Biff Howard Tannen was born on March 26, 1937 in Hill Valley, California. He was the great-grandson of Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen and the grandfather of Griff Tannen. He was not very bright and only got through high school by bullying George McFly to do his homework for him. Biff was feared by most of his schoolmates. He was less brave when he is without his gang (Match, Skinhead, and 3-D). He also had a crush on Lorraine Baines and constantly referred to her as "my girl." Lorraine did not return the sentiments.
Biff was noted for mixed metaphors: for example, he said "make like a tree and get out of here" instead of "make like a tree and leave" on more than one occasion. He also once said "That's about as funny as a screen door on a battleship" instead of submarine. He was also known for calling people "butthead". When someone said something foolish, he knocked on their head with his fist (or a fist-shaped cane in his old age) saying "Hello? Hello? Anybody home?" His attitude was to do something rather than think things over and he had no problems with using his fists to get what he wanted. Biff would try and get out of paying for things if he had to and was looking for a nice easy life where everyone else would do things for him. He also liked cars and ended up with a career waxing and cleaning them with his auto detailing business. Biff was still a bully, but could be nice and/or charming when he needed to be, usually to get out of trouble.
Although there are vague details of Biff's life before 1955, exact details are not known. What is known is that he had been living with his grandmother, Gertrude Tannen, at 1809 Mason Street for some time by November 1955. The whereabouts of his parents is not known, although some theories suggest that one or both of them might have been dead or in prison. The absence of his parents may have attributed to his negative 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 was 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.
He was born on Elm Street and he was a fantastic asset to the high school football team, which is the reason why he was kept to do his senior year twice.
The late 20th century
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). Biff's crush on Lorraine never died either, although Lorraine had married George and presumably Biff had married as well.
However, things changed when the McFlys' youngest son Marty McFly accidentally traveled back through time to 1955 using his friend Doc Brown's DeLorean time machine, interfering with his parents' first meeting. Marty, using the anachronistic name "Calvin Klein," also managed toget 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 get his way with 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 raping 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. Lorraine fell in love with George at that moment, and they walked into the dance holding hands, staring into each other's eyes.
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. 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 owned and ran himself, and by 1985 it seemed to be quite popular. The McFlys were among his most loyal customers, and Biff's subservient attitude was demonstrated by addressing George as "Mr. McFly". George seemed amused at Biff's efforts to get away with as little work as possible though he and Lorraine privately credited him with unwittingly helping them get together, and they appeared to have become friends, or were at least on amicable terms. Biff was nice to his customers to their faces, but could still be mean if he had to be.
Marty, Doc and Marty's girlfriend Jennifer Parker traveled forward in time from 1985 to 2015 – unaware that their departure had been witnessed by Biff. Over the next 30 years, he remembered seeing the flying DeLorean taking off.Biff, seemingly bitter and resentful at this point in his life, was still waxing cars by 2015, at the age of 78, and was pushed around by his grandson Griff. Despite being over the age of retirement, Biff did not appear to have retired – he may have just been 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 seemed to like bullying people, including Marty (who he thinks is Marty's future son Martin McFly Jr.), and the handle on his walking cane was in the shape of a closed fist – although he remained cautious and apprehensive around George McFly. Also Biff's crush on Lorraine still lingered.
On October 21, 2015, Biff saw the DeLorean from 1985 in the street and realized that Doc Brown had invented a time machine. He picked up a sports almanac that Doc had thrown in the trash and stole the DeLorean whilst 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.
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. He slumped behind a garbage bin fading into nothingness as the DeLorean flew away. The top part of Biff's cane remained in the DeLorean and Doc showed it to Marty as an indication that old Biff was there. As when Marty started to fade at the dance in the first movie, Biff did not fade out completely until the Delorean's distinctive sonic booms were heard. Presumably, had Marty and/or Doc found the evidence that Biff had been in the time machine, they could have corrected the time-line, but once they left 2015, Biff's fate was sealed.
The alternate present
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 Palace", on the site of the former Courthouse, upon legalized gambling in 1979. He also helped Richard Nixon remain President of the United States until at least 1983 (while seeking a fifth consecutive term). 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 recognized as one of America's heroes, his enormous casino hotel, complete authority over the local law enforcement, and money driven power, descended 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). On March 15, 1973, Biff shot and murdered George McFly, though Lorraine is unaware he did this. He married her 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. This went on until 1996 when Lorraine finally shot Biff. There is another possibility; having created an alternate timeline by giving his younger self the almanac, the old Biff from 2015 no longer exists, now that 2015 will become part of the 1985A timeline.
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, causing Biff to crash into the very same manure truck a second time. The timeline went back to how it was at the end of the first film, where Biff was running his auto detailing business.
The improved 1985
Once Marty had returned to 1985 for the second time, Biff was back to working as an auto-detailer and he waxed Marty's Toyota truck for him once more.
Back to the Future: The Ride
In 1991, Doc established the Institute of Future Technology (IFT). On May 2, 1991, 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, stole it and blasted through time. Doc followed Biff through time in the new 8-seater DeLorean. Biff visited October 25, 2015 (almost the 30th anniversary of the first time travel experiment) and the Ice Age before heading back to 1991. Biff was then taken back to 1955, where he belonged, by Doc.
Back to the Future: The Animated Series
Since one of his numerous ancestors or descendants were featured, Marty rhetorically questioned if there was a "Biff" in every time and place they visited when they went to ancient Rome. Biff was once shown driving a tow truck, which means in the six years between the movies and the series, he still had his automotive detailing business.
In 1967, he saw the Comet Kablooey and thought it was an alien ship, and 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.
In 1944, a military character named Frank Tannen who lived in Hill Valley and was in the United States Army. Frank might be Biff's father, and if Frank were to be MIA, it could explain why Biff lives with his grandmother by 1955.
Behind the scenes
- Biff Tannen had been named in the original, 1980 draft of the script for Back to the Future, and in earlier drafts, "Biff H. Tannen" was referred to, along with a mention that the H. stood for "Howard". While this might suggest that Biff is a nickname, the original script included a sequence where Biff ruins an electric drill and then says to George, "Oh--and one more thing: my kid's selling Girl Scout cookies. I told her you were good for 4 boxes. Don't make me a liar!". A similar scene was filmed for Back to the Future, with a pushy neighbor and his daughter getting George to buy a case of peanut brittle. The neighbor, whose scenes were cut from the film, was named Howard.
- 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.
- By the time he reaches age 78, Biff is a lot smarter than he had been at 48 or at 18. Besides the more obvious point, where he is with the 1955 Biff, is exasperated with Biff's penchant for mixing up metaphors and corrects him and blasts him for sounding "like a damn fool", he also quickly recognizes an opportunity to borrow a Sports Almanac and a time machine, he readily figures out how to operate the machine without any prior instructions. In addition to stealing the car, he has to (a) put fuel in Mr. Fusion (b) input an appropriate destination time (c) turn the time circuits on, and (d) reaching the proper speed (88 mph) for time displacement. After locating his younger self, he has to repeat the sequence and set a return time soon after his moment of departure so that nobody would realize the car had ever been gone. It's possible that old Biff might have needed more than one try before he successfully travelled to November 12, 1955. It is also possible that the camcorder with the videotape of Doc's instructions was still in the car.
- Biff appeared in Back to the Future: The Animated Series, though not in every episode. Thomas F. Wilson provided the voice for Biff, who always wore a red bowling shirt. In the first season, Biff often would appear after the closing credits and would tell a lame (intentionally) joke. He was often seen as a character in the second season episodes. Wilson supplied the voice for some, but not all, of the Tannen relatives encountered in earlier eras.
- Back to the Future Trilogy
- Back to the Future novelizations
- Back to the Future: The Ride
- Back to the Future: The Animated Series
Notes and references
- ↑ Draft script
| The McFly Family|
Marty McFly | George McFly | Lorraine Baines McFly | Jennifer Parker | Seamus McFly | Maggie McFly
Dave McFly | Linda McFly | Martin McFly, Jr. | Marlene McFly | Arthur McFly
| The Brown Family|
Dr. Emmett "Doc" Brown | Clara Clayton Brown | Jules Brown | Verne Brown | Einstein
| The Tannen Family|
Biff Tannen | Buford Tannen | Griff Tannen | Irving "Kid" Tannen
| The Strickland Family|
James Strickland | Roger Strickland | Irene Strickland | Edna Strickland | Gerald Strickland
Match, Skinhead & 3-D | Goldie Wilson | Douglas J. Needles | Marcus Irving