Field Notes: Nuclear Option

Posted: September 9, 2015

When fans have option of streaming a movie from a subscription service or ordering a film on demand, packaging for DVDs and Blue-Ray discs becomes even more important. The value proposition cannot lie primarily in the movie.

Instead, home entertainment distributors and movie collectors look to the packaging to extend the fan experience, and shoppers, who are looking to gift movies, consider packaging as much a part of the product as the contents inside.

To reach these markets, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment used a graphic design that would fit right in the design aesthetic of 1985—the year director Robert Zemeckis, executive producer Steven Spielberg and producer/screenwriter Bob Gale embarked on a three-part journey through time that broke box-office records worldwide. 

To make the packaging for the Back to the Future 30th Anniversary Trilogy more brilliant, the packaging includes a light-up replication of the movie’s flux capacitor, the nuclear-powered device that brought Marty McFly, the film’s main character, to the 1950s.

We ask Package Design readers if the design approach is effective or, despite the good intentions, it backfires.

Ultimately this type of media packaging will need to step up its game as streaming does become more popular, and I think the touches of light up elements and richer experiences like the book do help to give this packaging some differentiation and a more experiential feel. I would have liked to have seen them push the retro qualities of the design even more and pulled more inspiration from the darker original posters when the first movie was released. Overall I think this speaks to a true fan of the trilogy and the light up flux capacitor will look right at home on the bookshelf next to the die-cast DeLorean model.

Andy Kurtts
creative director at Buttermilk Creative

While the flux capacitor is a fun concept, there was a missed opportunity to boldly leverage some of the more iconic visual elements – the arrow logo, DeLorean, hoverboard, Biff’s sports almanac, the clock tower, etc.

This package falls short of the opportunity and does not feel holistically considered.

The scene vignettes feel heavy-handed for an audience most likely familiar with every cinematic nook and cranny. If the visual goal was retro, the result is cluttered and dated.

Back to the Future’s unique narrative thread connecting disparate eras such 50s and 80s could have translated into an engaging packaging experience that tied the individual components together through some of the same narrative devices.

Ryin Kobza
creative director and principal of rk d


Having released a 25th Anniversary Trilogy edition just five years ago, the challenge is giving buyers incentive to purchase another set. The light-up flux capacitor packaging is a clever idea, enhancing the fans engagement, and could make this set a must have for collectors.

The package design could have benefited from lenticular printing on a clear substrate where the logo is seen only on certain angles. This would keep the outer carton’s design and at the same time add a compelling value proposition by creating a hologram effect and adding much needed branding to the product. This type of printing also could be used for the DVD cases inside where Marty McFly’s image could appear and disappear from certain viewing angles—creating a nice tie-in to the movie’s subplot.

Jose Parado
vice president and creative director,
Haugaard Creative

The execution of this anniversary packaging is so expected. The package structure could have been a great opportunity to create something really innovative to present all of the components in a unique way.

The bold graphics of the logo and the other images could have been executed to enhance shelf impact by using a more dynamic layout and color.

It may do well because there is a fan base who will support the movie franchise, but it’s a lost opportunity to do something different!

Sandra Krasovec
professor of packaging design, Fashion Institute of Technology at the State University of New York