League Championship Series. To paraphrase David Bowie, the future is truly open wide.

Other predictions have failed to come to fruition. While handle-less Segways and IO Hawks try to corner the hoverboard market, no one has succeeded in making skateboards or even scooters levitate. Dehydrated food is still largely reserved for astronauts, and Back to the Future's insistence that we would all be relying on high-tech fax machines has been definitively proven wrong — though perhaps not as wrong as the fashion.

Biff (Thomas F. Wilson) and assorted goons.
Universal

When it comes to the film's most outlandish predictions, people tend to point to flying cars, but let's not forget that planes once seemed ridiculous, and now we can send spaceships to Pluto. So really, the most ridiculous thing Back to the Future tried to tell us was that the legal system would move at lightning speed thanks to the total abolition of lawyers. I have a feeling it would take more than 30 years to revise our entire legal system to the point where Marty's kid could get sentenced in under two hours.

Then there's Jaws 19 (directed by Max Spielberg), which has not become a reality. Let's be real, though: The fact that the Jaws franchise failed to produce 19 movies is maybe the most surprising prediction to not come true in the whole film. That didn't stop Universal from poking fun at the idea — and Hollywood's sequel frenzy in general — with its own fake trailer for the fake film:

What a world this could have been.

"Today's the day they went back to the future!": The hoax heard 'round the Internet

While some have been content just to parse the predictions Back to the Future Part II made about 2015, others got their kicks falsifying the date Marty and Doc traveled to the future, the better to fool unsuspecting grandparents on Facebook.

The hoax is disproved easily enough — all you have to do is watch the scene where Doc Brown sets the date to realize it's wrong — but this is the internet. Ideas, images, tweets, you name it can travel around the internet instantly, rendering basic logic moot. (Share if you agree.)

The first time someone fooled us with a Back to the Future hoax was on July 5, 2010. Total Film posted a photoshopped picture of the time machine's control board, and even tweeted out a triumphant announcement:

It worked. The image was shared thousands of times, and the hoax became a go-to for trolls for years. Back to the Future Day was declared on June 27, 2012, thanks to Facebook posts from crafts company Colour Me Fun and mobile checkout provider Simply Tap.

Hoaxed!
KnowYourMeme.com

Steve Berry, then working as a social media manager for Simply Tap, told Mashable that he had photoshopped the image to promote a Back to the Future DVD box set. He had assumed everyone would remember the original 2010 hoax enough to realize it was a joke.

He was wrong.

From there on out, there was no stopping the hoax. For every website that bravely tried to stem the flow of misinformation, like the straightforwardly named istodaythedaymartymcflyarriveswhenhetravelstothefuture.com, there was a meme generator that would let you plug in any date you wanted, so the future could be whatever and whenever you wanted.

Okay, but why do we care about the day when Marty McFly went back to the future?

A 2015 police escort, according to Back to the Future II (1989).
Universal

As my colleague Todd VanDerWerff argued for its 30th anniversary, Back to the Future is just about the most perfect science fiction blockbuster movie ever. It's quick, both in pace and in wit, and takes its characters seriously even as it lets them laugh. The subsequent sequels were more frayed around the edges — especially the messy third Western edition, which I still love — but the Back to the Future trilogy still inspires nostalgia that's easily on par with that which moviegoers hold for Jurassic Park.

If anything, Back to the Future's vision of the future tells us more about the 1980s than it does about our current day. The nightmarish version of 1985 Marty encounters after his rival Biff messes with the future is built on gambling, overrun by motorcycle gangs, and riddled with so much crime that the police have given up in favor of running dirty errands for Biff. No one even cares about the school burning down six years prior, because they're too busy shooting intruders away from their doorsteps. You could hardly ask for a more on the nose representation of '80s crime paranoia on film.

Hell, the only reason Marty even gets to go to the future is because Doc wants him to stop his son from getting arrested. It's the most urgent answer to, "Do you know where your children are?" that ever was. And did I mention the Ronald Reagan waitstaff?

My name is President Reagan, and I'll be your server today.
Universal

But there's also something infinitely endearing about how Back to the Future's future is just so goofy. It's the future, as filtered through a neon '80s lens. Future Biff and his goons talk tough while sporting boombox vests and hats that look like pasta strainers. Flying cars whiz past billboards extolling the virtues of ejector seats. Men wear neckties made of Saran Wrap, or just two regular neckties at once. Doc Brown loads up the DeLorean with steaming piles of garbage. Marty McFly Jr. uses a payphone.

Here's the thing: Back to the Future Part II had no idea what 2015 would look like. But it sure had fun imagining it, and that's all we could have wanted.

And now, Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly (1985 and 2015) and his entire future family

Marty McFly (1985) versus Marty McFly Jr. (2015)

Marty McFly (2015) versus Marlene McFly (2015)