Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure
|Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Stephen Herek|
|Music by||David Newman|
|Box office||$40.5 million|
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure is a 1989 American science fiction comedy film directed by Stephen Herek and written by Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon. It stars Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, and George Carlin. The plot follows slackers Bill (Winter) and Ted (Reeves), who travel through time to assemble historical figures for their high school history presentation.
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure received generally positive reviews, and was a success at the box office, grossing $40.5 million against a $6.5 million budget.
In 1988 San Dimas, California, slackers Bill S. Preston Esquire and Ted (Theodore) Logan would rather pursue their band the Wyld Stallyns than schoolwork. Bill and Ted are failing history, and they need an A+ on their history report if they want to pass the class. Ted's father, the local police captain, threatens to send Ted to military school in Alaska if they should flunk their history class (and school along with it), ruining their dreams of success. The two struggle to assemble a final report for the class, which is to describe how three historical figures would see modern-day San Dimas.
Seven hundred years from then, in 2688, humanity has built a utopia, thanks to the music of Wyld Stallyns. The supreme beings of this world instruct Rufus (Carlin) to travel back in time by a time machine disguised as a phone booth, to help Bill and Ted pass their class. Rufus lands by the two, as they work on their report near a Circle K. As he introduces himself, a second phone booth lands nearby, and future versions of Bill and Ted come out, proving their identity to their younger selves, and telling them to trust Rufus before they leave. Rufus offers to show the teens how the machine works, taking them to Austria in 1805, where Napoleon Bonaparte is commanding the French Army. Assured the machine works, Rufus, Bill and Ted return to the present, though Napoleon, knocked back by an explosion, is caught in the phone booth's wake and dragged with them. Back at Ted's house, Rufus provides the teens additional instructions and then leaves before another identical phone booth time machine shows up. The two find Napoleon nearby, and come upon an idea of taking historical figures from the past to bring them to the present to complete their report. They leave Napoleon with Ted's younger brother Deacon and set out. Before they go, Ted's father chews him out for failing history, losing his keys and not focusing on his schoolwork and grounds him until Ted goes to military school. Bill gives Ted's father a distraction, and tells Ted where to find the keys. Ted has to pack his bags, and leave for Alaska for Military School the following night.
Separately, they gain the trust of Billy the Kid from 1879, and Socrates from 410 BC, and bring them along. They next land in 15th century medieval England, and see two princesses, who flirt with them. In their attempt to see the princesses and meet them, Bill and Ted help them escape, because their father has arranged marriage for both of them to "two horrible old men". Bill and Ted are caught by their father, the local king (whose entourage they refer to as 'royal ugly dudes'), and ordered to be beheaded, but they are rescued by Billy and Socrates. In their escape, the phone booth's antenna is damaged by a knight's mace, and the booth starts running out of control. Bill and Ted initially take advantage of it by obtaining more historical figures for extra credit, including Sigmund Freud from Vienna, Austria in 1901; Ludwig van Beethoven from Kassel, Germany in 1810; Joan of Arc from Orleans, France in 1429; Genghis Khan from Outer Mongolia in 1209; and Abraham Lincoln from Washington, DC in 1863. With no more space in the booth, they finally see the broken antenna, and have to make a pit-stop in prehistoric times to make repairs. After a crude repair with chewing gum and pudding cups, Bill and Ted regain control of the booth, but they end up at the Circle K, witnessing their past selves on the night before the report. They repeat their advice to them about Rufus, and then ask Rufus how to get to their present time; Rufus also alerts them that time is running short.
Back in their current timeframe, with hours before the report presentation, Bill and Ted leave the historical figures at the local mall to experience San Dimas, while they try to track down Napoleon, whom Deacon had ditched the previous night after an embarrassing night out. They find Napoleon at the Waterloo water park, but by the time they return to the mall, the historical figures have caused a commotion, and are now in jail under Ted's father's watch, and he refuses to set them free. They develop a plan to use the time machine after the presentation as to plant elements via predestination paradoxes to help free the historical figures, and make their way to the school, barely arriving in time for their presentation. With the help of the historical figures, the two give an impressive presentation that ensures they pass the course.
After returning the historical figures and successfully getting an A+ on their history report, Bill and Ted return to practice, when Rufus shows up with the two princesses in tow, having rescued them himself since he knows they will be their wives and bandmates in the future. As the band starts to play, terribly, Rufus explains to the audience, "They do get better."
- Keanu Reeves as Ted ‘’Theodore’’ Logan
- Alex Winter as Bill S. Preston, Esq.
- George Carlin as Rufus
- Terry Camilleri as Napoleon Bonaparte
- Dan Shor as Billy the Kid
- Tony Steedman as Socrates
- Rod Loomis as Sigmund Freud
- Al Leong as Genghis Khan
- Jane Wiedlin as Joan of Arc
- Robert V. Barron as Abraham Lincoln
- Clifford David as Ludwig van Beethoven
- Hal Landon Jr. as Captain Jonathan Logan, Ted's and Deacon’s father
- Bernie Casey as Mr. Ryan, Bill and Ted's history teacher
- Amy Stock-Poynton as Missy Preston, Bill's stepmother
- J. Patrick McNamara as Mr. Preston, Bill's father
- Frazier Bain as Deacon Logan, Ted's younger brother
- John Karlsen as Evil Duke
- Diane Franklin as Princess Elizabeth
- Kimberley LaBelle as Princess Joanna
- Clarence Clemons, Martha Davis, and Fee Waybill as The Three Most Important People in the World
The screenplay was written by Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson in early 1987, based on a comedy stand-up routine they had performed while in college. Director Stephen Herek called the screenplay "incredibly laugh-out-loud", but recognized that because of some of the off-center humor targeting a specific audience, the film was "either going to be a huge hit or a huge flop". Herek stated that shopping the film for distributors was difficult; Warner Bros. wanted to produce it within a US$10 million budget, but could not figure out how to fund it. The film ended up being picked up by Dino de Laurentiis through the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (DEG).
In a 1991 interview, co-writer Ed Solomon said the characters of Bill and Ted were originally envisaged as "14-year-old skinny guys, with low-rider bell-bottoms and heavy metal T-shirts" who were despised by the popular kids at school. Casting Reeves and Winter changed the filmmakers' images of the characters because "...once you cast Alex and Keanu, who look like pretty cool guys, that was hard to believe".
Originally as a spec script, the film had been called Bill & Ted's Time Van. While the core plot was similar, with Bill & Ted on the verge of failing their history class and threatening to ruin their idea of forming a band together, events in the spec script initiated when the pair had borrowed a van from their 28-year-old friend Rufus. While driving the van, they ended up in Nazi Germany, and after some hijinks, bring Adolf Hitler back to San Dimas in the present while they continue to collect other historical figures. Solomon affirmed this clearly became problematic, and Hitler was switched out with Napoleon in their final script. Other concepts in the spec script that were dropped included more involvement of Bill & Ted's classmates including having them travel in time with them, visiting Julius Caesar in the Roman Empire and ending up causing his death, and befriending a caveman in the prehistorical age as to help him invent fire so that they could light up a joint. The van, originally to be a 1969 Chevrolet, was abandoned as being too close in concept to the DeLorean used in the Back to the Future trilogy. In earlier drafts of the script, other historical figures Bill and Ted plucked from history included Charlemagne (whom they referred to as "Charlie Mangay"), Babe Ruth, and a non-famous medieval person called "John the Serf". John is listed in the credits.
Herek screened between 200 and 300 actors for the main roles, asking actors to try for both parts during auditions. Pauly Shore was among the hundreds of actors considered for the role of Ted, while River Phoenix, Sean Penn and then-upcoming actor Brendan Fraser reportedly auditioned for Bill.
Keanu Reeves was one of the first to audition, and Herek quickly identified him as their Ted, making much of the rest of casting to find a match against Reeves. Alongside Reeves, 24 actors were called back and auditioned in various pairs to find a good chemistry. On that day, Reeves was one of the first to arrive along with Alex Winter, and while waiting for the auditions to start, found out they had a lot of personal details in common, such as a common interest in bass guitar and motorcycles. They quickly developed a rapport between each other during auditions, which earned them the title roles. A longstanding urban legend has it that Reeves auditioned for Bill and Winter for Ted. According to Winter, the story emerged because the characters are so similar, and even he and Reeves sometimes became confused about who was who.
Through rehearsals, Winter and Reeves worked on developing their Bill & Ted characters to move them away from being stereotypical comedic slackers and insert sincerity and other more human elements into them. While they developed mannerisms outside of the script, influenced partially by British comedians like Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan, the pair kept to the dialog written by Solomon and Mathseon, with Winter calling it "very floral, so paradoxical to how you think dumb Valley guys would speak". Winter said that to develop Bill's character, he borrowed from the looks and trends along Venice Beach, California, where he had been living, including wearing a baseball cap backwards and pulling part of his hair through that opening.
Winter said of casting George Carlin as Rufus as a "very happy accident". The role of Rufus had not been established when filming started. Herek stated that their intention was to have Eddie Van Halen as Rufus, given the frequency of Van Halen references in the screenplay, but because of the low budget for the film, they could not get to happen. They started looking at other acting experience that would fit the rock motif, making a short list that had included Ringo Starr, Roger Daltrey, Sean Connery, and Charlie Sheen. They soon recognized that no one on this list was a comedian, and turned their thinking around to look at comedians. Producers Scott Kroopf and Bob Cort had just finished filming Outrageous Fortune which co-starred George Carlin, and with the film's production nearly complete, were able to get him to complete filming.
The Three Most Important People in the utopian society were envisioned to be portrayed by the band members of ZZ Top. However, Solomon had connections to the E Street Band, The Tubes and The Motels, and were able to get Clarence Clemons, Fee Waybill, and Martha Davis, respectively, for the Most Important People.
The film's writers, Solomon and Matheson, appear in the film's ice cream scene as the "stupid" and "ugly" waiters, respectively. When Rufus plays his guitar solo, the hands in the close-up are those of Stevie Salas, who composed the film's guitar music.
The film was shot on a US$8.5 million budget over a period of 10 weeks, including two weeks in Italy. As Herek was going after the same comedic approach to history as in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, they brought in its producer Roy Forge Smith for this film. Principal filming was shot in 1987 in the Phoenix, Arizona and Tempe, Arizona metropolitan areas. Many scenes were filmed in and around Scottsdale's Coronado High School. Coronado's auditorium was torn down during 2005-07 renovations, but its unique roof and intricate exterior mosaic, seen in an opening scene when Bill and Ted leave school in a red Mustang, was saved and moved, piece by piece, to the new auditorium. The interior shots of the auditorium were filmed inside the East High School auditorium, which was in Phoenix on 48th Street just north of Van Buren. East High School was demolished in 2002 as part of a redevelopment project. The production also shot a sequence on the Western Street on the back lot of Southwestern Studio in Carefree, Arizona.
The scenes at Waterloo are a combination of establishing shots at Raging Waters in San Dimas and shots with the actors at Golfland Sunsplash in Mesa, Arizona. Because of the limited budget, they could not close down the waterparks for filming, and thus, all those in the background of these shots were paying customers to the waterparks on those days. The bowling alley was a Fair Lanes-branded alley at that time but is now the AMF Tempe Village Lanes on Rural Road at US 60, three miles south of Arizona State University. The mall was Phoenix Metrocenter, between Peoria and Dunlap Avenues at Interstate 17. It has since been renovated and no longer looks as it did in the film. The Circle K store is at the intersection of Southern and Hardy in Tempe.
The film also employs computer-generated imagery for the scenes where Bill & Ted are travelling through the 'Circuits of Time', created by the VFX house Perpetual Motion Pictures in Tempe. Winter called the experience of filming these booths difficult as to come up with the practical effects of filming the booth with multiple people standing inside it on a gimble in front of a green screen with numerous equipment and prop failures; Reeves called it "a death ride canoe from the worst carny ride you’ve ever been on".
Initially, the film had ended with Bill & Ted giving their report within a small classroom, passing their class, and then going to the prom with the rescued princesses. The production team recognized this felt underwhelming, and created the larger auditorium presentation as to give a better sense of scale, with a sound and light show to make it more dramatic setting.
The initial cut of the film was 2 hours and 25 minutes long, and was pruned significantly. One such filmed scene was a lengthy choreographed song number that would have led off the film, starting with Bill & Ted dancing via air-guitaring on their way to school.
The picture had been planned for a 1988 release, and filming and production had completed on schedule. However, the original film distributor, DEG, fell into significant debt in late 1987, and by 1988 had filed for bankruptcy. At this point, the film was in post-production, and Henek attempted to show around the rough cut to other distributors. Henek said many of these companies were confused, asking him "Are there kids that really speak like this?" on seeing the film. However, the cut had an extremely popular reaction from a test audience of volunteers pulled from local malls, which led to a small bidding war from production companies to get the title. Some of the former DEG executives ended up at Nelson Entertainment, and along with Orion Pictures, were able to secure new distribution rights for the film by 1988 for about US$1 million.
|Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)|
|Soundtrack album by |
|Genre||Hard rock, heavy metal, glam rock, glam metal, pop rock, rock 'n' roll|
The film's soundtrack was released in 1989. The tracks are as follows:
- "Play with Me" by Extreme
- "The Boys and Girls Are Doing It" by Vital Signs
- "Not So Far Away" by Glen Burtnik
- "Dancing with a Gypsy" by Tora Tora
- "Father Time" by Shark Island
- "Breakaway" by Big Pig
- "Dangerous" by Shark Island
- "Walk Away" by Bricklin
- "In Time" by Robbie Robb featuring Stevie Salas
- "Two Heads Are Better Than One" by Power Tool
These tracks are ordered for the album differently than they are in the movie. In the movie, the songs show up in the following order: "I Can't Break Away", "Dancing with a Gypsy", "Father Time", "Dangerous", "In Time", "Two Heads Are Better Than One", "The Boys and Girls Are Doing It", "Play with Me", "Walk Away", "Not So Far Away" and "Two Heads" (reprised over the credits).
The following songs appeared in the film but were not included in the soundtrack:
- "No Right to Do Me Wrong" by Range War
- "Party Up" by Rori
- "Bad Guitar" by Stevie 'No Wonder' Salas
- "Carlin's Solo" by Stevie Salas
- "Game of War" by Warrant
A theatrical sequel, Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, was released in 1991.
A third theatrical film in the Bill & Ted franchise was planned, and a screenplay was written, though it never got past the pre-production phase. Although rumors claimed that the script was adapted into the 1996 film Bio-Dome, Alex Winter has said that it was not.
In 2010, Reeves indicated that Matheson and Solomon were working on a script for a third film, confirming in April 2011 that a draft was complete. Winter said in March 2012 that he and Reeves both liked the finished script, which revisits the two characters after the changes of the past twenty years. The current script does not feature the return of the Grim Reaper from Bogus Journey, but since actor William Sadler has expressed interest, the writers are considering ways to include the character. In August 2012, Dean Parisot (director of the sci-fi/comedy film Galaxy Quest) signed on to direct the film, although MGM, which holds the rights to the Bill & Ted franchise, did not officially greenlight the film until some years later. In an April 2014 article on the original film's 25th anniversary, Alex Winter reported that work on going ahead with the second sequel was still in progress.
Bill & Ted Face the Music was officially announced to be in pre-production on May 8, 2018. On March 20, 2019 a video featuring Winter and Reeves was posted online which announced the third film in the franchise would be released in the summer of 2020.
Two spin-off television series were produced; both were titled Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventures.
- Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventures was an animated series that first ran on CBS in 1990, and featured the voices of Winter, Reeves and Carlin returning to their roles in the film. A second season of eight episodes ran on Fox Kids, with the voice cast of Fox's then-upcoming live-action series.
- Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventures was a live-action series that ran only seven episodes on Fox in the summer of 1992. It did not feature any of the cast from the film. Evan Richards and Christopher Kennedy played Bill and Ted.
DC Comics produced a tie-in comic following the plot of the first movie timed to coincide with that film's release on home video. The sequel was adapted by DC's competitor Marvel Comics, published to coincide with the second film's release in theaters. Its popularity led to the ongoing Marvel series Bill & Ted's Excellent Comic Book by Evan Dorkin, which lasted for 12 issues.
There were also Game Boy, NES, and Atari Lynx games released, which were very loosely based on the film's plot. A PC title and nearly identical Amiga and Commodore 64 port were made in 1991 by Off the Wall Productions and IntraCorp, Inc. under contract by Capstone Software and followed the original film very closely.
The annual Halloween Horror Nights events at Universal Studios Orlando and Hollywood have featured since 1992 (Orlando) and 1997-1999/2007 (Hollywood) Bill & Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure, a show satirizing pop culture of the year with Bill & Ted as the protagonists fighting villains who steal their phone booth for their own schemes.
The show differs from year to year, with spoofs of various pop culture icons. The main plot involves Bill and Ted being threatened by an evil villain from a popular film of that year, with appearances by a host of villains, heroes, and celebrities. The show usually includes elaborate dance numbers, stunts, and multiple double-entendres for the late night event crowd. In 2013, the Hollywood version of the show was cancelled in the middle of its run following complaints of homophobic humor.
On August 15, 2017, Universal announced that 2017 will be the final year of Bill and Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure in Orlando. And on November 4, 2017, Bill and Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure came to a final close, but not before a surprise appearance of Rufus.
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure grossed $40.4 million domestically on a budget of about $10 million. The Washington Post gave the film a negative review, finding the script written by Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon as "made only the sketchiest attempts to draw their historical characters. They exist as foils and nothing else, and the gags that are hung on them are far from first-rate", and that if director "Stephen Herek, has any talent for comedy, it's not visible here. More than anything, the picture looks paltry and undernourished." Variety wrote about each historical figure that Bill & Ted meet, stating that "Each encounter is so brief and utterly cliched that history has little chance to contribute anything to this pic’s two dimensions." Vincent Canby of The New York Times referred to the film as a "painfully inept comedy" and that the "one dimly interesting thing about Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure is the way the two teen-age heroes communicate in superlatives. We are about to fail most egregiously, says Ted to Bill, or maybe it's Bill to Ted. They are also fond of odd words, such as bodacious." In the Los Angeles Times, Chris Willman was also unimpressed, concluding: "Make no mistake, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure […] is not a satire of mindlessness; it's unabashed glorification of dumbness for dumbness' sake. Bill and Ted are heroic in their ability to reduce some of history's great minds to their level. However, writing for Radio Times, Alan Jones decided: "A nonstop giggle from start to finish, this beguiling grab-bag of time-travel clichés, hard-rock music and Valley-speaking cool dudes is a flawless, purpose-built junk movie".
The film has a 78% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes, based on 46 reviews with an average rating of 6.49/10. The website's critical consensus reads: "Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter are just charming, goofy, and silly enough to make this fluffy time-travel Adventure work". On Metacritic, the film holds a weighted average score of 44 out of 100, based on 7 reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
A phone booth used in the sequel was given away in a contest presented by Nintendo Power magazine, to promote Bill & Ted's Excellent Video Game Adventure. It was won by Kenneth Grayson of Mississippi.
In 2010, the city of San Dimas celebrated 50 years of incorporation. The celebration's slogan was San Dimas, 1960–2010 – An Excellent Adventure.
Writing in The Guardian on the occasion of the film's 25th anniversary, Hadley Freeman found: "Of all the delightfully improbable scenarios depicted in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure – from Napoleon Bonaparte causing havoc on a waterslide to Billy the Kid and Socrates (a.k.a. "So-crayts", of course) picking up chicks in a California mall to George Carlin acting in a film alongside Keanu Reeves and a member of the Go-Go's – none would have seemed more unlikely on its release than the idea that one day, with much media fanfare, the public would be celebrating the film's 25th anniversary. By the time Bill & Ted was released in 1989, the 80s teen film explosion was starting to taper out. [...] Moreover, there had already been plenty of films about time-travelling teens by the time Bill & Ted rocked up in cinemas, such as Peggy Sue Got Married and Back to the Future. Few who were around then would have bet that a goofy movie about a pair of California metalheads skipping back through time in a phonebox collecting historical characters to bring back to 20th-century California for their history report would still be remembered today. But I am very much among those few".
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
In cultural analysis
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure does not tend to be rated as one of cinema's profounder treatments of the relationship between present and past. The story of two Californian slackers with a time machine who, for complicated reasons, have to assemble assorted celebrities from history in order to pass a high-school project, it is chiefly remembered for bringing Keanu Reeves to the attention of a mass audience. Classicists, however, will always cherish it as the only film ever to combine the music of Van Halen with Greek philosophy. When Bill and Ted embark on their quest, what should be their first destination if not classical Athens, and who should be the very first 'historical dude' bundled into their time machine if not a bald-headed man in a sheet whom they persist in calling 'Soh-kraytz'?"
Even to metalheads, then, the philosophy of ancient Greece serves as something that is both primal and emblematic of civilisation as a whole. Socrates, in particular, the 'lover of wisdom' who insisted that the most fundamental presumptions of his countrymen should be subjected to experimental investigation, and who ended up being made to drink hemlock for his pains, has always been admired as the very fountainhead of rationalism. Yet when it comes to identifying what he taught and believed, there is a problem, on which Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, rather unexpectedly, puts its finger. Socrates, transplanted to 1980s California, can only communicate with his abductors by gesturing and gurning – since Bill and Ted, it goes without saying, speak not a word of ancient Greek. Even the miracle of time travel, it appears, cannot serve to alter what is, for any historian, a most awkward fact: that it is impossible to be certain of what Socrates actually said.
The film was mentioned as an example of pop-culture time travel in the 2019 blockbuster film Avengers: Endgame.
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