A Timeless ‘Back to the Future' Landmark

"Back to the Future II" didn't only predict life in 2015 – it helped shape it, at least at the movies.

When Marty McFly traveled to Oct. 21, 2015 in 1989's "Back to the Future II," his DeLorean landed in world that's at least somewhat recognizable to present-day humans.

Some of the flick's high-flying predictions came true – well, kind of (hoverboards are just getting off the ground). Others didn't (flying cars aren't here yet, but driver-less autos are in the works). The jury is out the Cubs soaring to a World Series victory (not if the Mets have anything to say about it).

All the recent fun stories about the film's prognostication hits and misses, though, might miss the bigger significance of Wednesday's "Back to the Future" date: The movie didn't predict the future as much as shape it – and not just with Nike's self-fulfilling prophecy of making sneakers that look like Marty's self-lacing model. The series helped set the stage for three decades of films combining humor, humanity, fantasy and special effects (and might even have saved us from "Jaws 19"). 

Director Robert Zemeckis' influence can be seen, to varying degrees, in everything from in the early "Harry Potter" installments to the "Men in Black" films to "Guardians of the Galaxy." In the everything-that's-old-is-new-again category, the revival of "Doctor Who" might owe as much to the "Future" films as it does the original 1960s BBC TV series.

The first "Back to the Future" installment, which recently marked its 30th anniversary, proved an instant classic by putting new twists on familiar movie devices: A seemingly ordinary protagonist is thrust into extraordinary circumstances, and uses some new-found tools and friends (in Marty's case, a DeLorean and Doc Brown) to help save the day. There also are enough special effects to make the action look both real and fantastical, while staying grounded in characters worth caring about.

The "Future" movies didn't arrive in a vacuum, following the game changing "Star Wars" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark" series, as well as the first "Ghostbusters." But the "Back to the Future" films packed in its own brand of humor (somehow making Oedipal jokes family friendly) – along with more relatable settings, circumstances and stakes. Saving the world or the universe might be a big deal, but nothing is more important than saving your family. 

All the hoopla over Wednesday, a day that came to life in the movies long before it arrived on the calendar, marks a tribute to a film series that played with time and ended up timeless. It's a safe prediction that the "Back to the Future" films will endure, in the hearts of audiences to come and in the visions of filmmakers looking to put their own spin on the past and the future.

Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.

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