Hollywood Flashback: 'Bill & Ted' Began a Bodacious Journey 31 Years Ago

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Orion Pictures Corporation/Photofest

From left: Alex Winter as Bill, Tony Steedman as Socrates and Keanu Reeves as Ted Theodore Logan in 1989's 'Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.'

The teen stoner comedy was a cult hit out of the gate, turning Keanu Reeves, then 24, into a movie star and launching a global franchise that produced two sequels, including 'Bill & Ted Face the Music,' which is now on demand and in theaters.

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is neither excellent nor adventurous,” began The Hollywood Reporter’s pan of a film being “dumped into theaters nationwide” on Feb. 17, 1989.

So much for that: The teen stoner comedy was a cult hit out of the gate, turning Keanu Reeves, then 24, into a movie star and launching a global franchise that produced two sequels — the latest, Bill & Ted Face the Music, arrives on demand and in theaters Aug. 28 — and a Hanna-Barbera animated show.

Bill & Ted began as a spec script dreamed up by writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, college buddies who used to play the characters in a stand-up routine. The movie’s premise always followed the time-hopping adventures of two dim-bulbed Valley boys (actually from San Dimas, a suburb east of L.A.) consulting with historical figures for an all-important history class report.

Various details changed before it went to screen: Hitler, for example, figured in the first draft, later to be replaced by Napoleon; and a van was the original time-traveling vessel, but ultimately it became a phone booth — a nod to Doctor Who’s TARDIS.

Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis greenlit the project at an $8.5 million budget ($19 million today) with Stephen Herek at the helm. (Herek had one feature under his belt at the time, the 1986 horror-comedy Critters, but would go on to direct 1992’s The Mighty Ducks and 1995’s Mr. Hollands Opus.)

The search for Bill and Ted was an arduous one. “We were two young artists, fairly fresh to L.A.,” recalls Alex Winter, 55, who plays Bill S. Preston, Esquire. “I had been acting as a kid on Broadway and Keanu had been doing work in Toronto.” Neither thought the film would see the light of day. “We were told the movie was being shelved and would never come out,” Winter says.

After a year in limbo, the “dumped” comedy earned $40.4 million domestically, or $85 million in 2020 dollars.