Why Doc Brown Is One of the Greatest Movie Characters of All Time
To understand the importance of characters in a franchise like Back to the Future, one must first understand what every single movie of this universe represented back in the day. When released in 1985, one of the worst for film in a decade filled with blockbusters, people didn’t exactly run to theaters. It was a box-office success but not as explosive as everyone thinks. It wasn’t until a VHS release that the film started breaking records. So much that producers actually added the “to be continued” graphic at that point to make audiences more excited for what came four years after.
The adventures of Marty McFly and Doc Brown redefined summer schedules. But decades after, they’re still seen as comfort movies by most. The films you’d enjoy on a Saturday morning or a Wednesday evening to boost your mood. They’re the great definition of what makes cinema the perfect medium for escaping the daily, the mundane, the boring.
Part of the reason why they work so well in that regard is because there’s closure and resolution in every conflict. The Back to the Future films play with suspense, both by having great villains and being light thrillers appropriate for the whole family, but they never feel dangerous. And guess who shows up whenever a conflict, emotional or physical, must be solved? That’s right. The mad doctor known Emmett “Doc” Brown, played by the great Christopher Lloyd.
We all wanted to be Marty. That’s for sure. But much more important was living what Marty lived, and not having what he had. Even though a flying skateboard was the dream that never came true, we’d rather stay with the value of a friend who never left your side and always, always helped you get out of every single situation you could find yourself in. Yes, he’s the greatest sidekick in film history and there’s no other reason but honor. Well, except avoiding time paradoxes.
The Perfect Sidekick In a Franchise That Didn’t Necessarily Need One
In the beginning of the franchise, teenage heartthrob Marty (Michael J. Fox) isn’t very happy. His mother is close to being an alcoholic and his father is bullied at his age. His brother and sister are somewhat successful, and Marty isn’t left with much when he gets rejected from playing guitar in a show. He’s only left with his close friend: a mad scientist by the name of Doc. One night he meets him and Doc reveals he’s created a time machine. After a terrorist attack, Marty is forced to hop on the vehicle and go wherever he can. He ends up in 1955, where he must meet Doc and convince him he was able to create a time machine 30 years later. Talk about trust.
The two develop a great symbiotic relationship that’s kept solid for the whole franchise. Doc always, always has a solution and Marty abides. He also provides comic relief whenever necessary in a franchise that isn’t as funny as you remember. It’s just an exciting adventure film that never stops revealing one cool set piece after another. Always in peril, Marty seeks the help of the only one who knows enough about what’s going on, but can also provide the audience with a “time travel for dummies” explanation that simply makes sense when reviewing the standards of the subgenre back in the day. Time travel is cool as a concept, but it’s fascinating when the BTTF franchise uses it to push the story towards clear and understandable grounds.
As important as Doc sounds for the film, he was still a sidekick. There wasn’t much confidence when giving him the space he deserved. Just look at the poster, and you’ll get the idea of how much attention was put on Marty. Of course, that would change soon after with Back to the Future Part II.
Define Friendship in Two Words: Doc Brown
The sequel was a solid recycling of a plot that only seems confusing from a distance. It’s dark like other sequels in trilogies, but it’s the greatest script in the franchise and one that works greatly to enhance Brown’s presence in the film without making him a central character. Marty was way too important. Even when Marty betrays his trust, Doc is there to fix everything. The young man screws up by trying to make a few bucks and changes his present and screws up basically everyone in the universe of Hill Valley.
Doc Brown stays there in the greatest example of camaraderie in movies. As a friend or scientist, we are sure we will have him by our side when Marty tries to get out of trouble. Again, no danger whatsoever in a film that’s thrilling and exciting. It almost makes you wonder about that article in the past that sparked some arguments about Doc Brown being the real villain. In the present, Brown was accused of being a terrorist and trying to play God.
We just think he was an undeclared hero whose past is shady and is probably full of anecdotes that would make his character richer. Will we ever know about those and how writer Bob Gale and director Robert Zemeckis came up with him? Very unlikely, but some mysteries are better left untouched.
Who Got the Happy Ending? Exactly
What’s important is that a franchise that actually ended in a good note and gave closure, dedicated its third film to giving the necessary substance to Doc Brown. In Back to the Future Part III, Doc becomes the star. He gets the girl while trying to help Marty yet again. The film’s the weakest of the bunch script-wise (albeit some people love this one more than the others), but at least it provides the same sense of adventure and introduces a bit of western to modern audiences. This time Gale wrote the script by himself and fully put his attention on giving Doc a dramatic backdrop that would do justice to years of being a secondary sidekick.
After three films, Doc Brown was still the same guy we wish we could have as a friend. He’s the one that made science interesting, and actually accomplished time travel after falling down, hitting his head and coming up with the idea for the Flux Capacitor. Yeah, it was an accident, but it doesn’t make him less of a great bud that will help in any way if you get into trouble.
The Back to the Future trilogy is available to stream on Prime Video.