The bitter 'Back to the Future' dispute that has star Crispin Glover and producer Bob Gale still squabbling decades later

Kevin Polowy
·Senior Correspondent, Yahoo Entertainment
·4 min read

Crispin Glover can’t help it. He knows that no matter what project he’s promoting, journalists are going to ask him about the film he’s most famous for, 1985’s Back to the Future, in which he memorably played lovable nerd George McFly. Glover knows that what he says is going to make headlines, but he can’t resist.

Three-plus decades since the release of the 1989 sequel Back to the Future Part II, in which the role of George McFly was recast with the relatively unknown actor Jeffrey Weissman in heavy makeup, Glover remains peeved, directing most of his ire towards producer and writer Bob Gale, who created the series with director Robert Zemeckis.

“They stole something, and it’s illegal to steal something, it’s really that simple,” Glover told us during a lengthy rant during a (pre-COVID) visit to our studios earlier this year (watch above). “Bob Gale is quite literally a thief, no exaggeration.”

Glover, 56, takes exception with the fact that the filmmakers used his likeness, without permission, to portray an aged McFly in the futurist follow-up, which also included previously filmed footage of the actor. George’s part was minimized in Part II — he’s even killed off in one timeline, and the scenes in which Marty’s (Michael J. Fox) father does appear obscure the physical disparities between actors, like one sequence in which George is seen hanging upside down. (While that may have felt intentional, Weissman has said the original script called for George to hang upside down as a way “to torture Crispin during the shoot, as payback for the headaches he caused on the filming of the first installment.”). Weissman reprised the role in 1990’s Back to the Future Part III. (Zemeckis filmed Part II and Part III back to back.)

Gale, 69, defended himself in a recent interview with Yahoo Entertainment commemorating the trilogy’s new 4K UHD release for the 35th anniversary of the original.

“Crispin had an opportunity to participate in the sequels,” Gale says. “We made what we thought, and what his agent thought, was an excellent offer and he turned it down, for money.” In 1992, Glover told Howard Stern the producers’ top offer was $125,000, what he claimed was significantly less than other returning cast members. Glover reportedly did not like the script and demanded $1 million to return, which the producers, including Steven Spielberg, were unwilling to meet.

Crispin Glover in "Back to the Future" and Jeffrey Weissman in "Back to the Future Part II"
Crispin Glover in "Back to the Future" and Jeffrey Weissman in "Back to the Future Part II" (Universal)

In 1990, Glover successfully sued the producers, claiming his rights of publicity were infringed. He was awarded a reported $760,000, and the lawsuit led to new clauses in the Screen Actors Guild collective-bargaining agreements.

But the bitterness endures.

“[He’s] obviously unrelenting, he pretends that it isn’t illegal, which amazes me,” Glover says. “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.”

Responds Gale: “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.” Gale points to the Harry Potter series, in which Michael Gambon replaced Richard Harris as Dumbledore after Harris, who starred as Hogwarts’ headmaster in the first two installments, died in 2002. “We didn’t do anything that was illegal.”

Thirty years after the lawsuit, Glover still wants Gale to apologize and admit wrongdoing. “But he’s not the kind of person that will do that,” laments the actor, who would go on to star in The Doors, Charlie’s Angels and Hot Tub Time Machine.

Asked if he has any regrets, Gale remained steadfast: “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.”

That includes Zemeckis, whom Glover reunited with for the 2007 motion-capture/CGI adventure Beowulf.

“I had a positive experience working with Zemeckis again,” he says.

Don’t expect a similar reunion with Gale any time soon; as Glover puts it, “There are scars or wounds from that kind of situation.”

Watch Bob Gale and Lea Thompson share stories from the making of Back to the Future:

—Video produced by Jon San and edited by John Santo

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