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Jon Cryer and Ben Stiller Auditioned for a Very Different Back to the Future

Back to the Future as we know it could’ve been very different.
Back to the Future as we know it could’ve been very different.
Photo: Universal Pictures

Though the 35th anniversary of Back to the Future was earlier this month, the celebration continues into the fall. That’s when a brand new anniversary Blu-ray set is be released and news of it helped opened a door to a very appropriate alternate timeline.

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Cast your mind back to the early 1980s. Universal Pictures is putting together a new time travel movie with producer Steven Spielberg called Back to the Future. Auditions are being held for the film’s lead roles, and famously, Eric Stoltz was first cast as Marty McFly before Michael J. Fox landed the gig. But they obviously weren’t the only two considered. On the new Blu-ray release, there’s a featurette that’ll include never before seen auditions for the film featuring Ben Stiller, Kyra Sedgwick, Jon Cryer, Billy Zane (who actually did get cast, just in a different role!), Peter DeLuise, and C. Thomas Howell.

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News of that footage being released got Stiller and Cryer, in particular, joking about the experience, with both of them agreeing Fox was never in danger of losing the role of Marty. However, the memory got Cryer thinking about how the version of the film he auditioned for was not at all like the one that hit theaters.

Here are his memories on the subject: “It opened with Marty McFly playing the Close Encounters theme on his electric guitar while he pirated a VHS cassette of the movie. And the time machine wasn’t a Delorean that had to travel at 88 miles per hour and have 1.21 gigawatts of power but just... well... a time machine that needed nuclear fission and a secret ingredient that turned out to be...Coca-Cola (Swear to god). The final sequence didn’t involve a clock tower or a lightning bolt, but instead finds Marty sneaking onto a atom bomb test site with his time machine to be near the nuclear fission that he needs for it to work. In an eerie scene he finds...The test site is complete with exquisitely detailed suburban houses and mannequins to simulate the effects of an atomic explosion on an American town. ”

He continued, “He gets the time machine in place, the atom bomb is about to go off, he’s reaching for the Coca-Cola, the countdown is at 10, 9, 8... when he slips and drops the bottle!! It shatters on the ground He’s all out of Coke! He panics (understandably) but then remembers: he’s in the 1950’s and any self respecting American suburban home has a bottle of Coke in...The refrigerator! He checks and sure enough, there’s one in there. He pours it in the time machine but then realizes...Oh crap! He has to figure out how to survive an atomic explosion! Again, he panics. But then it dawns on him, there’s a lead-lined box nearby, otherwise known as...A refrigerator. He climbs in, closes the door behind him, the bomb goes off, the time machine activates, and he’s simultaneously shot #BackToTheFuture.”

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Now, if you’re reading that and thinking, “Wait, this sounds familiar.” Cryer agrees.

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“Clearly Spielberg loved the scene and repurposed it decades later for a much-maligned scene in INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL!!” he followed up by saying. Stiller, unfortunately, did not remember any of these details.

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Now, over on ScreenCrush, it’s pointed out that Cryer’s recollection of this early version of Back to the Future is only partially accurate. He’s right about the fridge and the Coke but the fridge was actually the time machine itselfn, not just something powered by the nuclear explosion. Plus, even after the time-traveling fridge was jettisoned for a Delorean, the idea of a nuclear explosion sending it through time continued to be developed. There are even animated storyboards show what that may have looked like:

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All in all, the idea of those actors auditioning for the movie, and the movie changing so radically through development, lives on—albeit mostly as a cute asterisk on what eventually came together to create an all-time classic.

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You can find out more about the new anniversary re-release of Back to the Future here.

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Entertainment Reporter for io9/Gizmodo

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DISCUSSION

Who was Ben Stiller even auditioning for in My Cousin Vinny? Ralph Macchio’s character?