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Back to the Future

'80s time-travel favorite has laughs, romance, action.
Popular with kidsParents recommend
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Science Fiction
  • Release Year: 1985
  • Running Time: 116 minutes

What parents need to know

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

Marty is smart, likeable, courageous, and a terrific problem-solver (despite periodic self-confidence issues). Faced with seeming 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.


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, a significant theme, happens many times. The bully initiates an off-camera assault on a high school girl; she struggles/expresses fear, but luckily someone else intervenes before things go further than that.


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. While perched in a tree, a boy spies through a girl’s window.


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."


Many products are prominently displayed and mentioned in dialogue. Pepsi products are featured throughout. Other brands identified include Toyota, Calvin Klein, Texaco, Burger King, Bud Light, Miller beer, JVC, Panasonic, KalKan and Milkbone dogfood, 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."

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Back to the Future is a family time-travel favorite that includes sequences that place the hero and his friends in physical jeopardy: an attack in which a sympathetic character is thought to be killed, a van chasing a teen on a skateboard, several episodes of bullying, and more. The violence is exaggerated and closer in tone to cartoon jeopardy than real danger, but some kids will no doubt find it tense. Several scenes show the hero's discomfort when the girl who will eventually be his mother tries to entice him with kisses and embraces; there's also a scene in which the beginnings of an assault on a high school girl are shown; she struggles/expresses fear, but intervention prevents anything else from happening. Strong language includes a couple 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.

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 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 '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.

Families can talk 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?

  • Talk about your own family history; how did your parents/grandparents meet?

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

Movie details

Theatrical release date:July 3, 1985
DVD/Streaming release date:January 25, 2005
Cast:Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Michael J. Fox
Director:Robert Zemeckis
Studio:Universal Pictures
Genre:Science Fiction
Character strengths:Integrity, Self-control
Run time:116 minutes
MPAA rating:PG

This review of Back to the Future was written by

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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!, a scene where a boy was about to sexually assault a girl in a car and numerous allusions to sex. This should have rated at least a 3 on your little icons. The violence that was most disturbing involved a boy shoving the girl (hard) who he had attempted to sexually assault. That is not "flirting and kissing". The language was also much worse than your review lead me to believe.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Educator and 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 when it was released in the 80's. I was cringing as I watched it with my 6 and 9 year-olds... and my disapproving wife! We had to turn it off.
Parent of a 4, 9, and 12 year old Written byshadowfc January 17, 2009

Parent Guidance DEFINITELY suggested!

Firstly - this movie is a childhood favorite of mine. I thought my kids might enjoy it. WARNING: I do not agree at all with the Common Sense review of this movie. Be wary of movies that came out before the PG-13 rating. This movie definitely would have gotten one due to the language alone. An occasional light swear word I can deal with, but I counted at least half a dozen "S" words, the Lord's name was taken in vain throughout, not to mention the frequent use of "b4st4rd" and "son-of-a-b". I watched with my 12 year old daughter and just cringed because I'd forgotten how loose the language is! Other parental items to note: the main character (who is 17) and his girlfriend plan to sneak away together on a camping trip, which the main character's parents approve of at the end. The main character also swears and drinks. PLEASE do yourself a favor and re-watch this movie before you allow your children to watch. NOT for kids under 13!