Greatest Movie Series
Franchises of All Time
Back to the Future Trilogy

Back to the Future Part III (1990)

Back to the Future Films
Back to the Future (1985) | Back to the Future Part II (1989) | Back to the Future Part III (1990)

The Back to the Future Trilogy - Part 3

Back to the Future Part III (1990)
d. Robert Zemeckis, 118 minutes

Film Plot Summary

The film opened on the early Sunday morning of November 13, 1955 (the next day, from the previous film). "Doc" Brown (Christopher Lloyd) was still disbelieving that Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) was still in his presence, after he had sent him "back to the future" - the 1985 Marty reminded him: "I came back from the future. Don't you remember last night? You fainted. I brought you home...Look, I came back to 1955 again with you, the you from 1985, 'cause we had to get a book from Bif. So, once I got the book back, you - that is, the you from 1985 - were in the DeLorean and it got struck by lightning, and (we) got sent back to 1885."

In the 70 year-old Western Union telegram that Marty had received from "Doc" in the previous film (on the night of November 12, 1955), he learned that "Doc" had become a blacksmith in 1885 while vainly attempting to repair the DeLorean - which was hidden in the abandoned Delgado mineshaft near the old Boot Hill Cemetery outside of town. With the help of the 1955 "Doc," Marty dug out the DeLorean that the 1885 "Doc" had buried 70 years earlier, in order to repair it.

In the graveyard nearby, Marty and the 1955 "Doc" learned from a tombstone that "Doc's" older counterpart ("Emmett Brown") had been shot and killed in 1885's Hill Valley on Monday, September 7th. The murder occurred only one week after the 1885 "Doc" wrote the Western Union letter. He was killed by Biff's great-grandfather -- outlaw ancestor and "notorious gunman" Buford 'Mad Dog' Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson) - shot in the back "over a matter of $80". So Marty time-traveled to September 2, 1885 in the repaired time travel De Lorean to save "Doc" from his fate ("It's not gonna happen, Doc") within five days.

Marty found himself in the middle of an Indian/cavalry chase. After concealing the car in a rock cave, he found that an arrow had damaged the car's gas tank (and emptied it). After being chased by a bear, he was knocked unconscious, and taken under the care of the McFly family - his great-great grandparents, newly-arrived Irish immigrants, led by Seamus (himself), with his wife Maggie McFly (Lea Thompson), and their newborn child ("the first of our family to be born in America") William Sean McFly, Marty's great-grandfather. Marty took the name "Clint Eastwood" as his own, and claimed he was looking for his blacksmith friend in the western town of Hill Valley. In the local saloon, he was confronted by gunslinger Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen, whom he accidentally covered with the contents of an overturned spitoon. Marty was dragged through the dusty streets at the end of "Mad Dog's" rope, and left hanging in front of the newly-built courthouse and clock tower, where he was saved by the 1885 "Doc".

After "Doc" was told about his upcoming death in a few days, he agreed to leave with Marty to go "back to the future", although he was curious about the arrival of the town's new schoolteacher Clara Clayton (Mary Steenburgen) - noted on his tombstone as his "beloved Clara." But time-travel would be nearly impossible for them - there was no gasoline, making a speed of 88 mph unthinkable. Pulling the car with a team of horses, or using alcohol in the tank didn't work either. "Doc" hypothesized that he could use a hijacked steam locomotive to push the DeLorean up to 88 mph on straight tracks - however, the only track suitable ended at an uncompleted bridge over Clayton ("Shonash") Ravine (scheduled to be completed in the summer of 1886).

At the bridge site, "Doc" heard screams and rescued Clara Clayton in a runaway, horse-drawn buggy from falling into the ravine - and it was love at first sight. ["Doc" and Marty realized that the rescue had seriously altered history - the Ravine was originally named after Clara when she died falling into it - without being rescued.]

During the town's Saturday evening festival to dedicate the courthouse clock tower, both Marty and "Doc" were again confronted by "Mad Dog" Tannen, and "Doc" escaped death by both Marty's and Clara's interventions, although the gunslinger proposed to fight a gun duel with Marty at 8 am on Monday morning. In the meantime, the romantic relationship between "Doc" and Clara made the return to the future even more problematic - she didn't believe him and was heartbroken when he told her he was returning to the future year of 1985, and had traveled to 1885 in a time machine. During the street shoot-out on Monday morning, Marty was protected by a steel stove-cover breastplate he was wearing on his chest. [Note: This scene paid homage to a similar scene in the conclusion of Sergio Leone's spaghetti western Fistful of Dollars (1964, It.).] A fistfight left "Mad Dog" in a manure cart ("I hate manure"). Fortunately, "Mad Dog" was arrested for robbing the Pine City stagecoach on the previous day, Sunday, preventing any further gunplay.

With a one-way ticket out of town to San Francisco on a train, Clara overheard that "Doc" was distraught over breaking up with her, so she exited the train and went looking for him. With no time to spare, "Doc" and Marty rode out of town to hijack the locomotive, and divert it onto an alternate track, where it would push the DeLorean up to 88 mph. Meanwhile, Clara was in pursuit after them on horseback. "Doc" fed the locomotive chemically-treated Presto logs to burn hotter and longer in the furnace to increase its speed, while Marty sat in the DeLorean. As "Doc" was transferring himself to the time-machine car in front of the speeding locomotive, Clara hopped onto the train - when he saw her calling out "I love you", he decided to go back for her. She inched along the about-to-explode train locomotive's engine - and the two lovers were saved at the last minute by Marty's hoverboard that he pushed next to them, and they sailed off in another direction.

Although the locomotive was destroyed as the tracks came to an end and it exploded in the ravine, the DeLorean time machine successfully attained 88 mph and was zapped "back to the future" - Marty arrived in the present day - October 27, 1985, by connecting up with tracks built over Eastwood Ravine. However, another modern-day diesel locomotive was barreling down the tracks toward the DeLorean, and he escaped the destructive collision. He then awakened girlfriend Jennifer (Elisabeth Shue) where he had left her (in the previous film) on her home's porch - she thought she had experienced a nightmare.

Marty believed he would never see his friend again, and grieved for him. But "Doc" - with a newly-retrofitted, upgraded steam locomotive, made a surprise entrance back in 1985 with a tremendous sonic boom at the site of the destroyed DeLorean. He introduced Marty to his new family - his wife Clara and two sons Jules and Verne. After all their successful travels together, "Doc" advised Marty and Jennifer: "...your future hasn't been written yet. No one's has. Your future is whatever you make it, so make it a good one, both of you."

In the film's last lines, Marty asked: "Hey, Doc. Where you going now? Back to the future?" to which he replied: "Nope. Already been there" - and then "Doc" flew his locomotive across the sky as the film ended.

Film Notables (Awards, Facts, etc.)

Considered by most film reviewers as the weakest of the trilogy.

Earned about $88 million at the box-office (domestically), with a worldwide gross of about $245 million.

No Academy Awards-Oscar nominations, the only film in the three-part series without nominations.

Marty McFly
(aka "Clint Eastwood" in 1885)
(Michael J. Fox)

"Doc" Emmett Brown
(Christopher Lloyd)

Maggie McFly in 1885
(Lea Thompson)

Seamus McFly in 1885
(Michael J. Fox)

Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen
(Thomas F. Wilson)

Clara Clayton
(Mary Steenburgen)

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