The year is 1985. On the big screen, Marty McFly is setting out with a plan to change the future. And by the time the credits roll, the future has indeed changed; but not just in his fictional hometown of Hill Valley. The film is Back to the Future, and after it, movies would never be the same.
Iconic for its brilliant title theme, endlessly quotable dialogue, and one of cinema's greatest duos in the team of Michael J. Fox as McFly and Christopher Lloyd as mad scientist Dr. Emmett 'Doc' Brown, Back to the Future and its two sequels are as timeless as a time-travel story has ever been, teaching and delighting film fans and pros almost forty years later.
Say you're one of those film fans who has never seen the franchise, or an amateur filmmaker who wants to look at the movies in a different light - Popverse has you covered with this Back to the Future watch order, in which we'll cover multiple methods of watching the films, get into the surrounding media, and even talk about about... well, the future. Let's begin simply, by asking and answering a relatively obvious question...
How to watch the Back to the Future movies in release order
For a story about a volatile and shifting timeline, the Back to the Future trilogy is actually pretty easy to keep track of, especially if all you want to do is watch the movies in the order they came out. To do that, go ahead and follow this schedule:
- Back to the Future (1985)
- Back to the Future Part II (1989)
- Back to the Future Part III (1990)
- Back to the Future: Doc Brown Saves the World (2015)
If you're a casual Back to the Future fan, or maybe even a die-hard who's only ever streamed the films, you might be suprised to see there are four entries on this list. That last one, Doc Brown Saves the World, was a special short film released with the 30th Anniversary Blu-Ray/DVD box set of the three theatrically-released movies.
The short, which sees Christopher Lloyd return to the role of Doc Brown, explains that three pieces of the future-tech seen in Back to the Future II's 2015 will eventually lead to nuclear armegeddon. Doc Brown makes it his mission to erase them from existence and save humanity; so if you're wondering why Back to the Future's 2015 and ours were so different, you have Emmett Brown to thank.
Now, say you want a bit more of a challenge. Perhaps you've watched all the Back to the Future movies before and want a different experience, maybe even... a linear one? To do that, you'd have to be willing to watch the movies in segments, to track the saga not by subjective events but by fixed points in history. In other words, you're going to want to know...
How to watch Back to the Future in chronological order
That’s right; in the list below, you’ll learn how to trace the story of Back to the Future in perfect, linear order, starting with the earliest period of history the movies cover and ending with the latest. But before we begin, let me clarify a couple things.
First, I’ve broken up the movies by chunks, categorized by the year they take place. At the end of each line, I’ve listed the timestamps each chunk begins and ends in. Second, there do come two chunks that run concurrently; differentiated only by the perspective of the viewer. I’ve indicated these in bold. and finally, there are three different versions of 1985 we’re privy to in the films, altered by Doc and Marty’s travels in time. As you’ll see, I’ve divided them into three years - 1985.A, 1985.B, and 1985.C.
Makes sense? No, I don’t think so either, but here you go anyway:
- 1885 - Back to the Future Part III, 19:00-1:42:16
- 1955 - Back to the Future, 31:31-1:12:41
- 1955 - Back to the Future, 1:12:42-1:41:40
- 1955 - Back to the Future Part II, 1:02:24-1:42:29
- 1955 - Back to the Future Part III, 3:01-18:59
- 1985.A - Back to the Future, 0:00-31:30
- 1985.B - Back to the Future, 1:41:41-1:51:50
- 1985 - Back to the Future Part II, 0:00-2:55
- 1985.C - Back to the Future Part II, 38:32-1:02:23
- 1985.B - Back to the Future Part III, 1:42:17-1:51:38
- 2015 - Doc Brown Saves the World
- 2015 - Back to the Future Part II, 2:56-38:31
And there you have it, the Back to the Future watch order who those who treat time with the same respect as Doc Brown. And as you finish this order, having hopped back and forth between all three films, you might find yourself wondering...
Is there more Back to the Future?
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: the official canon of Back to the Future only consists of the three films and one short listed above. However, for anyone that doesn’t mind splitting away from the confines of copyrighted continuity, there are a few more options. The oldest and longest-running of these is...
Back to the Future: The Animated Series
For fans of '90s cartoons, there's so much to love about the Back to the Future animated series. For one thing, it brings back some of the cast, including Mary Steenburgen as Clara Clayton, Thomas F. Wilson as perennial villain Biff, and even Christopher Lloyd in a few live-action segments used on the show. The series also gets credit for being the first nationally televised program to feature real-life scientist Bill Nye.
But while the series is a blast and brings back some familiar names, the show was part of an 'alternate history' than the movies, as confirmed by BttF co-creator Bob Gale in an interview he did while promoting Back to the Future: The Game.
Yes, I said...
Back to the Future: The Game
Released as a five-episode graphic adventure between 2012 and 2011, the Back to the Future game also takes place after the of the film trilogy. But while the animated show focused more on the Brown family, relegating Marty to more of a side character, the game is closer to the movies, keeping the dynamic duo of Marty and Doc front and center. If that's what you liked about the movies, pick up the game to see it continued.
Publisher Telltale also manages to bring back some vocal talent for their follow-up, including Christopher Lloyd, Thomas F. Wilson, and Claudia Wells, who played the character of Jennifer Parker in the first movie. And though he doesn't return as the Marty we know, Michael J. Fox does make several cameos as both a relative of the McFlys and, eventually, a future version of Marty himself.
And speaking of vocal talent, have you heard about...
Back to the Future: The Musical
Probably the coolest thing about the Back to the Future musical is that the music is done by Alan Silvestri, who's responsible for the films' iconic soundtracks. The script is also written by co-creator Bob Gale, who adapts the script for the first film he originally penned with Robert Zemeckis. The musical is currently running on Broadway, having opened to the public August 3, 2023.
That's it for the current list of officially-licensed Back to the Future adaptations, so let's get to the question you know I've been heading toward this entire article:
Will there be more Back to the Future movies?
If there's anything that these films teach us, it's that the future is hard to know. So to say that there will never be another Back to the Future movie is at best ill-advised, at worst flat-out wrong. And yet, the decision-makers behind the movies have made it clear: there are no plans as of right now to add to the Back to the Future canon.
Speaking with Variety last May, Michael J. Fox said he believed neither director Robert Zemeckis or writer Bob Gale would be down with a rebot of the franchise (considering that Zemeckis owns the rights, that's a pretty serious roadblock). Fox went on to say that, though he would be at peace with the decision to reboot the movies, he couldn't see why it would happen.
"I don’t think it needs rebooting," said the Marty McFly actor, "because are you going to clarify something? You’re going to find a better way to tell the story? I doubt it."
Christopher Lloyd, who also took part in the interview, also expressed doubt about returning to the movies.
"I would love to do a sequel," he said, "but I think Bob Zemeckis and [producer Steven] Spielberg felt that they told the story in the three episodes.
He clarifies, "But if somebody has a brilliant idea that would justify a fourth film it might happen."
So if the originators of the Back to the Future phenomena aren't going to do more, what about new creators? In 2020, that question came up after a deepfake video video appeared online casting Robert Downey Jr. as Doc and Tom Holland as Marty. During an interview with BBC Radio 1, Holland spoke about the video and touched on if he'd ever consider taking on the McFly role for real.
"I'd be lying," said the Spider-Man actor, "if I said there hadn't been conversations in the past about doing some sort of remake. But that film is the most perfect film, or one of the most perfect films, one that could never be made better. That said, if Downey and I could just shoot [the deepfake scene] for fun [...] I would do it."
"For my fee," he clarified.
With no one footing Holland's (probably high) bill to make an homage and the rights-holders adhering to not adding to the franchise, I think it's safe to leave the question of the franchise's future at an impass. And yet, there's still one question about that franchise that we haven't gotten to, namely...
Where can I watch Back to the Future?
Fortunately, there are two ways to travel throgh the history of Hill Valley, all three films included. The first way to watch Back to the Future Parts One, Two, and Three, is to subscribe to Peacock; the second is to tune into FuboTV.
What's a little bit more difficult, however, is finding a place to stream Back to the Future: Doc Brown Saves the World. Since the nine-minute short film was specially featured as part of the 30th anniversary Blu-ray/DVD box set, it's not on any streaming service or (that I can tell) available digitally online.
Then again, maybe it's better to buy physical media anyway. After all, there's no guarantee streaming will still exist in our future; with the streaming wars as shifting and volatile as any timeline from BttF ever was. Forty years from now, when the future film fanatics in your life want to check out this classic series, you may be happy you have a hard copy.
Interested in diving into more time travel adventures? Popverse's Doctor Who watch order might be for you.