- "Just a year older than George McFly, Biff Tannen stood with his potbelly leaning unashamedly over his trouser tops, an attitude that made his loud plaid suit, pinky rings and gold chains seem even more bizarre. Whereas George McFly was reticent, Biff was loud and obnoxious, the type of person who talks loudly in movie houses or yells epithets at players during sports events. He was, in short, an intimidating lout, and no one was more easily intimidated than his friend and associate George."
- —From Back to the Future by George Gipe (quote, page 28)
- "What you lookin' at, butthead?"
- —Biff's famous catchphrase
- "Hello! Anybody home?"
- —When beating someone's head with his knuckles or, in 2015, the top of his cane
Biff Howard Tannen is the main antagonist of the first two Back to the Future movies. He was born in 1937, to Irving Thomas "Kid" Tannen and Myra Benson in Hill Valley, California. Kid and Myra married on December 6, 1936, simply for the purpose of making it seem like Biff wasn't born out of wedlock. The two parted ways immediately after the wedding, and neither parent wanted Biff. Because of this, Tannen's mother, Gertrude Tannen, took custody of him. Before he left his son, Kid gave Gertrude a forged birth certificate that stated that Biff was born on March 26, 1937.
Biff was the great-grandson of Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen. He was not very bright and only got through high school by bullying George McFly to do his homework for him. Biff often took pleasure in calling George an "Irish bug". He was feared by most of his schoolmates. The only person he was afraid of was Mr. Strickland. In 1955, he surrounded himself with a gang consisting of (Match, Skinhead, and 3-D).
By 1985, Biff's marital status is unknown, although Biff had a grandson Griff by 2015, indicating that Biff had at least one child by 1985. (According to some sources, Biff had a son, Biff Jr., who, it is suggested, owned the Cafe 80's). He may have also had a daughter named Tiff Tannen, short for Tiffany. 
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. During his theft of the DeLorean in 1991, he said "Have a nice trip, see you next winter!" His insult of choice was "butthead", or — usually when addressing George McFly — (Irish) "bug." One of his routines was to knock on someone's head and say "Hello? Hello? Anybody home?" He liked cars and ended up with a career waxing and cleaning them with his auto detailing business. Biff was still a jerk and more passive-aggressive than a bully, but could be nice when necessary, usually to get out of trouble.
In no matter what era or timeline, Biff is a loutish, despicable, violent, intimidating bully, as well as extremely unintelligent, rude, insensitive, lustful and thuggish.
He is also a coward at heart. After George McFly punched him out, Biff never dared to mess with him again, and eventually ended up working for him.
Biff was conceived by Irving "Kid" Tannen in 1936 after the latter escaped from San Quentin State Prison "for three hours", and subsequently was born in 1937. Biff's parents weren't present in his life as a teenager, as he had been living with his grandmother, Gertrude Tannen, at 1809 Mason Street. Biff's uncle (likely Frank Tannen) had been staying with Biff and his grandmother, but he left Hill Valley at some point prior to 1955.
Biff as a youngster was known to bully other children from around the age of five. As he went through high school, he repeated a year (explaining why, despite being a year older than George and Lorraine, he was in the same grade as them). His documentary in 1985A explained that he did it in order to help out the high school football team.
Biff also owned his own car, a powerful black Ford Super De Luxe Convertible, in which Skinhead, Match and 3-D occasionally traveled with him as passengers. The car could not be started by anyone except Biff, as he mentioned to Terry — who had believed it to be fitted with a kill-switch — when collecting the vehicle from the Western Auto repair shop. In 1985A, the car (having been newly restored) was one of the main exhibits in the Biff Tannen Museum.
The late 20th century
In the original timeline, Biff started bullying George McFly when they were kids and never stopped. On their first encounter at high school in 1954, George had a hero sandwich rubbed into his face by Biff.Over the next 30 years, Biff would continue to bully and intimidate George, and 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). Because Biff was too lazy or stupid, or both, to do his own reports, he forced George to do them instead. Biff's crush on Lorraine never died either, even after she had married George.
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 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 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 a sexual assault on Lorraine. Biff 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 suddenly broke free of Biff's grip and knocked him out with one punch. As a result, George became much more confident, and was no longer one of Biff's victims. Lorraine and George fell in love, and went on to marry.
It is unclear whether Biff found someone else to bully or whether being knocked out by the supposed weakest kid in school had ended Biff's days of bullying people and also installed at least a rudimentary notion of humility in 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 owned and ran himself, and by 1985, the McFlys were among his most loyal customers, and Biff's subservient attitude was demonstrated by his addressing George as "Mr. McFly". George seemed amused at Biff's efforts to get away with as little work as possible (although Biff's comment about already doing two coats of wax on the car may have been a personal good-natured joke between him and George) though he and Lorraine privately credited him with unwittingly helping them get together. George and Biff appeared to have become friends, or were at least on amicable terms.
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.
At the age of 78, Biff was still mean, and was still waxing cars in 2015 (although he had a better grasp of mixed metaphors than he did 60 years before). The fact that he still owned and managed Biff's Auto Detailing may suggest that he has fallen upon hard times and still needs to keep working in order to earn a living. However, it may have also been the case that he was working more as a way to keep active (which some retirees make a practice of). It is clear that Biff is quite bitter and resentful as a senior citizen.
Formerly the bully, Biff was himself being bullied by his grandson Griff. This family relationship was at best a strained one, as grandson and grandfather seemingly did not get along. When Griff and his gang were arrested by the police for vandalizing the Courthouse Mall, Biff said to himself "Buttheads" — likely feeling that Griff got what he deserved.
Biff still seemed to like harassing people, including Marty (who he thinks is Marty’s future son Marty McFly Jr.), and the handle on his cane was in the shape of a closed fist, which he used to rap people on the head because his own hands were now too feeble to hit anyone hard — although he remained cautious and apprehensive around George McFly. Biff’s crush on Lorraine still lingered, as he told the young man, “Say hello to your grandma for me.”
Despite Biff's anger at himself for letting life pass him by, he had become a calmer and more astute individual than he had been in his youth; this would lead to problems for Marty and Doc. When he sees the DeLorean, he says to himself he saw a flying DeLorean 30 years ago. Sneaking into an alleyway, Biff eavesdrops on Doc reprimanding Marty for abusing time travel to get rich, causing Biff to remark to himself that Doc Brown built a time machine, then thinks of how he can use Marty's abandoned scheme to his own benefit. After Doc disposed of Gray's Sports Almanac in the trash, Biff claimed it for himself. He then hired a taxi to go to the Hilldale neighborhood, then stole the DeLorean and took it back to November 12, 1955, so that he could alter his life by handing the almanac to give to his younger self.
Just before Marty and Doc returned with Jennifer, Biff returned to 2015 and got out of the DeLorean with difficulty, then suddenly clutched his chest in pain, causing the top of his cane to break off and fall inside the car. He staggered away and slumped behind a parked car; he then fell sideways to the ground behind the car and faded away because of his having changed history. In Biff's alternate reality, he was shot by Lorraine in 1996 with the same gun that killed George twenty-three years before.
Doc discovered the top of Biff's cane and the receipt for the sports almanac in the DeLorean, from which he deduced Biff's theft of the time machine.
The alternate present, 1955-1985
Young Biff used the sports almanac to bet on the results of sporting events, since he knew the outcomes in advance, giving him the ability to cheat. In 1958, starting on his 21st birthday, Biff soon became very rich and powerful, eventually starting up his toxic waste company BiffCo and a casino hotel in Hill Valley (at least twenty-seven stories high), named "Biff's Pleasure Paradise", changing the laws of California to legalize casino gambling in 1979. Biff had apparently used his money to influence American politics as well as California politics. In addition to his lobbying of legalization of gambling before the California Legislature Biff also spearheaded a constitutional amendment to repeal the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Biff was apparently an admirer of Richard Nixon, whom by repealing presidential term limits he had helped get elected to at least four terms as President of the United States. Biff had presumably altered the timeline by either bribing to cover up the Watergate investigations or resorting to outright murder. President Nixon had plans (at least as of 1983 (while seeking a fifth consecutive term), and leaving the Vietnam War unresolved as of 1983, which meant Biff's ways has affected the entire world as well. Though he was promoted (at least by himself) as "America's greatest living folk hero", Hill Valley in 1985A had become a center of crime, corruption, prostitution and gang warfare — which was not surprising really, since Biff also had control over the Hill Valley Police Department.
Despite Biff's great wealth and many female admirers, Biff did not have the woman he always wanted, and would still have to wait decades before his time had come. In this version of history, he had been married three times. Not much is known about Biff's earlier marriages. Biff’s first wife was Marilyn Monroe. That marriage had been dissolved by divorce. Biff's second wife was Jayne Mansfield, who divorced him after she saw photos of Lorraine Baines McFly. The divorce from Mansfield renewed Biff's feelings for Lorraine. On March 15, 1973, Biff shot and murdered George, though Lorraine had not yet learned the truth by 1985A. Biff married her later that year, giving her financial support and offering to help the widowed Lorraine through her tragedy, but he apparently did not adopt her three young children as his own. Biff's power and wealth had gone up to his head, and he was very abusive towards Lorraine. He also paid doctors to drastically increase Lorraine's bustline, and gave only marginal support to his three stepchildren. He may have used his power to keep Dave McFly (Lorraine's 'idiot son') out of jail, but had no qualms about using his power to revoke Dave's probation, presumably by bribing the probation officer. Biff may have also been allowing Linda McFly to live the carefree life of a playgirl, but threatened that he would stop paying off her credit card bills. Biff paid for Marty's tuition at a boarding school in Switzerland, but this may be more likely he wanted at least one of his stepchildren away from him as far as possible since Marty was still a high school student, more so than trying to get Marty the best education he could provide.
In 1986, Biff's long reign of terror finally came to an end when, in an attempt to visit 1996 in order to obtain future information to help him become President of the United States in 1988, he was instead temporarily sent back by Doc Brown to 1884, where he was murdered by his great-grandfather Buford Tannen upon calling him "Mad Dog." Because he was no longer alive by 2015 after having altered the timeline, Old Biff collapsed and faded from existence upon returning the DeLorean after his trip to 1955.
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, while 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
After Marty had gone to 1885, there was some question about whether the arrest (and possible hanging) of Buford Tannen would negate the existence of some of Buford's descendants, including Biff. Once Marty had returned to 1985 for the second time, however, Biff was spending a second day working as an auto-detailer - but now, he has a red jacket, not a green. His existence might lead one to believe that Buford had sired his son prior to being arrested.
While normally maintaining an appearance of being obsequious, Biff's original bad attitude still lurked beneath the surface and emerges occasionally, like his reaction to seeing the DeLorean take off and when he snapped at Marty when Marty approached his truck after his adventure in 1885. To be fair, he did think Marty, still in his "Clint Eastwood" disguise, was some punk trying to steal the truck and once he realized who the "punk" was, Biff immediately apologized, dipping again into his submissive demeanor.
During the estate sale of Doc's garage, Biff was present and was quite apt to picking up or taking things that were originally Doc's. Here Biff's aggressiveness took on a more passive element as Marty argued with him over Doc's notebook that was hidden inside a demonstration model of the Hill Valley Courthouse. Biff, however, would refuse to comply with Marty's requests. To efficiently rid Biff of the notebook, Marty grabbed his guitar and turned on the CRM-114 amplifier. Biff bearishly bumped Marty aside after Marty cranked the settings up to max. Marty stood back as the inevitable concussive force blasted out of the speaker, sending Biff to the back wall, and allowing him to grab the notebook from Biff's possession.
Biff was encountered again upon Marty's return to 1986, albeit this time as an enforcer and member of the Tannen crime family, the fifth largest in California. Thanks to changes in the past, his father Kid Tannen never went to prison, and as such remained leader of the local mob, turning it into the powerful Tannen family crime syndicate. He is shown for the first time to have two brothers, Cliff and Riff Tannen. Both supported him as they enforced the Tannens' rule over the Hill Valley townsfolk, including George and Lorraine McFly. In this reality, Biff is even meaner and more violent than ever. After he was slugged by George in 1955, he and his brothers viciously retaliated and broke his legs, making him a crippled paraplegic. He and Lorraine suffered intimidation and paid protection money, while Marty was run out of town for causing an "incident with a manure truck" to befall Biff.
In an alternate timeline where Doc becomes a tyrannical despot by the name of "Citizen Brown", Biff was a broken man who lived in fear of Citizen Brown and his merciless regime of order and control. When Marty swore in front of him, Biff reacted with fear and nervousness, as apparently any infractions in Citizen Brown's state of order were dealt with harshly. Even in this police state, Biff was still an unruly man and a churlish individual, as he claimed to engage in alcohol consumption, illicit sexual relations and allowing dogs to run around wherever they pleased (dog ownership being outlawed in this timeline). His actions would result in him being brought to task before First Citizen Brown and "brainwashed" into becoming the first of Citizen Brown's newest campaign of enforcing order known as "Citizen Plus". When Marty first encounters Biff in 1986G, he is seen freshly graduated from the Citizen Plus Program and shaking hands with Citizen Brown. Now, if even the thought of wrongdoing crosses his mind, his body is stimulated to become physically ill to the point of nausea and vomiting. As Biff was the first Citizen Plus, he got a job promoting the "Citizen Plus" campaign in front of the courthouse to passers-by. However, unknown even to him, he was used for another purpose, to be hypnotized by Edna Brown as a henchman, as later seen when he roughed up George McFly. When confronted by Marty about the assault, Biff denied doing so, which was technically true, as he did not do so by his own fault and his memory was erased after the X:11 hypnosis was removed.
The programming's hold over him was finally broken when Biff wound up in a room filled with all the magazines, videos and booze that had been confiscated from him and other citizens. Overwhelmed by the close proximity to items he had been conditioned against, Biff returned to his original mindset. Although he was most angry with Edna for brainwashing him, Biff also remembered that Marty made him do embarrassing stunts and threatened to deal with who was in his immediate line of sight, in this case being Marty. Biff angrily tried to clobber Marty, only to in turn get hit over the head from his father's old transforming speakeasy table and knocked out cold. Biff's rampage would not last long, as he was soon captured and remanded to the Citizen Plus Ward under heavy guard. Marty sees an enraged Biff inside a soundproof room, who is recalcitrant to take medication. This largely goes unnoticed by the guards, as Edna has demanded the guards' top priority be focused on reconditioning First Citizen Brown. Being a secondary issue, one guard remarks that Biff is to be denied meals until he takes his medication.
In the alternate timeline created by Doc Brown and Marty McFly preventing Edna Strickland from accidentally burning down Hill Valley, the end result was Edna being arrested for drunk driving, arson, and resisting arrest. This led to her and Kid Tannen winding up in the same jail cell, which in turn led to Edna and Kid getting married after Biff and his brothers were conceived, making Edna Biff's stepmother. She often took Einstein, Doc's dog, for exercise daily.
Biff's father appeared to be a slightly tougher parent in this timeline, now admonishing Biff to show respect for his stepmother, which may have mellowed Biff's rough attitude somewhat.
Back to the Future: The RideIn 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), an active volcano, and the Ice Age before heading back to 1991. Biff was then taken back to 1955, where he belonged, by Doc.
Of course, because of this experience, Biff should be aware of Doc's time travel experiments as far back as 1955 — yet he is still surprised at seeing the DeLorean fly in 1985, even though he flew one himself. Why Biff never hassled Doc during the preceding 30 years is also never explained.
Back to the Future: The Animated Series
1992 Biff was shown to act like a milder version of his original "asshole-ish" 1985 incarnation. It would appear his obsequious act in front of George and Lorraine was simply that, an act. Biff was generally difficult to get along with (Though not impossible) and sometimes causing trouble. He had returned to wearing a crew-cut like he did in 1955.
Since one of his numerous ancestors or descendants were encountered, Marty rhetorically questioned if there was a "Tannen" in every time and place they visited when they went to ancient Rome. Biff was once shown driving a tow truck, indicating he still has his auto detailing business, but has now become more successful at it with increased capital.
In 1967, he saw the Comet Kablooey and thought it was an alien ship. 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.
- "Say hi to your mom/grandma for me"
- —Biff Tannen to Marty McFly
He had a crush on Lorraine Baines and referred to her as "my girl", and continued to take an interest in her even thirty and sixty years later. Lorraine did not return the sentiments.
In the original timeline, Biff bullies George (when they were children and adults) but in the alternate timeline when George is successful, Biff has stopped being a bully. He has parlayed his love of cars into an auto detailing business, and the McFlys are part of his customer base.
In the second alternate 1985, Biff goes so far as to kill George.
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 four boxes. Don't make me a liar!" This unused line may well be the basis for Tiffany Tannen. 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. The middle name Howard was actually spoken for the first time in the Telltale game.
- J.J. Cohen who later played Skinhead, 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 however 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 79, Biff is a lot smarter than he had been at 49 or at 19, Besides the more obvious point, where he is with the 1955 Biff, he is very exasperated with Biff's penchant for mixing up metaphors and corrects him and blasts him for sounding "like a damn fool" when he says "make like a tree and leave" wrong. He also quickly recognizes an opportunity to borrow a sports almanac and a time machine, and even 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 m.p.h.) for time displacement. After locating his younger self, he has to repeat the sequence and set a return time immediately after his moment of departure so that nobody would realize the car had ever been gone. It is possible that Old Biff might have needed more than one try before he successfully traveled to November 12, 1955. (He could, indeed, have experimented for weeks or months before he figured out how to operate the time machine, but on returning from 1955 to 2015 he would have made sure to return to a point in time immediately after he stole it, so that it would not be missed.) It is also possible that the JVC camcorder with the videocassette of Doc's instructions was still in the car.
- According to the readout on the time machine controls, Old Biff spent several hours in 1955 after giving his younger self the almanac and before returning to 2015. It remains unclear as to whether he was doing a spot of nostalgic sightseeing, if he had to wait until it got dark before retrieving the DeLorean from wherever he hid it in 1955 (possibly to avoid being spotted and shot at by the police), or both.
- In the Back to the Future Part II novelization, at the Cafe 80's, old Biff comes to regret being such a jerk and realizes he wasted his life. Of course this epiphany is quickly forgotten upon his discovery of the Almanac and the DeLorean. Ironically, in his attempt to make his life better he ends up making himself a much bigger jerk. As a result of this, he ends up actually guaranteeing his demise.
- 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 many, if not all, of the Tannen relatives encountered in other eras.
- In an interview with the official BTTF Club magazine, Thomas F. Wilson speculates that Biff's grandmother was probably the primary reason Biff grew up to be such a jerk. He also claims Biff's signature "Butthead" and "Hey, McFly" quotes were mostly his ideas.
- At the Biff Tannen Museum, a sign outside says Smoking Required.
- Though they know a lot about each other, Biff and Emmett Brown are never seen interacting in the films — only in the animated series and ride. However, Doc has tangled with several of Biff's ancestors, such as Buford Tannen.
- It has been said that "Biff" is a nickname for the name "Buford". It wouldn't be a surprise if the Tannens had more family traditions besides orneriness.
- Biff occasionally insults George’s Irish heritage calling him “an Irish bug” which is ironic, considering Tom Wilson, the man who plays biff, is Irish in real life.
- Back to the Future (First appearance)
- Back to the Future Part II
- Back to the Future Part III
- Back to the Future novelizations
- Back to the Future: The Story
- Back to the Future: The Ride
- Back to the Future: The Pinball
- Back to the Future: The Animated Series
- Universal Studios: Theme Park Adventure
- Back to the Future: The Card Game (Mentioned only)
- Back to the Future: The Game
- Back to the Future: Untold Tales and Alternate Timelines
Notes and references
- ↑ Referred to in an early draft script for Part II, and in the animated series
- ↑ According to Back to the Future: The Game
- ↑ Biff says his uncle abandoned him in Back to the Future: Biff to the Future 1.
- ↑ Full video from Biff Tannen Museum
- ↑ Gertrude Tannen stated that Biff was her only grandson in Biff to the Future 1
- ↑ Back to the Future novelization, page 165
- ↑ Back to the Future: The Game - Episode 1: It's About Time
- ↑ Back to the Future: The Game - Episode 2: Get Tannen!
| 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