Bill & Ted at 25: Dude, Bet You Didn’t Know These 7 Gnarly Facts
by Angela Watercutter
Twenty-five years ago today, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure—the seminal burnouts-time-travel-in-a-phone-booth flick of its time—hit theaters. It did pretty well at the box office for a teen comedy, and far better than most anticipated. It went on to become a cult classic, get a Bogus sequel, and spawn timeless catchphrases like “be excellent to each other” and “strange things are afoot at the Circle K.”
However, a lot of the Bill & Ted’s legacy consists of things that aren’t really part of the movie. It came out long before memes were part of the zeitgeist, yet the popular image macro known as Conspiracy Keanu spawned from an image of Keanu Reeves as Ted “Theodore” Logan in the film. There were also comics, videogames, a cereal and even a musical (well, kind of).
“It surprised all of us—and I don’t mean that in a lame Hollywood, false modest way. I mean, we really did not expect it at all,” laughs Alex Winter, who played Bill S. Preston, Esquire in the movie. “We really didn’t think it was going to be a phenomenon by any stretch of the imagination. Let’s be honest, it’s not Citizen Kane, you know what I mean? And it’s not Star Wars. It isn’t that magnitude of movie, and yet it seems to last; a lot of other similar movies from that era didn’t.”
Yes, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure has held up surprisingly well. (Go rent it on iTunes or something—the LOLs are intact.) To honor the film’s 25th anniversary, WIRED got on the phone with Winter to reminisce and ask him about some of the more obscure bits of Bill & Ted trivia.
Keanu Reeves Thought He Was Supposed to Play Bill
There’s a longstanding urban legend that Reeves auditioned for the role of Bill and Winter auditioned for Ted, but that’s not exactly how Winter remembers it. “The reason that that ended up in lore was because at a certain point Keanu got it in his head that he was playing Bill and I was playing Ted,” he says. “To be fair to Reeves, it’s possible that out of the 80 trillion times we had to do the scenes [in auditions] the very, very last time we went in he happened to get the Bill sides and I happened to get the Ted sides.” After Reeves found out he was playing Ted, though, he was Sad Keanu. “We’re sitting in the office waiting to meet the producers for the first time and I’m pretty jazzed and he’s miserable,” Winters says. “I’m like, ‘Dude, what’s wrong? We finally got it after all this bullshit,’ you know? And he’s like, ‘Yeah, but I’m Ted.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, you’re Ted. That’s awesome.’ He was like, ‘I thought I was Bill.’ I was like, ‘What fucking difference does it make? For god’s sake, they’re completely interchangeable. If you want you can be Bill and I’ll be Ted, I really don’t care. It’s not going to impact the way I play this guy one iota.’”
Their Time Machine Was Originally a Van, Not a Phone Booth
The telephone booth that Bill and Ted use to violate time’s linearity is legendary. As it turns out, though, that phone booth was supposed to be a van. “[Director Stephen] Herek found it too Scooby-Doo, I think? That was probably his feeling,” Winters says. “He wanted it to be something that had a bit more energy and a bit more technology.” Back to the Future had also come out just before filming began, and the DeLorean was all the rage in time machines, so not wanting to have a vehicle that could’ve been a factor as well. (Of course Back to the Future almost used a refrigerator to send Marty back, but director Robert Zemeckis and producer Steven Spielberg scrapped the idea, afraid kids would trap themselves in their Frigidaires.) “Everyone gets cold feet about the best way to send people through time,” Winter jokes. (Oh, and that telephone booth? It reportedly went to a kid who won a contest in Nintendo Power magazine.)
The Movie Was Supposed to End with Bill and Ted Taking the Princesses to the Prom
Everyone remembers the epic ending where Bill and Ted bring all of their historical figures—Socrates, Abraham Lincoln, Billy the Kid, etc.—back to their high school auditorium to help them with their history report. But that wasn’t how it went down in the script. Originally, the historical figures gave the presentation with Bill and Ted in their classroom, and the finale was the boys going to prom with “the Princesses” that Rufus (George Carlin) brought back from the past. “Both [Bill & Ted] movies had different endings that were reshot,” Winter says. “I’m not sure if they tested it and people didn’t respond or if the producers just got cold feet.” So what happened at that prom? That might remain a mystery. “I have not the slightest idea,” he says. “I have no memory whatsoever, I just remember thinking that the bigger ending was better.”
It’s Actually (Kind of) About the Internet
The internet wasn’t widely available when the movie was released in 1989, but in retrospect Bill and Ted’s could be viewed as an allegory about it. Think about it: young people who put codes into a phone line so they can pull up historical information they’re too lazy to look for in books? (The flick also eerily foreshadowed Reeve’s career as Neo, who basically schlepped in and out of the Matrix in phone booths.) This analogy rings especially true for Winter, who made the Napster documentary Downloaded and is now working on a doc about Bitcoin. It also can help explain why the film has been a popular on the internet as a whole. “In the same way that Doctor Who has had such a massive resurgence because of internet culture I think that Bill & Ted absolutely has a connectivity with internet culture,” Winter says. “Because it’s all about these guys who can go wherever they want really fast, with ease, which is sort of like what the internet is.”
Bill & Ted’s Almost Didn’t Get Released at All
Bill & Ted’s was originally produced by DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group, but the company hit financial trouble before it could get the movie into theaters. Those involved thought it was done for, and it sat on dormant for well over a year. “Keanu and I were 100 percent sure that the movie was shelved for good and that was that,” Winter says. “We absolutely did not think it was going to see the light of day.” Then a small video company called Nelson Entertainment came in and offered to pay the completion costs and acquire domestic rights to the film, which it then released in the U.S. with Orion Pictures. “I remember being told that it had been bought not by a studio, but by this little bitty company called Nelson Entertainment, for $1 million,” Winter says. “Nelson bought the movie for a million dollars and released it and made a flipping fortune off of it.” (It made more than $40 million at the box office.)
Winter Was Shooting a Butthole Surfers Video the First Time He Got Recognized as Bill
Because of the delayed release, Winter had no idea he was about to become a phenomenon. He’d moved on to directing commercials and music videos by the time the film was released, and was actually in Austin making a clip for the Butthole Surfers when the hysteria hit. “I walked into a diner,” he remembers, “and the whole place stopped and went apeshit. It was one of those watershed moments. My life fundamentally changed.”
Joan of Arc Is a Go-Go
Joan of Arc, who says almost nothing in the movie, is played by something of a noisemaker: Jane Wiedlin, who was previously the rhythm guitarist for The Go-Go’s. She was also the Singing Telegram Girl in Clue and in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home before Bill & Ted’s.
BONUS: There Still May Be a Third Bill & Ted’s
Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey came out two years after Excellent Adventure, and ever since then there have been rumblings of a third installment. According to Winter, it’s still in the works: The script is written and the principals are working on finding the financing to make the movie. It could still not happen for any variety of reasons, he notes, but “we’re certainly well down the road in getting it off the ground.”