Cinema’s Ultimate Jerks #12: Biff Tannen (Back to the Future)

Cinema’s Ultimate Jerks is a celebration of the characters we love to hate in the movies we love to love. They’re not always the main villains – and sometimes they’re not even villains at all – but they’re definitely jerks. So let’s take a look at this week’s jerk-off, and why they find themselves forever enshrined here in the hall of shame. Since this week we’re talking about Biff Tannen, this is your spoiler warning for the 1985 movie, Back to the Future.

Yes, that guy is wearing 3D glasses. No, I have no idea why.

Back to the Future is an ’80s classic. It’s an all time classic. In fact, it might just be the greatest work of cinema ever crafted by mere mortal hands. Too much? I don’t think so. It’s a charming family comedy about accidentally putting your own existence in jeopardy by travelling back in time, meeting your parents, and your mum getting the hots for you rather than your dad. They don’t make ’em like this any more. Yikes.

In 1985, Biff Tannen is a work colleague of George McFly, who he’s known since high school. After crashing George’s car (which he blames on George for not informing him about the “blind spot”), Biff has it towed to George’s house, and then has a go at him for only having light beer in the fridge as a reward. He demands George do his paper work for the office, but to deliver it to him early in the morning so Biff has time to retype it all in his own words. He puts George in a headlock, raps his knuckles against his grease-laden brow, and barks, “Hello? McFly? Anyone home?!” George’s son, Marty, sees all this, and after Biff has left, tries to encourage his father to stand up for himself. George, sadly, laments his inability to get involved in confrontations. It’s always been this way, you see. Back in high school, Biff bullied George, and their relationship, over the years, has never changed. Biff abuses George because George daren’t stand up to him.

If only George had stood up to Biff way back in high school, perhaps everything would be different now. In an unrelated note, Marty’s friend and scientist, Dr. Emmett Brown, has invented a time machine. Gee, I wonder what’s going to happen next? So anyway, Marty accidentally travels back through time to back when his old man was in high school in 1955, and the young Biff is, quite implausibly, an even bigger knobhead than the Biff he knows in 1985. Biff is the quintessential high school bully, bigger and meaner than everyone else, and determined to get the girl of his dreams by hook or by crook. George is the perfect target for his pent up frustrations because George is a sci-fi dork more interested in writing stories than playing team sports or punching people or whatever. George does Biff’s homework for him, but has to deliver it early so Biff has a chance to do it again in his own handwriting. And then Biff has the nerve to tell him never to set foot in the cafe they both frequent again, for no reason other than to be a dick.

I still haven’t gotten over the 3D glasses, if I’m honest. Why 3D glasses? Surely he just sees everything as a weird mix of red and blue. Answers on a postcard, kids.

Through a series of hilarious misunderstandings, Marty’s mum Lorraine fancies him and not George, which is kinda a big deal because if his dad doesn’t pump her, Marty’ll never be born. That’s the birds and bees, kids. George, as a massive loser unable to face up to conflict of any kind, won’t fight for Lorraine’s affection, and so it’s up to Marty to make sure he’s born by coming up with an elaborate scheme to get his mum to fall for his dad whether she likes it or not. Okay, that sounds bad. Well, actually, when you think about it, it is quite bad. See, Marty’s plan is to take his own mum to the high school dance, then get a bit fresh with her in the car, at which point George will rock up, knock him out, save the day, be the hero, and presumably, roger Lorraine. Marty would probably need years of therapy to deal with the psychological consequences of being involved in all of this, but fortunately, before he has to feel up Mrs. McFly to get into character, Biff turns up and takes care of bidness for him.

Biff kicks the shit out of Marty, gets his stooges to lock him in the trunk of another vehicle, and then hops into the car to actually stick it to Lorraine, her consent not required. Up until this point, Biff has been a bully, and a total bell-end, but he’s kinda been a comedy villain. Now we’re in full blown rapist territory. Anyway, before the movie has chance to transition from a PG-13 into an NC-17, George arrives, sees Lorraine in distress, and flattens Biff. Lorraine, utterly bewitched by a man willing to punch another man in the face, instantly falls in love, and Marty can travel back to 1985 safe in the knowledge that his mum and dad are definitely gonna do it. Bom-chicka-wow-wow.

If you’re ever not sure about the whole “consent” thing, a general rule of thumb is that if the girl is making a face like this, you probably shouldn’t be doing it.

Jerk-off Quote: “Since you’re new here, I’m gonna cut you a break… today. So why don’t you make like a tree… and get outta here!” – Oh Biff. It’s “Make life a tree and leave.” You sound like a damn fool when you get it wrong.

Comeuppance: When Marty arrives back in 1985 his mum is no longer an alcoholic and his dad is a successful writer. Biff, however, left dejected and humiliated after being knocked out cold by the biggest nerd in high school, is utterly emasculated, at George’s beck and call, and working as a car cleaner. Biff tries to claim that he’s just finishing putting the second coat of wax on George’s car, but George calls his bluff and Biff tries to argue that he meant he was just starting the second coat. “Oh Biff,” George reminisces with a chuckle, “he’s always trying to get away with something,” leaving the guy who once tried to RAPE HIS FUCKING WIFE putting the second coat of wax on their car. What the fuck, George?!

Jerk-off Rating: Tannen out of ten.

Tune in next week – same jerk time, same jerk channel – to find out who’s next in our celebration of cinema’s ultimate jerks. And if you’ve not quite had your fill of cinematic jerk-offs, check out #11 Anakin Skywalker (Star Wars), #9 Mrs Deagle (Gremlins), or #8 Simon (True Lies).

John can generally be found wearing Cookie Monster pyjamas with a PlayStation controller in his hands, operating on a diet that consists largely of gin and pizza. His favourite things are Back to the Future, Persona 4 Golden, the soundtrack to Rocky IV, and imagining scenarios in which he’s drinking space cocktails with Commander Shepard. You can follow John on Twitter at www.twitter.com/JohnDoesntDance

  • Patrick Murphy says:

    He did hang out with Billy Zane though, so he must have been cool at some point?

    • John Cal McCormick says:

      If I remember rightly, Billy Zane is one of his hangers on when he becomes rich-man alternate 1985 Biff in Back to the Future 2. You know what celebrities are like – Biff gets a little money and suddenly they all come a-flockin’.

      • Patrick Murphy says:

        Oh no, Billy was a loyal Tannenite in the original BTTF as well. Before Biff Towers and a comb-over, so you know he’s a true friend. You can see him in the image above, clearly digging Biff’s dickishness. I’ll admit that the 3D glasses dope does draw the eyes away from a future megastar though.

        • John Cal McCormick says:

          Oh no way that is him. All these years I thought he was in it for the pay day, but really, he’s been with his pal through thick and thin.

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