Back to the Future Part III (1990)

Starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Mary Steenburgen, Thomas F. Wilson, Lea Thompson, Elisabeth Shue, James Tolkan, Jeffrey Weissman, Flea

Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Expectations: High, I love this one too.


For some reason Back to the Future Part III gets a bad rap. I just don’t get it. I’ve always loved this one and wondered why so many consider it a poor series entry. Not only does the story deftly fit within the framework built in the previous two films, it builds upon it even more. There were quite a few themes and loose ends left at the end of Part II, and Part III brings them all together in the closing moments and perfectly caps off the series. What’s not to like?

Doc Brown is stuck in the Old West and Marty happens upon some info that he can’t sit on. Despite Doc’s explicit warning not to come get him in the past, Marty does what he feels is right and makes the jump. Of course it’s not as simple as finding Doc, throwing him in the car and speeding off into the future and this time around our main heavy is Biff’s ancestor Buford Tannen, once again expertly played by Thomas F. Wilson. Seriously, he fits perfectly into any wacky role Zemeckis and Bob Gale can cook up for him.

I think Back to the Future Part III missteps for people in their expectations. If Part I was simple complexity, and Part II was complex complexity, then Part III is simply simple. Instead of continuing to up the ante in Part III, they instead scale it way back, slowing the pace and bringing us a much more character focused film after the relentless action of Part II. So if you go into this one expecting whiz-bang time travel shenanigans, you’re only going to be sorely disappointed. On the other hand, if you go in with an open mind and a strong knowledge of the first two films (or a recent re-watch as in my case), you should be pleasantly surprised at just how well put together this third film is. It’s never going to best the perfection of Part I or the action of Part II, but neither of those films can touch the character drama of this one and the train scene in the climax is easily one of the most tense and exciting scenes in the series.

The special FX once again look outstanding, but as this is mostly set in the Old West, it’s more about the frontier Hill Valley set they built and the wide open vistas than true special FX. Everything is scaled way back to fit with the tech-challenged 1885 setting, but this is not to say that the film isn’t exciting or feels like anything but a Back to the Future film. The movie feels perfect and it’s awesome to see a movie actually use the amount of FX that the story dictates instead of how much the budget will allow for.

All three films are incredibly well written in their own ways: Part I for its world-building and iconic scenes, Part II for its complicated but comprehensible storyline and Part III for tying everything together in the most perfect way possible. The ending to the series is truly special, wrapping up the loose ends for our favorite characters and leaving us with a wonderful moral about time management and making the most out of your life. Some might call it heavy-handed and obvious, but it’s done in a way that is loving and sentimental while subtly pulling at your heartstrings.

One of my thoughts while watching the film was, “Why isn’t Bob Gale writing more films? This guy is fucking genius!” By the end of the film, I had pondered on this a little more and had come to a revelation. After three incredibly solid scripts for films that became instant classics and part of the culture at large, I can’t honestly expect any more from him. Obviously I would welcome anything else the guy has rattling ’round in his brain, but it’s unfair of me to demand anything beyond these three wonderful films.

Back to the Future Part III is awesome like the films preceding it, in ways completely different from the films preceding it. It echoes the previous films marvelously while still blazing its own trail to a rousing climax. I love this film series and Back to the Future Part III is an integral part of the trilogy. Definitely recommended.

8 comments to Back to the Future Part III (1990)

  • I watched 2 and 3 back-to-back last year, and I agree that 3 holds its end of the trilogy up well. It’s 2 that always confuses the hell out of me!

    • Definitely Part 2 is the confusing one, but it actually makes sense under scrutiny. It’s a real triumph that they were able to make it so intricate and still be entertaining, even if it does get somewhat confusing at times. Thanks for coming by and commenting!

  • I think 3 is charming – it goes back to that old-school glee filmmaking that makes watching films so much fun. The entire train sequence is just awesome, with the tension building, building, building, until that fantastic payoff at the end….

    Ahh, I must sit down and watch these all again soon….

    • Yeah I LOVE the climactic train scene! They definitely hold up. Usually I watch series movies one a week so I don’t get burned out, but these I burned through in three consecutive nights. They’re so good.

  • Dan

    This is a wonderful concluding part to a wonderful (the best!) trilogy.

    What I love about this film is that it focuses on the series’ best character Doc Brown. It is his film and I love that he finds love.

    One of the things I’ve noticed….having watched Back To The Future many times is that none of the films are really about Marty McFly. He is integral to the story but the story isn’t about him – the first film is about Marty’s Dad, the second is about Biff, and the third is about Doc Brown. Maybe Zemeckis and Bob Gale could make a fourth film about Marty! 🙂

    • Yeah it’s funny how they aren’t really about Marty. In parts 2 & 3 he has the “chicken” arc where he grows as a person, but there’s not much else. This is one of the best trilogies for sure. They just don’t make ’em like this anymore.

  • I don’t get it either why it gets a bad rep. I really love the whole series and like this one too. It’s one of those movies I fondly remember seeing at the cinema at the time. Great review!

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