How 'Wayne's World' Became the Ultimate 90s Cult Classic

The silly buddy-comedy is leagues above any other 'SNL' film. On its 25th birthday, we look into why.

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14 February 2017, 8:00am

Calling Wayne's World an "SNL film" doesn't really do it justice, considering the state of most other "SNL films". Aside from 1980's Blues Brothers, which was a critical and commercial hit, Saturday Night Live hasn't spawned anything nearly as successful and widely adored as Mike Myers and Dana Carvey's ridiculous buddy-comedy.

The film was developed from a long-running sketch of the same name, and there were anxieties surrounding how well the premise would translate onto the big screen. But after its release on Valentine's Day in 1992, 25 years ago today, it turned out its creators had very little to worry about: Wayne's World made over $180 million worldwide and retains a huge cult following to this day.

In fact, it was the success of the film that inspired SNL to bring out a number of pretty dire feature films during the 1990s. Stuart Saves His Family, for instance, or one 1994 effort, It's Pat, which performed so abysmally that it earned a rare 0 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. For all its praise as a major comedy institution, SNL can be decidedly hit-or-miss, and Wayne's World set an obscenely high bar when it comes to hits. 

But how?

Still from 'Wayne's World' (Photo via YouTube)

Still from 'Wayne's World' (Photo via YouTube)

First off, Wayne's World almost immediately had a major impact on pop culture lexicon. The film's catchphrases are still referenced to this day; star Mike Myers said recently that when he was ill and could only watch TV for extended periods of time "there were about 11 Wayne's World references in an 18-hour period". That, really, comes down to the script and the improvisation of actors on set. Without those classic lines the movie might have done OK, but I doubt people would be marking its 25-year anniversary with screenings or six entire months of celebrations, as they're doing in Aurora, where the film is set.

To that same point, Wayne's World's is extremely funny. It's low-brow comedy done right, sending up a particular lifestyle – slacker dudes lusting after girls from their basements – that continues to make sense to every new generation, give or take a couple of hair metal references. Speaking to Vulture, Mike Myers said, "Lorne Michaels [Wayne's World producer] has a great formulation, which is that comedy sits at the children's table and is very happy to." 

The film is immature, but self-aware. Look at SNL's other big screen output, or indeed the majority of Mike Myers' post-Wayne career, and you'll see how vital of a balancing act that can be. 

Wayne's World

Still from 'Wayne's World' (Photo via YouTube)

In 2017 we're used to films and TV shows regularly breaking the fourth wall and joking at their own expense, but in 1992 it was far less common. And here was Wayne's World, a corporate film product making fun of corporate film products. The movie featured characters trying not to sell out while its creators were doing exactly that. It employed narrative tricks: multiple endings, speaking to the camera, dream sequences, unfeasibly hot girlfriends. Wayne's World mocks celebrities and other films mercilessly while operating on a whole different plane of existence to the 1992 that the rest of the world was living in. 

All of this is distilled into a scene where Wayne and Garth criticise product placement while advertising Pizza Hut, Reebok and Pepsi. All of this stuff is commonplace now – it's what both gave birth to and eventually slaughtered Family Guy's success – but in 1992 it was fresh.

All this said, the film wouldn't be so lovable were it merely a straightforward cynical take on popular culture. It would also be wrong to act as if the long-lasting appeal of Wayne's World lies simply in the fact that it's a self-referential satire of a bygone era; there have been thousands of films and TV shows full of meta-humour since, and it didn't necessarily make them any better. 

Wayne's World's lasting appeal versus that of many other comedies – and especially other SNL comedies – comes down to one simple fact: it's just a better movie. It's consistently funny, well-conceived and builds a whole world out of what was a pretty small premise. It was also insanely quotable. It sparked jokes that found their way into not only wider pop culture, but day-to-day life. 

Watch Wayne's World now and you'll notice it's very little but wall-to-wall visual and verbal gags, with little in the way of character development, or gravitas, or beautiful cinematography, or any of the other stuff critics tend to go for. But that's OK, because it succeeded in being really fucking funny.

Party on, Wayne; and party on, Garth. 

@marianne_eloise

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