Disney Lost to Universal When It Turned Down This Iconic Film

disney back to the future
Credit: Universal

Every company has some misses along the way. It’s inevitable.

Ultimately, no matter how prolific or successful a company is, certain pivotal moments and choices can make or break a moment in history. Recently, it was revealed that Disney missed its chance to be the studio behind a film that became one of the most iconic productions in film history and quite literally changed the future of cinema on its release.

Lightyear, Turning Red, Strange World, Disenchanted

Lightyear, Turning Red, Strange World, Disenchanted / All Images Credit: Disney

Back to the Future 

The movie in question is none other than Back to the Future.

This cultural phenomenon was the highest-grossing film of 1995 and came from Academy Award-winning filmmakers Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis.

The film follows teenager Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), who is “blasted to 1955 in the DeLorean time machine created by the eccentric Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd).” McFly finds himself entangled in a “time-altering chain reaction that could vaporize his future—and leave him trapped in the past.”

Robert Zemeckis was an up-and-coming director in Hollywood at the time, and Michael J. Fox was a household name but nowhere near the fame he shot to after the movie came up. The first movie’s success resulted in one of the most iconic trilogies in cinema that has withstood the test of time.

Disney Turns Down Back to the Future

But no one knew that Back to the Future would become the movie it did, least of all a studio executive from the Walt Disney Company who turned it down.

Collider reports,

Zemeckis and company got told no right and left by every studio they encountered. Desperate, they went to Disney but were quickly rejected by a studio who was disgusted by the film’s plot.

Still from Back to the Future

A still from Back to the Future featuring Lea Thompson and Michael J. Fox/ Credit: Universal

Screenwriter Bob Gale told CNN in 2010, “This was the last vestiges of the old Disney family regime. We went in to meet with an executive and he says, ‘Are you guys nuts? Are you insane? We can’t make a movie like this. You’ve got the kid and the mother in his car! It’s incest — this is Disney. It’s too dirty for us!'”

This was prior to Michael Eisner stepping in and cleaning up the mess that the Walt Disney Company found itself in at the time. The film ended up being saved by Steven Spielberg, who said “yes” when everyone else refused it, and it was produced by his new company Amblin Entertainment at Universal—Disney’s biggest competitor today, whether with theme parks (Universal Orlando Resort) or entertainment.

Disney might be kicking itself for letting go of this masterpiece, but it certainly resulted in a huge win for Universal.

About Priyanka Kumar

Priyanka is a writer, artist, avid reader, and travel enthusiast based in Chicago. In her free time, she is probably walking by the lake, catching up on the latest releases on TV, or spending inordinate amounts of time rewatching Moana, Encanto, and her Disney Channel life-long favorites Zack and Cody wreak havoc on the Tipton.

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