The "Future" is Now (Well, in October)

15 things Back to the Future II got right (and horribly wrong)

back2future 1

Marty McFly is back

Happy 2015, the year that Marty McFly visits the "future" in the 1989 movie "Back to the Future Part II". In the film, McFly (played by Michael J. Fox) travels from 1985 (the year the original movie came out) 30 years into the future, more precisely, Oct. 21, 2015.

As the world has approached the actual date, we've seen some photo memes go around via social media proclaiming that 2014 or 2013 was the year, but those were Photoshopped images. If you watch the movie, you can clearly see the date in the time machine when they visit the future.

The "future" of Marty McFly (as envisioned from 1989) showed us a lot of predictions about how the world would look - flying cars, robotic waitresses and fashion trends that leave our head scratching. Marty visits "downtown" Hill Valley, as well as his future home, and we got a glimpse of some of these predictions about how life would look in 2015. Now that we're here, what did they get right (or close to right)? What did they miss the mark on? Here's our take:

back2future 2

Mr. Fusion and nuclear energy

The Movie: When Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) first shows up in the movie, he refuels the time machine with garbage via his "Mr. Fusion" machine. Later in the future Hill Valley, we see other signs that nuclear  is commonplace. Of course, nuclear energy is needed to fuel the flux capacitor, not the DeLorean (which still requires gasoline).

back2future 3

Hybrid cars, electric cars

The reality: On the gasoline front, we've moved to a world where electric cars and hybrid cars (mixture of gas and electric) are becoming more commonplace. Fuel cells have been developed to create new battery-type energy for portable devices. But we still can't pick up a Mr. Fusion at our local Wal-mart.

back2future 4

Flying cars

The movie: The opening of the movie has Doc and Marty and Jennifer (Marty's girlfriend/future wife) flying in the DeLorean through a rainstorm on a busy "skyway". The last line from the original movie, "Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads" tipped off that the future would be full of flying cars, and we see lots of them in the movie.

back2future 5

Self-driving cars

The reality: OK, 30 years later, we've seen some prototypes of flying cars, ones that aim to merge an airplane with a car vehicle, but nothing like those envisioned in the movies. In fact, a commercial in the early 2000s (featuring Avery Brooks) famously asked "Where are the flying cars? We were promised flying cars"). Ever since "The Jetsons", predictions of the future have included cars, cabs and trucks all flying around, while we remain stuck on the ground.

More impressive these days are robotic, self-driving cars, developed by companies like Google and others. Perhaps once the self-driving cars start driving on the highways, they'll be the ones that actually drive the flying cars of the future. Maybe in 30 more years.

back2future 6

Wearable, interactive visors (Doc Brown, Marty’s kids)

The movie: In the film, Doc Brown is driving with these metal glasses/visor-type eyewear, and at one point he points out that he thinks he saw a taxicab following him on the skyway (in fact, it's bad guy Biff following them, preparing to steal the time machine). This implies some kind of digital interface within the goggles (since you can't see through them). Later in the movie, both of Marty's kids are wearing goggles that include phones on them (Marty gets a phone call from his friend Needles), and Marty's son complains that his goggles/visor can only get two TV channels on them (seen on a deleted scene).

back2future 7

Google Glass

The reality: We're all fully aware of Google Glass and how you can receive information through the interface, whether you're driving or just walking around. It wouldn't take much to add footage from a rear-view dashboard camera into the interface to achieve the effect from the film.

back2future 8

3D movies and holograms

The movie: While walking around Hill Valley, Marty stops to look at a movie theater, where "Jaws 19" is playing, directed by "Max Spielberg" (a nod to Jaws director Steven Spielberg, also one of the executive producers of Back to the Future). A 3D, holographic shark comes out of the top of the theater and threatens to eat Marty, at which point Marty declares "the shark still looks fake."

back2future 9

3D movies

The reality: 3D movies, especially animated ones, are now commonplace, although they haven't taken off as much as filmmakers had hoped (remember when George Lucas was going to add 3D to all of the Star Wars movies, and we only got one?). However, 3D is likely here to stay. The Jaws movies only got to five versions, not 19 (and Sharknado doesn't count as an extension of those films).

On the hologram front we don’t have them coming out as advertisements from movie theaters, but holograms of dead celebrities have made public appearances in recent years – at Coachella in 2012, a hologram of Tupac Shakur performed, and a Michael Jackson hologram performed at the 2014 Billboard Music Awards.

back2future 10

Sports: Cubs win World Series!

The movie: Marty sees a news report where it's announced that the Chicago Cubs have won the World Series against the team from Miami. It's at this point that Marty realizes he should try and make some money by having knowledge of the last 30 years, a central plot point that gets everyone in trouble later.

back2future 11
David Banks USA Today Sports

Still far fetched?

The reality: Baseball does have a team from Miami but the Cubs still haven't won the World Series, but maybe this is the year? How awesome would that be if they did win it all! Someone on the Cubs certainly is a a fan of the movie - how else would you explain the signing of ace pitcher Jon Lester?

Another missed prediction would be this - if the date was Oct. 21, 2015, the World Series wouldn't be completed - due to expanded playoffs in Major League Baseball, the earliest the World Series could end in 2015 is Nov. 1.

back2future 12

Video games and gesture control

The movie: In the "nostalgic" '80s Cafe (which I'd totally go to, by the way), Marty spots two kids messing around with an arcade game called "Wild Gunman", which is now a "classic". The kids don't know how to play, so Marty grabs the gun controller and shoots a bunch of the bad guys (the game is a hint about the third film, in which Marty goes back to the 1880s and the Wild West). The kids are disgusted, saying "You have to use your hands? That's like a baby’s toy!”. There’s also a Pac-Man machine in the cafe with a sign on it that says “Do Not Touch - Priceless Artifact.”

back2future 13

Gesture control is here

The reality: Gesture-control and non-hands video game playing is available via the latest generation of video game consoles, including the Xbox Kinect and Playstation Move (with its camera). It would have been interesting to see what the future kids were actually playing (like in Marty's home), but this semi-prediction was somewhat accurate.

back2future 14

The hover-board

The movie: During the part where Marty is being chased around town by Griff and his gang, we see Marty on a hover-board - a callback to the first film, in which Marty inadvertently invents the skateboard (in 1955).

back2future 15

No hover boards

The reality: No hover-boards from Mattel just yet, but people are trying. Researchers have created a hover-board-like device that uses electromagnetic power on a ramp, and even skateboard legend Tony Hawk has tried it out. The unit is large and can only be used on that specific surface, so there's probably a few more years before we see these being sold in Toys R Us.

back2future 16

Tiny cameras - the smartphone predicted?

The movie: Outside the courthouse in Hill Valley, after Marty causes Griff and his gang to be arrested (instead of Marty's son), Doc Brown uses a small handheld device to get a closer look at the action going on. The device is a combination of binoculars and a digital camera, with distance information on the interface.

back2future 17

Digital binoculars

The reality: In 2015, we all have smartphones that can do pretty much the same thing, as well as digital binoculars that can calculate distance from a location. While those two things haven't been integrated yet, I'm sure there's some apps that can do that.

back2future 18

Robots and newspapers

The movie: After Griff and the gang crash into the Courthouse Mall, the police quickly show up, as well as a flying robotic camera "journalist", which snaps a picture of Griff being taken away. Doc Brown opens up his copy of USA Today (which he picked up in the future) and sees the image. Robots are also seen later in the film, including one robotic drone dog-walker.

Other interesting headlines from the USA Today ("3 billion readers every day") in the movie:

* Slamball Playoffs Begin

* Cubs Sweep Series in 5 (see earlier)

* Marshall Runs 3 Minute Mile

* Washington Prepares for Queen Diana's Visit

* Thumb Bandits Strike

* Man Killed by Falling Litter

* Tokyo Stocks Up

* Swiss Terrorist Threat

* Shredding for Charity

* President Says She's Tired

back2future 19

Robotic drones

The reality: Robotic drones exist in 2015, including ones that have cameras attached to them. Publishers have used them to provide video footage of news events as well. USA Today still exists, and in print form, although most of us are likely to read the news about Griff via our smartphones, computers or tablets than having a print copy.

back2future 20

Thumbprint identification for locks and payments

The movie: A few times during the movie, people are identified via their thumbprints. The police identify an unconscious Jennifer (from the past) via her thumbprint, and they take her back to her home. Doors in the home are opened via the thumbprint, which means doorknobs are no longer needed. Old Biff is seen paying for his taxicab ride with his thumbprint, and the ride is only $175 (ha ha, future economy!)

back2future 21a

Fingerprint IDs

The reality: Fingerprint identification is used on many computer systems and other devices, including the latest smartphones (iPhones, Samsung Galaxy and BlackBerry). At other secure locations, fingerprint (as well as iris recognition) identification is common. Using your thumb to pay for things isn't yet as common, although mobile payments are increasing more and more via smartphone.

back2future 22

Voice recognition and home control

The movie: When Jennifer from 1985 arrives at her future home, the police warn her to program the house to have the lights come on when she enters the room. A confused Jennifer says "lights on?" and the house responds, turning on lamps and such in the house. Later in the scene, Marty's son uses his voice to turn on the television set (more on that later) as well as to order "fruit" from the fresh fruit bin (which lowers from the ceiling). The 2015 version of Marty (now 47 years old), comes home (and is identified by the home system as "lord of the manor"), and immediately adjusts a device on the wall to "lithium mode" and then mutters "damn kids," implying that the kids are messing with the thermostat or other such device.

back2future 23

Voice recognition

The reality: Voice recognition is used in our smartphones (Siri and Google Now), but it hasn't yet transferred over to the home control space just yet. However, automatic systems that can turn on lights, adjust the heat and do other things within the home (Nest, etc.) are available in 2015.

back2future 24

Multi-screen televisions and home artwork

The movie: Marty's son returns home and goes into the family room, where he turns on the TV set and proceeds to watch six channels at the same time, including the Weather Channel. Marty's mother (Lea Thompson in her old-lady makeup) and turns off the "Scenery Channel" on a window shade, which is used to display famous artwork instead of the view of the outside. 

back2future 25

Advanced TVs

The reality: We do have TV sets that offer picture-in-picture capabilities, but for the most part kids these days are watching just one thing on the TV (unless you count the "second screen" effect of kids watching TVs while looking at their smartphone or tablets - in that respect, the part in the film where the kids seem to be distracted with their devices at the dinner table is spot on. However, a new company (SkreensTV) just introduced a box that would take multiple HDMI signals and create a multi-screen environment for HD TV sets, so we may not be that far away from a multi-screen world. The movie also does a good job of predicting "500 channels" of TV programming.

back2future 26

Food hydrators and other kitchen gadgets

The movie: Grandma Lorraine brings over a Pizza Hut pizza (interesting sponsorships are seen around the entire movie), a tiny mini-pizza that she then puts into her Black & Decker Hydrator (it looks like a toaster oven). Approximately five seconds later, the machine dings and out comes a hot, full-size, half-pepperoni and half-green pepper pizza. The previously mentioned fresh fruit bin drops out of the ceiling, and we see glimpses of other kitchen devices around in the background. 2015-Marty pours his son a drink (soda? coffee?) into a very tall plastic glass.

back2future 27

Still rely on microwaves

The reality: We don't have any hydrators - most of us still rely on our microwave ovens, toasters and traditional stoves/ovens for cooking. However, advances in 3D printing have brought about concepts like food printers, in which food can be created out of raw materials (3D-printed chocolate is especially nice). These are more likely to resemble the food replicator from Star Trek, which is a completely different slide show.

I don't really understand the concept of the drop-down fresh fruit bin - are these supposed to be better than just keeping fruit in the refrigerator? It's a neat visual, but again most of us just use the fridge for our fruits.

back2future 28

Videoconferencing via TV

The movie: 47-year-old Marty gets a phone call from his colleague, Needles, which he takes "on the TV". We then see a videoconference between Marty and Needles, as Needles tries to get Marty to go in on a proposal that is clearly illegal. After Marty scans his card (via his future briefcase), the jig is up and Marty gets caught by his Japanese supervisor, and is fired (via fax).

back2future 29

Skype and FaceTime

The reality: Between Skype and FaceTime, there are plenty of opportunities for people to videoconference with each other, so this is a good prediction. I've seen cameras that connect via HDMI, but they haven't caught on as much as mobile video chat and computer chat options (with cameras being installed in every laptop and phone). My gut feeling is this will happen once webcams get installed automatically into new TVs rather than requiring separate hardware (as well as interoperability standards across those other devices).

In terms of the business-card scanning, this prediction implies some future networking capabilities that currently do exist, as well as personal data and/or payment being embedded onto a card (it's unclear why they wouldn't stick with the thumbprint scenario). The movie did get the whole "fax machine in every room" part wrong - faxes are a limited feature on multi-function printers, and it would be easier just to send a text message to someone if you wanted to fire them.

back2future 30


The movie: All over the world of 2015, we see people wearing brightly colored clothes, both loose-fitting (Doc Brown's yellow and red loungewear) and tight-fitting (extras in Hill Valley). In his disguise as Marty's son, Marty gets to wear a self-adjusting sleeve-length jacket, which also has an auto-drying mode that kicks in after Marty gets out of the pond. Marty's Nike sneakers have "power laces" that automatically tie at the push of a button. At home, Marty's family is more traditional in their fashion, although 47-year-old Marty shows up wearing a double-tie as part of his business suit, and Marty's son makes a comment to 1985 Jennifer when he walks by, saying "Nice pants."

back2future 31

Wrong with fashion

The reality: The movie was way off on fashion trends in the future, which it pretty much always is (have any fashion trends ever been predicted correctly in a science-fiction film?). A few years ago, Nike actually made the sneakers seen in the film, but without the power-laces / special fit. Sneakers still require us to tie the laces, although kids sneakers have velcro straps (in fact, I'm not even sure if my 7-year-old can tie his shoes yet).

On the business suit front, the world has gotten more casual rather than more formal. Silicon Valley business executives can be seen wearing hoodies rather than double ties. I'm actually glad the "double tie" thing never came to pass.

back2future 32

Other hits-and-misses from the film

The movie had some other interesting moments/predictions - there was a lot of branding in the movie that marketers may take advantage of this year (I’m betting that Pepsi markets a “Pepsi Perfect” drink). Hey, there’s still 10 months before the date occurs, let’s get going, people!

* The world of 2015 has abolished all lawyers (meaning swift justice for lawbreakers)

* Pepsi Perfect soft drink in weird-looking bottles

* Plastic surgery is mainstream (well, maybe they got that right)

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.