Back to the Future (lost Australian road safety PSA featuring Michael J. Fox; 1985)

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Marty McFly skitches onto the back of a 1984 Ford Ranger, a scene that necessitated an Australian road safety PSA.

Status: Lost

Back to the Future is a 1985 science-fiction comedy film which starred Michael J. Fox as the high school student-turned-unwitting time traveller Marty McFly. In an early scene, Marty skitches a ride on the back of a Ford Ranger and later a Jeep, by holding onto the vehicles' back bumpers while riding a skateboard. While humorous and typically cited as helping to build Marty's character, it caused consternation within the road safety-conscious Australia. Hence, when the film was released in the country, it was preceded by a road safety PSA starring Fox, which warned viewers not to copy his character's behaviour.


In Back to the Future's opening sequence, Marty enters the house of Doc Brown, only to find it unoccupied. After phoning Brown, Marty is shocked and dismayed to learn the time is precisely 8:25 a.m., already making him late for school. To save time reaching Hill Valley High School, Marty opts to skateboard while skitching onto a 1984 Ford Ranger.[1][2] When the pickup makes a right turn, Marty then skitches onto a Jeep CJ-7 for a while, much to the annoyance of its driver.[1] Marty does reach Hill Valley, but not soon enough to avoid the ire of the anti-slacker school principal Mr. Strickland.[3][4] The sequence, backed up by The Power of Love,[3] was critically acclaimed, in part thanks to building the main protagonist's mischievous and resourceful nature.[5][6][7]

Co-written by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale,[8] Back to the Future was originally released to American cinemas on 3rd July 1985, before it arrived on Australian screens just over a month later on 14th August.[9] While the Australian release certainly contributed to the film's $173.3 million international box office figure,[9] there was a compromise to be made beforehand.[7][5] Australia had begun to tackle a road safety crisis, where the number of road-related fatalities peaked at 3,798 deaths or 30.4 per 100,000 of the population.[10][11] Substantial safety enhancements had curbed the annual figure to 2,755 by 1983, the first time since 1964 that the fatalities figure was below 3,000.[10] However, the figure somewhat rose again, to 2,941 by the end of 1985.[10] The country identified significant improvements that were still to be made; this was especially apparent in the state of Victoria, where TAC Victoria PSAs were broadcast to showcase the graphic consequences of ill-suited road user behaviour.[12] While there have been spikes, fatalities on the road have generally declined in Australia, especially in Victoria.[11][12][10]

Therefore, it is perhaps unsurprising that Australia had some consternation regarding Marty's behaviour in the opening sequence, especially as a moral panic arose regarding the increased adoption of skitching following the film's domestic release.[2][7][5] According to Gale in the film's DVD commentary released in 2002,[13] a compromise was achieved by having Marty's actor, Michael J. Fox, star in a road safety PSA before the film was screened Down Under.[7][5] Though little is known regarding what transpired in the PSA, its message was to warn against the practice of skitching.[7][5] Based on Gale's comments, it is possible the PSA was filmed to avoid having the opening sequence come under further scrutiny by the Australian Classification Board.[14]


Outside of confirmation by Gale, this Back to the Future-inspired road safety PSA has fallen into obscurity, ever since the conclusion of the Australian premiere.[15] No images or footage exist of it; meanwhile, online sources that discuss it, like The Cine-Files, The Museum of Lost Things and an r/lostmedia post, all refer back to Gale's original claim.[5][7][15] The r/lostmedia post saw Reddit user Wot_Gorilla_2112 sift through numerous mid-1980s Australian commercial blocks that had been uploaded to YouTube but came out empty-handed.[15] The Museum of Lost Things was also unable to find any further details surrounding this supposed PSA.[7] Another theory, as suggested by wild_zoey_appeared, is that the PSA was filmed but it either remained exclusive to cinemas or was never aired on Australian platforms at all.[15] Regardless, the PSA remains fully lost.[15]



The film's "The Power of Love" scene.

See Also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Sandstone Productions summarising the cars that appeared in Back to the Future. Retrieved 3rd Feb '24
  2. 2.0 2.1 Westword providing a definition of skitching and the dangers apparent. Retrieved 3rd Feb '24
  3. 3.0 3.1 The sequence as depicted in the film. Retrieved 3rd Feb '24
  4. Back to the Future Section summarising the scene after Marty arrives at school. Retrieved 3rd Feb '24
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 The Cine-Files discussing the Australian road safety PSA regarding Marty's skitching (24:52-25:30). Retrieved 3rd Feb '24
  6. Consequence summarising the opening scene, which it praised alongside the inclusion of The Power of Love. Retrieved 3rd Feb '24
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 Museum of Lost summarising the DVD commentary where Gale discussed Fox's Australian PSA. Retrieved 3rd Feb '24
  8. Cinephilia & Beyond on how Zemeckis and Gale established the Back to the Future trilogy Retrieved 3rd Feb '24
  9. 9.0 9.1 The Numbers detailing the release dates of Back to the Future. Retrieved 3rd Feb '24
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Federal Office of Road Safety on the history of road-related fatalities in Australia. Retrieved 3rd Feb '24
  11. 11.0 11.1 The Guardian summarising the general decline of road-related deaths in Australia, albeit with the occasional yearly spike. Retrieved 3rd Feb '24
  12. 12.0 12.1 Mumbrella on the legacy of TAC Victoria and its PSAs. Retrieved 3rd Feb '24
  13. BBC review of the film's DVD release. Retrieved 3rd Feb '24
  14. Arts Law Centre of Australia detailing the classification and possible censorship that can be imposed by the Australian Classification Board. Retrieved 3rd Feb '24
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4 r/lostmedia post discussing the lost PSA. Retrieved 3rd Feb '24