Today is World Kindness Day, and this year, it comes hot on the heels of Tuesday's home media release of Bill & Ted Face the Music, the third film in the Bill and Ted film franchise starring Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves in the title roles, and written by the screenwriting team of Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson. The connection is significant because the Bill & Ted films have embraced what seemed like a throwaway line of dialogue from 1989's Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. Not long after the film became an unexpected cultural phenomenon, fans of the movie latched onto "Be excellent to each other, and party on, dudes" as a kind of ethos -- and it has stuck with the characters and the franchise ever since.
Of course, when the film was being written, Solomon and Matheson could not have guessed that fans would still be playing air guitar along with Bill and Ted 30 years later. And as Winter told me, the line itself did not immediately stand out as being particularly weighty. If Winter is to be believed, it's actually seeing how the audience embraced it that made it feel like a philosophy.
"When we made the first movie, we weren't thinking about it in grand terms at all, because there was nothing grand about the first movie in any capacity," Winter told ComicBook.com. "It was a very low budget film, made without any grand expectations. It got shelved, as I think most people know, and we didn't expect it to get released. So it was bought in a fire sale by Nelson Entertainment, and we played the characters, we really enjoyed them, but we didn't think of them as pop cultural figures, but it became part of the zeitgeist almost instantly when it was released. And suddenly this idea of 'be excellent to each other' was everywhere. It was on t-shirts, and it was on TV. And you would hear people saying it."
After the success of the first movie, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure didn't just get a sequel. It got toys, video games, comic books, an animated series and, eventually, a live-action TV show as well. The global nature of the brand meant that Bill and Ted -- and its message -- followed Winter everywhere.
"I was in France on vacation. I heard kids saying it in French, like skateboard kids," Winter recalled. "And it just became a phrase, and part of the cultural idiom. And look, I didn't write it. Chris and Ed wrote it, so I have no ownership of it. I'm a guy who acted in the movies, but we say it with conviction, and we mean it. And there's a sincerity to the way we play the characters, so we're not being arch or kind of ironic about it at all. And all these years later...I don't take the movies overly seriously. I don't think they have that much significance in the world, but I'm very proud to be part of a franchise that has that message at its base, knowing that the message isn't cynical, and that it's not disingenuous."
It's that sense of earnestness that led us to write back in August that Bill & Ted Face the Music is exactly the summer blockbuster 2020 desperately needed. And both the sincerity of teh characters, and the "be excellent" motto, played a role in shaping what middle-aged Bill and Ted would look like.
"It did inform the way Keanu and I came back to these guys all these years later, because we knew that no matter what Bill and Ted had been through in their lives and with their families and with their kind of dashed hopes, that they still genuinely sort of believed in that ethos, that it meant something to them. And so, that was through this notion of being excellent," Winter said. "And the 'party on' part is really about engaging with life, rolling up your sleeves and jumping in to life. You can be excellent on a mountaintop by yourself, but you've got to get out into the world. I think that's a really, really beautiful message. And I think it particularly resonated at the moment, given what's going on politically in the world, not just in the US, and what's going on with the pandemic."
You can see a short video that Winter and Keanu Reeves put together for World Kindness Day below.
Bill & Ted Face the Music is now available on DVD, Blu-ray, and on-demand, along with a three-pack of the Bill & Ted movies you can get at a discounted rate.