Whenever the future is depicted in movies, it is generally a dark, depressing dystopian future where something happens in our present that sets forth the collapse of our society. Even Disney is not immune to showing us a future where Earth is no longer inhabitable (the beloved Wall-E). But occasionally, a movie shows a future that doesn’t look so bad—one with self-lacing shoes, 19 Jaws movies and flying cars. Of course, if we are being technical, this movie is also in the past. It’s time for us to hop in our DeLorean, generate the necessary 1.21 Jigowatts and travel to the futuristic world of October 21, 2015, as we take a look at what Back to the Future Part II got right and wrong about the future of technology… from eight years ago!
Coming off the success of the original Back to The Future, writer/ director Robert Zemeckis and writer Bob Gale and Producer Steven Spielberg, knew audiences wanted one thing out of the sequel: to see the future. For some of the technological advances, they had a leg up with emerging technology that was in the early phases while others were flourishes of pure creative genius. So, what radical ideas did the filmmakers successfully predict nearly 35 years ago?
When we first arrive on October 21, 2015, we are treated to a rainy dystopian future that doesn’t look too appealing. Still, when the rain stopped, precisely as Doc Brown predicted it would, the world of 2015 looked like a cool, majestic, hip and, most importantly, futuristic world.
The idea of bending over to tie your shoes is something so many of us wish we didn’t have to do, so the idea of a shoe that ties itself was something we all wished we had! The question is: did the writers predict where technology was going, or was it sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy? The technology as it exists in the movie isn’t quite what we have in today’s world, but Nike did put out a line of shoes called the Adapt BB that will conform to the wearer’s foot, with some designs even resembling the shoes Marty wore in the film. So I think this is a case of the film being so popular that Nike decided to make it a reality, a reality that will cost you around 500 bucks!
One thing that the movie didn’t get right was that we sadly never got to Jaws 19. We did get Jaws 2, Jaws 3D and Jaws: The Revenge, but that is where the money train stopped. I guess if you count the numerous home video releases of the first movie, it’s like there were nineteen Jaws films. But even in that miss, the filmmakers got a big thing correct: holographic marketing that looks like it is coming right at you. Marty ducks and covers when a holographic shark comes to bite his head off. In today’s world, if you were walking around Tokyo, you would think Dragons were coming at you, or giant cats just wanted to play. These advertisements look futuristic even in today’s world!
Back in 1985, it seemed like a far-fetched idea that you could use your thumbprint on an electronic device to send a payment, but writer Bob Gale says they did not invent that idea but had seen it in various other science fiction films. In today’s world, not only is using your fingerprint to unlock your portable devices something many of us do but biometrics, using facial ID or thumbprints for other security purposes such as entering your home, has been adopted by many people who see the unique print of their thumb or an ocular scan as more secure than a key.
Even the portable devices in themselves are something the film got right. Today, you no longer have to wait in a mechanics lobby with just the rabbit-eared TV playing Sally Jesse Raphael. We each own our own phones and tablets that allow us to kill time in any way we choose. Go to most restaurants these days, and many waiters will have tablets with card readers right there, so you can pay quickly and be on your way.
Another miss may not be a full-on miss, but when was the last time anyone saw a Texaco station?! In the film, it would appear Texaco is the Gas station of choice for Hill Valley. Still, today, it seems the once giant gas station brand has fallen on some hard times, filing for bankruptcy in 1989 before merging with Chevron in 2001 and is now only in 16 of the 50 states in America.
Once Marty enters the retro Cafe 80s. one of the things that Back to the Future Part II got right that is only now becoming a major issue is the use of Artificial Intelligence. Not long ago, the SAG-Aftra strike was settled after a deal was struck that featured heavy AI protections. Yet in this Cafe ’80s, if you wanted a Pepsi, all you had to do was ask an AI version of Ronald Reagan while ordering a cheeseburger from Michael Jackson. Sure, it was just an AI, a version of a celebrity taking your order at a niche cafe, but where was the world heading? What would AI have looked like in Back To The Future 2023?!
As a kid watching Back To The Future Part II, there were some cool things on display that any of us would have put on our Christmas lists, but the one thing every kid and probably adult wanted was a Hoverboard. To be able to float through the air magically was the envy of all kids. In today’s world, there are things on the market called Hoverboards, but let’s be honest… they don’t hover! They have wheels gliding on the ground as you maintain your balance. So the question is: is this one the film got wrong? Not quite. In the year 2016, just one year after the events of this movie, BBC reported that engineers had discovered a way to make real-life hoverboards by using magnets, semiconductors and the freezing properties of liquid nitrogen, you know, the stuff the T-1000 was made out of! In a video posted to their site, they showed the technology, although on a slightly smaller scale than the skateboard-sized ones seen in the film. Shortly after, a company called Hendo Hover did seem to make a valiant effort to get the technology out to the masses. However, in the seven years since that report, hoverboards have not become a part of our everyday life, but the technology is there, which counts as a win for Back to the Future Part II!
In the future world of 2015. It seemed kids weren’t walking zombies to their phones and tablets as they seemed in the real world. That’s because they are obsessed with their glasses that work as a virtual world with everything from the TV to the Phone right there in front of their eyeballs. The writers got this correct, as Virtual Reality has become a multi-billion dollar market with devices such as the Meta Quest and the Playstation VR2. While the glasses featured in the film function more like a Google Glass-type device, where they are able to watch TV and see incoming calls, there is no doubt that wearable tech was something the writers knew was going to be part of our future.
Once we get to the run-down neighbourhood where Marty and his family live, we see a dog being walked by a drone. While we may not allow our four-legged family members to be walked by Drones just yet, one can’t deny that they are a vital part of our world. Not just in terms of military use, where the US can drop a bomb on a target from thousands of miles away, but also in our filmmaking, with many filmmakers like Michael Bay using Drones to capture some amazing shots while kids can head to their local toy store and pick up their own personal drone to play with.
Inside the McFly home, the McFlys are greeted by a Siri-like voice when they enter their home, while a simple voice command allows them to illuminate their home. While the thought of not having to flick a switch to turn on your lights in 1985 was a far-off idea, in today’s world, it is a feature many of us enjoy with our smart devices while Siri and Alexa greet you however you desire. In the living room, Marty takes part in a business transaction gone wrong on his large flat-screen TV using video-conferencing, which is part of our daily lives in today’s world.
Of course, with as much as they got right in that home, there were a few big misses. First, if you were going to be fired, you probably wouldn’t be fired by receiving ten faxes around your home! I guess in the 80s, fax machines were the next big thing, but that was one technological advancement that stayed in the past. The other big swing and miss was the self-hydrating pizza from Pizza Hut. According to writer Bob Gale, Pizza Hut asked to do a tie-in with the movie, and Gale and Zemeckis thought about what could possibly be the next big advancement past the microwave oven. Miniature food that hydrates in seconds, of course! I think we can chalk that one up to true science fiction, as I don’t believe that technology is even in the research and development stages anywhere in the world!
One thing the filmmakers nearly got right, which truly would have been amazing, given the entire theme of the movie hinges on someone saying they wish they could go back in time and make a sports bet. The Chicago Cubs hadn’t been a great baseball team for a while. They had the longest streak ever without winning the World Series, which in 2015 was 107 years. And then, in the 2015 MLB postseason, it looked like everyone in the world wished they could go back in time and bet on the Cubbies as they entered the postseason as a wild-card team, defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates before taking out the St. Louis Cardinals in the Divisional round. With only four teams remaining, it seemed the Cubs were ready to make history, but sadly, the New York Mets stopped that when they defeated the Cubs in a four game sweep in the Championship series. Although the writers weren’t far off in their prediction as the Cubs would go on to win the World Series the following year, with many people wishing they had their own Sports Almanac in their back pocket.
A line in the film says that the Justice System runs so smoothly now that all lawyers have been abolished. Sadly, that was a big swing and a miss. Lawyers are still all around us, and our justice system is anything but flawless!
Any film set in the future gives their wardrobe department free reign to create outfits they see as futuristic but functional. Back to the Future Part 2 was no exception as they crafted a unique look for Biff and his cronies that in the real world of 2015 wasn’t quite accurate. However, with some of the clothes I have seen people wear, I wouldn’t say they were far off either!
Of course, there are two big things that Back to the Future Part 2 got wrong, and they are the things that nearly all time travel movies get wrong.
- Flying Cars
- Time Travel itself!
Christopher Lloyd has said many iconic lines in his career, but one stands above them all: “Roads, where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” Doc, Marty and Jennifer would then hover above the street as an older/ humbler Biff Tannen looks on with the familiarity of a flying DeLorean. When we emerge from the clouds we are in the future of October 21, 2015, where highways are both on the ground and in the sky. As much as we all may want to imagine a world where we can get in our own vehicle and take to the skies, never having to worry about TSA again, it is just something that isn’t a reality. Granted, the filmmakers didn’t invent the idea of the flying car. That idea has been around for decades, with many of us first being introduced to it with the 1960s cartoons of The Jetsons. But as with all things impossible right now, this tech may soon be a reality as there are several companies working on a flying car. There is the Netherlands Liberty Sport, the Moroni H1, the Alec Model A, and the Klein Vision AirCar, and if you have $770,000 lying around, you could land yourself the Samson Switchblade in 2025. Of course, these “flying cars” seem just to be personal aircraft, like a Cessna, with sleek designs allowing them to drive on the roads. Basically, they all look like The Homer!
And of course, the big miss, the miss in every time travel movie: time travel does not exist… we think! Who is to say that in the future time travel will be invented with very specific rules that if you go back in time, you can not interfere with the people of the present?! You don’t know that isn’t true, do you?! The idea of seeing our own future is as old as time itself, and who wouldn’t want to see where we are 5000 years from now? Or even IF we still are! Many of us would love to take a trip back in time to see the dinosaurs or the signing of the Declaration of Independence or even see our own parents in their teens, which was Bob Gale’s original idea when he thought up the first Back to the Future. He saw a picture of his father in high school and wondered if they would have been friends. That idea spawned one of the greatest trilogies ever made.
Despite Back to the Future Part 2 now being in our past, the sleek design and innovative tech on display will never get old. It may have taken place over eight years ago. Still, it will forever remain timeless, and that is because despite getting enough right to feel prescient, the filmmakers let their imaginations run wild, and that is why Back to the Future Part 2 will always feel like a distant future we may never see unless we put on our virtual reality glasses while watching our flatscreen TV in our home that welcomes us with an automated voice.
And I still want my Black & Decker Hydrator so I can make a delicious Pizza Hut Pizza in 2 seconds!