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The Truth Behind the ‘Back to the Future’ Joke in ‘The Flash’ and Michael J. Fox

Published on June 19th, 2023 | Updated on June 19th, 2023 | By FanFest

Delving into the intricacies of any time-travel story is sure to leave you with a touch of confusion, offering few definitive answers. The Flash follows suit, but behind one of its running gags lies some real-world details concerning the notion that in the timeline where Michael Keaton plays Batman, Eric Stoltz portrays Marty McFly in Back to the Future. While rooted in actual events, comprehending how Barry’s time-travel could have influenced them requires a dash of science fiction shenanigans.

Let’s begin with the basics: In 1984, after successfully selling the Back to the Future script to Universal, Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis aimed to cast television star Michael J. Fox in the lead role. However, due to his demanding schedule filming Family Ties, series producer Gary David Goldberg refused to release Fox for the job, fearing it would harm the show, especially considering Meredith Baxter’s maternity leave. In Fox’s absence, the studio explored several actors and ultimately settled on Eric Stoltz, who had impressed producer Sidney Sheinberg with his performance in the movie Mask. The female lead, initially offered to Claudia Wells, went to future The Office star Melora Hardin when Wells had to decline due to a TV commitment.

Production on the film commenced in November 1984, with a plan to wrap up by February 1985. They aimed to complete the movie within a year, which necessitated an ambitious shooting schedule given the numerous visual effects shots involved. However, in late December, the filmmakers reviewed their dailies and grew concerned that the movie wasn’t working, with a particular focus on Stoltz’s grounded and intense performance. They had envisioned a lighter tone but Stoltz wasn’t aligning with that vision, resulting in a fundamental disconnect between the lead actor and the filmmakers.

Producer Steven Spielberg approached Gary David Goldberg again, who admitted to never having shared the Back to the Future script with Fox. With Baxter’s return, Goldberg agreed to pitch the movie to Fox, who ultimately accepted the role. On January 10, 1985, Stoltz was fired, and shortly after, Wells replaced Hardin (whose TV show had since been canceled), reportedly due to the crew’s dissatisfaction with how Fox and Hardin appeared together on camera due to their noticeable height difference.

A significant portion of the film had to be reshot, and Fox endured long and grueling days, juggling Family Ties and Back to the Future commitments. At one point, he grew so exhausted that he panicked when he couldn’t find a camcorder he believed he needed for a Family Ties scene, only to realize later that the prop was actually from Back to the Future. Naturally, the end result was fantastic, and the entire Back to the Future trilogy has since gained widespread acclaim as one of the finest franchises in Hollywood history. However, in The Flash‘s world, it appears to be a different story altogether.

Rumors circulate that Stoltz actually made a brief appearance in The Flash, albeit indirectly, during a particular shot of Marty punching Biff. It’s a fleeting moment, with Marty barely visible from behind, but some evidence supports this theory.

“Editor Harry Keramidas, who cut the scene, pulled his notes, which show that the punch was reshot, but the printed takes were labeled ‘OK’ as opposed to ‘Good,'” Gale shared in a 2020 interview. “So that could still be Eric’s fist. I think the only way we would know for sure is to check the actual edge numbers on the negative, but no one will risk damaging the negative by doing that. The workprint edge numbers might reveal the truth, but no idea if that even exists.”


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