Steven Spielberg films a sequel to E.T. the Extraterrestrial, as the film's merchandise (such as the Atari video game) put pressure on him. 1984's E.T. II: Night Terrors bombs and is widely considered one of the worst movies ever, derailing the career of lead actor Michael J. Fox. Spielberg pulls the plug on an equally scary for kids movie in development he was producing, Gremlins, and delays the second Indiana Jones. Temple of Doom - rated PG-13, a rating inspired by the outcry Night Terrors caused - misses the summer season but becomes the biggest movie of 1984, and beingwidely considered a much improved sequel.
IOTL: Night Terrors had a treatment written but was dropped before the script was even done as Spielberg felt a sequel to E.T. would only be detrimental to the original. Temple of Doom was released in May, became the third biggest money maker of the year (behind Ghostbusters and Beverly Hills Cop), is considered the worst of the original trilogy (if not the quadrilogy), and the dark content of both that and fellow 1984 hit Gremlins - produced by Spielberg - inspired the MPAA to create the PG-13 rating.
Warner Bros. Studios struggles. The only movie to gross more than 75 million is Police Academy in 1984, and there are notable flops: In 1983, High Road to China debuts at #2 behind a re-run of Raiders of the Lost Ark. In 1984, Purple Rain is critically bashed, opens only at #11 and is taken out of theaters after three weeks. To offset, WB sells the thriving electronics division led by Atari.
IOTL: Warner had a smash hit in 1984 with Gremlins, #4 of the year with $153 million. Purple Rain had good reviews and opened at #1, dethroning Ghostbusters, and finished the year at #11 with $68 million. High Road opened at #1 one week before the Raiders re-run hit theaters. And Atari is sold because unlike the studio, it kept bleeding money.
John Cusack starred in Back to the Future, beating Eric Stoltz and C. Thomas Howell. It had three sequels: Part II ignored the final scene with Marty and Jennifer (Melora Hardin) travelling to the future with Doc Brown, to have Doc and Marty in the Old West; Part III had Marty seeing his parents in 1967; and Part IV had him going to 2015, and an alternate timeline that forces him and Doc to revisit the events of the original in 1955. Cusack's sister Joan played Marty McFly's sister Linda in the original, Marty's ancestor Marlene in II, Marty's female counterpart in III, and Marty's daughter in IV.
IOTL: Cusack and Howell were considered for Marty, and Stoltz was originally cast before the filmmakers decided he wasn't the right fit, leading them to wait for their original choice - Michael J. Fox. Melora Hardin was let go once Fox joined, as they felt she was too tall next to him. Part 2 was intended to be a western before Bob Zemeckis and Gale noted they couldn't drop the ending of the original where Marty and Jennifer were going to the future, forcing that to become Part 3. They also considered having Marty in 1967 before just reusing the 1955 setting again. Marlene is played by Marty's mother Lea Thompson, and his daughter is Fox himself in drag.
Robert Zemeckis followed Back to the Future with another movie for Universal, a screen adaptation of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy written by Douglas Adams himself. It comes out in 1986, along with I, Robot written by Harlan Ellison; Cusack's next movie, Ridley Scott's Legend; and blockbuster Top Gun, starring Emilio Estevez and Jane Seymour.
IOTL: Douglas Adams did move to America hoping to get the H2G2 movie running, but it fell victim to development hell and only came out after his death, in 2005. Ellison's script was done in the 1970s and didn't go anywhere, with I, Robot eventually naming a Will Smith movie without ties to Isaac Asimov. Both the 1986 movies that did come out starred Tom Cruise,
Fletch, a comedy action-thriller film starring Chevy Chase based on Gregory Mcdonald's popular Fletch novels, is a massive hit upon release in 1985. While it debuted at second place behind Rambo: First Blood Part II, it topped the box office the following weekend, remaining there for four weeks before being dethroned by Back to the Future. Fletch grossed $97,5 million worldwide, the fourth biggest hit of the year, and several sequels, starting with 1986's Confess, Fletch.
IOTL: Fletch grossed a total of $59.6 million worldwide, the 11th highest grossing film of 1985. In its second weekend, it fell to #3 behind The Goonies (which doesn't exist ITTL) - the eventual yearly's fourth place in the North American box office - while Rambo kept the top slot (being replaced by Cocoon and Pale Rider before BTTF came out). The film only had only one sequel, the badly received Fletch Lives in 1989.
Warner Bros., flush with cash from the sale of Atari to Honeywell, purchased the DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group (DEG) as a vehicle for diversifying their film portfolio. Two of the inherited projects came out in 1986, The Transformers: The Movie - directed by Chuck Jones, written by Simon Furman and having a Star Wars-inspired plot different from the TV series to draw in newcomers, and even brought James Earl Jones as Unicron - and Robert Bresson's Genesis.
IOTL: The Transformers is only a bigger episode of the TV series with plenty of death to showcase new toys - as Orson Welles, who finished off his career as Unicron, summed up, “I played the voice of a toy. I play a planet. I menace somebody called Something-or-other. Then I'm destroyed. My plan to destroy Whoever-it-is is thwarted and I tear myself apart on the screen.” Bresson spent decades wanting to do Genesis, and Dino DeLaurentiis tried helping him in the mid-1980s before running short of cash.
Better Off Dead stars Charlie Sheen, Tawny Kitaen and Michael J. Fox ITTL instead of John Cusack, Amanda Wyss and Aaron Dozier. Also, Warren Beatty is the lead in Wall Street.