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Where do movies come from? At the risk of sounding like Lucas from Empire Records (although “What’s with today, today?” is a perfectly valid question), there’s something genuinely incredible about the spark that leads to a multi-million dollar piece of art, crafted by thousands of people that a massive audience can enjoy.
Someone reads a book or hears a story or finds an old family heirloom in a basement. Someone wants to recognize a figure that made a profound impact on our world. Someone stumbles across an old idea or has a Eureka Moment in the shower. It all gets put through the ringer and ends up as the only source of light in a darkened room.
So, yes, there’s a magic to it all. Movies take their ideas from anywhere and everywhere (including other works of art and other movies). To celebrate that, here are five great films made just a bit more incredible by exploring where they come from.
Back to the Basement
For Back to the Future, the idea to send a young man back in time to hang out with teenage versions of his parents was born from a trip into the boxes of writer Bob Gale‘s childhood home.
“I was back in St. Louis, Missouri, visiting my parents. Searching around in the basement, I found my father’s high school yearbook. I’m thumbing through it and I found out my father was president of his graduating class. I didn’t know this. I thought about the president of my graduating class as someone I had nothing to do with. I was head of the Student Committee To Abolish Student Government. So I thought, ‘Gee, if I went to high school with my dad, would I have been friends with him?’ So that was the idea I came back to Los Angeles with.”
For Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis, it was an opportunity to use time travel as a means to explore character, but some of the elements that we know and love weren’t present in the first drafts. The biggest change was in replacing a giant, “car wash”-like time machine with a sports car whose doors opened upward. And where did that come from? A joke.
According to Zemeckis, they’d decided that the farm owners who see Marty crash in the 50s would mistake his time machine for a space ship, and a DeLorean fit the bill best. The change also came in handy when they decided to get rid of the darkest element of the original idea – that Marty would accidentally go back in time while trying to use Doc Brown’s mysterious, electricity-riddled machine to kill himself.
It was probably best that they left that out, although they felt totally cool keeping in the Oedipal, incestuous stuff. Go figure.
Gale and Zemeckis got 40 rejections for the project, and they were only able to make it because Zemeckis finally had a career hit with Romancing the Stone. Because of that, they were able to return to Spielberg and get the greenlight from Universal.
Not bad for rooting around through a bunch of old boxes.