Back to the Future Part III

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Back to the Future Part III
Theatrical release poster by Drew Struzan
Directed byRobert Zemeckis
Screenplay byBob Gale
Story by
  • Robert Zemeckis
  • Bob Gale
Based on
  • Robert Zemeckis
  • Bob Gale
Produced by
CinematographyDean Cundey
Edited by
Music byAlan Silvestri
Distributed byUniversal Pictures[1]
Release date
  • May 25, 1990 (1990-05-25)
Running time
118 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
Budget$40 million[3]
Box office$245.1 million[3]

Back to the Future Part III is a 1990 American science fiction Western film and the third 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 $245 million worldwide during its initial run, making it the sixth-highest-grossing film of 1990.[4] The film received a positive response from critics, who noted it as an improvement over Part II.


In November 1955, moments after witnessing Emmett "Doc" Brown disappear in his DeLorean, Marty McFly learns that Doc was sent 70 years in the past to 1885.[N 1] Using information from Doc's 1885 letter, Marty and the 1955 Doc find and repair the DeLorean so Marty can return to 1985. However, after finding it, Marty comes across a tombstone with Doc's name, with the inscription stating that Doc was shot by Biff Tannen's great-grandfather, Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen, six days after writing the letter.

Despite the letter's warning, Marty travels back to 1885 to save Doc, arriving in the middle of a cavalry pursuit of Native Americans, but finds that the car's fuel line is damaged in the process. Chased by a bear, he is knocked out and found by his Irish-born great-great-grandparents Seamus and Maggie McFly, who allow him to stay for the night. The next morning, under the alias Clint Eastwood, Marty arrives in Hill Valley but runs afoul of Buford and his gang. Buford tries hanging Marty, but fails when Doc rescues him. Doc agrees to leave 1885 after learning his fate, but without gasoline, the DeLorean cannot reach its required 88 miles per hour (142 km/h). He thus proposes using a steam engine to push the DeLorean to that speed.

While inspecting a rail spur, Doc saves the town’s new schoolteacher Clara Clayton from falling into the ravine, averting her death from the original timeline. They fall in love at first sight and form a close relationship. At a town festival for the courthouse, Buford tries shooting Doc, but misses when Marty thwarts him. Buford then challenges him to a showdown in two days by calling him "yellow"; an angry Marty accepts, believing that he and Doc would have left by then. Doc urges Marty not to react to provocation, letting slip that Marty has a life changing accident in the future.

Although he is reluctant to return to 1985, Doc eventually visits Clara to end their relationship and bid her goodbye. However, feeling betrayed, she dismisses his story about being from the future. Despondent, he goes for a binge. In the morning, Buford arrives for Marty, who sees his alias appear in the photograph of the tombstone and refuses to duel. Doc passes out after downing just one shot; he is eventually revived, but is captured by Buford's gang, forcing Marty into the duel. Marty fools Buford into believing that he was fatally shot and knocks him into a wagon of manure. Buford and his gang are promptly arrested for an earlier robbery.

On the train to San Francisco, Clara learns how heartbroken Doc is and runs back to town. She finds the model of the time machine at his shop. Realizing that Doc was telling the truth, she heads back to meet him. Using a stolen train engine named Greyhound, Doc and Marty push the DeLorean along the spur line. Clara boards the engine, and tries to reach the car, but falls, hanging by her dress. Marty, in the DeLorean, passes his hoverboard to Doc, and he uses it to save Clara and carry her to safety. Marty hits 88 mph and vanishes as the overheated train engine falls off the unfinished bridge.

Arriving back in 1985, with the ravine now named "Eastwood Ravine", Marty escapes from the powerless DeLorean just before an oncoming freight train destroys it. Reuniting with Jennifer, Marty declines a street race with Douglas J. Needles, thus avoiding the future accident Doc warned him about. Jennifer opens the fax message she kept from 2015 and watches as the text regarding Marty's firing disappears.

As Marty and Jennifer examine the DeLorean wreckage, a steam engine suddenly appears, operated by Doc, Clara, and their children. Doc gives Marty a photo of them standing next to the town clock in 1885. When Jennifer asks Doc about the blank fax, he says that it means that their future has not yet been written and encourages them to make it a good one. Doc and his family bid farewell and fly off in the engine to an unknown time.


A photograph of Michael J Fox
A photograph of Christopher Lloyd
Michael J. Fox in 2020 (left) and Christopher Lloyd in 2015

Returning actors from previous films include Elisabeth Shue and Flea as Jennifer Parker and Douglas J. Needles, as well as Marc McClure, Wendie Jo Sperber and Jeffrey Weissman as Dave, Linda and George McFly. James Tolkan, who played Mr. Strickland in the first two films, plays his ancestor Marshal James Strickland.

Buford's gang in 1885 is portrayed by Christopher Wynne, Sean Gregory Sullivan, and Mike Watson. Wynne also plays a member of Needles' gang in 1985, alongside J.J. Cohen and Ricky Dean Logan, who played Skinhead and Data, respectively, in previous films.

Chester the bartender is played by Matt Clark, and three elderly patrons of the saloon are played by veteran Western film actors Pat Buttram, Harry Carey, Jr. and Dub Taylor. Hugh Gillin, Burton Gilliam, Donovan Scott and Bill McKinney portray Hill Valley's mayor, a gun salesman, Strickland's deputy, and an engineer respectively. Todd Cameron Brown and Dannel Evans play Doc and Clara's sons Jules and Verne Brown. Frank Beard, Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill of ZZ Top cameo as the band at the Festival.


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][8] a heritage line in Jamestown.

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.[9] The films were shot over the course of eleven 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.[9] 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.[9] 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.[9]

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.[9]

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 children, who had loved the first film, "hounded" her.[9]

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 featured cameos from veteran Western film actors Pat Buttram, Harry Carey Jr. and Dub Taylor as three "saloon old timers".[10] 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.[11] Zemeckis considered having Ronald Reagan play the part of the Mayor of Hill Valley in 1885. Reagan, who in 1989 had just recently finished his second term as president, had appeared in several Westerns during his earlier career as an actor. Zemeckis contacted Reagan's agent, Lew Wasserman, to gauge the ex-president's interest in the role, to which Reagan declined.[12]

Shooting a film set in the Old West was appealing to the stuntmen, who were all experienced horse riders. Gale recalled in 2002 that many stuntmen in Hollywood wanted to work on Part III.[9] 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 paused when Fox's father died, and when his son was born.[5]

Alan Silvestri returned to compose the score for Back to the Future Part III, continuing his longtime collaboration with Zemeckis. 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.[9] The musicians of the Old West-style band in the film were played by American rock band ZZ Top.

The photography in Part III was a "dream" for cinematographer Dean Cundey, who shared with much of the crew his excitement to shoot a Western. Zemeckis wished to create a spectacular climax to the film. He coordinated the actors, a live 4-6-0 ten wheeler steam locomotive (the Sierra Railway 3[13][14]), pyrotechnics, and special effects, and countless technicians all at once.[9] 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.[15][16]

Home media and music[edit]

On November 8, 1990, MCA/Universal Home Video released Back to the Future Part III on VHS and on December 17, 2002, on DVD.[17] It debuted on Blu-ray in 2010 for the film's 20th anniversary, followed by a second Blu-ray remaster in 2015 for the film's 25th anniversary and a 4K Blu-ray remaster in 2020 for the film's 30th anniversary.[18][19][20]

The soundtrack was released under Varèse Sarabande on May 29, 1990, and features most of the score by Alan Silvestri and the orchestral version of the song "Doubleback" performed at the festival in 1885 during the film.[21] A two-disc special edition was released on October 12, 2015, in commemoration of the film's 25th anniversary, which includes the original score (26 tracks) on disc one and an arrangement of alternate cues and source music on a second disc.[22]


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 $180.7 million adjusted as of 2023[23]) – $246 million worldwide.[24][25][26]

Critical response[edit]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 81% of 47 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 6.8/10. The website's consensus reads: "Back to the Future Part III draws the trilogy to a satisfying close with a simpler, sweeter round of time-travel antics."[27] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 55 out of 100, based on 19 critics, indicating "mixed or average" reviews.[28] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A−" on an A+ to F scale, same as the second installment.[29]

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".[30]

Leonard Maltin preferred the film to the first two, giving it three-and-a-half stars out of four, praising the film as great fun, special effects and imagination, also saying that the movie magic works in the film.[31] 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.[32]

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".[33] 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".[34]

Commentators noticed parallels between Part III and the film Time After Time (1979).[35] Mary Steenburgen has said:

Actually, I've played the same scene in that film [Time After Time] and in [Back to the Future 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.[36]

The casting of Steenburgen for Back to the Future Part III appears to be deliberately intended to mirror the earlier role.[37][38] In Time After Time, the woman lives in the 20th century and the time traveler is from the 19th. In Back to the Future Part III, the woman inhabits the 19th century and the time traveler is from the 20th.[38]


In 1990, the film won a Saturn Award for Best Music for Alan Silvestri and a Best Supporting Actor award for Thomas F. Wilson.[39] In 2003, it received an AOL Movies DVD Premiere Award for Best Special Edition of the Year, an award based on consumer online voting.[40]

See also[edit]


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


  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. ^ Jensen, Larry (2018). Hollywood's Railroads: Sierra Railroad. Vol. Two. Sequim, Washington: Cochetopa Press. pp. 61–64. ISBN 978-0-692-06472-6. Archived from the original on May 7, 2022. Retrieved May 8, 2022.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i 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.
  10. ^ Sorcha Ní Fhlainn, ed. (May 12, 2010). The Worlds of Back to the Future: Critical Essays on the Films. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-5765-6. Archived from the original on May 8, 2021. Retrieved November 14, 2016.
  11. ^ "". Archived from the original on February 22, 2014. Retrieved November 14, 2016.
  12. ^ Weinberg, Mark (2018). Movie Nights with the Reagans. Simon & Schuster. p. 151. ISBN 978-1-5011-3399-2.
  13. ^ The Providence Journal (March 10, 2012). "Train needs makeover before next Hollywood close-up - ScrippsNews". Archived from the original on March 10, 2012. Retrieved November 16, 2022.
  14. ^ "Movies". Sierra DinnerTrain. November 8, 2014. Archived from the original on November 8, 2014. Retrieved November 16, 2022.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ "Digital Arts Faculty". International Technological University. Archived from the original on August 12, 2016. Retrieved June 17, 2016.
  17. ^ " Back to the Future: The Complete Trilogy". Amazon. Archived from the original on February 6, 2016. Retrieved January 25, 2016.
  18. ^ "Back to the Future 25th Anniversary Trilogy [Blu-ray] – Amazon". Amazon. Archived from the original on September 17, 2021. Retrieved July 13, 2021.
  19. ^ "Back to the Future 30th Anniversary Trilogy [Blu-ray] – Amazon". Amazon. Archived from the original on September 17, 2021. Retrieved July 13, 2021.
  20. ^ "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.
  21. ^ "Back to the Future Part III (1990) – Soundtracks". IMDB. Archived from the original on August 25, 2021. Retrieved July 13, 2021.
  22. ^ "Back to the Future Part III: 25th Anniversary Edition (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) – Amazon". Amazon. Archived from the original on July 29, 2021. Retrieved July 13, 2021.
  23. ^ Johnston, Louis; Williamson, Samuel H. (2023). "What Was the U.S. GDP Then?". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved November 30, 2023. United States Gross Domestic Product deflator figures follow the MeasuringWorth series.
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ "Box Office History for Back to the Future Movies". The Numbers. Archived from the original on November 7, 2012. Retrieved November 28, 2010.
  26. ^ "'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.
  27. ^ "Back to the Future Part III". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved April 28, 2022. Edit this at Wikidata
  28. ^ "Back to the Future Part III". Metacritic. Fandom, Inc. Retrieved February 17, 2020.
  29. ^ "Find CinemaScore" (Type "Back to the Future" in the search box). CinemaScore. Archived from the original on January 2, 2018. Retrieved February 17, 2020.
  30. ^ Newman, Kim. "Back to the Future: Part III". Empire. Archived from the original on September 25, 2014. Retrieved August 30, 2012.
  31. ^ Maltin, Leonard (2008), p. 78. Leonard Maltin's 2009 Movie Guide. Signet Books.
  32. ^ 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.
  33. ^ Ebert, Roger (May 25, 1990). "Back to the Future Part III review". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on September 28, 2022. Retrieved September 28, 2022.
  34. ^ Canby, Vincent (May 25, 1990). "A Trilogy Whose Future Has Passed". The New York Times. Retrieved August 30, 2012.
  35. ^ 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.
  36. ^ "Mary Steenburgen ("Clara Clayton Brown")". Archived from the original on February 20, 2019. Retrieved February 20, 2019.
  37. ^ 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.
  38. ^ 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.
  39. ^ "Past Saturn Awards". The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films. Archived from the original on April 4, 2007. Retrieved November 28, 2010.
  40. ^ "Back to the Future awards". IMDb. Archived from the original on March 27, 2004. Retrieved November 28, 2010.

External links[edit]