Why 'Back to the Future' writer Bob Gale won't make a fourth film (exclusive)

Hanna Flint
Contributor
Bob Gale talks John DeLorean and Back to the Future (Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images)

With Hollywood constantly recyclingrebooting, and resurrecting every half-decent franchise, it’s a surprise that a fourth Back to the Future film has never been made and that’s partly down to screenwriter Bob Gale.

Gale penned the three-film series, and remains a gatekeeper to the ‘80s film franchise, alongside producer Frank Marshall, director Robert Zemeckis, and exec producer Steven Spielberg. Gale’s refused to move forward on a new movie for years despite fans - and even star Christopher Lloyd - hoping for one.

While promoting the new documentary, Framing John DeLorean, in which he appears as a talking head, Gale explained to Yahoo Movies UK exactly why he would never give the go-ahead to make another Back to the Future film.

Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future (Credit: Universal)

“I can't imagine anybody wants to see a Back to the Future movie that doesn't have Michael J. Fox,” he said. “Michael J. Fox with his Parkinson's makes it impossible for him to be the grown-up version of the Marty McFly that we saw in the movie.

“I think the public wants to remember Michael J. Fox from before he had Parkinson's and it's kind of hard,” the screenwriter continued. “It's like when you go see a family member, your mother or your grandmother, and she's had a stroke, it's difficult.

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“That's what is operating there and that's a hurdle that we can in no way get over.”

Last year, director Bob Zemeckis told Yahoo Back To The Future 4 simply “can’t be done.”

There is, however, going to be a Back to the Future musical which Gale wrote the book for and is currently in rehearsals for a Manchester premiere ahead of a West End transfer.

Michael J. Fox seen on the red carpet for Tribeca Talks, Storytellers. (Photo by Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Most of the main cast has been announced - West End star Olly Dobson will play Marty McFly - but they’ve yet to confirm who will play Lloyd’s famous role.

“We have Doc Brown but I've been asked not to be the one to spill the beans on that,” Gale said. “He's great.”

Framing John DeLorean focuses on the extraordinary life and career of controversial automaker John DeLorean from his meteoric rise at General Motors Co. to his obsessive quest to build the world's best sports car.

Unlike a regular feature documentary, Framing John DeLorean cuts archive footage and interviews with reconstructed scenes of key moments in John DeLorean’s life, played by Alec Baldwin.

Check out the full interview with Bob Gale below where he discusses the documentary, Back to the Future and reveals why his 1986 Doctor Strange script didn’t get made...

How did you get involved in the documentary?

If anybody is doing a documentary about John DeLorean that involves the DeLorean automobile, Back to the Future automatically figures.

The producer is someone that I met back in 2002 or 2004 at the biannual DeLorean car show that they have in the States every two years. And he was at that time a very geeky young man that was just into all things to DeLorean.

John DeLorean in 1977 (Credit: Jerry Williamson)

He and everybody at the show were very excited that I was there as a special guest. I enjoyed myself there so much that I go to almost every one of them. I really like those people. I like the fact that they're more into the car than into the trivia of the movie.

The documentary shows you got some fan correspondence from the man himself...

John DeLorean sent us that great fan letter after he saw [Back to the Future]. It was really, really a wonderful thing that he did, and really, really thrilled us. He understood that the movie was going to always be the way that everybody would remember his creation.

It's interesting that both you and DeLorean's careers were mostly defined by one creation: his car and your Back to the Future - are you happy with that legacy?

I couldn't be happier. Everybody loves Back to the Future; who wouldn’t want to change places with me and have those movies on their resume? The better comparison is between John DeLorean and Elon Musk, right? Because he is doing things with his car company, the same type of things that John wanted to do. And at this point, people are wondering, well, is this Tesla brand gonna last because there are questionable things that have been raised about what's going on there.

Read more: Fox and Lloyd reunite for charity event

Musk actually made a car that did some of the things that John DeLorean wanted to do that he was unable to do in his first pass.

You've written the book for the Back to the Future musical and have made some casting announcements. Have you secured your Doc Brown?

We have Doc Brown but I've been asked not to be the one to spill the beans on that. He's great.

Christopher Lloyd is keen for a fourth movie in the franchise but you've always been against it. Are there any conditions that might be put in place for you to consider it?

Bob Gale attends the LA special screening of Sundance Selects' "Framing John Delorean" at Petersen Automotive Museum. (Photo by Timothy Norris/Getty Images)

Look, I can't imagine anybody wants to see a Back to the Future movie that doesn't have Michael J. Fox. Michael J. Fox with his Parkinson's makes it impossible for him to be the grown-up version of the Marty McFly that we saw in the movie. I think the public wants to remember Michael J. Fox from before he had Parkinson's and it's kind of hard. It's like when you go see a family member, your mother or your grandmother, and she's had a stroke, it's difficult. That's what is operating there and that's a hurdle that we can in no way get over.

We've seen so many sequels where they go back many years later into the franchise, you know? Bruce Willis in Die Hard 4 and 5 is just not the same as he is in the first three. I love Harrison Ford, but seeing him as an old guy in Indiana Jones 4? Eh.

Finally, you wrote a Doctor Strange script in 1986. Can you explain why it didn't get made?

The reason it didn't get made is because, first of all, even though the Richard Donner Superman movie was a big hit it didn't launch a whole series of comic book movies. At the time, in 1986, nobody knew who Doctor Strange was, actually I guess five years ago nobody knew he was either, so he was a lesser-known character. We didn't have a high budget and Marvel was going through some difficult financial [issues].

Benedict Cumberbatch in 2016's Doctor Strange (Credit: Marvel)

It was being bought and sold by different parent companies and in 1986 the film rights were controlled by an independent film company called Kings Road productions.

Their option expired, then Marvel gets bought and sold, bought and sold, and it ends up being owned by New World Pictures, so I did another draft or two for New World, and New World went south so Marvel got sold again.

Movies cost a lot of money; it costs a lot more money to launch a movie than a new line of comic books and I think that if young Robert Downey Jr., in the early 1990s, said, “yeah I wanna be Doctor Strange,” then maybe that would have changed.

What was your story about?

My story told the origin of Doctor Strange, pretty much the way that it is in the current movie and the villain was Dormammu too. In my script, we just didn't have the budget to go into some of these alternate worlds, big special FX world.

Read more: Doctor Strange 2 will be MCU’s ‘first horror’

The one element that I came up with in my script, that certainly carried over into the current movie, was in the comic books he always had to say magic words, say verbal spells and I said we should colour-code his magic with his amulet. So the whole idea was that his amulet would glow with a particular colour and you could anticipate what type of spell he was going to cast. That was a concept I came up with.

Who would you have cast as Doctor Strange?

I don't know I'd have to go back and remember who were the movie stars back then!

Framing John DeLorean is out on Digital Download on Monday 29 July.