Review of Hero's Journey: Back to the Future - Screenplay Lab (2023)

HowBack to futurefollow Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey review?

Welcome to another part of our new seriesA Hero's Journey Breakdownwhere we explore the mythological structure of Joseph Campbell's storytelling and how cult films fit into that mold.

Christopher Vogler's approach to Campbell's structure broke the mythic story structure into twelve stages. For this series, we define the stages in simplified interpretations:

  1. Ordinary world: We see the normal life of the hero at the beginning of the story before the adventure begins.
  2. A call to adventure: The hero is faced with an event, conflict, problem, or challenge that prompts them to begin their adventure.
  3. Rejecting a call: The hero initially refuses the adventure due to hesitation, fears, insecurities, or any other issues.
  4. Meeting with the mentor: The hero meets a mentor who can give him advice, wisdom, information, or items that prepare him for the journey ahead.
  5. Crossing the threshold: The hero leaves their ordinary world for the first time and crosses the threshold into adventure.
  6. Tests, allies and enemies: The hero learns the rules of the new world and passes tests, meets friends and faces enemies.
  7. Access: An initial plan to resolve the central conflict begins, but setbacks occur that force the hero to try a new approach or adopt new ideas.
  8. Temptation:Things go wrong and further conflict ensues. The hero experiences more difficult obstacles and obstacles, some of which can lead to a life crisis.
  9. Reward: After surviving The Ordeal, the hero gets caughtsword— a reward they've earned that allows them to take on the biggest conflict. It can be a physical object or a piece of knowledge or wisdom that will help them persevere.
  10. Way back: The hero sees the light at the end of the tunnel, but more tests and challenges await.
  11. Resurrection: The climax. The hero faces the ultimate test, using everything they've learned to take over the conflict once and for all.
  12. Return: The hero brings his knowledge or "elixir" back to the ordinary world.

Here we turn to the classicsBack to future.

Note: As with any application of story structure or formula, this is only a retrospective interpretation and implementation of the Hero's Journey into this cinematic story. There can and will be deviations.

Ordinary world

Marty McFly is a teenager who dreams of becoming a rock star. The problem is that his family is caught in a web of failure that spans two generations.

Even Marty's principal points out that no McFly has ever meant anything - primarily because the McFly people are lazy, risk-averse and incapable of success. This statement is proven when Marty and his band try to play the school dance. They were quickly rejected.

Marty wants to become something. The problem is that he doesn't have the backbone to make an effort to make something happen.

A call to adventure

Marty's call to adventure is subtle - and it's a literal phone call he receives from his eccentric mad scientist friend Doc Brown. Doc wants Marty to meet him at Twin Pines Mall at 1:15 am to witness a breakthrough in an experiment he's been working on.

This call occurs before we actually see Marty in his ordinary world, but the real call to adventure comes later that night when Marty has fallen asleep. Doc calls him, wake him up. He asks Marty to stop by his house to get his video camera.

Rejecting a call

The initial rejection of the invitation is present when Doc first asks Marty to meet him at such late hours of the night. Marty scoffs at first. Clearer Refusal of the Call takes place that night when Marty falls asleep, subconsciously rejecting the call by ignoring it.

Only when Doc calls does Marty remember. It comes out quickly.

Meeting with the mentor

Marty arrives at Twin Pines Mall with a video camera. Doc Brown enters and we quickly learn that he lives up to his eccentric reputation.

(Video) Hero's Journey - Step by Step

An interesting element of this story is that Marty actually has two mentors — 1985 Doc and 1955 Doc. Both are very different. Doc from 1955 is the true mentor of this story, and we don't meet him until much later in the second act.

Crossing the threshold

While time travel to 1955 seems like the correct threshold to cross, this stage actually takes place moments before Marty makes the leap into the past.

When 1985 Doc sends his dog Einstein back in time - and then back to 1985 a minute later - Marty has indeed crossed the threshold. His Ordinary world of an ordinary teenager dealing with ordinary problems is behind him. He witnessed something spectacular.

Time travel to come is a physical manifestation of it. Crossing the threshold while witnessing the discovery of time travel moments before is an emotional manifestation.

Test, allies and enemies

Marty is put to the test when the Libyans hunt down Doc for stealing the plutonium he used to power the time machine. He has crossed the threshold even more as he runs for his life. With Doc seemingly killed, Marty must now take initiative in order to survive.

He jumped into the DeLorean and tried to escape. He is cornered while a rocket launcher is aimed at his vehicle. He shifts the car into high gear to escape them and get out of gun range. When it reaches 88 mph, the flux capacitor activates, pushing Marty through time to 1955.

Marty then goes through some initial tests during his journey as he adjusts to his new surroundings - Hill Valley circa 1955.

He meets his father...

... and manages to mess up the timeline by falling victim to Grandpa's car - a fate that should have befallen George McFly in 1955, Marty's father.

(Video) Screenwriting: The Six Stages of Character Development - IFH Film School - The Hero's Journey

To Marty's horror, in 1955 Loraine (his mother) falls in love with Marty. Marty quickly escapes and finds Doc Brown from 1955. He is Marty's only hope. But first Marty has to convince Doc from 1955 that he really is from the future.


After 1955 Doc is convinced, he is horrified to realize that the DeLorean needs a significant power source—and finding plutonium is no easy task in 1955. Doc discovers that the only way to replicate the kind of energy they need to activate the flux capacitor is through lightning. Unfortunately, you never know when and where lightning will strike.

Marty remembers that on a certain coming day - this coming Saturday night - the Hill Valley clock tower will be struck by lightning.

Doc figured that if there was a way to harness the energy from that bolt into a flux capacitor, Marty could be sent back to the future.

Marty is excited. He figured he could hang out with Doc for a week until that Saturday, joking that Doc might see him through. Doc stops him and insists that he must not leave the house. He is not allowed to see or talk to anyone. Any contact could cause serious consequences to the timeline.

But Marty had already met his parents. And worse, he's already changed the timeline.

Doc's theory is proven when they look at a photo of Marty and his siblings. His brother's head disappears. If Marty doesn't bring his mother and father together, he will never fall in love, get married and have children. That's why his older siblings are disappearing - and if Marty doesn't do something, he'll be the last to disappear.

In 1985, Marty remembers his mother telling him the story of how she fell in love with his father in 1955. It was at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance where they kissed for the first time.

The problem is that Loraine from 1955 is in love with Marty. So Marty has to fight to get them to go to the dance together. But it does not work.

Biff doesn't make things easy. As Marty constantly stands up to Biff's bullying, Loraine grows more and more in love with him.

(Video) BACK TO THE FUTURE: Doc & Marty Timeline Finally Explained | Deep Dive

Marty struggles to help George work up the courage to ask Loraine out, but George lives up to what the principal said - he's a slacker. But Marty comes up with a plan. Since Loraine wants to go to the dance with him, he finds a way for George to save her. They come up with a plan where Marty and Loraine will be in the parking lot outside the dance. Marty will make a move that will cause a fight between him and Loraine. George will come to the rescue, and he and Loraine will live happily ever after.

Meanwhile, Doc sets everything up on the Hill Valley Clock Tower. Marty is tasked with hooking up George and Loraine and then escaping the dance to be sent back to the future.


Things don't go as planned.

George loses track of time while dancing.

Marty does his best to make things awkward between him and Loraine - and she does the same. Just when he thinks George is getting him out of the car, as planned, he is revealed to be found by a drunken Biff. He's looking for revenge for the damage Marty caused to his car.

He throws Marty to his friends and they hide Marty in the trunk of the car while Biff tries to use Loraine. Biff's friends are chased away by the band members, but they can't get into the trunk because the keys are with Marty.

Meanwhile, George has made it to the car, not knowing that Biff is the one attacking Loraine. He opens the door, ready to act out a scripted scene, only to find it's Biff.

But George manages to work up the courage to stand up to Biff. But this bravery gets him into trouble as Biff blocks George's punch and twists his arm, ready to break it.

The band members drag Marty out of the trunk, slicing off their guitarist's hand in the process. Marty rushes to the car just in time to see George get up and punch Biff. Loraine is now in love with George.

But it's not over yet. The guitarist can't play because of a cut hand, so Marty has to take his place - without music at the dance, George and Loraine won't experience the first moment of the kiss that will make them fall in love.

As Marty plays and George and Loraine dance, a final moment of confrontation occurs. Another student tries to interfere, forcing George to revert to his old cowardly, lazy ways for a moment. Marty sees this and notices that his hand is about to disappear. He looks at the picture of him and his siblings - he is the last one left and is pale.


George musters his newfound courage once more, pushes the other student aside, and he and Loraine share a magical kiss. So magical that the disappearing Marty is instantly brought back to life, signaling that the timeline is once again safe.

(Video) The Hero's Journey of Self-Discovery

Way back

Marty wishes his parents well and rushes to the Hill Valley clock tower as the storm approaches.

Marty tries to give Doc a letter he wrote, warning him of his future death. But Doc refuses to read it, fearing the consequences within the timeline. Tear it apart.


It fails and Doc is forced to take extreme measures to reconnect the cable that will send the lightning to the flux capacitor. Marty tries to warn Doc of his impending death, but it's too late.

Marty rushes to get the DeLorean ready, but it shuts down. As Doc reconnects the cable, Marty starts the car just in time and races towards it. It reaches a proper speed of 88 mph as the lightning connects with the cable, sending the necessary charge down to the DeLorean, sending it back to the future.

Marty went back to 1985. He rigged the time machine to arrive ten minutes earlier so he could prevent the death of Doc from 1985. But the DeLorean breaks down. He is forced to run to the mall, and then realizes that it is too late. He watches Doc get shot — and then sees himself in the past successfully escaping the Libyans as they crash to their apparent deaths after the DeLorean jumps back in time and disappears.

But Marty is shocked to see that Doc survived. He reassembled the letter. All is well.

Doc returns and restarts the DeLorean. Marty says goodbye to him and Doc travels to the future.


Marty wakes up the next morning. He returned to his house around 1985. Was it all a dream? When he leaves his room and enters his house, he sees that everything is different. The curse of McFly has been lifted.

1985. George is a successful author. His siblings are also successful. 1985 Biff is now 1985 George's subordinate. And Loraine looks beautiful.

Marty, like the entire McFly family, was resurrected with a much better fate, thanks to the actions of George McFly in 1955.

Marty is finally reunited with Jennifer when their kiss is interrupted by the arrival of the DeLorean. It's Doc. He's back from the future and has to bring both Marty and Jennifer back to the future to save their children from a grim fate.

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What is the hero's journey in Back to the Future? ›

Marty meets all of his allies & enemies during his first day in 1955. He meets his father George McFly & his enemy Biff. George becomes the shadow because throughout the story, he changes masks and feared by Marty for changing the way he met Lorraine.

What is Joseph Campbell's idea of the hero's journey? ›

Monomyth: The Hero's Journey. Joseph Campbell's Monomyth, developed in Hero With A Thousand Faces, describes the common heroic narrative in which a heroic protagonist sets out, has transformative adventures, and returns home. It is a useful formula for comparing literary traditions across time and culture.

Is the hero's journey outdated? ›

Nowadays, it is still a useful narrative for some movies and series, but the hero's journey as a creative tool for writers is losing relevance and becoming outdated.

What is the best example of the hero's journey in film? ›

1. Star Wars. Without a doubt, one of the greatest examples of a movie series that follows the hero's journey is the 1978 movie Star Wars Episode IV by George Lucas.

What is the resolution of the hero's journey? ›

When a story reaches resolution, conflicts are resolved in some way (for better or worse) and loose ends are tied up sufficiently. Most importantly, the protagonist either does or does not attain his personal goal.

Who is the protagonist and antagonist in Back to the Future? ›

The lead character of the series is Marty McFly. During the course of the trilogy, he travels through time using a DeLorean time machine invented by his friend Emmett Brown. He also encounters the central antagonist, Biff Tannen, in several different time periods and visits his ancestors and descendants.

What are the criticisms of the hero's journey? ›

One of the most common criticisms of the hero's journey is that it reduces the world to simple binaries: good and evil, victory and failure. If all stories followed the hero's journey, writers wouldn't be able to express a nuanced perspective of the world.

What are the 3 main stages of Campbell's hero's journey? ›

  • From Joseph Campbell's. ...
  •  Joseph Campbell mapped the archetypal heroic journey in.
  • three major phases: departure, initiation, and return. ...
  •  Not all epic tales must include all of the stages or feature these.
  • phases in exact order for the story to outline a true epic quest.

What are the 3 main parts of the hero's journey? ›

Joseph Campbell and The Hero With a Thousand Faces

According to Campbell, there are three main stages, which consist of several steps: the Departure (or Separation), the Initiation, and the Return.

Did JK Rowling use the hero's journey? ›

J.K. Rowling likes her stops on the Hero's Journey to be brightly lit and clearly labeled. That's why Harry's threshold forms a set piece all on its own: Diagon Alley, full of broom shops, magic toy stores, and handy purveyors of fluffy, snuggly owls.

What are some problems with Campbell's monomyth? ›

They can also be exceptional figures who follow a pattern of withdrawal and return to their communities, suffering pain and inflicting suffering in turn. One of the most troubling things about Campbell's Monomyth is its omission of the truth of Greek heroic myth: heroes hurt people. They threaten families and cities.

What Disney movies use hero's Journey? ›

Star Wars is not the only films that follows the Hero's Journey. Many of Disney's Films also use this plot structure in their animated feature films: Finding Nemo, Mulan, The Lion King, The Incredibles, and Moana. Additional movies include Shrek, and Kung Fu Panda.

Does the Wizard of Oz follow the hero's journey? ›

The Wizard of Oz is an iconic Hero's Journey. The journey begins with the call to adventure. Dorothy decides to leave home. She then refuses the call—after being fooled by the soon-to-be-wizard– to go back home.

What is the climax of the hero's journey? ›

In Hero's Journey-speak, the climax of the story is known as the Ordeal. The Ordeal is a complicated and nearly-impossible task that your hero must accomplish in order to achieve their goal.

What is the structure of the hero's journey screenplay? ›

You can translate your hero's journey steps into a three-act structure for your screenplay. In Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenplay Syd Field, calls the first act the setup, the second act the confrontation, and the third act the resolution.

What is the end result of the hero's journey? ›

The Return with the Elixir is the final Reward earned on the Hero's Journey. The Hero has been resurrected, purified and has earned the right to be accepted back into the Ordinary World and share the Elixir of the Journey. The true Hero returns with an Elixir to share with others or heal a wounded land.

Who is the trickster in Back to the Future? ›

Emmett Brown, and must make sure his high-school-age parents unite in order to save his own existence. Even though we don't get a good glimpse at the manic movement of Dr. Emmett Brown until a little over 19 minutes into this sci-fi comedy classic, we learn quite a bit about him before he appears.

Who is the dynamic character of Back to the Future? ›

George was the dynamic character of the two, painfully reinventing himself and his life with the help of the new kid in town who won't leave him alone.

Who is the main character in Back to the Future? ›

What holds the greatest challenge of the hero's journey? ›

4. The Abyss The biggest challenge of the journey Must overcome his/her greatest fears, and must face them alone. o He/She must “slay the dragon” which often takes the shape of something he dreads or needs to resolve. If not ready or has a character flaw, the challenge can beat him/her.

What is the villain in the hero's journey? ›

Villains are critical to any hero's journey. There wouldn't be a Luke Skywalker without a Darth Vader. Whether the villain is a person, monster, natural disaster, or the hero's own internal conflict, the hero must overcome the villain. I theorize that the hero's cycle is reflected by a similar cycle, a villain's cycle.

What is the villain archetype in hero's Journey? ›

Shadow. Shadows are villains in the story. They exist to create threat and conflict, and to give the hero something to struggle against. Like many of the other archetypes, shadows do not have to be characters specifically – the dark side of the force is just as much a shadow for Luke as Darth Vader is.

What was one of Joseph Campbell's famous quote? ›

We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us. Find a place inside where there's joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.

What is the lowest part of the hero's journey called? ›

The hero eventually reaches "the innermost cave" or the central crisis of his adventure, where he must undergo "the ordeal" where he overcomes the main obstacle or enemy, undergoing "apotheosis" and gaining his reward (a treasure or "elixir").

What is the ultimate boon in the hero's journey? ›

The ultimate boon: The hero achieves the goal he set out to accomplish, fulfilling the call that inspired his journey in the first place. 12. Refusal of the return: If the hero's journey has been victorious, he may be reluctant to return to the ordinary world of his prior life.

What are the 7 archetypal characters in a hero's journey? ›

These character types include the hero, mentor, ally, herald, trickster, shapeshifter, guardian, and shadow.

What is the reward of the hero's journey? ›

The Reward: After surviving The Ordeal, the hero seizes the sword — a reward that they've earned that allows them to take on the biggest conflict. It may be a physical item or piece of knowledge or wisdom that will help them persevere.

What is the hero's journey in Harry Potter? ›

The journey of Harry Potter closely correlated with the majority of the components of Campbell's mythic hero's journey: unusual birth, call to adventure, crossing of the threshold, aid from a protective figure, a series of tests, helpers, atonement with the father figure, apotheosis, the final battle, magic flight, ...

What archetype is Harry Potter? ›

Harry Potter may be described as the archetypal hero because of the heroic Page 6 journey he has experienced; nevertheless, it is the traits that he possesses that separate him from the archetype of hero.

Why is the hero's journey so popular? ›

Why is the hero's journey important? The hero's journey demonstrates that change is possible for everyone. It shows us that an ordinary person can overcome great adversity and defeat their enemies or fears. With some help, they can affect the world in some way.

What is the hero's journey for Shrek? ›

The Hero's Journey. Shrek is living his swamp, wanting to be left alone, doing his ogre thing. The fairy tale creatures invade Shrek's swamp. Shrek refuses to go to Lord Farquaad despite Donkey's persistence.

What is the oldest hero's journey story? ›

It is seen in one of, if not THE oldest story from antiquity, THE EPIC OF GILGAMESH. For a full explanation of the concept, read Joseph Campbell's THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES.

What author is most associated with hero's Journey? ›

The concept of the hero's journey was introduced in a book called The Hero With A Thousand Faces, published in 1949 by American professor, Joseph Campbell.

Why is the monomyth problematic? ›

The monomyth has been called sexist, racist, colonialist, and harmful to the expression and appreciation of world cultures.

What did Joseph Campbell say about the monomyth? ›

Campbell believed that myth was universal, because it sprang from the common imagination of the collective unconscious. He went so far as to enumerate the particular themes and features that different myths shared, theorizing, in the case of these heroic myths, the standard storyline, which he called the monomyth.

What is the opposite of the hero's journey? ›

The opposite path of The Hero's Journey is commonly known as The Grail Path. It is also known as The Path of the Queen or The Virgin's Path.

Is Lilo and Stitch a hero's journey? ›

Lilo & Stitch. The hero's journey is even used in the creation of Disney classics. Ordinary world: Lilo is in Hawaii. Stitch is Experiment 626.

Does Star Wars use the hero's journey? ›

Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey is easily the most-used and most-loved storytelling structure in human history. It resonates with readers in ways that are as old as human D.N.A. itself. And George Lucas kept this in mind when writing and producing Star Wars.

Is Mulan a hero's journey? ›

Hero's Journey: Mulan. A messenger delivers the news that a man from every family must fight to protect China from the Hun army. Mulan's father must go fight. Mulan realizes that something must be done in order to prevent her father from going to war.

Is Thor a hero's journey? ›

His father, Odin, gave him a hammer called Mjolni to harness this force. It was when Thor was denied the right to become king over his realm of Asgard, that his journey truly began. In a sense, Thor's story is almost the “inverse” hero's journey, starting when he made the decision to fault from his roots.

Does Wonder Woman follow the hero's journey? ›

Like Diana herself, Wonder Woman synthesizes the Hero's Journey and the Heroine's Journey as a role model for all of us.

Why is Moana a hero's journey? ›

Moana is courageous, determined, and headstrong. She manages to save her family, restore the balance of nature, and council a Demigod out of his self-loathing and back into his own heroic tale. Moana is drawn into this epic role by the call of the ocean—the call to adventure.

Does the neverending story follow hero's journey? ›

This book, along with being a utopian fiction, follows the Hero's Journey archetype.

What is the step where the hero experiences a death and comes back with ultimate knowledge? ›

The Resurrection

This final life-and-death Ordeal shows that the Hero has maintained and can apply all that he has brought back to the Ordinary World.

What is the call to adventure in Back to the Future? ›

Marty's call to adventure is subtle — and it's a literal phone call that he receives from his eccentric friend Doc Brown, a crazy scientist. Doc wants Marty to meet him at the Twin Pines Mall at 1:15 am to witness a breakthrough in an experiment he's been working on. Back To The Future 'I'm late for school! '

What is the hero's journey in? ›

In narratology and comparative mythology, the hero's journey, or the monomyth, is the common template of stories that involve a hero who goes on an adventure, is victorious in a decisive crisis, and comes home changed or transformed.

What is the most important step in the hero's journey? ›

Atonement with the Father

This step represents a major turning point in the plot. It is in this moment that the hero faces the true purpose of his journey. Everything he has endured thus far has led the hero to this moment of reckoning with the person or entity that holds the power that rules his life.

What is the most important part of a hero's journey? ›


This is the climax in which the Hero must have his final and most dangerous encounter with death. The final battle also represents something far greater than the Hero's own existence with its outcome having far-reaching consequences to his Ordinary World and the lives of those he left behind.

What is the hero's journey easily explained? ›

The hero's journey is a common narrative archetype, or story template, that involves a hero who goes on an adventure, learns a lesson, wins a victory with that newfound knowledge, and then returns home transformed.

Who is the dynamic character in Back to the Future? ›

George was the dynamic character of the two, painfully reinventing himself and his life with the help of the new kid in town who won't leave him alone.

Who is Biff in Back to the Future based on? ›

Back to the Future writer Bob Gale has revealed that the character Biff Tannen was inspired by US President Donald Trump. Portrayed by actor Thomas F. Wilson, Biff appears in all three movies of the hit sci-fi franchise as well as the subsequent animated series.

Who is the villain in Back to the Future the game? ›

Kid Tannen is the overarching antagonist of Telltale video game Back to the Future: The Game, serving as the main antagonist in Episodes 1 and 2. He is the father of Biff Tannen and the grandson of Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen. He was voiced by Owen Thomas.

Why is it called Back to the Future if they go to the past? ›

The movie's called Back to the Future because Marty's trying to get… back to the future. But it is a little strange that this is a movie about a time machine, with the word "future" in its title, and it's mainly about the past.

What is Marty's dream in Back to the Future? ›

From this moment, he goes through several adventures in the past, where he meets his family and changes history, sometimes for the best, sometimes for the worst. He dreams about becoming a successful rock star, which he did. (who later went on to voice Danny Phantom) in the animated Back to the Future series.

What does Marty call himself in Back to the Future? ›

In the first film, Marty uses the alias "Darth Vader, an extraterrestrial from the Planet Vulcan" while wearing a radiation suit in an attempt to coerce George into asking Lorraine out to the dance. In Part III, Marty uses the name "Clint Eastwood" when asked by Maggie McFly and later by Buford Tannen.


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