In the original script, the time machine was a 1969 Chevy van, but the filmmakers thought that it would be a rip-off of Back to the Future (1985). So, they changed it to a phone booth (apparently unconcerned that Doctor Who (1963) uses a police telephone box as its time machine). Also, when they used the van, Bill and Ted picked up more historical figures than they did in the final film.
Bill and Ted began as a stand-up act, in which the characters would discuss current events without knowing what they were talking about. Originally, there was a third character named Bob, but the comedian who played him lost interest after a few performances.
When Bill reads the assignment to Ted, he says, "Express to the class how an important historical figure from each of your time periods would view the world of San Dimas, 1988." His lips are actually saying, "San Dimas, 1987"; the "1988" was dubbed later because of a delay in the movie's release.
Alex Winter claimed that he gets two different letters from teachers - positive ones from history teachers for encouraging children to learn about history and the figures, and negative ones from English teachers for affecting the way students speak.
Principal photography was completed in 1987, but the release was delayed because the film's original financiers, De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, went bankrupt. The film was in danger of being dumped onto cable television, until Nelson Entertainment bought the rights to the movie in 1988, and it was released in 1989.
Originally the plot was to have Bill and Ted visit, and therefore accidentally cause, all of history's greatest tragedies (the sinking of the Titanic, the crash of the Hindenburg, the Black Plague...).
In April 2013, Alex Winter commented on George Carlin's casting: "He was a very happy accident. 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."
The mall scene was filmed at Metrocenter Mall in Phoenix, Arizona in 1987. Some of the extras in the scene were kids from a local high school, Cortez, while they were there on their lunch break. Cortez High School is Alice Cooper's alma mater.
The "Ziggy Pig" dish in the ice-cream restaurant is a reference to a comic book character put out by Timely Comics (later Marvel) during World War II. By the time this movie was made, it and its image (which appears on the badge they place on Napoleon's chest) were public domain. The award itself is based on the ribbon that could be won at Farrell's Ice Cream Parlor restaurants upon completion of their "Pig Trough," a double-sized banana split. Farrell's was a large restaurant chain in the 1970s, but few remained by 1988.
Napoleon "pigs out" on a Neapolitan sundae at Ziggy Piggy's that he refers to as "La glacé". Even though there are similarities between the ice cream and his name, the dessert originated from Naples, Italy. Historically, Napoléon Bonaparte did in fact have a fondness for it, when he arrived in that country.
In the original outline for the movie, Rufus was a 28-year-old high school sophomore who befriended Bill and Ted. There was also a character named John the Serf, whom Bill and Ted picked up in medieval England.
Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson wrote the script over the course of just four days. They wrote it by hand, on note paper, during a series of meetings at a couple of local coffee shops. The 2005 box set, Bill & Ted's Most Excellent Collection, features some of their handwritten notes.
Though the film is PG, almost no cursing is heard in it, except for one quick spot that can easily be missed, and it's a whopper of a curse. At the end of the scene where Ted is enticing Genghis Khan into the phone booth with the Twinkie, right after Genghis walks off-screen, you hear him yell, "You motherfucker" (with the last word sounding muffled). One of the other being when Ted asks Bill if they know where they're going, and after responding he doesn't know, Bill yells, "Shit!" while Ted just shouts.
The cruelest irony of this film, although never mentioned within the movie itself, is that most of the historical figures Bill and Ted brought back with them all died horrifically. Several characters, including Socrates, Joan of Arc, Billy the Kid, and Abraham Lincoln, were either executed or assassinated. Sigmund Freud died by assisted suicide, and Napoléon Bonaparte's death in house arrest has sometimes been believed to be the result of arsenic poisoning. Genghis Khan and Ludwig van Beethoven, however, are generally held to have died completely natural deaths.
In the book "The Producers: Profiles in Frustration," Producer Scott Kroopf recalled pitching the idea of "Bill & Ted" to Dino De Laurentiis. Quoted Kroopf: "Dino had no idea what the film was about. He didn't understand what dudes were until someone said to him that 'dudes' meant guys who had big dicks. Then he said 'Oh, great, now I get it.'"
This is one of three productions in which Genghis Khan and Abraham Lincoln appear together as characters, in spite of the fact that Lincoln was born 582 years after Khan's death. The others are Star Trek: The Savage Curtain (1969), and Clone High (2002).
The picture on Ted's t-shirt is the cover photo for Van Halen's "Why Can't This Be Love?" single, for sale during the Van Halen 5150 tour, and very commonly seen on Van Halen fans in the late 1980s. This was Sammy Hagar's first tour with Van Halen after replacing David Lee Roth.
The German dub has gained cult-status in Germany, and credited for coining the words "hoschi" and "granatenstark", which served as substitutes for both "dude" and "excellent" respectively. Also, the quote "Be excellent to each other." has been replaced with a more philosophical line, which translates into "Colorful and excellent is the being."
The exterior shots of Bill and Ted's high school are of Coronado High School in Scottsdale, Arizona. The striking mosaic is featured on the school's auditorium façade, and was designed by art teacher Mr. Gatti and the students in the early 1960s.
The Circle K is in San Dimas at the corner of Walnut and Bonita Avenues. The scenes at the convenience store, were at least partially filmed at the Circle K at the northwest corner of Southern and Hardy in Tempe, Arizona.
Coronado High School's auditorium was torn down during 2005-7 renovations, but its unique roof and intricate exterior mosaic, seen in an opening scene when Bill and Ted leave school in a red Mustang, was saved and moved, piece by piece, to the new auditorium.
During filming, Dan Shor (Billy the Kid) and Jane Wiedlin (Joan of Arc) were 31 and 29 years old, respectively. The real Billy the Kid and Joan of Arc were 21 and 19, respectively, when they were killed.
Chris Matheson didn't intend for this to be a science-fiction movie. "I try to consciously fight it, out of a desire to break away, but maybe I have a predilection toward that because of my dad," Matheson told Starlog Magazine of the inevitable fantasy elements that emerged. "He's a great writer and craftsman, and always has suggestions." In fact, it was his father Richard Matheson's idea that the time travel story be its own movie. "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,'" Matheson recalled, "And he was right!"
After Missy drives Bill & Ted to Ted's house to get his books, Missy pulls the February 16, 1987, issue of People Magazine out of the groceries and begins reading the article: "Could They Get Away with Murder?"
The bar fight scene is parallel to the girl scout fight scene in Airplane! (1980). Both begin over a poker cheat (extra ace), have the same punches and bar stool hit, and end with one being slid across the bar until breaking through a wall or juke box.
Australian band "Space Desert" has an EP called "Forrest Gump II", but none of the songs are about Forrest Gump (1994). It is in fact about Bill and Ted, and even quote lines from the film, and include a snippet of an interview with Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter explaining the meaning of the word "Bodacious".
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
When Napoleon finishes his "waterslide" presentation at the end of the movie, Ted looks up and says, "I don't think it's gonna work." If you look closely at the maps, you can see that Napoleon is actually diagramming the French invasion of Russia, Napoléon Bonaparte's most disastrous defeat.
During the report at the end, Bill mentions that he has a slight Oedipus Complex. This is a term first used by Sigmund Freud to describe a child's desire to possess the parent of the opposite sex. This is a reference to Bill's sexual desire over his new stepmom, Missy.
When Bill and Ted are leaving Napoleon in Ted's younger brother Deacon's care, you can see an electric football game in the background. Assuming Ted grew up playing the game, it helps explain why Bill and Ted are good at it, and can best the Grim Reaper when they play in Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (1991).
On the cover of the British VHS re-release of the film (by BMG Entertainment International U.K. and Ireland Ltd. by Canal+ distribution) in 1997, there is a picture of Bill and Ted wearing tuxedos, linking arms with the Princess Babes. This seems to be from a deleted high school prom scene, which would have appeared at the end of the film.
The rescue scene of Bill and Ted (their comrades pretending to be executioners and escaping on a horse-drawn carriage) is the same way that D'Artagnan is rescued in The Three Musketeers (1993), which was also directed by Stephen Herek.
In a 1991 interview, Ed Solomon said the characters of Bill and Ted were originally envisaged as "fourteen-year-old skinny guys, with low-rider bell-bottoms, and heavy metal t-shirts" who were despised by the popular kids at school. Casting Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter changed the filmmakers' images of the characters because "once you cast Alex and Keanu, who look like pretty cool guys, that was hard to believe."
The film was originally going to end with Bill and Ted taking the princesses to the prom. When they first meet, Ted asks them to the prom. A photo on a British VHS cover from 1997 suggests this scene was filmed but deleted.