At the end of Back to the Future II, a lightning bolt hits the DeLorean which sends it back to 1885. At the time though, the DeLorean wasn't moving; it was relatively stationary hovering in the storm. Yet, it's emphasised repeatedly that the DeLorean must reach 88 miles per hour (which becomes a key plot point in Back to the Future III).

So, considering the DeLorean wasn't traveling at 88mph when the lightning struck the DeLorean sending it to 1885, what is the in-universe explanation of how it travelled there?

Some other factors to bear in mind:

  • If a lightning bolt was sufficient to send the DeLorean time traveling, then the 88mph business would be irrelevant
  • Note that there are the firey tracks left after the DeLorean time travels in the '66' shape. The thing to note about this though is that we never see these before the DeLorean disappears. These tracks are always appearing after the DeLorean has traveled away. This would seem to indicate that the DeLorean did move, but following the activation of the time circuits.
  • 1
    Related: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/50913/… Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 22:34
  • Could the lightning bolt hit it so hard it knocks it to 88mph? (Disclaimer: non-BTTF fan here. If this is a stupid comment, I'll delete it.)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 22:35
  • Great question, N_Soong, +1!
    – Praxis
    Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 22:39
  • Is it strange that I'm more confused about why it didn't end up in 1895?
    – SamB
    Commented Oct 31, 2015 at 21:13

1 Answer 1


The lightning bolt knocked the car to 88 mph momentarily:

The celebration was short-lived; lightning struck a tree close to Marty, who warned Doc about getting struck himself. In the next instant, however, lightning struck the DeLorean as feared, spinning it to upwards of 88 mph (thus creating the fire trails in the shape of backward 9's), scrambling the circuits, and sent Doc and the DeLorean to January 1, 1885.

This is confirmed by the following quote (item 1.16 on this list of questions from interviews with writer/producer Bob Gale and writer/director Robert Zemeckis):

How could the DeLorean travel through time when it gets struck by lightning if it isn't going 88 miles per hour?

The sudden rotation of the DeLorean from the lightning hit accelerates it to 88 miles per hour when it spins.

The date 1885 came about because of a lightning-induced malfunction:

The lightning created an overload and caused a malfunction in the time circuits sending the vehicle back to January 1, 1885.

  • 1
    Agree with most of this, but do you have a source for "The lightning bolt also provided the required 1.2 gigawatts of electricity to the flux capacitor"? In BTTF part 1 the lightning could only power the flux capacitor because Doc designed a special system to channel the energy into it, there was no such system present when the flying DeLorean was hit by lightning. And Doc apparently set up Mr. Fusion to automatically provide the necessary energy to the flux capacitor whenever the DeLorean reached 88 mph, that's how it worked in all the other examples of time travel in parts II and III.
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 23:08
  • @Hypnosifl The best source I have is Wikipedia. You're probably right, so I'll delete that section of my answer.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 23:22
  • Huh... Faraday cage...
    – Damon
    Commented Oct 19, 2015 at 23:45
  • @Hypnosifl was the system to channel it and get 1.21 gigawatts (which should be joules not watts) or just to steer it towards the car? Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 11:31

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