With their dream project backed by Steven Spielberg and setup at Universal Pictures, Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale probably thought that their troubles were mostly over. They would soon realize that their troubles were just beginning.
Since Universal Pictures was going to be footing the bill, its executives were jittery about the project. Sidney Sheinberg had been assigned to shepherd the project through pre-production. He made some small suggestions- like naming Marty’s mother Lorraine and changing “Professor Brown” to Doc Brown. Other changes were larger, like making Doc Brown own a dog instead of a chimpanzee. One was a nonstarter- changing the film’s title from Back to the Future to Spaceman From Pluto, because he believed there had never been a successful film with Future in the title. After an emergency meeting with Steven Spielberg, Bob and Robert were able to keep their film’s title and their sanity.
The next big challenge was casting the role of Marty McFly. Universal, Steven and Robert & Bob were all in agreement- Marty had to be portrayed by Michael J. Fox. Despite the show’s slow start, Family Ties had become a juggernaut on NBC, catapulting Michael J. Fox to stardom. With everyone in agreement, Universal Pictures began negotiating to get him onboard. Michael wanted to play Marty McFly, but he was under contract to NBC, and they were unwilling to be flexible with his schedule or even let him star in the film. Michael was unwilling to anger NBC, so he passed on the project. Universal cast Eric Stoltz in the role of Marty McFly.
With the script finalized and the cast onboard, Universal Pictures staked out the July 4th weekend in 1985 as the release date for its big summer hit. Certainly, everyone involved could breathe a sigh of relief, since the worst was behind them, right? Despite the trials and tribulations experienced so far, the worst was yet to come.