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Biff Tannen is a fictional character in the Back to the Future motion picture trilogy, serving as the primary antagonist of the first two films and a minor supporting character in the third film. He is played in the three films and the ride, and voiced in the animated series by Thomas F. Wilson. Daniel Stern was originally considered for the role .

Character biography

Early life

In all of the timelines depicted in the film, Biff was born on March 26, 1937 in Hill Valley, Californiamarker. He is the great-grandson of Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen and the grandfather of Griff Tannen (although it isn't specified in the movie that Griff's last name was actually Tannen, to which Griff could have been the offspring of Biff's daughter, instead of son). 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. In BTTF II, the video showing Biff and Lorraine, just before Biff kisses Lorraine, he says "third time's a charm", which probably meant that he was married twice before, though this was in an alternate universe later reversed by Doc and Marty, so may be now untrue. 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 is not taken as canon by many fans. 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 Chicagomarker as a gang boss, probably Mad Dog's son.

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 are not disclosed in the film, although some theories suggest that one or both of them might be dead or imprisoned. It is presumed that Gertrude Tannen is Biff's paternal grandmother, being the daughter-in-law of Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen. Gertrude Tannen is presumably widowed from her husband by 1955, and like most widows she has retained the last name of her husband. 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, which suggests she is abusive, somewhat explaining his mean and bullying nature. The absence of his parents may also attribute to his bitter attitude and hostile demeanor. He also 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.

In several draft scripts of the films, he was born on Elm Street, and he was a fantastic asset to the high school football team, which is given as the reason why he was kept to do his senior year twice. In the film, it is shown that he is a lazy student who is unwilling to apply himself, as he forces George to do his homework.

Back to the Future

In the original timeline, Biff started bullying George McFly when they were kids 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, who would probably fire Biff if they knew he was dumping all the work on George). 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, something which Biff was not used to. Marty was also 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 molest Lorraine. George came along, as part of the plan he and Marty had made where George would find Marty "parking" with Lorraine, but soon realized that the pretend rescue was now a real one. For the first time, George stood up to Biff to stop him from molesting 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 subsequently knocked out Biff with one punch.

This punch led to a much more confident George, and Biff no longer had a victim to pick on. He may have found someone else to bully, but some theories suggest that as the supposed weakest kid in school had successfully stood up to and punched Biff, nobody else would let him bully them anymore. The fallout over the incident may have affected Match, Skinhead, and 3-D's relations with Biff to the point that they stayed away from him. Since Biff no longer had George to do his work for him, he now had to do things for himself. He started up his auto-detailing business, which he owns and runs 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 travelled 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 De Lorean taking off, and that in the future of flying cars, he has never seen a flying De Lorean.

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. Despite being over the age of retirement, Biff does not appear to have retired – he may just be doing his grandson a favor by waxing his car, or he may have hit on hard times and been forced to continue working. 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 sports almanac that Doc had thrown in the trash and, based on what Marty had planned when he bought the almanac in the first place, stole the De Lorean while Doc and Marty were rescuing Jennifer from her future home (note: Biff was never shown how to use the time machine, but still knew anyway). 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 ironically 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, resulting in his nonexistence. A deleted scene shows him slumped behind a garbage bin fading into nothingness as the De Lorean 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 himself. 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 was there.

Young Biff used the sports almanac to bet on the results of sporting events, since he now knew the results. In 1958, 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, upon legalized gambling in 1979. He also owns 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. Biff has also presumably spearheaded an effort to repeal the 22nd Amendment and get rid of presidential term limits. He also helped Richard Nixon remain President of the United States (presumably by using his money and influence to cover up the Watergate investigations) until at least 1985 (while seeking a fifth consecutive term, which would mean that Nixon had at least until January 1985 before he had to turn over to a successor). Biff's effects 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 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 on the Biff Tannen Museum. It is presumed in this alternate timeline Biff has been widowed from Marilyn Monroe (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 "some day a crazy wild-eyed guy who clams 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 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 the story up (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 3 children, but the money and power had gone to his head, 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. However, old Biff fading away might have been the foreshadowing of the alternate Biff coming into existence, effectively erasing the original Biff out of time, albeit this theory may be counter-argued by the fact the original Marty never faded away to give place to any Marty that would exist in any new version of reality.

When Marty and Doc go back to 1955 to retrieve the almanac, 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.

This 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 with 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, 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. This film dealt with his great-grandfather, Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen (also played by Wilson).

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, (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.

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 villanous cretin, so frequently that Marty once rhetorically questioned if there was a "Biff" in every time and place they visited. 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 6 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 around 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 who lived in Hill Valley and was in the United States Army.

The first season of the cartoon featured a segment after the end credits in which Biff would break the fourth wall and tell the audience a joke which related to the theme of the episode.

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". Also noteworthy, Wilson and Christopher Lloyd had both made appearances in the movie Camp Nowhere where Lloyd plays a camp "counselor" and Wilson plays a policeman.

Recurring Traits

One of Biff's, or perhaps the Tannen family's recurring themes, is involving impact with a manure truck. After the second crash, he exclaims "Manure! I hate manure!" Consequently, after Buford Tannen falls onto a manure wagon in BTTF III, he also states, "I hate manure!"

One of Biff's other staples is getting cliche sayings wrong, sometimes screwing up the same line (in the same manner) two or three times during the course of the series. One of the most popular times is when he screws up the line "Make like a tree and leave" as "Make like a tree and get out of here". In Part 2, Old Biff scolds Young Biff when Young Biff says the line towards his older self (also giving the notion that Biff had learned of the correct sayings at some point in the first altered timeline). On a footnote, Biff's version of the "make like a tree" line has become somewhat of a popular line in American culture due to the films (sometimes completely replacing the original saying as the correct version ), as it is one of the most popular quotes in the films .

References

  1. The first draft mentions Biff having a daughter.


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