Back to the Future Part III

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Back to the Future Part III
Back to the Future Part III.jpg
Theatrical release poster by Drew Struzan
Directed byRobert Zemeckis
Produced by
Screenplay byBob Gale
Story by
  • Robert Zemeckis
  • Bob Gale
Based on
  • Robert Zemeckis
  • Bob Gale
Music byAlan Silvestri
CinematographyDean Cundey
Edited by
Distributed byUniversal Pictures[1]
Release date
  • May 25, 1990 (1990-05-25)
Running time
119 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
Budget$40 million[3]
Box office$246.1 million[3]

Back to the Future Part III is a 1990 American science fiction western comedy film. It is the third and final installment of the Back to the Future trilogy. The film was directed by Robert Zemeckis, and stars Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Mary Steenburgen, Thomas F. Wilson and Lea Thompson. The film continues immediately following Back to the Future Part II (1989); while stranded in 1955 during his time travel adventures, Marty McFly (Fox) discovers that his friend Dr. Emmett "Doc" Brown (Lloyd), trapped in 1885, was killed by Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen (Wilson), Biff's great-grandfather. Marty travels to 1885 to rescue Doc and return once again to 1985, but matters are complicated when Doc falls in love with Clara Clayton (Steenburgen).

Back to the Future Part III was filmed in California and Arizona, and was produced on a $40 million budget back-to-back with Part II. Part III was released in the United States on May 25, 1990, six months after the previous installment, and grossed $244 million worldwide during its initial run, making it the sixth-highest-grossing film of 1990.[4] It received a positive response from critics, who noted it as an improvement over its predecessor.


On November 12, 1955, moments after witnessing Dr. Emmett Brown disappear in his DeLorean, Marty has learned that he was transported to 1885.[N 1] Marty and the 1955 Doc have received Doc's 1885 letter and use its information to find and repair the DeLorean so Marty can return to 1985. Although Doc's letter expresses his desire to remain in the Old West, Marty finds and photographs a tombstone with Doc's name, dated six days after the letter. The inscription states that Doc was shot in the back by Biff Tannen's great-grandfather, Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen, over a matter of $80.

Marty travels to September 2, 1885 to save Doc, arriving amidst a cavalry pursuit of Native Americans. When the DeLorean's fuel line is torn, Marty hides the car in a cave only to be chased by a bear and knocked out. Found by his Irish-born great-great-grandparents Seamus and Maggie McFly, he spends the night at their farm. The next morning, he walks to Hill Valley and runs afoul of Buford and his gang. Buford attempts to lynch Marty, but Doc rescues him. Doc agrees to leave 1885 after seeing the photograph, but without gasoline, the DeLorean cannot reach 88 mph needed for time travel.

Doc proposes using a steam locomotive to push the DeLorean up to the required speed to return to 1985. While he and Marty inspect a rail spur, they spot a runaway horse-drawn wagon. Doc saves Clara Clayton, altering her death from the original timeline; they quickly fall in love. At a town festival, Buford tries shooting Doc, but Marty thwarts him. Buford then challenges Marty to a showdown in two days; an angry Marty accepts. Doc warns Marty to avoid being provoked by name-calling and lets slip that Marty has a car accident in the future. Doc's name in the photograph is erased but the date and tombstone remains.

Doc arrives to bid Clara goodbye, but she spurns him, disbelieving his story about being from the future. Despondent, he goes to the saloon for a binge and passes out after one shot of whiskey. In the morning, Buford arrives and calls out Marty, who observes the photograph and sees "Clint Eastwood" (his 1885 alias) appear on the tombstone, so he refuses to duel Buford. Doc revives and tries fleeing with Marty, but Buford's gang forces Marty into the duel. Marty fools Buford into believing he fatally shot him, then knocks him into a wagon of manure. Buford is arrested for an earlier robbery.

On the train for San Francisco, Clara overhears a conversation about how heartbroken Doc is. Clara applies the emergency brake and walks back to Hill Valley. She discovers Doc's scale model of the time machine at his shop and, realizing he was telling the truth, rides after him. Using the stolen locomotive, Doc and Marty push the DeLorean along the spur line. Clara boards the locomotive while Doc climbs toward the DeLorean. Seeing Clara, Doc encourages her to reach him, but she falls, hanging by her dress. Marty, in the DeLorean, passes his futuristic hoverboard to Doc and he uses it to save Clara, coasting away as the locomotive falls off an unfinished railroad bridge and into a ravine.

Marty is transported to 1985, arriving on the now-completed bridge, and escapes from the powerless DeLorean just before it is struck by an oncoming train and destroyed. The timeline has returned to normal, and Marty finds Jennifer sleeping on her porch. Marty has learned to no longer be goaded and avoids a street race with Douglas J. Needles, thus preventing the future automobile accident Doc warned him about. Jennifer opens the fax message she kept from 2015 and watches as its text regarding Marty's firing disappears.

As Marty and Jennifer examine the DeLorean wreckage, a steam locomotive equipped with a flux capacitor appears, operated by Doc, Clara, and their two young sons Jules and Verne. Doc gives Marty a photo of them standing next to the town clock that was taken in 1885. Jennifer asks about the fax, and Doc says it means that the future has not yet been written. Doc and his family say goodbye and depart in the locomotive, which lifts off the tracks before disappearing into an unknown time.



One of the DeLorean vehicles used in the film

The origins of the western theme for Back to the Future Part III lie in the production of the original film. During filming for the original, director Zemeckis asked Michael J. Fox what time period he would like to see. Fox replied that he wanted to visit the Old West and meet cowboys. Zemeckis and writer/producer Bob Gale were intrigued by the idea, but held it off until Part III.[5] Rather than use existing sets, the filmmakers built the 1885 Hill Valley from scratch.[5] The western scenes were filmed on location in Oak Park, California, and Monument Valley.[6] Some of the location shooting for the 1885 Hill Valley was done in Jamestown, California, and on a purpose-built set at the Red Hills Ranch near Sonora, California.[6] Some of the train scenes were filmed at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park,[7] a heritage line in Jamestown. Whereas the original film played to a more materialistic idea of success, Zemeckis considered Part III more of a "human journey" with spiritual overtones.[8]

The shooting of the Back to the Future sequels, which were shot back-to-back throughout 1989, reunited much of the crew of the original.[8] The films were shot over the course of 11 months, save for a three-week hiatus between filming of Parts II and III and concluded in January 1990. The most grueling part was editing Part II while filming Part III, and Zemeckis bore the brunt of the process over a three-week period. While Zemeckis was shooting most of the train sequences in Sonora, Gale was in Los Angeles supervising the final dub of Part II.[8] Zemeckis would wrap photography and board a private plane to Burbank, where Gale and engineers would greet him on the dubbing stage with dinner. He would oversee the reels completed that day, and make changes where needed.[8] Afterwards, he would retire to the Sheraton Universal Hotel for the night. The following morning, Zemeckis would drive to the Burbank Airport, board a flight back to the set in Northern California, and continue to shoot the film.[8]

Although the schedule for most of the personnel involved was grueling, the actors found the remote location for Part III relaxing, compared to shooting its predecessor.[8]

The role of Clara Clayton was written with Mary Steenburgen in mind. When she received the script, however, she was reluctant to commit to the film until her kids, who loved Part I, 'hounded' her.[8] Lloyd shared his first on-screen kiss with Steenburgen in Part III.[8] The Hill Valley Festival Dance scene proved to be the most dangerous for Lloyd and Steenburgen; overzealous dancing left Steenburgen with a torn ligament in her foot.[5]

The film also starred veteran western film actors Pat Buttram, Harry Carey Jr., and Dub Taylor, as three "saloon old timers".[9] The inclusion of these noticeable Western actors was promoted in several documentaries about the film as well as the behind-the-scenes documentary of the DVD and in the obituary of one of the actors.[10] The musicians of the Old West–style band in the film were played by ZZ Top.

Shooting a film set in the Old West was appealing to the stuntmen, who were all experienced horse riders. "We had every great stuntman in Hollywood wanting to work on Part III," recalled Gale in 2002.[8] Thomas F. Wilson, who played Buford Tannen, chose to perform his own stunts and spent a great deal of time learning to ride a horse and throw his lariat. Filming was halted when Fox's father died and when his son was born.[5]

Alan Silvestri, through his longtime collaboration with Zemeckis, returned to compose the score for Back to the Future Part III. Rather than dictate how the music should sound, Zemeckis directed Silvestri as he would an actor, seeking to evoke emotion and treating every piece of music like a character.[8]

The photography in Part III was a "dream" for cinematographer Dean Cundey, who agreed with much of the crew in his excitement to shoot a western. The filmmakers sought a bright, colorful picture for each scene, with a hint of sepia tone in certain shots.[8] Zemeckis wished to create a spectacular climax to the film. He coordinated the actors, a live 4-6-0 ten wheeler steam locomotive, pyrotechnics, and special effects, and countless technicians all at once.[8] As they had done with the previous two films in the trilogy, the visual effects for Part III were managed by effects company Industrial Light & Magic; the head of its animation department, Wes Takahashi, returned to once again animate the DeLorean's time travel sequences.[11][12]

Home media release[edit]

On November 8, 1990, MCA/Universal Home Video released Back to the Future Part III on VHS and again on December 17, 2002 on DVD.[13] A new remaster as part of Back to the Future: The Ultimate Trilogy on Blu-ray, Ultra HD Blu-ray and DVD was released on October 20, 2020.[14]


Box office[edit]

The film grossed $23 million in its first weekend of U.S. release and $87.6 million altogether in U.S. box office receipts (or about $152.4 million when adjusted for inflation[15] as of January 2011) – $243 million worldwide.[16][17][18]

Critical reception[edit]

The review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes reported an 80% approval rating based on 44 reviews, with an average rating of 6.72/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "Back to the Future Part III draws the trilogy to a satisfying close with a simpler, sweeter round of time-travel antics."[19] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 55 out of 100, based on 19 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[20] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A–" on an A+ to F scale, same as the second installment.[21]

Kim Newman of Empire gave the film four out of five stars, saying that the film "restores heart interest of the first film and has a satisfying complete storyline". He praised Michael J. Fox for "keeping the plot on the move," and mentioned that Christopher Lloyd and Mary Steenburgen's romance was "funny". He said that the film's ending was the "neatest of all," and it "features one of the best time machines in the cinema, promising that this is indeed the very last in the series and neatly wrapping it up for everybody.[22]

Leonard Maltin preferred this film to the first two, giving it three-and-a-half stars out of four, saying it "offers great fun, dazzling special effects, and imagination to spare. There's real movie magic at work here."[23] Michael McWhertor of the website Polygon wrote that while the film was not better than the original entry in the series, it is nonetheless "leagues better than the second"; he praised the film's comedic and romantic elements and commended Thomas F. Wilson's performance as "Mad Dog" Tannen.[24]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film two-and-a-half out of four stars. He said that the film's western motifs are "a sitcom version that looks exactly as if it were built on a back lot somewhere".[25] Although Vincent Canby of The New York Times praised Christopher Lloyd's performance in the film, he also said that the film "looks as if it could be the beginning of a continuing television series". He complained that the film is "so sweet-natured and bland that it is almost instantly forgettable".[26]

Commentators notice parallels between the films Time After Time and Back to the Future III.[27] Mary Steenburgen has said:

Actually, I've played the same scene in that film (Time After Time) and in (BTTF) 'Part III,.. I've had a man from a different time period tell me that he's in love with me, but he has to go back to his own time. My response in both cases is, of course, disbelief, and I order them out of my life. Afterwards, I find out I was wrong and that, in fact, the man is indeed from another time, and I go after him (them) to profess my love. It's a pretty strange feeling to find yourself doing the same scene, so many years apart, for the second time in your career.[28]

The casting of Steenburgen for Back to the Future III appears to be deliberately intended to mirror the earlier role.[29][30] In Time After Time, the woman lives in the 20th century and the time traveller is from the 19th. In Back to the Future III, the woman inhabits the 19th century and the time traveller is from the 20th.[30] In both films, the woman eventually goes back with the time traveller to live in his own time period.[31]


In 1990, the film won a Saturn Award for Best Music for Alan Silvestri and a Best Supporting Actor award for Thomas F. Wilson.[32] In 2003, it received an AOL Movies DVD Premiere Award for Best Special Edition of the Year, an award based on consumer online voting.[33]


  1. ^ As depicted at the end of Back to the Future Part II (1989).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Back to the Future Part III". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Archived from the original on July 9, 2017. Retrieved July 9, 2017.
  2. ^ "Back to the Future Part III (PG)". British Board of Film Classification. June 4, 1990. Archived from the original on June 22, 2015. Retrieved June 21, 2015.
  3. ^ a b "Back to the Future III (1990)". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on February 18, 2020. Retrieved December 31, 2016.
  4. ^ "1990 Worldwide Box Office". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Archived from the original on May 15, 2020. Retrieved March 7, 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d Bob Gale, Robert Zemeckis et al. (2002). Back to the Future Part III. Special Features: The Making of Back to the Future Part III (DVD). Universal Studios Home Entertainment.
  6. ^ a b Back to the Future 2002 DVD Feature: Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale Q&A recorded at the University of Southern California
  7. ^ "Railtown 1897 State Historic Park Film Credits". Archived from the original on December 3, 2010. Retrieved October 4, 2014.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Bob Gale, Robert Zemeckis et al. (2002). Back to the Future Part III. Special Features: Making the Trilogy: Chapter Three (DVD). Universal Studios Home Entertainment.
  9. ^ Sorcha Ní Fhlainn, ed. (May 12, 2010). The Worlds of Back to the Future: Critical Essays on the Films. McFarland. ISBN 9780786457656. Archived from the original on May 8, 2021. Retrieved November 14, 2016.
  10. ^ "". Archived from the original on February 22, 2014. Retrieved November 14, 2016.
  11. ^ Failes, Ian (October 21, 2015). "The future is today: how ILM made time travel possible". FXGuide. Archived from the original on July 1, 2016. Retrieved June 17, 2016.
  12. ^ "Digital Arts Faculty". International Technological University. Archived from the original on August 12, 2016. Retrieved June 17, 2016.
  13. ^ " Back to the Future: The Complete Trilogy". Amazon. Archived from the original on February 6, 2016. Retrieved January 25, 2016.
  14. ^ "Back to the Future™ Trilogy – One of the Biggest Motion Picture Trilogies Comes to 4K Ultra HD for the First Time Ever". Back to the Future™ Trilogy. Archived from the original on August 3, 2020. Retrieved August 3, 2020.
  15. ^ "$87,666,629.00 in 1990 had the same buying power as $152,376,558.90 in 2011". January 7, 2012. Archived from the original on August 5, 2012. Retrieved January 7, 2012.
  16. ^ Broeske, Pat H. (May 30, 1990). "'Back to Future III' a Fast Draw Against 'Fire Birds' Movies: Memorial weekend opening is no contest. 'Future III' takes $23.7 million, while 'Birds' takes $6.3 million". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on July 9, 2012. Retrieved November 16, 2010.
  17. ^ "Box Office History for Back to the Future Movies". The Numbers. Archived from the original on January 19, 2013. Retrieved November 28, 2010.
  18. ^ "'Recall' Totally Outdistances 'Future' in Box-Office Race Movies: Schwarzenegger's sci-fi flick opens with $25.5 million. But it only just edges the 'Turtles' ' $25.3-million record". Los Angeles Times. March 15, 1993. Archived from the original on November 4, 2012. Retrieved November 30, 2010.
  19. ^ "Back to the Future Part III". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on November 20, 2010. Retrieved November 28, 2010.
  20. ^ "Back to the Future Part III". Metacritic. Archived from the original on October 1, 2020. Retrieved February 17, 2020.
  21. ^ "Find CinemaScore" (Type "Back to the Future" in the search box). CinemaScore. Archived from the original on January 2, 2018. Retrieved February 17, 2020.
  22. ^ Newman, Kim. "Back to the Future: Part III". Empire. Archived from the original on September 25, 2014. Retrieved August 30, 2012.
  23. ^ Maltin, Leonard (2008), p. 78. Leonard Maltin's 2009 Movie Guide. Signet Books.
  24. ^ McWhertor, Michael (October 21, 2015). "Back to the Future Part 3 is perfect (and better than Part 2)". Polygon. Archived from the original on June 8, 2016. Retrieved June 23, 2016.
  25. ^ Ebert, Roger (May 25, 1990). "Back to the Future Part III review". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on December 27, 2010. Retrieved November 18, 2010.
  26. ^ Canby, Vincent (May 25, 1990). "A Trilogy Whose Future Has Passed". The New York Times. Retrieved August 30, 2012.
  27. ^ Spencer Bennett (November 2, 2015). "What Ties These Five Time-Travel Movies Together? – [Video]". Archived from the original on February 20, 2019. Retrieved February 20, 2019. I was noticing the time-traveling ties between 'Time After Time' (1979) and another movie 'Back to the Future III' (1990), a film also starring Mary Steenburgen. In 'Time After Time', she played Amy Robbins, a 20th Century woman who falls in love with a time traveller, H.G. Wells (played by Malcolm McDowell) from the 19th Century.... In Back to the Future Part III (1990), she played Clara Clayton, a 19th Century woman who falls in love with a time traveller, (played by Christopher Lloyd) from the 20th Century.
  28. ^ "Mary Steenburgen ("Clara Clayton Brown")". Archived from the original on February 20, 2019. Retrieved February 20, 2019.
  29. ^ Christopher Campbell (October 21, 2015). "10 Movies to Watch After You See Back to the Future Part III". Archived from the original on February 20, 2019. Retrieved February 20, 2019. Steenburgen was sought to play Clara in part based on her role in this movie where she plays the love interest of another time traveller. Instead of a man from the future who is a fan of a famed 19th century sci-fi and fantasy author, her leading man is from the past and an actual famed 19th century sci-fi and fantasy author, H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell)... he brings Steenburgen's character back to his own time period, just as Doc does with Clara.
  30. ^ a b "Ultimate Facts: back to the Future Part III". Archived from the original on August 18, 2019. Retrieved February 20, 2019. The role of Clara Clayton was written specifically for Mary Steenburgen. – In the film, Clara Clayton is a 19th Century woman who falls in love with a time traveler from the 20th Century. In Time After Time (1979), Mary Steenburgen played Amy Robbins, a 20th Century woman who falls in love with a time traveler from the 19th Century.Century.
  31. ^ Sorcha Ní Fhlainn (August 1, 2016). "'There's Something Very Familiar About All This': Time Machines, Cultural Tangents, and Mastering Time in H.G. Wells's The Time Machine and the Back to the Future trilogy". Adaptation. 9 (2): 164. doi:10.1093/adaptation/apv028. Archived from the original on February 20, 2019. Retrieved February 20, 2019. The conclusion to Back to the Future III (where both Doc and Clara travel to 1985 to meet with Marty once more, in a new time machine constructed within a steam-powered locomotive), intertextually connects this moment with the conclusion of Meyer's Time After Time, where H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) not only prevents Jack the Ripper (David Warner) from continuing his murder spree in San Francisco in 1979, but also brings Amy Robbins (also played by Mary Steenburgen) back to Victorian England with him. Thus, both women are positioned as a reward for the time traveller's dedication and emotional connection to the machine. Both Clara and Amy are permanently relocated by their respective masters of time, just as Wells's Time Traveller had intended with Weena.
  32. ^ "Past Saturn Awards". The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films. Archived from the original on April 4, 2007. Retrieved November 28, 2010.
  33. ^ "Back to the Future awards". IMDb. Archived from the original on March 27, 2004. Retrieved November 28, 2010.

External links[edit]