Back To The Future trilogy

The Delorean Time-Machine

In the Back to the Future trilogy, "Doc" Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd) builds a fictional time machine out of a De Lorean DMC-12 automobile. The vehicle is used in the trilogy by Doc and Marty McFly to travel through the history of their hometown of Hill Valley, a fictional city located in Northern California. The DeLorean is destroyed at the end of Back to the Future Part III.


In The Films


To operate the DeLorean time machine, one starts by turning on the "time circuits" which brings up the following three LED readouts on a display built into the dashboard:

  • "Destination Time": A date is entered into this display on a keypad so that it displays the time one wishes to travel to.
  • "Present Time": This readout shows the point in time where the DeLorean is currently located. Once in a time period, the display is updated according to the regular flow of time.
  • "Last Time Departed": This final display shows the time the DeLorean was located in before the last time it time-traveled. Presumably this display exists so that one will not have to constantly remember (or write down) the exact time one left one's own time.

These readouts are composed of the day of the month, written with the month-day date notation used in the United States, and the year, both according to the Gregorian calendar. This is followed by the time of day on a 12-hour clock with a switch that allows one to differentiate between "a.m." and "p.m." in the destination time. The time circuits apparently cannot display any negative numbers, preventing travel to any date prior to the year 1 BC, which the time display inaccurately registers as "0000". Dates are also limited to four digits, creating an instance of the Year 10,000 problem, which could prove to be problematic if one were to travel to the last minute of December 31, 9999 and wait for the next year to roll over. In Back to the Future Part II, the time circuits malfunctioned twice, reverting the target date to twelve o'clock on January 1, 1885. Its unclear whether there is any significance to this particular date in the machine's programming.

De_Lorean_BTTF.jpg (471 × 310 pixel, file size: 43 KB, MIME type: image/jpeg)

In order for "temporal displacement" to occur, the DeLorean must reach time-travel velocity (eighty-eight miles per hour), though, as demonstrated by the climax of Part III, it does not necessarily have to reach that speed under its own power. The DeLorean reaches the target time instantaneously and remains on the same world line, meaning it stays at exactly the same longitude and latitude. The latter is changed in the animated spin-off, in which one can program in a target location in addition to a target time.

A traveler within the DeLorean experiences a flash of light at the point where time travel occurs. An observer outside the DeLorean witnessing it depart, will see it seem to explode and leave fire trails where it would have driven after disappearing. An observer witnessing the DeLorean arrive will see two blue flashes of light, after which the DeLorean bursts out of nowhere, often careening out of control. In the first film, the DeLorean appeared covered in ice upon its arrival, but this was largely abandoned in later films due to the difficulty of achieving the effect.[1]


A fan-created Flux Capacitor A fan-created Flux Capacitor

The "flux capacitor", which consists of a box with three small, flashing incandescent lamps arranged as a "Y", is described by Doc Brown as "what makes time travel possible". The device is located above and behind the car's passenger's seat and, as the time machine nears eighty-eight miles per hour, the light of the flux capacitor pulses faster until it has a steady stream of light. Doc originally conceived the idea for the flux capacitor on November 5, 1955 when he slipped and bumped his head while standing on his toilet to hang a clock.

It is not made clear in the films exactly how the flux capacitor works beyond that of a typical deus ex machina device, though Doc mentions at one point that the stainless steel body of the DeLorean has a beneficial effect on the "flux dispersal", though he is interrupted before he can say any more. The flux capacitor requires 1.21 gigawatts of electricity to operate, which would be nonsensical in real life as a gigawatt is a measure of the rate energy is transferred (the appropriate unit would be a gigajoule). Throughout the series, gigawatt is pronounced "jigowatt". This pronunciation of "gigawatt" is technically correct, although it is more commonly pronounced with two hard "g" sounds as in "golf."

For most of the first film, the 1.21 gigawatts was supplied bya plutonium-powered nuclear reactor and, with the absence of plutonium, a cleverly harnessed bolt of lightning in the film's climactic sequence. At the end of the first film and for the remainder of the trilogy, the plutonium is replaced by a "Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactor" generator acquired in the year 2015. An obvious parody of Mr. Coffee, the prop is ironically built from a Krups coffee maker. The "Mr. Fusion" device apparently converts household waste into electrical power. Due to a "hover conversion" made in 2015, the car also became capable of flight, though it lost this ability at the beginning of Part III.

The DeLorean time machine is a licensed, registered vehicle in the state of California, where the films take place. While the vanity license plate used in the film says "OUTATIME", and when Doc comes back from the future, it's a futuristic barcode license plate, the DeLorean's actual license plate reads 3CZV657.


A front view of the De Lorean  as seen on the Universal Studios backlot tour. A front view of the De Lorean as seen on the Universal Studios backlot tour.

The time machine went through several variations during production of the first film, Back to the Future. In the first draft of the screenplay, the time machine was a laser device that was housed in a room. At the end of the first draft the device was attached to a refrigerator and taken to an atomic bomb test site. Director Robert Zemeckis said in an interview that the idea was scrapped because he did not want children to start climbing into refrigerators and getting trapped inside. In the third draft of the film the time machine was a car, as Zemeckis reasoned that if you were going to make a time machine, you would want it to be mobile.[2] The specific choice of vehicle was a De Lorean DMC-12 for the purposes of it looking like a UFO.[1] However, in order to send Marty back to the future, the vehicle had to drive into a nuclear test site. Ultimately this concept was considered too expensive to film, so the power source was changed to lightning.

Different parts from three 1982 DeLoreans were used in the film, and they were modified to accommodate a more powerful and reliable Porsche engine. Liquid nitrogen was poured onto the car for scenes after it had travelled through time to give the impression that it was cold. The base for the nuclear-reactor was made from the hubcap from a Dodge Polara. Aircraft parts and blinking lights were added for effect. The only engine available on this car was a 130 HP V6. The production ultimately used three real DeLoreans: one for external drive/race scenes, one with a modified interior for entering/exiting the DeLorean, one stripped down model for interior scenes only.


The phrase "flux capacitor" has appeared in more serious contexts. U.S. Patent 6,084,285 describes a "lateral flux capacitor having fractal-shaped perimeters." The idea being to make a capacitor in an integrated circuit, some of whose capacitance exists between two conductors on a single layer (hence, "lateral"). The device is not a lateral flux-capacitor but a lateral-flux capacitor; that is, lateral modifies flux, and lateral flux is attributive, rather than flux capacitor compound and lateral modifying capacitor.

Flux is commonly used in electronics and electromagnetic theory and application, but rarely in the context of a capacitor. In general terms, flux simply means the rate at which some quantity (such as electric charge) passes through a surface (e.g. charge flux). It is speculated that the movie terminology is used fictitiously to represent a new and unknown type of flux.

While they are not generally called "flux capacitors", the common inductor IS a device whose function in many contexts, e.g. the switching power supply, is exactly that which a flux capacitor would have - it stores electrical energy as a magnetic flux where it can be retrieved later, this way a pulsing current can be converted to a constant voltage higher or lower than the input voltage. Seeing as how the 1890s version of the flux capacitor (mounted on the train) is exactly that (a really large coil of wire) it seems clear that this is not lost on the movie makers.


  • The Spanish (Spain only) dubbing of the film mistranslated flux as the nonexistent fluzo instead of flujo, adding to the exoticness of a condensador de flujos. However the Latin American version doesn't have this issue.
  • The Italian dubbing of the film mistranslated the name as "flusso canalizzatore", which roughly means "channeling flux"; however, when Marty reads the letter from Doc in the third movie, it talks about the broken "condensatore di flusso", which is an exact translation of "flux capacitor", but at this point appears to be totally unrelated to the rest of the movies (at least for only-Italian-speaking people).
  • In the German-dubbed version, the device was once again mistranslated and called the "Fluxkompensator" ("Flux compensator"). The correct German translation for the word capacitor, however, would be "Kondensator".
  • In the French version, the De Lorean needs 2.21 gigawatts instead of 1.21. The flux capacitor was mistranslated to "convecteur temporel" ("temporal convector"). The correct French translation for flux capacitor would be "condensateur de flux".
  • For the Brazilian version of the movie, the flux capacitor was successfully translated to: "capacitor de fluxo"
  • In the Turkish version, the device was called "akım kapasitörü". But correct translation should be "akım kondansatörü".


  1. 1^ a b Zemeckis, Robert Gale, Bob. (2002). Back to the Future: The Complete Trilogy DVD commentary for part 1 [DVD]. Universal Pictures.
  2. 2^ Zemeckis, Robert Gale, Bob. (1985). The making of Back to the Future [VHS]. Universal Pictures.

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