Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson transformed one of their college comedy routines into the movie that taught audiences to Rock On, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. However, they did not star in the main roles. Instead, Alex Winters played Bill while Keanu Reeves became Ted. With Stephen Herek in the director’s seat, the film hit theaters in 1988 under the Orion Pictures banner.
With the help of the time-traveling Rufus, who came from 2062, Bill and Ted set out on a trip through time so that they could pass their history course. Rufus had gone back to the past in a time machine that looked like a phone booth to preserve the utopian society that the pair inspired. So, he supported their hijinks in the past.
To create a breathtaking presentation, Bill and Ted decided to bring back many historical figures to their present. So, they met and abducted Napoleon Bonaparte, Billy the Kid, Socrates, Sigmund Freud, Ludwig van Beethoven, Joan of Arc, Genghis Khan, and Abraham Lincon. They also had a detour where they fell in love with two princesses, Joana and Elizabeth.
In the end, they wowed their teacher with a presentation to the entire school which included lighting effects and music. After their presentation, they discovered that Rufus had saved the princesses so that they could live with the pair in the future.
Orion Pictures did not set up any merchandising or toys for the first film. They initially believed that this small-budget film would appeal to teenagers and adults who would show little interest in toys. After the success, though, they had Off the Wall Products produce a video game for the Commodore 64, Amiga, and MS-DOS in 1989. Meanwhile, DC created a tie-in comic for the first movie. This would change drastically for the sequel.
Keanu Reeves and Alex Winters returned to star in Bil and Ted’s Bogus Journey in 1991. Unlike the prior film, this one took the duo to the afterlife when two robots under the command of Chuck De Nomolos threw them off a cliff. They had been preparing to play in San Dimus’s Battle of the Bands with their now girlfriends, Joana and Elizabeth, but their deaths threatened the safety of the future.
In the afterlife, Bill and Ted met the Grim Reaper, who they escaped from after initiating a challenge. As they frantically searched for a way back to the living, their hijinks led them to possing two people, a seance, and even meeting Satan in hell. Eventually, the Grim Reaper caught up with them and forced them to challenge him. After he lost to modern games like Battleship and Twister, he became their friend and follower.
Their success allowed them to find a way back to the living where they reprogrammed the robots. After defeating Chuck De Nomolos and his robots, they traveled back in time to practice their musical skills and loaf off. In the end, they won the Battle of the Bands.
Before the second film was released in theaters, Bill and Ted had made a successful appearance on CBS television as cartoons in 1990. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures was originally produced by Hanna Barbera in its first season. This season even featured the voices of Alex Winters and Keanu Reeves. Similar to the first movie, the pair traveled through time with their time machine to help keep the past safe.
After 13 episodes under Hanna Barbera, the production moved to DiC Animation City and switched to airing on Fox Kids. The change also included a change in the voice actors. For the second season’s 8 episodes, the duo had many more strange journeys, visiting locations from literature and television shows. They even shrunk down to enter a human body.
The animated series was followed by a less-than-stellar live-action television series that once again did not star either the original actors. These episodes aired in 1992 on Fox.
With Bill and Ted endearing itself to children with the cartoon series, Kenner was brought in to create toys for the franchise. These toys showed up in stores in 1991, in time for the second movie. There were multiple 7” action figures including Bill, Ted, Rufus, Genghis Khan, Billy the Kid, The Grim Reaper, and Abe Lincon. Each of these action figures came with an instrument accessory. Then, there was the Jam Session 2-pack which featured Bill and Ted. Kenner also produced a Speaker and Cassette Tape accessory for the line, which could plug into corresponding Bill and Ted figures to make them play music. Finally, there was the only playset to the toy line, the Phone Booth.
Kenner had made plans for multiple other figures. The toys that they had released even included images of a Napoleon Toy. Meanwhile, toy catalogs showed that they planned to make a larger selection of playsets, including a historical one, and vehicles. Unfortunately, the line did not make it past its first series.
Meanwhile, the franchise made several more appearances in comic books and video games in 1991. This time, Marvel stepped up to create the tie-in comic for the movie. They then created a 12-issue run. Meanwhile, LJN produced Bill and Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure. Atari created Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure for the Atari Lynx. Then, Acclaim Entertainment produced Bill and Ted’s Excellent Game Boy Adventure: A Bogus Journey.
After the craze for Bill and Ted died down, the franchise went on a long hiatus. It eventually began to pick up steam again when NECA began producing toys for the movies. They created a special set featuring 8” action figures of both Bill and Ted and a phone booth in 2016. They also created Toony Classics of the pair in 2020. Elsewhere, Incendium created 5” action figures for the 30th anniversary in 2019. They also produced a brand new toy line to correspond with the third movie in 2020.
Both Alex Winters and Keanu Reeves returned to star in Bill and Ted Face the Music in 2020. This one picked up the story decades after the originals. Thus, it featured a brand new generation that shared the love of rocking on.
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