This data visualisation was chosen as one of Visualizing.org’s highlights of November 2014. (Visualizing.org website is no longer active)
The Back to the Future trilogy – my favourite films ever. However I’ve always struggled to put everything together in my head – what happened when? Who changed what? Where did everybody go? Well, I decided to map it out, with the help of this list of events in the Back to the Future timeline.
The timeline reads from left to right, starting with the period set in 1885. The four main time periods (1885, 1955, 1985 and 2015) depicted in the films are expanded downwards to show more detail of the events that take place, on a larger scale, with time progressing from top to bottom. Smaller events are shown between these periods for context, across the top of the image.
The different timelines that are created when time travel occurs are shown as offshoots of the original or source timeline. Events in the new timelines align with the original. This means that the changes to a previous version of events can be monitored by reading across the different timelines and comparing what happens in the same time block.
For example, you can see that on 5 September 1885 at 20:08, all of the following events happened:
The coloured lines show time travel. Every time time travel occurs, a new timeline is created when history (or the future) is changed. Time travel journeys depart from the brightly coloured event in one timeline, and arrive at the event denoted with a small coloured block in the next timeline.
You can trace the events of the whole trilogy by starting on Timeline 1 in 1985, and reading down the image one timeline at a time. When time travel occurs, you can move to a new timeline, and follow the trail from there, until the end of the third film on Timeline 8 in 1985.
Blue denotes events shown in the original Back to the Future, Orange denotes events shown in Back to the Future Part II, and pink denotes events shown in Back to the Future Part III. Grey denotes events that were not depicted on-screen in any of the films.
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