In 2688, humanity exists as a utopian society due to the inspiration of the music and wisdom of the Two Great Ones: Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted "Theodore" Logan (Keanu Reeves). Rufus (George Carlin) is tasked by the leaders to travel back to San Dimas, California, in 1988 using a time machine disguised as a telephone booth to ensure that Bill and Ted, who are dim-witted metalhead high school students, get an A+ on their final history oral report to allow them to pass the class they have been failing all year. Should they fail, Teds father, Police Captain John Logan (Hal Langdon), plans to ship Ted to a military academy in Alaska, ending Bill and Teds fledgling band, the "Wyld Stallyns", thus altering the future.
Bill and Ted are trying to ask strangers at a Circle K store for help with their history assignment due the next day, to describe how three historical figures would react to contemporary San Dimas, when Rufus arrives in the telephone booth. The teens are skeptical of Rufuss claims, until another copy of the telephone booth lands nearby and versions of Bill and Ted from the near future step out. The future versions convince their younger counterparts to trust Rufus, then take Rufus aside for a brief conversation out of earshot before they return to their telephone booth and disappear. Rufus offers the teens a demonstration, taking them to Austria, 1805 where Napoleon Bonaparte (Terry Camilleri) is leading his forces against Austria. As they depart in the telephone booth, an explosion knocks Napoleon into the wake, and he is dragged along through the time circuits.
Rufus, Bill and Ted arrive back at Teds house, where Rufus reminds them that time will continue to move forward for them regardless of the use of the telephone booth, and to not be late for their report. After he leaves, Bill and Ted find Napoleon lying next to a tree, unconscious. The two get an idea to get other historical figures to bring them to present San Dimas to get their experiences directly. They leave Napoleon with Teds younger brother, Deacon (Frazier Bain), and deal with Teds father, who yells at Ted for losing his keys to the police station and failing history, before heading to the past. Bill called Teds house with the phone booth, told Teds father that he is deputy Van Halen and found his keys at the station. Teds father bought it, he orders Ted to pack his bags that his plane leaves tomorrow night for Oats Military Academy.
The two befriend Billy the Kid (Dan Shor) in The Old West, 1879 and Socrates (Tony Steedman) in Ancient Greece, 410 B.C. (to whom they refer as "So-crates" /?so?kre?ts/), before stopping in London, 16th-century, where they become infatuated with Princesses Elizabeth (Kimberley Kates) and Joanna (Diane Franklin). The teens anger the princesses father, who orders their beheading, but they are rescued by Billy and Socrates. They are forced to leave without the princesses and, in the escape, the telephone booth is damaged. Dialing a random number, they land next in the Utopian future, where Bill and Ted are amazed by the music playing and that the citizens worship them. They leave after a brief stay, and believing they have plenty of time before the report start collecting more historical figures for extra credit, including Sigmund Freud (Rod Loomis) in Vienna, 1901, Ludwig van Beethoven (Clifford David) in Vienna, 1810, Joan of Arc (Jane Wiedlin) in Orleans, 1429, Genghis Khan (Al Leong) in Mongolia, 1209, and Abraham Lincoln (Robert V. Barron) in Washington, D.C., 1863. Having run out of room in the phone booth, Bill and Ted finally discover the time machine is damaged. Meanwhile, Deacon and his friends take Napoleon for ice cream followed by bowling; however, he embarrasses them at both places and they abandon him as he screams foul language in French following a gutter ball.
Stopping in prehistoric times, Bill and Ted make crude repairs to the machine and program it to return to the present. However, they end up outside the Circle K store on the previous night, where Rufus was introducing himself to them. They convince their earlier selves of Rufuss trustworthiness, and the earlier unheard conversation is revealed to be where Rufus is instructing them how to get to the correct day by "dialing a number higher". Furthermore, in the present timeline of San Dimas, Rufus tells Bill and Ted that they have two hours left to do their report; the teens, having forgotten Rufuss earlier warning, thought they had plenty of time.
When they arrive in the present timeline of San Dimas the next morning, Ted learns that Deacon has ditched Napoleon; Deacon said it was because the French emperor was a "dick." They leave the other historical figures at the local mall to learn about San Dimas while they seek out Napoleon at a local water park, "Waterloo". Unattended, the historical figures unknowingly cause mayhem at the mall and are arrested by Captain Logan. Bill and Ted arrive at the police station and Ted tries to persuade his father to release their historical figures. He refuses, and orders Ted to get ready for his departure to military academy. Bill and Ted execute an escape plan based on using the time machine in the future to set up what they need now, including stealing the police keys in the past to release the historical figures. They are caught by Captain Logan, but a trash can (also planned by the boys in the future) lands on him, allowing the group to escape. They arrive at school on time to give their presentation as a rock concert, which is a rousing success and allows them to pass the course. They send the historical figures back to their own times.
Later that night, as they practice, Bill and Ted lament the fact that despite their experiences nothing has really changed for them. Rufus returns to Bill and Ted and presents them with the two princesses before they were committed to pre-arranged marriages, noting that the women will also be part of Wyld Stallyns. Rufus goes on to explain that it was his duty to help the boys because, without each other, life in 2688 would be disastrous; with the Wyld Stallyns music, however, war and poverty would end, the planets would align in harmony (allowing contact with all forms of life "from extraterrestrials to common household pets"), and "its excellent for dancing." As a little favor, Rufus asks for their autographs on behalf of his children, gives the boys two new guitars, and plays a little bit rather well. With new band members and new instruments, Bill and Ted agree that they have had an excellent adventure. Listening to the cacophony the band makes, Rufus turns to the audience and says, "They do get better."
The film was shot in 1987 in the Phoenix, Arizona, metropolitan area, mostly in and around Scottsdales Coronado High School. Coronados auditorium was torn down during 2005-07 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. The interior shots of the auditorium were filmed inside the East High School auditorium, which was in Phoenix on 48th Street just north of Van Buren. East High School was demolished in 2002 as part of a redevelopment project.
The scenes at Waterloo are a combination of establishing shots at Raging Waters in San Dimas and shots with the actors at Golfland Sunsplash in Mesa, Arizona. The bowling alley was a Fair Lanes-branded alley at that time but is now the AMF Tempe Village Lanes on Rural Road at US 60, three miles south of Arizona State University. The mall was Phoenix Metrocenter, between Peoria and Dunlap Avenues at Interstate 17. It has since been renovated and no longer looks as it did in the film. The Circle K store is at the intersection of Southern and Hardy in Tempe.
The films writers, Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson, appear in the films ice cream scene. Solomon is credited as the "stupid" waiter, and Matheson is credited as the "ugly" waiter. They are given similar credits in Bill and Teds Bogus Journey.
When Rufus plays his guitar solo, the hands in the close-up are those of Stevie Salas, who composed the films guitar music.
The film took nearly two years to make. Filming took place from February to May 1987 and it was planned to be released in 1988. However, the films original distributor, De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, went bankrupt. Orion Pictures and Nelson Entertainment bought the rights to the movie in 1988, and it was released theatrically on February 17, 1989. As a partial result of the delay, certain dates in the film originally scripted as "1987" had to be redubbed as "1988". The copyright date of this film is 1989, while 1988 incorrectly appears on the DVD cover (though some copies still note 1989 as its release date).
It was followed in 1991 by a sequel, Bill & Teds Bogus Journey.
In earlier drafts of the script, Rufus was 28 years old and historical figures Bill and Ted plucked from history included Charlemagne (whom they referred to as "Charlie Mangay"), Babe Ruth, and a non-famous medieval person called "John the Serf". John is listed in the credits.
In a 1991 interview, co-writer Ed Solomon said the characters of Bill and Ted were originally envisaged as "14-year-old skinny guys, with low-rider bellbottoms and heavy metal T-shirts" who were despised by the popular kids at school. Casting Reeves and 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."
Originally, the time machine was to be a 1969 Chevrolet van, but the idea was abandoned as being too close in concept to the DeLorean used in the Back to the Future trilogy. Instead, despite the similarities to Doctor Who???s time machine, the TARDIS, the films time machine was styled after a 1960s American telephone booth, though a newer model Ford van would be used as the rock concert "band wagon" for the sequel.
In April 2013, Winter commented on Carlins casting: "He was a very happy accident. They were going after serious people first. Like 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 films soundtrack was released in 1989. The tracks are as follows:
- "Play with Me" by Extreme
- "The Boys and Girls Are Doing It" by Vital Signs
- "Not So Far Away" by Glen Burtnik
- "Dancing with a Gypsy" by Tora Tora
- "Father Time" by Shark Island
- "I Cant Break Away" by Big Pig
- "Dangerous" by Shark Island
- "Walk Away" by Bricklin
- "In Time" by Robbie Robb
- "Two Heads Are Better Than One" by Power Tool
These tracks are ordered for the album differently than they are in the movie. In the movie, the songs show up in the following order: "I Cant Break Away", "Dancing with a Gypsy", "Father Time", "Dangerous", "In Time", "Two Heads Are Better Than One", "The Boys and Girls Are Doing It", "Play with Me", "Walk Away", "Not So Far Away" and "Two Heads" (reprised over the credits).
The following songs appeared in the film but were not included in the soundtrack:"No Right to Do Me Wrong" by Range War
"Party Up" by Rori
"Bad Guitar" by Stevie No Wonder Salas
"Carlins Solo" by Hands of Flutes
"Game of War" by Warrant
A theatrical sequel, Bill & Teds Bogus Journey, was released in 1991.
A third theatrical film in the Bill & Ted franchise was planned, and a screenplay was written, though it never got past the pre-production phase. Although rumors claimed that the script was adapted into the 1996 film Bio-Dome, Alex Winter has said that it was not.
In 2010, Reeves indicated that Matheson and Solomon were working on a script for a third film, confirming in April 2011 that a draft was complete. Winter said in March 2012 that he and Reeves both liked the finished script, which revisits the two characters after the changes of the past twenty years. The current script does not feature the return of the Grim Reaper from Bogus Journey, but since actor William Sadler has expressed interest, the writers are considering ways to include the character. In August 2012, Dean Parisot (director of the sci-fi/comedy film Galaxy Quest) signed on to direct the film, although MGM, which holds the rights to the Bill & Ted franchise, has yet to give the movie an official greenlight. In an April 2014 article on the original films 25th anniversary, Alex Winter reported that work on going ahead with the second sequel was still in progress.
Two spin-off television series were produced; both were titled Bill & Teds Excellent Adventures.Bill & Teds Excellent Adventures was an animated series that first ran on CBS in 1990, and featured the voices of Winter, Reeves and Carlin returning to their roles in the film. A second season of eight episodes ran on Fox Kids, with the voice cast of Foxs upcoming live-action series.
Bill & Teds Excellent Adventures was a live-action series that ran only seven episodes on Fox in the summer of 1992. It featured none of the cast from the film. Evan Richards and Christopher Kennedy played Bill and Ted.
DC Comics produced a tie-in comic following the plot of the first movie timed to coincide with that films release on home video.  The sequel was adapted by DCs competitor Marvel Comics, published to coincide with the second films release in theaters. Its popularity led to the ongoing Marvel series Bill & Teds Excellent Comic Book by Evan Dorkin, which lasted for 12 issues. 
There was a weekly 2/4 page semi-adaptation of the animated series published for a year by UKs defunct Look-In Magazine from 1991 to 1992. 
There were also Game Boy, NES and Atari Lynx games released, which were very loosely based on the films plot. A PC title and nearly identical Amiga and Commodore 64 port were made in 1991 by Off the Wall Productions and IntraCorp, Inc. under contract by Capstone Software and followed the original film very closely.
The annual Halloween Horror Nights events at Universal Studios Orlando and Hollywood have featured since 1992 (Orlando) and 1997-1999/2007 (Hollywood) Bill & Teds Excellent Halloween Adventure, a show satirizing pop culture of the year with Bill & Ted as the protagonists fighting villains who steal their phone booth for their own schemes.
The show differs from year to year, with spoofs of various pop culture icons. The main plot involves Bill and Ted being threatened by an evil villain from a popular film of that year, with appearances by a host of villains, heroes, and celebrities. The show usually includes elaborate dance numbers, stunts, and multiple double-entendres for the late night event crowd. In 2013, the Hollywood version of the show was cancelled in the middle of its run following complaints of homophobic humor.
Bill & Teds Excellent Adventure grossed $40.4 million domestically on a budget of about $10 million. The Washington Post gave the film a negative review, finding the script written by Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon as "made only the sketchiest attempts to draw their historical characters. They exist as foils and nothing else, and the gags that are hung on them are far from first-rate", and that if director "Stephen Herek, has any talent for comedy, its not visible here. More than anything, the picture looks paltry and undernourished." Variety wrote about each historical figure that Bill & Ted meet, stating that "Each encounter is so brief and utterly cliched that history has little chance to contribute anything to this pic’s two dimensions." Vincent Canby of The New York Times referred to the film as a "painfully inept comedy" and that the "one dimly interesting thing about Bill and Teds Excellent Adventure is the way the two teen-age heroes communicate in superlatives. We are about to fail most egregiously, says Ted to Bill, or maybe its Bill to Ted. They are also fond of odd words, such as bodacious."
The film has an 79% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes, based on 43 reviews with a consensus saying "Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter are just charming, goofy, and silly enough to make this fluffy time-travel Adventure work".
The successes of the film and the animated series spawned a short-lived breakfast cereal called Bill & Teds Excellent Cereal.
The phone booth used in the film was given away in a contest presented by Nintendo Power magazine, to promote Bill & Teds Excellent Video Game Adventure. It was won by Kenneth Grayson of Mississippi.
In 2010, the city of San Dimas celebrated 50 years of incorporation. The celebrations slogan was San Dimas, 1960-2010 – An Excellent Adventure.