Back to the Future

Movie review by
Elliot Panek, Common Sense Media
Back to the Future Movie Poster Image
'80s time-travel favorite; some violence, bullying, cursing.
  • PG
  • 1985
  • 116 minutes
Popular with kidsParents recommend

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 87 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 187 reviews

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive messages

Sends the message that bullies must be stood up to and that intelligence, self-control, courage, and integrity ultimately win out over brute strength and intimidation. Also, if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything, and creativity and imagination are qualities to be admired and nurtured.

Positive role models & representations

Marty is smart, likable, courageous, and a terrific problem solver (despite periodic self-confidence issues). Faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles, he rises to every occasion. Doc Brown is shown to be ingenious as well as eccentric. A weak-willed, put-upon high school student (and later father) is shown the way to self-respect, courage, and success. The bad guys are clearly in the wrong.

Violence

In an early scene, an attack by a squad of terrorists includes automatic weapon fire and what appears to be a significant fatal shooting. Other sequences include suspenseful car and skateboard chases, a character threatened by a shotgun, some perilous scenes involving a tall clock tower, and punches thrown between high school kids. Bullying is a significant theme. A bully initiates an off-camera assault on a high school girl; she struggles/expresses fear, but someone intervenes before things go further. Perched in a tree, a boy spies through a girl's window.

Sex

A few kisses and embraces; flirting. Teenage crushes are a key part of the story, with Marty becoming the object of affection of the girl who will grow up to become his mother. 

Language

Occasional swearing includes "damn," "butthead," "s--t," "ass," "a--hole," "son-of-a-bitch," "hell," "bastards," and "Jesus Christ" (as an exclamation). In the 1950s-set scenes, a few racial epithets are used by the bad guys, including "Irish bug" and "spook," and a mayor is referred to as "colored."

Consumerism

Many products prominently displayed and mentioned in dialogue. Pepsi products featured throughout. Other brands: Toyota, Calvin Klein, Texaco, Burger King, Bud Light, Miller beer, JVC, Panasonic, KalKan and Milkbone dog food, Zale's, Yamaha, Popov, Maxwell House, J.C. Penney, and dozens more. A DeLorean car plays a very significant role.

Drinking, drugs & smoking

In one scene, two underage teens briefly experiment with a small bottle of whiskey and a cigarette. Adults drink beer and vodka at dinner. A drunk man sleeps on a park bench. Reference to "reefer."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Back to the Future is a 1980s time-travel favorite that includes scenes in which main character Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and his friends are in physical jeopardy: A bully initiates a mostly off-camera assault on a high school girl, there's a violent attack in which a key character is thought to be killed, a van chases a teen on a skateboard, and more. There are also several episodes of bullying. While the violence is exaggerated and closer in tone to cartoon jeopardy than real danger, some kids will no doubt find it tense. Several scenes show Marty's discomfort when the girl who will eventually be his mother tries to kiss and embrace him. Expect strong language, including a couple of memorable uses of "s--t," as well as "bastards," "damn," "a--hole," and a couple of racial slurs in the 1950s-set scenes. It's worth noting that this is the movie that alerted the public to the concept of product placement, with controversy arising from the near-constant visuals of Pepsi products and other brands.

User Reviews

Adult Written byAmymom June 22, 2009
Your ratings were misleading. As to sexual content, there were scenes involving a boy looking through binoculars at a girl while she was undressing in her room!... Continue reading
Parent of a 6 year old Written bykurtray February 4, 2009

PG-13, definitely

I agree whole-heartedly with other recent reviewers who were caught off-guard by the language, violence and adult themes. This was one of my favorite movies wh... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written bykat_marie January 15, 2011

Not for 8 year olds

I love this movie, but 8? Just ... no. This may have a PG rating, but if it had been released today, it would have gotten a PG-13 rating. There are multiple use... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old October 8, 2011

amazing movie with one bad thing

yeah the cussing is kinda big and there is just a little bit of violence, but i think that this movie is okay for little kids. the only bad thing is that in one... Continue reading

What's the story?

Brimming with lighthearted energy, BACK TO THE FUTURE mixes science fiction with romantic comedy for a classic 1980s blockbuster. To avoid being shot by terrorists, teenager Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) travels back to the 1950s via a DeLorean time machine invented by his friend/mentor Emmett "Doc" Brown (Christopher Lloyd), a lovable, wide-eyed, wild-haired stork of a mad scientist. Marty quickly gets more than he bargained for, accidentally interfering with the courtship of his own parents. He must aid his father in standing up to Biff (Thomas F. Wilson), the town bully, to get the attention of Marty's mother, to ensure his own future existence.

Is it any good?

The film remains light and breezy, never taking time travel too seriously, and both romance and science defer to adventure. That said, the sci-fi subplot never disappears for more than a scene or two. Marty's friendship with Doc is at the heart of the film, and it keeps the mid-section from becoming just another romantic comedy.

Adult viewers may find that the film milks anachronisms for one joke too many, but kids are likely to get as much of a kick out of the dated clothing, music, and slang of 1980s as Marty gets out of the lack of TV reruns and Tab soda in the '50s. It should come as little surprise that Steven Spielberg executive-produced Back to the Future. Like so many of his films, it manages to blend heady science fiction, humor, adventure, and romance while retaining an exuberance and a sense of wonder familiar to anyone under the age of 12.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Back to the Future portrays bullying. Have you ever encountered a situation like that, either directly or online?

  • What do Marty and George learn during the movie? How can people defend themselves without resorting to violence? How does Biff's treatment of Lorraine cross the line?

  • How does Marty demonstrate self-control and integrity in Back to the Future? Why are these important character strengths?

  • Talk about your own family history. How did your parents or grandparents meet?

Movie details

Character Strengths

Find more movies that help kids build character.

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

For kids who love sci-fi adventures

Our editors recommend

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality and learning potential.

Learn how we rate