“The only true wisdom comes in knowing that you know nothing.”
There’s a reason screenwriters Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson made a point of highlighting that quote in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989), the classic science fiction comedy adventure that kicked off a most bodacious series of joyous cinematic quests. Like another surprisingly insightful comedy about a different kind of pop culture-fanatic airhead, Being There (1979), the Bill & Ted franchise celebrates the simple wisdom embedded deep within our heroes’ blissful ignorance.
Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991), thanks to its absolutely wild metaphysical adventure, incredible creatures (see below), comic ingenuity, heavy stakes, one-of-a-kind adversaries, and killer metal soundtrack, remains the favorite franchise entry of this critic. The saga returned last month, just in time to serve as something of a warm and fuzzy hug for one of the worst years in recent American history, with the reunion movie its stars never expected to materialize, Bill & Ted Face The Music. To fully appreciate the greatness of Bogus Journey, I turn now to that most outstanding of all movie critics, Roger Ebert, who put it quite brilliantly (as was his custom) in his astute review of the sequel: “This movie is light as a feather and thin as ice in spring, but what it does, it does very nicely.”
The Bill & Ted movies were the first (but not the last) to answer a question we might not have known needed answering: “What if Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times At Ridgemont High got his own whole movie — but there were two of him?”
Strange things are afoot at the Circle K, as it’s high time for a most unprecedented list: the Bill & Ted Character Power Rankings, dude. Some of the rules: this list represents wholly subjective preferences, though I will strive to make the case for each character; some character tandems will be listed in shared one ranking; there are no roles too small to not be considered. As our first character tandem proves, if someone in the Bill & Ted universe leaves an indelible impression, no matter how briefly, they still qualify for Power Rankings inclusion.
20. The Zyggy Piggy Waiters (Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson) – Excellent Adventure
Though the Zyggy Piggy Waiters (Solomon plays the “Stupid Waiter” and Matheson portrays the “Ugly Waiter,” per the credits) appear for merely a brief moment to commemorate Napoleon Bonaparte’s gluttonous ice cream consumption, their enthusiastic commitment to their work is very on-brand to the Bill & Ted universe. They have a bit of a mini-arc too, going from committed ice cream suppliers to enthused empty bowl celebrators. And those Zyggy Piggy buttons are just iconic.
19. Chuck De Nomolos (Joss Ackland) – Bogus Journey
Chuck De Nomolos (co-writer Ed Solomon’s last name spelled backwards), hater of fun, became the first significant antagonist in the cinematic universe that Bill and Ted populate when he set the chaos of Bogus Journey into motion. The “villain” of the first film was essentially a time paradox (Rufus had to travel back in time, from a future built on the musical triumph of Bill and Ted, to ensure that Bill and Ted graduated from high school and went on to form the band that would then spawn the harmonious futuristic society that enabled Rufus to travel back in time in the first place).
Playing Rufus’s former gym teacher (and a 27th century sit-up champion), Ackland cuts an intimidating proto-fascistic, Darth Vader-esque figure while wearing a similar (some might say winkingly derivative) get-up. When he made his turn here, Ackland arrived fresh off recent studio action picture success as a similar tyrannical leader in Lethal Weapon 2 (1989).
18. Billy The Kid (Dan Shor) – Excellent Adventure
The Old West sharpshooter deals with the oddity of travel with the greatest of ease, per Bill. Also, his formal address by the lads (“Mr. The Kid”) never gets old. Billy shines brightest when he and Socrates hit on some comely college coeds at the mall, but Sigmund Freud botches the deal with his awkwardness. Billy and Socrates bond over Freud’s being mocked as a “geek,” and… I just never expected to watch Billy the Kid and Socrates bond over anything, so this moment brings me great joy every time I watch it.
17. Genghis Khan (Al Leong) – Excellent Adventure
The brutal imperialist warlord naturally gravitates towards Oshman’s Sporting Goods when Bill and Ted bring him to the San Dimas Mall, where he promptly thrashes some mannequins and fights a fleet of mall cops. Fueled by Twinkies, ol’ Genghis gives a riveting demonstration of his power during Bill and Ted’s climactic history class presentation. Al Leong, a great ’80s action movie baddie (he’s the Hans Gruber goon with a sweet tooth in the first Die Hard), full-body tackles the role with delicious scenery-chewing aplomb.
You might wonder why such an objectively heinous historical figure makes the top 20 over, say, Abraham Lincoln, but I’d submit that Lincoln’s only real contribution of interest to the saga was in his delivering a mildly inspirational speech during B&T’s most triumphant history report. Lincoln’s mall adventures and general character were not nearly as dynamic as Genghis, Billy the Kid, Socrates, or the others.
16. Colonel Oats (Chelcie Ross) – Bogus Journey (plus an foreboding shoutout in Excellent Adventure)
The stuff of Ted’s literal Hellish nightmares, Colonel Oats and his rigorous military school existed throughout Excellent Adventure only as an ominous threat hanging over Ted’s future before manifesting in corporeal form in Bogus Journey via Chelcie Ross, doing his best R. Lee Ermey impression.
15. Mr. Ryan (Bernie Casey) – Excellent Adventure
Mr. Ryan has clearly seen his share of Bills and Teds stumbling through the hallowed halls of San Dimas High over the years — to say nothing of San Dimas football meatheads. But damn it, he wants to give well-intentioned adolescent morons of all stripes a chance. And that is his prerogative. At least we know he left quite an impression on Missy.
14. Socrates (Tony Steedman) – Excellent Adventure
Socrates leaps over his wingman Billy the Kid primarily because his introductory philosophizing repartee with our heroic Wyld Stallyns is most choice. When the boys are forced to improvise in order to recruit Socrates to join their time-traveling sojourn, Bill requests some deep thinking from Ted. So naturally, he offers up a key Kansas quote. Like Genghis Khan, Socrates quickly becomes a baseball fan when he sets foot in San Dimas.
13. Joan of Arc (Jane Wiedlin) – Excellent Adventure
The Go-Gos rhythm guitarist’s wide-eyed Joan of Arc interpretation is expressed almost wholly nonverbally, but she gets a lot of mileage with a decisive physicality, portraying “Miss Of Arc” as a shy, inquisitive kid who takes a quick shine to mall aerobics courses and shows off some excellent fencing skills during the aforementioned history report.
12. Sigmund Freud (Rod Loomis) – Excellent Adventure
Freud, a geek who strikes out at the San Dimas Mall to the delight of Billy the Kid and Socrates, has a typically Freudian predilection for consuming phallic objects, including a cigar, a vacuum hose, and a corn dog. Sometimes a cigar isn’t just a cigar (yes, it’s possible Freud never actually said “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” but Freud was big on recurrent imagery having a deeper meaning for its beholder, so it still tracks that the makers of Excellent Adventure would through this in as an Easter Egg). Freud of course gets extra credit in these power rankings by proving to be a very helpful analyst for Ted, while helping Bill catalogue his lust for his stepmom (see below).
11. Ludwig van Beethoven (Clifford David) – Excellent Adventure
Beethoven circa 1988* would clearly have put Jens Johansson out of a job. His interest in Bon Jovi — a combo whose keyboardist, David Bryan, is unusually prominent in the sonic mix — is in keeping with his preference in instruments. As a bonus, he also sports the best of Ted’s mispronounced names (“Beeth-oven”). A note on the timeline: Excellent Adventure takes place in 1988, but due to some hiccups with its initial production company, was released the following year.
10. Captain/Chief Jonathan Logan (Hal Landon Jr.) – Excellent Adventure, Bogus Journey, Face The Music
Ted’s Dad takes quite a journey through the Bill and Ted saga, including a possession by the ghost of his son. But through it all, Captain Logan remains a militaristic hard-ass with a heart of gold, who just loves his knucklehead son so much but wishes he would take things a little more seriously (until the end of Face The Music, when he and his police squad car are sent to Hell). Sigmund Freud astutely notes that Captain Logan’s own professional insecurities and fear of failure have made Ted “the embodiment of [Captain Logan’s] own deepest anxieties about himself.” He sure can pluck a mean bluegrass guitar.
9. Napoleon Bonaparte (Terry Camilleri) – Excellent Adventure
When he touches down in San Dimas, the Little Corporal discovers that he sucks at bowling, loves Zyggy Piggy ice cream, and can’t get enough of conquering the SoCal suburban enclave’s Waterloo water park. His reaction to a horrific lane violation at the bowling alley with Deacon and his middle school entourage never gets old.
8. Granny S. Preston (Alex Winter) – Bogus Journey
Though we only spend a few minutes with the heavily whiskered Granny S. Preston, we get a very clear sense of her personality and goals, and in storytelling, we call that a bona fide arc. This dour Alex Winter character tries to plant a smooch on a resistant Young Bill (William Throne) during his own personal Blue Period in Hell.
7. The Easter Bunny (Frank Welker) – Bogus Journey
A prepubescent Ted stole his little brother Deacon’s Easter gift basket, and thus one of his chief punishments in Hell is being tormented by an irate animatronic Easter Bunny, set on avenging this transgression on Deacon’s behalf. This critter and its confines (a pink-hued, distorted rendition of Ted’s childhood home), a Kevin Yagher creation, clearly owes a lot to the sinister anthropomorphic evil bunny rabbit and expressionistic lighting choices of TFH Fearless Leader Joe Dante’s “It’s A Good Life” segment in Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983).
Apparently, a more elaborate fate was intended for the Easter Bunny, Granny S. Preston, and Colonel Oats in the Bogus Journey finale. A haunting design for a more souped-up EB is all that remains of this rendition.
6. Missy Preston/Logan (Amy Stock-Poynton) – Excellent Adventure, Bogus Journey, Face The Music
Ty Cobb enthusiast Missy is the hidden gem of the trilogy. Missy’s romantic trajectory throughout the series is a constant source of entertainment, as she pings from being Bill’s stepmother (despite having been a senior at San Dimas High when Bill and Ted were freshmen) in Excellent Adventure to being Ted’s stepmother (and then Chuck De Nolos’s betrothed) in Bogus Journey to finally marrying Ted’s baby brother Deacon prior to the events of Face The Music, making her Ted’s sister-in-law.
Missy is responsible for four major power moves in the series:
1. Compelling Bill’s dad to kick the academic under-performers out of Bill’s room for an impromptu dalliance.
2. Enlisting some of history’s greatest leaders to clean Bill’s house.
3. Thinking Bill and Ted’s ghosts to be evil spirits she has summoned during a New Age-y seance, and subsequently reciting an incantation to send her current and former stepsons to Hell.
4. Letting Deacon, in full earshot of his father during their wedding, bestow upon her the cutesy nickname (“Kissy Missy”) that her ex/his dad Chief Logan used to employ.
5. Evil Robot Bill and Ted (Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves) – Bogus Journey
Aspiring cat murderers Evil Robot Bill and Ted delight in their malevolent mission and sinister sunglasses. De Nomolos’s twisted homicidal automatons wreak havoc upon landing in the Circle K parking lot. Most hilariously, Evil Robot Bill and Ted are too similar to Good Human Bill and Ted for even their creator’s liking. These evil metal dick weeds of course get their just comeuppance (beheadings followed by full-body explosions) in a most righteous fashion at the hands of Good Robot Bill and Ted, but at least they’re typically enthusiastic about their demise.
4. Rufus (George Carlin in all three, voiced by Piotr Michael in Face The Music)/Ms. Wardroe (Pam Grier) – Excellent Adventure, Bogus Journey, Face The Music
Rufus, Bill and Ted future-scholar and a scheduler of the most non-bogus guest lecturers of all time (I would love to attend that Ben Franklin/Aretha Franklin seminar), favorite pupil of De Nomolos, and generally a most righteous time traveler, stands as the Obi Wan Kenobi of the saga. Though Rufus may be relegated to relative cameo status, he makes enough of a characteristically Carlin-esque impression in his onscreen moments to vault up these mighty Power Rankings.
Bill and Ted disciples of course must know that Ms. Wardroe, scheduler for the all-important San Dimas Battle of the Bands, was in fact Rufus all along. One note: were the judges of the Battle of the Bands just, Primus would have totally won.
3. Station (Ed Gale, Arturo Gil, Tony Cox, Frank Welker, Tom Allard) – Bogus Journey
These two adorable, expert charades players who stump Death (which Bogus Journey tells us may not be the tallest task) and impress Albert Einstein (John Ehrin), Confucius (Tad Horino) and Benjamin Franklin (Don Forney) in Heaven with their appreciation for little-loved sequels — specifically Smokey and the Bandit III: Smokey Is The Bandit — are another triumph of imagination for the Kevin Yagher effects team.
The concept that the most brilliant scientist(s) in the known universe, commissioned by Bill and Ted to great Good Robot Bill and Teds that can defeat the Evil Robot Bill and Teds, are cute little fantasy creatures a la Yoda, is a clever method by Messengers Solomon and Matheson to convey the core tenet of the series: wisdom arrives in unusual packages.
Why Station, an inadvertent drunken creation courtesy of a writing gaffe, didn’t get his/their own spin-off animated series, I’ll never know.
2. Death (William Sadler) – Bogus Journey, Face The Music
Sadler elevates what could have been a one-off portrayal of the chess-playing grim reaper in The Seventh Seal (1957) into comic glory here. After Death loses to Bill and Ted in a series of challenges, he is at their service as they strive to defeat their Evil Robot Selves in Bogus Journey. Eventually, he becomes the Wyld Stallyns’ bassist, before creative differences sideline the band.
Death’s big failing? He’s a sucker, vulnerable to wedgies and not nearly as good at Twister, Battleship, Clue and Electric Football as he expects himself to be. That said, he is apparently a terrific bassist, diligent teammate, adept at pushing carts at hardware stores, making hair for Good Robot Bill and Ted, giving wedgies, and of course, collecting dead souls for afterlife distribution. Someone should make Death’s 1998 critically-maligned all-bass solo album, The Lonely Soul Surfer, into a reality. “Boogie Down With Doctor D” needs to be realized on wax.
1. William S. Preston, Esquire (Alex Winter), a.k.a. the Earl of Preston, and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves), a.k.a. the Duke of Ted – Excellent Adventure, Bogus Journey, Face The Music
There are very slight differences between these two characters. Bill is mildly smarter than Ted. The more energetic Ted is considered the ladies’ man by Bill. Ultimately, though, they are one entity, and to separate them in a power ranking would feel crueler than sending Ted to an Alaskan military academy. Like Spicoli before them, Bill and Ted have a (rightful) appreciation of Van Halen above all other music. In an interesting parallel, Ted is weirdly a fairly on-point thematic presage of Keanu’s other savior of futuristic humanity, Neo.
Most endearingly, Bill and Ted are intrepid and relentlessly persistent in pursuit of their singular goals, braving Hell, traveling through time, and even mugging angels to achieve their dreams. Their unwavering enthusiasm in the face of adversity (that adversity sometimes being their own limited intellects), aptitude for recalling crucial rock lyrics at clutch moments, and air-shredding prowess ultimately nets them top honors in these Power Rankings.
The duo’s lifelong friendship and earnest love of music serve as another heartwarming component of the series. The pair is really quite inseparable: despite the ups and downs of Wyld Stallyns, we discover in Face The Music that Bill and Ted own homes in a pretty cul-de-sac right next to each other and bring their wives to a joint four-person couples therapy session at age 48. Would that we all could enjoy such lasting relationships and fanaticism for the arts.