It’s been 30 years since Wayne’s World became a box office hit and global pop culture phenomenon.
Based on a series of sketches on Saturday Night Live, the comedy landed in theaters on Friday, February 14, 1992. It starred Mike Myers as Wayne Campbell and Dana Carvey as Garth Algar, two friends who hosted a late-night cable-access show which broadcast out of the basement of Wayne’s parents’ house in Aurora, Illinois. Directed by the legendary Penelope Spheeris, Wayne’s World was made for $20 million and grossed $183.1 million at the worldwide box office. Critics loved it as much as audiences.
As part of the 30th anniversary celebrations, Wayne’s World is being re-released in a limited edition Blu-ray SteelBook. I caught up with Spheeris to discuss three decades of partying on with the iconic pair, memories of the smash hit’s opening night, remembering Meat Loaf, and the surreal scene that got nixed at the last minute.
Simon Thompson: How much of a validation is it that Wayne’s World has remained relevant and celebrated for three decades?
Penelope Spheeris: To be honest with you, I am surprised Wayne’s World and some other films I’ve done have this lasted this long. I don’t know what causes that to happen other than I’m a helicopter director who oversees everything. I’m thrilled that it lasts for so long, but it’s not the case for all of them. People don’t know some of them, but some of them they shouldn’t. Hollywood Vice Squad? Please don’t look at that.
Thompson: When was the last time that you rewatched Wayne’s World?
Spheeris: I think it was at the 25th anniversary screening at Paramount Pictures five years ago. I sat in the audience for about 20 minutes. Before that, I hadn’t seen the movie in its entirety since it opened in 1992. I don’t go back and look at my work.
Thompson: Why do you think it does hold up? Wayne’s World is a movie that could be made today, and it would still work.
Spheeris: I think that’s the big question, and I ask myself that all the time. It’s a difficult answer to find, but I think if I had to zero in on one thing, it would be that those two characters bring out the best in us. They make us realize that life can be fun, and even if you have problems, you can deal with them in an entertaining, clever, and fun way. Every generation that comes up can relate to them because they make us feel good.
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Thompson: At the time, and things are very different now, many men didn’t talk about their emotions and connections with their friends. Wayne and Garth had a very bromantic relationship.
Spheeris: That’s a very interesting observation, and even though I haven’t thought about that before, I do think it’s probably true. Men are too strong and brave to talk about their emotions, but these two guys do. You are right, and maybe that is a big part of it. Perhaps you’ve helped solve the mystery. I’m going to use that if you don’t mind. I’ll steal it.
Thompson: That would be an honor. Thinking back to your time on set, what was the moment that you knew what you were doing was working?
Spheeris: I think it was actually not on the set but in the editing room. I had little glimpses that maybe this was going to work. The actual moment was on opening night when I sat, well, I stood as I didn’t have a seat because it was packed, in a movie theater with 1000 people. It was huge. We were at the Westwood Village Theater. When I stood in the back of the room, I heard those people having the time of their life, and it was laugh after laugh after laugh; it was a surreal high. I was on cloud nine that people were laughing that much.
Thompson: Wayne’s World was a big hit. What do you remember about that opening weekend?
Spheeris: When we made the movie, we weren’t expecting any success, to be honest with you. It certainly never occurred to any of us who worked on Wayne’s World that people would care about it 30 years later, but it also never occurred to us that it would have a record-breaking opening weekend for a comedy movie. Please don’t get mad at me, but it was a little goofy. It has this lasting status all across the world. People around the globe watched Wayne’s World and got it. None of us ever considered that, so maybe that was the magic that made it happen. We weren’t thinking, ‘We’re going get rich and famous off this movie.’ We thought maybe we’d get into five theaters if we’re lucky. Paramount gave it their original release plan, which wasn’t huge, by any means, but then they realized what they had was working, and they spread it out. It took off.
Thompson: Wayne’s World raised expectations for all of those SNL movies that followed. We had The Blues Brothers before, but Wayne’s World really took it to another level. After that, we had Coneheads, It’s Pat, and A Night At The Roxbury, among others. None of them landed as well.
Spheeris: I think the characters of Wayne and Garth were people that so many young people could relate to. I can’t relate to a Conehead or whatever else those people came up with. The heart and soul of the friendship between Wayne and Garth struck a chord with people. The music helped me create that connection because people loved the soundtrack. People loved that Wayne and Garth were standing up to the man and authority, trying to have integrity and get away with messing with the heads of Brian Doyle-Murray’s character, Noah Vanderhoff, you know, and Benjamin, Rob Lowe’s character. It was fun for kids to see Wayne and Garth stick it to them.
Thompson: I know that you still have the final shooting script that ended up a lot fatter than it was at the start of the shoot. A lot of stuff was added as you went along. Did you start shooting Wayne’s World with a finished script?
Spheeris: They had a complete script when they gave it to me to ask if I wanted to direct it. When I did Black Sheep right after that, they had no script, but they did have a first draft with Wayne’s World. Lorne teaches the Saturday Night Live writers and players to keep writing up until the last second. They kept doing that to me, and finally, I said, ‘Okay, 24 hours. If you want me to shoot a new scene that was never in the script before, I need to have it 24 hours before I shoot it.’ I made that rule.
Thompson: Is there anything you left out of the finished movie that you look back on now and wish you’d included?
Spheeris: When you have 34 days to film, you don’t have a lot of extra footage because you don’t have time to shoot it. One scene the writers came up with halfway through the shoot involved the Jolly Green Giant’s, who you’ll know if you are familiar with that brand of food. They asked me to get three really tall dudes, spray them green and put green fig leaves around them like a skirt. There was going to be a scene with them, and Wayne and Garth and I thought, ‘This is so stupid. I really don’t want to do it.’ We got the guys all dressed up, and the day we were supposed to shoot, we got a note from Jolly Green Giant saying, You may not use our corn and green beans, so forget it.’ I thought, ‘Yes, I don’t want to shoot it anyway.’
Thompson: So you kept the scripts. What else did you keep from Wayne’s World?
Spheeris: I have the budget, and it’s kind of cool because everything was paper back then, it wasn’t digital, so there were signatures all over it. As the director, I had to sign the front of the budget to say I could do this movie for that amount of money. As the weeks went on, and the film kept doing well, Paramount would send me framed posters that said we made $42 million or whatever that week, so I have those posters, which is cool. I have some in Chinese and Japanese saying we made a bunch of money over there too.
Thompson: The 30th anniversary of Wayne’s World is a big deal in itself, but many people started sharing a scene from it recently when Meat Loaf passed. What do you remember about that scene?
Spheeris: The interesting thing is, and what made it simple and fun for me, was that Meat Loaf and I were friends long before that movie. We used to hang out together on Sunset Strip, go to clubs, get drunk together, and have a good time. When I shot that scene with him, he was very familiar to me, and we had a good time. It was only one day of shooting. I needed a little special cameo right there, and I thought of Meat Loaf because we used to stand at the doors of the clubs trying to get in and deal with the bouncers, so his character, Tiny, was a version of those guys.
Thompson: How many takes did you do?
Spheeris: Not many. The fact is he was magic in front of the camera, and he didn’t have that much to say. It was an easy piece to do with him. It was the same with Chris Farley, that little moment behind the amphitheater when Alice Cooper played.
Thompson: Was there anybody that you either shot a cameo with that didn’t make it to the edit or that you tried to get, but it just didn’t work out?
Spheeris: That’s an interesting question but not that I remember. The fact is when you go for a cameo, and I hate to keep talking money, you have to offer him a good chunk of money for that day’s work or two days work or whatever. We had a lot of amazing cameos in The Little Rascals as well, but you’ve got to pay them for that day. That’s one reason why they do it. I think we got everybody that we went for with Wayne’s World. Ed O’Neill was tricky. We didn’t think we would get him until the last minute, and he said yes. It was such a blessing to get him because he’s hilarious in the movie.
Wayne’s World is available on Limited-Edition 30th Anniversary Blu-ray SteelBook from Tuesday, February 1, 2022.