1988’s Bill & Ted Excellent Adventure is one hell of a weird movie: two high school metalheads are given a time-traveling phone booth to help them pass a history test—if they fail, the future of civilization will be in serious jeopardy. If that sounds like a pretty dumb premise, that’s because it is. It’s also hilarious and brilliantly executed and acted (with Keanu Reeves basically playing what is now the public’s perception of his IRL persona). It also features an ingenious—and paradox free!—time-travel workaround by the heroes that ultimately saves the day.
In the film, the late, great George Carlin plays Rufus, a somewhat mysterious mentor from the future who was sent back in time to set Bill S. Preston, Esquire, and Ted “Theodore” Logan off on their excellent adventure. Reportedly, the producers were originally considering “serious” actors for the role, such as Sean Connery, until someone jokingly suggested Carlin. The legendary comedian was offered the part, accepted, and the rest is history.
But what if Carlin had turned them down? What if, instead, they chose Tom Wopat, the greatest actor of this or any time period?
Though Tom Wopat has worked on sitcoms—The Dukes of Hazzard was a pretty funny show sometimes, too—he can’t compete with George Carlin in the humor department. As such, the Rufus character would likely have leaned more toward the serious tone the writers originally intended. Wopat’s got dramatic chops for days. (Though, in a movie where Napoleon Bonaparte goes to a modern SoCal waterslide park, how “serious” could it have been?)
Another potential change could’ve made the film’s emphasis on the importance of music in the future more pronounced. In Excellent Adventure’s denouement, Rufus presents Bill and Ted with shiny new guitars. Before handing them over, though, he shreds a blistering solo on one of the guitars. In the film, the guitar solo-ing hands are not Carlin’s, but rather those of Stevie Salas, an accomplished studio musician and film score composer (who, not coincidentally, wrote the score for this movie). Wopat can sling a mean ax in his own right, and therefore could likely have performed the solo himself in a single shot. The added authenticity would’ve gone a long way, in our opinion, and added to the mystique of the future seen briefly in the film. Why is Rufus, ostensibly just a messenger, so good on guitar? Is everyone in the future an excellent musician? Just how does one “be excellent” to another?
Our third picked nit is strictly aesthetic. In Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, George Carlin appears essentially as he always did in the late 1980s (except for the costumes). He wears his same usual beard and keeps his long hair in a ponytail. There’s nothing wrong with this look, of course, and it certainly served Carlin well for a number of years. However, in that briefly-glimpsed future mentioned above, all the other actors are sporting futuristic, yet distinctly ‘80s, hairdos (or are they distinctly ‘80s, yet futuristic, hairdos?) along with their sparkly costumes. Tom Wopat, with his glorious flowing mane, could’ve been given one of the greatest future-’80s/’80s-future hairstyles in motion picture history. And so, great opportunity was lost…