'Back to the Future' at 35: It's Time to Decipher an Eric Stoltz Fan Theory

Back to the Future - Photofest still- H 2020
Universal Pictures/Photofest
Screenwriter Bob Gale and editor Harry Keramidas offer their insights about a debated split-second moment.

There have been rumors and theories floating around the internet for years that Eric Stoltz does, in fact, appear in the final version of Back to the Futurealbeit only for a split-second. Well, it might actually be true — and not only once, but twice. 

Fans are well aware that Stoltz was originally cast as Marty McFly. However, through no fault of his own, the character was recast with Michael J. Fox. The rest is history. Now, as the beloved film that started an iconic trilogy turns 35, The Hollywood Reporter did some digging to sort time fact from time fiction. 

Screenwriter Bob Gale was enlisted by THR to try and track down some answers. The theory that Stoltz appears in the film took off years ago when fans began posting videos to YouTube which they said proved the accomplished actor, or rather a part of him, appears in the final cut. The theory: That is actually Stoltz's fist that punches Biff Tannen (Tom Wilson) in the cafe.

"Editor Harry Keramidas, who cut the scene, pulled his notes, which show that the punch was reshot, but the printed takes were labeled 'OK' as opposed to 'Good,'" Gale told THR. "So that could still be Eric's fist. I think the only way we would know for sure is to check the actual edge numbers on the negative, but no one will risk damaging the negative by doing that. The workprint edge numbers might reveal the truth, but no idea if that even exists."

What's more, Keramidas discovered there may actually be a second moment where Stoltz appears in the final film, during the skateboard chase, which is set off by the punch. Gale explained, "After Marty jumps over the hedge, there's a shot of him from behind approaching the pedestrians coming down the courthouse steps. It could be Eric, or it could be Per Welinder who did Fox's skateboarding, or it could be Bob Schmelzer, who was Eric's skateboard double."  

Gale himself even has a tiny cameo of sorts, he revealed. "My hand is in the movie, albeit in the yellow radiation suit glove," he said. "When Marty stops the car at the 1955 billboard, the time displays go out, and he whacks them in a closeup. That was done on the insert stage with a skeleton crew, so I put on the glove and did the shot." 

Back to the Future was a massive critical and box office success, which seem to cement its place in pop culture almost immediately. To this day, fans new and old alike cannot seem to get enough of the beloved film (and tidbits about its creation). Most recently, the cast reunited for Josh Gad's popular, limited YouTube series Reunited Apart to raise funds for pandemic emergency medical workers. The video has more than 2.5 million views.