Back to the Future nearly starred Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly, but as audiences know the role eventually went to Michael J Fox. Eric Stoltz’s time playing Marty McFly was cut short, partially due to his interpretation of the Back to the Future ending as a tragedy. Back to the Future‘s ending is bleak, and the movie ends with Marty McFly returning back to 1985 from his trip to 1955. Along the way, Marty actually adjusted his own future, returning to a version of 1985 where his family members were now better versions of themselves, changing the entire dynamic he had always known. The Eric Stoltz Back to the Future interpretation was that this was a tragic ending, which wasn’t how director Robert Zemeckis saw it.


Before Michael J. Fox was cast in the iconic role of Marty McFly, the Eric Stoltz Back to the Future character began the movie’s production. Stoltz was fired from Back to the Future — replaced by Fox after the creators opted to go another route with Marty’s character approach. One of the reasons Stoltz was let go was because of the intense way he interpreted and portrayed Marty, which wasn’t how the movie’s writers intended the story to be played, despite the fact that Back to the Future‘s ending is depressing. In an interview for Netflix’s The Movies That Made Us, the Back to the Future creators gave an interview about Stoltz’s time as Marty McFly, where they discussed how his depressing reading of Back to the Future’s ending was part of what lost him the role. Stoltz’s interpretation was that Universal Studios’ Back to the Future was a tragedy since Marty returns to the future with an entirely new life, making him an outsider in his family. The reading may have gotten Stoltz fired, but he has a point.

Related: Will Eric Stoltz’s Back To The Future Footage Ever Be Released?

Why Back To The Future’s Ending Is Secretly Heartbreaking

Marty McFly with his mom and dad in Back to the Future's ending

Marty is essentially a stranger to his own life when he returns home; he knows that his family isn’t who they were before, and while he can put the pieces together, he doesn’t know what his new life has been like for the past 17 years. The life Marty knew before Doc Brown took him back to 1955 was a bit sad — his father was still a timid push-over, his mother had become a crass alcoholic, his older brother was working at a fast-food restaurant, and his sister was just desperate to have a boyfriend. After Marty used time travel to return, Back To The Future‘s McFly family was loving and connected, all of them thriving and confident, which would have changed the entire dynamic of his life growing up — Marty himself wouldn’t be the same as before. His life appears much better now that he fixed his parents’ relationship back in the 1950s, but he never actually got to experience the better upbringing in the Back to the Future ending.

Not only that, but Marty’s time would be short living with this new version of his parents because he’s almost out of high school. Considering that his life is altogether unrecognizable, there are no guarantees he would have ever met Doc or Jennifer, nor would he have turned out to be the same chipper Marty McFly. Essentially the Back to the Future ending is depressing because it has Marty’s time-traveling adventure end by having effectively removed all the family that he once knew. He makes a “better” life for himself and his family, but he never got to actually experience a second of it. In this way, Eric Stoltz’s reading is right, and Back to the Future‘s ending is sad.

What If Eric Stoltz Had Played Marty McFly In Back To The Future

Eric Stoltz Marty McFly Back to the Future

It’s hard to imagine Marty McFly without picturing Michael J. Fox, but Eric Stoltz ended up shooting a fair amount of footage as the character before he was fired. And since Stoltz always saw the Back to the Future ending as bleak, the trilogy would have played out in a very different way had he remained in the role. For starters, Stoltz’s Marty McFly was more serious and affected. He would’ve taken Doc’s near-death experience with the Libyans much more to heart, and that depression would have driven his actions moving forward. Marty Mcfly’s “chicken” trigger would have held more weight considering it’s the word that caused a negative outcome for him back in 1955, forcing him to forge an entirely new life for himself.

In an Eric Stoltz Back to the Future, scenes like Biff trying to force himself on Marty’s mother would’ve taken a more overtly dark turn and any lightheartedness would have been immediately sucked out of the movie. When one considers how Back to the Future‘s ending is depressing, it also bleeds into how Stoltz’s performance would’ve changed the sequels. Back to the Future II included a robbery, which with Michael J. Fox in the role feels like some light hijinks. With Eric Stoltz, the crime would’ve had much more weight. Finally, in Back to the Future III, 1885 Doc’s death would not have been treated as a mere setback but have been more hard-hitting.

Related: It’s Good Back To The Future 4 Never Happened

In a way, Marty returning to his life in 1985 as the same teenager he was before is a plot hole. The rest of his family changed in significant ways that affected their demeanors, life goals, personalities, and dynamics, all of which would have impacted Marty’s personality as well. He grew up as the most well-adjusted, popular member of his family, but Back to the Future’s alternate timeline suggests that’s not true anymore. Stoltz’s assertion that Back to the Future‘s ending is depressing is essentially correct; Marty would be cursed with not knowing who he really is, which would be the equivalent of having retrograde amnesia, having no memory of his life before returning from the past. Even if Eric Stoltz’s reading on Back to the Future is correct, it wasn’t enough to keep him from being replaced.

What Eric Stoltz Did Instead Of Back To The Future

The Fly 2 - Eric Stoltz as Martin Brundle

Despite losing out on Back to the Future, there are plenty of other Eric Stoltz movies. The actor had a very active career, especially in the 80s and 90s. Most recently, he appeared as Judge Meachem on The Good Fight. Instead of doing Back to the Future, he had three other movies come out in 1985. First was The New Kids where he played Mark, second was Mask when he took on the role of Rocky Dennis, and finally Code Name: Emerald where he appeared as Andy Wheeler. His next gig was Some Kind of Wonderful, where he played the part of Keith Nelson. He got a big break with The Fly 2, and in that movie, he played the lead role of Martin Brundle. Finally, he was also in the 80s hit Say Anything as Vahlere. Despite not being Marty McFly in Back to the Future, Eric Stoltz movies like Mask and Say Anything are cult classics today, and he’s managed to have a successful career.

More: Back To The Future: Why The Original Marty McFly Actor Was Fired

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