Hero’s Journey in Back to the Future

1. One movie that I believe follows the Hero’s Journey is the movie Back to the Future. Just as Christopher Vogler described in the video The Matrix – Joseph Campbell Monomyth, at the beginning of the film the hero, Marty Mcfly, has a moment when he “knows something is wrong”. Marty’s family is dysfunctional; his mother in an alcoholic, his father is being bullied by his boss, and although Marty attempts to live life normally, he wishes it could somehow be different.

Back to the Future (1985)

The call to adventure comes when Marty finds out that Doc Brown has created a time machine in the form of a DeLorean. Marty is skeptical at first and refuses the call to adventure. Instead of trying the machine himself, he watches as Doc tests the car. As the two stand there, Libyan terrorists, from whom Doc had stolen some of the necessary components of the car, rush upon them and shoot Doc Brown.


In an attempt to escape Marty hops into the car, inadvertently activating the time machine, and finds himself transported to the past to the year 1955. In this way he is forced past his own fear and pushed over the threshold to accept the call to adventure.

While on this adventure he meets numerous challenges. After accidentally keeping his, as of yet, unmarried parents from meeting, he goes to great lengths to push them together. He also contacts Doc Brown, and together the two search for a way to return Marty to 1985. He learns the normalities of living in this decade. He also learns who his friends and enemies are and begins to better understand his parents.

Within this hero story there is a secondary hero’s journey which occurs within Marty’s father, George. George has been abused and bullied by Biff his whole life. After listening to Marty’s encouragement, he steps past his fear and is able to stand up to Biff’s bullying. His reward is that he meets the woman who would be his wife, and because he stood up to Biff, his future life is dramatically altered.

When confident that his parents have fallen in love, Marty proceeds to the clock tower where Doc has arranged a way for him to – hopefully – get back home in the time machine. This moment is a combination of a final test and a return. Marty gives Doc a note informing him about the way in which he will be shot. Marty is returned to his own time to find that Doc’s life has been saved, and his family life is drastically better. This is his reward.

I do not think that, were these two characters to be examined separately, their stories would fulfill all aspects of the hero’s journey. Together, however, the Hero’s journey can be seen perfectly. Any point of the Hero’s Journey which one character does not experience, the other does.

2.           I believe that cinema fails to meet human needs. Cinema, through carefully constructed storyline, is able to give an the viewer a glimpse of another relate able, yet fictional, individual whose needs and desires are being met.

Although the needs of the viewers themselves are not being met, by inserting themselves into the story in the role of the hero, they are able to taste what this sensation of victory over their personal struggle might feel like. The viewer might leave the theater full of hope that they can conquer their own giants, but when such struggles actually appear hope often fails them.

Although a movie in which all humans belong and, in which, transitions – although difficult – turn out for the best, might be uplifting, the reality in which the viewer finds themselves in is often far less hopeful. In the world in which the viewer finds themselves, some people never find their niche and transitions lead not to self revaluation, but to heartbreak. I believe that human needs can be met. I do not believe, however, that they can be met through cinema, or that needs will be met in the neat and tidy way in which the cinema displays.

4 thoughts on “Hero’s Journey in Back to the Future

  1. sbutler12

    I really enjoyed your view of “Back To The Future” and how you compared it to a Hero’s Journey. I think the story line fits this idea very well. I also agree with your thoughts that cinema is not completely satisfying all four of the humans needs but do you think that some movies can satisfy one of two things very well? I was only able to think of a few examples but I agree as a whole cinema is moving away from satisfying the four functions.

  2. geborgeson

    I enjoy the comparison of “Back to the Future” with the hero’s journey. Especially how you state that it takes a comparison of both character to make the model of the Hero’s Journey more complete. I think its an interesting idea to look at groups or duo’s as the ‘hero.’ I like the idea that as a group people can find it easier to be more courageous or heroic; making it easier to fulfill the hero’s call. In the case of Marty and Doc Brown, each of them did something heroic, that they could have not done with out each other, and they were both rewarded for helping each other through their journey.

  3. veyjustin

    Such a classic movie! I really enjoyed reading your comparison with the hero’s journey, It changed my way of thinking on Back to the Future. Now i feel the need to watch it.

  4. Jennifer Popa

    I love your take on the generations both fulfilling a component of the hero’s journey, it’s a clever interpretation!

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