Back in the ’90s, Saturday Night Live spun off a whole slew of films that were based on their most popular sketches, and while they varied in terms of quality, Wayne’s World (and to a slightly lesser degree Wayne’s World 2) stand out as the most popular. Released in February of 1992, Wayne’s World is so deeply entrenched in classic ’90s culture that one is left wondering: did the ’90s make Wayne’s World or did Wayne’s World make the ’90s?
But while the film feels — a quarter-century later — like a time capsule, it’s important to remember how many layers were used to accomplish that result. Because as Wayne Campbell (Mike Myers) and Garth Algar (Dana Carvey) galavant around Aurora, Illinois, fighting for their right to party on, they tap into something that solidifies the film as a standout in the now common crafts of meta-humor and consumer comedy (aka pop culture reference comedy).
Whether it was poking fun at obvious tropes or turning references on their heads, Wayne’s World is chock full of little Easter Eggs for pop culture obsessives. Let’s take a look at and rank the most memorable ones below.
9. Laverne & Shirley
Laverne & Shirley may not be the first thing you think of when you think about Milwaukee (assuming you think about Milwaukee at all), but if you grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, like Wayne and Garth did, then it was the equivalent of Friends and Seinfeld to you. This shot for shot recreation of the show’s opening sequence also feels like a ’90s precursor to The Greatest Event In Television History now, proving that imitation isn’t just the most sincere form of flattery, but that it’s also funny in a timeless kind of way.
8. Mission: Impossible
Wayne’s World was tapped into Mission: Impossible before Tom Cruise. While the film version of the spy shenanigans of IMF wouldn’t hit the big screen until 1996, the classic television show it was based on had enjoyed a reboot in the late ’80s. As Garth and his buddies try to rig a satellite so it’ll beam their show into the limousine of ‘Mr. Big’ in an effort to score Cassandra (Tia Carrera) and Crucial Taunt a record deal, the iconic theme song plays over their covert mission, and leads up to one of the most quotable lines in the film.
7. “Stairway To Heaven”
There is always a song that everyone wants to master when they learn how to play the guitar, and for many, that jam is Led Zepplin’s “Stairway To Heaven.” After enjoying the first taste of commercial success to the tune of $5,000, Wayne was finally going to make that guitar of his dreams his. For a classic rock fiend, there was no better way to commemorate the moment than to embody Jimmy Page, but unfortunately, that dream was denied.
6. The Scooby Doo Ending
There is usually an agreement between a film and viewers that things are going to end well. Happy endings are the expected outcome, and Wayne’s World is in on the joke. While they initially show the devastation of failure before doing the mega-happy ending, sandwiched in between is an excellent Scooby Doo ending, with Benjamin revealed to be Old Man Withers, the guy who owns the haunted amusement park. While they may not have the full Mysteries Incorporated gang on hand, Wayne and Garth make for a suitable Shaggy and Scooby. But even more than a callback to childhood cartoons (which Wayne and Garth probably still partake in), it’s a cleverly meta moment that pokes fun at film structure while also upending it.
5. Phases of Fame
While Wayne’s World is mostly about partying with your friends and getting the girl, it’s also a commentary on how one handles fame. While it’s mostly played for laughs (obviously these dummies are going to sign contracts they don’t understand and spend their money on dumb stuff), Wayne’s conversation with Cassandra (Tia Carrerra) about whether or not their love will survive comes from the heart.
As Wayne faces the possibility that his show is about to get huge, he asks Cassandra if she’ll still love him in his “hanging out with Ravi Shankar” phase, because, of course, the Wayne’s World local TV show was definitely on the cusp of a Beatles level of success.
4. Terminator 2: Judgement Day
James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day became one of the biggest action films of all-time when it was released in 1991, so it was still ripe for the referencing (still is, frankly) when Wayne’s World snuck in a pitch-perfect Robert Patrick. Is he actually T-1000 or just another driven guy who just happens to be looking for Edward Furlong while Wayne is racing to the set of Cassandra’s music video? Wayne’s terrified reaction tells us all we need to know.
3. Bugs Bunny
As they’re kicking back on the Mirthmobile watching the planes come in for a landing while chatting about babes, Garth’s query about whether or not Wayne thought Bugs Bunny was attractive when he dressed up like a girl bunny was not only hilarious, it was ad libbed by Carvey. The fact that Myer’s response was genuine makes it even more hilarious, making it a perfect example of the inane banter about pop culture minutia that’s at the heart of most friendships. If you don’t know which cartoon characters your best friend has crushed on, do you even know them at all?
2. Meta Marketing
As much as we’d like to think that movie making is all in service of the muse, Hollywood is still, at its heart, a business. However, Wayne’s World managed to turn commerce into art with a hilariously meta bit of product placement. As Benjamin tries to explain how the show will have to toe the line in certain ways due to their new funding from millionaire Noah Vanderhoff (Brian Doyle-Murray), Wayne and Garth express their displeasure for product placement by hawking the sponsors of the actual film’s wares. Never has selling out been so clever.
1. “Bohemian Rhapsody”
While “Bohemian Rhapsody” has become nearly synonymous with head banging thanks to Wayne’s World, this scene almost went very differently. Director Penelope Spheeris and producer Lorne Michaels wanted Guns & Roses initially, but Myers fought hard for Queen’s classic, which had unfortunately started slipping away into the recesses of music history. According to Myers, the “ballsy” nature of the rock opera was more inherently comedic, but it also goes a long way toward reinforcing the fact that, at its heart, Wayne’s World is about living life with your friends, with all the donuts, Queen, and spewing that entails.
Wayne’s World is available to purchase on digital HD.