Is Mask and Some Kind of Wonderful actor Eric Stoltz actually in Back to the Future? For years now, fans have suspected that the actor actually found his way into the beloved Robert Zemeckis film, in which he played Marty McFly for six or seven weeks before being replaced by Michael J. Fox -- and now writer and co-creator Bob Gale says he suspects they're right. The theory says that, during the first diner scene when Marty punches Biff Tannen in 1955, it's actually Stoltz's fist doing the punching. Originally suggested in a radio interview in which Tom Wilson (who played Biff), the logic goes that since the movie was already so behind schedule and over budget, they likely would not have reshot something that was a close-up on Wilson, where there would have been no way of knowing who was on the other side of the camera.
Producers originally wanted Fox for the role, but could not make the schedule work with his long days on Family Ties. That meant the role went to Stoltz, who was Marty for a little more than six weeks, according to call sheets (some reports say as much as seven weeks, and others suggest that they were only actually shooting him as Marty for four). The tone of the movie just didn't feel quite right, according to later interviews, and Gale and Zemeckis managed to convince executive producer Steven Spielberg and the studio to make a deal with Fox and reshoot what amounted to almost half the film. It's hard to argue with the end result, but equally easy to understand why the crew would have wanted to reuse as much of the original film as they could get away with.
"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 The Hollywood Reporter in a new interview. "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."
With no guarantee the mystery would ever be solved and the potential to damage a negative to one of the most significant films of the last fifty years, the odds are not good that the studio will ever consider it worth the trouble. Furthermore, Gale says there's a good chance there's at least one other shot where Stoltz (or at least artifacts from the Stoltz portion of the shoot) snuck in. Following the scuffle in the cafe, Marty flees Biff and his goons, and ends up in a memorable skateboard chase scene. It's during that scene that Gale believes a single shot of Marty, from behind after he jumps a hedge, might be Stoltz -- although he also conceded it might be either Per Welinder who did most of Fox's skateboarding, Bob Schmelzer, who was Stoltz's skateboard double.
In either case, the recasting obviously worked. Back to the Future was not only a massive hit but stands as one of the few film trilogies where it is generally agreed all three movies were good. Producers have always maintained the Stoltz is a great actor and that his recasting wasn't about his ability, but his vibe. Stoltz's Marty was more serious, making the movie feel more tense and less funny. Given that the film has pretty high stakes, that comic edge is a big part of what keeps it light and appealing in the final cut.
"If we hadn't replaced Eric Stoltz, you and I wouldn't be having this conversation right now," Gale told ComicBook.com five years ago. "That's how much Michael J. Fox brought to the character, brought to the movie. For a movie to do what Back to the Future has done, so many planets have to line up. It's hard enough to get a movie made, period. It's hard enough to get through a production to get it into theaters. Then it's hard to get an audience to show up. It can be hard to get an audience to show up. Somehow, and I don't consider myself a particularly superstitious person, but Bob Zemeckis and I have often said to each other, 'I guess if there are movie gods, they were sure looking out for us when we made Back to the Future.'"