Ask anyone to name an 80s comedy about time travel, and the first one that comes to their mind will probably be Back to the Future. However, coming up a close second is Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. With a low budget, a weird concept and two unknown lead actors, few could have anticipated the 1989 film having quite the impact that it did, spawning a franchise that included 1991 sequel Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, plus 2020’s Bill & Ted Face the Music.
Join us now as we unearth some resplendent facts you might not have known about this most triumphant comedy classic!
25. Keanu Reeves thought Ted would be the only role he’d be remembered for
Keanu Reeves was 25 years old and had been in the business for around five years when he landed the role of Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan. He did such a great job as Ted that for much of the 90s, audiences had difficulty separating Reeves from his Ted persona. Reeves recognised this, and once joked that he feared that on his death his headstone would read, “Here lies Keanu Reeves. He played Ted.”
However, by the end of the 90s Reeves successfully reinvented himself as an action star via Point Break, Speed and The Matrix – and these days, Reeves is equally synonymous with the titular hero of the John Wick series.
24. The film originally featured a time-travelling van
You can’t talk about time-travelling comedies of the 1980s without talking about Back to the Future. In its concept alone, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure invites comparison with the 1985 classic. Still, if the creators had stuck with the first draft of the Excellent Adventure script, the similarities would have been greater, as Bill and Ted were going to travel through time in a 1969 Chevy van.
The producers worried this was too close to Back to the Future, in which the time machine was of course a DeLorean sports car. It was ultimately decided to instead give Bill and Ted a time-travelling phone booth – although this too is a nod to the vehicle of another notable time traveller, TV’s Doctor Who.
23. The film almost didn’t get released after the production company went bankrupt
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure was financed by DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group. While many of this company’s films (including Manhunter, Near Dark and Evil Dead II) are considered classics today, DEG weren’t doing well financially at the time, and went bankrupt soon after Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure was completed. For a time, Bill & Ted seemed doomed.
Happily, the rights to Excellent Adventure wound up going to Orion Pictures, who had a little more faith in the material. Actor Alex Winter recalls that an early test screening “went over like gangbusters,” and after that the film’s theatrical release was secured.
22. Alex Winter still gets ‘thank you’ letters from History teachers (and complaints from English teachers!)
Like Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter was a relatively unknown actor in his early 20s when cast in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, aside from his supporting role as the vampire Marko in 1987’s The Lost Boys. Winter (who has worked primarily as a director since the first two Bill & Ted movies) says he has received many letters of praise from high school history teachers over the years.
However, Winter says he also gets angry letters from English teachers, who complain that Bill and Ted’s simplistic means of self-expression has also affected the way students speak!
21. A fan won the phone booth in a Nintendo magazine competition
For really serious film fans, few items are more desired than actual memorabilia that appeared on-screen in a popular movie. In the case of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, surely the single most iconic piece of memorabilia must be the pivotal time-travelling phone booth. One fan of the movie wound up the lucky owner of the original Excellent Adventure phone booth thanks to a video game magazine contest.
The coveted item was offered up as a prize by Nintendo Power Magazine in 1991, to tie in with the release of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure. The winner of this most excellent contest was one Kenneth Grayson, who would years later be quizzed on the matter on Reddit.
20. Reeves and Winter also voiced Bill and Ted in the animated TV series
Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter reprised their roles in the largely forgotten animated TV series Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures. This cartoon hit the small screen in 1990, the year before Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was released. They were joined on the cartoon by George Carlin, who also returned to provide the voice of Rufus.
The three actors lent their vocal duties to the first season of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures, for which 13 episodes were produced. In 1991, a second season was produced with different voice actors, which ended after eight episodes.
19. There was a live-action TV spin-off
After animated series Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures ended, there was another TV show bearing that same title, this time in live action. Actors Christopher Kennedy and Evan Richards, who had voiced Bill and Ted on the second season of the cartoon, returned to play the roles on camera.
Disregarding the events of sequel Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, the show kept our heroes in high school and followed them on further time-travelling adventures. However, the ratings were low and the critics were harsh, hence the series was cancelled after only eight episodes.
18. Bill & Ted breakfast cereal used to be a thing
When Bill & Ted merchandising was at its peak, the characters were perhaps inevitably the face of a breakfast cereal. Released as a tie-in with the TV cartoon series in 1990, it was naturally named Bill & Ted’s Excellent Cereal. Produced by Ralston, the cereal consisted of cinnamon-flavoured toasted oat squares and marshmallow pieces shaped like musical notes.
The actors were not particularly well-compensated for their likeness being used on the boxes: as Alex Winter wryly recalls, “The cereal was particularly tragic… Not the most nutritious food item. And it was weird.” Winter also notes, “we weren’t making the kind of money that actors make today for that kind of stuff.”
17. Eddie Van Halen joked that he would have joined Wyld Stallyns if askedCredit: Fin Costello/Redferns
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure famously sees Reeves and Winter’s hapless musicians plotting to enlist Eddie Van Halen to join their band Wyld Stallyns. The eponymous lead guitarist of legendary heavy metal band Van Halen was widely regarded the best rock musician in the world at the time. After seeing the movie, the guitar hero reportedly joked he would have joined Wyld Stallyns if they’d asked.
One wonders if he was entirely kidding, as despite the huge success enjoyed by Van Halen, the band had a rather tumultuous history, with personality clashes leading to multiple line-up changes over the years. Nonetheless, the band stayed together until the iconic guitarist sadly passed away in October 2020, after a long struggle with cancer.
16. George Carlin wasn’t cast as Rufus until the shoot was almost over
While Eddie Van Halen says he would have considered joining Wyld Stallyns, it turns out the filmmakers did briefly have him in mind for a role: Rufus, the wise man from the future who travels back to San Dimas, 1988 to help Bill and Ted secure their destiny. However, up until quite late in production, the filmmakers still hadn’t cast the role, and didn’t know who to go with.
As well as Van Halen, other major rock stars were considered for the role, including Ringo Starr and Roger Daltrey. At one point, even Sean Connery was on the wish list – as was Charlie Sheen, bizarrely. Eventually someone hit upon the idea of casting stand-up comedy legend George Carlin, and the rest is history.
15. ZZ Top were asked to play the Three Most Important People
One key scene in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure sees our heroes wind up 600 years in the future. Here, they glimpse the utopian society that has been constructed under the influence of their music, and encounter the Three Most Important People. Whilst we learn basically nothing about these people, it’s clear they have a major role to play in this new world.
Fittingly given the film’s rock’n’roll theme, director Stephen Herek originally wanted to cast arguably the most famous power trio of the 80s: ZZ Top. This didn’t work out, but the filmmakers did cast some bona fide rockers as the Three Most Important People: Clarence Clemons of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, Fee Waybill of the Tubes and Martha Davis of the Motels.
14. A completely different opening with a musical number was shot for the film
We first meet Bill and Ted when they’re in the garage shooting a Wyld Stallyns promo video (if we can call it that). However, the film was at one point going to have a far more lavish opening sequence. Winter says the scene saw Reeves and himself “at a bus stop waiting for the bus to go to school, and we break into this air-guitar dance number – this whole elaborate, choreographed thing.”
In another rock’n’roll connection, the actors rehearsed in a dance studio at the home of singer Stevie Nicks. Alas, after all that work it was decided the introduction was wrong for the film, and it was cut.
13. The original ending was reshot because it was so boring
While he may have cut the original opening of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure in favour of something less theatrical, director Stephen Herek wound up doing the opposite with the ending. The original climax as scripted and shot saw our heroes simply deliver a basic history report in their classroom.
Everyone agreed that this ending was “underwhelming” and “needed to be a bit more operatic.” Happily, the production was able to scrape together the funds necessary to shoot the larger, rock concert-esque history report sequence that made the final film.
12. Paulie Shore auditioned for both lead roles
A great many young actors were considered for the lead roles of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. One of those who didn’t make the grade went on to make a splash in the early 90s: one Pauly Shore. The actor and comedian was, like Reeves and Winter, largely unknown at the time of his Bill & Ted audition, but he later found fame via the 1991 comedy Encino Man (AKA California Man).
With his uniquely nasal, self-consciously annoying performance style, Shore soon became one of the most simultaneously loved and hated figures in Hollywood. It was also rumoured that Shore’s 1996 movie Bio-Dome was originally concieved as a third Bill & Ted movie, but this claim has been discredited as bogus (literally).
11. The director turned down the sequel because he thought it was too dark
After the success of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, sequel plans quickly got underway, but one key figure from the original did not return: director Stephen Herek, who decided to pass because the felt the script that eventually became Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (initially entitled Bill & Ted Go to Hell) was too “mean-spirited.”
Director Pete Hewitt took over behind the camera, and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was almost as big a hit as its predecessor. Herek, meanwhile, went on to direct such hits as Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, The Mighty Ducks and The Three Musketeers.
10. It was originally ‘Bill & Ted & Bob’
Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson made up the characters of Bill and Ted as part of a comedy improv class they were taking in the mid-80s. Moreover, in this earliest version of events it wasn’t just a duo but a trio, with a third character named Bob. However, the actor playing Bob pulled out after the first few performances.
This left Matheson and Solomon to further develop Bill and Ted on their own as a duo. Eventually they moved away from performance to concentrate on writing, and decided to build a movie script around the characters.
9. The original plot saw Bill and Ted starting major historical incidents like the sinking of the Titanic
In its original conception, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure had a different, perhaps less upbeat tone. Originally the dim-witted duo’s travels through time saw them inadvertently cause such historical catastrophes as the sinking of the Titanic and the spread of the Black Plague.
Like the time-travelling van, these history-rewriting scenes may have been cut as they resembled another time-travelling movie of the era. 1981’s darkly comedic fantasy Time Bandits features similar scenes, including the protagonists inadvertently sinking the Titanic.
8. San Dimas referenced the film in its 50th anniversary celebrations
Prior to Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, it’s fair to say that most people outside of California had never heard of the city of San Dimas. However, the 1989 comedy hit forever established San Dimas as the home of Bill and Ted in the memories of audiences worldwide.
In the years since, the city has celebrated the fame that it has enjoyed since Bill & Ted’s Excellent adventure. San Dimas marked 50 years of incorporation in 2010, and the official slogan for the celebration was “San Dimas, 1960 – 2010 – An excellent adventure!”
7. Reeves and Winter were cast after they were spotted messing around in a McDonald’s queue
The casting process for Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure was intensive, with literally hundreds of actors seen for the lead roles. For a time, Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter were just two among a vast number of young actors under consideration. Screenwriters Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson have a great memory of the moment they knew Winter and Reeves were the duo they had to go with.
During pre-production, the writers had gone into a nearby McDonald’s for a bite, when Winter and Reeves walked in together. Reportedly the actors were messing around in a way that perfectly captured the spirit of the characters. The writers are said to have immediately remarked to one another, “Those guys should be Bill and Ted!”
6. The phone booth was nicknamed ‘The Death Box’ because filming in it was so unpleasant
That pivotal booth wasn’t the most pleasant working environment for the cast. Reportedly Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves wound up giving the booth the less-than-flattering nickname of ‘The Death Box.’ Winter recalls, “We’re all in a regular phone booth with our boiling-hot costumes and varying degrees of body odors intermingling, you know?”
As for the rollercoaster ride circuits of time sequences: “there were nine or ten of us teetering on this thing, duct-taped to a hydraulic unit against a green screen in a studio in outer Tempe, Arizona, like a death ride canoe from the worst carny ride you’ve ever been on.”
5. The film was so popular in Germany that it altered their language
You might not have known that Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure proved particularly popular in Germany. The German dub of the film actually became a cult classic in its own right, to the point where it started affecting the German language itself. For starters, the German Bill & Ted coined the words ‘hoschi’ and ‘granatenstark’, which mean ‘dude’ and ‘excellent’ respectively.
No translation of these words had ever existed in Germany before, but they became commonplace after the movie. As if that wasn’t enough, the phrase ‘volle kanne, hoschi’ meaning ‘party on, dude’, became popular among German youths after the movie came out.
4. It’s one of three productions to star Genghis Khan and Abraham Lincoln together
After watching Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, it’s easy to assume that the collection of historical figures have never been seen on screen together before. However, several projects involving time travel have brought Genghis Khan and Abraham Lincoln together on screen. The first of these was in an episode of the original Star Trek.
1969’s reality-bending episode The Savage Curtain sees the Starship Enterprise crew encounter several historical figures, including Honest Abe and Khan (Gengis, not Noonien Singh). The two historical figures have also since featured in 2002 animated comedy Clone High.
3. The script was written in just four days
Even though writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon (who cameo in the film as ice cream waiters) had already developed the characters of Bill and Ted before they began work on the Excellent Adventure script, it’s still surprising just how quickly it got written. Solomon and Matheson took just four days to write the script from beginning to end, and they did it all by hand too.
The pair spent part of each day holding meetings at various local coffee shops, and that’s where the bulk of the writing got done. That might explain the uniquely fast and funny pace of the film, since both of them must have wound up seriously caffeinated.
2. Bill and Ted were written as nerds – but Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter made them cool
Like most major films, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure went through changes during production. Surprisingly, Reeves originally auditioned for Bill whilst Winter read for Ted. After they were cast, the first thing that changed was who was playing who, which the actors only found out about when they showed up to wardrobe and were given the other character’s signature clothes.
The other change is that the characters were originally supposed to be losers, who the popular kids in high school hated and bullied. But as Ed Solomon recalls, “once you cast Alex and Keanu, who look like pretty cool guys, that was hard to believe.”
1. It was never supposed to be a sci-fi movie
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure co-writer Chris Matheson originally wanted to stay away from sci-fi to avoid comparisons with his father Richard Matheson, a influential writer in the genre behind such books and films as I Am Legend, The Incredible Shrinking Man and some of the most famous episodes of The Twilight Zone (including Nightmare at 20,000 Feet).
Originally, the time travel idea was just one among a number of Bill and Ted skits they considered turning into a full length script. Ultimately, it was Richard Matheson himself who told his son and co-writer Ed Solomon that the time travel idea was the best of them.