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Flat Character Arc: Back To The Future



1985’s classic Back to the Future is a widely beloved science-fiction comedy film written by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale.

The film follows the adventures of Marty McFly, a high school student who accidentally travels back in time to 1955 in the time machine invented by his friend, Doc Brown. While in the past, Marty must ensure that his parents fall in love, so he can return to the present day alive. In this article, we will explore Marty's character arc in the first film of the trilogy and how it serves the story.


Marty McFly is one of the most iconic characters in cinematic history. Despite being a beloved character, Marty's character arc is often described as "flat," meaning that he does not undergo a significant transformation throughout the course of the films. This is quite an unusual form of a character arc. In most films, the hero follows a “positive change”-arc where he overcomes some sort of fear or weakness and rises up to save the day. In a “fall arc,” the protagonist evolves in a different direction and gives in to wrong ideas and principles. These movies rarely have a happy ending as can be seen in Mark Zuckerberg’s fall arc in 2010s The Social Network.

A flat arc can be dangerous to write because a story without any kind of impact is not a good story. Marty McFly’s flat-character arc works well due to many reasons but the key to the character’s critical and commercial success is that he changes everything around him.


The film introduces Marty McFly as a charismatic, quick-witted, and rebellious teenager who dreams of becoming a rock star. His main goal in the film is to find a way back to the present day after accidentally being transported to 1955. However, he soon discovers that his actions in the past can have a significant impact on his present and future life. Stuck in 1955 with his friend and mentor Doc Brown, he must now ensure that his parents fall in love, so he can be born in the future.


Marty's relationships and interactions with the other characters in the film are crucial to his character arc. He has a close bond with his mentor, Doc Brown, who helps him navigate the challenges of time travel. His interactions with his parents in the past are also essential to the story, as he discovers that his mother has a crush on him, which could jeopardize his existence. Marty's relationship with his father, George, also evolves throughout the film, as he helps him gain the confidence to stand up to the bully, Biff Tannen.

Throughout the film, Marty faces numerous challenges and obstacles, including trying to find a way to return to the present day, ensuring that his parents fall in love, and dealing with the antagonist, Biff Tannen. However, he overcomes these challenges with his intelligence, resourcefulness, and bravery. When the credits start rolling, Martin is still the same guy he was when the film started but his impact on the story's events is significant, as his actions in the past directly affect his present and future life for the better.

In conclusion, Marty McFly's character arc in the first film of the Back to the Future trilogy is essential to the story's themes and message. His consistent goal of returning to the present day drives the narrative forward, while his relationships and interactions with the other characters add depth and nuance to his character. His journey throughout the film may not be transformative, but it is still impactful and showcases his bravery and resourcefulness. Marty McFly remains a beloved character in pop culture because of his likability, relatability, and his ability to improve the world around him.


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