Back to the Future
By Elliot Panek,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
'80s time-travel favorite; some violence, bullying, cursing.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Sends 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
Marty is smart, charismatic, 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. Baddies are clearly in the wrong.
Stereotypes Muslims and Arabs as terrorists when a group of men called "the Libyans," dressed in skullcaps and keffiyeh, use assault rifles and a rocket launcher to attack White characters. A group of Black male musicians helps Mart, but they're also depicted as scary as they intimidate a White teen, who runs off and calls them "reefer addicts." In a more positive but still token role, a Black man is the mayor of Hill Valley.
Did we miss something on diversity? Suggest an update.
Violence & Scariness
In an early scene, an attack 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 classmate initiates an off-camera assault on a high school girl; she struggles/expresses fear, and groping is implied. Someone intervenes before things go further, but it's an upsetting sequence. Perched in a tree, a boy spies through a girl's window as she undresses.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Sex, Romance & Nudity
A few kisses and embraces; flirting. A teen girl is shown undressing down to her bra and underwear. Teen 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.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
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 baddies, including "Irish bug" and "spook," and a mayor is referred to as "colored."
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Products & Purchases
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."
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Drinking, Drugs & Smoking in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
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 classmate initiates a mostly off-camera (but still upsetting) assault on a high school girl, there's a violent attack in which a key character is thought to have been shot to death, 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. The movie also stereotypes Muslims and Arabs as terrorists. It's worth noting that this film raised public awareness of the concept of product placement, with controversy arising from the near-constant visuals of Pepsi products and other brands.
To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Where to Watch
Videos and Photos
Back to the Future
Based on 138 parent reviews
Casually presented Sexual Assault - Parents Beware
Report this review
You should think twice before letting young kids view this
Report this review
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, 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 midsection 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?
What do you know about your own family history? What else would you like to find out, if you could?
- In theaters: July 3, 1985
- On DVD or streaming: January 25, 2005
- Cast: Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Michael J. Fox
- Director: Robert Zemeckis
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Adventures
- Character Strengths: Integrity, Self-control
- Run time: 116 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- Last updated: February 22, 2023
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
Suggest an Update
Where to Watch
Our Editors Recommend
Excellent Adventure Movies for Family Fun
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