Back to the Future: The Ride

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Back to the Future: The Ride
Back to the Future The Ride logo.png
Universal Studios Japan
Area San Francisco
Status Operating
Opening date March 31, 2001 (2001-03-31)
Universal Studios Hollywood
Area Upper Lot
Status Closed
Opening date June 4, 1993 (1993-06-04)
Closing date September 3, 2007 (2007-09-03)
Replaced Battle of Galactica
Replaced by The Simpsons Ride
Universal Studios Florida
Area World Expo
Status Closed
Opening date May 2, 1991 (1991-05-02)
Closing date March 30, 2007 (2007-03-30)
Replaced by The Simpsons Ride
General statistics
Attraction type Motion simulator
Manufacturer Intamin
Designer Universal Creative
Totally Fun Company
Theme Back to the Future
Vehicle type DeLorean time machine
Duration 15
Height restriction 40 in (102 cm)
Host Doc Brown
References [1]
Universal Express available
Single rider line available
Must transfer from wheelchair
Back to the Future: The Ride
Back to the Future The Ride.JPG
Promotional Poster
Directed by David De Vos
Douglas Trumbull
Produced by Steven Spielberg
Peter N. Alexander
Sheery McKenna
Written by Peyton Reed
Bob Gale
Starring Christopher Lloyd
Thomas F. Wilson
Darlene Vogel
Douglas Trumbull
Michael Klastorin
Music by Alan Silvestri
Distributed by Universal Studios
Release dates Florida:
May 2, 1991 (1991-05-02)
June 12, 1993 (1993-06-12)
March 31, 2001 (2001-03-31)
February 10, 2009
October 26, 2010
Running time 32 minutes

Back to the Future: The Ride is a simulator ride based on and inspired by the Back to the Future film series and is a mini-sequel to 1990's Back to the Future Part III. In the United States, it was replaced by The Simpsons Ride. It is located at Universal Studios Japan, and formerly at Universal Studios Florida and Universal Studios Hollywood.

The ride story centers on a first-person adventure through time, in pursuit of Biff Tannen, the trilogy's villain. Steven Spielberg, executive producer of the movie series served as creative consultant for the ride. It is the only project in the Back to the Future franchise to star Christopher Lloyd's character, Dr. Emmett L. Brown, as the main protagonist.


The idea of a Back to the Future–based simulator ride was first discussed in a 1986 meeting between Steven Spielberg and Totally Fun Company president Peter N. Alexander on the Universal Studios Hollywood backlot on the eve of the debut of the King Kong Encounter scene for the park's Studio Tour. Spielberg recalled how his friend George Lucas had just taken him for a ride on Lucas' Star Tours ride at Disneyland, telling Spielberg that "Universal could never create rides as good as Disney can". Spielberg requested that Alexander see what he can do with a simulator ride concept of Back to the Future. At the time, the proposed concept of the Universal Studios Florida project was put on hold and considered to be dead, and, according to Alexander, Spielberg's suggestion helped to bring the project back to life.[2]

During its trial phase, the ride was tested in the Omnimax Theatre inside the Expo '86 / Science World (Vancouver) building in Vancouver, BC.

The original attraction opened on May 2, 1991, at Universal Studios Florida. Back To The Future: The Ride also opened on June 4, 1993 at Universal Studios Hollywood and on March 31, 2001 at Universal Studios Japan. The ride was actually planned to open in Orlando and Hollywood at the same time but due to foundation problems with the measurement of the ceiling, the Hollywood version opened two years later.[3] The original ride in Orlando enjoyed almost sixteen years of constant operation before its final closure, to little fanfare, on March 30, 2007, after operating at half capacity for over three months.

The buildings for Florida and California had completely different layouts. In Florida the two arenas were back to back. Designers found that this led to some operational problems so the California building was designed so that the arenas were on opposite ends of the building with the queue and pre-show in between them. The California building was also built upon huge rollers as opposed to being anchored into the ground as a precaution for earthquakes.

The Hollywood ride publicly closed on Labor Day, September 3, 2007. In commemoration of its final month of operation, a special event was held with Christopher Lloyd and Bob Gale beginning the countdown to the ride's closure in early August 2007.[4] Additionally, a contest was announced with the grand prize winner receiving a classic 1981 De Lorean DMC-12 vehicle. The ride at Universal Studios Japan is still open.

A new attraction based on the animated sitcom The Simpsons, known officially as The Simpsons Ride, replaced the Back to the Future ride at Universal Studios Florida on May 15, 2008 and at Universal Studios Hollywood on May 19, 2008. One of the preshow clips in that ride cameos Doc Brown as tribute to Back to the Future: The Ride (see below).

Home media[edit]

About two years after the ride opened, one of the ride employees recorded the entire ride projector footage, in-car footage, and pre-ride line footage from the master laser discs to a VHS tape and sold bootleg copies of it. Copies can still be found in online auctions, and some footage has been posted on YouTube. As a result, in February 2009, Universal included all of the queue, pre-show and ride footage on the 2009 DVD rerelease of Back to the Future as part of a second bonus disc.[5] The DVD release includes some minor edits in the queue video portions.

As a result of the editing, the music played during the queue videos has been removed, and a section when Brown asks volunteers if they have seen Biff has also been removed. The pre-time travel systems check section of the pre-flight video has also been removed. In the main ride portion on the DVD release, the DeLorean based vehicle and ride cabin is virtually re-created (not totally accurate to the ride's dashboard). The time travel coordinates bear May 2, 1991 as the starting date in the beginning of the portion, which was the opening of the Florida attraction as well as the fictional opening of the Institute within the ride. All of the pre-show and ride footage have been included as a special feature on the 2010 Blu-ray release.


Entrance of Back to the Future: The Ride at Universal Studios Japan

Following the events of Back to the Future Part III, Dr. Emmett "Doc" Brown and his family Clara, Jules, Verne and Einstein have moved from the Old West to the present time in Hill Valley where, in 1991, Doc founds the Institute of Future Technology, a scientific Institute specializing in his "futuristic" inventions. On May 2, 1991, Doc invites tourists into the Institute as "volunteers" in order to test out his newest invention; the eight-passenger DeLorean time machine by traveling one day into the future.

Meanwhile, Doc travels to 2015 to make sure the space time continuum is back to normal after the events of his previous time traveling adventures, while his other Institute scientists travel to 1885 and 1955. However, in 1955, Biff Tannen stows away on the IFT scientists time machine, hitching a ride back to the present day Institute, which sets up the ride's main storyline.


Visitors to the Institute wait outside the facility, where TV monitors showed a live video feed of Doc in 2015, as well as videos detailing Doc's inventions


Riders enter the ride as "volunteers" for a time travel experiment at the Institute of Future Technology. Doc explains that the plan is for them to travel one day into the future, but that caution must be exercised as Biff, who was graduated from the Hill Valley High School in 1955, has escaped his time period and is now running amok in the space-time continuum. Once inside, Doc reveals some of the inventions he has been working on, including his "crowning achievement" - an 8-passenger DeLorean DMC-12 time machine (also a convertible), which is what the riders will be using in the experiment. Unknown to Doc, Biff has infiltrated the Institute - he appears to the riders, asking for assistance in finding Doc's time machine. Heather then announces that the pre-flight system checks is in progress and tells the visitors to stand by for an announcement from Doc.

Biff traps Doc in his office, and it is revealed when one of the time traveling teams was conducting an experiment back in 1955; Biff stowed away. He takes the DeLorean and vanishes into time. Doc frantically pleads with the visitors to assist him and says that the only way to bring Biff back to the present day is to accelerate to 88 miles per hour and bump him (which will open a time vortex that will send both time vehicles back to their original point of departure); they enter the 8-passenger time vehicle, led by one of Doc's assistants, after going over final safety instructions. Doc then informs the passengers with some helpful advice saying that the time vehicle Biff had stolen has a sub-ether time-tracking scanner; that way whatever time period Biff may be, the 8-passenger vehicle will pin-point to that exact location. They then follow Biff into time.


When the doors of the time machine close, Doc uses his remote control to control the time machine, hovers it, and accelerates to 88 miles per hour (with electric sparks coming from the time machine and speeding through the open door and blasting through the wormhole) and the ride begins. First, Biff leads the riders to Hill Valley in 2015 where they chase him through town. They smash into neon signs, flying over neighborhoods and the town square, the chase culminating at the iconic clock tower. He then departs for the ice age. The riders follow, and slowly lower into the icy caverns of the ice age. Biff honks his horn, causing an avalanche that damages the riders' vehicle. Flying out of the caverns, the car sees Biff shoot away into time, but their own engine has failed, and begins to plummet down a waterfall. Doc manages to restart the vehicle, accelerating backward and through time into the Cretaceous Period.

Upon arriving, the clock display on the DeLorean's dashboard blinks 12:00, as a reference to a videocassette recorder that has lost power. The riders follow Biff's vehicle into a dormant volcano in which a Tyrannosaurus is discovered. Tannen goads it into attacking the riders, who barely escape. The dinosaur strikes Tannen's car, sending it flying out of control; the dinosaur then swallows the riders' car, but spits it out mere seconds later. The riders then drop down onto a lava river to see Biff's DeLorean, now damaged and unable to maneuver, moving down an active lava flow toward the edge of a cliff, with Biff pleading help from Doc. As both vehicles plunge over the edge, the riders' car accelerates to time travel speed and bumps Tannen's, sending both of them back through the vortex to the original point of departure - the present, at the Institute of Future Technology, where Biff gets out, thanks the riders and Doc for saving his life, but is soon grabbed by security and taken away. Riders exit the vehicle, as Doc thanks them and reminds them that "the future is what you make it!". An animated logo of Institute of Future Technology flashes up on the screen with the words "Please lift lap bar and exit" and after a few seconds Doc warns "Hurry up! Get out! Before you meet yourself coming in!" As guests leave, the song "Back in Time" plays.

Cast and crew[edit]


English cast[edit]

Japanese cast[edit]


Additional notes[edit]

  • Although Brown's wife, Clara Clayton, does not appear in the ride, a picture of her with Doc can be seen in his office in the pre-show video as well as in the pre-flight briefing room.
  • Michael J. Fox was asked to reprise his role as Marty McFly in the ride as Doc's personal assistant and test volunteer, but he turned it down.[citation needed] He can still be seen in the queue video, within archive footage of the Back to the Future movies.

Production and history[edit]

Although Back to the Future creators Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale had no involvement with the ride, they were consulted as to whether they "got Doc right". The two responded with a "yes". They have also commented that "it's a great ride." In addition, references are made to a "Zemeckis-Gale diagram" and "Gale-Zemeckis Coordinates."[6] When the ride footage was made, computer animation was not widely used, so all the special effects, sets and other things in the ride footage were actually very detailed miniature sets recorded in stop motion filming. The miniature sets were large, with the replica 2015 buildings as large as half a grown man, and the T-Rex model being about 7 feet tall.[7] The ride in Florida and Hollywood were supposed to open at the same time in 1991 but due to foundation problems with Hollywood's building, it had to be rebuilt and the ride in Florida opened up without its west coast cousin while the Hollywood one opened up nearly 2 years later.[3] The Institute of Future Technology that the riders crash into at the end of the ride was actually a model of the Florida's version of the building.[8]

The modified DMC that was outside of the Back to the Future giftshop (Now a Kwik-E-Mart) was being used at the Bill and Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure at Universal Studios Florida's Halloween Horror Nights in 2007. In homage to the attraction, on the previous construction walls of The Simpsons Ride, the Comic Book Guy wore Marty's futuristic jacket from 2015 from Back to the Future Part II. Also, in the line satirical video for the new ride, an animated Doc Brown (voiced by Christopher Lloyd) attempts to borrow money from a loan office to save the Institute of Future Technology. However, Professor Frink crashes back in time in a DeLorean and crushes the banker, and Doc is upset that he must "sell the Institute of Future Technology to that mercenary clown!". At Rock the Universe 2006, an annual Christian rock festival held at Universal every September, Relient K lead singer Matt Thiessen asked the fans to ride Back to the Future while it was still open, as they learned earlier that day it was closing. Each band is taken on a tour through the park every year.


The De Lorean on display outside of the Orlando ride before being moved in 2007

In keeping with the theme of the ride, many prop-replicas from the Back to the Future films are on display as guests line up. Notable items include the hover boards from the second and third movies and letters from Doc Brown to Marty McFly. The locomotive from the third film and one of the modified DeLoreans were on display outside the rides; the DeLorean outside the Orlando ride was removed on September 3, 2007, later to be seen with the Doc Brown character driving it until it was put on display outside of Soundstage 54.

The Jules Verne time train from the third film was also on display outside the Orlando ride until it was removed on July 24, 2007. After being sighted in various prop warehouses, it is now back on display, freshly painted outside Soundstage 44 with the DeLorean.[citation needed]

The locomotive from the third film on display outside the former Orlando ride
The locomotive outside the Sound stage 44 building at the park.

Queue video[edit]

The queue video features clips from the Back to the Future trilogy, as well as new footage featuring Dr. Brown. It features diagrams for other innovations, ostensibly created by Brown; newsreel footage of Doc with Albert Einstein and other historical figures; and a "live" video feed from 2015 in which Brown explains the experiment.

Physical setup[edit]

Diagram of the ride theater and motion base system for each of the cars.

The ride was a motion simulator with the cars located under a 70-foot (21.3–m) IMAX Dome screen. Each of the 24 cars (12 per dome) was mounted on three pistons, allowing it to rise, fall and tilt, following the motion on the screen. The cars were arranged on three tiers and were staggered to prevent riders from seeing the other vehicles in the theater. The front section of the cars rose eight feet (2.4 m) out of the "garage" when "flying". The actual range of motion from the simulator base was about two feet (0.6 m) in any direction. The motion and the visual input from the screen images combined to make the riders feel as if they are in a high-speed pursuit.

The ride was actually composed of two IMAX Dome screens with cars arranged around them. The experience of both was identical, but the ride enjoyed a very reliable in-service record as a result. If one screen or "dome" is shut down by a mechanical problem, the other ordinarily remains in service. This increases wait times, but essentially eliminated a complete shutdown of the ride as a whole.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]