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Movie Legends Revealed | Marty McFly Nearly Time-Traveled in a Refrigerator

backtothefutureMOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Marty McFly originally time-traveled in a refrigerator in Back to the Future.

One of the most iconic vehicles in the history of film is the modified 1981 DeLorean DMC-12 used by Dr. Emmett Brown and Marty McFly to travel back in time in the 1985 hit Back to the Future, written by Bob Gale, directed by Robert Zemeckis and produced by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment. However, amazingly enough, when the movie was initially written, there was no DeLorean involved. In fact, it took a few drafts before the car became the means of time travel. Originally, the method Michael J. Fox’s Marty McFly traveled back in time was quite different and his trip back to the future took place in something that would become very familiar (perhaps infamously so) to fans of Spielberg’s work: a refrigerator at the center of an atomic blast! Read on to see how things went down …

Gale and Zemickis had been working on Back to the Future for roughly five years before the film was finally made in 1985. Their first screenplay draft set the story in 1982. Because a constant in the script always has been going back 30 years to when a teenager’s parents were teens (the idea came to Gale while he was looking through his father’s yearbook and wondered whether he and his father would have been friends in high school), the journey would have taken young Marty McFly to 1952. Originally, the time-travel device was a beam of sorts powered by plutonium (and Coca-Cola) that effectively “zapped” Marty back in time.

Of course, if the device were powered by nuclear energy in 1982, how in the world could Marty power it in 1952? Luckily, that year happened to mark the last above-ground atomic bomb detonation in the United States in Atkins, Nevada (something helpfully referenced in Marty’s history class earlier in the film), so the 1952 version of Emmett Brown (a professor in this version) rigged up a special lead-lined refrigerator with the device attached so Marty could ride out the detonation inside while the blast would trigger the time-travel device.

Ultimately, it was determined it probably wasn’t a good idea to use a refrigerator in such a manner, as kids might want to re-enact the scene — and as any child of the ‘80s recalls, kids suffocating in refrigerators must have been some sort of epidemic (that is, if you can trust Punky Brewster and G.I. Joe, which both warned of the danger). In addition, they figured it would make more sense if the time-travel device were mobile.

After a few tries, they came up with the DeLorean idea. However, amazingly enough, even with the DeLorean as part of the script, Marty’s return home was STILL through the Nevada atomic bomb test.

Here are the storyboards for that version of the script:

Eventually, it was determined that it would just cost way too much for the special effects of an atomic bomb test. So they scrapped that idea and went with electricity instead, and the rest is cinematic history.

Of course, more than two decades later, Spielberg used the idea as part of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, as Indiana Jones finds himself at that very same 1952 test site and manages to survive the blast by riding it out in a refrigerator. Perhaps this was an idea that was better left on the cutting-room floor. In either event, the legend is …


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  • wally

    I enjoyed catching up on history thanks five stars but the star button only increments in the negative

  • Rollo Tomassi

    Gawd, KotCS was awful. If you look hard, theres maybe 10-15 minutes of a good Indy film in there, padded by two hours of dreck.

  • Nick Shalto

    Interestingly, I was JUST reading about this today in the Back to the Future encyclopedia published last year. I can’t believe after all this time of us making fun of Indiana Jones, it turns out that the Back to the Future writers were the ones who came up with that ridiculous idea!

  • Joe Soap

    No more ridiculous than catching a lightning bolt from a clock and if BTTF had done it, no one would be critical. The only reason it wasn’t done was money. The idea is just as sound and wacky as what we got.

  • DanCJ

    The Coca-Cola bit is interesting because that (or at least some fizzy drink) was a vital part of the time travel in Hot Tub Time Machine – which also had Crispin Glover.

    I’ve no idea if the fizzy drink connection was on purpose, but I always assumed the Crispin Glover connection was.

  • David Sanchez

    Why does everyone hate the traveling in a fridge thing in Crystal Skull? I didn’t like everything about the movie, but that particular scene was awesome!

  • therese757

    what Keith said I’m amazed that anyone able to get paid $6092 in 4 weeks on the computer. did you look at this link w­w­w.K­E­P­2.c­o­m

  • mdksun

    Ah Spielberg, he’s not as bad as George Lucas, but like Lucas, he can never let go of a bad idea.

  • JasonMBryant

    I disagree. People get hit by lightning bolts and survive pretty often. A refrigerator surviving a ground zero blast of a nuclear bomb is much less plausible.

  • JasonMBryant

    Some things in a movie are ridiculous, but we believe them anyway because they make the scene good. It’s easier to do that when the scene is closer to reality. If a guy survives a fall of 5 feet without getting hurt, that’s easy to believe. For a fall of 20 feet, he’d probably hurt himself in reality, but maybe not, so we let it go. When a guy is dropped out of a plane and lands on concrete, that breaks the illusion for pretty much everyone if he doesn’t die.

    The fridge scene in Crystal Skull was way too much for most people. It’s a nuclear bomb. An army tank at that range would be destroyed, and a fridge would turn into liquid metal. Plus, that thing was bouncing 30 feet in the air. You put a human in a metal box and bounce it like that, every bone in his body will break. Most people who go to an Indiana Jones movie are willing to accept some exaggeration of reality, but that was enough to break the illusion.

  • Lew Stark

    Because it was stupid and impossible.

  • RodimusBen

    It’s about tone. The BttF movies are lighter films that the Raiders movies… they lean more on the side of comedy, and the idea of time traveling in a fridge probably would have fit right in.

    That having been said, art from adversity wins again, and the DeLorean ended up being the coolest time travel vehicle of all time.

  • akkadiannumen

    What he said.

  • 00gabooga

    Growing up I knew 18 kids that all died by suffocating inside of a fridge while trying to go back in time. None, however, were killed in an atomic blast, so let THAT be a lesson to YOU!!

  • Joe Soap

    What’s your stance on the frequency of ginned-up DeLoreans travelling back in time: plausible or not?

  • JasonMBryant

    My stance is that it is an unknown. Since no DeLoreans have ever traveled back in time, that’s just science fiction and we can imagine whatever we want. I can’t argue about the workings of a flux capacitor because nobody has ever tested one.

    Lightning bolts being more survivable than nuclear blasts is something that has been tested.

    I actually wouldn’t have as much trouble accepting the survival of a nuclear blast (in either the car or the fridge) in time travel as accepting a guy just riding out the blast. With the time travel, we can wave our hands and say that it absorbs all the energy to do the time traveling, then disappears into the time stream before any real damage is done. Indiana Jones just climbing into a fridge and surviving the blast without any injury doesn’t have anything to help the audience explain why it worked.

  • Joe Soap

    The notion of ridiculousness and it being utilised in BTTF is a matter of one’s taste – and budget – rather than anything provable in real science. Didn’t really bother me in Indiana Jones either, though. That film had bigger problems.