‘Back to the Future’: Steve Martin Was 1 of Many Actors Up for Doc Brown

Movies don’t get much more beloved than Back to the Future. The 1985 sci-fi comedy adventure spawned not only two sequels, an animated series, and theme park attractions. It also remains a fan favorite even decades after its initial release, thanks to characters like Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd). But the latter character almost lost that iconic role to a slew of famous actors, including Steve Martin.

Steve Martin wears a suit and stands in front of a photo of his younger self
Steve Martin | VALERIE MACON/AFP

Christopher Lloyd plays Doc Brown in ‘Back to the Future’

Looking back, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Lloyd as Dr. Emmett Brown in the Back to the Future trilogy. The actor was then perhaps best known for his roles in 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and TV’s Taxi. But once he starred as Doc Brown, Lloyd has forever been associated with his time-traveling scientist character.

Lloyd’s other beloved roles include Commander Kruge in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Professor Plum in Clue, Judge Doom in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Uncle Fester in 1991’s The Addams Family and its 1993 sequel. But none of them has been quite as inextricable from Lloyd as Doc Brown in Back to the Future.

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Steve Martin was among the many actors considered for Doc Brown

By now, Back to the Future fans know all about how Eric Stoltz was originally hired to play Marty McFly and how Fox was brought in midway through shooting. However, it’s much less widely known which actors could have played Doc Brown instead of Lloyd. However, thanks to book Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History by Michael Klastorin and Randal Atamaniuk (via Mental Floss), fans now have a detailed account of who could have played Doc.

The book includes a casting list from summer 1984 for the Fenton-Feinberg Casting agency. The role in question is the scientist who would become Doc Brown. And the list of names is intriguing. It includes a who’s who of comedic 1980s talents, including Jeff Goldblum, John Cleese, John Candy, Danny DeVito, Michael Keaton, Gene Hackman, Chevy Chase, Eddie Murphy, Randy Quaid, Joe Piscopo, Bill Cosby, Mickey Rourke, Gene Wilder, and Martin.

Would Steve Martin have been a good fit for Doc Brown?

Of these names, it’s easy to see how some of them could work as Doc Brown. But what makes Martin an interesting choice is how well his “wild and crazy” screen persona would fit the character. Some of the above actors have the comedic chops but not necessarily the manic energy that Lloyd ultimately brings to the role.

Of course, fans likely can’t imagine anyone other than Lloyd in the role. But it’s easy to see how Martin — who would perfect the paternal vibe in the 1990s — could have made audiences believe this mad scientist who was a bit out of his head could form a believable friendship with Marty.

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