High school student, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) inadvertently travels 30 years back in time and encounters his parents as teenagers.
Released in 1985, Back to the Future is a quintessential film selection for food & a film seeing as it’s not only an all-time favorite, it also happens to feature quite a few food moments that we will get into below.
The very first suggestion of food comes about 90 seconds into the film during the opening credits when we see remnants of a Burger King meal in Doc Brown’s (Christopher Lloyd) home. We first see what looks like a Whopper wrapper and a Burger King embossed fountain soda cup, and as the camera continues to travel around the room we see a couple of dishes, as well as a jug of milk next to a coffee machine missing its pot. As the camera settles on the coffee machine, the appliance, presumably set on a timer, begins to pour boiling water, which streams directly down onto the hot plate. The camera continues traveling to the left where we then see another automated appliance; this time a toaster, which appears to be malfunctioning as a couple pieces of burnt toast pop up, smoking, before proceeding to pop back down before popping up again, and again. Later on in this opening sequence as we see Marty skateboard away from Doc’s place, we learn that it is located right next to a Burger King.
A little further into the film, Marty returns home to find his father, George (Crispin Glover) in a conversation with Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson) who has totaled George’s car. Biff shows George his blazer and says, “I wanna know who’s going to pay for this? I spilled beer all over it when the car smashed into me.” Biff then takes a handful of colorful hard candy from a lidded glass jar located on a shelf in the living room and proceeds to snack away as he continues his conversation with George. Then on his way out, Biff grabs a can of Miller Lite from the refrigerator as he passes through the kitchen. On top of the fridge are boxes of cereal including ‘Cocoa Krispies,’ as well as a loaf of wonder bread. When Biff opens the fridge door we can clearly see a can of whipped cream, a bottle of mustard and a carton of eggs. There is also a can of Maxwell House coffee on the kitchen counter next to a coffee pot. As Biff grabs a beer from the fridge he says to George, “I have your car towed all the way to your house and all you got for me is lite beer?”
Following this scene, we cut to a close-up shot of a box of Sophie Mae peanut brittle as George pours it into a bowl. Once he finishes pouring, George pops a piece into his mouth before offering the bowl up to Marty who declines a piece. Four of the five McFlys are seated around the dinner table. George has a glass of milk in front of him and Marty is drinking a can of Diet Pepsi. From the looks of Marty’s plate it appears the McFlys’ dinner consists of some kind of meat, mashed potatoes, a medley of cooked vegetables (the kind that comes in a frozen bag at the grocery store), and a piece of bread (either Wonder bread or a dinner roll). Lorraine (Lea Thompson), who starts the scene in the kitchen, takes a sip of her highball drink before walking toward the dining table carrying a sheet cake. Lorraine then announces to the table, “Kids, we’re going to have to eat this cake by ourselves. Your Uncle Joey didn’t make parole again.” We then cut to a shot of Uncle Joey’s parole cake, which Lorraine sort of throws onto the table. The cake, still in its pan, says “WELCOME HOME UNCLE JOEY” and has a bird flying out of a jail cell on it. We then cut back to a shot of the full table where we can see a can of Bud Light, as well as various condiments and seasonings including ketchup, hot sauce, parmesan cheese, and salt and pepper shakers. In addition to the food on the table, we do see Marty buttering his bread at one point, as well as see Lorraine refilling her glass with a bottle of Popov Vodka.
After the dinner scene, we cut to Marty’s bedroom later that evening where we see a can of Diet Pepsi Free, as well as candy wrappers on Marty’s nightstand. When Marty is awoken by Doc’s phone call, he pops a piece of whatever candy is on his nightstand (possibly a piece of a chocolate bar?) and chews as he talks to Doc on the phone.
The next point in the film where we see any suggestion of food or drink comes when Marty has traveled back to 1955 and is walking around town. First we see a Miller High Life truck in the background, which inevitably is the 1955 equivalent of the Miller Lite truck from 1985. We then see Lou’s Café and the signage outside says “Malts, Sundaes, Burgers” and “Coffee, Sandwiches, Sodas, Ice Cream.” When Marty goes Inside the café, we see a sign for 5 cent coffee. As Marty looks around the diner, Lou asks him, “Are you gonna order something kid?” and Marty replies, “Uh, yeah. Give me a Tab.” Lou then responds, “Tab? I can’t give you a tab unless you order something.,” to which Marty replies, “Right. Give me a Pepsi Free.” Lou, becoming more frustrated, says, “You want a Pepsi, pal, you’re going to pay for it.” Marty then tells Lou, “Just give me something without any sugar in it, okay?,” to which Lou, responds, slightly irritated, “Something without sugar.” and serves Marty a cup of black coffee. We then see that a teenage George is sitting at the café counter next to Marty and is eating what looks like a bowl of cereal. Following an interruption from a high school-age Biff, George goes back to enjoying his cereal and eats a couple of spoonfuls.
The next scene to feature food comes when Marty joins a teenage Lorraine and her family for dinner. The 1955 dinner menu looks quite similar to the 1985 one and consists of presumably meatloaf, mashed potatoes, cooked vegetables and dinner rolls. However, instead of cans of soda and beer, there are glass bottles of Pepsi and a Miller High Life for Sam Baines. Also, there is a glass bottle of milk on the table, as well as a glass bottle of Heinz ketchup instead of a plastic one like in 1985. As the family goes to sit down for dinner, Stella Baines says to Marty, “Well, Marty, I hope you like meatloaf.,” and we then precede to see the family enjoy their dinner while watching an episode of The Honeymooners on their television set.
Following the dinner scene at the Baines’, the next scene to feature food takes place at the high school cafeteria where students are eating at long rectangular tables. Marty joins George at a table and next to George we see a tray with a plate of what looks like macaroni and cheese casserole on it, as well as a smaller plate with what appears to be a jelly slice, as well as a glass bottle of chocolate milk.
Following the cafeteria scene, the next appearance of food or drink occurs when we see Marty struggling to open a glass bottle of Pepsi. After Marty tries to unsuccessfully twist the cap off, George uses a bottle opener to open it for him and we see Marty proceed to sip from the bottle as he talks with George.
Marty then follows George into Lou’s where we see diners with plates containing burgers and glasses containing milkshakes. George walks up to the counter and says, “Lou give me a milk… chocolate.” And in a western movie-inspired sequence, a glass of chocolate milk is pushed into frame and slides down the counter toward George. George grabs the glass and takes a big swig of his milk before putting the glass back on the counter and striding over to Lorraine. As George approaches the booth, we see Lorraine sipping on a strawberry milkshake, and her two friends sharing the booth with her each have milkshakes as well; one chocolate, one vanilla.
A little further into the film we see Marty in a booth at Lou’s writing a letter to Doc. There is a cup of coffee on the table, as well as a plate of food that is undistinguishable.
Later in the evening when Marty and Lorraine are in the car, Lorraine drinks from a flask sized bottle of booze that she brought with her to the dance. When Marty sees her drinking from the bottle he asks what she is doing, to which Lorraine responds, “I swiped it from the Old Lady’s liquor cabinet.” Marty then replied, “Yeah, well, you shouldn’t drink.,” and when Lorraine asks, “Why not?,” Marty responds, “Because you… you might regret it later in life.” Lorraine then says, “Marty, don’t be such a square. Everybody who’s anybody drinks.,” and Marty then proceeds to take a swig from the bottle. Following this boozy moment in the car, the next drink moment comes when George is drinking a cup of punch at the dance.
Following the drink moments during the Enchantment Under the Sea dance, the next notable appearance of food or drink occurs back in 1985 at the McFly residence. Upon waking up, Marty finds Linda and David having breakfast. Linda is eating a bowl of something, although it is difficult to make out exactly what it is, while David has a grapefruit in front of him. There is also a plate on the table with a couple of croissants, as well as several cups and saucers. Marty confused at the sight of the new and improved 1985 mise-en-scène, asks, “Hey, what the hell is this?,” to which Linda responds, “Breakfast.”
Following the breakfast scene at the McFlys’, the final appearance of food or drink comes at the very end when Doc uses a leftover can of Miller High Life to fuel up the DeLorean before heading back to the future.
For my Back to the Future-inspired menu, I opted to prepare meatloaf with mashed potatoes, a medley of vegetables (peas, corn and carrots), and a dinner roll.
I also chose to include a chocolate milkshake, as well as a Pepsi in a 1950’s era glass bottle.
Finally, for the table setting, I found a fabric with a windowpane check pattern inspired by Marty’s button-down shirt to use as a tablecloth.
And that does it for July’s installment of food & a film! Thank you so much for tuning in, and be sure to check back next month for another new entry!