Wayne’s World Is a Landmark Piece of Pop Culture Cinema

Wayne’s World Is a Landmark Piece of Pop Culture Cinema
Party on Wayne, Party on Garth. (Image: Paramount)

Watching Wayne’s World in 2022 is like riding a time machine that’s going backwards and forwards at the same time. Going one way, it’s a picture perfect snapshot of the early 1990s. The music, clothes, references, attitude, all of it is as 1992 as you can imagine. And yet, looking in the other direction, it’s ahead of its time in ways audiences couldn’t fathom then. It’s so aware of what it is, so well-versed in cinema and pop culture as a whole, that it feels like a precursor to self-referential films like Scream or Deadpool that would appear years later. Then, on top of that all, it remains as hilariously funny now as it ever was.

Released February 14, 1992, Wayne’s World turns 30 years old this month and to celebrate Paramount has released (and sent Gizmodo) a brand new limited edition Blu-ray steelbook. The steelbook is nice, though the extra features are scarce, so the real gem is getting to appreciate Wayne’s World in a whole new way. I first saw it on initial release and, as a 12-year-old, loved it on a very base level. Funny jokes, pretty girls, goofy guys, cool rock music, that was Wayne’s World. It was my introduction to Queen and product placement as a joke, and an extension of my growing love of comedy, Saturday Night Live, and the actors who were on it. It was a movie for the time at the time, and that time was transitional.

Only now do I see how director Penelope Spheeris and her team made Wayne’s World a window into 1990s culture. Take the film’s opening. The movie doesn’t open on Wayne and Garth like the SNL skits do. It opens on two iconic stars of the 1980s (Rob Lowe of Brat Pack fame and Ione Skye from Say Anything) watching TV filled with commercials with products that are Totally ‘90s: a Chia Pet, the Clapper, and video arcades. These ‘80s stars are literally channel surfing through the ‘90s and that’s where they find Wayne Campbell (Mike Myers) and Garth Algar (Dana Carvey).

The car scenes are some of the most earnest in the film. (Image: Paramount)The car scenes are some of the most earnest in the film. (Image: Paramount)

We never know exactly how old Wayne and Garth art but we figure around 25 which means they were born in the late 1960s. It makes sense then that their references aren’t from the ‘90s — they’re from the ‘60s and ‘70s, and the movie is filled with them: Laverne and Shirley, Star Trek, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Mission: Impossible, The Omen, Bewitched, etc. Wayne and Garth use the pop culture of their youths as their window into the modern world, which ends up being an excellent way to cement the film in this era. Never before, or after, will characters exist who look and sound exactly like this, talking about those specific things. It’s here now and then it’s gone. They are young adults of the ‘90s. The beginning of a generation whose entire existence became wrapped up in the pop culture they consumed: video games, internet, etc. This is their beginning. Wayne and Garth are our origin story.

What happened as a result? You get movies like Scream, Swingers, Pulp Fiction, Deadpool. Movies made by people who love movies, are about movies and require a deep wealth of prior knowledge for you to fully enjoy them. Heck, that can even extend to something like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where elaborate comic book connections justify illogical team-ups like three actors all playing Spider-Man at the same time, or a three-hour movie that’s a sequel to 20 movies before it. Scenarios like that don’t work unless the audience is incredibly cinema literate, and few characters up to 1992 were as cinema literate as Wayne and Garth. Add to that the film’s multiple musical interludes, ongoing and sometimes wildly elaborate breaking of the fourth wall, and the characters’ clear awareness of it all, and Wayne’s World is a movie about movies that’s aware it’s a movie.

Wayne’s World Is a Landmark Piece of Pop Culture Cinema

Which is not to say Wayne’s World invented any of this. Filmmakers have been ripping off filmmakers since the dawn of cinema. Movies about movies have always been around, as has breaking the fourth wall. (Mel Brooks comes to mind as a good example of all of those things.) But the way Wayne’s World not only did these things, but when it did them, as a generation of filmmakers and fans who are now coming into their own as artists are largely using the same techniques, feels important. It feels formative. Which is something I never ever expected to take from a movie I’ve seen so many times I can basically quote it line for line.

Because there’s no way Myers, Spheeris, and everyone else intended the film to read like this. It’s just a hilarious movie with a few jabs at corporate America that wanted to push the envelope in unexpected ways. That’s why you get some of the darker humour, some of the more current references (like Robert Patrick in his Terminator 2 role), and the funny, ambiguous triple ending. There’s even a mid credits and post credits scene. It’s a little experimental, a lot off the wall, and truly mark of something really special.

Like wine, great things such as Wayne’s World only get better with age. The film has a exuberant confidence that allows it to do almost anything and still be completely logical. It has a distinct point of view without boundaries and only now, through 30 years of nostalgia, do we realise that point of view wasn’t just of the past and the present. It was of the future too.

The new Wayne’s World Blu-ray is available now.

I have many thoughts on Benjamin. (Image: Paramount)I have many thoughts on Benjamin. (Image: Paramount)

Random thoughts

  • Though Wayne’s World is very 1992 in some of its stereotypes and objectifications, I was honestly surprised how well it handled those issues for its time. For example, at first it might seem offensive that the second thing the Chinese woman does in the film is described as “kung fu fighting.” But Cassandra, played by Tia Carrere, rises above that. She’s a leader. A role model. An independent woman who is just chasing her dreams. She’s the object of Wayne’s affections but never an object herself. Another example is there are a few purposefully awkward moments where male characters seem put off by another man saying “I love you.” Are these meant to be “gay jokes?” Yes. Do they feel dated and weird? Yes. Does the film acknowledge them in the end by admitting to being awkward and wrong? Yes. Thirty years hasn’t left the movie unscathed culturally, but it’s better than lots of others.
  • Even to this day, the film’s core storyline doesn’t sit right with me, love it as I may. Mainly it’s that Rob Lowe’s character, Benjamin, feels way too important to care about any of this. You’re supposed to think of him as a poster child for ‘80s yuppie greed. But that stereotype rarely punches down. So to see him exploit two seemingly random guys with a cable access show to win the contract of a local arcade chain owner just doesn’t compute. Is Noah’s Arcade really that important? It’s obviously a big advertiser but only the Chicago area. It just feels so small time. But then again, local advertising was surely more common in 1992 and the whole thing had to be relatively small time to get two cable access hosts involved. Maybe it’s just Lowe’s look and performance that doesn’t match. Speaking of which…
  • Upon rewatch, Benjamin is not quite the villain the film makes him out to be. I admit, maybe that’s 42-year-old me talking when this was made for 12-year-old me, but Wayne and Garth totally allowed themselves to be taken advantage of. Everything Benjamin does to them (save for trying to steal Wayne’s girl, and even that is done rather peacefully) is in the contracts. The contracts the pair sign without reading them thoroughly. Later they walk on set blissfully unaware of anything that’s going on. All of which feels like even a few minutes of research would have given them a better perspective on everything. Again, this is of course the point. They’re innocent. But it’s a little scary that old age has made me see things from the villain’s side more clearly.