Back to the Future Writer Bob Gale Explains Opening Clock Sequence

In the opening of Back to the Future (1985), director Robert Zemeckis and screenwriter Bob Gale start with a series of panning shots of Dr. Emmett Brown's (Christopher Lloyd) garage showing audiences his vast collection of clocks along with his elaborate Rube Goldberg device. Among the clocks that stood out included a cuckoo and ones for Felix, the Cat, and the Denver Broncos. Gale spoke to The Hollywood Reporter on Back to the Future day on October 21.

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Christopher Lloyd as Doc and Michael J. Fox as Marty in Back to the Future (1985). Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

"There were some specific clocks we asked for, such as the Felix the Cat clocks, and we knew we had to have at least one cuckoo clock," Gale said. They were very popular in the 50s (who knows, maybe even in the 40s, not sure when it hit the market). So anyone who collects clocks would absolutely have one or more of those. And it's a perfect movie clock because it's constantly and very clearly in motion." Another famous clock is A Safety Last!, which is an homage to silent film star Harold Lloyd dangling on the clock hands on a high rise building. Back to the Future had their own version when Doc had to climb the Hill Valley Clock Tower to try to reconnect the wiring he set up to help channel the impending bolt of lightning Marty (Michael J. Fox needs to travel back to 1985 when a tree branch severed the connection. The sequence included doc losing his footing at one point on the ledge to recreate the Lloyd shot, holding on to dear life on the clock hands.

"We knew we had to feature that," Gale said. As far as the Broncos clock, the writer chalks it up to coincidence and provided homework for fans. "It was just something the set dressers or props people found; it was interesting, so we put it in the movie," he continued. "Is Doc a football fan or a Broncos fan? We know he's a baseball fan, so he could be a football fan. Or maybe he acquired it on a trip to Denver. We know he's not from Denver, but maybe his mother was (his father, remember, was German and originally Von Braun). Clearly, we can invent many backstories out of a single prop, so in honor of BTTF day, I encourage readers to submit their own reasons why Doc would have this clock!"

About Tom Chang

I'm a follower of pop culture from gaming, comics, sci-fi, fantasy, film, and TV for over 30 years. I grew up reading magazines like Starlog, Mad, and Fangora. As a professional writer for over 10 years, Star Wars was the first sci-fi franchise I fell in love with. I'm a nerd-of-all-trades.

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