The set of the Hill Valley courthouse at the Universal Studios backlot (Courthouse Square)
|Notable characters||Marty McFly
|First appearance||Back to the Future
Hill Valley is the fictional town in Northern California that serves as the setting of the Back to the Future trilogy and its animated spin-off series. In the trilogy, Hill Valley is seen in four different time periods (1885, 1955, 1985 and 2015) as well as in a dystopian alternate 1985. The films contain many sight gags, verbal innuendos and detailed set design elements, from which a detailed and consistent history of the area can be derived.
For Back to the Future, the producers considered filming the town square scenes in the real city of Petaluma, California, but soon realised it would be prohibitively expensive and impractical to alter a real place to suit the different eras. Instead they filmed it on the Universal Studios backlot, where they had more control. The main location, once called Mockingbird Square after the 1962 film To Kill a Mockingbird but now known as Courthouse Square, had been used for many films and television shows. One notable example is the very first episode of the sci-fi series The Twilight Zone, called "Where Is Everybody?" in 1959. The Hill Valley courthouse can also be found in the movies Bruce Almighty, Gremlins, Bye Bye Birdie, Sneakers, The Offspring's music video "Why Don't You Get a Job?", an episode of Major Dad entitled "Who's That Blonde" and even in an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The clock tower itself was a removable addition, one of many ways in which the Courthouse building has been redressed over the years to suit the needs of a production.
Many of the cars that appear in the 2015 scenes are either modified for the film or concept cars. Examples include Ford Probe, Saab EV-1, Citroën DS 21, Pontiac Banshee Concept, Pontiac Fiero and Volkswagen Beetle. Cars reused from other science fiction films include the "Star Car" from The Last Starfighter (1984) and a "Spinner" from Blade Runner (1982). Griff's car is a modified BMW convertible.
For Back to the Future Part III, Hill Valley 1885 was filmed in Sonora, California. The producers were able to use the land rent-free as long as they left the buildings there. They agreed to leave everything except the Clock Tower. Interestingly, on August 10, 1996, a lightning bolt struck the town and it burned down. An arson fire on the Universal Studios Hollywood backlot on November 6, 1990, had previously destroyed much of Courthouse Square, the setting in which all the other time periods were filmed. However, the Courthouse itself survived the devastation. Another backlot fire on September 6, 1997. again damaged Courthouse Square. In both cases, the backlot facades were then rebuilt. The Sonora location was not rebuilt. In addition, a February 14, 1999 fire at Whittier High School, California, where some (mostly exterior) scenes were filmed, destroyed the men's gym there. On June 1, 2008, yet another fire destroyed part of the rebuilt Courthouse Square backlot and damaged the clock tower.
Other real-life shooting locations of Hill Valley landmarks include:
The following information is taken directly from places and events shown or mentioned in the three films:
The town of Hill Valley is depicted as having been first settled in 1850 and incorporated in 1865. By the 1880s, it was connected by railroad to San Francisco. Construction of a new county courthouse was well underway in 1885, the setting of Back to the Future Part III, in which a new clock was dedicated for the building. The Shonash Ravine Bridge was completed in the summer of 1886, around the same time the ravine was renamed Clayton Ravine in memory of Clara Clayton, a school teacher who died from falling into the chasm. However, in a revised timeline where Doc Brown saved Clara's life, the town renamed it Eastwood Ravine after Marty McFly's persona.
By 1955, as seen in the first two Back to the Future films, the area around the courthouse has developed into the downtown of Hill Valley. In front of the courthouse is a grass-covered town square, with stores, two movie theaters (Essex and Town), and cafés on the surrounding streets. A key moment in the town's fictional history takes place on Saturday, November 12, 1955, at 10:04 p.m. PST, when lightning strikes the courthouse's clock tower, freezing the clock at 10:04. The clock is never repaired and becomes a local landmark, left in its non-functional state at the behest of the Hill Valley Preservation Society. The broken piece of ledge from Doc Brown's successful attempt to channel lightning from the clock tower is likewise never repaired, as can be seen when Marty returns to 1985 and in 2015, but not in the Alternate 1985.
In Marty's original timeline, many of the town square businesses have moved or closed down by 1985. The new businesses which replaced them include a second-hand shop, a yoga studio, and an adult book store. The Essex movie theater now shows porno movies while the Town Theater is used for church services, and the courthouse is in a state of disrepair, and at night at least one homeless person (called "Red" by Marty) sleeps on the town square park benches. The grassy park outside of the courthouse has been converted into a parking lot. "That was always one of the major elements of the story even in its earliest incarnation," screenwriter Bob Gale says in The Making of Back to the Future, "was to take a place and show what happens to it over a period of thirty years. What happened to everybody's home town is obviously the same thing. They built the mall out in the boonies, and killed all the business downtown, and everything changed."
By the 21st century, the downtown area has experienced a revival as the courthouse has been converted into the Courthouse Mall. Businesses have begun to move back into and around the town square and the parking lot has been replaced by a pond. The clock on top of the courthouse is still preserved at 10:04, and the mall's logo is an illustration of a lightning bolt striking the clock tower. The Town Theater/Assembly of Christ building has been converted to an art museum with a mural painted on the front side of the building above the marquee.
Signs that say "Welcome to Hill Valley" are seen in 1955, 1985 and 2015. Both 1955 and 2015 signs have symbols representing the Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions clubs. In addition, the 1955 sign has the logos of the YMCA, Jaycees, and Future Farmers of America while the 2015 sign has those of the Neighborhood Crime Watch eye logo and the 4-H Club clover logo. The "Welcome to Hill Valley" sign in 1985 does not contain any signage representing any clubs and mentions the name of Mayor Goldie Wilson. In the alternate 1985 Marty is seen walking over the sign, which has been knocked down and an 'E' has been spray painted over the 'I' in HILL VALLEY making the name HELL VALLEY. This sign does not display the name of the mayor but instead the words "A Nice Place to Live" as also seen in 1955.
In Back to the Future Part II, a nightmarish alternate version of Hill Valley is depicted complete with a partial history. Due to the influence of the powerful and corrupt Biff Tannen, gambling was legalized in 1979. Tannen's toxic waste reclamation plants were built downtown, polluting the air and leading to pollution alerts to be issued. All of the local businesses in the downtown area closed or relocated and were replaced with strip clubs, porn theaters, and brothels. Tannen also bought off the police. Consequently, crime increased and biker gangs settled in the city. Hill Valley's public schools burned down and the courthouse was converted into Biff Tannen's Pleasure Paradise Casino and Hotel. The clock on the courthouse still remains at 10:04 although despite the damage the Doc did to the tower's platform in 1955, for whatever reason, it now seems to have disappeared. Biff also murdered George McFly (Marty's dad) in 1973 so that he could marry George's wife Lorraine (Marty's mom) therefore making him a corrupt family man as well as town ruler.
According to the original script for Back to the Future Part II a partial view of the alternate 2015 was also to be depicted. By this time Biff now owns half the state of California with his influence having gained his son, Biff Jr., the seat of governor and they uphold their power and corruption with an army of large, powerful cyborg police officers.
Another timeline, branching off the events of Back to the Future: The Game, sees Irving Kid Tannen, the father of Biff Tannen and a prohibitionism era mafioso, avoid his lengthy arrest for illegal consumption and sale of alcohol. As such, in the alternate 1986 Biff Tannen has two brothers, and the Tannen family is a recognized crime family, ruling over Hill Valley with an iron grip.
In yet another alternate history, still branching off the events of Back to the Future: The Game, a teen Emmett Brown, in 1931, fell in love with the young journalist Edna Strickland: as a result she married Emmett, convincing him to pursue sociological and political goals. She managed to win him over by keeping him interested in science, but in a manner that his scientific skills could be used to control people instead of using science to understand mysteries and for the betterment of humanity. As such, under "Citizen Brown"'s influence by 1985 Hill Valley is a technological dystopia, where Emmett Brown oversees a fascist regime, controlling every single activity of his citizens, routinely brainwashed and spied over. In this new Hill Valley, in a reversal of their usual roles, Marty McFly is a square, serious and devoted to Emmett Brown to a fault (as the "original" McFly is dismayed to discover) and Jennifer is a rebellious rocker, a wild child with an unpredictable streak. Also Lorraine is again a mildly obese, inebriated sad woman, George has reverted to be the loser he is in the first, original timeline (although his oppressor is big government instead of Biff). Biff Tannen is now one part of the Citizen Plus program, brainwashed into obedience. Hill Valley now looks as a technological advanced marvel, owned by a now rich and powerful Emmett Brown, with even the iconic Town Hall replaced by a huge pane with the E. Brown Industries symbol. As a side note, since in this timeline Emmett Brown never developed time-travel technology, thus the events of the original series never took place, the Eastwood Ravine is still known as the Clayton Ravine, as no one saved Clara from her death.
The last attempt to fix the damages involved with the events of Back to the Future: The Game ends with even a more radical change, with Edna Strickland traveling under an assumed name to 1876 to act as a moral guide of the newly founded Hill Valley: however, after a failed confrontation with Beauregard Tannen, a Confederate soldier who built and founded the Palace Saloon, she accidentally causes a conflagration that consumes Hill Valley, turning it into a ghost town with herself as the only resident. Again, Marty and Doc manage to restore the continuity, that now however sports minor alterations (Arthur and Silvia, Marty's grandparents, prepone their marriage to 1931 (it was 1936 in the original timeline), Doc Brown spends more time in 1986 and less traveling through time, Kid Tannen is now reformed, married to Edna Strickland and having a better influence over Biff).
Many family businesses are passed down from generation to generation in Hill Valley. As a result, the city changes but remains similar from one generation to the next, as businesses are updated but rarely change. These recurring elements were a deliberate choice on the part of the filmmakers. The production designer of Back to the Future Part II, Rick Carter, is quoted in a DVD extra as saying, "The future is built on the present." Director Robert Zemeckis adds that the continuity between the different eras in Hill Valley's history is an example of the adage, "the more things change, the more they stay the same".
The following is a list of such places. When a place is not seen or mentioned in a movie, it is marked unknown. Some buildings shown in 1885 scenes are actually located further down the street in an area not shown in the first two movies.
|place No||1885||1955||1985||Alternate 1985||2015|
|1||Hill Valley Courthouse and Clock Tower (under construction)||Hill Valley Courthouse||Department of Social Services||Biff Tannen's Pleasure Paradise Casino & Hotel
The Biff Tannen Museum
|Hill Valley Courthouse Mall|
|2||Nothing||Town Theater||Town Theater (as a church)||Biffco Toxic Waste Reclamation Plant||Hill Valley Museum of Art
A Bellman Retrospective
|3||Nothing||Holt's Diner||Elmo's Rib Cafe||Unknown||(part of the Hill Valley Museum)|
|4||Honest Joe Statler's Fine Horses (in different location -- this spot actually empty)||Statler Studebaker||Statler Toyota||PIG Mart||Pontiac Sales and Hover Conversions|
|5||Nothing||Ruth's Frock Shop||Goodwill Industries||Tanya Exotic Sex Goddess||Hyatas All Natural Earth-Grown Fruits|
|6||Nothing||Jacobson & Field Attorneys at Law||Loans||Bad Rap Bail Bonds||Simulex|
|7||Building under construction||Western Auto Stores||Empty Store (displaying Re-Elect Mayor Goldie Wilson signage)||Bondage||Hill Valley Gifts / The Hydroponic Gardner|
|8||Wells Fargo & Co||Bluebird Motel||Al's Tattoo Art
(out of business, for sale)
|Video Nude Hardcore Movies
|Sight Sound and Mind|
|9||Nothing||Elite Barber Shop||Empty Store (Sign on window saying "We Moved to Twin Pines Mall")||Bangkok Sauna & Asian Massage||Mr. Perfect All-Natural Steroids|
|10||Nothing||Hill Valley Stationers||Cupid's Adult Book Store||Hell Hole XXX||Eclipse -- Contemporary & Traditional Lighting Store|
|11||Nothing||Zale's Jewelers||Abrams Brokerage Corporation||Hardcore X||Pizza Hut|
|12||Unknown||J.D. Armstrong Realty||Loans||Peeparama||True Blues|
|13||Unknown||Ask Mr. Foster Travel Service||Ask Mr. Foster Travel Service||Naughty and Naked||Uniglobe Travel|
|14||Marshal's Office||Bank of America||Bank of America||Naughty XXX||Hill Valley Transit bus stop (Second floor advertising Goldie Wilson Hover Conversions)|
|15||Palace Saloon (setting before Lou's Cafe)||Lou's Cafe||Lou's Fitness Aerobics Center (originally Lou's Cafe in 1955)||War Zone Bar||Cafe 80's (originally Lou's Cafe in 1955 and Lou's Fitness Center in 1985)|
|16||Barber shop||Roy's Record Store||The Third Eye||Time to Shoot Photo Store||Blast From The Past Antique Store|
|17||Docs Blacksmith shop (different building)||Texaco full-service station||Texaco gas station/food mart||(area cluttered with piles of junk furniture and other garbage)||7-Eleven (first floor) and Texaco automated Havoline station (second floor)|
|18||Unknown||Hal's Bike Shop||Hog Heaven||French fantasies||The Bot Shoppe|
|19||Livery and Feed Stable||Lawrence Building||Broadway Florist||French fantasies||Hill Valley Surrogate Parenting Center|
|20||Building under construction||Essex Theater (as a mainstream movie house)||Essex Theater (as an adult movie house showing Orgy, American Style XXX)||Hill Valley Theater of Live Sex Acts||Holomax Theater (Now showing) Jaws 19 "this time its really really personal"|
|21||Hill Valley Telegraph||Building with Sherwin-Williams Paint billboard sign||Building with Sherwin-Williams Paint billboard sign||Toxic Waste Reclamation Plant||Unknown (office building displaying Skyway Information)|
|22||Nothing||Lyon Estates (under development)||Lyon Estates (middle-class neighborhood)||Lyon Estates (rough neighborhood)||Lyon Estates Parkland|
|23||(empty land near ravine)||(farmland near Clayton Ravine)||Hilldale (new housing development with 1980s-style homes and described as being a rather affluent part of Hill Valley.)||Unknown||Hilldale (now a rough neighborhood)|
|24||Hill Valley School (in different building than later schools)||Hill Valley High School||Hill Valley High School||Remains of Hill Valley High School (burned down six years earlier)||Hill Valley High School|
|25||Unknown||Gaynor's Hideaway Bar||Gaynor's Hideaway Bar||Dee Dee's Delight Bar||Fusion Bar|
|26||McFly Farm||Twin Pines Ranch||Twin Pines Mall
(Lone Pine Mall upon return from the timeline of events Marty McFly created in 1955)
|Lone Pine Mall||Unknown|
|27||Nothing||Brown Mansion||Doc Brown's garage/Burger King||Doc Brown's garage||Unknown|
Despite Hill Valley's notable consistency, many businesses do appear and disappear over the years, as their services begin being needed or become obsolete. The following is a list of businesses that have no known equivalent in other time periods.
Twin Pines Mall is the name of the shopping center located outside Hill Valley, where Doctor Emmett Brown first tests his time machine, making his dog Einstein the first time traveler in the world. (The site where the mall was filmed for the movie is actually Puente Hills Mall, located in City of Industry, California. The J.C. Penney location seen in the movie has been shut down, and is now occupied by a 24 Hour Fitness center.)
When Marty McFly returns from 1955 to 1985, the mall can be seen to have changed its name to Lone Pine Mall, as upon arriving in 1955 and crashing into Old Man Peabody's barn at Twin Pines Ranch, named for Peabody's two prized baby pine trees. Marty was shot at by Peabody, forcing Marty to flee in the DeLorean, and accidentally run over and destroy one of the twin pines.