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Throughout comedies of the ‘80s, teachers and educational professionals were paragons of douchery, oftentimes bordering on outright oppression. The Breakfast Club. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (Principal Rooney and the Ben Stein character). Back to the Future. Animal House. Kindergarten Cop, though I don’t know if we can completely blame Arnie on that one. Where’s the good teacher? Or at least the teacher who isn’t a raging fascist-in-the-making?
Mr. Ryan from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure… please step forward.
Perhaps due to the Bill and Ted movies’ overarching sense of chillness—bad things happen, but they’re resolved pretty quickly, and everyone gets along by the time the credits roll—Bill S. Preston, Esquire and Ted Theodore Logan’s history teacher is… pretty damn cool, actually. Faced with two dipshit slackers (said in the most affectionate way possible, I would never disparage dear Keanu), Mr. Ryan is perfectly positioned to be the sort of aggressive, insulting teacher who populates other teen movies from this era.
Instead, minus a few eye-rolls, he’s pretty respectful with his worst students. He tells them what needs to happen for them to avoid most heinously flunking their history report. When Bill and Ted are late to their presentation due to a most epic mall run, he graciously gives them extra time to show up. He lets them work as a pair. And look at their unconventional presentation, in which Bill and Ted bring a host of historical figures forward in time to talk about what they think of San Dimas. From Mr. Ryan’s perspective, Bill and Ted totally just gave some failed actors a bunch of weed in exchange for putting on an impromptu bit of experimental theater, right? But he still passes them!
Mr. Ryan is a teacher who respects the fact that different students have different needs and methods of learning, and he’s willing to work with them in order to see them succeed to the best of their abilities. Then again, maybe he just doesn’t want to see Bill in his class again next year. Maybe he's just sick of the jocks and the himbos.
Still, he keeps it together, Mr. Ryan does.
(Bit of trivia: Mr. Ryan is played by football player-turned-actor Bernie Casey, whom we previously saw in COOTD playing an ass-slapping gargoyle in a TV movie from the ’70s. The man knew how to pick his roles.)