Great Scott! It’s the future!
We’ve been here before—or have we?
In 1989, the hit movie zoomed to a world filled with flying cars and hoverboards, a time of drones and video phones.
The date: Oct. 21, 2015. (At precisely 4:29 p.m.)
Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) set the time machine to the future, so he and Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) could travel into the future and straighten out a few McFly family issues.
Part of the fun of watching now is checking out the “future” world of 2015 that the filmmakers imagined, from dog-walking robots to the “Jaws 19” hologram billboard to the colorful and strange clothing. Clearly, the film got some things wrong (Jaws only had three sequels), but it actually got some things right.
To celebrate “Back to the Future Day,” let’s look back at five things got right, and five things it got wrong, about Oct. 21, 2015.
Five things the film got right:
1. Florida has a professional baseball team.
In Back to the Future Part II, Miami is home to a Major League baseball team, something Florida lacked in 1989 when the movie was produced. The , which changed their name to the Miami Marlins in 2011, didn’t exist until 1993. In the film, Miami falls to the in the World Series, which could prove semi-prophetic because the long-suffering Cubbies are still alive in the playoffs (Miami failed to make the post-season).
2. Video games as antiques.
In 1989, video games from previous console generations were essentially worthless, and very few people thought of them as special from a collectible or antiquarian viewpoint. However, in the film you can see boxed copies of (1987) and (1987) for the Nintendo NES displayed prominently in the window of an antique store. Today, retro game collecting is huge (certain rare cartridges command thousands of dollars), and there’s even a National Videogame Museum coming to Frisco in December.
3. Flat-screen televisions.
During the 1980s, tube TVs were still the norm, and most of the bigger ones were only 25 inches or so in size. (35-inch TVs were a niche market, and you can forget the 35-inch projection TVs—those things were terrible). However, Back to the Future Part II screenwriter Bob Gale, no doubt influenced by such futurists as George Orwell and Arthur C. Clarke, envisioned a future world where huge flat screen television sets were everywhere, in public and in homes. He also predicted multi-screen viewing.
4. Wearable technology.
In the film, numerous characters are shown wearing ugly, technology-enhanced glasses (techno-specs?), which work as cameras, magnifiers and real-time information retrieval devices. (Nowhere to be found are iPads, iPods or iPhones, though.) Ho-hum. You can’t shake a fist without knocking into someone wearing an Apple Watch or a Fitbit, or who has tried , Sony SmartEyeglasses or Recon Jets (which are designed for cyclists)—or made fun of people who do.
5. Video phone calls.
Do you miss seeing your nephew who moved to Japan or your oldest child who recently went off to college? Simply chat them up via FaceTime on your computer, tablet or smart phone. The movie more or less nailed this aspect of modern society, such as when Marty McFly gets a video business call from Douglas J. Needles (played by Flea), whose personal data runs across the bottom of the screen (an interesting, social media-esque variant on the technology).
Five things the film got wrong:
1. Flying cars.
Ever since began airing on television during the early 1960s, mainstream America has longed for the flying car, a mode of transportation that is still only in the development stages (by a company called Terrafugia, which is derived from the Latin for “Escape the Earth”). In Back to the Future Part II, flying cars zip and zoom all over, which is probably the movie’s biggest misfire when it comes to predicting the future.
Though it scores comedy points for Marty repeating his skateboarding act from the original Back to the Future (1985), but this time with a hoverboard, Back to the Future Part II is overly optimistic when it comes to the admittedly fun-looking technology. Like the flying car, the hoverboard is still in the developmental phase. According to the website for Hendo, the company promising a retail-level hoverboard in the near future, “Our hoverboards are working in almost every way we could have imagined. We look forward to sharing them as they become a reality.”
3. A female president of the United States.
If you pause the scene where Marty is looking at a copy of USA Today from 2015, you can see that the paper refers to the president of the United States as a “she.” We’re not there yet in the real world, but we might be close. If either Democrat or Republican Carly Fiorina can stave off their many, many male opponents in the 2016 election, the filmmakers will be able to say they almost got it right. Sadly, the newspaper in the film also refers to a “Queen Diana,” but died in a car crash in 1997.
4. Self-tying shoes.
Shortly after landing in 2015, Marty dons self-tying Nike high-tops. While has marketed a similar looking shoe (2011’s Nike Air Mag), and while the company has promised the technology in the not too distant future, we poor, overworked humans still have to lace up our sneakers ourselves (or at least fasten the elastic straps or attach the Velcro). Clothing designers have also failed to develop a self-drying, size-adjustable jacket like the one Marty wears. On a more positive note, at least we don’t wear double neckties or our pants inside out.
5. Dust-repellent paper.
When Marty goes to the aforementioned antique store and buys a copy of Grays Sports Almanac, one of the key elements of the film, the sales lady explains that, “This has an interesting feature. It has a dust jacket. Books had these to protect the covers. That was before dust-repellent paper.” Dust-repellent paper has yet to be invented, and it likely never will. Not only is our culture relying less on paper and more on electronics these days, it’s hard to imagine anyone spending too much money on dust-repellent paper technology. Or, as the kids might say, “Is that even a thing?”