In Back to the Future, George McFly is a nerdy teenager with a love for science fiction stories and a crush on his high school classmate Lorraine. Even after he grows up, he is unsuccessful and cowardly. Marty's trip back to the 1950s alters George's future, resulting in him becoming a published novelist and a man able to stand up to bullies like Biff.
Crispin Glover was cast as George McFly. Although he drew generally strong reviews from the critics, the way he approached the character didn't always please director/co-screenwriter Robert Zemeckis or co-screenwriter/producer Bob Gale.
"[Glover] was really something. 'Nuts' is a good description. A lot of those mannerisms were actually his," Gale told The Guardian. "He had to be reined in occasionally. The hardest thing was getting him to act like a completely normal person for the final scenes of the movie."
Glover declined to reprise his role for Back to the Future Part II and was replaced by Jeffrey Weissman. Nearly 15 years after the sequel's release, Glover explained there were two main reasons why he didn't return to portray George McFly: (1) his "moral" objections to the script's original ending and (2) money.
"It [the ending] had to do with money, and what the characters were doing with money," Glover said on the Opie and Anthony show. "I said to Robert Zemeckis I thought it was not a good idea for our characters to have a monetary reward, because it basically makes the moral of the movie that money equals happiness."
Glover said he thought that love, not money, should be the characters' reward and that Zemeckis "got really mad" at the actor for him questioning the script. The actor also admitted, "I wanted to be in the movie, but the offer was less than half of what Lea Thompson and Tom Wilson - who had similar sized roles - it just wasn’t fair."
This might have been a fairly typical story about one actor replacing another in a role except for one thing - in 1990, Glover ended up suing Universal Pictures, Amblin Entertainment, and U-Drive Productions for $1 million. The lawsuit alleged that "[Glover] has a unique and distinctive likeness and voice that have won him roles in numerous motion pictures" and that they violated the actor's right to publicity by using his likeness and his voice in the two sequels without his permission.
The lawsuit revolved around the fact that the filmmakers tried to make it appear that Glover - not Weissman - was the one playing George in the sequels. They did this by having Weissman wear a mold of Glover's face - which had been made during the production of the original Back to the Future film - and used additional prosthetics as well as camera angles to make it appear to the audience and critics that Glover was in the sequels.
In his appearance on the Opie and Anthony show, Glover admitted that - aside from the issue about the filmmakers trying to fool people into believing Weissman was actually Glover - he hated the way his replacement Weissman played George McFly.
"If I’d have played that part, I would have played it different. I didn’t like the way that guy played it, and people think it’s me. It still gets to me that there’s that confusion."
Weissman had other problems. Lea Thompson, who played Lorraine McFly, pretty much snubbed him during filming, and many of the other cast and crew members, evidently confused by how the prosthetics made him resemble Glover, often called him “Crispin.”
"Lea never called me by name," Weissman claimed. "When we were in the makeup chair in the morning, she rarely addressed me."
After Glover sued, Universal Pictures filed a demurrer - a document that argues that there is no basis for the lawsuit even if the allegations made are true. Their argument was that, in making Weissman look like Glover, they were simply trying to protect the continuity of the character of George McFly.
The lawsuit was eventually settled out of court for $760,000. Even though it never got to court, the case is still often cited when filmmakers look for ways to keep the continuity of a character when the original actor isn't available.