In honor of Back to the Future’s 25th Anniversary, I thought it would be a great time to take a trip down memory lane and present a “Where Are They Now” piece about everyone that made the film the classic that it is. Split into three parts, Part 1 will feature the cast of the film and in Part 2 I’ll dive into the people that made it happen. Finally in Part 3 we’ll go over the legacy the film has left behind.
In order to make this a manageable project, I will not be including people involved with Back to the Future Part 2 and 3, so the focus will only be on the original movie. If that were the case, we’d seriously be here all day. I’ve also narrowed down the cast to the main characters along with a couple of other small appearances.
Michael J. Fox – Marty McFly
Before shooting Back to the Future, Fox was already making a name for himself with the hit TV show Family Ties as Alex P. Keaton. Before filming BTTF, Fox had starred in the film Teen Wolf, which was going through some behind the scenes issues. Thanks to the success of BTTF, the studio then released the film in an attempt to ride on Fox’s high. In the 90s, Fox’s career saw him in lead roles in the films Doc Hollywood (’91) and the The Frighteners (’96) and plenty of smaller roles like in Tim Burton’s comedy Mar’s Attacks. He also did voice work in the Stuart Little movies and Disney’s Atlantis. Finding his groove back in the TV world, Fox had a hit with Spin City which ran from ’96 – ’02 but Fox only stayed around for the first few seasons. He left the show when he made the announcement that he had Parkinson’s Disease, something he had secretly been battling with since shooting Doc Hollywood in 1990.
Since the late 90s, Fox has become an advocate for Parkinson’s Disease research. He founded The Michael J. Fox Foundation to help advance studies in embryonic stem cell research for a cure. In 2006 he starred in a campaign ad for Claire McCaskill in which he showed visible signs of the disease. Though Fox put his acting on the back burner, he still made a handful of TV appearances in shows like Scrubs and Rescue Me. He has also written 3 books about his life and his fight with Parkinsons over the last few years.
Christopher Lloyd – Doctor Emmet Brown
Before BTTF, Lloyd was already a rather established TV actor coming off the show Taxi. Since BTTF, Lloyd had found his niche as playing rather eccentric type characters like villain Judge Doom in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. In the early 90s he found success playing the memorable Uncle Fester in the film versions of The Adam’s Family. Like Fox, he also found plenty of work as a voice actor in films like Duck Tales, and Anastasia.
While Lloyd has certainly kept busy on his extremely long career, he never really had a great role like Doc Brown or Uncle Fester ever again. He had a string of forgettable films including stuff like Suburban Commando, Angels in the Outfield, and My Favorite Martian. He was most recently in Piranha 3-D, and has plans on voicing Doc Brown in the video game adaptation of BTTF.
Lea Thompson – Lorianne Baines McFly
While Lea Thompson kept busy during the 80s with plenty of roles, she didn’t really hit her stride until she landed her own sitcom, Caroline in the City, in the mid 90s. Caroline ran for 4 seasons, making for rather successful comedy series. Most of her 80s films were either forgettable, like SpaceCamp, or box office bombs like Howard the Duck (where she performed her own songs) and Jaws 3D. After Caroline, she took a short break from acting, and has since starred in a number of Hallmark and Lifetime channel movies.
Crispin Glover – George McFly
The rather eccentric Crispin Glover has kept busy doing his own thing over the years. Never finding a hit like BttF, Glover went on to do his own creative thing. In the early 90s he created the character Rubin Farr who was the star of the film Rubin & Ed. Glover had a famous incident where he appeared on Late Night with David Letterman as Farr, and an angry Letterman had enough of the act and cut the interview short. He also made what has to be one of the most awful albums known to man with “The Big Problem Does Not Equal the Solution, The Solution Equals Let It Be” which featured the song… Clownly Clown Clown. Aside from a starring role in Willard, Glover has mostly taken small roles here and there in order to fund his own projects under his company called Volcanic Eruptions.
Over at VE, Glover has made a series of independent films that he only screens at film festivals. These strange films, “What Is It?” and “It is Fine. Everything Is Fine” featured actors with Down’s Syndrome, a man with severe cerebral palsy, and twisted visuals. He has also been said to have written close to 20 books, though only 4 have been published through his own company. He more recently has been seen in films like Alice in Wonderland and Hot Tub Time Machine.
Thomas F. Wilson – Biff Tannen
Outside of the three BttF films, Wilson has kept somewhat a low profile. He spent most of his career doing voice overs for cartoons and video games such as Gargoyles, Batman, Spongebob Squarepants and Wing Commander. He played the role of Coach Ben in the cult classic TV series Freaks and Geeks by Judd Apatow, which only lasted a season. In 2005 he put out a comedy album called “Tom Wilson Is Funny” and also toured for its release. He most recently voiced Electro in Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions.
Claudia Wells – Jennifer Parker
Wells has the distinction of playing Jennifer for only the first BttF movie, in which she was later replaced by Elizabeth Shue. Wells couldn’t return to her role in the following movies as she helped care for her mother who was diagnosed with cancer. She only did some minor acting since then, but since 1991 she’s owned and operated a men’s clothing store called Armani Wells in California.
James Tolkan – Principal Strickland
While Tolkan has never stopped acting, most of his main roles are all from his 80s films. While mostly remembered for BttF, he also starred in Top Gun, Master’s of the Universe and WarGames, though all of these roles were mainly type casted as he always played the strict bald guy. He’s been in a bunch of other movies and television shows like The Wonder Years, Dick Tracey, and Tales from the Crypt.
Billy Zane – Match the Bully
Zane made a quick appearance in BttF as one of Biff’s henchmen. It wouldn’t be until over 10 years later where Zane would get his first break out role in ’96’s The Phantom, based on the classic comic strips. A year later he would find real success in James Cameron’s Titanic as the rich maniac Caledon Hockley. In 2001 he had a memorable appearance in Zoolander as himself, but would then go on to do smaller independent film roles and stage shows.
Eric Stoltz – Marty McFly
I felt like I should bring Stoltz into this as he was originally cast as Marty McFly. Having filmed a good portion of the movie, production was then put to a halt and Stoltz was replaced by the more energetic Michael J. Fox. In the same year BttF was released, Stoltz played the role of Rocky Dennis in the film Mask, which was very loosely based on the life of Rocky Dennis. He would once again play opposite of Lea Thompson in John Hughes’ Some Kind of Wonderful at the end of the 80s. Stoltz has kept busy over the years with various film and television roles and currently stars in SyFy’s Caprica, a spin off series of the re imagined Battlestar Galactica.
George ‘Buck’ Flower – Homeless Man
The little known George Flower has had many roles in the entertainment industry as an actor, writer, producer and even casting director. Oddly enough, he’s also secretly known for having played a bunch of roles as homeless and/or drunk guys. He has had a small role in a handful of John Carpenter films (Escape from New York, The Fog, and They Live) and has even been in a handful of episodes of Power Rangers. He passed away in 2004 due to cancer.
Stayed tuned for Part 2 in which we’ll go over the people responsible for making Back to the Future.