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‘Bill and Ted’ at 30: A Look Back at Excellence

Copyright MGM

Greetings, my excellent friends.

Recently the long-awaited Bill and Ted 3 announced that filming would begin on March 5th of this year, with an anticipated release by Christmas.  It appears that Keanu Reeves is no longer concerned that his tombstone will read “He Played Ted,” and fandom has rejoiced.  Let’s hop in the telephone booth with Rufus and jump back 30 years to February, 1989.  While we won’t be able to ask the Mongols when they ruled China, we can get a glimpse at the start of a cultural phenomenon:  Bill S. Preston, Esquire, and Ted “Theodore” Logan’s band Wyld Stallyns, in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

Image Copyright MGM

As we navigate the circuits of history, try to remember that time travel movies were all the rage in the 1980’s.  From Back to the Future to The Terminator to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, film and TV characters were hopping all over the space-time continuum.  The original script called for Bill and Ted to be metal heads who cause all of history’s greatest tragedies while time-hopping around in a 1969 Chevy van.  Thing changed, as they always do, and soon those metal heads became the loveable surfer-dudes we know, traveling the timescape and gathering historical figures for their history exam.  Even Rufus was a different character–originally envisioned to be played by Sean Connery.  George Carlin was a “very happy accident”, according to star Alex Winter.

They were going after serious people first. Like Sir Sean Connery, and someone had the idea, way after we started shooting, of George. That whole movie was a happy accident. No one thought it would ever see the light of day.

Co-writer Chris Matheson, son of famed science fiction author Richard Matheson, didn’t want the film to have a sci-fi bent.

I [tried] to consciously fight it, out of a desire to break away, but maybe I have a predilection toward that because of my dad.  He’s a great writer and craftsman, and always has suggestions.  We were going to write a sketch film, with this as one of the skits, but my dad said, ‘That sounds like a whole movie.’  And he was right!

The film proved popular enough to spawn one sequel, 1991’s Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, along with video games, multiple comicbook series, an animated series, and yes, even a short-lived live action series on Fox in 1992.  They even were the subject of an extremely popular stage production from 1992 through 2017 at Universal Studios Orlando’s annual Halloween Horror Nights event, in which different actors portraying Bill and Ted would humorously tackle pop culture trends.  There was even a Bill and Ted breakfast cereal.

Image Copyright MGM

While not overwhelmingly embraced by critics at it’s release, it does hold a 78% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure grossed $40 million on a $10 million budget, a modest success.  More importantly, it lives on in the hearts of fans, and seemingly will forever.

Looks like our ride is here.  Time to hop into that trusty phone booth and head back to 2019.

Be excellent to each other.

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