Back to the Future: Good to Evil
When you think “time travel stories'', it’s a good bet that one of the first stories that you’ll think of is Back to the Future. This sci-fi classic premiered back in 1985. Over 35 years later, this franchise is still a staple of both sci-fi and pop-culture in general, with many different shows and movies still referencing it to this day. And why wouldn’t they? Back to the Future is fun, exciting, clever and filled with great characters… even if they all happen to be from the same few families or so.
Just how many McFlys and Tannens are there, anyway? Well, we aren’t here to answer that question, but we are here to rank these characters from the most heroic and noble to the most antagonistic. I’m Kyle from WickedBinge, and this is Back to the Future characters: Good to Evil. Before we get started, let’s make sure we’re all still in the same ‘timeline’, as it were. We’re going to be looking at the characters from three official Back to the Future movies.
We’ll also be looking at characters featured in the IDW Back to the Future comics as well as the Back to the Future Telltale game, due to these products having the official creator’s blessing and thus being considered as close to canon as you can get. We won’t however be taking the animated series into account. Obviously, we here at WickedBinge love wacky cartoons, but with how different the series is in tone from the rest of the franchise, we feel that it just wouldn’t fit with this list. With all that said, it’s time to start with our most noble characters before working our way down.
These characters are The Good. Starting off, we feel that we have to give Dr. Emmett L. Brown our Gold Medal of Good. Doc Brown is a man of science, and though his sometimes-eccentric inventions may not always work as planned, he’s always striving to make something that’ll better humanity. He’s also a great friend to Marty, being both protective and caring towards him as well as encouraging him, telling him that “if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything”. When the Libyans came to kill Doc, he made sure to draw their fire to keep Marty safe, telling Marty to run for it. And in the climax of the first film, he literally risked life and limb climbing the clock tower just so Marty could travel back in time.
In fact, the only time we see him wield a weapon is when he’s telling Mad Dog to let Marty go. Doc’s also a gentleman, and we see how respectful and kind he can be whenever he’s with Clara. He ultimately believes in the greater good, and tries not to be selfish if he can help it. He wanted to make time travel possible, but he only wanted to use it to do good.
Once he realized how easily it could be abused and how much damage it could cause, he was willing to destroy his greatest invention, proving just how selfless he could be. Now, Doc isn’t perfect. He did, after all, make a deal with the Libyans in order to get his hands on some plutonium. Not exactly moral. Still, he refused to actually make them a bomb. He’s also sometimes a bit absent-minded, which could sometimes lead to him putting himself or Marty into danger.
And then there was the whole “Citizen Brown'' plotline from the Telltale Game. After being heavily influenced by Edna Strictland to create a society without crime, Doc became a totalitarian ruler in an alternate timeline. Still, this came about due to his relationship with Edna as well as Doc believing that he truly was doing the right thing, so we’re able to forgive this certain timeline. Overall, Doc is a good man, and his efforts to do what benefits mankind and science itself rather than focusing on his own wants and desires more than earns him the top spot on this list.
Next, we have Seamus McFly from Part 3. Seamus immigrated to the United States in 1885, looking for a better life for his family, and is both an optimist and neighborly. When he first meets his great-great-grandson, seeing him injured and unconscious, Seamus immediately takes him in and helps make sure he’s okay. Once Marty comes to, Seamus offers him supper and a hat to wear. He also lets Marty stay overnight in their barn and gives him a ride into town the next day. He’s probably one of the nicest people that Marty meets during his time travel adventures.
He also comes off as hard working, doing both farm work and hunting in the dangerous wilderness to provide for his family. Later on, Seamus gives advice to Marty, telling him not to get goaded into fights and to not letting being called a coward cause him to make stupid (or dangerous) decisions. This advice actually ends up saving Marty’s life, in more ways than one. With an impact like that combined with all his other kind deeds, how could we not give him the silver medal? Following him we have George McFly, Marty’s father. George is, let’s face it, a bit of a nerd.
Getting picked on by the same guy who bullied you in high school is pretty rough. But while this says a lot about George’s status, it also says a bit about his character too. He doesn’t like fighting, and would rather keep to himself and find happiness in his own interests than trying to be popular.
He doesn’t even like swearing if he can help it. All of this changes, however, when he sees Lorraine in trouble. He finally fights back in order to protect her, and learns how to stand up for himself. From here, he becomes more confident and starts to believe in his skills as a writer, allowing him to provide a better life for his kids.
And, while it’s maybe a bit dumb all things considered, he was even willing to give Biff a second chance and hire him to wash his cars. So yeah, George is a pretty good guy. Still, we can’t ignore how his original reluctance to stand up to Biff in the beginning had a negative effect on his family, especially Marty and Lorraine, and how he’d put his dislike of confrontation above standing up for them.
We also have to take a few points off for the whole “peeping Tom” thing. Even if it originally led to him and his wife getting together, no one likes a creeper, George. Up next is Marvin Berry and the Starlighters, the band that played at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance.
This may be considered an unconventional pick, but it’s one we stand-by regardless. After all, if it weren’t for the Starlighters, Marty’s parents might not have originally danced together and solidified their love for each other. Beside that, they seem like friendly guys in general.
They’re the ones who save Marty when Biff’s Gang throws him into the trunk of a car. Not only do they scare the gang members off, but Marvin ends up hurting his hand while getting Marty out. They’re also willing to let this kid they don’t even know play with them on stage, just because they can see how desperate he is to continue the school dance. Maybe not the best business decision for a band, but it does show that they’re willing to roll with the punches if it means doing the performance they were hired to do. Really, we just had to give them credit where it’s due. Next is the main character of the series, Marty McFly.
Being a teenager, it’s to be expected that Marty may not always be the most moral. Throughout the series, we see him more focused on saving his own future rather than just trying to do good for good’s sake - although we can’t really blame him for that, especially when the fate of the McFlys often ties into the fate of Hill Valley itself. He’s definitely got that 80s attitude, and can be both clumsy and brash at times. How can we forget the whole fiasco with the sports almanac in Part 2? Though originally a fairly harmless idea, it was still selfish and extremely careless, considering everything that came after. Ultimately, it takes him a while to learn that his actions can have consequences, and that it’s better to think things through and not let the words of others discourage him or rile him up. He also has a bad habit of borrowing skateboards/hoverboards whenever he gets chased by a version of Biff’s gang.
But despite his flaws, Marty does seem to have a good heart and is really just a kid trying to manage as best he can despite all the crazy, time travel shenanigans that he gets into. It should be noted that as protective as Doc is towards him, Marty is just as protective back. He does all he can to prevent Doc’s death in 1985, and when he finds out that Doc is at risk of dying in the old west, he doesn’t hesitate to go back in time to try and save him. We also see him mentoring the younger versions of his parents, encouraging George to be brave and Lorraine to not do things like drink and smoke. Overall, while he may not do as much good as other characters, we still feel that he does enough as the main character and ‘hero’ of the series to keep him out of the Grey area.
Rounding out the Good, we have both Clara Clayton and Jennifer Parker, the respective girlfriends and future-wives of Doc and Marty. Though neither of them really have big parts in the series, with Jennifer being more of a liability in the second movie and Clara being somewhat of a damsel in the third, we can’t really blame them for lackluster writing when it comes to their characters. When we DO see them, they’re often supportive of their boyfriends.
Clara loved seeing how passionate Doc was about science and stories by Jules Verne, which was how they were able to bond. She did dismiss Doc’s claims that he was from the future, thus temporarily breaking his heart, but again - how can you blame her? It does sound pretty crazy, and later on when she hears about how distraught Doc was, she goes back to him and tries to make things right, proving her love. Jennifer, meanwhile, was always shown to be supportive and loving towards Marty. She tried to help him avoid getting a tardy and encouraged him to not give up on his dreams of being a rockstar just because of one bad audition. Even when Marty’s life took a downturn, she still stuck by him and their family. We do see Jennifer become a punk and dump Marty in the alternate “Citizen Brown” timeline, but considering all that went wrong in that particular timeline, we don’t feel this is enough of an indicator of any sort of ‘dark side’, especially when we see her help Marty escape later on, even giving him a kiss for good luck.
Really, the reason why they’re this low isn’t because they’re bad or immoral, but because of the little screen time and development that they get. That does it for the Good. Now it’s time for the more neutral characters that may not help much but don’t do too much harm either. This is the Grey Area. At the top of the Grey Area, we have Marty’s mother, Lorraine. Like Clara and Jennifer, Lorraine is primarily seen as a love interest to characters like George and Biff.
However, there are a couple qualities she has that give us pause. For one, she can sometimes come off as a little shallow. When it comes to her crushes, she tends to go for the guys who are cute like George or cool like Marty. Nothing wrong with that, but it is something to note.
She also tends to be a bit, ahem, forceful with her affections, making things more than a little awkward between her and Marty. We see her touching Marty’s leg at the dinner table and saying that, if he’s staying the night, he could sleep in her room. Considering she JUST met this guy, it’s more than a little concerning. Going into the future a bit, we see in the original 1985 timeline that although she still seems to care about her husband and kids, she doesn’t seem to put any effort into bettering their lives herself and would rather smoke and drink.
We also see that she’s a bit of a hypocrite, considering that she tells her daughter not to “park” with a boy, despite her doing that sort of thing when she was younger. Still, this could also be interpreted as her trying to be a good mother. She has a couple other good points too, like trying to stand up to Biff for the sake of George and Marty despite Biff being much stronger than her. While we can admire these moments, there just isn’t enough there for us to feel like she deserves to be put in the Good category. Up next is Dave and Linda McFly, Marty’s siblings. We don’t know much about these two due to how little time we spend with them.
Dave seems to be more focused on work while Linda is more interested in boys and trying to get a date. Neither of them seem to be particularly close to Marty, but they don’t really bully him either, save for a couple small sibling jabs. Linda in particular seems to be annoyed by her parents, but that’s pretty typical for a girl her age.
We don’t really have much else to say about them, and with no major moments or scenes to say otherwise, we have to put them in the Grey area by default. Finishing up our McFly characters, we have another pair of siblings: Marty McFly Jr. and Marlene McFly. Who could forget that famous line “It’s your kids, Marty! Something has to be done about your kids!” In Part 2, we learn that Marty’s son, Marty Jr., seems to take after his Grandpa George when it comes to saying no and being pushed around by a member of the Tannen family. He also just seems to be not too bright in general, but that’s beside the point.
In the original 2015 timeline, Marty Jr. agreed to help Griff’s gany rob the Hill Valley Payroll Substation. When he was caught, he was then arrested and sentenced to 15 years. As for his sister, Marlene, when she heard that he was arrested, she tried to break him out only to end up getting 20 years herself. While you could interpret this as trying to be a good sister, it was also very much illegal and incredibly stupid.
According to Doc, this was the moment where the entire McFly family and their future was pretty much destroyed. So, yeah, preeeeetty bad. Still, this is really the only bad thing we hear about the McFly-Parker kids. They don’t seem to be delinquents in general, like Griff, and as devastating as these actions were in one timeline, they are just teenagers, and teenagers can make some pretty dumb decisions. We can only hope that they make better decisions in the future. Vice Principal Strickland certainly lives up to his name.
He is very, VERY strict, especially when it comes to students who are tardy and those who he deems to be “slackers”. He takes no nonsense, and can be outright verbally abusive to students like Marty, telling him that no one in his family has ever amounted to anything. As harsh as he can be, however, you have to remember that it’s still his job to make sure students aren’t getting themselves into trouble or causing any harm to each other. When Marty and Biff nearly start a fist fight in the middle of the cafeteria and 1955, he’s the one who breaks it up.
He also takes the time to chaperone at the school dance, just to assure that there’s no mischief or unsafe behavior. Really, the worse we see him is when he threatened to shoot Marty in the alternate 1985 just for being on his front porch. But given that this is Hell Valley and drive-by shootings are common, it makes sense that he’d have to be reactive and harsh in order to just survive. Really, he’s not even the worst vice principal we’ve ever seen, let alone the worst character in this series. He’s just a guy trying to keep order in his school.
Next, we have Professor Marcus Irving. Marcus is a character that comes from the IDW comics, specifically from the “Who is Marty McFly?” arc as well as “Stowaway to the Future” and “Hard Time, Part 2”. He’s incredibly smart, and is seen as Doc’s jealous rival - even trying to copy his time machine. When he wasn’t able to make a time machine of his own, Marcus instead stole the Flux Capacitor. He also created androids that would do his bidding, as well as his killing, and considered himself to be the only “worthy” time traveler. He no longer cared about innocent bystanders either, given that he also tended to see other people as tools to use, and overall just became a tyrant.
Thankfully, after seeing what he was capable of, the younger version of Marcus changed his future and became more relaxed, stopping himself from becoming a villain and putting himself on friendlier terms with Doc. This is the main reason why we aren’t willing to drop him in the Bad Tier. Unlike other villains who would be more than happy to create a version of the future that would benefit their own interests only, Marcus saw his dark side and wanted nothing to do with it.
Given that he’s learned his lesson, we feel it’s only right to bump him up a few notches. Finishing up the Grey Area is Needles - the character, not the sewing item. In a sense, Needles is to Marty what Biff is to George. Granted, Marty isn’t as meek as his father was so Needles doesn’t have as much power over him, but he’s still a jerk.
In the comics, we see him dare Marty to steal from Doc Brown’s lab, calling him “chicken” and threatening to beat him up if he didn’t do it. This dare ended up being how Doc and Marty became friends though, it’s probably the least bad thing he ever did to Marty. After seeing just how easy it was to goad Marty into making bad choices, Needles continued to do it, leading to some pretty major downfalls in Marty’s life. He challenged Marty to a drag race, which was what originally caused Marty to get into a wreck and permanently injure his guitar-playing hand.
In the future, he convinces Marty to join in on an illegal scam and ended up getting him fired. What’s worse is that it’s somewhat implied that Needles KNEW this would happen and the whole thing was a set up. So yeah, Needles is pretty awful.
But when compared to some of the other villains in this series, he’s really more antagonistic than outright villainous. He’s less of a threat and more that friend who you hang around with but aren’t really sure why. Finally, we come to the cruel, mean and downright murderous. These characters are the Bad to Evil. We’re starting off this section with Biff’s Gang. Though not criminal masterminds by any means, they both follow Biff’s orders and enable his bullying behaviors.
Essentially, they’re a bunch of sheep, willing to catch and beat up anyone Biff tells them to without a second thought or concern. We don’t know anything about them personally, but as long as Biff continues to succeed, they stick by him. In the alternate 1985, they get promoted from being a gang of bullies to being security for Biff’s casino and hotel, ultimately seeing nothing wrong with all of the awful things Biff does. Probably the only reason why we don’t see them in the present 1985 is because Biff is all washed up and no longer has any status or power for them to mooch off of. They’re not the worst, but we still consider them to be bad purely by association.
Jumping to the future, we have Griff Tannen, Biff’s grandson. Possibly even MORE crazed, violent and unpredictable than his grandfather was at his age due to some bionic implants affecting his brain. Still, we don’t think we can blame ALL of this kid’s problems on that. At 19, he was already picking fights and planning robberies.
Not only does he try to drag other people like Marty Jr. into his misdeeds, but he can be a lot more brutal when it comes to beating up the people who manage to stand up to him, threatening to bash their skulls in with a baseball bat. Ultimately, Griff goes beyond being a punk kid and is an outright danger to society - although he’s still not the MOST dangerous Tannen out there, as we’ll soon see. From the future to the past, we’re giving Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen the Bronze Medal of Evil. Like most of the people in his family, Buford had an extremely short temper, leading him to be violent over the littlest things. As far as we know, he also has the biggest body count of any talent.
Even if Marty and Doc were able to escape his ire unscathed, we still know that he killed at least eleven other men, including a newspaper editor for printing an “unfavorable” story about him, as well as several Native Americans and Chinese people. He also seems to get a joy out of tormenting people in general, nearly hanging Marty after the two had a scuffle. So, what keeps him from being ranked any higher? Ultimately, it’s the impact he had on the future. While yes, a body count that high is certainly nothing to sneeze at and being a murderer is pretty despicable, Buford was really just a menace in his own time and, unlike our top two, never did anything that severely impacted an entire town or society itself.
He’s just as much of a bully as any other Tannen, he just has easier access to guns. In second place, we have Edna Strickland. Yes, you heard that last name correctly.
Edna is Vice Principal Strickland’s older sister. However, she’s much more of a threat. Edna is mainly featured in the Telltale Game, and ends up becoming the main villain of that game. Not gonna lie, it’s kind of nice to have the main villain NOT be a Tannen, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to cut her any slack. Much like her brother, Edna valued order, morality and discipline above all else.
However, she was willing to take it one step forward, and actually committed arson simply because she didn’t like the idea of speakeasys and was so loyal to the idea of prohibition. So, obviously when the 60s - aka the age of rebellion and free love - came around, Edna wasn’t having a good time. In the original timeline, she became a hermit, and would scream at the people outside her apartment for minor crimes, from graffiti to littering. But obviously, we wouldn’t have put her up this high for a bit of fire and being rude. Her biggest crimes come in the form of an alternate timeline, where she met and was able to manipulate a young Emmett Brown. While she encouraged his inventions, she would push towards inventions that would serve her own goals, not the goals of humanity.
Edna would continue to manipulate Doc, pushing him into his “Citizen Brown” persona while using his tech to brainwash the citizens of Hill Valley into being her version of morality. This was already pretty bad, but thanks to more time-travel shenanigans that would be a bit too hard to explain in one section, we see more of the damage Edna was willing to cause. When she accidentally traveled back to 1876, her anger towards prohibition made her set fire to a saloon despite it being lawful. The fire spread and, well, she basically prevented Hill Valley from ever being built. Eventually, Doc and Marty were able to get Edna back to her own time and have her arrested in order to fix things, which actually ended up turning her life - as well as the life of Kid Tannen - around, surprisingly enough. Long story short, we’re putting Edna this high up for just all the chaos that she caused and all the crime she was willing to do for the sake of discipline and morality.
Easily taking the Gold in just being an awful and pretty despicable person, we have Biff Tannen. Naturally, Biff is the main antagonist in two out of the three movies, and though he starts off as just a jerk and a bully, we eventually see just how evil this guy can be with enough power. With all there is to say about this guy, let’s start at the beginning. In the past, he forced George to do his homework for him, he was willing to assault Lorraine just because he liked her and clearly wouldn’t take no for an answer, aaaand he tried to run Marty over with his car - twice! He was also satisfied with continuing to bully George in their adult years, having no respect for him and refusing to take responsibility after crashing his car - while drunk driving, no less! But, with his most simple bad deeds out of the way, let’s get to the main thing that puts him in the top spot: Hell Valley.
Thanks to some time travel shenanigans, Biff became extremely rich in an alternate timeline. With this power, he turned his hometown into a place of debauchery and crime. He killed George, forced a destitute Lorraine into marrying him on the claim that he was the only one who could get her out of debt, and then wielded his power over her by forcing her to get breast implants and hitting her whenever she got out of line. Unsurprisingly, he was also willing to shoot and kill Marty, just to keep him from ruining everything.
To sum it all up, when given the chance, Biff is sleazy, cruel and heartless. He only settles down when his power is taken away from him and he has no other choice but to work for the guy who finally stood up to him, but he clearly doesn’t bother trying to actually be better or even discipline the younger members of his family, judging how Griff turned out. When we look at all the things he did and what he was willing to do, as well as just his massive potential to make things worse, we can safely say that Biff is the most evil person in Back to the Future.
But what do you think? Let us know in the comment section if you agree with our ranking. Be sure to hit that notification bell and binge our Good to Evil playlist… Where we break down the morality of the characters in your favorite cartoons, shows and movies; but most importantly: stay wicked!