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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
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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?
Talk about your own family history. How did your parents or grandparents meet?
- 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: October 28, 2020
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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.
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