Back to the Future Beat Sheet

Back to the Future Beat Sheet

Back to the Future

Written by Robert Zemeckis & Bob Gale
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Running time: 112 minutes
Year: 1985

Back to the Future Story Map


Sequence I: Marty is late for school when one of Doc Brown’s time experiments sets all of his clocks twenty-five minutes slow. At school, Principal Strickland cites Marty for his tardiness, and tells him his band has no chance because he’s from a family of losers.

Back to the Future Script Opening Images

1 – OPENING IMAGES: Clocks…lots and lots of clocks.


Back to the Future Beat Sheet Sequence II

Sequence II: Marty’s band fails their audition for the high school dance. His girlfriend, Jennifer, encourages him to send the band’s music to radio stations.


Sequence III: Marty discovers Biff Tannen, George’s boss, wrecked George’s car, ruining Marty’s upcoming camping trip with Jennifer. Later, Lorraine, a middle-aged alcoholic, reminisces on the high school dance where she fell in love with George.

Back to the Future Script Uncle Jailbird Joey

15 – UNCLE JAILBIRD JOEY SETUP: At dinner, LORRAINE MCFLY drops a cake on the table: Her brother didn’t make parole.

Back to the Future Beat Sheet Lorraine

18 – MOMMY HOTS SETUP & DANCE KISS SETUP: Pouring herself another drink, Lorraine tells her children the tale of how she fell in love their father…


Anyway, your grandpa hit him with the car and brought him into the house. He seemed so helpless. Like a little lost puppy. And my heart just went out to him.


Yeah, Mom, we know. You’ve told us this story a million times. You felt sorry for him, so you decided to go with him to the Fish Under the Sea Dance.


No, no. It was the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance. Our first date. I’ll never forget it. It was the night of that terrible thunder storm. Remember, George?

George doesn’t hear Lorraine -- he’s too busy watching The Honeymooners.


Your father kissed me for the very first time on that dance floor. It was then that I realized that I was gonna spend the rest of my life with him.


Sequence IV: Marty discovers Doc Brown has built a time machine out of a DeLorean and swindled a group of Libyan terrorists from their plutonium. Moments before Doc is set to travel time, he is gunned down by the Libyans. Marty is forced to flee in the DeLorean and accidentally transports himself to 1955.

18 – At 12:28AM, Marty wakes to a call from Doc, asking him to bring the video camera.

Back to the Future Script Twin Pines Mall

20 – Marty arrives at Twin Pines Mall…

We hear an ENGINE REV UP---the truck engine?

The rear truck doors suddenly open and a SLEEK STAINLESS STEEL DELOREAN drive down the drop gate, onto the parking lot. It’s been modified with coils and some wicked looking units on the rear engine.

Back to the Future Beat Sheet

23 – INCITING INCIDENT: The DeLorean is a time machine.



Jesus Christ! You disintegrated Einstein!


Calm down, Marty! I didn’t disintegrate anything. The molecular structure of both Einstein and the car are completely intact.


Then where the hell are they?


The appropriate question is: WHEN the hell are they? You see, Einstein has just become the world’s first time traveler.

25 – The DeLorean bursts back into the present, nearing running over Marty and Doc. Doc opens its ice-covered door to find Einstein perfectly safe. Einstein’s watch is one minute behind Doc’s control watch.

26 – FLUX CAPACITOR SETUP: Showcasing the time machine, Doc keys in important dates, stopping to reflect on the date he created time travel…


Yes, of course...November 5, 1955...


What? I don’t get what happened?


That was the day I invented time travel. I remember it vividly: I was standing on the edge of my toilet, hanging a clock. The porcelain was wet; I slipped and hit my head on the edge of the sink and when I came to, I had a revelation---a vision---a picture in my head. A picture of THIS...

Brown points to a particular centerpiece unit mounted inside the DeLorean.

Marty aims the video camera and gets it on tape. He continues taping as Dr. Brown explains.


This is what makes time travel possible: the Flux Capacitor.

Back to the Future Script End of Act Two

30 – END OF ACT ONE TURN: The Libyans gun down and kill Doc.

30 – Marty flees from the Libyans in the temporary safety of the DeLorean.

Back to the Future Script End of Act Two Decision

32 – DECISION: Speeding away from the Libyans, Marty hits 88 miles-per-hour, activating the time machine circuits and transports himself to 1955.


Sequence I: Marty is mistaken for an alien and nearly killed by a frightened family. He walks into downtown Hill Valley and realizes he’s in 1955.


Sequence II: Marty stumbles upon George and witnesses Biff bully him. Later, Marty saves George from the path of an oncoming car, but is struck by the car and knocked out cold.

Back to the Future Script Biff & George

40 – BIFF THE BULLY PAYOFF: Marty sits down at the cafe, not realizing he’s sitting next to George until Biff bursts into the cafe and begins bullying his father.

Back to the Future First Trial Beat Sheet

42 – FIRST TRIAL & HOW I MET YOUR FATHER PAYOFF & MCFLY SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES SETUP: George falls out of the tree into the street, directly in the path of an oncoming car. Marty darts in danger’s way and pushes George to safety, but is struck by the car and knocked out cold.


Sequence III: Marty regains consciousness in a dark room with the voice of his mother soothing him. He believes he’s experienced a nightmare until the lights come on and he sees Lorraine is his age. After an awkward dinner with Lorraine hitting on him, he rushes to find Doc.

Back to the Future Script First Casualty

44 – FIRST CASUALTY: Marty wakes to a 17 year old version of his mother. She’s very interested in him… sexually.


Sequence IV: Marty locates Doc. Doc doesn’t believe his story until Marty reveals details about the flux capacitor.

Sequence V: With DeLorean safe in Doc’s garage, Doc tells Marty the only capable energy source for time travel is a bolt of lightning. Marty shows him the clock tower flyer and Doc has the basis for his plan, but Marty intervening with his parents’ meeting has made the problem much more complex: Marty must get his parents together or be erased from existence.

Back to the Future Beat Sheet Flux Capacitor

52 – Marty takes Doc to the time machine at Lyon Estates. Doc stands in awe of the DeLorean. He pauses to show Marty a sketch of the Flux Capacitor…

Marty raises the gull wing door and points out the real thing.

Brown stares: It matches his drawing perfectly. His eyes light up and he jumps and shouts with joy.


Ha! It works! It works! Finally I invented something that works!

Back to the Future Script Beat Sheet


Marty, I’m sorry, but the only power source capable of generating 1.21 jigowatts of electricity is a bolt of lightning.


(suddenly has an idea)

What did you just say?


A bolt of lightning. Unfortunately, you never know when or where lightning is going to strike.


We do now!

Marty turns over the note Jennifer wrote---it’s the clock tower flyer. He shows it to Brown.


The headline is “CLOCK TOWER STRUCK BY LIGHTNING. CLOCK STOPPED AT 10:04.” The date is Sunday, November 13, 1955.


Brown snaps his fingers. He’s getting an idea.


(very excited)

This is it! This is the answer. According to this, lightning is going to strike the clock tower at precisely 10:04 p.m. next Saturday night! If we could somehow harness this it into the flux just might work! Next Saturday night, we’re sending you back to the future!

Back to the Future Script Midpoint

56 – MIDPOINT & MCFLY SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES PAYOFF 1 & ERASED FROM EXISTENCE PAYOFF 1: Doc instructs Marty that he must not go out, as his actions may have serious consequences on future events. Marty’s reaction prompts Doc to question him…



Marty, who else did you interact with today. Besides me?


Well, nobody, really. I just sort of bumped into my parents...


Great Scott! Let me see that picture again, of your brother!

Brown takes Marty’s wallet and looks at the picture. His expression becomes grim.


What’s the problem?


It’s happened. This proves my theory. Look at your brother.

Brown shows it to him.


Marty’s brother Dave has no head!



His head’s it’s been erased.


Erased from existence...


Sequence I: Marty attempts to get his parents together, but Lorraine’s infatuated with him instead of George. Doc helps formulate a plan: Marty must get his parents to kiss and fall in love at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance.

Back to the Future Beat Sheet Slacker George


Sequence II: In an attempt to protect his mother from Biff, Marty strengthens Lorraine’s infatuation for him and pushes George further from the goal. When George refuses to ask her out, Marty is forced to improvise.

Back to the Future Script Darth Vader


Sequence III: Marty’s Darth Vader stunt works: George attempts to ask Lorraine out, but is interrupted by Biff. Marty defends George and decks Biff. Biff and his goons chase Marty around the town square, but he ultimately wrecks his car in an attempt to take out Marty.

Back to the Future Beat Sheet George McFly


Sequence IV: After Doc demonstrates his plan to send Marty back, they are interrupted by Lorraine, who asks Marty to the dance. Later, Marty meets with George, revealing that he’ll purposely put Lorraine in danger at the dance to set up George as her hero.

Back to the Future Script Assumption of Power

74 – ASSUMPTION OF POWER & YOU CAN ACCOMPLISH ANYTHING SETUP 2: Marty comes up with a plan: He’ll create a dangerous situation where George can rescue Lorraine from him.


Why is she gonna get angry with you?


(it’s hard for him to say)

Well...because...well...nice girls get angry at guys who...who try to take advantage of ’em.


You mean you’re her on her---


No. George, it’s just an act. So, 9 o’clock you’re strolling through the parking lot and you see us...


...struggling in the car. You walk up, you open the door and you say...?

George doesn’t say anything.


Your line, George.


Oh. Uh...”Hey, you! Get your damn hands off her.”


You really think I outta swear?


Yes, definitely, goddammit George, swear. Ok, so now you come up, you punch me in the stomach, I’m out for the count, and you and Lorraine live happily ever after.


You make it sound so easy. I wish I wasn’t so scared.


There’s nothing to be scared of. All it takes is a little self-confidence. You know, if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.


Sequence V: Marty writes a letter to Doc detailing the event that takes his life. At the dance, Marty is unable to execute his plan with Lorraine, and Biff, not George, interrupts. Biff’s goons lock Marty in the trunk of the dance band’s car while Biff has his way with Lorraine.

Back to the Future Script Marty's Letter to Doc

78 – LORRAINE THE HYPOCRITE PAYOFF: Marty pulls up the parking lot with Lorraine. He quickly discovers she’s not a prude, and that she drinks and smokes.

Back to the Future Beat Sheet Lorraine 1955


Sequence VI: George finally stands up to Biff and saves Lorraine, but to secure Marty’s existence, George and Lorraine must still kiss on the dance floor. When the band’s guitar player hurts his hand, Marty agrees to play as his substitute.

83 – Noticing the commotion inside, George locates Doc’s car in the school parking lot. He rushes over and opens the door to find Biff and Lorraine. Lorraine pleads with George to help her.

Back to the Future Beat Sheet BIff George Fight

Back to the Future Beat Sheet George Knocks Out Biff

84 – George overcomes Biff and knocks him out.


Biff twists George’s arm harder.


Stop it, Biff. You’ll break his arm!

She tries to pull him away. He pushes her down.

Biff laughs.

Now Marty arrives just in time to witness...

George’s expression immediately goes from pain to rage---intense rage... and George lets go with a TREMENDOUS LEFT HOOK, SMACK INTO BIFF’S FACE!

Biff hits the ground, out cold!


Sequence VII: Marty plays in the band to assist George’s final challenge, which he overcomes. George kisses Lorraine on the dance floor and secures Marty’s existence.

84 – END OF ACT TWO TURN: Marty observes from the distance. He can’t help but smile until he pulls out the photo and discovers Dave has completely disappeared and half of Linda is gone, too.

Stopping Biff was only part of the solution. George and Lorraine must kiss on the dance floor to fall in love and secure Marty’s existence.

85 – Marty pleads with the band to finish the dance…


Hey, guys, you’ve gotta get back in there and finish the dance!


Look at Marvin’s hand. He can’t play with it like that and we can’t play without him.


But you’ve gotta play! You see, that’s where they kiss for the first time---on the dance floor. And if there’s no music, they can’t dance. And if they can’t dance, they can’t kiss. And if they can’t kiss, they can’t fall in love and I’m history.


Hey, man, the dance is over...unless you know somebody else who can play the guitar.


Sequence IX: Marty plays in the band to setup George’s final challenge, which he overcomes, making Lorraine fall in love with him and securing Marty’s existence. With Marty’s job complete, he’s asked to play with the band, and though neither the crowd or band reacts favorably with his performance, he inadvertently creates rock ‘n’ roll.

Back to the Future End of Act Two Decision

85 – DECISION & DANCE BAND PAYOFF: Marty plays guitar with the band. They perform “Earth Angel.”

Back to the Future Beat Sheet Dance Kiss Payoff

88 – Marvin asks Marty to perform one more song: “something that really cooks!” With a little encouragement from the crowd, Marty agrees.

Back to the Future Script Johnny B Goode

88 – Marty steps up to the mic and tears into “Johnny B Goode.”

89 – JOHNNY B GOODE PAYOFF: From backstage, Marvin Berry makes a call…


MARVIN BERRY is on the phone.


(into phone)

Chuck? This Marvin!


Your cousin: Marvin Berry! You know that new sound you lookin’ for? Well, listen to this!

He holds the phone toward the music.

90 – Marty throws himself into the music. Mixing Townsend, Van Halen, Hendrix, he gets crazy, not realizing the band has stopped and the entire crowd is staring at him.

Marty suddenly realizes he’s gone too far. He smiles sheepishly and steps up to the microphone.


I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet. But your kids are gonna love it.


Back to the Future Script Act Three

Sequence I: In the midst of arguing about the letter, a branch snaps and disconnects the cable from the clock tower. Doc works the cable issue and Marty gets into the DeLorean, as there isn’t a minute to spare.

Back to the Future Beat Sheet Doc Brown Clock Tower

96 – Doc climbs up the clock tower and drops a rope. Marty connects the wire to the rope and Doc pulls up the wire. Marty attempts to tell Doc about the Libyans one last time, but the clock tower strikes 10 o’ clock. Marty must make a run for it: He’s got less than four minutes.


Sequence II: Marty sets the time circuits back ten minutes to give himself enough time to warn the future Doc about the Libyans. Doc reconnects the cable at the last possible second and Marty is transported back to 1985.

Back to the Future Script Point of No Return

98 – POINT OF NO RETURN: Marty pulls to the starting point. Frustrated with the fact he couldn’t tell Doc, he realizes he has a time machine. He programs the time circuits to go back 10 minutes early.

100 – Doc encounters another problem when the wire gets stuck on the branch, not providing enough slack for the connection. He pulls hard and disconnects the wire from the lamppost.

101 – The DeLorean races toward the town square…

101 – Doc creates a zip line, sliding down the cable…



The INDICATOR LIGHTS behind MARTY begin registering.


BROWN grabs the socket cable and PLUGS HIS CABLE IN!





The connecting cable becomes electrified.

The DeLorean passes under the cable between the lampposts.

The trolley hook on the DeLorean MAKES CONTACT with the electrified cable!

The Flux Capacitor GLOWS and DISCHARGES!


The DeLorean’s time coils light up and the vehicle is sent BACK TO THE FUTURE!

Back to the Future Script Climax

101 – CLIMAX A: Marty is sent back to 1985!


Sequence III: Back in 1985, the DeLorean breaks down and prevents Marty from warning Doc in time. Marty arrives at the mall in time to witness Doc be gunned down, but Doc surprises Marty, revealing a bullet proof vest and Marty’s letter from 1955.

Back to the Future Script Climax B

106 – CLIMAX B: Doc reveals a bullet-proof vest and Marty’s letter from 1955.


But how did you know?

Brown smiles, reaches into his pocket and pulls out the LETTER THAT MARTY WROTE---SCOTCH TAPED TOGETHER! It’s yellow and brittle: 30 years old!


(smiles, shaking his head)

What about all that talk about screwing up future events and the space-time continuum.



Well, I figured, what the hell.

106 – Doc drops Marty off at his house. Doc’s going into the future about 30 years.



Sequence I: Marty wakes up at his home in 1985 and discovers he has altered his family’s destiny for the better.

Back to the Future Beat Sheet Biff 1985

110 – STAND TALL, BOY & DON’T CON ME PAYOFF: George calms everyone down: The car is fine. He opens the front door and reveals Biff outside waxing it.


BIFF is in the driveway, waxing a new BMW. Biff is working diligently; his rough edges and arrogance are all gone.


Uh, now Biff, I wanna make sure we get two coats of wax this time, not just one.


I’m just finishing up the second coat now.


Now, BIff, don’t con me!


Uh, I’m sorry, Mr. McFly, I meant I was just starting on the second coat.

Back to the Future Script Match Made in Space

110 – YOU CAN ACCOMPLISH ANYTHING PAYOFF: Biff comes into the house with a box full of George’s new book.


It’s called “A MATCH MADE IN SPACE,” and the cover shows a bedroom with a space alien talking to a couple in bed---very reminiscent of Marty’s “Darth Vader” visitation to George. The style indicates it’s a science fiction romance novel. The author’s name, GEORGE MCFLY, is in big letters.


George hands Marty a copy of the book.


Like I’ve always told you: you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.

Back to the Future Beat Sheet Roads


Jennifer sits on his lap. She closes the door.


Hey, Doc, we better back up. We don’t have enough road to get up to 88.


Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.

Brown hits a new switch on the dashboard.


The DeLorean speeds down the street, the BLASTS OFF INTO THE SKY LIKE A STREAK!

Once again, the coils glow and the DeLorean is enveloped in the familiar white glow and disappears into the future.

112 – THE END.

Learn More About Back to the Future

William Robert Rich
William Robert Rich

William Robert Rich is a story analyst, screenwriter, and co-author of Story Maps: The Films of Christopher Nolan. He's currently based in Austin, Texas.

Articles: 120


  1. With the exception of the extremely on-the-nose (in a couple of senses (no pun intended)) “Yeah, well history is gonna change,” my favourite set-up/pay-off is that Lorraine says at the beginning “If Grandpa hadn’t hit him, then none of you would have been born,” whereas at the end she completes George’s “Although if it wasn’t for him [Biff]…” with “We never would have fallen in love.” Very subtle, and yet it speaks volumes as to how Lorraine and George see their relationship now.

    • This film has so many brilliant setups/payoffs it’s crazy. Outside of the family story, my favorite has to be the Johnny B Goode setup. The kid who fails the dance audition creates a paradox: Did Marty influence Chuck Berry or did Chuck Berry influence him (and Rock ‘n’ Roll, for that matter).

      • Yeah, the film is just a ridiculously balanced equation. In terms of scenes, the Johnny B. Goode performance is easily my favourite. It’s a cathartic scene. Marty and the viewer can briefly relax (now that phase one of the plan has come good) before the final push. It’s a pitch-perfect cocktail of wish-fulfillment (following Marty’s earlier failed audition), an immense sense of relief, and unabashed youthful exuberance. It’s hilarious to me that, rather than racing to the square thereby giving himself as much time as possible to go over the plan one last time and/or do some final checks with Doc, Marty instead decides to take a time out to completely blow the roof off of the dance like the true rock and roller that he is.

        • It’s hilarious to me that, rather than racing to the square thereby giving himself as much time as possible to go over the plan one last time and/or do some final checks with Doc, Marty instead decides to take a time out to completely blow the roof off of the dance like the true rock and roller that he is.

          Haha!….its not only a great laugh, but also a moment true to character: Marty’s late all the time.

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