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10 Movies to Watch After You See Back to the Future Part II

By  · Published on October 16th, 2015

Universal Pictures

As we get closer to the big day for celebrating the Back to the Future franchise – October 21st, 2015, the “future” date Doc, Marty and Jennifer travel to in Back to the Future Part II – I’ve got another bunch of movie recommendations, these tied to that first sequel in the series, which was released in 1989 (as always, all recommendations were made before the focus film). I have to note that a few included in last week’s Movies to Watch for the first movie are also very relevant to the second installment. For instance, Potterville, the alternate version of Bedford Falls in It’s a Wonderful Life, was certainly an influence on the alternate 1985 version of Hill Valley in BTTF2. And any of the movies I included as relevant to the 1955 parts of BTTF are still relevant to the 1955 parts of the sequel. Meanwhile, there are a few movie allusions found in BTTF2 that will be better recommended with next week’s list of movies to watch after you see Back to the Future Part III. For now, here are the 10 I’ve chosen as essentials to check out once you’ve seen the middle part of the Back to the Future trilogy:

Scrooge, or, Marley’s Ghost (1901)

Robert Zemeckis, co-writer and director of the BTTF movies, has stated that Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” is one of his favorite time-travel stories. He would eventually make his own adaptation of the story in 2009 as a motion-capture animated feature, but he kind of did a take on the tale with BTTF2, which involves three acts, one showing us the past, one the present (well, a present) and one the future, only not in that same order that Dickens did it. Doc (Christopher Lloyd) best represents the Ghost of Christmas Future if any of the spirits is translated for the sequel, giving Marty (Michael J. Fox) a peek at miserable years to come if he doesn’t change some things about his personality.

I could recommend a number of great adaptations of “A Christmas Carol.” I’m very fond of Mickey’s Christmas Carol, which was possibly my introduction to the story. Also the modernized take in Scrooged. Of course, the real essential is the 1951 Scrooge starring Alastair Smith in the title role, though any version with lifelong Scrooge-portrayer Seymour Hicks is also worth seeing. I’ve gone with the 1901 adaptation here because it’s the first known and available to watch film of the story, and it being directed by magician-turned-filmmaker Walter R. Booth and produced by effects-film pioneer Robert W. Paul ties well with the next recommendation. Also, a bit of film history trivia: Scrooge, or, Marley’s Ghost is also the first known use of intertitles in cinema. Watch it in full – or at least as much of what survives – below.

The ‘?’ Motorist (1906)

Sometimes listed simply as The Motorist, this silent short is also helmed by Walter R. Booth and produced by Robert W. Paul, and as far as I can tell it’s the first film to feature a flying car. This one travels into space, all the way to Saturn, rather than through time, but it would fit well in the Hill Valley of 2015 as another antique auto that can do the same as all the fancy futuristic models. Flying cars would continue to be a staple of fantasy and sci-fi movies through the time of BTTF2’s release and beyond. Blade Runner is the most commonly acknowledged, but other important earlier examples include Metropolis and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the latter featuring a vehicle more closely resembling the one here. Watch The ‘?’ Motorist in full below.

I Married a Witch (1942)

One of the notable tricks up BTTF2’s sleeve was its employment of Michael J. Fox and Thomas F. Wilson in multiple roles, namely their original characters’ offspring (they also play their ancestors in BTTF3). When Fox can be seen as Marty and his son and daughter, all three on screen at once, one classic movie that comes to mind is Kind Hearts and Coronets, which stars Alec Guinness as eight members of the same family. But the illogical way the BTTF trilogy has actors play multiple generations of family members more distanced by time also reminds me of this movie directed by Rene Clair and starring Fredric March as four generations of men suffering the curse of Veronica Lake’s witch. Watch it in full via Hulu below.

Ma and Pa Kettle (1949)

In last week’s BTTF list, I included An Act of Murder, the first movie to feature Universal’s Courthouse Square backlot later used for the Hill Valley set. While there have been many movies shot there in between, the second one is somewhat relevant to this week’s focus. Ma and Pa Kettle, a spinoff sequel to The Egg and I and the start of a lengthy comedy franchise, deals with the title characters (Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride) winning a “house of the future,” and obviously there’s plenty of gags mined from the home’s futuristic conveniences. Click on the below image to see the clip.

Universal Pictures

The House of Tomorrow (1949)

I’ve already recently recommended, with the release of Tomorrowland, the sponsored films Design for Dreaming and A Touch of Magic, the latter brought up again with the BTTF list due to a certain music score influence, and I can’t find any availability for the similar short Living Unlimited, which supposedly addresses the expectation for flying cars, while also similarly showcasing “the kitchen of tomorrow.” So, here’s Tex Avery’s animated parody of those kinds of films, which are recalled when movies like BTTF2 show us a bright future with the greatest of conveniences, especially regarding food preparation. The House of Tomorrow, which can be watched in full below, is part of a series of joke-filled animated mockumentaries by Avery, others being The Car of Tomorrow (sadly nothing about them flying), The Farm of Tomorrow and The T.V. of Tomorrow.

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

I could have sworn that Marty’s issue with being called “chicken” was introduced in the first BTTF movie, which would have made sense, but it doesn’t come out until Griff’s gang taunts him with the insult in the “Cafe 80’s” scene in 2015, and then it’s a thing until the end of the third installment (back to “chicken” after the insult of “yellow” replaces it in 1885). The jab and Marty’s reaction are lifted right out of a scene from this classic film, with James Dean nearly hulking out when Buzz (Corey Allen) begins clucking and asks him if he’s chicken. See for yourself below. First, though, I have to add in an additional bit of trivia: Rebel Without a Cause was initially going to be shot in black and white, with Dean wearing a black leather jacket, like the one Marty #2 wears in 1955, instead of the iconic red jacket that was chosen to stand out more with the color cinematography.

Apocalypse Now (1979)

Did you know part of BTTF2 takes place as the Vietnam War is going on? That’s right, it’s still happening in the alternate 1985 of Biff’s making, thanks to the character’s help in keeping Richard Nixon in office for five terms. That makes me wonder if this epic war movie set during the conflict would have existed, because most Vietnam movies would probably still have been produced only after the war was over. Too bad for Biff, as I bet he’d have liked Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece. It’s clear that Zemeckis and company are fans in their “Surf Vietnam” travel billboard gag referencing one of its iconic scenes. At least we assume it’s a reference. Surfing in Vietnam isn’t a ridiculous idea today, so maybe it was just one of the few actually prescient ideas in BTTF2’s view of 2015.

Time Masters (1982)

It’s surprising to me that there aren’t more movies where a character interacts with a younger or older version of himself thanks to time travel. The scene between Biff and Old Biff after the latter sneaks back to 1955 with the Grays Sports Almanac is so great, mainly because the former is so oblivious. The Final Countdown comes close – sorry about the semi spoiler there – and this animated cult classic is a fairly obscure example. Apologies for spoiling the ending of this one, too, but it’s not the kind of film where you’ll be sorry you knew such revelations ahead of time. The visuals, designed by legendary fantasy artist Moebius, will make up for it.

The Last Starfighter (1984)

One year before Doc first showed up with his sleek, silver, gull-wing-doored sports car and gave a teen boy a magical ride through time, The Last Starfighter had Robert Preston show up with his sleek, silver, gull-wing-doored sports car and gave a teen boy (Lance Guest) a magical ride through space. Zemeckis and company must have recognized the similarity of the Starcar from this movie (also released by Universal) to their DeLorean time machine, because the earlier vehicle makes a cameo in the 2015 section of BTTF2 parked across from Courthouse Square. The BTTF sequel also features a cameo from one of the Spinner flying cars from Blade Runner, seen in the Hilldale section.

Flight of the Navigator (1986)

Surprisingly only one movie released between the first and second BTTF movies made this list. I did almost include Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, but it came out too close to BTTF2 and definitely wouldn’t have been an influence. Not that this Disney sci-fi movie is likely to have had any impact, either, but when Marty climbs into what he thinks is still his house in the alternate 1985 and winds up scared and confused, I thought back to the scene in Flight of the Navigator when the young main character (Joey Cramer) goes to what he thinks is still his house and winds up scared and confused because he’s unaware he’s in the future. I’ve seen this movie referred to as a kind of kiddie version of the Back to the Future movies, and I don’t know about that, but if we’re going to compare them I have to say the sleek, silver time-traveling vehicle here is much cooler than a flying DeLorean.

Bonus: Trump: What’s the Deal? (1991)

Normally I don’t like to acknowledge let alone recommend anything released after the focal movie, but I’m making a minor exception here for a bonus pick. It was begun before the release of BTTF2 at least. Apparently the alternate 1985 Biff and his almanac-aided story were loosely based on Donald Trump. So, we can think of this long-suppressed and just recently resurfaced medium-length documentary as the real-life equivalent of the biographical documentary playing in Biff’s museum. If you want to know more about it, check out a review at our sister site, Nonfics. If you want to watch it, you can do so in full below.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.