A-List: Back to the Future Part II
Predictions It Got Way, Way Wrong

By J. Don Birnam

October 20, 2015

We want our freaking hoverboard!

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Back to the Future wowed us with its innovative quirky lines and its fascinating exploration of what would happen if we met a teenage version of our parents. The movie became such a hit that a sequel had to follow, and in 1989 Back to the Future Part II took the characters 30 years into the future from the first movie to 2015.

It is that date that now is upon us and that has prompted a revisit of the trilogy across the world and the Internet. It is no exaggeration, in fact, to say that Future Day is a worldwide event. I am currently traveling in Myanmar (hint: it’s far away from fictional Hill Valley, California) and spotted an ad at a bar for screenings of the movie on October 21st (some of the pictures from the country are over at Instagram).

Part of the reason for the fascination is that, unlike many other classic movies about the future, we have now reached the promised date of the film and are able to assess what the filmmakers predicted right and what they got wrong. We've already looked at the best quotes from the trilogy. Today, we explore predictions about the future that Back to the Future, Part II, got way, way wrong.


It’s fun and games, of course, because the sequel, while obviously not as well received as the first movie, was a success in its own right, and holds up much better than most other sequels to popular blockbusters. And, for all the stuff that we will today mock Zemeckis and Gale for missing, it is actually incredible how much they got right. Marty McFly Jr. wears a visor that is remarkably similar to Google Glass, and in any event, the societal comment about teenagers being trapped by technology at the dinner table has proven exactly correct. Old Biff pays for his taxi ride to the suburbs with his finger and, while we are not quite there, my finger does activate the proxy pay feature of my phone, which then pays for me at some machines. And while perhaps newspapers don’t come with changing displays, the transition to online from print is analogous and prescient, if a bit exaggerated.

The hits don’t end there - the screen phone call that is remarkably similar to FaceTime (but the use of the now obsolete fax machine was a huge screw up), instantly updating news, and the moves towards conservation and clean energy reflected in the main square at Hill Valley are but other examples - but let’s turn now to some of the obvious misses.

5. Synthetic food.

To be sure, plasticized food that lasts long is already a thing - it has been since the space program sent astronauts into space for months, if not earlier. But when the McFly family makes pizza by opening a six inch wide bag that in three seconds gets blasted into a family size half-pepperoni, half-veggie, the screenwriters predicted a future for food that is nowhere near what we have today. In fact, food preparation does not seem to have changed dramatically or sped up in any appreciable way, if at all, since 1985.

Hopefully the 2015 McFly family has Domino’s Pizza on speed dial.

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