||This article consists almost entirely of a plot summary and it should be expanded to provide more balanced coverage that includes real-world context. (August 2011)|
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (August 2011)|
|Back to the Future character|
Thomas F. Wilson as Biff Tannen
|Portrayed by||Thomas F. Wilson|
|Voiced by||Thomas F. Wilson
Kid Beyond (Telltale Videogame)
|Appeared in||Part I
The Animated Series
|Original time||1955, 1985, 2015|
|Years visited||1955 (from 2015)|
Biff Howard Tannen is a fictional character in the Back to the Future trilogy. He serves as the primary antagonist of the first two films. He is played by Thomas F. Wilson in all three films as well as the ride, and voiced the character in the animated series.
In all of the timelines depicted in the films, Biff was born on March 26, 1937, in Hill Valley, California. He is the great-grandson of Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen, son of Kid Tannen, and the grandfather of Griff Tannen (although it isn't specified in the movie that Griff's last name was actually Tannen, Griff did call Biff Grandpa, after which Biff confirms it to Marty who was pretending to be Marty Jr.). He is not very bright and only got through high school by bullying George McFly to do his homework for him. Biff is feared by most of his schoolmates. He is less brave when he is without his gang (Match, Skinhead, and 3-D). He also has a crush on Lorraine Baines and constantly refers to her as "my girl." Lorraine does not return the sentiments.
By 1985, Biff's marital status is unknown – no mention of a wife or children was ever made in the trilogy, although Biff has a teenage grandson Griff by 2015, suggesting that Biff had at least one child by 1985. The animated series reveals that Biff has a son, Biff, Jr. (who, according to an early script for Back to the Future Part II, owns the Cafe 80's), although this may not be canon. A draft script reveals that his middle initial is "H" for "Howard", although his middle name was never mentioned in the trilogy. Also, a BTTF comic showed a "Mugsy Tannen" living in 1920s Prohibition-era Chicago as a gang boss.
The exact details of Biff's life before 1955 are not known. According to the film, he has been living with his grandma, Gertrude Tannen, at 1809 Mason Street for some time by November 1955. The whereabouts of his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Tannen, are not disclosed in the films (in the Back to the future: The Animated Series Frank Tannen was a German Sergeant in the United States Army in 1944. It seemed likely that Frank was Biff's father, as well as the son of Gertrude Tannen (who, by 1955, was "the only Tannen in the book") In Back to the Future: The Game, Kid Tannen is his father).
Biff's grandmother is not shown on screen, but her shrill voice (which was also that of Thomas F. Wilson) can be heard yelling at him. He had to repeat a year of school (explaining why, despite being a year older than George and Lorraine, he is in the same grade as them), although it is not known exactly when he was "kept behind" – this was probably some years prior to 1955, as Biff appears to have been bullying George for some time before this date. His catch phrase is butthead.
Back to the Future
In the original 1985, Biff started bullying George McFly when they were kids in 1955 and never stopped. Over the next 30 years, Biff would continue to bully and intimidate George, as they both ended up working for the same company where Biff became George's supervisor (due to George doing all Biff's work for him to get promoted and being too scared to report Biff to the upper management). Biff's crush on Lorraine never died either, although Lorraine had married George.
However, things changed when the events of the first movie begin to unfold. The McFlys' youngest son, Marty McFly, accidentally traveled back through time to 1955, interfering with his parents' first meeting. Marty, using the anachronistic name "Calvin Klein," also managed to get on the wrong side of Biff by standing up to him. Marty was indirectly responsible for causing Biff to crash his car into a manure truck, and this led to Biff finding Marty and Lorraine on the night of the school dance (November 12, 1955). Biff's gang trapped Marty in the trunk of another car, and Biff tried to sexually assault Lorraine. George came along, as part of the plan he and Marty had made where George would find Marty "parking" with Lorraine, but soon learned that the pretend rescue was now a real one. For the first time, George stood up to Biff to stop him from harming Lorraine. He responded by attempting to break George's arm. Lorraine, trying to pull Biff away from George, was knocked to the ground. This enraged George, who then reeled back his fist and knocked out Biff with a single punch.
This punch led to a much more confident George, and Biff no longer had a victim to pick on. He would later start up his auto-detailing business, which he owns and runs by himself, and by 1985 it seems to be quite popular. The McFlys are among his most loyal customers, and Biff's subservient attitude is demonstrated by addressing George as "Mr. McFly". George seems amused at Biff's efforts to get away with as little work as possible (but now confronts Biff to complete the work he was hired for), though he and Lorraine privately credit him with unwittingly helping them get together, and they appear to have put the past behind them and become friends, or are at least on amicable terms. Biff is nice to his customers to their faces, but can still be mean if he has to be.
Back to the Future Part II
At the start of the second film, Marty, Doc, and Marty's girlfriend Jennifer Parker travel forward in time from 1985 to 2015 – unaware that their departure had been witnessed by Biff. Over the next 30 years, he remembers seeing the flying DeLorean taking off, and that in the future of flying cars, he has never seen a flying DeLorean.
Biff, seemingly bitter and resentful at this point in his life, is still waxing cars by 2015, at the age of 78, and is pushed around by his grandson Griff. Biff still seems to like bullying people, including Marty (who he thinks is Marty's future son, Marty, Jr.), and the handle on his walking cane is in the shape of a closed fist – although he remains cautious and apprehensive around George McFly. Biff's crush on Lorraine still lingers as indicated with his line, "Hey kid. Say hello to your grandma for me".
On October 21, 2015, Biff saw the time machine from 1985 in the street and overheard Doc Brown stating that the De Lorean is a time machine that he had invented. He picked up a sport almanac that Doc had thrown in the trash, stole the De Lorean while Doc and Marty were rescuing Jennifer from her future home. Biff headed back to November 12, 1955, with the almanac to give to his younger self. Rather than telling the truth about himself to his younger self, the old Biff claimed to be a distant relative and the young one didn't notice any resemblance.
However, upon returning to 2015, Biff became the victim of a time paradox: his giving the almanac to his younger self had changed the timeline drastically, resulting in his nonexistence. A deleted scene shows him slumped behind a vehicle fading into nothingness as the DeLorean flies away. The finished film still shows him writhing in pain, which has been explained by various sources by saying that he had a heart attack, or noting that his cane catches as he leaves the DeLorean. Biff yanks on the cane, breaking it, and hurting him. The top part of Biff's cane remained in the De Lorean after he accidentally broke it, and Doc showed it to Marty as an indication that Old Biff had been there.
Young Biff used the sports almanac to bet on the results of sporting events, since he now knew the results. In 1958, at age 21, Biff soon became very rich and powerful, spending his money on women and cars. He also started up his toxic waste company, Biffco, soon becoming one of the richest and most powerful men in America. Biff built a casino hotel in Hill Valley (at least 27 stories high), named "Biff's Pleasure Paradise", on the site of the former Courthouse, and upon legalized gambling in 1979. He also owned a real-estate firm (as shown by the red 'For Sale' signs at various houses in the Lyon Estates subdivision), which has apparently intimidated several residents into selling their property. He also helped Richard Nixon remain President of the United States until at least 1985. Biff's effect on history affected the whole world – in this version of history, the Vietnam War was also still ongoing by May 1983. Though he was blindly recognized as one of America's heroes (though this claim is probably exaggerated, since it is stated in the promotional video at the entrance to his personal museum), his enormous casino hotel, complete authority over the local law enforcement, and money-driven power drove Hill Valley into a breeding ground for crime, corruption, and gang warfare.
Despite all this, Biff still did not have the girl he wanted. In this version of history, he was married at least three times; presumably, the first wife was the woman he would have married in the normal timeline and the mother of his child(ren). One of the women he reportedly married was Marilyn Monroe, according to one of the pictures in the Biff Tannen Museum. It is presumed in this alternate timeline Biff has been widowed from Marilyn Monroe (who still died in 1962), and possibly his first wife as well. In the alternate 1985, Doctor Brown is committed to an insane asylum, presumably due to Biff's interference. Biff was warned by his older self that "someday a crazy wild-eyed guy who claims to be a scientist or a kid may show up asking about this book" and that he was to get rid of them immediately. Being that Brown was the only scientist in the film's plot, Biff possibly wanted him locked away. However, he claims he never suspected Marty to be the "kid" his old self had warned him about. On March 15, 1973, Biff shot and murdered George McFly, who had been campaigning against Biffco's health issues, though Lorraine is unaware of this, and with the authorities in his pocket, was able to bribe the police to cover up the story (in an original draft, the newspaper, thanks to Biff's payoffs, was to state that George died of a heart attack). It is also presumed that Biff's great fortune reignited his hatred for George McFly, and gave him the boldness to commit murder in order to end George's marriage to Lorraine. He married Lorraine not long afterwards, possibly by offering financial support to the young widow and her three children. The money and power had gone to his head, making him a more evil then he was before and he treated her horribly, and among other things, forced her to get breast implants. It is also implied that Biff had a habit of hitting Marty over the head violently and abusing him along with his mother (as implied when Lorraine tells Marty "They must have hit you really hard this time.") This went on until 1996 when Lorraine finally shot Biff — this was never implied in the finished film, but Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale have suggested the "Lorraine shot Biff" theory as an explanation for Biff's fading away in the aforementioned deleted scene.
When Marty and Doc go back to 1955 to retrieve the almanac from Young Biff, we see Young Biff in an argument that implies that the manure truck incident was the factor that caused Biff to become an auto-detailer in any timeline where he doesn't have George to do his work for him or an almanac that helps him to win bets.
The alternate version of reality was erased when Marty and Doc went back to 1955 and got the almanac from Biff before he could use it or had time to memorize some of the statistics for future use, causing Biff to crash into the very same manure truck a second time. Marty destroyed the almanac (ironically using a matchbook from Biff's casino). The timeline went back to how it was at the end of the first film, where Biff was running his auto-detailing business (which was also reflected in a change on the matchbook's label).
Back to the Future Part III
Although Thomas F. Wilson still remained as one of the main actors in the final installment, his character, Biff, only appeared at the end of the film (accidentally mistaking Marty as a stranger), once Marty had again returned to 1985, and was back to working as an auto-detailer, waxing Marty's Toyota truck for him once more. This was noticeably one of the few times he called someone a "butthead" in the changed timeline, though he quickly apologizes after realizing that it was Marty he insulted. The primary antagonist of this film was Biff's great-grandfather, Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen (also played by Wilson), who bullied and terrorized the town of Hill Valley in the 1880s until his humiliating defeat by Marty in a showdown and then later arrested.
Back to the Future: The Ride
Biff has a major role in the Back to the Future ride film. The ride reveals that in 1991, Doc established the Institute of Future Technology (IFT). On May 2, 1991 (which is also the day the ride opened), time travel volunteers from the IFT went back to 1955 to make sure that the timeline was back to normal following the events of the films. In 1955, 18-year-old Biff stowed away in the time machine, and, once in 1991, caused havoc in the institute before stealing the time machine and blasting through time. Doc, with the help of the audience, followed Biff through time in the new 8-seater De Lorean. Biff visited October 25, 2015 (almost the 30th anniversary of the first time travel experiment), the Ice Age, and the Late Cretaceous period, where he nearly perishes in what he dubs a "lava-fall", before being bumped in the back by the eight-passenger De Lorean at 88 MPH and heading back to 1991. Biff was then taken back to 1955, where he belonged, by Doc. He thanked Doc and the De Lorean passengers for saving his life, but promptly turned aggressive again when apprehended by institute personnel.
Back to the Future: The Animated Series
Biff was the present day villain of the series, although most episodes featured one of his numerous ancestors or descendants instead, always as some villainous cretin, so frequently that, when in Rome, Marty rhetorically questioned if there was a "Tannen" in every time and place they visited after coming face to face with Bifficus. Biff's ancestors also have the same tendency to use the phrase butt-head or some variant. It was his great-great-grandfather General Beuregard Tannen, a Confederate cavalry officer and presumably Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen's father, who was the first to use butt-head as it is today. He would call his Union foes and his enemies in general "buttocks brains" until one of Doctor Brown's time traveling sons corrected him and said the proper phrase was "butt-head". The Confederate approved the term.
The series established that Biff has a son, Biff, Jr., who is about 18 years old by 1991. No mention of a wife is made, and it appears that Biff is a single father or a widower (it should be noted that in an early drafted script for Part II, Biff, Jr. was to be the owner of the 80's café in 2015). In the episode, The Money Tree, he is shown driving a tow truck, which means in the six years between the movies and the series; he still has his automotive detailing business (he drove a "Biff's"-branded tow truck in 1985 in the movies).
The series has a few episodes centered on Biff. It revealed that in 1967, he saw the Comet Kablooey and thought it was an alien ship, and that in 1992, he tried claiming Jennifer Parker's grandparents' ranch after finding a deed saying the Tannen family owned it. However, Marty, Jules, and Verne went back to 1875 to make sure that the Tannens never got the deed.
One episode in the second season which took place in 1944 introduced a military character named Frank Tannen, possibly Biff's father who was later absent during the fifties, who lived in Hill Valley and was in the United States Army.
Back to the Future: The Game
Biff and his descendants appear in the episodic video game by Telltale Games, Back to the Future: The Game, voiced by Kid Beyond. In the first episode, Biff appears during a sale of Doc Brown's belongings, where Marty prevents him from discovering Brown's notes about time travel. Afterwards, the DeLorean appears and Marty travels back to 1931, where Biff's father, Irving "Kid" Tannen, is head of a mafia gang running various alcohol smuggling operations during the prohibition. When one of his illegal speakeasies is destroyed, articles in the future suggest that Kid kills Doc Brown for the act, forcing Marty to break him out. In the process, Marty delivers a subpoena to his grandfather and one of Kid's employees, Arthur McFly, which puts Marty's existence in jeopardy at the end of the episode 1. In the second episode, after Marty saves his Grandfather, he finds that his actions meant nobody testified against Kid Tannen, resulting in the Tannens becoming the fifth-biggest crime family in California, headed by an aged Kid. Marty returns to 1931 and convinces Tannen's moll Trixie Trotter and Officer Danny Parker (Jennifer Parker's grandfather) to indict Tannen. However, because the young Doc helped apprehend Tannen, he unintentionally won the heart of crusading reporter Edna Strickland, which results in an alternate 1986 where Doc rules over an Orwellian dystopia as "First Citizen Brown". In this timeline, Biff is the first subject of the Citizen Plus Program, an initiative which uses aversion therapy to render the subject unable to even think about immoral behavior, as well as turning Biff a brainwashed puppet for Edna Brown to use as muscle for dirtier dealings. After Marty helps break the brainwashing, an enraged Biff tries to attack Marty, but Marty (with Einstein's help) knocks Biff out and escapes.
Playing the Role
J.J. Cohen, who later played one of Biff's gang was considered to play Biff, but did not appear physically imposing next to Eric Stoltz, who was originally cast as Marty. He did appear more imposing next to the shorter Michael J. Fox, who had been the first choice to play Marty and who would later replace Stoltz in the role. On the DVD commentary for the first film, producer Bob Gale noted that Cohen may very well have won the role had Fox been cast from the beginning.
The actor that would eventually be cast for the role, Thomas F. Wilson (now going by Tom Wilson), in actuality, has been considered to be a decent man by friends, family, and fans who have met him in person. In an interview about the BTTF films, Wilson said he portrayed Biff as a vicious bully to show younger audience members the adverse effects of bullying and attempt to discourage that behavior. Wilson also stated the audience could also agree with Biff at certain points, such as old Biff giving the almanac to enrich his younger self, knowing ultimately Biff is going to lose and Marty will win.
Wilson has transitioned into a career as a comic and musician and has recorded a song called "Biff's Question Song". Wilson and Christopher Lloyd had both made appearances in the movie Camp Nowhere where Lloyd plays a camp "counselor" and Wilson plays a policeman.