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Villains Wiki

Hey you heard what that Lt. Shrank said, he? “We gotta make nice with them Puerto Rican’s or else”. We gotta let ‘me in and take it all away from us, right under our noses, or else? (Jets: No!) Damn Right No! So what are we gonna do, huh buddy boys? I’ll tell you what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna speed back! We’re gonna move like lightning! We’re gonna clean them “Sharks” up once and for all, so they ain’t ever step foot on our turf again!
~ Riff revealing his plans to defeat the Sharks to the Jets.
When you're a Jet
You're a Jet all the way
From your first cigarette
To your last dyin' day.
When you're a Jet
If the spit hits the fan
You got brothers around
You're a family man.
You're never alone
You're never disconnected.
You're home with your own
When company's expected
You're well protected!
Then you are set
With a capital J
Which you'll never forget
Till they cart you away.
When you're a Jet
You stay
A Jet!
~ Riff's Jet song.

Riff is the second leader of the West Side Street Gang known as the Jets. He is the tritagonist villain in the 1957 Broadway musical West Side Story, as well as its 1961 film adaptation. The musical is the modernized version of Romeo and Juliet, of which Riff is the equivalent of Mercutio. Despite Bernardo (the leader of the Sharks) being the equivalent of Tybalt (the original antagonist of Romeo and Juliet), Riff is the villain of the story as it was his actions that began his feud with Bernardo. When Bernardo moved to New York Riff and the Jets jumped him because Riff did not like the idea of Latinos in his neighborhood, showing that Riff is in fact a racist and the true cause of Bernardo’s malicious actions.

He was portrayed by Russ Tamblyn in the 1961 film and will be portrayed by Mike Faist in the 2021 film.



Not much is known about Riff's past, although it is implied that he grew up in a dysfunctional family and had neglectful/abusive parents, shaping him into the toughened delinquent that he is in the present. During Bernardo's first day in America, Riff and the Jets attacked him out of their racism towards Puerton Ricans, leading to the rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks.

In the musical

Riff first appears in the opening of the musical hanging out with the Jets on the streets. Though everything seems to be tranquil at first, an encounter with the Sharks leads to a brawl that ends with Jet member Baby John being cornered and beaten by the Sharks. Riff and the other Jets rush to Baby John's aid before Lieutenant Shrank and Officer Krupke arrive at the playground and break up the fight. The police officers kick the Sharks out of the playground and urge the Jets to stop this rivalry before they have to start making arrests. Despite this, Riff and the Jets plan a rumble with the Sharks to settle their rivalry. Riff runs off to persuade his best friend and partner Tony to fight alongside the Jets in the rumble. Tony bawks at first but reluctantly agrees after Riff reveals his plan to challenge the Sharks at an upcoming dance.

That evening, Riff attends the dance with his girlfriend Graziella and the rest of the Jets. When the Sharks arrive, Riff prepares to challenge Bernardo but is interrupted when a social worker at the dance makes a feeble attempt to convince the gangs to have a peaceful dance. Eventually, Riff manages to confront Bernardo after the latter spots Tony kissing his sister Maria and tries to attack him over it. However, with police officers watching, Riff is unable to have any physical conflict with Bernando, and he instead discreetly plans with Bernardo to have a rumble the next night. Bernardo agrees before leaving with Maria and his girlfriend Anita.

Later that night, Riff and his gang hang around outside of Doc's candy store. A couple of police officers show up and voice their suspicions that the gangs are planning something. After they leave, Riff and the Jets spend a while mocking them before heading inside the store. The Sharks enter too, and Riff orders Graziella, her friend Velma, and the tagalong Anybodys to leave. The two gangs discuss where to hold the rumble and which weapons to use. Tony arrives at the store and ridicules the whole plan, prompting Riff to propose a "fair fight" that will involve a best man to fight Bernardo. He selects Ice. However, before they can negotiate further, Lieutenant Shrank enters the store and orders the Sharks to scram. He then interrogates the Jets, attempting to pressure them into revealing where they plan on doing a rumble. When they refuse to cooperate, he tries to dupe them into telling him by assuring them that he will offer them help during the rumble. When they still refuse, a frustrated Shrank kicks all of the Jets out of the store.

The next night, the Jets and the Sharks march across the street preparing to rumble. Riff and the Jets vow to defeat the Sharks and establish their superiority over the Upper West Side. They make it to their selected location (under the highway) along with the Sharks, and they prepare to fight it out. Tony appears before Ice and Bernarno can start the fight, intending to stop the rumble on behalf of Maria. Unfortunately for him, this backfires and instead leads to a chain of events that culminates in Bernardo calling Tony a "polack" (a racial slur for Polish people), provoking Riff into striking him across the face. Enraged, Bernardo gets back up, and he and Riff pull out switchblades, ready to fight to the death. Tony frantically tries to stop the fight, but Riff orders Ice and Tiger to hold Tony back, preventing him from interfering. Riff briefly loses his knife and is cornered. As he panics, Bernardo approaches to deliver the death blow, but Riff evades him, and Action hands him back his knife. The fight resumes, ultimately ending with Bernardo inadvertently stabbing Riff in the stomach, killing him.


Tony, in a moment of rage, grabs Riff's knife and fatally stabs Bernardo to avenge his friend, resulting in a riot between the gangs. Bernardo's friend Chino eventually gets ahold of a pistol, partially to avenge Bernardo, and ends the musical shooting Tony in the back. Maria finally has enough after Tony succumbs to the wound and threatens to shoot both gangs, rebuking them for their hatred and violence and blaming that for the deaths of Riff, Bernardo, and Tony. After her rant, the two gangs, affected by her words, finally reconcile, and the rivalry is ended once and for all.


           Steven Spielberg signature.png Villains

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Back to the Future: Biff Tannen | Griff Tannen | Buford Tannen
The Land Before Time: Sharptooth | Ozzy & Strut | Pterano | Rinkus and Sierra | Red Claw | Screech and Thud
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Catch Me If You Can: Frank Abagnale Jr.
War of the Worlds: Martians
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Memoirs of a Geisha: Hatsumomo
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West Side Story: Jets (Riff, Ice, Action, A-Rab, Baby John, Snowboy, & Tiger) | Sharks (Bernardo & Chino)