A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this final installment in the Back to the Future trilogy is, like its predecessors, a PG film with a tad more language than usual. But there's actually slightly less innuendo and a lot less bully-related violence in this one than in Part II. The coarsest language includes "bitch," "assh--e," and "s--t," with several insults and synonyms for "coward" thrown in on a more regular basis. Although there's romance, it's very chaste except for two kisses and one off-color reference to what a woman could do that's worth $80 to settle a debt. All of the violence involves guns and fists, and in one brief scene it looks like Marty is going to be hanged, but no one dies, and it's all kept rather comical, even when a huge group of horse-mounted Indians are riding with guns and arrows. Unlike in the first two movies, in this one Doc Brown learns love is even more important than his rules for time travel.
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What's the story?
Once again picking up right where Back to the Future Part II left off, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) gets a telegram from Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) explaining that he's stuck in the year 1885, but instructing him not to attempt time travel again. Marty discovers Doc's tombstone, and decides to disregard Doc's orders. Marty dresses up in a cowboy costume and slips into the DeLorean again, landing in the 19th century. He runs into his Irish ancestors (played by Fox himself, and Lea Thompson), and the town outlaw "Mad Dog" Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson), who is Biff's ancestor. Marty finally reunites with Doc, and the two must find a way to refuel the time machine before Mad Dog kills Doc. Complicating matters is the arrival of open-minded schoolteacher Clara Clayton (Mary Steenburgen), who winds up falling for Doc, and forcing Doc to rethink his stance on not changing the past.
Is it any good?
Somehow Robert Zemeckis, Fox, and Lloyd make the back-in-time gimmick work, and it's a pleasant surprise. After the mildly disappointing Part II, it would seem that a Wild West-themed threequel would flounder under the weight of too much time-travel confusion and overall Marty and Doc fatigue. The introduction of a love interest for Lloyd may not seem interesting to kid viewers, but as an adult viewing it through grown-up eyes, that subplot with Steenburgen is so much more appreciated. Doc was such a hermit outside of his connection with Marty, that it was a relief to see he could still have a chance at love -- especially with someone as patient and intelligent as Clara. So for the romantics at home, this installment is for you.
Humor-wise, there are plenty of in-jokes for those who've seen the first two films, like Marty's touchiness at being called "yellow." As Marty's rival, Wilson gets to unleash a whole new set of insults as he bullies everyone around him. A heavily accented Thompson returns as Marty's relative, and Fox does double duty again as his own great-great-great grandfather, but the McFly kin has less to do in this one than in the first two; the final film really belongs to Lloyd. One of the funniest moments is the saloon scene where Marty does the moonwalk when he's being shot at; it may take some explaining if your kids don't understand the significance of Michael J. Fox's signature dance move, but it's funny even two decades later. The entire trilogy is still a must-see for parents who want to share a little bit of their own youth with the next generation, even if the children won't laugh quite as hard as you do at some parts.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Marty and Doc remain loyal friends in all three movies. How do they help each other in this installment? What challenges change from film to film, and what stays the same?
How did romance change Doc's ideas about time travel? Why does he decide that he's going to stay behind in the "past"?
What does Marty learn about not letting taunts like "are you chicken?" get to him? How can you apply that lesson in your own life?
If you've seen the first two films, which of the three is your favorite? Why?
- In theaters: January 1, 1990
- On DVD or streaming: September 12, 1991
- Cast: Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Mary Steenburgen, Michael J. Fox
- Director: Robert Zemeckis
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Adventures
- Run time: 118 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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