|Back to the Future character|
Thomas F. Wilson as 1955 Biff Tannen in Part I
|Portrayed by||Thomas F. Wilson|
|Voiced by||Thomas F. Wilson
Kid Beyond (Telltale Videogame)
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. Thomas F. Wilson plays Biff in all three films as well as the Universal Studios ride, and voiced the character in the animated series.
Biff is a tall, arrogant, violent bully who obtains what he wants by intimidating others into doing his work for him, or by cheating. He and his family members have a tendency to misuse idioms in a way that makes them appear foolish and comical despite their intention to insult or intimidate. His favorite insult is "butthead".
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 "Grampa", after which Biff confirms it to Marty). Rather than studying in high school, he prefers to bully George McFly into doing his homework for him while he drinks and hangs out with his friends. 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 second 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 (also Thomas F. Wilson, in falsetto) can be heard yelling at him. He had to repeat a year of school (explaining why, despite being a complete 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.
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 end up working for the same company where Biff becomes 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 dies either, although Lorraine has married George.
However, things changed when the events of Part I begin to unfold, after Marty McFly accidentally travels back through time to 1955, interfering with his parents' first meeting when he inadvertently saves George from being hit by a car after he falls from a tree, the original incident that had led to him meeting Lorraine. Marty, using the anachronistic name "Calvin Klein," also manages to get on the wrong side of Biff by standing up to him twice - first when he's harassing Lorraine in the cafeteria, and later when Biff threatens to toss George out of Lou's Café while George is trying to ask Lorraine out. This leads to a dramatic action scene where Marty, on a skateboard, is chased by Biff's car through the town square. The chase ends when Biff and his pals crash into a manure truck, which dumps its entire load on him. Seeking revenge, Biff finds Marty and Lorraine on the night of the Enchantment Under the Sea dance (November 12, 1955). Biff's gang traps Marty in the trunk of the car belonging to Marvin Berry and the Starlighters, and Biff tries to sexually assault Lorraine. George comes along, as part of the plan he and Marty have made where George was to find Marty "parking" with Lorraine, but soon learns that the pretend rescue was now a real one. For the first time, George stands up to Biff to stop him from harming Lorraine. Biff responds by twisting George's arm, during which Lorraine is knocked to the ground. George then floors Biff with a punch to the head.
The result is that in 1985, George is much more confident, and Biff's defeat also helps a lot when it comes to improving George's reputation in school. George now repeatedly outwits Biff later on; as a result, Biff no longer has a victim to do all his work for him. George will give Biff a difficult time whenever there is a chance in retaliation of his past bullying, causing Biff to be apprehensive when George is around.
Biff then starts 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 Biff has seen them. 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 (also Wilson). Biff still seems to like bullying people, including Marty (who he mistakes for 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 the subject of George McFly. Biff's crush on Lorraine still lingers as indicated when he tells Marty, "Hey kid. Say hello to your grandma for me".
On October 21, 2015, Biff sees the DeLorean from 1985 in the street and overhears Doc telling Marty that the DeLorean is a time machine that he had invented, thus discovering that the kid he just picked on was not Marty Jr. but his father's past self. He picks up a Gray's Sports Almanac that Doc had thrown in the trash, and "borrows" the De Lorean while Doc and Marty were rescuing Jennifer from her future home. Biff goes back to November 12, 1955, with the almanac to give to his younger self. He climbs into his past self's car while the past Biff is inside the mechanic's shop arguing with the mechanic. After harassing Lorraine, Biff returns to his car to find old Biff sitting in the driver's seat. Old Biff claims to be a distant relative. After recklessly driving Biff back to his house, Old Biff hands Biff the almanac, telling him to keep it locked up in a safe, and not let anyone ever see it, and before he leaves to go back to 2015, Old Biff warns Biff to be careful because someone might come around asking about the book, and to kill them if they do.
However, upon returning to 2015, Old Biff becomes the victim of a time paradox: his giving the almanac to his younger self had changed the timeline drastically, resulting in his nonexistence, as supported by a deleted scene that 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. (On the DVD commentary, it is stated that Lorraine Tannon kills him at some point in the future, before 2015). Biff yanks on the cane, breaking it, and hurting him. The top part of Biff's cane remained in the DeLorean after he accidentally broke it, and Doc shows it to Marty as an indication that Old Biff had been there.
As a result of the sports almanac, the past Biff utilizes it to bet on the results of sporting events, since he now knows the results ahead of time. After winning a big bet on a trip to the racetrack on his 21st birthday, and winning several more times (leading to a winning streak that has newspapers calling Biff "the Luckiest Man on Earth"), Biff soon becomes very rich and powerful, spending his money on women and cars. He also starts up his toxic waste company, Biffco, soon becoming one of the richest and most powerful men in America.
In 1979, Biff lobbies to legalize gambling and builds a casino hotel in Hill Valley (at least 27 stories high), named "Biff's Pleasure Paradise", incorporated into Hill Valley's once-dilapidated courthouse. (Real-life California had a ban on many forms of gambling in 1985, as per penal code 330.) He also has a real-estate firm (as shown by the red 'For Sale' signs at various houses in the Lyon Estates subdivision), which is implied to be intimidating several residents into selling their property (as evidenced when Marty finds a black family living in what was originally his house and the father chases him out with a baseball bat, shouting "We ain't gonna be terrorized!"). He also has 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 is also still ongoing by May 1983. Though he is 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 does not have the girl he wanted. In this version of history, he is married at least three times; presumably, the first wife is the woman he would have married in the normal timeline and the mother of his child(ren), meaning Griff will still exist in some form. One of the women he reportedly marries was Marilyn Monroe, according to one of the pictures in the Biff Tannen Museum video. 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, and the video documenting his life also shows that he dated Jayne Mansfield. In the alternate 1985, Doc is committed to an insane asylum, presumably due to Biff's interference. Biff is 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 is to kill them immediately. Being that Doc is the only scientist in the film's plot, Biff possibly wants 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 shoots George dead in cold blood, as George has been campaigning against Biffco's health issues, though Lorraine is unaware of this, and with the authorities in his pocket, is 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 reignites his hatred for George, and gives him the boldness to commit murder in order to end George's marriage to Lorraine. He marries Lorraine not long afterwards, possibly by offering financial support to the young widow and her three children. The money and power have gone to his head, making him more evil then he was before and he treats her horribly, and among other things, forced her to get breast implants. It is also heavily implied that Biff-A, and his allies, have a habit of hitting Marty over the head violently and physically and verbally abusing him along with his mother (as implied when Lorraine tells Marty "They must have hit you really hard this time.") This goes on until at least 1996 when Lorraine finally shoots 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, Biff is seen having a heated argument with the mechanic at the body shop that implies that the manure truck accident 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 is erased when Marty and Doc go back to 1955 and get the almanac from Biff before he can use it or had time to memorize some of the statistics for future use, causing Biff to crash into another manure truck. Marty destroys the almanac (ironically using a matchbook from Biff's casino). The timeline goes back to how it was at the end of the first film, where Biff is 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), an outlaw who terrorized the town of Hill Valley in the 1880s until his humiliating defeat by Marty in a showdown followed by his arrest.
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 "butthead" 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 "butthead" 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 "butthead". 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 ancestors 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.
- The first draft mentions Biff having a daughter.
- FAQs about the trilogy (2002/2009 Back to the Future Part III DVD, 2010 DVD set Bonus Disc)
- Telltale, Incorporated (February 16, 2011). "Back to the Future: The Game - Episode 2: Get Tannen!".