Why Disney Turned Down ‘Back to the Future’

Released on July 3, 1985, “Back to the Future” revolutionized the future of cinema, but its journey to the big screen was not without obstacles. Robert Zemeckis, the director, and Bob Gale, the screenwriter, faced numerous rejections from various studios before finding support from Steven Spielberg and ultimately bringing their vision to life. This article explores the origins of “Back to the Future” and the pivotal role Spielberg played in its creation.

The Early Years

Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale first crossed paths at USC in 1971. They began collaborating on projects during their senior year, writing for television shows like “Kolchak: The Night Stalker.” Their breakthrough came in 1979 when they co-wrote Steven Spielberg’s film “1941,” which unfortunately did not perform well at the box office. Despite this setback, Zemeckis and Gale continued working together and made “Used Cars” in 1980, with Spielberg serving as an executive producer.

The Quest for a Time-Travel Movie

In the same year, Zemeckis and Gale embarked on writing a time-travel movie. They were confident in their script and initially approached Columbia Pictures, where Frank Price, the studio head, had been impressed by their work on “Used Cars.” However, the pitch failed to gain traction, and the duo faced rejection from around forty other studios. The prevailing mindset of the mid-1980s was focused on sex comedies like “Porky’s,” and the idea of a wholesome, PG-rated time-travel film did not align with the prevailing trends.

Disney’s Rejection

During their quest for a production studio, Zemeckis and Gale were repeatedly advised to approach Disney. Eventually, they decided to take a chance and present their script to Disney, unaware that the studio’s conservative mindset would clash with their unconventional story. The meeting with a Disney executive did not go well. The executive rejected the film, finding its plot inappropriate for a Disney production, particularly the aspect involving a woman falling in love with her son. The executive’s misconception of the film’s content and unwillingness to take risks resulted in a missed opportunity for Disney.

The Misunderstood Concept

Contrary to the Disney executive’s misunderstanding, the concept for “Back to the Future” stemmed from Bob Gale’s curiosity about whether he would have been friends with his father in high school. This idea led to the exploration of a time-travel narrative that involved Marty, the main character, inadvertently becoming the object of his mother’s romantic interest. While the premise could have led to uncomfortable territory, the film deftly handles the comedy by emphasizing Marty’s discomfort and ultimately resolving the conflict in an acceptable manner. The scene where Marty’s mother kisses him highlights the discomfort, leading her to realize that something is not right, thus ending any romantic inclinations toward her son.

Spielberg’s Intervention

With the project facing continuous rejection, Spielberg, a longtime friend of Gale and Zemeckis, stepped in to save the day. Despite their previous collaborative films being considered flops, Zemeckis and Gale turned to Spielberg for support. Aware of the potential risks involved, they presented their script to Spielberg, who believed in their vision and agreed to produce the film. This collaboration marked the first non-Spielberg-directed movie to be produced by Amblin Entertainment, Spielberg’s new company at Universal Studios.

The Legacy and Success

The decision to work with Spielberg paid off immensely for Zemeckis and Gale. “Back to the Future” went on to become the highest-grossing film of 1985, cementing the careers of Michael J. Fox, Robert Zemeckis, and Bob Gale. The film’s success paved the way for two beloved sequels and solidified its status as a timeless franchise. Zemeckis continued his directing career with acclaimed films like “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and “Forrest Gump,” while Gale wrote the subsequent “Back to the Future” sequels. The impact of Spielberg’s support cannot be overstated, as it allowed Zemeckis and Gale to overcome adversity and bring their innovative time-travel story to the world.


“Back to the Future” faced numerous challenges and rejections before finding the support it needed to become the iconic film we know today. The determination of Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, combined with Steven Spielberg’s belief in their vision, ultimately led to the creation of a cinematic masterpiece that has stood the test of time.

Back To The Future 4 Possibility Addressed By Doc Brown Actor

Doc Brown actor Christopher Lloyd comments on whether Back to the Future 4 could ever happen. After the success of the first movie in 1985, Back to the Future got two sequels. Michael J. Fox’s Marty McFly and Lloyd’s Doc Brown take center stage in all three movies, with the third taking place in 1885 in the Old West.

Lloyd reveals his thoughts regarding a potential Back to the Future 4. Lloyd, who is now 84 years old, doesn’t sound too optimistic about the sequel’s chances, expressing that the story is wrapped up nicely in the three existing movies. Check out the actor’s full comment below:

“I know at one point they were seriously contemplating a fourth film, but I feel that the made an entire arc with the three movies and that’s the story. Maybe if somebody came up with an incredibly unique story for number four, but we’ve moved on a little bit. So I don’t think that’s gonna happen, but you never know.”

From a storytelling perspective, Lloyd is absolutely right. The first Back to the Future arguably didn’t need a sequel at all, but the two follow-up movies do serve as a fitting conclusion to the franchise. Back to the Future Part III gives Marty and Doc Brown the perfect send-off, seeing the man of science find love in 1885 and Marty get ready to write a new future with Jennifer (Elizabeth Shue).

In addition to the fact that any prospective Back to the Future 4 could take away from the strong ending that already exists, there are also practical considerations that need to be taken into account. Even at 84, Lloyd remains active as an actor, but Fox, his costar, has officially retired. After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1991, Fox made the decision to retire in 2020, revealing that he was having trouble remembering his lines.

Both Lloyd and Fox are core pillars of the franchise and Back to the Future 4 couldn’t (and shouldn’t) exist without their combined involvement. That being said, it’s always possible that the studio will decide to reboot Back to the Future at some point in the future, either recasting the roles or telling a different story in the same universe. Hopefully, however, the franchise is left alone.

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Stevie Flavio
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