What If Eric Stoltz Had Played Marty McFly in Back to the Future?

Back to the Future has become a classic from the 1980s and the sci-fi genre to the point where it’s widely regarded as one of the best movies ever made, but it was originally very different as Eric Stoltz was cast as Marty McFly – and had he stayed, Back to the Future, its impact, and Stoltz’s career would have been very different. The 1980s saw the release of many now-classic movies from a variety of genres, and the sci-fi world saw many of its movies reaching a lot of success. Among those is Back to the Future, released in 1985 and directed by Robert Zemeckis, with a script by him and Bob Gale.

Set in 1985, Back to the Future introduced the audience to Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), a high school student and aspiring musician who is friends with Emmett “Doc” Brown (Christopher Lloyd), an eccentric scientist. One night, Marty meets with Doc at the parking lot of a mall where Doc unveils his latest invention: a time machine built from a modified DeLorean and powered by plutonium, which he took from Libyan terrorists. Doc sends Marty to November 1955, but once there, Marty is left without plutonium to return to the future, and so he seeks a younger Doc for help. In the meantime, Marty comes across the younger selves of his parents, George (Crispin Glover) and Lorraine (Lea Thompson), and unintentionally keeps them from getting together, which puts his own existence in jeopardy. Marty and Doc eventually find a way to send Marty back to the future and George and Lorraine fall for each other, ensuring the existence of Marty and his siblings while also giving his family a better future.

Back to the Future was a critical and commercial success, becoming the highest-grossing movie of 1985, getting different nominations for various awards, and with most praise going towards the story, its comedic tone, and the performances of the cast, particularly those of Lloyd and Fox. The success of Back to the Future also made way for a multimedia franchise with two sequels, an animated TV show, and even a stage musical, and continues to be a favorite of sci-fi fans. However, the road to success wasn’t easy for Zemeckis and company, and Back to the Future went through a big change during production when Eric Stoltz was replaced with Michael J. Fox – but what if Eric Stoltz had played Marty McFly, as originally intended?

How Eric Stoltz’s Marty McFly Might’ve Been Different To Michael J. Fox’s

When Back to the Future was in pre-production, Michael J. Fox was the first choice to portray Marty McFly, but as Fox was already starring in the TV show Family Ties, his schedule didn’t allow him to take the role, so Zemeckis and company looked at other options. After considering many other actors – such as John Cusack, Johnny Depp, Robert Downey Jr., John Cryer, Charlie Sheen, and Matthew Modine – Eric Stoltz was cast, as his performance in the drama movie Mask as Rocky Dennis had impressed executive Sidney Sheinberg. Before Back to The Future, Stoltz had appeared in a thriller movie (The New Kids) and different comedies though in minor roles, while on TV he had appeared in mostly drama projects. However, even though Stoltz already had experience in comedy movies, even if in small roles, he had a very different comedic style and vision than the one that Michael J. Fox brought to Back to the Future and which, ultimately, played a big part in the movie’s success.

The Back to the Future footage starring Eric Stoltz that has been released shows that Stoltz was going for a more serious and even darker portrayal of the clumsy, high-energy Marty McFly, and while he might have injected some comedy into his performance (after all, that’s how the character was written), the tone he was bringing was very different to the one in the final product. Eric Stoltz’s Marty McFly was also given a different look, which gave him more of a “bad boy” vibe, so his version of Marty could have ended up relying more on looks than personality, and what made Marty McFly become part of pop culture was his personality. This would have prevented Marty McFly from being the sympathetic character he ended up being, as he would have been less comedic and more dramatic, completely changing the movie’s original, comedic tone and his dynamics with the rest of the characters.

Back To The Future Wouldn’t Have Worked As Well With Eric Stoltz’s Marty

When Back to the Future was released, critics called it one of the most entertaining movies of the year and pointed out its focus on storytelling rather than pure spectacle, its emotional core, good humor, and Fox’s “appealing” performance as the movie’s biggest strengths. Michael J. Fox gave Marty McFly the comedic tone the character needed, as well as the clumsiness, high-energy, and appealing personality that made him a relatable, fun, and lovable character that ended up winning over generations of viewers. While Eric Stoltz is not a bad actor, he lacked the comedic skills for the character, and had he remained as the lead of Back to the Future, the movie wouldn’t have worked as well as it did, and his more serious take on Mary McFly would have clashed with the tone of the rest of the characters and story, thus making way for an uneven movie.

Would Back To The Future Have Been A Box Office Success & Had Sequels?

Many factors come into play for a movie to get sequels, the main ones being its box office performance and critical reception. As mentioned above, Back to the Future was a box office hit and became the highest-grossing movie of 1985, while critical reception was also positive, making way for the expansion of Back to the Future with two sequels (released in 1989 and 1990), a video game, a board game, and more, and it continues to be regarded as one of the best movies of the 1980s, one of the best sci-fi movies ever, and one of the best movies in general. If Eric Stoltz had played Marty McFly, his performance and how different it would have been from the rest and how it would have clashed with the story’s sense of humor would have been pointed out by critics as a weakness, and it would have impacted the movie’s box office numbers as well, making it unlikely that Back to the Future would have been a box office hit and gotten sequels.

Why Eric Stoltz Didn’t Play Marty McFly

Back to the Future started filming in November 1984, and as they were on a tight schedule, editing happened alongside filming, with Zemeckis reviewing the existing scenes. Zemeckis was reportedly reluctant to review the footage as he would be self-critical, but he had already listed various scenes he wanted to reshoot as he didn’t feel Eric Stoltz was working out as Marty McFly, as Stoltz was giving the character an intense and serious tone that was far from the “screwball” energy Marty required. Stoltz was a method actor at the time, and he got so into the character that, when they weren’t filming, he refused to answer to his own name, resulting in conflict with some of the cast and crew. Back to the Future continued filming with Stoltz while the producers found a way to bring Michael J. Fox in, and in January 1985, Zemeckis informed Stoltz that he was no longer part of the project, and a couple of days later, they started filming with Fox.

Although he didn’t play Marty McFly in Back to the Future, Eric Stoltz’s career wasn’t over. Among his most notable projects post-Back to the Future are the romantic drama Some Kind of Wonderful, Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything…, Singles, and Jerry Maguire, Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, the 1994 version of Little Women, and the TV series Chicago Hope and Caprica. Back to the Future wouldn’t have been the success it is with Eric Stoltz as the star and Marty McFly wouldn’t have become one of the most iconic characters in film history, but Stoltz’s time on set helped improve the movie and he went on to play roles that were more suitable with his acting style.

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Adam Regan
Adam Regan
Deputy Editor

Features and account management. 3 years media experience. Previously covered features for online and print editions.

Email Adam@MarkMeets.com

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