The Legal Drama You Didn't See Behind The Scenes Of Back To The Future

Over three decades after its release, "Back to the Future" remains one of the most beloved films ever made. Many look back fondly on the time-traveling adventures of Doc Brown and Marty McFly, including the cast and crew. However, that definitely isn't the case for one person in particular: Crispin Glover.

The actor who would go on to star in such films as "Willard," the 2000 reboot of "Charlie's Angels," "Hot Tub Time Machine," and "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" first gained recognition in Hollywood for his breakout role as George McFly in "Back to the Future." But this part also gave him the biggest headache of his career since it resulted in a precedent-setting lawsuit and a grudge with series co-creator Bob Gale that is still going on to this day.

Creative Differences And Contract Disputes

Glover's issues with "Back to the Future" started out relatively small. During his 2013 appearance on "The Opie and Anthony Show," he revealed that he questioned a few elements of the script, particularly the ending. While some things did get changed, the actor still had an issue with the message being sent. "I thought it was not a good idea for our characters to have a monetary reward, because it basically makes the moral of the movie that money equals happiness," Glover said. "Love should be the reward."

Notes like this were the beginning of the strain in the relationship between Glover and the producers. But things really ramped up when work began on the sequel. In the same interview, he shared that he initially wanted to be in "Back to the Future Part II." Somewhat ironically, money ended up being a factor in his decision to leave. According to Glover, he was offered less than half of what costars Lea Thompson and Tom Wilson were getting despite having similar sized roles.

During his own interview on the show, Bob Gale went into a bit more detail with Opie and Anthony about what Glover was looking for in his contract. According to the writer and producer, the actor wanted the same deal as Michael J. Fox, which was $2 million, plus script approval. Obviously unwilling to grant those terms to someone without top billing, Gale and Robert Zemeckis moved on thinking that Glover would not be involved. That's why George McFly is dead in the alternate 1985. But two months before filming began, it looked like there might have been a chance for the actor to board the project after all.

"Two months before the movie was supposed to start shooting, Crispin's agent called and said that Crispin thinks he may have made a mistake. I said okay, we're happy to put him in the movie, but it's not going to be a very big role. And the whole idea of having George McFly floating around upside down because he threw out his back? We didn't really want to have George dead in the more positive future because that would be kinda sad. Let's put the guy upside down so if we have to recast him, it'll be hard to recognize if it's really him or not. And if Crispin really does it, then we can hang him upside down."

Ultimately, Crispin Glover did not return for "Back to the Future Part II." But unless you paid extremely close attention or knew about this drama before your first viewing of the movie, there's a good chance that you had no idea.

The Fake Shemp

Recasting roles for a sequel is a fairly common occurrence. Don Cheadle replaced Terrence Howard as Colonel James Rhodes AKA War Machine in "Iron Man 2." Michael Gambon stepped in as Professor Albus Dumbledore in the "Harry Potter" films after Richard Harris passed away. And even in "Back to the Future Part II," Claudia Wells was unavailable to play Jennifer Parker due to a family emergency, so Elizabeth Shue took over that role. Presumably, that's what would happen to George McFly when Crispin Glover finally decided not to reprise the part for the sequel. But as he would find out, that was not the case.

Rather than traditionally recasting, the production took some extreme measures to include George McFly in the second film. First, director Robert Zemeckis got creative with footage from the first movie featuring Glover. Then, they made prosthetics of his face from the molds used to create the 1985 George McFly make up and brought in Jeffrey Weissman to wear those pieces as he recreated scenes from the first film at different angles. Eventually, Weissman would not only portray 1955 George, but 1985 and 2015 George as well. This had gone far beyond the stand-in or photo double work that he thought he was signing up for.

The Lawsuit

"Had they only hired another actor, which is kind of what I thought had happened, that would have been totally legal, and I would have been completely fine with it," recounted Glover while speaking to radio personality Sam Roberts in 2014. But with events playing out the way that they did, the actor sued Universal Studios and the producers of "Back to the Future," including Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale, and Steven Spielberg. Glover's attorney at the time Doug Kari argued that using the George McFly prosthetics on another actor was a violation of the original actor's publicity rights. With computer graphics technology evolving at a rapid pace, Kari and Glover also thought about how this could affect other actors in the future. "What I said to the judge was, 'Things may happen in the future that will make this important,'" Kari said to The Hollywood Reporter in 2015. "We need to draw a line."

An important tool that Kari had at his disposal to draw that line was a conversation he had with Jeffrey Weissman. While the second George McFly didn't comment on the THR piece, Weissman did get rather in depth about the lawsuit and his entire "Back to the Future" experience while speaking to the Hasslein Books Blog:

"When Crispin decided he wanted to sue Universal, the cast and the production team, he contacted me and was very whiney about how badly they treated him on the first film. The producers belittled him and made him cry in front of extras on the first shoot, cut his hair without his approval, and how much he had been "done wrong" because they were going to pay him twice scale for the use of the short clips they used of him from the first film, inserted into my work on the second.

I did see that he was being cheated, especially because they used his likeness (Universal's argument was that they were using "George's likeness"), and after Crispin got his $760,000 out-of-court settlement (before it went to trial), using much of our conversation as fuel for his case, Universal blacklisted me and never used me on a TV show or film again, and Crispin has never taken my calls nor spoken to me since.

I took it very hard that production tried to keep my work a secret, kept me from promoting my work on the films publicly, and I had a nervous breakdown when I heard of the blacklisting by Universal. To top it all, hardcore Back to the Future and Crispin fans have written "hate Jeffrey Weissman" postings in public forums, which are pretty painful. Ahh, showbiz."

Time And Time Again

Despite the settlement and integral changes made to the Screen Actors Guild policies to prevent this sort of thing from happening again, the feud between Crispin Glover and Bob Gale persists. It has turned into a giant, "He said, he said" that is seemingly never-ending. In 2020, Yahoo spoke to both parties separately and neither side is showing signs that the bitterness has subsided.

Bob Gale said:

"I'm sorry that Crispin is still angry with me. He seems to take it on me personally, I don't understand why. Everybody at the studio was involved in this decision. We checked with the legal department at Universal, if we had permission to use footage of him from the first movie in the second movie, and they said, 'Yes.' And [we asked], 'Do we have permission to make another actor resemble him?' 'Yes.' And you see that all the time. We didn't do anything that was illegal."

Crispin Glover said:

"They stole something, and it's illegal to steal something, it's really that simple. Bob Gale is quite literally a thief, no exaggeration.[He's] obviously unrelenting, he pretends that it isn't illegal, which amazes me. There's a classic thing where someone will blame a victim, when they've done something [wrong]. That's what Bob Gale does. That is incredibly infuriating."

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like this feud will be ending any time soon. Both Gale and Glover may take this grudge to their graves. This just goes to show that even something that brings so much joy like the "Back to the Future" movies can have a dark side.