How Accurate is the Future in Back to the Future: Part II?


Contrary to what a dozen or so faulty Facebook memes have told you in recent years, we have not reached the day that Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) travel to in Back to the Future: Part II until right now. Wednesday, October 21, 2015. As we sit and finally celebrate the real Back to the Future Day, it’s time to look at what the movie got right and what never quite materialized.

Obviously we don’t have hoverboards or Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactors in every kitchen, but revisiting the classic Back to the Future series got me thinking: Is any of the stuff we saw happening yet?

The Answer: Some is, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do.


Sure, Back to the Future: Part II is a sci-fi comedy lark, but like any film predicting the world of the future – even one 30 to 40 years away (we’ll talk about Blade Runner in five years, I’m sure) – there are some bold predictions. For example, apparently in the future, people to have uncontrollable triggers (like being called a chicken) that suddenly appear and become major influences over their lives even though they’re never mentioned before in any context.

Okay, that one was nit-picking. Here are the real future predictions:

Doc Brown puts Jennifer (Elisabeth Shue, standing in for Claudia Wells) to sleep with a “sleep-inducing alpha rhythm generator.” Sorry, date-rapists, but this type of technology doesn’t exist. There are many fringe products on the market that claim to have various sciencey schmiency ways of making one fall asleep, but aside from the pharmaceutical route or a concussion-inducing blow to the head, an instant sleep aid isn’t available.

Upon appearing in 2015, the good Doc also tells Marty that he went to a rejuvenation clinic to remove his wrinkles, have his hair repaired, change his blood, and replace his spleen and colon. Cosmetic surgery is common in today’s world, but one look at Joan Rivers or Cher will remind you that it’s not a cure-all. (Of course, Elisabeth Shue looks much better now at 50 than her 47-year-old self looked in this film, so it’s not a total loss.) Plus, while colon transplants are routine in today’s world, the demand for elective surgery to replace your colon isn’t topping the list of Dr. 90210’s menu, and they’re definitely not an out-patient drive-thru procedure. Yet. DIY cosmetic surgery, on the other hand, is already a terrifying reality.

Other technology advances have yet to be seen, like dust-repellent paper (unless you’re talking about plastic, which was around for decades before the first Back to the Future film was made) and robotic new reporters. Still, people in 2015 are predicted to still use fax machines… a lot of them, actually. Most of them are in Japan.


What about culture?

The fashions of Back to the Future: Part II’s 2015 is as 80s as they come. The film features a string of nonsensical trends like wearing your pockets out of your pants, double neck ties, power laces on puffy Nikes, a size-adjusting coat with self-drying mode (though still featuring a Stephen Hawking-style electronic voice), iridescent baseball caps, and soundboard chest plates that are conveniently pre-loaded with the sound of a chicken clucking. At least aloha shirts and face tattoos are still popular.


Inflation isn’t as bad as was predicted. A Pepsi won’t cost you $50 at a downtown cafe, and a cab ride across town won’t run you $174.50. Lawyers have not been abolished, and the court system moves slower than ever. The last Jaws movie made was the franchise-killing Jaws 4: The Revenge (which was released two years before Back to the Future: Part II, and Max Spielberg hasn’t done much in the way of movies aside from being assistant to his mom, Amy Irving, in The Rage: Carrie 2 in 1999. Plus, while the 3D boom has changed the way movies are made and released, there has yet to be holographic movies released in the mainstream.


One of the most interesting items seen during Marty’s trip to 2015 is the October 22 issue of USA Today (with a cover price of $4 rather than the current $2), and not just because newspapers are a dying breed. The nameplate boasts “No. 1 in the USA… 3 billion readers every day,” which only works if you consider total current internet readership, then multiply it by about 125. And if that’s a stab at the population of the country, it’s off by a factor of ten.

Here are some headlines with interesting notes:

  • “Marshall Runs 3 Minute Mile” – The current record for running a mile is 3:43.13.
  • “Slamball Playoffs Begin” – Slamball is a real sport that was founded in 2002, though it hasn’t been broadcast in the U.S. since 2008. Maybe it’ll get really popular this year?
  • “Washington Prepares for Queen Diana’s Visit” – Princess Diana died in 1997; even if she hadn’t, she would have never become queen after divorcing Prince Charles in 1996.
  • “President Says She’s Tired” – While Hilary Clinton is seen as the potential Democratic frontrunner in the 2016 election, we still haven’t gotten a Madame President.

So does the movie get anything right?

It does, though not always as depicted. The most notable item in the Back to the Future franchise is the flying DeLorean. Even though Japanese scientists are experimenting with ways to levitate objects with sonic waves, it’s a long way until this is turned into a hoverboard or a car. However, small flying vehicles designed to be similar to cars are already being prepared for private sale in 2015. Now, all we need is for Google and Amazon to join forces to make a driverless flying drone, and we can all live in a new world of automated terror.


Speaking of cars, that nifty bar code license plate that Doc Brown has on his DeLorean isn’t an impossibility. Lawmakers in Virginia have proposed this exact thing to supposedly aid in catching criminals and traffic law violators.

In the film, people’s thumbprints are used to identify them, enter their homes, and pay for goods and services. Sounds eerily like the latest feature on the iPhone 5s.


And did you notice those nifty computer glasses that Marty Jr. and his sister Marlene are wearing during dinner? They kind of look like a bulky version of Google Glass to me.

Back to the Future: Part II also predicted picture-in-picture flatscreen TVs with cable systems offering more than 200 channels, bionic brain implants, as well as a booming tourism market in Vietnam (which saw more than 7 million visitors in 2013).


Of course, the Chicago Cubs still haven’t won a World Series since 1908 (though hope springs eternal for 2015). No word on the Cleveland Browns and the Super Bowl, though.

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