Back to the Future Day: What Happened on October 21?

October 21 is one of the dates Back to the Future fans look forward to every year. It’s not the day the movie came out. It’s not anyone’s birthday involved with the film. So if you’ve never seen the Back to the Future movies, or even if you’ve only seen them casually, you may wonder why everyone is dressing up like Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) or breaking out their hoverboards and De Loreans today. 

Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future
Michael J Fox in the original Back to the Future | Universal/Getty Images

There are other significant dates for Back to the Future. One group of fans meets at the Puente Hills Mall at 1:15AM the morning of October 26. That was location of the scene in which Doc (Christopher Lloyd) showed Marty the time machine on that date in 1985. November 5, 1955 was when Doc invented the flux capacitor, and the date Marty traveled back to.

November 12 of ‘55 was the night of the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance where Marty’s parents fell in love. Here’s a cheat sheet to help you join the celebration of Back to the Future Day On October 21 every year.

The date comes from ‘Back to the Future, Part II’

The ending of Back to the Future had fans itching for a sequel. Doc returns from 30 years in the future to tell Marty and Jennifer (Claudia Wells) that they have to come with him to the future to save their kids. Four years later, Back to the Future, Part II picked up right where they left off, albeit with Elisabeth Shue filling in for Wells, who had to attend to a family emergency.

Claudia Wells and Michael J. Fox
Claudia Wells and Michael J. Fox. in Back to the Future | Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Doc brings Marty and Jennifer to October 21, 2015, still 26 years in the future from the time of the film’s release. On the real October 21, 2015, Back to the Future fans celebrated Doc and Marty’s arrival with screenings of the films, events at locations from the films and even a Million McFly March that fell a few hundred thousand short on McFly cosplayers but was still fun to see everyone celebrate the movie.

The future is in the past now

The future that screenwriter Bob Gale and director Robert Zemeckis envisioned back in 1989 was pure science fiction fantasy. In the real 2015, we didn’t have flying cars or hoverboards or holographic movies yet, but those were the sorts of things people in the ‘80s thought the future would bring.

Back to the Future cosplay | Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for ReedPOP

However, the real 2015 did have some inventions Back to the Future Part II predicted, like all the screens we use to connect, only we actually carry them in our pockets. Gale and Zemeckis couldn’t have imagined social media.

Future Marty cosplay
Cosplayer Annisse Damefatale | Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images

Many Back to the Future fans, myself included, had been waiting 26 years to see the real October 21, 2015. Passing that date was surreal, but there’s no reason we can’t still celebrate it every year. 

There’s more to ‘Back to the Future Part II’ than the future

Visiting the future was the selling point of Back to the Future Part II but the reason it’s such a great sequel is it goes in so many more creative directions than expected. Visiting the future leads to a series of events in which villain Biff (Thomas F. Wilson) steals the time machine to make himself rich in the past. Marty then visits a 1985 “present” that’s even worse than the one he fixed in the first movie.

Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future | Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

The ultimate creative breakthrough was sending Doc and Marty back into the first film. They have to return to 1955 to undo the damage Biff did, while the events of the first movie are going on. They interact with the first film without contradicting anything that happened before. 

Defending this controversial part of the sequels

Back to the Future Part II was considered a disappointment when it opened in 1989. People didn’t like that it got so dark in the evil 1985 or all of the complicated time travel paradoxes. Back to the Future Part III was considered a return to the simplicity of the original. It’s great to see fans warm up to the middle film now because it has so much creativity in it.

Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future
Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future | Universal/Getty Images

Even the most controversial aspect of the sequels has grown on me. Marty responds anytime someone calls him chicken. This was not something that ever happened in the first film and it’s a plot device to make sure Marty gets into trouble before the film is over. It certainly seems like a screenwriting shorthand, but now that it’s 2019 and I’ve lived 42 years, it seems a lot more relevant now.

Doc Brown cosplay | Quinn P. Smith/Getty Images

“Nobody calls me chicken” may come out of nowhere but it’s entirely accurate to human nature. Most people are sensitive enough to respond to any criticism, and any skilled bully knows they can bait their target. Twitter has proven it takes far less than “chicken” to bait most people. People will drop whatever they’re doing to answer trolls all day. 

You can criticize the movie but also learn the lesson. It doesn’t matter if some bully or jerk thinks you’re a chicken or questions you. If you take your eyes off your goal, they win. 

We’ll always have ‘Back to the Future’ Day

I’m one of the few people that actually wanted a Back to the Future IV. I think making a sequel in the real 2015 would have been clever. Doc could have a new teenage assistant, perhaps a girl this time, who goes back to the 1985 of the first movie and is just as out of her element as Marty was in 1985. 

Fox could still be in it as Marty. He can still act. He was ready to do several season of a TV show in 2013, but Marty would be a rock star so he’d be too busy to do much more than wave to Doc and the new kid, passing the torch. They could get Wells back as Jennifer though. 

Christopher Lloyd
Christopher Lloyd and his Back to the Future invention | Phillip Chin/WireImage

Lloyd is the only other person who agreed with me that there should be more films. Gale and Zemeckis are adamant not to, and producer Steven Spielberg supports them. Lea Thompson has also said she would accept a role in Back to the Future IV but doesn’t expect one.

I may never get my Back to the Future IV but fortunately it looks like Back to the Future will never end. We’ve outlived the future of those films and we still celebrate them every year. Back to the Future Part II celebrates the 30th anniversary of its release on November 22 of this year, and Part III in May, and we’ll keep celebrating them forever.